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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 8, Our First Port Stop on The Transatlantic Cruise

Sunday, May 4th, 2013 Day 8

Our first cruise port on the cruise:

We needed to get up at 6:30 a.m. in order to get up to breakfast and then meet with the rest of the passengers going on our excursion on the island of San Miguel in the Azores today. I woke up at 6:10 a.m., very unusual for me, and decided not to go back to sleep for only 20 minutes. Instead I got up and looked out the window and just saw land as we were coming in to the port of Ponta Delgada. The morning started off as fairly foggy with a bit of rain which was disappointing because the last time we were here at this same port for a cruise, it was so foggy we couldn’t even see the lakes on either side of us which are one of the highlights of this island.

As soon as we finished breakfast we arrived at the Princess Theater just in time to be escorted off the ship and onto our waiting tour bus. The tour was scheduled to be from 8:30 a.m. till 1:30 p.m. We set out driving to the middle of the island and on the way saw many of the small villages with very narrow streets that were originally designed for horse and buggies which makes it challenging for a tour bus to drive through. The homes are all close together with many of them joined together with doorways and tiled roofs. Many have a ceramic picture of Jesus Christ either above the doorway or to the right of the door. The Azores consists of 9 islands and is 97% Catholic. Outside of the villages, there were many green fields filled with cows. Milk production is one of the most prevalent businesses on the island along with pineapple and tea production.

Our first stop was to the village of Ribeira Grande, a colonial town with many old buildings that still stand. From the steps of the church you can see the town and the sea behind it. It was an amazing sight to behold. It did start to drizzle on us as we followed our guide around town, but I had brought a rain jacket and was fine. Here's a picture of part of the town from the church steps, and the church itself.

Our next stop was to the summit of Pico de Ferro from which we could see the beautiful green tinged Furnas Lake, and a bevy of Azalea bushes that were mostly pink but there were also some purples and a few red bushes mixed in. Apparently the ginger plant grows wild on San Miguel and is taking over the countryside, making earth slides more prevalent. They have tried to get rid of the plant but it continually grows back. It had stopped raining at this point so we had a better view of everything from the summit.I am including a picture of me and the lake from the view from the top.

On the way to our next stop, we hit a traffic jam consisting of about 50 dairy cows and 2 cattle herders walking down the middle of the road to switch pastures. The guide says this happens often on the island. Our third stop was to the Terra Nostra gardens which included a mud bath with water heated to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are changing rooms there for people who need to change into swim suits before stepping into the muddy waters. Apparently this bathing area helps people with arthritis. We walked along the gardens and were treated to more Azaleas, Camelias, ferns natural to the area, palm trees and cork trees. It was a beautiful area.

The last stop of the day was to the Furnas Hot Springs. The town of Furnas was originally well known for producing charcoal. The hot springs there though are amazing. There’s a sign that warns people to be careful as the steam that comes from the hot springs is boiling hot. In some area, you can see pools of bubbling hot water with steam rising. In other areas, there is just a round hole where steam comes out. The whole area smells like sulfur. This area used to be known as a spa area, but not anymore. I'm including a picture of Chuck sitting in front of the hot springs.There are homes in a small village around the area.

It was about a 1 hour ride back to the ship after we saw the hot springs, and both Chuck and I took a brief nap before we reached the ship.Once back on board we had lunch and then took a real nap. As always, he went to work out in the gym and I went to the walking track on the 17th floor. I had already logged in 8,000 steps by lunch time because of all the walking we had done on the tour. But my goal is a minimum of 10,000 steps each day, and 30 minutes worth need to be aerobic steps so I wanted to walk again. Today while I was walking I did 6 times around the track (7 laps is equal to one mile) and was about to stop because I was tired from walking earlier, but a woman from Brooklyn, NY started talking to me and asked if we could walk together for a bit. I was glad I said yes because I got 3 more laps in and found her very interesting. She and her husband are from Brooklyn but now live in Florida. She had recently had knee replacement surgery so had to walk slow but I was fine with that. We compared notes on other cruises she and her husband have been on and before long he joined us as well.It's always fun to compare notes with other frequent cruisers.

After showering and getting changed for dinner, we had a very delicious dinner (Chuck said it was his best on board so far) in the Concerto dining room. One of the entrees was Lobster tail with a side of 2 crab cakes. Chuck had the whole meal and I just asked for the crab cakes which the waiter said he found interesting because most people do the opposite and ask for 2 lobster tails and skip the crab cakes. I guess I just like to do things differently! For dessert, Chuck had Jamaican coffee ice cream and I had the most delicious dessert I have ever had on a cruise ship. It was called chocolate pudding pie. It was basically the most delicious chocolate mousse I have ever tasted, baked in a small dish atop a chocolate graham cracker crust and topped with dollops of fresh whipped cream with chocolate shavings sprinkled on top.

After that delicious dinner, we went to the atrium whose 3 floors were crammed with onlookers to watch the International show. This was various members of crew musicians who entertained us with singing and dancing of music from various countries. The highlights for us were when 2 of the entertainers sang a song from our wedding called, “The Prayer” and did a wonderful job on it, and a trio of Greek dancers who came out in full costume and got a few audience members out of their seats to dance with them. One of them was a 3 year old little boy who was absolutely adorable when he tried to do the dance moves and clapped his hands and walked in a circle with the rest of the dancers. It was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes. I guess I am just a sucker for a cute kid! At the end of the program when all of the entertainers came out and took their bows, he ran out to join them. It was very sweet.

We came back to the room and watched the movie,”Playing For Keeps” starring Gerard Butler, Catherine Zeta Jones, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel before going to bed. It had been a wonderful day, and getting off the ship after 7 days was a nice change of pace.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day 7 of the Northern Atlantic Transatlantic Cruise

Saturday, May 3, 2014 Day 7

Today after breakfast Chuck went to a seminar about opera in the Mediterranean while I went to an on board sale which was still very expensive. I forgot my black dress purse at home, and thought about spending $10 on this one at the sale, but you know me, I like to save money not spend it so I decided for the next 2 formal nights I will give my camera to Chuck to keep in his suit jacket pocket so I won’t need a purse.

When the opera seminar was done, we went to a talk about our stop in Lehavre/Paris. We learned a lot of thing about visiting Paris and the port city of Lehavre. We will only actually be in Paris for 3 hours which while disappointing, is still better than never making it there at all. Chuck said tonight that if we ever do another cruise to France, he really wants to visit Normandie. I agreed, and although I would much rather go to Paris again, this is my turn, next trip will be his.

We had lunch then came back and took a nap, worked out. I went to my usual place to work out which is the walking track on deck 17. On the way up there, I happened to look over the side railing and saw something dark in the water. I ran up to the walking deck and looked over the edge of the railing and there I saw a sight that made me laugh out loud…I saw a lone dolphin gliding through the water. I love watching dolphins in their natural habitat. They seem to enjoy the water so much it’s a thrill to watch them. I must say I was much more interested in watching for dolphins than I was walking but I needed to walk to combat all the extra calories I have been eating so I made a deal with myself: For each lap I walked around that deck, I would get to stop and look for more dolphins. I did do that and found dolphins on 2 more rounds of looking. They weren’t doing a lot of jumping but did surface a lot. It was quite exciting and I remembered that one of my favorite things about cruising is watching for wildlife. I met a woman who had seen dolphins at noon, and told me where she had seen them from which was from an outside deck at the back of the ship. On the way back to the room, I stopped at this place and was amazed at the beauty that could be seen from there. I couldn’t wait to take Chuck there. And after we got ready for dinner in our finest ( it’s the second formal night) I took Chuck there as a surprise. This deck is rather hidden, past the Horizon Court Buffet. There are outside tables and then nearest the railings there’s a series of couches and chairs with a bar at the back. We each had a glass of wine and watched the water as it glided away from the back of the ship. The sun was still in the sky and wasn’t going to set for a few hours. It felt warm on my skin as we sat there and marveled at how beautiful everything was from this perfect perch.

Scenes from the back deck

We went back to the Concerto dining room for our meal. I had a small dish of Fettucine Alfredo and Chuck had a beef dish. This dining room has been our favorite of the trip. There’s always good service and very competent waiters. After dinner we tried to go to the Al Katz show but there were no seats left at all.

We came back to the room and watched a movie instead. We have to get up early tomorrow to go on our tour in Ponta Del Gada.