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2004 Med Cruise - Spain/France/Italy Archives

February 10, 2009

2004 Trip - The Planning

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am going try to recreate the 2004 and 2006 trips we took. I never posted trip reports (bad girl), and my only records are the emails and photo albums I sent to my family along the way.

So, these blog entries will serve a dual purpose - hopefully to entertain my readers and also for me to relive the trips myself.

This 2004 trip happened because of Gary Eberle, one of the winemaking pioneers in Paso Robles. Gary went on a cruise, and we followed.

Actually, he does a couple of cruises a year as a guest lecturer. Several wine events are included as part of the package.

Another thing that convinced us to go was the fact the the cruise was on a Windstar sailing ship, which holds only 150 passengers. This meant we would never get lost on the ship!

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So we booked the cruise, along with a bunch of other Paso Robles fans of Eberle.

Now the planning began. The cruise started in Barcelona and ended in Rome, so we thought we would spend some time at each end of the cruise sightseeing. Bill had been to Europe before, but I had not, so this was a real adventure for me.

Airline tickets were my first priority, and for my very first transatlantic trip I didn't want to sit in coach for all those hours. So, I started shopping for Bus/First fares. After a couple of months of watching fares on a daily basis, I saw that Continental was having a sale on Bus/First tickets. I jumped on it! The Bus/First tickets were about double what Coach tickets were ($2,000 each instead of $1,000), but it seemed worth it to me for my grand entrance into European travel.

I booked our tickets thru London, so we then took EasyJet from London to Barcelona and Meridiana from Florence back to London at the end of our trip. We decided to spend one short day in London before traveling to Barcelona.

I researched all of the hotels online, using TripAdvisor, Fodor's, and yes, Slow Travel! This was the time I discovered Slow Travel Talk - I joined on 2/14/04. Although I was a lurker for awhile, I soon joined in. And I have never looked back!

The trip report episodes that will follow this are based on email reports and photos that I sent to my family as we traveled. All the way to the Tuscany part, which I am going to have to recreate. So, hopefully you will understand why that part has fewer details - because my memory isn't so good without notes!

February 11, 2009

2004 Trip - Getting There

The first three days of our Europe/Cruise trip went by really quickly. Of course, when you lose a good part of a day just by flying from the U.S. to London, time is bound to fly!

Day #1 on Monday started with a flight from SoCal to Houston and then to London, arriving early Tuesday morning. We flew on Continental - they had a sale on First Class tickets several months ago. I am sure a lot of people will think it is a waste of money, but coach class tickets were so expensive at that point, that it seemed worthwhile to me to jump to first class for the sheer pleasure of the additional amenities. Everyone has their own priorities, I guess.

The flight from SoCal to Houston was non-eventful and non-memorable on a 737. The crew was also non-memorable. I can say that because they compared very poorly with the crew on the next part of the trip from Houston to London on a 777, a much larger plane.

Before I forget, I want to mention that the Houston Airport was great - not terribly crowded and very clean. When we arrived from SoCal, an airport employee was available as we walked to our connecting terminal to give us directions. And, he had a darling Texas drawl, so that helped make it a friendly place!

We followed his directions and planned to have lunch while we waited for our connection in Terminal E. We had seen a sign for a seafood bar called Pappadeaux, and it happened to be right across from our gate in Terminal E. What luck! It was up on the second level overlooking the boarding gates - kind of a neat place for people watching. We had a great lunch up there - I had a lobster seafood salad with cashews and Bill had a huge bowl of shrimp gumbo. Both great with Nobilo New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You winelovers have probably heard of Cloudy Bay New Zealand S.B., which has become very expensive. This was just as good!

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O.K. - on to the 2nd flight! I am really a novice at this because I have never been on an international flight with larger planes. It was a sight to behold when we walked into the front section of this 777 plane! So much space between the seats! When we finally went to sleep, we could almost fully recline. With the help of half an Ambien, I actually slept - I don't know how long I slept because I kind of lost track of time. We had a great flight attendant (Marilyn) - she poured us champagne when we first got on and then lots of wine later with dinner and port with dessert. Ferrari Carano Sauv Blanc and a great Syrah called Exp by R.H. Phillips - both really great!

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Continental also gave us each a little "goodie pack" when we were seated on the plane and a really nice thick blanket (not those crappy thin ones). I can't say enough nice things about that crew - they were wonderful! The funny part was that the plane was late leaving, and the crew ended up congregating where we were sitting in the Houston Airport until the plane arrived.

Arrived in London about 8 a.m. We had reservations on the Gatwick Express to get from London Gatwick Airport into London. I had made the reservations many months ago at a pretty cheap price in the first class section of the train, and it was great! We were the only ones in the car (see more about this later) There were tables between the seats to read/work, and a beverage cart came around a couple of times. It took about 30 minutes to get there. The train attendants were very helpful in getting us to a cab driver who took care of our luggage.

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More tomorrow . . .

February 12, 2009

2004 Trip - A Fast Day in London

We arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel (Kensington High Street area). I didn't know what jetlag would feel like, but we were both dragging and decided to sleep for just an hour before we went out. We only had one day in London, so we wanted to make the most of it.

Our first stop was the Kensington Roof Gardens - also on Kensington High St and within walking distance of our hotel. I know you have probably never heard of it, but somehow I discovered their website on the internet, and it sounded very unusual. Here is some history of it by Wikipedia.

The gardens were on the entire 6th floor of the building, with huge trees and wonderful flowers - it was amazing! And, then on the 7th floor was a restaurant named Babylon, where we had a lovely lunch overlooking the gardens. Very peaceful.

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Our plan had been to try and see the matinee performance of "Phantom of the Opera" at Her Majestys Theatre where it first started back in 1986. It was getting pretty late, and I didn't think we could make it on time, but we decided to give it a try. The cab driver thought he could make it, and he did. They had tickets available in the front row of the mezzanine, and we got there with five minutes to spare. "Phantom" was great - my very favorite musical - I could watch it again and again!

Next stop the London Eye. This is a fairly recent project by British Airways - located next to the River Thames near the Waterloo tube station. It looks like a big ferris wheel, but each "car" holds 15-20 people. Wow, what a view as you ascend to the top of the wheel. It went very slowly (took about 45 minutes), so you had lots of time to view all of the sights. Lots of people riding - it is quite a popular attraction.

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We were pretty tired by then, so decided to take the Tube back to our hotel. The Tube, of course, is the very efficient London subway system. Kind of hungry by then, so we found an Italian restaurant near our hotel and had a nice meal.

Day #3 (Wednesday) was moving day. But, before we left our lovely hotel, we had their wonderful breakfast buffet.

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Back to London Gatwick Airport on the Gatwick Express. Only this time was not so pleasant. One of the cars had apparently broken down. Two of the scheduled trains had not run, so our train was completely jammed. The trip which usually takes 30 minutes took more than an hour. Our flight was on EasyJet, which insists on passengers being there 40 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Well, we barely made it. Then, of course, the flight was 1.5 hours late in leaving.

Not a good start to the day. The next installment of this trip report will begin with our arrival in Barcelona. Stay tuned!

February 13, 2009

2004 Trip - Barcelona - 1st Day

So, here we are in Barcelona! I was expecting really hot weather since this was the end of July, but when we walked out of the airport, I was pleasantly surprised - not too hot! I had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel and then sightseeing for the next couple of days. Armando was there waiting for us, sign in hand. What a lovely sight after the crunch of EasyJet! Off to our hotel (Apsis Atrium Palace), and we unpacked.

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First, let's talk about the hotel itself. A fairly small hotel (by US standards anyway) with 70 rooms, it had recently been completely renovated. The rooms were average size, bathrooms were modern, and there was Wi-fi access throughout the hotel. That was really nice! I had booked an internet rate of 99 Euro per day plus half-price buffet breakfast of 15 Euro per day - not too bad for a 4-star hotel. The location was great - 2 blocks north of the Placa Catalunya. The one strange thing about the rooms was that there were no drawers to unpack your clothes into, only a couple of shelves in the closet. Also, the halls and elevators were not air conditioned, just the rooms. Maybe that is a European thing!

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El Corte Ingles (the Spanish department store) was just a couple of blocks from our hotel. I had read that their basement was a supermarket, so we headed over there to get some wine and soft drinks. Lots of wine choices, but we knew very little about what to get, so just picked some Riojas to try. Found out later that they also have a gourmet shop upstairs with the "really good stuff". Bill got a couple bottles of that before we left town.

By that time it was about 5 p.m. and we were really hungry. The front desk people had suggested two tapas places within walking distance, and we headed out to find one of them. It turned out to be Ciutat Comtal Cerveseria. What a good recommendation! We sat at the tapas bar so we could people-watch and let our server decide on the tapas. Had a bottle of Juve y Camps Reserva de Familia Brut Natural cava with the food. It was great! The funny thing, though, is that we got to the restaurant much too early! As we were leaving about 7, they were putting out a literal buffet of tapas where they charged you by the item. Much better idea, as you got to look at each item before you decided if you wanted it.

February 14, 2009

2004 Trip - Barcelona - Dali Museums

We had a big day planned - the three Salvador Dali museums north of Barcelona a couple of hours. I had been told that this was a pretty ambitious idea since the museums were in three different locations, with lots of traffic in between, but our driver Armando thought we could accomplish it in 9 or 10 hours. So, he picked us up in his taxi-van about 8:30, and off we went!

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First stop was the Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres, about 1.5 hours from Barcelona. Lots of people in line when we got there, but it went pretty fast. If you are a Dali fan, you will enjoy the museum. A lot of it, though, is pencil drawings and not his major paintings. The one major painting was Lincoln in Dali-Vision, which we have a print of. It was just HUGE! We didn't realize it would be so big. There is also an old vehicle in the courtyard with a huge statue on the hood. Dali certainly had a vivid (and strange) imagination which he displayed in his art.

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There is also a smaller museum on the property that displays the jewelry that Dali designed. Really unusual and beautiful.

Next stop was the Salvador Dali house museum in Portlligat near the coastal city of Cadaques. Traffic was bad - a narrow road crowded with tourists trying to get to the beach. Took quite awhile, but we made it! This is the one museum that you need an actual reservation for because the house is small, and they only allow a certain number of people to enter every 10 minutes. We sat in a little beachside bar while Armando went up to the Dali house to see about the tickets. He was gone quite awhile (time enough for Bill to see his first topless lady), but was successful in getting us tickets.

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I think it was my favorite of the three Dali museums - to see how the man actually lived and how he chose to decorate his home. The view of the fishing port from high on the hill was just gorgeous - also the pool area. That man knew how to live!

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By this time it was mid afternoon, and we were starving, so Armando took us into the beach city of Cadaques for lunch. The restaurant was called El Pescador and was right on the beachfront. Fish specialties, of course. Everything was delicious.

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Onward we went to the Gala Dali castle museum in Pubol. For those of you unfamiliar with Dali's life, Gala was the Russian-born woman he married. He gifted this castle to her so she would have something that belonged to just her, and he decorated it for her. It was huge - much larger than his little beach house.

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It is said that he did not visit Gala in this house unless he first obtained permission so he wouldn't run into one of her lovers! The grounds of the castle were just beautiful too. Gala is buried here at the museum. There are two crypts, but only hers is occupied. Gala was 10 years older than Salvador and died in 1982. After his death in 1989, Dali was buried at the museum in Figueres. Don't know if this was his intention or not, but it's kind of sad that they were not buried together.

This turned out to be a 12-hour day, and we were all tired. Armando dropped us off at our hotel, and we crashed and just had cheese and crackers and a little wine for dinner. A wonderrful day, though - we saw so many great things!

February 16, 2009

2004 Trip - Barcelona - Montserrat & Gaudi

We started a little later today - our plan was to travel to Montserrat in the mountain area of Barcelona and then tour the various city sites. Another ambitious undertaking, I might add! We had breakfast at the hotel, and Armando picked us up at 9:30. It took about an hour to get to Montserrat, an old monastery high on the mountain. The views were spectacular, of course, but what we didn't expect was a wonderful art museum.

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The Basilica itself was quite large and wonderfully ornate. The monks were holding a High Mass when we arrived. We had only allowed an hour to visit Montserrat, so we regretfully departed for the museum, which holds various artworks of major Spanish artists. The ones that I was the most impressed with were two paintings by Pablo Picasso called "The Old Fisherman" and "Altar Boy" painted in 1895 and 1896 when Picasso was just 14 and 15 years old. Simply amazing to see the talent he had at such a young age.

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There was also a hotel at the site, so we decided that if we ever return to Barcelona, we would stay for a couple of days at Montserrat so we could properly tour all of the attractions there.

Down the mountain we went to begin our tour of the Gaudi buildings. For those of you who are not familiar with that name, Antonio Gaudi was one of the creators of the Moderniste style of architecture in the late 1900's. Our first stop was the still unfinished Sagrada Familia. Gaudi began the project in 1883 but died after working on it for 43 years! Various architects have tried to finish it in the years that folowed. They now anticipate that it will be completed in 2020! And, there are no guarantees about that. Some people consider it a masterpiece - some consider it a monstrosity, but everyone admires the determination that Gaudi had to finish the project. And he was truly ahead of his time!

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Very cathedral-like in appearance with its many spires, the detail on the building is mind-boggling. Every statue and decoration is significant in meaning to the entire concept of the building. I only hope the finished product is what Gaudi would have wanted.

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I am going to save Park Guell for tomorrow because it deserves its own post. But, in the meantime, here some of the other Moderniste buildings we saw (not all Gaudi).

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February 17, 2009

2004 Trip - Barcelona - Park Guell

Park Guell was our next stop. And it was a fascinating one! Gaudi and one of his financial supporters planned to build a vast estate development with huge common areas designed by Gaudi. Only two of the houses were actually built (the other buyers backed out), but the common areas became Park Guell, named after Gaudi's financial supporter. It is unique, to say the least. The ceramic-encrusted benches and decor are very colorful and unusual. Our guide pointed out that money was short because the other buyers had backed out, so Gaudi went to ceramic shops and bought leftover pieces cheaply. Then, with recycled materials (you will see plates and glass bottles included), he decorated the pieces at Guell Park. We really enjoyed seeing it and hearing the history behind it.

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Then off to the Montjuic area. That is where buildings from the 1972 Olympics are located, along with the Joan Miro museum and the Museum of Catalyan art. But, first and foremost is the Palace of the former king of Spain.

Per our request, Armando dropped us off at the Picasso Museum in the downtown Barcelona area. We toured it but didn't like it as well as the Montserrat museum or the museum at our first cruiseship excursion in Ceret, France, which was having a special Picasso exhibit (you will have to wait for that report).

Then more tapas! The second place recommended by our hotel personnel was Berriketa, located at Gran Via 596, a couple of blocks away. Again, we got there too early for the crowds, but I happen to like the solitude, where you can hear yourself talk. Getting old, I guess - can't hear too well anymore! They were just setting up their tapas buffet when we arrived, so all of the food was perfectly fresh. AND delicious! Another bottle of cava, of course! I like that stuff!

Barcelona - 4th Day

Our cruise ship, the Wind Spirit, was boarding at 3 p.m., so we had the morning. Bill was anxious to see the Joan Miro Museum (which we had no time for yesterday), so after breakfast, he taxied over there. I stayed at the hotel to pack and catch up on my trip report. The hotel had WiFi, so I wanted to do as much as I could before we left.

February 18, 2009

2004 Trip - Cruise - Port Vendres & Ceret, France

After bidding a fond farewell to our Barcelona "home", we were transported to our cruise ship port. Yes, we were finally on the cruise ship! After filling out the required paperwork and turning over our passports, we were shown to our stateroom. I remember how small our staterooms have been in the past on other cruises, and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of this one. Not that it was large - it wasn't. But, it was a very nicely laid out space with two portholes next to the bed. The bathroom (again pretty small) had a round shower that you could actually move around in, so it seemed larger. It had a nice flat screen TV and a DVD/CD player. You could check out DVD's or CD's in the ship's library. They also had four movies on the TV each day, all fairly recent, that played continuously the entire day.

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Below, the dark door to the left is the bathroom, and the light-colored door to the right is the closet. It was very cozy!
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The Wind Spirit is part of the Windstar fleet - they are all very small ships. Ours held only 148 passengers. It had four sails which were used for partial power while we were at sea. Windstar also has another identical ship and a "larger" ship called the Wind Surf, which holds 300 passengers. We might try that someday, but I think I can say that I will never go on the mega-liners again. They are just too big! I get lost on them!

After unpacking, we had the mandatory lifeboat drill and rested a little bit before dressing for dinner. No specific seating on this ship - you can come to dinner when you wish and eat with whom you choose.

Oh! I guess I should tell you that the reason we were on this particular cruise was that it was sponsored by the Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, CA. There were about 50 Eberle people aboard - we could identify each other by the very nice shirts that we were each given.

We got to know several members of the ship's crew pretty well. They were all Indonesian. Bill made friends with the bartenders on the pool deck, so you know they took good care of him! I made friends with the wine steward - we brought wine to dinner nearly every night, and he only charged us the corkage fee the first night. His name was Erwin, and he was a real character. We always saved him a little of our wine to taste, so he was happy.

For all of you "Foodies", I will show the dinner menu for each day. In case you think this is a bit of overkill, just skip that part! Breakfast and lunch each day was a nice buffet plus a couple of additional made to order items. Always plenty of food, of course! Appetizers were also served each evening in the Lounge, and the head chef was usually there to serve them. I thought that was a nice touch.

Saturday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Crispy Filo Cup with Field Mushrooms, Glazed Pearly Onions and Wilted Spinach Stuffed Roma Tomato with Bay Shrimp and Corn

Soups: Celery Soup with Curried Apple and Celery Salad, Chilled Red Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche

Salads: Asparagus and Shitaki Salad with Crispy Parmesan Chips, Wind Spirit House Salad with Chablis Dressing

Entrees: Seared Tuna served on Asian Vegetables with Peppercorn and Ponzu Sauce, Oven Roasted Rack of Lamb served with Provencal, Vegetable Tart and Herb Jus, New York Sirloin Steak with Duo of Potatoes and Three Mustard Sauce, Champagne Risotto with Scallops and Lobster Nage

One of our favorite waiters saved all of the nightly menus for me - gosh, you don't really think I could remember all of them, do you???


Wind Spirit Day #1 - Port Vendres, France

We docked in Port Vendres, France, and the shore excursion we chose was to Ceret, France, where they have a lovely modern art museum called Musee d'Art Moderne. It was one of the highlight days of our trip! For such a small town, this museum was excellent! It was having a special Picasso exhibit of all kinds artwork he had done, not only paintings, but ceramic bowls, jugs, silver items, etc. etc. etc. We liked this museum much better than the Picasso Museum that we had just seen in Barcelona. It showed a much broader perspective of the artist.

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This was a special exhibit, so I don't know what the regular exhibit is like - they had only a few pieces of it displayed. But, I would highly recommend checking it out to anyone who is going to be in that area.

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The village of Ceret is quite picturesque, with Sycamore-lined streets. We had a British guide, and she told us that the water running down the streets ran from the mountains all year long. It was particularly clear and cool (Bill went to check it out). We would definitely like to go back there some day and spend more time!

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Unfortunately, my camera batteries decided to run out of juice, so I did not get any pictures of Ceret. Bummer! I had to "borrow" the ones I am showing from the internet.

Sunday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Mango and Scotch Bonnet Glazed Scallops with Black Bean and Corn Salsa, Roasted Beets, Arugula and Prosciutto with Orange Olive Oil

Soups: Carrot and Lemongrass Soup with Coriander, Creme Fraiche Chilled Tomato and Fennel Soup with Pickled Fennel and Shrimp

Salads: Chinese Chicken Salad with Crispy Wontons, Wind Spirit House Salad with a Champagne Vinaigrette

Entrees: Grilled Fish of the Day with Mashed Potatoes and a Garlic Chive Sauce, Osso Bucco, Braised Slices of Veal Shank with Sauteed Onions on a Bed of Al Dente Noodles, Moroccan Chicken Breast with Toasted Almond Couscous and Date Jus, Gratin of Gnocchi, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Pancetta and Asparagus

February 19, 2009

2004 Trip - Cruise - Marseille, France

Wind Spirit Day #2 - Marseille, France

A new day dawned, and off we went to Chateauneuf Du Pape and Avignon. This was an all-day trip - I don't think I would do that again. It was just too long! The heat probably had something to do with it, of course - hot and humid - we were all just drenched by the time we got back to the ship.

First stop (after about an hour's drive) was a winery in Chateauneuf Du Pape, Henry Bouachon. Our group got a tour of the winery and a tasting. It was really just a SMALL tasting - only two wines. The interesting thing was that the winemaker spoke no English, so the tour guide translated everything he said. Kind of made for a long drawn out morning.

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Then off to a nearby restaurant where we were to have lunch. After the disappointing winetasting, the lunch turned out to be great! It was held in the garden area of the Le Jardin de L'Alchimiste restaurant. Four very French courses, and everything was delicious. I don't think I wrote down what the courses were, but each and every one was great! Three wines - a Champagne, a red and a white on each table. Although the area was tree shaded, it got pretty hot and sticky.

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We then had a guided tour of Avignon -VERY hot and humid by then, so we were all glad to get back on the COOL tour bus to head back to the ship. Check out our tour guide trying to gather us all up to leave.

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Before dinner, we were invited to a special Eberle winetasting on the Veranda. It was very nice - four wines were poured - Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet, and Syrah. Got to meet a lot of the Eberle cruisers. They all kind of knew each other because they had dinner in Barcelona the night before we sailed, but Bill and I didn't go because the set menu included a dish with mussels in it, and Bill is deathly allergic to them.

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All in all, a good day!

Monday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Farinette Bread and Parmesan Cheese Griddle Cake with Roasted Chicken and Shallots, Shrimp Cocktail in Cucumber Wheel

Soups: Sweet Potato Soup with Allspice Flavor, Chilled Cucumber Noodle Soup with Smoked Salmon and Dill

Salads: Mozzarella with Fresh Tomatoes and Herbs, Wind Spirit House Salad with a Citrus Vinaigrette

Entrees: Grilled Fish of the Day with Cannelloni Beans, Pancetta & Tomato Fondue, New York Steak with Peppercorn & Cognac Sauce, Whipped Potatoes & Green Beans, Roasted Duck Breast with Roma Tomato Fondue and Crispy Basil

February 20, 2009

2004 Trip - Cruise - Monaco - Monte Carlo

Wind Spirit Day #3 - Monaco (Monte Carlo) 1/2 Day

Because of our long 8-hour tour yesterday, we decided to take it easy today and just stay on the ship. The ship didn't get into Monte Carlo until 2 p.m. anyway, so it was only the afternoon or evening available to go ashore. Although the Wind Spirit is a really small ship and can usually dock, this first day in Monte Carlo, we had to be tendered to shore in small boats. This also happened in Portofino - I didn't see any docks for cruise ships there, so probably everyone has to tender there.

Gary Eberle did a winetasting for the entire ship this morning - kind of a nice bonus for all of the passengers.

Since the ship spent the night in Monte Carlo instead of going to sea to get to the next port, we had the opportunity to go into Monte Carlo at night to see the casinos. Men have to wear a coat and tie there - Bill had brought a coat and tie with him, but we decided not to go - it was too big a hassle to get tendered to shore and then back again in dress-up clothes.

The funny thing is that the ship changed locations in Monte Carlo during the night, and by the time we woke up the next day, we were docked and didn't have to tender. I think the Wind Spirit had to wait for another ship to leave their docking slot before they could move into it. Kind of interesting, I thought.

Tuesday Night Dinner - BBQ out on Ship's Deck

All kinds of meat and fish and accompanying dishes, salads and desserts. I was especially interested in the lobster tail, and it was great. After dinner, the wait staff did a surprise singing and dancing show. So funny! The weather was great out on the deck that evening, so there was a lot of dancing until the wee hours! Bill went to bed, but I hung around awhile with the Eberle Winery people.


Wind Spirit Day #4 - Monaco (Monte Carlo) All Day

For a little bit of educational information from Windstar, “The principality of Monaco covers just 473 acres and would fit comfortably inside New York's Central Park or a family farm in Iowa. Its 5,000 citizens would fill only a small fraction of the seats in Yankee stadium. The country is so tiny that residents have to go to another country to play golf.”

“Monte Carlo, the modern gambling town with elegant shops, man-made beaches, high-rise hotels, and a few belle epoque hotels, is actually only one of four parts of Monaco. The second is the medieval town on the rock (old Monaco), 200 feet above the sea. It is here that Prince Ranier lives. The third area is La Condamine, the commercial harbor area with apartments and businesses. The fourth is Fontvielle, the industrial district situated on 20 acres of reclaimed land.”

We had decided to visit Monaco (Monte Carlo) on our own, so we set out after breakfast, walking from where the ship was docked into town. Hopped onto a bus to kind of get an idea of the lay of the land - the bus route ended high on a hill overlooking the port at Le Jardin Exotique de Monaco. Although this was not part of our original sightseeing plan, we were there, so we decided to visit. Le Jardin claims to be the "Largest Rock Garden with Succulent Plants in the World". Lots of really interesting plants, and the view of the port below was breathtaking.

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We took the bus back down the hill to the end of the line (Blue line #2) in Monaco-Ville right by the Prince's Palace and the Cathedral. We did the complete tour of the Prince's Palace (kind of interesting to see how the Grimaldis have lived for generations), but I was more interested in the Cathedral, where Grace Kelly is buried. It was quite beautiful inside, a fitting resting place for a beautiful lady.

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We were going to go into the nearby Oceanographic Museum, but Bill had seen it before and I wasn't that interested. There was a little open train across the street from the museum, so we hopped on that. We weren't really sure where it would take us but thought "what the heck". One of its stops was right by the Monte Carlo Casino, so we got off there.

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We walked into the very posh Hotel de Paris and took a quick look, but we weren’t dressed nicely enough to eat there.

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There was a nice large open air cafe (Cafe de Paris) across the street, so we had a lovely lunch there and people watched. Took a quick look inside the casino, but nothing much going on because it was the middle of the day. Just outside the casino, we came across this darling Smart car.

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We ended up walking all the way back to the ship - it was further than we had anticipated, so we were really tired, hot and sweaty by the time we got back. Time for a little rest, though, before getting ready for dinner.

Wednesday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Crispy Salmon with Spicy Green Vegetables and Roasted Almonds, Carpaccio of Beef with a Mustard Essence, Shaved Parmesan, Pepper, Pesto & Olive Oil

Soups: Gratinated French Onion Soup, Traditional Chilled Vichyssoise Topped with Chives

Salads: Butter Lettuce with Herb Dijon and Sherry Vinaigrette, Wind Spirit House Salad with Herb Dressing

Entrees: Seared Scallops with Brandade Potatoes and Lobster Nage, Classic Surf & Turf with Red Wine & Bernaise Sauce, Braised Lamb Shank Served with Homemade Garlic
Gnocchi & Rustic Vegetables, Roasted Lemon Chicken with Thyme Potatoes and Baked Zucchini

February 21, 2009

2004 Trip - Cruise - Portofino, Italy

Wind Spirit Day #5 - Portofino, Italy

Our half-day excursion today was a boat trip to San Fruttuoso and Camogli. It sounded a little different than the usual bus trips, and it sounded COOL! We were tendered to shore from the cruise ship and immediately boarded the quite large private boat. It took about half an hour to motor along the coast to a little inlet where San Fruttuoso was located. We discovered that the town of five permanent residents is only accessible by boat and helicopter (probably on foot too but not by car or truck). Although we did go ashore and started to walk into the Abbey, the helicopter activity picking up and delivering construction materials was just too busy, so we did not stay. I was glad to get out of there and back to the solitude of a boat!

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A guy and his dog - pretty cute!
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Next stop was Camogli, a fishing village, and it was lovely. Our guide led us off the boat into the little town. Before leaving us on our own for an hour or so, she took us through the Basilica. It was quite large for such a small town and really beautiful. A total of 13 altars, three in the front and five down each side, and each was beautiful in its own way. Wonderful frescos on the ceiling too.

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We were then on our own for awhile to walk along the seaside and check out the shops and restaurants. We stopped at one, and I had my first Peach Bellini and my first gelato. Both were great! Then back to the boat for our return trip to Portofino. We had a little focaccia bread and local wine as we departed.

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Bill had been to Portofino before, so he knew there was a tiny church at the top of the hill overlooking the port. We found the path that led up there - I was exhausted by the time we got there because it was very steep. We later found out that there is another less strenuous road to get there. Oh well! We deserved our dinner that night!

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The church at the top of the hill was relatively plain after seeing some of the more decorated churches, but it was charming in its own way. It had a cemetary/crypt next to it, so we looked at that too.

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Back into town, we checked out some of the shops. While we were waiting for the tender to arrive, we sat at an outdoor cafe to have a glass of wine (Bill) and a Bellini (me). They turned out to be the most expensive drinks on the trip! 30 Euro, which converts at least 37 USD. Wow! Of course, the Bellini was made with a split of Veuve Clicquot! They brought the champagne out and opened it in front of us and poured it into the glass with the peach stuff. I have never seen it done that way - it is usually blended at the bar. But, I guess they wanted to justify the huge price they charged. Portofino is considered an expensive town, and we can now vouch for that!

Farewell to Portofino!
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This was our night for dinner at the Eberle table, so you know we had good wine! Eberle Viognier and Cabernet - it was great!

Thursday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Escargots Classic in Garlic Lemon Butter, Sweet Shrimp and Crab Salad

Soups: Creamy Roasted Garlic Soup with Grilled Marinated Radicchio, Cold Spring Pea Soup with Yogurt, Crushed White Pepper and Mint

Salads: Classic Cobb Salad with Tomato,. Avocado and Chopped Eggs, Wind Spirit House Salad with a Champagne Vinaigrette

Entrees: Potato Crusted Fish of the Day with Braised Leeks, Apples and Smoked Bacon, Herb and Pepper Coated Prime Rib of Beef with its own Gravy, Creamed Horseradish, Whole Roasted Chili Crusted Port Tenderloin with Tropical Fruit Salsa over Creamy Polenta, Grilled Turkey Paillard with Shitake Raviolis, Asparagus and a Lemon-Scallion Sauce

February 23, 2009

2004 Trip - Cruise - Portoferraio, Italy (Elba)

Wind Spirit Day #6 - Portoferraio, Italy (Elba)

Our last full cruise day was in Portoferraio on the island of Elba. As you probably know, this was the island that Napoleon was exiled to for a short period of time. Again, I tried to pick something unusual as a half-day excursion - Mt. Capanne “On Top of the World”. Our tour bus drove us from the port through the hills and then along the north coast of Elba to Marciana Marina and then inland to the base of Mt. Capanne. There the fun began! I guess we should have been advised when the cruise information told us “. . . your guide will explain how to get in and out of the cable car, and every 20 seconds a cable car will be boarded 2 by 2 . . .”. But, of course, we didn’t pay as much attention as we should have. Well, it turned out to be one of the most frightening experiences of my life!

Let me start by saying that I am comfortable with the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - they have 20-person cars that take you to the top of Mt. San Jacinto - well, maybe not quite the top of 10,000 ft. - the tramway station at the top of the mountain is about 8,000 ft. But, it is a long way from the desert floor. The almost brand new tram cars revolve as you go - very high tech.

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These cars on Mt. Capanne were NOT high tech - they were little yellow cages that held two people (although we saw a couple of cages with two adults and a child). The space wasn’t really the problem - it was the length of time that you had to enter the cage. It didn’t stop at all (I guess it is like riding to the top of a ski slope, but I have never done that, so I am not sure), and you had to follow it and have two people jump in as it passes by. They didn’t really prepare you for this - you had to observe the people in front of you as they boarded the “cage”.

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Well, we got in OK - big surprise! The ride up the mountain was beautiful - and petrifying! Because you knew that when you got to the top, you had to hop out in those same 20 seconds! And, you had lots of time to think about it because it took 20 minutes to get to the top. It was very quiet and peaceful as you traveled over the tramway posts - I tried to take some pictures, but I was afraid to let go of my vice-like grip of the posts in the car. I also had this vision of my camera disappearing over the edge of the “cage”, never to be seen again. We did get to the top, and it was a beautiful view. I was only trying to figure out how to get down the mountain without taking the car down! I guess there is an actual trail to climb up and down, and I actually considered it, but the ship would certainly have sailed without me by the time I got there!

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And here we are at the top
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But, yes, we did make it down. It was still pretty early in the day, and the tram was still not busy, so we asked if we could ride back down one by one. We figured that it wouldn’t have been quite as difficult to board and depart from the “cages” if there was only one person doing it rather than two. Worked out pretty well, except for the solitary descent.

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I did get a picture of Bill getting out of his “cage” - I know he was glad to be back on solid ground again!
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The next stop was back to Marciana Marina for a little winetasting and shopping. The wine shop had lots of good stuff in addition to wine (spices and pastas), but we got two bottles of the Italian favorite, Limoncello. If you haven’t tried it, Trader Joe’s has some small bottles of both regular Limoncello and Cream Limoncello. I prefer the regular kind myself.

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Back to the ship for our final cruise dinner. We had met a lot of nice people during the week. We were seated with different people each evening and had fun with them all. We also met people out by the pool. One man was kind of long-haired and wore earrings. He was on the ship with his sister and her two sons. Bill and I had a drink with one of the sons (who had just turned 21 during the cruise) when we got back from our shore excursion. He revealed to us that his uncle was not a psychologist as he had told us but instead plays piano with the San Francisco Symphony, and he was going to play a couple of numbers in the lounge before dinner. Kind of nice to have something like that happen on our last night on board. His name is Robin Sutherland. I found a bio on him on the San Francisco Symphony’s website.

Friday Night Dinner Menu:

Appetizers: Sauteed Shrimp & Crab Cake with Brown Butter, Capers, Lemon and Fried Leeks, Sevruga Caviar on a warm rice Blini, garnished with Sour Cream and Asparagus

Soups: Country French Lentils with Braised Ham Hock and Garlic, Chilled Saffron Gazpacho with Shrimp Stuffed Tomato

Salads: Tomato and Garlic Tartar with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil, Wind Spirit House Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Entrees: Pistachio Crusted Fish of the Day on Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Star Fruit Butter, Whole Roasted Beef Sirloin with Creamy Onions, Chef's Vegetables & Mashed Potatoes, Basque Style Grilled Chicken with Herbed Potato Puree, Pappardelle with Asparagus, Wild Mushroom and
Parmesan


Wind Spirit Day #7 - Civitavecchia (Rome) -
Disembarkation

Sadly, we had to pack up and disembark the next morning. Finally got everything stuffed into the suitcases, and that wasn’t easy! We had a driver picking us up at the pier and driving us into Tuscany. Stay tuned for the next episode!

February 24, 2009

2004 Trip - Tuscany - Driving to Lucca

After disembarking from Wind Spirit after our Mediterranean cruise, we waited to be picked up by the driver I had booked thru Benvenuto Limos. Daniel arrived and off we went for our drive to Lucca - in a very comfortable Mercedes sedan.

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Daniel spoke really good English and gave us a running commentary as we traveled from the port outside Rome to Lucca. We did have several stops planned along the way - I had requested to visit Montalcino and/or Montepulciano to taste their wonderful wines. Daniel also wanted to take us to his favorite hilltown, Montereggioni, for a short visit.

And then there was lunch . . . I had been researching lunch locations in the Montalcino area and came across Boccon DiVino numerous times. Since it was located right outside Montalcino, I thought it would be a convenient place to stop.

Our first stop, though, was the Fortezza in Montalcino, where we tasted Brunellos. Montalcino looks like a darling little town, but we only have an hour to spend there - we will just have to come back to explore more!

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On to lunch at Boccon DiVino. It was only a short distance down the road, so we arrived a little early for our lunch reservation. The view from the outdoor tables at the restaurant was fantastic. Our lunch and the accompanying wine were all delicious.

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We continued our Tuscany Tour and visited Daniel's favorite hilltown, Montereggioni. It was just a tiny little town - I would like to return someday and see more of it. We checked out the small church and walked around a little bit before it was time to go. Here are a couple of photos of the town:

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We finally arrived in Lucca, and Daniel delivered us to our Bed & Breakfast, Villa Romantica. More on that tomorrow.

February 25, 2009

2004 Trip - Tuscany - Villa Romantica

Our driver from Benvenuto Limos delivered us in Lucca to our new home for the next several nights, Villa Romantica.

I had found this B&B online, and it looked ideal. It was outside the city walls a couple of blocks, and there was a gelato shop that we stopped at several times along the way. We loved the location, and we loved staying at Villa Romantica!

The entrance:
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Our balcony terrace on the second floor:
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Outside the breakfast room:
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Large lawn area:
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Pool room seating:
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The pool:
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Garden area:
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February 26, 2009

2004 Trip - Tuscany - Lucca Adventures

We loved our time staying in Lucca - or, to be more precise, staying right outside of Lucca. Our B&B was two blocks outside the city walls, but it was only a 10-minute walk.

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We visited the Lucca Duomo:
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And also the home of Lucca's favorite son, Puccini:
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We walked on the Lucca wall:
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Here is a view from the Lucca wall:
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We met this pair on the wall, and they posed for us:
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One day we took the train to Pisa to see the sights:
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February 27, 2009

2004 Trip - Tuscany - A Garden in Lucca

When we began planning for our Mediterranean cruise and short post-cruise visit to Italy, I started reading about Tuscany and various places to go there.

For some reason, I was drawn to Lucca, and one of the books I read was "A Garden in Lucca", which tells about the purchase and renovation of a wonderful property outside Lucca, named Villa Massei, by Gil Cohen and Paul Gervais.

So, I wrote a couple of emails to the owners of the property, asking if we could join a group to tour the property. I was instructed to call when we got to Lucca, and they would see if an appointment could be arranged. Lucky us - we were given permission to visit! And, for us, it was one of the special highlights of our trip!


View down the hill from Villa Massei:
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Lawn area was perfectly manicured:
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Front of property:
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This walkway heads toward the fountain:
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Fountain area:
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115-year-old camphor tree:
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The grotto:
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Inside the grotto:
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Guest house - available for rent:
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Sculptured hedges and plants:
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What a gorgeous view:
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Bill and author and co-owner Paul Gervais:
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Nancy says goodbye to a beautiful place:
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Bill says goodbye too:
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February 28, 2009

2004 Trip - Tuscany - Florence & Home

I don't think I mentioned in my previous posts, but our departure from Lucca was by CAB! After experiencing the Italian train system, we decided that we could not get the short distance from Lucca to Florence by train with all of the luggage we had.

So, we hired a cab to drive us to Villa Massei for a visit and then on to Florence. I have blocked out the part of what the cab cost us, which is probably just as well.

We had booked a room at Residenze Johlea I, a 15-minute walk from central Florence. The rooms were plain but fine, but we really enjoyed sitting up on the rooftop terrace in the evenings.

Here is what I did on the rooftop terrace:
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And here is what Bill did:
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This was my first time in Florence, but Bill had been there before. Even so, we made reservations at both the Uffizi Museum and at the Accademia Gallery to see David. I really enjoyed seeing David, maybe more so than the Uffizi - it was kind of overwhelming to me. Perhaps if I had read a little more about what we were seeing, I would have enjoyed it more.

While walking back to our hotel one evening, we came across this little restaurant, Da Mimmo. We have a kitty named Mimmo and wanted to eat there in her honor, but it was closed during August for holiday.
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We did the other usual things people do in Florence - visit the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio and eat and drink well.

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But then our trip was coming to an end. We were to fly on Meridiana Airlines from Florence back to London and then home. The Meridiana part of the trip was a real fiasco. I had gotten cheap tickets online before we left, but when we checked in on the morning of our departure, our bags (especially mine) were so overweight they were going to charge us about $200 in overweight fees. We went round and round with them about it and ended up buying an extra seat for about $100 to cover the extra baggage. Kind of learned the hard way on that one!

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We did finally make it home after a really long day. We were tired by oh so glad we had done it. My first trip to Europe but not my last!

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Winelover's Wanderings in the 2004 Med Cruise - Spain/France/Italy category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

2006 Italy - Rome, Venice, Lakes, Tuscany is the next category.

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