Month: January 2018

Cartagena

Cartagena has long been on my bucket list.  As we entered the harbor, the beautiful impressive skyline was bathed in morning sunshine.  After we docked on the other side of The World (the ship), I was anxious to begin our tour.  We booked a tour of the Old City, which included a photo op of the majestic Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a Spanish fortress built for protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe; a visit to the Historical Museum to view a display of instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition; the Naval Museum and Folkloric Dancers; Las Bovedas, dungeons that now house boutiques; and the Jesuit Cloisters and Museum, where we learned the history of Saint Peter Claver, the priest who freed the slaves.

During our first stop at the fortress of San Felipe, we were swarmed by vendors as pesky as gnats.  They were in our face everywhere we turned trying to sell us hats, necklaces, and other items.  The fortress, built between 1536 and 1657, is the largest Spanish fort ever built in the New World.  We continued our tour at the Old City, where our first stop was Las Bovedas, a series of small boutique shops where we were once again surrounded by vendors trying to sell us their wares.  Then, it was back on the bus to the Jesuit Cloisters in the center of the Old City.  As we stood in the courtyard listening to Wilson, our tour guide, one of our fellow passengers was almost hit by a mango that fell from the tree above us.  Anxious to avoid the peril of falling mangoes, we visited the museum to view the exhibit highlighting the life of Saint Peter Claver.  A short walk took us to the Naval Museum, where we viewed a performance by native folkloric dancers before going in to view the exhibits, all in Spanish, about the history of the Spanish and English invasions and subsequent independence in 1811.  We briefly visited the Historical Museum to view several instruments of torture used during the Inquisition. We had approximately 20 minutes of free time before we ended our tour in the Park near the statue of Simon Bolivar.  We were a few minutes late getting back to the ship because Winston had to go find a little lady, who hadn’t been able to keep up with the tour.

As we left the harbor that afternoon, I good a good photo of Fuerte San Fernando de Bocachica, the fort that guards one of the main entrances to Cartagena’s harbor, situated on Tierra Bomba Island.

 

Cartagena Skyline

 

Cartagena Port
The World
Old City Skyline
Castillo San Felipe

 

Don Blas de Lazo Statue
Wilson, Our Tour Guide

 

Folklorico Dancers at Navy Museum
Naval Museum Courtyard
Naval Museum
Naval Museum
Naval Museum
Jesuit Altar with St. Peter Claver Relics
Jesuit Cloisters
St. Petrus Claver
Jesuit Museum
History Museum
Wilson, Out Tour Guide
Swarmed by Vendors and Pigeons

 

Statue of Peter Claver and a Slave
Simon Bolivar Statue

 

Taxis Outside Old City Wall
Boca Chica Fort

 

 

Grand Cayman

Our first port was Grand Cayman.  We departed for our excursion via tender and were soon on our tour bus headed for our first stop at a shop that sells rum and rum cakes.  I tasted the mango rum and we sampled the chocolate and mango rum cakes.

Carol’s Sunday School Class and our book club ladies will be surprised to learn that Carol went to hell!  Our next stop was to view and photograph the interesting rock formations and purchase T-shirts documenting our visit to hell.

The final stop on our excursion was at a Dolphin Center to view a performance by the trained dolphins.  Some of our fellow travelers had photos made petting one of the dolphins that was trained to come up onto a deck.

Our tour guide, Sonia, provided interesting commentary and historical info as we drove around the island.  We saw Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s motorcade on the way to the Heroes Celebration in the heart of Georgetown.  She’s the first woman to be appointed by the British government to this position.  Our tour guide explained that the native Caymians were happy to be independent from Jamaica, but they prefer to be under British rule and are proud to be part of the British empire.

 

Tortuga Rum Cake Store
Our Tour Guide, Sonia

 

Rock Formation in Hell
Carol in Hell
Dolphin Show
Petting the Dolphin

 

Dolphin Show
Dolphin Show

Panama Canal Cruise

My flight from San Antonio to Ft. Lauderdale thru Houston was uneventful except for the trek from the E gates to Gate C1.  It’s a good thing I’m still in shape from all the walking I did in Europe because I certainly got my exercise in the Houston airport!  I decided to go the day before the cruise departed because I never trust the airlines or the weather. I chose to stay at the Crowne Plaza in Ft. Lauderdale for its proximity to the airport and the port.  It was the right choice.  The hotel is dated on the exterior, but my room was new and spacious.  The hotel staff went out of their way to take care of all my requests.  An added bonus was the fact that AllStars runs a shuttle from the hotel to the ship for only $8…a lot less than the transfer with Princess.  I was onboard and in my cabin by 12:30.   Carol, on the other hand, had decided to fly in on the morning of the cruise.  A call from our travel agent at 11pm saying her flight the next morning was cancelled caused a bit of concern.  Nevertheless, she finally boarded the ship just as we were beginning the fire muster exercise.  We took lots of photos from the upper deck of the other ships in port such as the Crown Princess, the Queen Elizabeth II, and the Harmony of the Seas.  Our ship, the Coral Princess, sailed shortly after 4 pm.  We unpacked and settled in before heading to dinner.

We chose the early seating traditional dining and were pleased that we were seated in the Provence Dining Room at a table for 8 with 3 very pleasant couples.  They are all well-traveled which makes for interesting conversation during dinner.  There are lots of choices for breakfast and lunch, the Horizon Court Buffet, open from 6am to 11pm; the Grill for hamburgers and hot dogs; the Pizzeria; and the Bordeaux Dining room, available for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea.  Not to mention the Ice Cream Bar, and all the specialty restaurants.  The challenge will be to resist temptation!  A large number of our fellow passengers are significantly overweight and have mobility issues, which is a constant reminder to watch how much and what we’re eating.

Our first full day on board was a sea day.  So, we had time to relax and sign up for our first shore excursions and spa treatments.  I had a chance to use our balcony to work on my tan.  Our balcony is on the top row at the front of the ship.  We are the second cabin from the left on the row that extends toward the bow of the ship.

The internet on the ship isn’t reliable.  So, I’ve had trouble trying to post this.

The Coral Princess
The Coral Princess
Harmony of the Seas
The QE II
Crown Princess
Coast Guard Escort
Cargo Ship Leaving Port
Ft. Lauderdale Beach
Sail Boat Entering the Port

 

Coral Princess Atrium
Coral Princess Atrium

 

Vienna

Vienna was MAGICAL!!  Das Tyrol, my small luxury boutique hotel with the funky décor, was the perfect place to stay for my visit during Christmas week. The location, just steps off Mariahilferstrasse, the long pedestrian street, and a short walk to the Museums Quartier, allowed me to walk to most things I wanted to visit and enjoy the large Christmas Market on the way.  The staff was always one step ahead of me in taking care of all my needs.  Lajos, the manager on duty when I first arrived, went out of his way to book the tours I wanted and responded to my question about a nice place for Christmas lunch with a recommendation for Restaurant Mini.  He made my reservation and I can’t thank him enough.  All the managers were so nice, especially, Nadine, who was always smiling and cheerful and couldn’t do enough to ensure that my stay was pleasant.

Restaurant Mini was small but cozy.  My Christmas lunch was one of the best meals I had during my time in Europe.  The Hungarian fusion cuisine was delicious.  I ordered an elderflower aperitif and when the waiter brought a goose liver mousse spread to enjoy with their homemade bread, I knew I was in for a treat.  The meal was four courses, but I decided to skip the soup.  The risotto with truffle oil was very good and then the main entrée, the veal chop with shrimp, asparagus, and sugar snap peas arrived.  Absolutely delicious!  The waiter recommended a Pinot Gris from Hungary and it was a great choice. The dessert was a plum crème brulee.  I was in heaven!!  The waiter brought me a complimentary Hungarian dessert wine to enjoy with it.  I may have been alone, but I didn’t feel lonely with all the attention from the excellent wait staff.

I visited the Leopold Museum in the Museums Quarter one morning to view the works of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt and several other notable Austrian artists.  The Kunsthistorisches Museum exhibit of the works of Rubens took most of a morning to view and I wanted to see the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts, but the hundreds of Chinese tourists waiting in line made it impossible.  I could easily have spent two days in this museum.  The next morning, I went to see the Lipizzaner’s training at the Spanish Riding Academy, Spanische Hofrietschule.  The 72 beautiful stallions are exercised daily in groups of six and the practice is open to the public.  I wasn’t sure which building to go to in the Imperial Palace, but a block away, I just followed my nose right to the ticket office.  I wished my grandson, Sebastian, who is taking riding lessons, could have been there to watch them with me.

My tour of the Schonbrunn Palace included a brief stop at the Belvedere Palace for a photo op, so I went back for the full tour one afternoon.  I especially wanted to view the Klimt exhibit and I wasn’t disappointed.  On my way to the Imperial Palace to view the Sisi Museum, I came across some young men selling tickets to a Strauss/Mozart Concert in the Hofburg that evening.  I had given up the idea of a concert after seeing the long lines outside the Opera House, so I was happy that I could see a concert and that it was in walking distance of my hotel.  It was a delightful experience!!  According to the young men selling tickets, the new head of the Austrian government wasn’t going to let them use the venue in the Hofburg after the first of the year.  Serendipity strikes again!!  I needed at least another week in Vienna to see most of the sights, but that’s going to have to be another trip….

I flew from Vienna to Frankfurt on December 28th and spent the night in the airport Hilton before my flight from Frankfurt to Houston on the 29th.  I had a two-hour layover in Houston, which was good since I had to clear customs and go through security again.  I’m home in San Antonio, staying with my son and family until I depart for a Panama Canal cruise with my friend, Carol on January 20th.  I’ll continue my blog once we’re on the cruise.

 

My Room at Das Tyrol
Das Tyrol Hotel

 

 

Das Tyrol Reception
Das Tyrol Lobby
Lipizzaner Practice

 

Lipizzaner Practice
Lipizzaner Practice

 

Kunsthistorisches Museum
Kunsthistorisches Museum

 

Rubens Exhibit
Naturhistorisches Museum

 

 

Maria Theresa Platz
Mariahilferstrasse

 

Hofburg Night View
Strauss/Mozart Concert

 

Rathhaus Night View
Hofburg with Carriage Rides
Hofburg
Hofburg

 

Hofburg

 

Belvedere Klimt
Belvedere Klimt The Kiss

 

Belvedere Tivoli Near Rome
Belvedere Van Gogh

 

Belvedere Manet
Belvedere Monet

 

Belvedere Monet
Belvedere Renoir

 

Belvedere John Simpson
Belvedere Rodin Bust

Schloss Schonbrunn and Vienna City Tour

My first full day in Vienna I took a small group tour of the City and Schonbrunn Palace.  I enjoyed visiting with a young newlywed couple from Baltimore who had been given the trip to Vienna as a wedding gift.

Our City Tour included the highlights of Vienna, but it was difficult to see several of the sites because trams or buses were often blocking our view.  Our first stop was a short photo stop at Schloss Belvedere.  We then proceeded to the Schonbrunn Palace for our guided tour.  The name Schonbrunn means beautiful spring and originates from an artesian well from which water was consumed by the court.  The Baroque Schloss Schonbrunn, a former imperial summer residence, consists of 1,441 rooms.  The palace in its present form was built and remodeled during the 1740-50s.  Maria Theresa had received the estate as a wedding gift.  Her son, Franz Joseph, was born in the palace and was the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, dying there at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916.  The state-owned palace is one of the most important architectural and historical monuments in Austria.  The palace history covers over 300 years and reflects the life of successive Habsburg monarchs.

Our tour guide was excellent and skilled in maneuvering our way past several large tour groups leaving time for a visit to the gardens and the large Christmas Market on the grounds.  Once again, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the palace interior, but I was able to get lots of photos of the exterior and the Christmas Market.

 

Belvedere Palace
Belvedere Palace
Lower Belvedere
Schonbrunn Palace
Schonbrunn Palace
The Gardens
Schonbrunn Palace
Schonbrunn Palace Entrance

The Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey was on my “don’t miss” list.  So, I signed up for a full day bus tour to the Wachau Valley and Melk Abbey.  I was picked up at my hotel in a van and then transferred to the double decker bus at the station.  The first stop on the tour was the small village of Durnstein in the Wachau Valley.  We walked up the hill to the village overlooking the Danube and strolled through the village stopping to taste the local apricot liquor.  The liquor-filled chocolates were addictive!

Back on the bus, the road followed the river through the Valley to the village of Emmerling where we stopped for lunch at the Schwarzen Baren (Black Bear) restaurant.  We were treated to a delicious lunch before re-boarding the bus to continue our journey to Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey that sits on a rocky outcrop above the town of Melk overlooking the Danube and the Wachau Valley.  We had two local tour guides for the hour and a half tour of the Abbey.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior. It’s difficult to describe all the magnificent artifacts on display and the massive libraries with thousands of manuscripts and volumes with matching bindings.  The original Abbey was founded in 1089 when Leopold II gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks.  The beautiful Baroque abbey currently in existence was built between 1702 and 1736.  The abbey church is breath-taking with it fabulous frescoes and paintings.

 

Krems
View Across the Danube
View Across the Danube

 

Durnstein
Durnstein
Durnstein
Durnstein
Durnstein
Tour Bus
Wachau Valley
Black Bear Restaurant
Melk Abbey Panorama
Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey
Melk
Melk