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the 2023
Cruise Diary:

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Cruising the Mediterranean, and Visiting France... Part 1

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Adventure Begins… on Heather’s Birthday

e’ve made it from Winnipeg to Barcelona. 
Leaving home yesterday, at noon, we changed planes in Toronto, and flew all night to Spain.  At the time that we landed in Barcelona, it was 2:30 AM back in Winnipeg, but 9:30 AM here.  Once we were in our hotel, we got some shut-eye, having had only a little bit of sleep over 24 hours.  Then, in the evening, I took Heather out to a very fine restaurant, in honour of her birthday.

A nice dinner was not the only way Heather’s birthday was celebrated.  During our flight across the Atlantic, the passenger announcement system came on, and the voice of the “in-charge” flight attendant said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to announce that one of our passengers, Ms. Heather Dixon, is celebrating her birthday on this flight!  Let’s give her a round of applause!”  Whereupon the whole cabin – more than 300 passengers in that Airbus 300-330 – began to clap, and call out “Happy birthday!”  Our daughter, Rachael, who is an Air Canada flight attendant, had, apparently, contacted her colleagues on our flight and set this up.  Later, when we were asleep (it was, as I’ve mentioned, an overnight trip), a card, signed by all the staff, was sticky-taped to the seat in front of Heather, so that when she woke up, she would see it.  One of the signatures – from the Captain himself, no less – said, “Happy Birthday, Mom!”  Heather was certainly surprised and touched by all of this.  She has had a very happy birthday, indeed!

Friday, April 14, 2023

A Day in Barcelona

It is 9:00 PM in Barcelona.  We’re coming to the close of an entire day in this surprisingly huge city (pop. 5.7 million).  Heather and I took a several hours-long bus tour, and saw an enormous amount of extraordinary architecture.  We passed the Sagrada Familia Basilica – the Antoni Gaudi-designed church that is still under construction after 140 years.  We will buy tickets that will allow us to go inside it, once the cruise is over.  We got off the tour bus at the La Rambla Street shopping district, where I got a European cellphone “sim card” (which will greatly reduce my cellular costs while on this trip).  We ended up having a nice dinner in the La Rambla district.  Now we’re back in our hotel, quite exhausted and ready for a deep sleep.  Tomorrow, we board ship.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Onboard Internet is... ummm...

This is something that I did not count on: a vague and spotty Internet connection.  Here we are, on a giant and state-of-the-art cruise ship, with 4,000 other passengers, and the cruise line’s promise of Internet service has turned out to be unfulfilled.  I imagine a lot of urgent meetings and recriminations are happening in the company’s corporate offices – because passengers and staff are all pretty upset.  We sailed yesterday evening from Barcelona, and are heading west towards Gibraltar, where we will arrive sometime around 3:00 AM, Greenwich Mean Time.  There is lovely staff onboard, and we have met some delightful fellow-passengers, but the cruise line’s attempt to have a state-of-the-art electronic and wireless management system is, at least so far, backfiring.

(Postscript: slowly the Internet began functioning – sufficiently, at least, for me to post the above to FaceBook.  But it was still horribly slow.  Eventually, I figured out the following workaround: as you can read, above, I had bought a European “sim card” for my cellphone in Barcelona.  It turned out to be able to access the Internet very satisfactorily  By switching off the Internet on my laptop, and connecting the laptop to my phone, I got reliable and fast Internet access, at least when we were in port!  Cellular signals don't extend far out into the ocean, so between ports I still had to cope with slow Internet.  This meant that if we were to get off the ship and go sightseeing – an important part of cruising – my Internet posts had to wait.  But while on board when the ship was docked, or when the ship was sailing near to land, I happily began to post photographs, as well as longer narratives, to FacebookAnd, I began this blog!)

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Monday, April 17, 2023

On the Rock of Gibraltar

It is 11:30 PM, as we sail away from Gibraltar, headed towards Marseille, France.  We’ll get there on Wednesday – after having what the cruise line calls a “sea day” tomorrow – a day for being seated, watching the waves, and catching up on various writing projects (like this one!).

Tony and Heather on top of Gibraltar
Tony and Heather on top of Gibraltar
(notice the cruise ship far below, in the harbour)
Our visit to Gibraltar was marvellous – the fulfilment of a bucket-list dream.  We got off the cruise ship, and took a shuttle bus to Grand Casemates Square, inside the 18th Century walls of Gibraltar town.  There we caught a mini-van taxi, in which we, plus a family of four, and a single soft-spoken man who didn’t know much English, were driven along narrow, precipitous roads, up the side of the great Gibraltar rock.  There were various stops, with magnificent views of the town below, the Gibraltar Strait, with Morocco in the distance, and our giant cruise ship looking quite small.  And we met the famous monkeys.  None of them were very big.  Two little ones had a play-fight.  One bent over and pointed its bum at a group of teenagers.  A female cuddled her baby, and studied the human visitors.  One monkey leaped off a fence and struck a tourist on the arm – I don’t know what the man’s offence was; maybe the monkey thought he had some food.

There was also an extraordinary natural cave named for St.Michael the Archangel.  Some stalactites actually look like angel wings! And there were centuries-old fortifications, including cannons, echoing the strategic location of Gibraltar in Europe’s many wars.  The whole thing was unforgettable.  We returned to the ship, tired but happy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Our first “Sea Day”

Today, the cruise ship is moving, without stopping, from Gibraltar to Marseille, France – a distance of 771 nautical miles.  It’s a “sea day.”  I had hoped to do a bunch of writing, but it turned out not to be possible.  Mostly, we needed to attend to a number of things, trying to make our stay onboard more manageable.

This one is rather funny: apparently all cabins are equipped with a motion-sensitive light.  It illuminates the clothes closet, and the entrance to the washroom.  There is no switch with which to control it.  It just lights up when anyone or anything moves nearby.  This is quite nice, during the day…  but we are in a one-room cabin, with only a slight separation between the main space, and the closet / washroom space.  The light, when it comes on, lights up the whole stateroom.  Nice.  Except, not so nice at 3:00 AM, when one of the occupants needs to use the toilet.  Quietly get out of bed, feel your way towards the washroom…  and then…  POP!!!  The whole place lights up, definitely waking up your sleeping spouse!!

So I asked our cabin steward whether that automatic light could be disabled.  This resulted in visits from several people, each one more senior than the last.  Apparently, management is not taking kindly to the disabling of this feature.  But this ship is full of passengers who are seniors, a time of life when a midnight trip to the washroom is a regular thing.  Management has had a great number of complaints, apparently, about that silly light.  In the end, the head of housekeeping himself came and disabled ours.

Then there is the Internet.  Slow – appallingly slow – and intermittent.  And, to think that I was charged $200 for it!  Well, a visit to Guest Services got an apology, and a refund of $50…  but really!??  When we’re stopped in Marseilles, I’ll access the Internet through my cellphone’s European “sim card” – which I have already learned provides a normal, and satisfying speed of upload and download.  I would also use it when we’re out to sea, and do away with that expensive and under-performing shipboard Internet, except that there are no cellular signals away from the shore.  At sea, Heather and I are stuck with an expensive, and unreliable connection to the web.

There are some complicating factors mixed in with all this.  For example: living and trying to function in a time zone seven hours away from my home and normal bodily clock, can take its toll.  Then there is the matter of being in a totally unfamiliar environment, where everything from finding my way around, to operating the television, to switching lights on and off, has to be learned…  and then remembered!  Which makes me very tired…  for two days in a row, I’ve needed – and had – a two hour nap!!

Of course, this sort of thing is very likely a consequence of my advancing age.

Our “sea day” concluded with a very nice dinner with a new friend whom we’ve met on board.  Recently widowed, this man is a Canadian from the London Ontario region.  He’s intelligent, and funny, and good company, so we invited him to join us at our splendid dining room table.  And we had a great evening.

So that is how the “sea day” was spent.  Tomorrow, Heather and I will walk around downtown Marseille for a bit, but we won’t take any formal, organized tours.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Visiting Marseille, France

One of our friends recently wrote, “I am eager to hear all about Marseille.”  Well, “all” about it is not really possible, but here is the story of our day in that remarkable city:

The cruise ship pier is more than two kilometres from the city centre, but a shuttle bus was provided (for a fee).  By 11:00 AM, we were walking in the downtown area, which sits around the original harbour.  The harbour itself was crammed with private vessels – hundreds of sail boats, speedboats, and a few small yachts.  And PEOPLE!!!  It seemed to me that there were more people around that harbour than live in the entire city of Winnipeg!  Okay, I exaggerate.  Still, our cruise ship had disgorged itself of thousands of passengers, and there were also other cruise ships and ferries in the (huge) main port.
View from the Old Harbour in Marseille
The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde sits on top of the mountain
overlooking the heart of old Marseille.

Heather did a bit of shopping, but then we came across a bus stop for one of those hop-on-hop-off tourist busses.  We bought tickets, and boarded.  Soon our bus was negotiating narrow streets, while a voice in our earphones told us about the historic buildings, palaces, churches and parks that we were passing.  We didn’t get off the bus at any point; we just looked at all the points of interest.

The picture (left) is taken from down by the original harbour, where the extraordinary mountaintop basilica can be seen in the distance.  Our bus went right up there, and, as Heather and I were seated in the front row of the open air, top deck of the bus, there were times when the driver’s negotiation of the steep and narrow streets took our breath away!  The bus tour took over two hours, after which we returned to the ship, tired, but happy.

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Thursday, April 20, 2023

Stopped at Genoa, Italy

eather and I did not disembark and go into Genoa, today.  All we did was go down to the terminal to get some Euros.
  I tried, and failed, to connect with the Cruise Director, regarding my offer to lead Sunday worship.

After dinner, we went to a type of concert, or Broadway musical, called “Five Skies,” being performed in the ship’s theatre.  It was a fantasy story, done entirely in music, without a single spoken word.  In a way, the plot was a sort of video game come to life: the protagonist was to rescue a princess by working through a series of challenges, or “levels.”  I didn’t catch all the words – I almost never do, with musical lyrics – but the sets, the costumes, and the electronic wizardry were expertly done.  However, the music was very loud, and had no trace of traditional Broadway styling.  The whole thing was done to the taste of the video-gamer generation.

I admired the skill of the singers, the dancers, and – absolutely – the technical wizardry of the set and props.  And, even though the music was not to my taste, I admired the whole thing greatly.  But…, I could not help wondering: why on earth would something like this be mounted in a ship full of seniors!?

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Next: Pisa, Florence, and more….