Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Wonders of Pompeii

I have to confess that visiting ruins has never been one of my favorite things to do. I just couldn't get excited about trying to figure out from a pile of rocks how a building must have looked thousands of years ago. Quite frankly, I was disappointed after visiting Olympia Greece, the site of the ancient Olympic games a couple of years ago and left with the feeling of "Is that all there is?"

Having said this, I can tell you that I was fascinated with Pompeii because so much of it is extremely well preserved. The frescoes in some of the homes of the well-to-do Romans were colorful and vivid which brought Pompeii to life for me. This is incredible when you consider that Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and completely buried Pompeii. The two hours we spent there just flew by.

Our guide was particularly good at explaining how the Romans lived; she showed us a Pompeii fast food outlet, which looked more like a soup kitchen; the Pompeii equivalent of pedestrian crosswalks and speed bumps and the all-time Roman favorite -- the brothel. The frescoes in the brothel were also vibrant and quite explicit -- just pick your sex and position and have a good time. Our guide reminded us that there was no "flashing" allowed in the brothel - from the camera or otherwise.

It's hard to imagine the destructive force of Mt. Vesuvius as it rained tons of ashes upon Pompeii one fine August afternoon in 79 AD. One minute you're going about your business and the next minute you're history.

Look at the man in the photo to the left. He was found under the ashes frozen in time when Pompeii was excavated. I wonder what he was thinking before the lights went out. Whatever it was, it brings a whole new meaning to the expression, "hold the thought."

More photos of Pompeii

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Spectacular Amalfi Coast

During our port stop in Naples, we decided to spend half of our time in Amalfi and the other half in Pompeii. Being avid cruisers and accustomed to enjoying spectacular views from the sea, we opted for a boat ride along the Amalfi Coast from Salerno to Amalfi rather than taking a motorcoach. We were not disappointed.

Although it was a brisk, windy morning, I decided to brave the cold during the 40 minute trip on the water and was grateful that I had worn a heavy jacket and gloves. The Amalfi Coast is ruggedly beautiful and many of the homes that we saw perched on the cliffs looked like they would slide into the sea during the next heavy rain. I imagined what an adventure it would be to make my way along interesting circuitous routes to get to these estates, including the former residence of Gore Vidal.

Amalfi was the capital of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi, an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 839 and around 1200. It is now a charming town where we had only an 1 1/2 hours to look around. Although that gave us enough time to enjoy a couple of lattes at the coffee bar (it's more expensive if you sit down at a table), we didn't have time to eat at one of the cute little restaurants on the piazza.
The first shop that drew me in was selling limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur produced mainly in Southern Italy. While I was there marveling at all of the yellow treats and merchandise, I saw a sign about a limoncello tasting room and the next thing I knew I was looking all over town for it. Having lived in the Napa Valley for eight years I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to taste an alcoholic beverage. Since Amalfi isn't exactly a metropolis, I found the limoncello factory (Antichi Sapori d'Amalfi) within minutes. Even though I don't speak Italian, I guess I communicate well enough with my hands so I was soon sharing a cold one with the grandson of the owner. I bought a bottle and imagined myself enjoying its lemon zestiness after a summer afternoon breaking a sweat in the garden.

More photos of the Amalfi Coast

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rome on the Run

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Rome for the one day I was there, it wasn't nearly enough time. I felt like my life was on "fast forward" while I breathlessly ran around seeing sites that covered thousands of years of history.

Cruising is a wonderful and hassle-free way to travel but if you really want to combine a visit to Rome with a cruise, do yourself a favor and see it either before or after your cruise. During my cruise on the Celebrity Century, Rome was a port stop during the cruise so we were there for only one day.

First of all, it is important to know that cruise ships dock in Civitavecchia which is 50 miles and a two hour drive from Rome. Believe me, it took us every bit of two hours to get to the Piazza del Popolo, where we were dropped off, handed a little paper map and given less than two hours to find our own way to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. We weren't given much time because we had to get back in order to make our 1:00pm appointment at the Vatican Museums.

Although Steve and I walked quickly down the Via del Corso in search of the Trevi Fountain, I still couldn't help peeking in the windows of the shops and admiring the fashionable Italian clothing. Oh well -- too many shopping opportunities and not enough time. After admiring the Trevi Fountain for 15-20 minutes, which is a spectacular fantasy of mythical sea creatures amid cascades of splashing water, we decided to grab a quick bite al fresco at the Golden Bar and were very pleased with our prosciutto paninis.

From there we ran to the Spanish Steps where we had a precious few minutes to snap some photos. Although our stop for paninis cost us a visit to the Pantheon, everyone who knows me understands that I'm a real grouch when I get hungry.

It was important for us to be on time for our appointment at the Vatican Museums because if you don't make it, you could stand in line for hours waiting to get in. Although I was led to believe the Sistine Chapel would be the highlight of the visit, it was frankly too dark in there to clearly see its elaborate beauty. I was more captivated by the majestic statues of naked men with gorgeous physiques that we passed on our way to the Chapel.

While the Sistine Chapel was a disappointment, St. Peter's Basilica was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. Being the lapsed Catholic I am, I was initially a little hesitant to enter such hallowed grounds. I started thinking that I really ought to go to confession but after a few minutes I was too dazzled to worry about it. I was struck by the fact that all of the walls and altars were adorned with fabulous mosaics.

The church's history dates back to the year AD 319 when the emperor Constantine built a basilica over the site of the tomb of St. Peter. Since then, each pope has contributed to its magnificence. It was also interesting to hear that priests from anywhere can arrange to say mass at one of the altars which immediately made me think of organizing cruises with church groups. Is it sacrilegious to think about business within one of God's most glorious houses of worship?

More photos of Rome

Monday, November 9, 2009

Castello de Verrazzano

After our brief tour of Florence we hopped back on our motorcoach to have lunch at the Castello de Verrazzano, which was about an hour away. Along the way, there were a lot of oohs and aahs expressed over the magnificent view.

I think most of us who appreciate wine have dreamed at one time or another of luxuriating at an authentic Tuscan winery. If there was ever a winery that lived up to my fantasies, Castello de Verrazzano was it. Believe it or not, winemaking here dates back to 1170.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Gino, our warm and welcoming host who urged us to experience Castello de Verrazzano with our hearts.
With enthusiasm in his voice and his hands waving wildly, he extolled the fascinating history of the winery. While listening to Gino I was reminded of my visits to the Caffe Trieste in San Francisco many years ago where the laughter was contagious and I had not a care in the world singing "Scusa me but you see back in old Napoli, that's amore."

I could not believe the wonderful meal and wine they served us. It began with an assortment of antipasto including wild boar salami which I had never tasted before. It was divine. With each course, we tasted a different bottle of wine including the Verrazzano Rosso and the Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico. We also tasted the Vin Santo (Holy Wine) with the traditional almond biscuits.

The taste treat that was particularly memorable for me was the parmigiano reggiano cheese with the balsamic vinegar (Balsamico Verrazzano). There was an elegant subtle style about tasting it; you take a tiny spoonful of balsamic vinegar and place it in your mouth at the same time as a morsel of parmigiano reggiano cheese followed by another tiny spoonful of balsamic vinegar. I really don't know if I did it right but I do know that it was heavenly if not quite orgasmic and I quickly followed up the experience with a purchase of Balsamico Verrazzano at the tidy sum of 48 Euros (about $73).

Although we spent half the day there I could easily have spent the night. There are just some experiences in life that should linger for a while longer. We never did make it to Pisa that day but I was much too mellow to care. After all, I shall return.

More photos of Castello de Verrazzano

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Florence is Magnificent!

Our visit to Florence was much too short -- a half day is just not enough time to see the birthplace of the Renaissance. Although I firmly believe that cruising is one of the best ways to see the world there are times when you need more time to savor the beautiful site you're visiting. I now know that someday I will spend more time in Florence.

The highlight of my short visit was Michelangelo's Statue of David. I could have spent all day in the Galleria dell' Accademia admiring David's physique -- the powerful chest, the rippling muscles and the look of fear and determination in his eyes as he was about to cast the stone that would kill Goliath. In a moment of levity I asked Steve if he could possibly work out enough to look like David by the end of year and he replied that there was no way that his hands would possibly grow as large as David's in a couple of months. It's hard to see in this picture but David's extremities are not in proportion to his body.

Another fascination for me was the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's oldest bridge. Our tour guide explained to us that the Ponte Vecchio was not always lined with fancy jewelry stores. In fact, it was occupied by a meat market until Grand Duke Cosimi I de' Medici ordered the meat market closed in 1565 because he didn't like the stench it was creating as he traversed the passageway from his residence to the government palace. I don't know how you feel about Grand Duke Cosimi I de' Medici overall, but I think he made a good move when he outlawed the meat market.

Although we had the opportunity to take photos from the outside of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), the Church of Santa Croce and Uffizi Gallery, it is a shame that we didn't have the time to go inside. I also didn't have time to shop for leather handbags or savor a gelato or two.

More photos of Florence

We Missed Portofino

On a seven-day Western Mediterranean cruise, you really don't want to miss one of your ports of call but we missed Portofino due to our lazy morning luxuriating in bed. Since we were expected to be in Portofino for 12 hours we didn't think we would have to rush off the boat to see the charming little town but we were wrong. By the time we got our butts out of bed the Celebrity Century's captain made the call to stop the tenders into Portofino because the water was just too rough, which is unusual in the Mediterranean. And the sea didn't get any calmer as the time approached for the ship to set sail to Livorno.

Although about half the passengers managed to get into Portofino, they had to be transported to Santa Margarita Ligure to pick up the tender to the Celebrity Century. Over dinner, people who got to shore expressed mixed sentiments about their adventure. Some just went with the flow and enjoyed the extra time to explore and others spent four hours in line cooling their heels waiting for the tender.

Cruisers need to understand that there are risks associated with tendering to shore. You just might miss the port or you might be in port a lot longer than you expected. Either way, remember to relax and enjoy the moment.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Beautiful Day in Cannes

Our first port of call after we departed Barcelona was Cannes, France and what a glorious day it was – a picture perfect 80 degrees. I just couldn’t wait to get off the Celebrity Century and start practicing my French. After Steve spent some obligatory time drooling in the harbor, we decided to hop a ride on a city bus that traveled down the Boulevard de la Croisette, one of the most famous and I daresay expensive promenades in the world.

Given that it was a beautiful sunny Sunday in Cannes, we decided to have lunch at the Long Beach restaurant which was located on a private Mediterranean beach. After all, you only live once. We thought we ordered a light lunch of pizza and Caesar salad but the portions were much more generous than we expected.

After lunch, Sharon Assis and Sandy Velikonja invited us to join them on a tour of Cannes. Our local tour guide was Sylvie Di Cristo, who works extensively on the French Riviera and Paris. I was very impressed that she spoke four languages fluently – French, English, Italian and Spanish -- and was happy when she agreed to converse with me in French. After all, I can use all the practice I can get and Cannes was the only French port on my seven-day Western Mediterranean cruise. Sylvie took us up to Le Suquet where we all admired the breathtaking panoramic view of the whole city below.

After the climb up to Le Suquet, it was time to explore the quaint old town and do some shopping. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday most of the stores were closed and the only thing we could do was window shop. Sylvie reminded me that the French word for window shopping is “lèche-vitrine,” which literally means window-licking.

After a busy afternoon of window-licking we stopped for a beer at the outdoor restaurant of the majestic Intercontinental Carlton Cannes. It turns out that the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes was closing its outdoor restaurant for the season and we were fortunate to be their last clients of the year. I guess our waiter was in a celebratory mood because he brought us some appetizers gratis to enjoy with our beers. He even indulged Sandy, who has a craving for French macaroons.

More photos of Cannes

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Getting Around in Barcelona

While we were in Barcelona, Steve and I got around town by foot, city bus, tourist bus, taxi and cable car. The double decker tourist bus covers the most ground in the least amount of time and is particularly enjoyable on a sunny day. The audio presentation, however, is hard to hear and often doesn't synchronize well with the path of the bus. We were stopped in one of Barcelona's numerous traffic jams while the recording was telling us about a site that didn't appear for a while. The ear plugs are uncomfortable so if you have a set that you particularly like, take them with you.

The views of the city from the the cable car that crosses Port Vell from San Sebastia Beach to Montjuic Mountain are incredible. You would think that the station would be relatively easy to find but as we followed the overhead wire to the Jaume I tower, we discovered after walking forever that this station was closed for repairs. So we decided to take a taxi to the station on the other side of harbor at San Sebastia Beach only to discover that it was closed from 2:00pm - 3:00pm for lunch. This gave us an excuse to have a sangria on the beach. In spite of the fact that we walked and waited nearly half a day to board this cable car, the view was well worth it.

Another tip about getting around in Barcelona --- forget about using your iPhone. Although I downloaded the Lonely Planet Barcelona City Guide and thought it would be cool for it to guide me around Barcelona, I found an old-fashioned paper map and my gumption to ask for directions to be far more useful. There are just too many beautiful sites to see in Barcelona to be fooling around with an iPhone as I was doing in this photo.

More photos of Barcelona from above

On the Gourmet Walking Tour

If you're a foodie and ever visit Barcelona, you don't want to miss the Gourmet Walking Tour. It was truly a treat as we strolled through the streets of the old town experiencing sensory overload. The vibrant and hectic Mercat de La Boqueria was the highlight of the walk. Every type of delicacy that you could think of can be found there. Imagine ham costing 158 Euros per kilo -- that 's about $120 per pound! Another particularly memorable shop was the Tostaderos Casa Gispert where the smell of roasted nuts wafted in the air making me very hungry. The head roaster of nuts gave us a presentation on how he worked his magic in an authentic wood-burning oven that is around 150 years old.

More photos of Mercat de La Boqueria

Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Steve and I took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona's historical and political center. One of the most memorable buildings that we saw on this walk was the Barcelona Cathedral. Although the richly decorated main facade was added during the late 19th century, the rest of the cathedral was built between 1298 and 1460. I was fascinated by the fact that we saw a lot of geese loitering in the cloiser and was amused to find out that in medieval times, the geese were the protectors of the cathedral. The geese were the medieval equivalent of a security system because if anybody tried to sneak into the cathedral the geese would start honking like crazy.

In addition to seeing a lot of old and interesting buildings, I noticed that there were some talented musicians playing in the plazas of the Gothic Quarter. Our tour guide told us that these musicians had to be good because they needed a license from the city to play on these crowded plazas and in order to get a license, they were required to audition for the privilege. These musicians are not paid by the city; they rely on grateful passersby to toss some money in their hat or buy their CDs.

Our tour guide was a dyed-in-the-wool Catalonian. While we were standing in the Palau del Lloctinent (Spanish viceroy), which is home to a unique archive documenting the history of the kingdom prior to unification under Fernando and Isabel, he was quick to point out that the kingdom of Catalonia was once so vast that it once covered parts of Italy and Greece. I was also amazed to learn that when Spain was ruled by Franco, the Catalonians were not allowed to speak their native language, which is Catalan. Everyone in Spain was required to speak Spanish.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dining in Barcelona

Barcelona is a gourmet's paradise. The displays of tapas and pinchos made my mouth water. Although the term "tapas" is pretty well known in the United States, I had not heard the term "pinchos." There is a difference. Tapas are appetizers which are shared among those dining together. The term originated from the verb "tapar" or to cover. It comes from the old habit of covering a glass of wine with a slice of bread or ham to keep out the insects. Pinchos are individual tasty morsels with toothpicks in them. When you eat pinchos, your bill is determined by how many toothpicks are left on the plate.

At any rate, I had far more delicious tapas and pinchos in one trip than I could possibly count. Steve and I were lucky to be accompanied by Sharon Assis, who knows the terrain in Barcelona. She and her sister, Sandy Velikonja, introduced us to Orio, a warm and welcoming tapas bar at Ferran 38 located close to the Grand Central Hotel in the Gothic Quarter. Not only did we savor shrimp and deep fried pinchos filled with choice ham, bacon and cheese, we also had no trouble drinking a smooth Paisajes VII Rioja.

On our final evening in Barcelona, Steve and I had another excellent dining experience at Taller De Tapas on the Rambla Catalunya, where we discovered Catalan tomato bread (pa amb tomaquet), a favorite snack in Catalonia. We liked it so much that we barely saved enough room for our tuna and lamb entrees. It's simple fare but it sure is tasty.

Friday, October 16, 2009


When I travel I make a point of participating in an activity that helps me to understand the culture of the country or region I am visiting. So when in Barcelona I decided to take in a flamenco show which included a buffet dinner of many tasty traditional Spanish dishes. Tablao Cordobes, located on the vibrant La Rambla, puts on a spectacular show. From the front row, I was able to get a very personal view of the intricate and dazzling moves of the flamenco dancers who were exhilarating and sexy in their colorful costumes.

You can either book dinner and the show or the show only. However, you have a much better chance of getting a front row seat if you book both dinner and the show. The showroom is a small, intimate setting and the seats aren’t tiered so getting a front row seat is important in order to appreciate the talent and power of the flamenco dancers.

More photos of Tablao Cordobes
Photos of La Rambla

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona has many unbelievable sites but if you have time to see only one you must go to La Sagrada Família. I was virtually awestruck. Begun in 1882, it is only sixty percent complete and is expected to be finished in 2026. Before I toured La Sagrada Família I wondered how an unfinished church could be so dazzling. It is the exquisite way in which Gaudí depicts the story of the birth of Jesus in the Nativity façade and the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Passion façade. The ornate figures on the façades are carved with such delicate and intense detail that I was drawn in to the story in a mysterious way that has never happened to me in any other church or cathedral.

Inside the church, Gaudí’s use of space, light and stone which gives you the feeling of being under an immense forest canopy is extraordinary.

If you go, be sure to take the audio tour. I don’t think it’s possible to appreciate La Sagrada Família in all its glory without hearing its incredible history and the stories that make its walls come alive.

More photos of La Sagrada Família

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Modernista Heaven

We had a good idea that Hotel Astoria was well located when we booked it but quite frankly we didn’t realize it was located in the middle of Modernista heaven in the Eixample neighborhood. Everywhere I looked I got an eyeful of some of the most unusual buildings I have ever seen by such renowned architects as Antoni Gaudi, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Lluis Domenech I Montaner. I can’t remember how many times I stepped off curbs without seeing them because I was so busy gawking at such marvels as the rippling gray stone façade of Gaudi’s La Pedrera (the Stone Quarry ) which is studded with ‘seaweed’ in the form of wrought-iron balconies.

The Manzana De La Discordia (Block of Discord) was the most outlandish example I’ve ever seen of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Three wealthy neighbors were intent on outdoing each other as they were building their dream homes so they each hired one of the most famous architects of the time (Gaudi, Puig I Cadafalch and Domenech I Montaner) to design them. The end result was three very eclectic houses built right next to one another. Gaudi’s weird-looking house of the dragon stands next to Puig I Cadafalch’s medieval Dutch looking Casa Amatller, which is next to Domenech I Mantaner’s more rounded Casa Lleo Morera. It would be interesting to hear what the city planners in Bellevue thought about this concoction of grandiose homes.

While walking down Avinguda Diagonal, I was struck by the numbers of motorbikes and bicycles. They are very popular because there’s absolutely no place to park. What really struck my fancy was watching a nice-looking woman in a tailored white suit and high heels getting on her motor bike and taking off down the street. She has more guts than I do and I’m no wallflower!

As Steve and were strolling down the Passeig de Gracia (the Rodeo Drive of Barcelona), we saw many sidewalk vendors selling knock-offs of high-priced designer merchandise that was sold at the upscale stores (Gucci, Chanel, Coach, Prada, etc.) that lined the street. Apparently, selling knock-off goods in this elite neighborhood isn’t allowed as we saw one of the sidewalk vendors quickly gather his purses (which were chained together) and run as fast as he could down the street. He escaped but the police ended up with the purses. I thought about making a deal with the police for a great price on a “knock off” handbag but stopped short before I got myself in trouble. I just thought it would be funny to go home and tell my friends that my bag was a real “steal.”

More photos of Barcelona's Modernista Creations
Photos of Gaudí’s Park Güell

Welcome to Barcelona!

Steve and arrived in Barcelona yesterday after spending close to 12 hours in an uncomfortable seated position in a long narrow aluminum tube in the sky. After claiming our luggage, I was thankful that I had arranged private ground transportation. I’ve done this numerous times for my clients but this was the first that I had arranged a limo for myself and Steve. Was I ever glad I did. Our driver was waiting for us with a smile, helped us with our luggage and shared his stories about growing up in Barcelona on the way to the hotel. When you arrive in a new city under the influence of jet lag, it sure is nice not to have to think about negotiating for a taxi.

Hotel Astoria is a charming boutique hotel well-located in the Eixample neighborhood. We arrived at noon and were thankful that our room was ready for us because we were just dying to do such things as brush our teeth and take a nice hot shower. We were also grateful that the water pressure in the shower was generous and hot as we felt pretty grubby after a very long day of traveling. I just love to feel the hot water streaming over me as I slowly begin to relax and rejoice about arriving in an exciting new city.

Newly refreshed, we decided to explore the streets of Barcelona……

Photos of scenes from Barcelona

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fun with Chopsticks in Japan

At an Oktoberfest last week, I was telling stories about my first visit to Japan in 1998. My dear friend Etsuko Nakamura, agreed to be my guide. One night in Tokyo, Etsuko brought me to a restaurant where only the locals go. I was the only hapless tourist in the place. Although I had become pretty proficient eating rice with chopsticks, I couldn't for the life of me pick up with chopsticks the fishballs in my soup. Each time I tried, I managed to get the fishball closer to my mouth but it always ended up plopping back in the bowl.

Sensing that I wasn't feeling great about the chopsticks getting the best of me, the waitress quietly said something to Etsuko. When I asked Etsuko what she said, Etsuko started laughing and said, "It's okay to stick it." At which point I stuck the chopstick in the fishball and was happy for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Advantages of Booking Early

It's astounding how the cruise business has changed within the last 2 1/2 years. Just a short time ago before the economy went into the tank, people booked their cruises six months to a year out. Now, a lot of people are waiting until the last minute to book. Some of this is because of the uncertain economic times; after all, many people don't know whether they will still be employed a year from now or what will happen to their portfolios. But let's face it, the cruise lines are encouraging people to book late because the cruise deals just keep coming. Everytime I open my email I get besieged with offers about the "cruise deal of the century."

Regardless of all the deals, here are three good reasons why you should book early:

1. The most desirable staterooms are usually booked early. If you really want a balcony stateroom located mid-ship on a deck that doesn't have public areas directly above or below it, you won't find it at the last minute. At the last minute, you're more likely to find interior staterooms or staterooms that aren't particularly well-located -- i.e. above the lounge, under the pool where you can hear the deck chairs being moved early in the morning or near the elevators.

2. Be sure to book early if you're planning to put three or four people in a stateroom because not many of the staterooms accommodate more than two people. These staterooms book quickly, especially for cruises in the summer and during the holidays.

3. If you're planning to cruise with family and friends, you should book early if you would like your staterooms to be located next to or near one another. It's a lot of fun to book balcony staterooms and suites that are next to one another because on many ships you can open up the balconies between staterooms and have a good time. If you wait too long, your staterooms could be all over the ship.

If cruise fares go down between the time you book and the time you make final payment, fares can be adjusted.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Upcoming Trip to Barcelona

On October 6 I leave for Barcelona, where I will have three days to poke around before boarding the Celebrity Century for a 7-day cruise that stops in Cannes, Portofino, Livorno, Rome and Naples.

Staying at a three-star hotel is always a crap shoot in Europe for not all three-star hotels are created equally. Some are cozy boutique hotels that make you feel right at home and others are drafty, noisy places that make you wish you had spent just a little more so you could get a good night's sleep. How much is a good night's sleep worth?

I will be staying at the Hotel Astoria in the L'Eixample neighborhood, which is a part of town where I am told you should always look up because you will undoubtedly see many intriguing and whimsical facades of the countless buildings that Modernista architects raised in a few short decades around the turn of the 20th century.

I'm hoping that Hotel Astoria is as comfortable, welcoming, and well-located as I think it will be and as I count down the days to my departure, the need to feed my tapas fix grows ever stronger.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reinvention is the Order of the Day

In these interesting times, it is vital to keep reinventing yourself in order to stay relevant. What worked last year is more than likely a dud this year. I was recently asked about the "emotional feel" others have in response to me and my business. I really don't know whether I'm there yet, but I would love it if people thought of me as one who enabled them to experience the sheer joy of sharing some quality time with people from different lands.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Aboard the m/s Amsterdam

On Saturday I boarded the m/s Amsterdam at Pier 91 in Seattle with five of my most seasoned cruising clients to hear Holland America's presentation on their grand voyages. Just stepping aboard the ship made me painfully aware of my addiction to cruise ships. If only I could stowaway on the m/s Amsterdam's last sailing to Alaska in 2009...... As usual, Stein Kruse and his Grand Voyages' team put on a class act. In addition to viewing some stunning photos of the many exotic locations that the m/s Amsterdam and the m/s Prinsendam visit, I was struck by the stories of the deep friendships that fellow passengers develop over the course of their journey.

After the presentation, 200 Holland America clients, prospects and travel agents sat down to a delicious lunch in the La Fontaine dining room. My rack of lamb was a perfect "medium rare," the wine flowed freely and I enjoyed hearing about my clients' cruising adventures.

Holland America's ships are well-known for their exquisite art collections. The centerpiece of the m/s Amsterdam Atrium is the magnificent and stunning astrolabe, an ancient celestial clock with four faces: the astrolabe itself, a planetarium, the world time, and an astrological clock. You really need to see it for yourself as I don't do it much justice standing in front of it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Grand Voyages of Holland America

I appreciate the opportunity from Holland America to invite select clients to hear Stein Kruse's presentation on Holland America's grand voyages this Saturday aboard the m/s Amsterdam at Pier 91 in Seattle this Saturday. The grand voyages are 51 to 128 day cruises that will take you practically anywhere in the world where you can find a body of water. I've cruised all over the world but the longest cruise I've taken to date is only 18 days.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Parlez-vous français anyone?

It's no surprise that traveling can be much more fun and enriching when you speak the local language. Lately, I've been working to refresh my French. I've completed all three levels of Rosetta Stone and now I'm listening to Champs-Elysees, a French newsmagazine on CD. I'm amused by the section on literature where they're talking about Bernard Pivot and his new book, 100 Expressions to Remember. Did you know that "peigner la girafe" literally means to comb the giraffe but actually means to do some pointless task? I'm hoping this phrase will come in handy while visiting Cannes next month ;-)

About Me...

There comes a point in a person’s life when you want to try to have it all. That point came for me in June 2007 when I decided to buy a cruise travel agency. I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could travel as part of my work and turn people on to the spice of life in a different culture?”

Through my Cravings of a Cruise Diva blog, I want to share my passion for cruise travel with you. Rather than being hauled around in a motor coach from one major tourist attraction to another with hordes of other people while in port, I want the ports of call to come alive for you. I want you to be a part of the happening scene instead of merely observing it. I want you to feel the magic of being in a new, strange land. I want your visit to tantalize all five senses – all the better for you to go home and tell colorful stories to your family and friends.

I look forward to sharing my passion, some advice and help make all your travel experiences better than you could have ever imagined. I welcome your comments and stories as well – this will be fun…