Cruisin’ continued

A 15-day cruise requires two blog posts.

After two sea days we arrived in Ponta Delgada, the capital of Portugal’s Azores archipelago. The beauty of this place is astonishing. We had booked a half-day bus tour and were eager to get started. Not as eager as several adult”toddlers” on the bus, however, who shouted at the guide to leave the stragglers. Fortunately, our guide ignored them and waited for the last passengers to board. Off we went!

First views from the bus

We were astonished at the variety and beauty of the plants on the island. Our guide explained that, in addition to native plants, over 700 plants from all over the world were introduced and have thrived in the mild climate and rich soil. We saw hydrangea hedges, wild orchids, laurel, a huge variety of trees, and much more.

This beautiful ginger is considered a weed.

Our first stop was a tiny village with homes, a few shops, and a lovely little chapel. We were allotted time to stroll around and take pictures. Our first stop was the chapel, located at the end of a plane tree and hydrangea-lined path.

Path to the chapel

Next to the chapel was a small cemetery with a few monuments. The weather was cloudy and few people were out, but we thought the village was lovely.

Chapel interior

Phil is more polite than I am, and he is hesitant to invade others’ space. Having no such compunctions, I strolled between two houses into a backyard/pasture area to see the view.

Trespasser view!

Next we drove through a crater village (yep, a village built in an active volcano crater!) to two crater lakes. Known as the Green Lake and the Blue Lake, they looked the same on our visit (cloudy), but normally one looks green because of algae, and the other reflects the blue sky.

Close-up of the Green Lake

These views were amazing, but there was more to come. Our bus driver was a genius, and we’ll never know how he navigated crowded, winding one-lane roads to take us up the mountain. And then he found a place to park the bus while we explored! The views left us speechless, especially looking down at the crater lakes we’d left an hour earlier.

Looking down at the crater lakes

The trip back down the mountain was beaufiful. The hydrangeas amazed me, but our guide said they were well past their prime. 

Amazing hydrangeas

The last stop on our tour was at a hotel for a wine and cheese tasting. The Azores are known for their cheeses, but we didn’t detect much variety. They were all semi-soft and mild in flavor–but delicious. The local wines, not so much….

Wine and cheese of the Azores

We had plenty of time left to explore the city. There’s an Azorean dish I wanted to try, called cozido das Fumas, but no local restaurants were serving it. So instead we walked, browsed in local shops, and got plenty of steps!

Even the sidewalks are beautiful!

Three Arches gates of Ponta Delgada

We wandered aimlessly around the old city, stopping when things interested us. What interested us, you ask? People preparing for a concert at the Three Arches. Two police officers arguing vociferously with the recipient of an unwanted parking ticket (we tired of watching after several minutes, but the shouting continued). Local shops that didn’t seem touristy. 

Beautiful church

Tired, achy, and, to be completely honest, in need of a cocktail, we headed back to the ship. We went up to the top deck for refreshments and a last look at the beautiful Azores, knowing we would not touch land again for four days.

Last look at the Azores

Now it was time to learn how to be at sea. The first day I was a bit tetchy, but soon I relaxed into the rhythm and found the days were flying by. We didn’t see any other cruise ships, but we did pass a couple of tankers.

Two ships passing in the daytime

We heard a couple of people (cranky adult toddlers, we called them) complain about the food, but Phil and I thought it was excellent. We quickly became accustomed to crisp white linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, multiple courses, and superior service three times a day.

Beautiful and delicious appetizer

We especially enjoyed lounging (and sometimes lunching) on an upper deck by the pools. With several cafes and bars, ping pong, first-run movies, and more on offer, we mostly just read or worked on our French.

Evening on the upper deck

We knew we’d diverted south a bit to avoid storms, but one morning the Commodore announced that we’d veered far off our course to avoid not one, but two hurricanes. Consequently, we would not be making our planned stop in Boston, where we’d planned to spend the day with dear friend Sandy. Instead we’d head straight to New York, arriving a day early. This meant six sea days instead of four. We were disappointed, but frequent travel has taught us to adapt to the unforeseen, so we happily booked a Brooklyn food and culture tour for our extra NYC day. We rose before dawn to watch our approach to New York.

Statue of Liberty at dawn

Once off the ship and through customs, we took the ferry and a taxi to the meeting point for our tour. And what a tour it was! First stop was The Meatball Shop, where the sauce is so delicious it’s now bottled and sold at Whole Foods. 

This sign at The Meatball Shop cracked me up.

From there we went next door to a Mediterranean place, where we enjoyed the best falafel I’ve ever had. It’s a tiny, family-owned place that does a brisk business. I can’t remember the name, but if you can find it, go! Other amazing stops included a Polish restaurant where we sampled pierogis and kielbasa, Jacques Torres Chocolate in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a delicous coal-fired oven pizza, and the best Italian bakery I’ve experienced–and I used to frequent Mike’s in Boston’s North End!

Roamers near the bridge

The Italian bakery, Monteleone Pasticceria, was a feast for the eyes, with mouthwatering pastries, gorgeous marzipan, and more. Our group sampled mini cannolis, which were scrumptious.

Gorgeous pastries

A little something for later. . .

We returned to the ship for our final night, slept like babies, and the next morning bade farewell as we moved to our New York hotel for a few days. We didn’t find affordable tickets for any shows, but we had a wonderful time. Our transplanted New York friends Margi and Michael had made restaurant recommendations, which we quickly booked. We enjoyed Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem (we’re big Samuelsson fans and had eaten at his JFK branch before), but our favorite was Tonchin, where we had a fabulous Japanese dinner complete with craft cocktails.

Our friend Trish, who visited us in Montpellier last summer, had invited us to brunch at Roger, a beautiful upscale restaurant atop the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle. We had a delicious brunch (Phil said his eggs Benedict was the best of his life!) while catching up with Trish, watching the Beautiful People, and enjoying the spectacular view.

Brunch view

After brunch, the three of us headed to the High Line, an elevated vertical park on a former railway line. There is something interesting to see everywhere: plants, city views, sculpture, and on the day we visited, a choir singing medieval songs. The park ends in Chelsea, near the market and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which we visited the next day.

Fascinating sculpture on the High Line

This little girl loved the free concert!

On the day we walked over 30,000 steps, I was too tired to move, so we went across the street from our hotel to an early dinner at the Lexington Brass. There I was revived by a cocktail (of course), followed by one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. This coconut kale salad featured quinoa, cherry tomatoes, shredded chicken, roasted sweet potato, and avocado, with a delicious shallot vinaigrette. I’m definitely going to copy it!

Delicous and beautiful!

We returned to the hotel to find it full of security people. We hadn’t realized the United Nations General Assembly was starting the next day! But the next morning, with the help of a porter, we snagged a taxi and headed to the airport. We flew to Austin to spend several days visiting our granddaughter (and her parents!), and before leaving for Dallas we grabbed a quick breakfast with friends Danny and Lynn. Dallas was wonderful, with dinners with dear friends Joni, Scott, Cara, Steve, Michael, Cherie, Gary, Tom, and Nancy, as well as a special birthday for Phil. Then it was on to Oklahoma for visits with family and friends–and my high school reunion! We’ll fly home in early October, with wonderful memories of a vacation we’d never dreamed of. We are the Lucky Shroyers!

Phil’s special birthday dessert–at a speakeasy!

 

Cruisin’

The Roamers make the crossing

When we read in Lynn Martin’s blog and book about repositioning cruises, we were intrigued. Two weeks of luxury for about what a flight would cost? Count us in! We had planned to visit the U.S. to see our granddaughter around her first birthday, as well as to attend my twice-postponed 50th high school reunion, so we booked a 15-day Princess repositioning cruise from Southampton to New York. We traveled to Southampton by train, arriving the evening before departure. It was a relaxed way to travel, and the Eurostar even served a lovely lunch–with wine!

The Roamers on the Eurostar

We had time the next morning to explore Southampton, a port city with a fascinating history. Titanic references are ubiquitous!

The port’s history, in tiles.

We walked to the old town and stood (just for a minute; it’s creepy!) in a murder hole. At the walls of the old city, there’s a place where attackers could enter. The defenders then closed both doors and proceeded to shoot arrows or pour scalding water on the enemy until all were dead. 

Entering the murder hole

After our walk and breakfast at the hotel, it was time to board the ship! The boarding process was seamless, and soon we were unpacking in our luxurious stateroom.

The ship’s three-level plaza (with plenty of bars!)

We had chosen an inside stateroom near the center of the ship for two reasons: it’s cheaper, and it’s more stable. We didn’t know whether we’d experience any seasickness (we didn’t) so wanted to be safe. 

Our stateroom (after the steward put the twin beds together for us)

After heading to the pool deck to watch our departure, we explored the ship and settled down in one of the many bars for a pre-dinner cocktail. We couldn’t believe how beautiful, luxurious, and comfortable the ship was! The Enchanted Princess can accommodate 3660 guests, but our cruise had only about 2300, so there was a crew member for every two guests. The service was exceptional, the food was excellent, and we couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

On the first full day at sea, the Commodore announced a medical emergency. The patient, who we later heard was 90 years old, was evacuated at sea by helicopter!

Helicopter evacuation

That excitement over, we proceeded to our first port of call: Bergen, Norway. What a beautiful city!

Approaching Bergen in style

Once off the ship, we walked into town and stopped at the fish market for lunch. The weather was lovely–cool, but no need for a jacket! After lunch we headed to the funicular for a ride up the mountainside.

Bergen from the top

There were goats up there! And ice cream, and picnic tables, and a cafe. We spent about an hour enjoying the view and chatting with a couple from the UK.

Yo, Goats!

We walked through the historical “wooden houses” district and wandered through several shops before heading back to the ship. The next day we were at sea, enjoying all the ship offered. There was plenty to do–dancing lessons, crafts, enrichment presentations, music, pools and hot tubs, and more. 

Lunch with a view

Early the next morning we arrived in Belfast! We’d never been to Northern Ireland and were eager to explore. We’d booked a bus tour that gave us a great overview of the city, its history, and the sights. Most compelling were the murals around town commemorating the Troubles.

 

Bobby Sands tribute

We learned abou the history leading to the Troubles. Today Belfast is thriving once again, and we were told that the younger generations have helped the country move past its violent history.

More history of the Troubles

I would have liked to see more of the murals and learn more about the city’s history, but time was limited. We wanted to try a pub, and I spotted a beautiful one. 

Beautiful old Belfast pub

They were fully booked so we couldn’t eat there, but I did visit the ladies’ room. Even the stalls were decorated!

Beautiful tilework in the pub ladies’ room stall

We also visited the Titanic museum (the Titanic was built and launched in Belfast). We learned about the construction of the ship, but I was most interested in people’s stories. One of the most fascinating things was learning about the differences among first class, second class, and steerage. Steerage class was actually nicer than I’d envisioned, but of course first class was first class.

Menu for the last first-class luncheon on the Titanic

That evening we were back on the ship, setting sail for Cork, our next stop. Ireland was another first for us, and we were excited to see this gorgeous area, where we had booked an all-day bus tour with a long stop at Blarney Castle. The ocean that evening was a bit rough, but we had no problem with seasickness.

A bit of a storm

The next morning we were on the bus and heading to Blarney Castle. What a beautiful place! Everything likes to grow there. The bus parked and we were on our own to explore the castle and grounds. We made the long climb up the narrowest of spiral stone staircases to the top of the castle (definitely not for the claustrophobic!), but we declined the opportunity to kiss the Blarney stone.

First view of Blarney Castle

Castle grounds

The grounds were beautiful, full of gardens–including a poisonous garden! It rained most of the day, but we didn’t mind. We enjoyed a snack in one of the old horse stalls and visited a wonderful mill shop. Then we were off to explore beautiful Cork County. On our last stop of the day, in a quaint fishing village, we had a pub meal of fish and chips.

Fish and chips in County Cork

I guess Guinness is the drink in Cork!

Next, we had a couple of sea days. We discovered our favorite bar on the ship, the Good Spirits, where each afternoon the bartender would do a show featuring creative cocktails. My favorite was the Butterfly: 1.5 oz gin, .25 ox Cointreau, .75 oz simple syrup, 1.5 oz butterfly tea, and .75 oz lemon juice. When the tea is added, it turns purple!

Butterfly recipe on the bar’s screen

We developed a rhythm for our sea days. We’d sit with our coffee (latte for Phil, cappucino for me), then head to one of the restaurants for breakfast. Then I’d take a walk and Phil would go to the gym, then we’d head back to the room for a shower, and on to lunch. In the afternoons we’d work on our French, watch a movie, hang out on a pool lounge, or take a nap. Soon it was time to freshen up for the evening, which consisted of cocktails, dinner, and a fabulous show. The production shows were superb!

Sunset

There’s so much more to share, but that will have to wait for the next post. I have to be ready when my granddaughter wakes up from her nap!