Day 3: Bus to Porto via Coimbra

On the third day of my Viking River Cruise, we were up early and had breakfast while our bags were collected and loaded onto our bus. Some of the views from the bus:

It was a bit of a haul to get to Porto, so we were happy to have a few stops along the way. The first stop was in downtown Coimbra for a short shopping excursion.

Our second stop was at University of Coimbra, where we learned so many things, some quite unexpected! One of the unexpected things we learned was that J. K. Rowling was teaching English in Porto, Portugal during the time she was writing the first Harry Potter book, and the uniforms worn at Hogwartz were influenced by the uniforms worn in universities in Portugal! Who knew!

Salazar Slytherin’s name was influenced by Antonio Salazar, a Portuguese dictator. There are, in fact, many Portuguese influences in Harry Potter, as explained in this very informative article by Chelsea Szmania. There is also a lot of ceremony around the robes. Here are a few:

  1. First years don’t wear them. You have to be a second year.
  2. You don’t have to wear it every day, but when you do wear it, your cape can never be more than six feet away from you. You can take it off, but if you, say, took it off in class and then left the room to use the bathroom and were spotted in the hallway without it…there were consequences (I don’t remember what the consequences were).
  3. Relationships are represented by tears in the robe. A family relationship is represented by a tear in the front, right – over the heart. Strong friendships are tears on the front right. Romantic relationships are represented by tears in the back of the robe. If a relationship ends, the student must hand-sew the tear using the color that represents their program (law is red, pharmacy is purple, medicine is yellow, etc.). So someone who dates around could have several sewn tears on the back of their robe!

In the photos below are the grounds of the University, which show ongoing restoration. There is a statue there of King Denis, known as the Farmer King for planting a forest to provide raw materials for royal ships and also known as the Poet King because he wrote poetry and was influential in establishing Portuguese as a literary language. There are pictures inside Prisão Académica, which dated back to when the University would hold its own court and imprison students who had broken rules. We were also able to see inside a small library, but the much larger Joanine Library has a no photos rule, so nothing to show there, but the page at this link will has a couple of pictures.

Here are some pics of St. Michael’s chapel inside the University building.

After University of Coimbra, we stopped for lunch at Republica da Saudade, where we experienced one of the robe rituals first hand! The restaurant was staffed by university students, and as we entered the restaurant, there were two students, one on each side just inside the door, holding their robes so that they fell on the floor in front of them and you had no choice but to walk on them to get into the restaurant. Having your robe walked on is an honor.

For me, lunch was a wonderful Cod casserole, ice cream and sparkling wine, while listening to Fado Music performed by the restaurant owner and friends. It was beautiful! I don’t have a recording of what we heard, but this recording is by the same group.

I had a photo bomber who stayed with me through several takes of this shot – her mother is standing behind me, just outside!
One of the songs was so full of emotion it brought tears to my eyes!

After lunch we continued to Porto where we boarded our ship and began unpacking before heading to the lounge for a welcome reception with wine and cheese and some lovely piano playing by our onboard entertainer.

From the lounge we headed to the ship’s restaurant for dinner. It was a long, eventful day, but we had to stop on the upper deck to view the city at night before retiring to our cabins.

Day 2: Sightseeing in Lisbon

On day 2 of our Viking River Cruise, we remained in Lisbon (not yet on the ship) and did some sightseeing.

We started our day with a bus ride through the city and then arrived at the Belem Tower, which is a fortification from the 16th century and was a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portugal. More info can be found here.

The Belem Tower of Lisbon / Tower of St. Vincent

From there, we moved on to Jeronimos Monastery, the former monastery for the Order of St. Jerome. In 1833 it was secularized and ownership was transferred to a charitable institution. In 1983 it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least!

A couple photos from on route to our next stop:

Lisbon Sculpture – Raccoon, I think
I don’t know what these flowers are, but they are beautiful!

We next visited a huge modern art installation by sculptor Joao Cutileiro, a well-known sculptor who contributed several pieces of modern public sculpture, including several female nudes, which were quite controversial at the time. His work marks the beginning of a new contemporary era in Portuguese public sculpture.

After our excursion we were on our own. While my travel buddies decided to visit St. George’s Castle, I chose to visit the National Tile Museum. We couldn’t get an Uber because our phone service was non-existent, so we tried our luck on local tourist transportation, which was a golf cart decorated with artificial flowers. Aloha.

After negotiating our smooth-operating driver from 50 down to 30 Euros for both stops, we all headed for St. George’s Castle, which meant driving along narrow streets that wound their way up, up, up the cobbled streets of Lisbon. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Once there, my travel buddies got off, which left me on my own for the remainder of the ride to the National Tile Museum. It. Was. Terrifying.

Going down the hill was much more death-defying than going up. We bumped along the cobbled streets, weaving left and right, winding down at what felt like break-neck speeds in that little cart! At one point I glanced at the speedometer and we were close to 40 mph! I really should have made him stop and let me off, but I was too terrified to even speak! I did manage to catch a couple of photos on the way though.

The National Museum of the Azulejo, or National Tile Museum, is dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal. I’m including a LOT of photos here, but there is so much more! I’m so glad I made this stop!

After the museum and castle, we all met back at the Hotel Tivoli, where we attempted to get a table at the rooftop restaurant, Seen, but we were too late. We took a quick walk through the outdoor bar, which was also full, but I got a few pics of the sky view – breathtaking!

In the end we decided to have a light dinner in the lobby restaurant, where I had a yummy chocolate martini and a bowl of seafood soup. It was the perfect ending to a busy day!

Day 1: Travel to Lisbon and Some Exploring

I recently had the opportunity to explore Portugal on a Viking River Cruise. Here is day one of the adventure!

Flying to Lisbon from the East Coast is an adventure in itself. I left Nashville at 2:35 pm and had a layover in Newark, where I met up with my friend Lee. We boarded our plane to Lisbon at about 7:00 pm and then after a short delay for a flight attendant medical emergency, we were on our way. Then, about half way through the flight (I’m guessing about timing because I was mostly asleep at this point) there was some shouting and people running to the front of the plane. What?

It was a passenger medical emergency, and we were somewhere over the Atlantic, so the only option was to ask if there was a doctor on board. Fortunately the passenger appeared to be okay, at least far as we could tell. As we disembarked the plane, she was seated in her wheelchair and there were paramedics checking her vitals. Hopefully she was okay and able to enjoy her time in Portugal.

The challenge with a trip like this is, of course, jet lag. When we arrived in Lisbon it was about 10:00 am the next morning, which meant our day was just starting after a long day and night of travel. And we couldn’t get into our rooms until 3:00 pm. We left our luggage at Hotel Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, where we would be staying for the first two nights, and then dragged our tired, selves out the door for a (very long) trek to TimeOut Market.

TimeOut Market is a huge food court that had soooo many options for our first meal in Portugal! There is an upper entertainment level, but we didn’t make it up there. I had a hard time deciding what to order because I was too tired and dehydrated to be hungry. But I ordered some shrimp with garlic, which was one of the recommendations Lee had read about and I figured it was safe for me. It was a dish of shrimp that was swimming in a delicious butter and garlic base and served with bread – to sop up the sauce. I didn’t get a pic of it, but there’s pic on the TimeOut Market website here. I would have loved it any other time, but I’m afraid it was lost on me this day. I also bought two bottles of water, which was really what I needed.

Some of the sites from our first day:

Over the Atlantic
There’s Portugal!
Typical suburban view – lots of muted colors and terracotta colored roofs
Monumento aos Mortos da Grande Guerra – Monument honoring those who gave their lives in World War I
Monument to the Restorers – erected in 1886 to honor the fighters for freedom and independence from Spain
Tiled walkway in Lisbon
Tribute to workers who added character to the public walkways in Portugal
Tiled building in Lisbon
Three Amigos – on the way to TimeOut Market
I couldn’t locate any information on this one, but it’s a closer look at the statue next to Three Amigos
Tiled entry at Time Out Market
Lee’s lunch – she was more brave than I. In her words “A francesinha – Bread, meats, cheese, egg, and a wonderful sauce.”

Nashville Vintage Wine Train – It’s a Thing!

Speaking of Nashville and all the reasons I love it, one of the best-kept secret events here is the excursion train, specifically, the vintage wine excursion train! If you haven’t heard of it, you’ll want to check it out, and you’re welcome!

All excursions are boarded from the Tennessee Central Railway Museum near downtown Nashville. The destination for each excursion changes based on theme, for example, the train robbery and murder mystery excursions travel to Watertown and back. The Spring Festival and Fall Foliage trips travel to Monterey. I have had the fortune of enjoying several: train robbery, murder mystery, and my favorite, the wine train!

What many people don’t know is, there are two versions of the wine excursion. The first is included on the published schedule at Tennessee Central Railway Museum‘s site. The second is called Wine on the Rails and is hosted by Muddy Roots Records. To purchase tickets to the Muddy Roots version, you must go to their website.

Both versions of the wine train include riding on a classic streamlined stainless steel passenger train, wine tasting on board and live music at DelMonaco Winery in Baxter, TN. At the winery you may also purchase lunch or an additional wine tasting. You may also enjoy a tour of the winery where you can see where all the magic happens.

In November I first tried the Muddy Roots Vintage Wine excursion, which they call Wine on the Rails. The theme is vintage dress, but dressing the part is not required, so I didn’t. In January I attended the Muddy Roots wine excursion for a second time, and decided to spice things up by dressing up this time. Because the trip was in cold weather, the theme was (vintage) Fancy Coat. I have to say, dressing up made it much more fun!

When you take the Muddy Roots version of the excursion, you will also enjoy live music at the winery, and, depending on your train car, you may also enjoy a private performance on the train! Here is a sampling:

So if you’re looking for a new adventure, give yourself the gift of an excursion – you won’t regret it!

Final Thoughts on My South Pacific Adventure

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Gosh! What a crazy, scary, EMPOWERING trip! At a time when I was feeling broken, I made a drastic change in my life, and “launched” that change by hopping a ship to Fiji!

In the year or so leading up to this trip I had been feeling less than inspired at work. I had worked for five years for a really great company and was doing work I loved, but somehow it wasn’t satisfying anymore. I was having trouble getting up in the mornings and I would return home each night physically and emotionally drained. I had also been struggling with some physical symptoms that had me wondering if I would ever feel good again. I knew I was in need of a change in my life, but wasn’t sure what that would look like. Making the decision to do this trip was the first step.

Going through the exercise of planning the trip helped me begin to look forward to things again. As scary as it would be, I knew I needed to quit my job. I had been thinking about making a change anyway, and to do the trip right I was going to need to take much more time off than I had left in my PTO bank. I also didn’t want to feel the pressure of “what I’m coming back to” at the end of the trip.

One thing leading to another, I decided that since I would be leaving my job anyway, I’d give myself a year to do whatever I needed to do to feel better. I didn’t know for sure what was causing my physical symptoms, I only knew I needed to fix them. But that wasn’t all. Feeling tired and unwell all the time meant I wasn’t spending time with my two loves, art and writing. I decided I would go on my trip, and then I would spend the rest of my “year off” creating art and writing.

Even many of my closest friends don’t know this, but writing has always been my first love. I haven’t shared that a lot because of old tapes in my head that tell me “you can’t make a living as a writer,” and “well, I hope it’s at least cathartic” (i.e., nobody would want to read your dribble). Rubbish! I’ve been sitting on a draft of my memoir for more than ten years. Time to dust it off!

The story I told on my way out of  my job was that I was leaving to pursue my art. I told that story because I felt it would be more readily accepted than, “I’m going to write.” To most people, that would not compute. “How will you pay your bills?” sigh. Well, now I’m saying it. I’m going to write!

Back to the trip…

While traveling on my own in a foreign country did cause some additional stress, it also forced me to think about things in different ways. It broke my patterns. I couldn’t run to my safe place and hide. I had to find my way around. I spent 24 days figuring things out for myself and making decisions for myself without consideration for someone else. I tried new things. I started conversations with people I didn’t know. I began to feel less anxious and more powerful!

Okay, I’ll be honest. While on the ship, there were times I would seek out the safety of my cabin, but mostly I was out experiencing. I slathered my body with mud in Fiji. I danced on the pool deck. I made friends with a wonderful Ukrainian couple from Melbourne. I watched a glass blowing demonstration and had wine and cheese on the upper deck. I donated money to the casino. I sat at the stern of the ship after dark watching as the foamy tail of our departure reached back to meet the reflection of an invisible moon.

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Now, two months later, my trip is a surreal memory. Admittedly, some of the euphoria has worn off as real life takes over again, but I am finding the energy to do the deep work of fixing myself. Through working with a therapist, I have discovered that most of my physical symptoms were stress related. Turns out I have some grieving to do.

These days, I do spend time on my art, but I spend equal amounts of time meditating and writing. Rather than pushing myself into a specific direction, I’m listening to my body and going where my heart leads me.

So…I’ll continue to “do what I do” for the next few months and see where I end up. I would love to continue writing and creating art as my primary activities indefinitely, but if I must go back to working for someone else, I know I’ll be better prepared to handle the ups and downs that go with it.

This trip has helped to set me on a course of self-discovery and healing. And so, as I wrap up “the story of my trip” I raise my glass to toast my new life, whatever it turns out to be!

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Cruising the South Pacific: How it Came to Be

So how did I come to leave my corporate job and hop a cruise ship to Fiji? Well, it went something like this:

For several years I’ve been receiving emails from a group called Abraham-Hicks. The Abraham-Hicks group does several cruises a year to various parts of the world, and I have been receiving emails describing these fantastic trips for years, always with the same result: I would open the email, read all the exciting details, sigh, and then…delete the email. Those trips were for other people, not me.

Finally, one morning while at work, I opened my Abe Hicks email, read all the details (well, most of them), and said to myself. I’m doing this! I bookmarked the website and started thinking about how I might pull it off. It would take careful planning and a bit of money, but I was determined!

On further study of the details, I realized the cruise set sail from the Port of Sydney. For half a second I thought, I can’t do that. Sydney is halfway around the world! That’s crazy! But then I came to my senses and thought, Of course I can do this. Other people do this sort of thing all the time. Why not me? And so I set about planning my adventure!

I decided I was comfortable doing the cruise on my own because I’ve participated in Abraham-Hicks events in the past so I know for sure that people who attend those events are generally happy, friendly folks. I was sure I’d find people to hang out with.

As I was planning the details around getting to the cruise ship, I decided that since I probably wouldn’t get to Sydney again any time soon, I should probably spend a few days there and see some sights.

The idea of a 23 hour flight from Nashville, TN to Sydney was daunting. One night, as I shared some of my thoughts about the trip with friends, I was given the idea to split up the flight by stopping over in Hawaii. Perfect! I hadn’t yet been to Hawaii either!

When it came to booking my lodging, I decided not to stay in a conventional hotel. I would use Airbnb for all my stays. I am not interested in the downtown party life, so staying outside the city sounded like a perfect fit for me. Airbnb would provide me a connection to local folks with inside information on best ways to get around and best sites to see – without the influence of tourist industry hype. I had used Airbnb a total of one time prior to this on a short trip to Charlotte, NC, but that was enough to sell me on the idea.

Due to the length of the Sydney and cruise portions of the trip, I decided I would keep my Hawaii stays short. I could take a longer trip to Hawaii another time, so I planned for only 1-2 full days on the island of Oahu for each leg of the trip. That would be enough time to hang on the beach for a day and maybe see a site or two. I was mostly concerned about being able to rest up between flights. I also decided to book different Airbnb locations for each of my Hawaii stays so I would have perspective from slightly different areas of Honolulu – for next time.

I booked my air travel as two separate round trips, one from Nashville to Honolulu, the other from Honolulu to Sydney. I ended up on three different airlines. The Nashville/Honolulu leg was on American Airlines. Honolulu to Sydney was JetStar. Sydney to Honolulu was Hawaiian Airlines. I booked it all through the eDreams website, which I had never before heard of, but after searching on Kayak, that is the booking site where I found the best fares.

So, there it is! In October 2015, I (over)packed my bags and got on a plane, headed for the biggest adventure of my life (so far)!

NEXT STORY: Honolulu – Day 1 – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

Life On The Celebrity Solstice

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I just realized I hadn’t posted anything about the amenities and activities on the ship, save a short blog about bar hopping one night. So, here’s a rundown of some of the things I saw and did while on board the Celebrity Solstice.

Accommodations

My cabin was beautiful and very comfortable:

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Crew

My cabin steward, Anselmo, and his assistant, Arfa, did an excellent job taking care of me! I was greeted every morning with a smile and a “Good morning! What are you doing today?” They would ask if there was anything I needed. We would have a nice chat and I’d be on my way.  When I was cabin-bound the last three days of the cruise due to illness, Anselmo called my room to ask if I needed anything!

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Arfa and Anselmo

Food

The food in the main restaurant was usually pretty good. I would give them an average rating of three out of five stars. Everything here (except drinks) was included in the price of the cruise. Chefs were traded off from port to port so there was plenty of variety in style of food over the course of the cruise. Sometimes the chef for the night would be brought table to table and introduced to the guests. On Top Chef Night, the menu featured recipes from the Bravo TV show.

The one thing that disappointed me (and why I give them three stars instead of 4) was the lack of seafood (specifically, shellfish). There was a shrimp cocktail appetizer available every night. Other than that, there were some entrees that “featured” shellfish, but it was really just a couple bites of crab or lobster as part of a larger dish. Not what I would expect on a cruise.

On the plus side, you could order multiple entrees and desserts if you wanted or if you didn’t like a dish, just ask for something different – no problem. While I did not order multiple desserts at a meal, I did enjoy one dessert every night of the cruise!

On one of the upper decks there was a huge cafeteria-style cafe that offered a wide variety of food all day long. There were 15 or so stations with different options, like Mexican, Stir Fry, Deli, Fruit & Cheese, Desserts and an Entree of the day. This was also included in the cruise price, and was great for breakfast and lunch. I never ate dinner here, but dinner was offered. Water and coffee were included from a self-serve area. Water here was by the glass from a fountain. If you ordered from any of the wait staff that wandered the area you would receive bottled water and would be charged. Coffee served at the table was also charged, however, you could order juice from a wait person and that was included. Confusing.

There was a small cafe just outside the spa and adjacent to the indoor pool. The cafe featured prepared-ahead small dish salads of all different types that were very nice. You could just grab one as you walked by on your way to the pool.

I ordered room service a couple times when I wasn’t feeling well, and later discovered that room service burgers come from the grill adjacent to the outdoor pool. While the burgers are just so-so, I tried a hot dog one day and it was pretty good. (Yes, that’s mayo on my dog. I blame my mother.) The fries, however, were fantastic! They were nice and crispy on the outside and had just the right amount of salt cooked right into them!

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There were three other restaurant options, but they were additional cost, so I did not try them.

Wine & Cheese

There was a wine & cheese event one afternoon on the lawn accompanied by live music. Fruit and cheese plates were complementary. Wine was charged to your on board account.

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Entertainment

One night on the pool deck there was a surprise guest.

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There were shows every night in the theater. One evening featured a musician playing Queen on an electric violin!

Corning Glass

There was a glass blowing demonstration on the upper deck.

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Oktoberfest

My trip coincided with Oktoberfest, so we had a celebration for that. The bartender in one of the pics below was the drink server assigned to my table in the main dining room.

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Other Activities

Many activities were available daily including shopping deals, trivia, bocce ball competitions, casino challenges and art shows. A spa, fitness center and several hot tubs offered additional options for whiling away your time at sea. There were places to sit quietly and meditate or read. And let’s not forget napping by the pool! There really was no excuse for boredom!

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New Friends

One of my favorite parts of the cruise was meeting these lovely folks – Tatiana and Max, from Melbourne, AU! Tatiana is the Concert Master and Principle Violinist for the Melbourne Opera! We had dinner together every night. Tatiana also guided me through my first casino experience, and I tagged along with both of them for one of the island excursions.

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Someone recently asked me if I would ever do another cruise. Maybe. I prefer the freedom of seeing sites on a timing that I decide rather than on someone else’s schedule. When you’re on a ship, you’ve got to see location x on day y, and you have a block of time in which to do it. But. A cruise allows you to potentially visit several different locations that you might not be able to fit into a land-based trip. And being on the water is such a beautiful, calming experience! Maybe I would do it again. In a bit.

NEXT STORY: Final Thoughts on My South Pacific Adventure – or –Back to South Pacific Cruise page

Hawaii – Redux

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I had one full day to spend on Oahu, Hawaii, on my return trip from Australia. My intention for this visit was to 1) Ship home a suitcase full of souvenirs, and 2) rest. My flight had departed Sydney, Australia at 9:20 p.m. and arrived (on time) at 10:20 a.m. – on the same day!

Traveling from Australia to Hawaii means I had crossed back over the International Date Line, which gave me back the day I lost on my way out. It also gave me a really long day! By the time I made it to my Airbnb room and got settled in, it was early afternoon. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do much that day because of low energy, so I walked to a nearby ABC Store for some snacks and headed to the recreation deck in my building.

Hotel

This location turned out to be much nicer than where I stayed on my trip out! My room was inside the Aqua Skyline Hotel at Island Colony. My room, being that is was through Airbnb, was privately owned, and therefore less expensive than rooms rented directly from the hotel. As a comparison, my rate for the time I traveled (early November 2015) was $95/night for a Studio Kitchenette. The rate for a hotel-owned room of the same type booking for November 2016 starts at $149/night. The downside to this is, the privately owned room may not be as up to date as the hotel-owned room. I was happy with the trade-off. Another bonus was the last visitors had left two beers in the fridge!

The hotel is located five blocks from Waikiki beach – a very reasonable walking distance! The view from the recreation deck and my room are beautiful! The water in the pictures below is the Ala Wai Canal. The aerial photo is from my room looking down at the pool deck.

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My Previous Hotel

As a comparison, on my first stay in Hawaii, the room I rented through Airbnb advertised “‘To die for ocean views’ over Yacht Harbor, Surf and Boating. Comfortable, clean, efficient.” Well. There was no balcony on the unit and the windows began at about waist height, so the only way to see those “to die for” views was to stand at the window.

To be fair, there were plenty of pictures on the listing, and the room was “as advertised.” But when I got there and couldn’t sit at the cute little table next to the window and see out the window, I thought, “Well, this kind of sucks!” Lesson learned!

There was no deadbolt on the door and the lock set was wonky, so at night I propped a vacuum cleaner I had found in the closet against the door as a sort of alarm.

Also, there was only one working elevator in the building, and that elevator only worked some of the time. One day I had called a cab to take me around town and when I left to meet them, the elevator refused to stop on my floor. I could hear it buzzing by over and over again, but it would not stop! I made a phone call to the unit owner, who then called the building management office. I was a good ten minutes late for my cab, but thankfully the driver had waited for me because he knew about the elevator issues in the building!

Dinner

After a bit of rest, I ventured out to find dinner. Within two blocks of the hotel was a place called Heavenly Island Lifestyle. And heavenly it was! The venue is open air, with an inside space and a patio. I sat on the patio. The view was pretty awesome as well. There’s a busy street on the other side of the fence, but I did not find it at all distracting.

I had a Mai Tai and a scrumptious dish called Kahuku Shrimp Ravioli Nalo Herb Cream Sauce with Organic Cauliflower Saute. It was a green curry sauce, and the flower petally-looking things sprinkled on top are the leaves of baby cauliflower. OMG! I wanted to lick the bowl!

Day Two

The following day (after sleeping way in), I rolled my overstuffed carry-on suitcase down to the USPS office to ship it home. I had had quite enough of carting around heavy luggage and finagling suitcase contents to abide by carry on and checked baggage limits. One less suitcase for my final leg was well worth the cost to ship it!

Lunch

After the Post Office, I headed over to Waikiki Beach for lunch. I landed at The Edge of Waikiki – Sheraton where I sat at the outdoor patio right next to the beach. I ordered a Margartia and the North Shore Basket, which is fried prawns and calamari. The prawns were huge! It was the perfect thing for me at that moment, as it was simple, and I was in need of some comfort food!

The view was pretty awesome as well.

Catamaran

After lunch (and another margarita) I realized I had not yet sat on the beach – on the sand – in Hawaii. When I stopped in Hawaii on the way to Australia I walked on the beach, but I had not had butt on the sand. I needed to fix this.

There was a small patch of sand very near the entrance to The Edge, and I had been watching a catamaran launch and land from there. As I sat on the sand I saw the catamaran coming in for what I assumed would be the last time, as the sun was not going to be around much longer. After unloading, they hung a banner across the front and a line formed. It suddenly hit me – sunset cruise!

The line was very long, but I thought I should at least ask. I went to the booth and was told they always sell out in advance, but I should go speak with the person who was managing the line. She said they had room for one more! Better yet – if I was paying cash, it would be $40, not the usual $45. I had exactly $40 cash! Yes!

The boat is called Maita’i Catamaran, and get this – free Mai Tai’s on tap! Granted, they’re not strong, but that’s a good thing, as they go down very easily and the trip takes just over an hour, so there’s plenty of time to down a few of them!

This turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip! I sat next to a couple from – Australia – and they were very nice! I also was situated very near the front of the boat (near the nets) so I had a totally unobstructed view. Here are some of the photos: (There are 11 photos in this batch, so get comfy!)

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The Australian lady next to me offered to take my picture against the sunset, and this Japanese guy was standing where I wanted to be. Instead of asking him to move, I asked if he wanted to take a picture with me. He gave me a big smile and said, “Yes!” As we were getting ready to leave the boat, he made his way over to me and said, “Thank you for taking a picture with me!” Isn’t that great?!

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Dinner

On my walk back to the hotel I decided to stop at Tapas Lanai Bar, which is where I had been heading when I stumbled onto Heavenly the day before. I chose Heavenly over Tapas the first night because, frankly, Tapas Lanai looked a bit like a dive bar. It’s located on the second floor above a touristy shop and the stairway leading up to the entrance is dark and…scary. It just doesn’t say, “Come on in – it’s safe here!” But…I had had several Mai Tai’s, so my inhibitions were numb.

When I entered the place, I saw only a handful of tables and a bar along the wall. Not much seating inside, and there were maybe three tables outside on what they call the “lanai,” but it’s really just a narrow, rundown porch area on the street and next to an alley. I opted to sit outside in spite of the lack of ambiance, as I felt an escape would be easiest from this vantage point.

Surprise – I had a really nice meal! I ordered a salad with green apples, feta and walnuts on mixed greens with a  nice vinaigrette. I also ordered their crab cakes, which were very tasty! It was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

Honolulu After Dark

It was such a warm evening, I decided to take advantage of the pool and hot tub on the recreation deck. It was quite nice! Back in my room, I snapped a couple photos – Goodnight Hawaii!

The next day it was back to the airport for the final leg home!

NEXT STORY: Life on the Celebrity Solstice – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

 

Goodbye Sydney, My Love!

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The Celebrity Solstice arrived back at the Port of Sydney at 6:30 a.m., right on schedule. I was booked for a 9:20 p.m. flight to Hawaii on the same day.

I had originally planned to spend the final day of my “out of country” experience seeing some additional sites in Sydney before heading to the airport, but a few days before the ship arrived back in port, I came to my senses. I realized spending the day in Sydney would mean either:

  1. Schlepping my luggage around town all day – or –
  2. Paying for my luggage to be stored for the day.

I didn’t like either option. Also, there was the issue of transportation to the airport, and, frankly, I was too tired to even think about that.

While the cruise had been relaxing, I was still struggling with congestion and cough, and the idea of public transportation and managing luggage for the day felt too complicated. I opted instead for option 3, which was to pay $30 to have my bags picked up at my cabin door the night before arriving in port and then having them loaded onto a bus first thing in the morning, said bus also transporting me to the airport straight away. This would mean passing on the downtown site seeing I was hoping to do on my last day, like the Botanical Garden, but…it had been a long trip. Unfortunately, option 3 also meant spending a full day in the airport. Fun.

When I chose this option, I thought the part about picking up bags at my cabin and loading onto the bus would be accomplished without my intervention. I was wrong.

As I disembarked with the thousands of other passengers who had also chosen this option, I found that my bags had been removed from the ship and placed along with bazillions of other bags in the cruise terminal! (I was not the only one surprised by this.)

I was to pick out my bags from one of the loosely organized, massive groupings of bags and transport them to the bus, which would be located outside the terminal. There, my bags would be loaded into the cargo area on the bus.

Turns out the reason you must pick up your bags in the terminal and transport them to the bus yourself is because there are several buses making the same trip and they are loaded to capacity and driven to the airport as people arrive, so this is the only way to keep the buses running smoothly, and to ensure that your bags travel with you on the bus. Makes sense now, but was a bit frustrating at the time.

So, by 9:00 a.m. I was on a bus and headed to the airport for my 9:20 p.m. flight! It was such a beautiful day, and I was so sad I would be spending it in an airport instead of beautiful gardens, but…

As the bus traveled away from the terminal and through the city, I caught one last glimpse of the city that had won my heart! It was with sweet sorrow that I was leaving such a beautiful city and country!

I have often thought, since my first day in Sydney, that if I ever needed to choose another country to live in, I would definitely pick Australia! It is so beautiful, and the people are so friendly and nice! You can have a conversation with just about anyone here, and they will treat you as if you belong!

At the airport, I found a great place to hang out – The Terrace Bar, Bistro and Cafe. Here I had breakfast (Eggs Benedict, of course!), then came back later for a beer and finally dinner. Between meals I wandered the airport, pushing my trolley full of luggage from store to store. I bought more souvenirs as well as some postage stamps, and then sat down to write out the post cards I had purchased on the Sydney portion of my trip. I wanted my Sydney post cards to have a Sydney stamp and postmark! (See my earlier post, Touristing in Sydney).

At about 6:30 p.m. the line began forming at the ticket counter. I was on my way home!

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NEXT STORY: Hawaii Redux – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

NEXT STORY: Goodbye Sydney, My Love! – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page

The final stop on the Celebrity Solstice South Pacific cruise was the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. This island was hands down the most beautiful island on the trip, which was upsetting, because I was SO SICK! (I had come down with something that felt like bronchitis, but I think it was really allergies.)

Anywho, I almost didn’t leave the ship at this stop because I felt so bad, but then I thought, If I don’t see it now, I’ll have missed it forever! So I pulled up my big girl pants and hopped on a tender for the trip to the island – and I’m so glad I did! Here is what I could see from the ship:

On shore, there was a long, white beach near the dock, where many people chose to do their swimming and sunbathing. It was also a popular place for small boats to throw anchor and stop for a while.

A dirt road ran through the trees behind the beach, and if you crossed the road, there was more beautiful sand and water and gorgeous vignettes for photos, though not the best place for swimming.

There was a little cove just down from there where most of the tourists preferred to swim.

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Interesting views here, for sure! The tree on the beach looks like it’s doing the limbo. The other pic looks like one tree is hugging another, or maybe it’s a gigantic slingshot!

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And of course there was shopping, as well as some beautiful natural landscapes and flowers!

It was such perfect day, and this was the perfect last stop on a fabulous cruise!

Wikipedia says:

The Isle of Pines (French: Île des Pins; name in Kanak language Kwênyii: Kunyié) is an island located in the Pacific Ocean, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas collectivity of France. The island is part of the commune (municipality) of L’Île-des-Pins, in the South Province of New Caledonia. The Isle of Pines is nicknamed l’île la plus proche du paradis (“the closest island to Paradise”). It has snorkeling and scuba diving in and around its lagoon. Species of tropical fish and corals can be seen in the transparent water.

NEXT STORY: Goodbye Sydney, My Love! – or – Back to South Pacific Cruise page