Cruise 2009, part I @ 03:14 pm
Lots to catch up on, after roughly 32 hours of action, starting at 4AM in Los Angeles. LA to Philly flight… what, like I’m supposed to remember that? In the Philly airport for 4 dull hours, enlivened by another sighting of the Lego Liberty Bell and linner at that winebar place that dark_of_night and I visited on some other trip I can't remember; it rates 4 stars in the Michelin Guide compared to the other options like Chik-Fil-A and BK. We killed more time by walking through all of the terminals… possibly this should be called training for our walking to come.
We were tickled by two snippets of overheard conversation in the airports. At LAX in the morning, a teenage daughter was sent on a quest to get a breakfast muffin for mom, but returned with some other pastry declaring that the only muffins at the café had pepper on them. “Could that maybe have been poppy seeds, dear?” asks mom. Even better was in the Philly airport, where we see a tyke racing away down the concourse away from his parents. Mom cries out, “Go ahead and run; you’ll never find Grandma’s House!” Awesome.
Killed still more time by sitting on the tarmac after boarding the plane. The captain said that ‘they’ were ‘moving planes around’ and that no planes were allowed to taxi or take off. Whatever the reason, no planes went anywhere for a good long time. Ultimately, we all got moving again and the captain announced we were #7 for runway, number twenty something for take off. All in all, we were about two hours late leaving Philly.
And yet. Not such a bad thing, since we were in danger of arriving loooong before the cruise was going to depart, and we would probably have been stuck dragging luggage around Barcelona. Once there, we got cash, figured out the bus that would take us to the center of town, reconnoitered the tourist information office and (though we had some options for left luggage) we decided we couldn’t stand having it about any longer and headed for the ship, hoping they’d be open enough to accept our bags. This involved figuring out the Metro system, which was not hard at all, navigating a few streets, figuring out the port bus, and getting to the ship. Fortunately, they did have staff there to take our bags and we checked in. Lightened considerably, we went in to reverse and took the port bus back, and walked back to the Metro station, where we headed out toward Sagrada Familia. Man, is that a weird unfinished cathedral! I’m not sure I appreciated it to its fullest having slept but little on the plane, but before checking it out more closely, we stopped first at a café for some tapas: olives, sausage and patates braves: taters with aioli and a pretty hot sauce. Sangria to drink, followed by a wise beer for each of us to help restore some fluids, however alcohol-tinged, to our tissues. After the tissue restorer, we were better able to circumambulate Gaudi’s cathedral and balk at the 90 minute wait to get inside and take the elevator up. The native Barcelonans love their Gaudi dearly… a lot more than I do, so gawking at its outside was enough for us. Mission at least partially accomplished, we metroed our way back to the port, since it was now late enough to board.
Due to some perverse trick Costa Cruises played on us, the dress code for tonight’s dinner was “Gala”. Aiyee! Thank you so fucking much. You can imagine how Gala I felt now that my underwear had traveled with me through 9 time zones. And now I’m supposed to be Cary Grant? A shower helped a great deal, as did a tiny naplet. I dressed, dealt with last minute details of boarding the ship, and then lounged about to watch Barcelona fading into the distance until the dinner gong.
At dinner we were joined by: Henry and Fan, Chinese-born American success stories celebrating their 25th anniversary; Marilyn and Alex, Francophone Canadians; and Fara & Hassan, newlyweds of Lebanese descent soon to live together in Angola where Hassan’s business interests are. Great variety at the table and it worked out quite well. [And it continued to do so for the rest of the trip; also, we were later joined by Larry and Charlene, from Virginia. They heard we had two empty chairs at our table, and wanted to join us bad kids.]
I dined on prosciutto and melon, consommé, steak & dessert, accompanied by champagne (courtesy of Henry, who was very generous) & a taste of white wine (ditto) and a tasty Primativo… oh yes, and the grappa that came in an edible chocolate cup.
Exhaustion & wine now demanded sleep. A couple last notes: the stop at Marseilles has been scratched due to heavy winds, and Toulon has been substituted for our first stop. Our ship, the Costa Concordia, is a bit bigger and a lot gaudier than our last (and first!) cruiseship, and the service and experience seems not quite as good, but certainly the food is equally excellent. [Future events basically bore out my snap decision. I think I enjoyed the cruise experience more on the Celebrity ship than this one; not that this one was bad, but the other one was better.]
Slept until 3AM, then lay awake until 4AM, then fell asleep again and woke up at 10AM. Grabbed a quick poolside buffet breakfast and then out to Toulon, starting with a €7 shuttle bus to take us to the center of town. Mainly dark_of_night and I carried out some aimless wandering… along the marina/boardwalk, up the Rue d’Algier, a look at the opera house and the “remarkable building” as advertised by the daily map, which was accurate when it came to the remarkable building, but less so when it came to finding the city museum. Finally, we located it and saw some taxidermied animals in the Natural History wing, and various artworks in the rest of the building. Mostly very modern works, but also a Fragonard, a David, and one modern sculpture that tickled our fancy… it was absolutely accurately entitled (I paraphrase) “Mop, Bucket & Lobster”.
The museum also was staffed by the friendliest French lesbians in the world, mostly shaved headed & butch. It did not require sensitive gaydar. They gave us elaborate directions on how to get to the other museums & a discount ticket for visiting them. We didn’t have time to see them all, but we did go to the photography museum, full of an exhibit of photos taken in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, apparently taken after the fall of the Soviet state, but still pretty bleak portraits of daily life in a communal apartment building.
After that we came across a marvelous unexpected discovery: a giant ship bursting through the side of a building, tearing up the pavement in a little square. The whole thing was a giant public artwork, with the mast and sail painted on the side of the building out of which the concrete ship-sculpture appeared to come.
From there to the maritime museum, next to the naval base. Nice displays on the construction and history of French naval vessels, old wooden figureheads, submarine control panels, lighthouses and Maxim guns. There were also interesting displays on the scuttling of the French fleet in WWII & two enormous disasters circa 1910 in which ships exploded in the harbor. In one case, the metal decks had blown up and curled over the rest of the ship like tissue paper.
After that, we strolled back toward the pick up point for the shuttle & took a breather back on the ship. A little drink for me at the bar, and a drink-of-the-day strawberry daiquiri for milady. We sipped our drinks and read our books while looking out over the bay, and then back to the cabin to clean up for dinner.
More little differences in life on this ship as opposed to the previous cruise. Perhaps since this ship is more ‘European’, the gratuity is automatically included on your bar bill or whatever other services you may buy on board. This is a mixed blessing; it’s easier, but the staff has little impetus to excel. On Celebrity, the staff was almost grotesquely obsequious. A good morning or good evening was on everyone’s relentlessly smiling lips, and three seconds after your butt hit a chair, someone would be at your elbow asking if you’d like a drink. Not so on the Costa ship, where semaphore signals are occasionally required to get the attention of the waitstaff. Somewhere, there must be a happy medium between these two extremes.
Dinner: delicious tomato soup, pasta and lackluster veal parmiggiano. A Côtes du Rhône complemented the veal and dark_of_night’s rabbit quite nicely.
Arrived in Savona, breakfasted, and out onto the streets. First to the Fortress Priamar, which is just part of the landscape really… you can crawl all over it to your heart’s content for free. Great views over the city and the beaches of the Riviera. Also, it houses the archeological museum (which cost a pittance to enter) with artifacts dug up from the excavations of the castle and the surrounding medieval village. Genoa conquered Savona and transformed the area by destroying the old cathedral and other buildings in order to build the castle that now stands there, and its fortifications. The museum also housed some Roman-era mosaics from Tunis [we’ll see plenty more in a few days].
Another part of the fortress houses an art museum. I really liked one sculpture of a matador and bull, constructed from bits of tire tread. The matador’s cape was the red hood of a car.
From there, we went down into the town. Along the way we passed a church conducting services (as it was Sunday) and the choir was singing, the voices spilling out into the street. We went to the cathedral, which has ‘a’ Sistene Chapel, built by the very same Sixtus who built ‘the’ Sistene Chapel. This one was built as a mausoleum for his parents, as he was a local boy. The courtyard had some amazing grape vines that had grown to an advanced age, and were about 5 inches thick, and trained to grow up to the second floor, where they finally were allowed to sprout leaves. Where some of the trunks had died, little thin grapes vines were being trained to emulate their much older brethren.
The main cathedral was also very splendid with a highlight being the choir stalls of intricate inlaid woods, with a few samples of ivory, shell and other materials to help complete portraits of saints and the like on the upper level. In the middle were more earthly scenes of humble tools and activities, while the bottom of the choir stalls were decorated with scenes of jails and prisons and hellfire. The choir had originally been in the old cathedral, but had been removed when the Genoese destroyed that cathedral to build the fortress. Another older souvenir was a Byzantine capital, which had been converted into a baptismal font.
Near the cathedral was the Pinacoteca, an art museum in an old palazzo, with many levels of galleries. Mostly negligible art, but an interesting display of majolica jars from an apothecary, all with Latin labels of the contents, from licorice to holy water of Our Lady of Misery. There was a Magritte I didn’t recognize with an interesting cipher, a Man Ray, a couple Miros and dark_of_night’s ‘favorite’, a Cy Twombly monstrosity that looked like a canvas left to crayon-welding 4th graders for a few hours, upon which a latte had been messily spilled. Also lots of religious paintings and altarpieces and the like, with one featuring some peculiar disciples who looked suspiciously like Klansmen.
From there, a walk along the narrow Via Pia (where some obscure catastrophe had brought a small firetruck, policemen and a huddle of local onlookers staring up the 5th floor of a building). And the Via Paleocapa with its arcades of closed-for-Sunday shops on either side.
Further walking brought us around past the WWI memorial (a tradition of the town is a ringing of bells at 6pm, during which pedestrians and cars come to a stop in that square), the handsome theater, and then back around to the marina, where a shortcut takes one over a drawbridge-style footbridge to the area of the ship.
Back aboard we squeezed in a quick swim at the allegedly adults-only pool. Again a difference between Costa and Celebrity. Costa has ridiculous rules, like no children under 16 in the Jacuzzis, no diving, etc. … but no enforcement. Anyway, small potatoes. And small pools also. Ok, I’ll stop harping on it. We also snuck in a drink of the day (Sex on the Beach) before the lifeboat drill. 30 minutes of boredom, but at least it was now over with. Also interesting was the full display of languages on the loudspeaker for the instructions: Italian, French, Spanish, German, English, Russian and Japanese.
A short nap and then dinner; I went practically vegetarian since those options looked best to me: asparagus quiche, spinach soup, risotto with pumpkin, pepper stuffed with rice & veggies, cheese plate and Baba Tarantella… an orange syrup soaked cake. I strayed from the veggie path only to taste dark_of_night's foie gras and excellent boar loin. A Roero Arneis went well with my lighter(?) fare.