France, 2018

Our driving trip through northern France

The Cruise

Friday, April 13 to Saturday, April 14, 2018

We booked this cruise a year ago and booked our air to Tampa several months ago. Early Friday morning we got an email from Delta offering to change our flight for tomorrow because of a “weather waiver”—a blizzard was coming to Minneapolis.  We called them and were switched to a 9 am flight instead of the 1:10 flight we had booked. We got in a cab at 6:15 (35W not too bad) and wasted some time at the airport. We boarded at 8:30, the scheduled time, left the gate and went to the de-icing station. The captain came on then and said he had some news. First, we were finished de-icing; second, the runway had been closed, and third, the radios weren’t working and we had to return to the gate. Most of the passengers had seemed excited that we were going to make it, but all were a little deflated with the news. They fixed the radios quickly and the captain walked down the aisle to make sure there was no ice on the wings. The next message from the cockpit was that the runway was open and we were leaving. There was some cheering when we got into the air. When we were making our approach in Tampa, the captain told us the temperature was 86 and breezy. Then he told us conditions in MN—heavy snow, low visibility, freezing fog, etc. There was more cheering when we touched down in Tampa. We saw later that our original flight at 1:10 was cancelled so we are very lucky to be here! Used LYFT to get to our hotel—we’re hooked on this alternative to taxis. We had an early dinner and some wine, then watched the weather channel most of the evening. There was crazy weather everywhere!

Waiting for our flight

Ice-covered wing, waiting for de-icing

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hope there’s not going to be a crazy event every day. Today while Barbara was in the shower a fire alarm sounded in our room. Jay went down to the front desk and was told that the alarms are often set off by the showers. Oy vey! We had a leisurely morning and took LYFT to the port. Check-in was quick and we were in our cabin before noon. We had lunch in the Lido and then bought our internet and wine packages. We had champagne at a reception at 2:00.  The lifeboat drill at 4:00 was moved from the deck to the dining room because of rain. Tonight we will be celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary with filet mignon in the Pinnacle restaurant. There’s a 9:00 music trivia in the Crow’s Nest we want to try. We hope the internet is good enough for us to post to this blog while we’re on the cruise. When we arrive in Rotterdam, Netherlands on April 30th we are renting a car and driving around Belgium and France, with short stops in Luxembourg and Cologne, Germany. The inspiration for this trip was Jay’s dad Earl’s letters home from Europe when he was there during WWII. We plan to visit places like Normandy and the location in Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge was fought. We’re scheduled to arrive home on May 21st. Please keep in touch with us via email or send us a message (click on the “Home” tab above). We’ll have wifi in Europe so can hopefully send lots of photos.

Monday, April 16, 2018 — Key West

Key West is the first stop on this cruise and it’s the only one we’ve been to before. The ship docked on the military pier and there was an interesting ship next to us. It looked like it was made of concrete but was aluminum. We’ve played trivia with Bill and Virginia a few times, and Bill was a military pilot and eventually a JAG. He told us this aluminum ship that’s built like a catamaran is very fast. We took the shuttle to the downtown area and walked around to see Ernest Hemingway’s house (he lived in Key West about 10 years). We also walked to Truman’s Little White House and the lighthouse. It was warm (mid 80s) and breezy so not too hot. So far we’ve been lucky with our table mates in the dining room. There are quite a few Canadians on the ship and they’re probably the only ones it’s safe to talk politics with. 

Hemingway’s home

Truman’s Little White House

Navy catamaran

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our first sea day. The seas are pretty calm and the high temp will be in the mid 70s. The food has been excellent so far. The breakfast menu includes Dungeness Crab Eggs Benedict, which Barbara loves. We’ve decided to alternate between hot breakfast in the dining room and cold cereal in the Lido. We’ve had our lunch in the Lido every day—they have an excellent Asian station and we had Chinese on Monday and Japanese today. The salad station is also very good. Tonight at dinner we plan to have escargot as our first course. Barbara has been able to get her 5 miles in pretty easily. The indoor walk around our deck is around 1/4 mile, so she doesn’t have to do as many laps as she does in our unit at home. We probably walk 1-2 miles just getting around the ship. The entertainment has been so-so, but hopefully we’ll see some good acts. Today we went to America’s Test Kitchen and learned how to make a fluffy omelet and blueberry pancakes. We learned a few tricks that we didn’t know—just hope we don’t forget them when we get home. Trivia has been really tough. The game this afternoon had this question: “what is Barbie (the doll’s) full name?’ Someone actually knew it—Barbara Millicent Roberts. We got more wrong than right, as we also missed the one about what each letter of the acronym LASER stands for. Last evening’s game was tough too. "When did Friday the 13th become a superstitious date?” The answer was sometime in the 1300s. It’s very competitive, as teams have had perfect scores, although not last night. We’re just hoping not to embarrass ourselves.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Another sea day. It was a very leisurely day to start. We played trivia at 1:00 with a couple from Bermuda. They had to fly to Tampa to get on the ship as they weren’t allowed to embark in Bermuda. The trivia questions were much easier than yesterday as we only got 2 of 16 questions wrong, but the winning team had a perfect score.  We went directly to the Lido for a quick salad so we could go to a 2:00 complimentary wine tasting. After that we needed a nap. Dinner was nice, as was the entertainment—a woman fiddle player who played a variety of music. A lady in the front row of the theater was celebrating her 97th birthday. She was sharp!

Thursday, April 19, 2018 — Bermuda

The ship is docked at King’s Wharf, Bermuda. Barbara was so comfy in bed that she didn’t get up until 10:00. We went up to the Lido and were shocked to find it was closed between 10 and 11:30. Luckily we had saved the cake they gave us on our anniversary on Sunday, and as it was a chocolate mousse cake, it was still delicious. We went ashore and walked around for an hour or so and then back to the ship for lunch. The Lido was almost empty so we were surprised when a man joined us. He had such a story to tell! He and his daughter had rented a motorcycle and went to Hamilton where they had an accident. He had a split lip and had to be helped up (he got around on a scooter). He said his daughter had gone to their cabin and was done for the day. They were told that accidents happen all the time, so we think that driving on the opposite side of the road (the British way) may have had something to do with it. Today was a lovely weather day—mid70s with a good breeze. We took an excursion on a small boat that went around the many islands that make up Bermuda. It is only about 21 square miles in total and some of the islands have homes on them but are accessible only by ferry. We learned quite a lot about Bermuda and we saw many of the most expensive houses. The roofs are painted white and are constructed to catch the rain and direct it to water tanks under the homes. It is their only source of fresh water. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are selling the house they own in Bermuda (photo below). Our narrator on the boat said he had been asked to accompany Catherine on the piano as she was rehearsing for a gig. He said she was very nice to work with and had a wonderful voice. Nobody in Bermuda liked Ross Perot, as he bought a house in Millionaire’s Row many years ago. He couldn’t get his large yacht right up to his property, as there was a coral reef there. He asked what the fine was for damaging the reef, and then proceeded to blow up the reef and pay the fine. Ugh! Another of the houses had a glass kitchen floor with an aquarium underneath it. Some people are so inventive and having lots of money certainly helps. Tourism used to be the #1 source of revenue here, but now it is #2 and tax-exempt corporations are #1. At dinner we heard another interesting story. A woman at our table had lived in Wisconsin, very close to the Twin Cities. She had a sister who was born at a St Paul hospital in 1945. Some of her family had recently sent off their DNA for testing, and found that the sister born in St Paul was not related to them. After more checking, they found that 2 girls had been switched at birth and the hospital had never known! The lady had just found this out before she left on the cruise and is planning to go to Wisconsin (she now lives in AZ) to meet her new-found sister when she gets home. The nice thing about open seating is that you meet new people every night and there is usually a good conversation. We set our clocks forward an hour for the second time on the cruise but our bodies are still on east coast time.

King’s Wharf

King’s Wharf

Home built by architect

Princess Hotel

Front Street in Hamilton

Some hotels have been converted to condos

Douglas/Zeta-Jones home (at top)

Our tour boat

Friday, April 20, 2018

Today was the first of four sea days as we travel from Bermuda to Ponta Delgado in the Azores. We had a nice conversation this morning at breakfast with a couple (Nancy and Ron) from the Toronto area. After breakfast we worked on the blog. At 1:00 we played a fun trivia game in the Crow’s Nest with Bill, Virginia, Gary and Betty. We did well but didn’t win. We watched a video called “Frozen Planet in Concert” in the showroom this afternoon. The photography was amazing, following mainly polar bears in the Arctic and penguins in the Antarctic. A live orchestra played the music accompanying the video that the BBC and Holland America made. Other than the sound being much too loud, it was a most enjoyable hour. We shared a table with one new couple and one from the previous night for dinner and we had jambalaya. Last night’s dinner was paella for Barbara and a turkey dinner for Jay. The casino is open all day on sea days, and it’s fun, but you rarely win. The temps during the day are in the low 70s as we go east and a little north.

Our cozy cabin #6187

The elephant in the room

Saturday, April 21, 2018

This sea day was sunny and warm enough that there were people sunning at the rear pool on the Lido deck. The pizza they serve there is pretty good, but we went inside to eat as it’s pretty windy out in the open. We played trivia with the same group again and didn’t do a good job of representing Catholics. The first question was “who was pope from June 4, 1963 to June 20, 1963?” I said John Paul I as he was only pope for a short time before he died. Jay disagreed and said he had been pope around 1978 as he remembered that Anne was a baby when he went out for something and saw the headline in a newspaper. Bill, our trivia scribe, left the answer as John Paul I. The answer was that no one had been pope for that time in 1963 as Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963 and Pope Paul VI wasn’t elected until June 21st, 1963. We were both wrong and told them not to believe the answers about the Catholic church that came from us! Tonight was a gala (dress-up) night and we ate with a nice couple from the San Diego area. The food was excellent—the men had Beef Wellington and the women had halibut. A few days ago Barbara’s little travel pillow (she puts it behind her arthritic neck when flying and between her arthritic knees when she sleeps) went missing. She called the front desk to have someone look for it, as the bedding had all been changed that day. Before long someone came to the cabin with a HAL pillow that was the smallest of the 3 sizes on the beds. I told them that it was my own “little” pillow that I usually put on the nightstand in the morning. Someone came by later with a little pillow that another passenger must have lost in the same way. Last night when we returned to the cabin after the show, Wayan (the other cabin steward is Andre) said “we found your pillow!” O happy day! The cabin stewards are so warm and friendly and they really go the extra mile to help. I can’t even guess how much laundry is done each day. I wonder if they ever find something worthwhile, like a money clip or expensive piece of jewelry. We hope you're not bored reading this blog. It may get more interesting when we’re driving around after the cruise. This blog also becomes our journal which we plan to read when we aren’t able to travel anymore.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Happy Earth Day and Happy Birthday to our grandson Jamie, who is now 9 years old. Double digits next year! Barbara feels like she’s in an old tv show called The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling. The daily program tells us we will set our clocks ahead one hour that evening, then the cruise director says we do not set our clocks ahead. Barbara woke up this morning and asked what time it was and Jay said “8 or 9:00”. Maybe we are going around in big circles in the Bermuda triangle. We don’t seem to do much on the sea days but there’s always somewhere to go. Trivia remains frustrating—we always finish one or two points behind the winners. The questions are so difficult, such as how many windows are there in the Empire State Building? The answer is 6,000+ and no one got it right. We’ve been skipping the entertainment about half the time. It’s so loud that it's not fun.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Another lazy sea day. We did go to the show tonight and heard a fiddle player and a singer impersonator. The impersonator was quite good and told a joke doing a Johnny Carson impression. I’d repeat it here, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be as funny as it was tonight. We set our clocks ahead for the 4th time since Tampa, so tomorrow Rachel will be on at midnight and we won’t be up to see her! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 — Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores

We are definitely ready to go ashore in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Azores after four days at sea. São Miguel is the largest of the islands and Ponta Delgado is the capital. About 65,000 people live in this city and all the islands combined have a population of about 250,000. Agriculture is the biggest industry but tourism is growing (whale watching is popular here). The Azores have more cows than people. Our guide on “A Taste of the Azores” said they hope tourism doesn’t get too big. The day was beautiful, with a high temperature in the upper 60s. Our first stop on the tour was to see a place called Sete Cidades or Seven Cities that was formed by a volcano. There is a village built along the lake that was formed by a volcano that is still active (the islands are all the result of volcanic activity). The crater is 18 km in circumference. We also drove to a place with beautiful views of Lake Santiago (St James). The Azores became autonomous in 1976 and Portugal covers their defense and foreign affairs. At the narrow part of the island you could see the Atlantic ocean on the north and also on the south. The airport is tiny, but they have direct flights to some places in Europe and the U.S. We went back to the city after our drive that lasted about 3 hours and had wine and cheese in a large hotel (liked the cheese but not the wine). The city had some beautiful plazas—the Portuguese like to make interesting designs in their plazas in cities. Some can actually make you dizzy (ones we saw in Lisbon). The harbor was guarded by an old fort that is now a military museum. Portugal was supposedly neutral in WWII but the Nazis were landing planes in the lakes. Back on the ship we had dinner with an interesting couple from Utah. He was retired Air Force and they talked about some of the places where they had lived abroad. After dinner we saw Planet Earth in Concert, which was amazing nature footage accompanied by the ship’s orchestra. The opening was of a lizard trying to outrun groups of long, creepy snakes. Everyone rooted for the lizard and in another segment we rooted for the giraffe to outrun the lions. The BBC spent years shooting this video and then editing it into a one hour movie. 

Ponta Delgada port

Fort de São Bras

Sete Cidades Crater

Sete Cidades Crater

Photo taken from the bus

Lagoa de Santiago

The north coast

Ponta Delgada Airport

The city gates, Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A sea day today and another tomorrow before we arrive in France. The weather crossing the Atlantic has been warmer than we anticipated and the seas have been pretty calm. We didn’t do much today besides talk to a future cruise consultant about some possibilities for later this year and next winter. Tonight the entertainer was a piano player named Elliot Finkel. He was great, and had a very warm personality. When he walked on stage he looked like walking was difficult for him, but he didn’t have any arthritis in his hands! We turned our clocks ahead one hour again.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Today is our last sea day for the cruise and also the last gala night (dress up). We were invited to the Mariner’s Award ceremony and had a nice brunch after it in the dining room. We both chose the fluke, which was a tasty fish and we had coconut cream pie for dessert. We sat with a new group of people for dinner and ordered the steak and lobster. One lady showed us the terrible burns she had on her wrist and arm. She had just gotten some coffee and was carrying it when the ship lurched and the coffee splashed over her arm. We were surprised that she hadn’t gone to the medical office on board and had them treat it as it looked pretty bad. She and her husband (boyfriend?) have booked the world cruise in 2020. The high temp today is still expected to be in the low 70s, but the dining room was a bit bumpy at dinner tonight. We skipped the singers' and dancers' show. We’re both reading David Corn and Michael Isikoff's book “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.” It’s very interesting. We turned our clocks ahead for the last time.

Friday, April 27, 2018 — Brest, France

We’ve finally lost our fine weather. The captain sped the ship up to get to Brest, France early, as the winds were about 50 knots and the swells quite high. He didn’t want to miss the port as often happens in bad weather. We went out on our own to the downtown area on the shuttle and walked around for about an hour. The couple we had breakfast with the first day of the cruise was on the shuttle. They’re going to Scotland after the cruise, as Robbie, the husband, has 3 sisters in Glasgow and they’re going to surprise them with their visit. We went to the tourist office in Brest and found it very crowded. Turns out it was mostly people from the ship using their free wifi. We looked at the weather screen when we got back on board The temp was 52 with winds at 40 mph. The rain made it especially miserable. We warmed up with coffee and desserts in the Lido when we got back onboard. We are glad we didn’t book an excursion for Brest. Most of the old buildings in this city were destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII as they were in the process of liberating France. As a result, it’s a modern looking town and the port is very commercial. There were quite a few people on board wearing orange today in honor of King’s Day in Holland. We went to a special dinner in the Pinnacle tonight called Rudi’s Sel de Mer. It featured seafood and was very tasty. We had to work hard to get the snails out of their shells (see photo below). The Crepes Suzette for dessert was very good as was everything that was served. We went to the show tonight and heard a flutist, Andrea Amat, from Valencia, Spain. She was excellent.

Wind makes umbrellas iffy

We’ll be back to this area in a couple weeks

Warming up with coffee and desserts

Nasty weather day

2 tools to remove snails from shells

Crepe Suzette for dessert

Towel monkey

Saturday, April 28, 2018 — Cherbourg, France

This morning the ship docked in Cherbourg, France. Many people are going on shore excursions to Omaha Beach and other WWII sites. We’ll be driving in this area in about a week so just went for a walk into the city. It’s still only in the 50s but it isn’t raining or windy so it is pleasant. We weren’t far from the ship when we saw a memorial to the Titanic. It was all in French, so Jay translated it using Google when we got back to the ship. Here’s what the plaque said:

"During his inaugural cruise, the liner Titanic made his stop at Cherbourg on April 10 1912. He was sinking into the night of April 14 to 15 off Newfoundland.”

We thought it was unusual to refer to the ship as a “he.” For lunch we had hot chocolate and a marshmallow cupcake. We played trivia with a couple new fellows who were very good but we still lost by one point. Dinner was a very strange event last night. A weird couple originally from New York but living now in FL talked about their adoption of babies from Columbia, South America. Their son had a twin brother who died at birth. They were around 4 lbs. so these people were told to put coins in his diaper, as he needed to weigh a minimum amount so they could take him out of Columbia. He’s now in his 30s and is unable to work as he has congestive heart failure that’s probably due to his low birth weight. Another guy at the table wanted to talk about athletes taking a knee at football games, but nobody wanted to talk about that. We’ve talked to some very nice people on this cruise but a couple nights we didn’t have good company. It will be good to get off the ship on Monday but we will miss knowing when and where we’ll be having our meals. We’ll also miss our cabin stewards Wayan and Andre who took good care of us.  

Memorial to R.M.S. Titanic

Cherbourg has an international flavor

A few people were sitting outdoors at this cafe

The theatre in the square

The city square

A pretty carousel

Sunday, April 29, 2018 — Zeebrugge, Belgium

This is our first time in Belgium and the Rotterdam is docked at the busy commercial port of Zeebrugge. It’s another dreary day with temps in the low 50s and rain. We decided to not get off the ship, as there isn’t much to do around this port. Many people booked an excursion to Bruges, a beautiful nearby town. We’ll be arriving there by car on May 2nd. Don’t know how long this cool rainy weather will last, but it would be nice to see the sun again. Barbara was walking around Deck 5 today, as there was hardly anyone on the ship (she’s done most of her walking around our deck that just has cabins). The restaurant is at the back of the ship and the showroom at the front of Deck 5. She ran into a group of people taking a tour of the ship. First time she’s seen this. They were snapping pictures everywhere, in the casino, the lounges, of the artwork, etc. It is a very pretty ship but is getting old. We were on newer ships for our cruises last year and liked them better because the TVs are updated and you can watch movies from your cabin without picking up a DVD. We thought we’d have more time to read but didn’t get a lot done. It seems that we’ve been very busy but haven’t accomplished anything. We did most of our packing this afternoon and will finish our last bottle of wine tonight with a prime rib dinner. We’ll be up early tomorrow and depart the ship around 7:30. Last minute addition: We had dinner with John (Jack) Knebel who was the Secretary of Agriculture during the Ford administration. We asked him if he knew Bill Motes and he said the name sounded familiar. Someone at Grant Park, please ask Bill if he knows John. It was the best dinner conversation of the cruise by far. If anyone sees Norma, please tell her that the secretary’s wife complimented Barbara on the top she wore tonight. It was a loose-knit black top that she bought at a flea market in Puerto Vallarta with Norma in January, 2017. Perhaps Barbara ought to do more shopping with Norma—another lady said she liked it as we walked past her table.

The port of Zeebrugge

This is the end of the cruise portion of the blog. The next section will be about our travels in Belgium. Click on the “Belgium” tab at the top of the page or click here.

© Jay 2020