Saturday, October 13, 2007

The European Dream Part Six - Wine, Cheese, and Monkeys

Just sat down here in the coffee bar after adjudicating the Star Seekers talent show, where the passengers perform for their piers and the shot at getting a contract with NCL. Tonight we had a lot of singers, a classical guitarist, and some stand up comics… Pretty standard fare considering some of the other things I have seen (guy playing a saw, girl clogging, guy dressed as Dorothy staggering drunk around the stage). Supposedly, if what Denny our cruise director says is true, a lawyer came on board a few years ago, did some stand up comedy, and is now performing under contract with NCL. Sounds good, especially since lawyers don’t make much money anyway… wait a second…

Its dark outside and there are some small swells in the sea tonight. Tomorrow morning we will arrive in Barcelona, disembark some passengers and pick up some more and make our way across the Atlantic. Still seems like I just got here, but I am coming down to my last couple of weeks. After hitting some ports around Spain we’ll chug across the Atlantic for six days, which is loads better than 11 hours and three in flight movies.

So, when we last spoke I had told you about the first half of my Mediterranean journey, where I explored the better halves of France, Portugal, and Spain. After Spain we hoped over to Gibraltar, where I had seen briefly the night I sailed through the straight on the Silver Cloud. Well, this time they didn’t see me coming, and they let me on the island.

You can see the rock from anywhere on the island (except I suppose when your standing at the top… unless you look down… but that would be making it too complicated). The general population is around 30,000 people, but it swells due to commuters and tourists. Spain is just a bridge away, but the island is under the umbrella of the United Kingdom. So, you need the British Pound, not the Euro… however you drive on the right, not the left, just to make things easier for the commuters. From the top of the rock you can catch a glimpse of Morocco as well. Basically it’s a very well traveled piece of land.

From the ship Tracey and I braved the rain down the usual cobblestone shopping district that I have seen in many, if not all, of the ports. At the risk of being redundant, here’s a picture…

Now, I really had no preconceived notions about the island… just what I told you above. So, when I found out that there is a huge population of monkeys on the rock, I was interested. A short taxi ride out of the heart of the city brings you to a gondola, and no surprise here, the gondola takes you up to the top of the mountain. There are signs everywhere at the base, in the gondola, and once you arrive warning you about feeding the monkeys, touching the monkeys, and most notably plastic bags. Monkeys see the plastic bags as potential for carrying food, and will spare no time in attempting to rip the bag out of your hand.

And I am not saying this because I heard so… Villam joined us for the rock and monkeys (Rock and Monkeys is my new band) and he happened to have just visited the grocery store. So he was carrying his bag at his side, walking up the steps outside the gondola… Unbeknownst to Villam a monkey was waiting around the corner. All I heard was the scream of the lady in front of me and the tussle of Villam struggling to tear the bag away from the hungry monkey. In the end we had one ripped bag, the mouthwash inside still intact and with its rightful owner, a dejected monkey, and one lady constantly checking over her shoulder.

Once at the top we were greeted by an observatory deck, with awesome views of the island, Spain, and Morocco…

Oh, and a whole bunch of monkeys… Here are some pictures of real live monkeys, not in cages, and just monkeying around…

So we watched the monkeys, took some pictures with the monkeys (Tracey has one of me and a monkey that I need to get), admired the ocean view, and came back down the rock. Then it was a race to get back to the ship for all aboard, making it just in time to see a line half an hour long stretching out of the embarkation building. Turns out that security in Gibraltar is no joke. We weren’t looking forward to waiting in line, so when one of the Shore Ex girls saw us, she marched us to the front of the line… “Official cruise ship business” I said to no one in particular as we dodged a wait that rivaled an airport during Christmas.

Then two sea days came and went. While I had great aspirations of writing the next great American novel, I have resigned to kicking back and enjoying the time to myself. Play a little guitar, go to the gym, watch some movies… Just a whole lotta nothing. And I needed the rest because Italy was just around the corner.

Out next port of call was Civitavecchia, Italy. I had been here before on the Silver Cloud, and just walked around the city. This time I hopped on a crew shuttle and headed towards the Eternal City… Rome. After a hour and a half we arrived, and the bus dropped us off in the middle of the Vatican City.
It was 10:45, and we had to be back on the bus at 2:30. First things first… went to one of the dozens of stands there and got some lemon gelato. The pope would have wanted me to do so, had he been there. While there I hooked up with some of my buddies, and after snapping some pictures of the Vatican we headed over to the Metro and rode it to the Coliseum. I had been to Italy about ten years ago, and spent a few days in Rome, and I gotta say, everything looks the same. All the ruins and still pretty much ruined. Here’s the Coliseum…

Did some walking around, taking some pictures… My buddy Michael told me that upon closer inspection of some of the graffiti on the walls he saw “Hook em’ Horns” etched into the rock, which was later scratched out and “Gig ‘em Aggies” written next to it. Unfortunately due to time constraints we were unable to go inside, but it’s still very impressive to see something like that up close. When it was built some thirty years ago, it had all kinds of statues on it, and gold inlays… throughout the years it has all been stolen. Plus, at one point when Rome was a city on the move (I’m sure along some of the more well traveled chariot-ways they had billboards that read “If you lived in Rome, you’d be home by now.”) they used the brick from the Coliseum to build other structures throughout the city.

And did you know that besides the usual “feed the slaves to the lion” and “lets watch the gladiators fight the slaves” games they would actually flood the center and make the slaves have full scale naval battles. Now, I’m not saying having slaves is a good thing, but I’d pay to see that… Okay okay… only if they used Nerf swords and cannonballs… but no helmets or knee pads… those are for sissies and momma’s boys… and the first thousand people through the voms get a free toga with famous gladiator sports figures on them… And people would walk up and down selling olives and wine and stuff… Man, that would be great… yeah, naval battles at the Coliseum.

From there we headed into the Circus Maximus, looking at a stretch of columns and the remains of building where a bunch of decisions were made.

Then it was some nose following through the city, taking pictures of buildings, statues, and columns… Yeah, looking at my pictures, they all start to look the same… but at that moment in time it’s all pretty astounding. After another stop for gelato, we made it to Trevy fountain. Its pretty much famous because it’s been in a few movies, and there were lots of people there throwing one or two coins in (one to come back, and two to come back married… I just threw in four or five, just to see what would happen… The next day I had five Belizean orphans sharing my cabin with me… Now that’s Unbelizeable.) and snapping pictures. Since I like to conform…

Then it was off to eat some anchovy pizza and drink some Chianti. With bellies full and cameras out of juice, we hoofed it back to the bus, and back to the ship. Oh, and unlike Paris, Rome gave us beautiful weather… See Paris? You should take example from your older brother… Now go outside and the two of you play nice.

The following day we landed in Livorno, Italy, which by itself is nothing to write home about. But from the train station you can get to Pisa in about twenty minutes, an Florence in another hour. After much deliberation, I decided to go to Florence, as I had heard that Piza isn’t as scenic aside from the Leaning Tower. The Dream had boat drill that day, and since I had no reason to stay on board (good ol’ passenger status) I headed out on my own. Caught the 9 AM train, and arrived in Florence around 10:30. Map in hand and not a drop of rain to be seen, I started exploring.

Huh, whaddaya know… street with buildings. First stop was the Duomo de something or other. Basically it’s a huge cathedral that’s white and green.

Walked around it for a bit. The entrance was closed for some reason, although later I found out that shorts are not allowed inside. I considered honoring their rules and taking them off, but I didn’t want to carry them around, and you know all the stuff’s gonna fall out of the pockets, so I didn’t go in. Then I pointed myself to the Galleria Dell Accademia, where they got that big ol’ statue of David.

Once I got there I found a striking similarity between the Statue of David and the line to get inside… neither of them move… I made that up myself… So, unfortunately I did not get to go inside, so here are some alternatives… First off…
Here’s a poster of David.

Here’s the actual statue of David as seen through the glass doors in which people exit the museum from.

Here’s a replica outside a church in a square that I wandered too. Not sure of it’s age or sculptor, but it is the same size… which by the way is much bigger than I expected. Tooled around the square for a bit, then made my way to the canal.

Later I found out that the building on that particular bridge is famous for something. I don’t know what… but in order to lead you to believe that I actually did learn something, let me make something up… That building is where the world record for consecutive hiccups occurred. Over four months and 300,000 hiccups later, Giovanni Bucello set the record, won the respect of Firenze, and the hearts of a nation.

From there I had about an hour before my train, so I wandered back to the station, stopping at a pizzeria for a slice and some wine, then over to a bakery for a cannoli and some espresso.

My friends, it doesn’t get any better than this… Unless I was eating it at the Coliseum during a rousing Naval Nerf match. I do have to say that in comparison, Florence is a much prettier city than Rome. While Rome has the antiquities, Florence has the Italian charm… lots of squares, parks, restaurants, bakeries… you could spend several days there just exploring and relaxing. You don’t feel compelled to rush from spot to spot to take it all in… and unlike Rome, all the buildings are still put together.

Once on the 2:30 train I figured that I would head straight back to Livorno in order to not miss the ship. I would get there at 4:00 and board the ship around 4:20, and since all aboard was 5:30 I figured that would be cutting it close enough. Once onboard the train, I started into conversation with some pax from the ship, also returning from Florence. They said that they were going to Pisa, and that I ought to join them. By doing the math, we would have an hour to get out of the train station, catch a cab, take in the tower, get back in the cab, and make it to our platform to catch the next train to Livorno. This would put us in Livorno at 5:00, giving me half an hour to get onboard. After much consideration, I decided that my job was just a sliver less important than seeing a tower with lasting effects from a childhood ear infection.

Well, what can I say… caught a cab, went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, took some pictures, got back in the cab, and made it back to the train station. We somehow got the only cab in Livorno to make it back to the ship with twenty minutes to spare. All in all, we spent a whopping ten minutes at the tower. Still, better than not making it there at all. And now the bounty of my trip.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you, I did not take a picture of me holding up the Leaning Tower. No, that would be trite. Instead… well… let me start at the beginning. Some time last Spring, when I was enjoying all the things that Mexico had to offer, I realized that I was getting a striking tan line, making the phrase “where the sun don’t shine” become all the more real. So, every now and then you would find my ebony and ivory in random pictures. Maybe one here on the beach, one there backstage… Just as a gag. Before long, my buddies were getting in on the action, displaying white cheeks en masse. One such famous photo contains six of us on a bridge in Belize, all pointing towards the sky, while the center of attention is not up, butt rather down.

Jump to Paris, France, where I was inspired. Maybe as a stark opposition to France’s grand phallic statement to the rest of the world, maybe because my dramatic muse decided to amuse itself… nah… I just wanted a picture of my butt with the Eiffel tower. So, with pants down and hands on my hips, I snap a picture… or rather someone else does. Don’t worry, we had known each other for a few days or so. This continues at the Coliseum, where I once again immortalize a national monument. So, why would I take a picture of me holding up the Leaning Tower? Everyone’s does that…

I only bring this up because I was not with my usual group in Pisa… just with some pax that I had met on the train. I had mentioned it to one of them… as he was busting my chops about being concerned for my job (you sissy). So I told him I would come, but that he would have to do something for me… heh heh heh. So, I explain to him what I want… tell him to frame the shot, and when he was ready I would count to three… And the rest is history… Until he decided he wanted the same portrait. So, I framed him up, he counted to three, and click! He had his own picture of his butt and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Of course, I cannot rightfully post any of these pictures here, but for a small fee I can mail you an autographed eight by ten. Still, I think it was very STYLEish of me to have brought such unforeseen mirth to this newlywed couple’s honeymoon, don’t you?

Our final port in our magical Mediterranean tour was Marseille, France. After all the running around I did catching trains and buses, and madly trying to take in everything I could over the past few days, I was very happy just to hang out. So, that’s what I did. Federico, Ian, and I went out, did some walking around, bought some cookies, and finally sat down at a small cafĂ©. And I finally had my wine and cheese.

As Federico would say, “I was as happy as a puppy with two tails.” He also has a saying about being at war and jumping into trenches, but it doesn’t apply here. And so we sat, chewing the fat (and drinking the wine) and watching all the pretty French girls go by. I tried to woo them with my French… but try as I may, all of my “Ooh la la’s” followed by “Oh huh ho’s!” a la Maurice Chevalier did nothing to win their attention. So, with my wine glass empty, and my head full of rejection, we trotted back to the ship.

Tomorrow we will hit Barcelona, Spain, where we’ll disembark some passengers, and pick some up to take them on a trip across the pond to Miami, Florida. There will be many stops in Spain, including one Spanish city in Africa (no kiddin’), and after nearly a week at sea, St. Thomas… Not a bad way to end things. My Spanish, incidentally, is picking up, thanks to some friends I hang with in the crew bar. Once Ana, a youth counselor, discovered that I knew a little Spanish, she speaks nothing but to me, forcing me to learn by immersion. Since she is from Mexico, I have also learned that much of the book Spanish I was taught in high school will get you beat up South of the border. So, I am learning some mighty fine Spanish slang. For example, Spanish girls like being called “marshmallow” and “little muffin.” That’s “Bon bon” and “Biscocheta” respectfully. Unfortunately, I discovered that they will laugh at you if you demand to be called “Pantalones Fuegas.” Oh well.

Keep on Livin’ The Dream.

Your Pal,

Pantalones Fuegas

Monday, October 08, 2007

The European Dream Part Five - Eiffel Tower or Bust

So, where in the world am I now? Well, presently I am sitting in my room, good ol’ 5269, which is all the way aft on the starboard side… Well, almost all the way aft, for outside my door is the end of the hall where there is another door with a yellow sign on it that reads “HIGH VOLTAGE.“ I suppose on the other side of my wall is a bunch of stuff which requires a dangerous amount of voltage… Me? I usually run off one of those little watch batteries. Below me there should be a passenger cabin, I think. Above me is the Mooring Deck, the place where they tie out to the pier and winch the ropes in, taking out the slack. While I have never seen this happen, I can usually hear and feel it when we dock in the mornings and… uh… undock in the evenings. Yes, it can be sort of loud, but it’s nothing like having a room all the way forward, where your neighbor is the anchor.

It didn’t happen to me, but way back when I was working on the Silver Cloud our adage team had fought and held out for a passenger cabin. Well, they finally got what they wanted, and it was nice… huge marble bathroom, big bed, sitting area with a wet bar… cushy indeed. However, right outside their big bay window was the anchor. One day I was in their room going over show videos… again… when the anchor started to raise. Each link shook the cabin like a little earthquake, and the noise was comparable to having an apartment with a tarmac view. I would have felt sorry for them, but they were pecker heads… Moving on…

As far as the big picture is concerned, The Dream is somewhere between Spain and Italy. Yesterday we visited the island of Gibraltar, which you know from all those Prudential Life Insurance commercials. Our magical mystery tour of the Med started us at Dover… Yes, I know, not very Med like, but it was where we picked up our passengers. This time around the weather was just plain nasty. Started out having coffee with Tracey and Villam, and from there took a look around the city by foot. The impending rain forced me to stay close to town, and after discovering a cemetery (personally I mean… I am sure others have seen it too, otherwise all the head stones with the markers would be really mysterious) I returned to the Prince Albert Pub, where I did the usual checking of E mail and drinking of ale...
After one sea day, we made it to our first port, La Havre. This is the port that is the gateway to Paris, and it was… but Paris, as I would come to discover, is like a woman… fickle and difficult to figure out (although, after rereading the last statement, I can say that women, as a whole, smell better). Not that it was all Paris’ fault… Let’s start at the beginning…

Our team of potential Parisians include Richard and Josette (our Magic duo), their daughter and her boy friend, Ted (Comedian), Lorraine (singer), and myself. Only Lorraine had been to Paris before, the rest of us merely hopeful of seeing the Eiffel Tower, eating a croissant, and drinking some wine. At 7 AM we met at the gangway Midship. They had just set it up and were waiting for clearance from the port authority. A couple of minutes and we were off the ship, politely shoving the pax out of the way to get the first taxi. As we made strides down the pier Richard said to the group “Eiffel Tower or Bust!“ Those words were to echo in my head for the rest of the day… eerily and foreboding… Next stop, the train station.

Larrisa knew enough French to get us our tickets. So we got round trip tickets for the seven of us, including a “26 and younger” ticket for myself… heh heh… stupid French. Since I was not allowed into the “cockpit” of the train (seriously, I can’t think of what you would call it) we made it to Paris on time, after two and a half hours.
Our next stop was to go to Starbucks. Yes, I know, but I was with a group. After that we headed out to the “hop on, hop off” bus that takes you around the city to all the touristy destinations. Well, we didn’t quite know where we were going… We finally found the place after another forty-five minutes of searching… All the while the grey and windy French sky swung like a pendulum… misting on us, then raining… back and forth. Got our tickets for the bus. The next bus pulled up and we got on… And that’s when the day took a dive.

Now, in the real world you don’t get on a random bus and expect it to guess where you want to go. There are lines and numbers and stuff. Huh, wouldn’t you know it… that rule also applies to the touristy buses. I started to wonder just where the Hell we were when we passed by the Moulin Rouge, followed by a bunch of sex shops. While French bread sounds nice, a French tickler wasn’t what I had in mind. So, I take a look at the map… for the first time.

From the hop on, hop off HQ the green line goes south west towards all the good stuff… Eiffel Tower, The Louve, Arc De Triumph… the things you think of when you say “Paris.” We had gotten on the yellow line, which took us NORTH EAST towards The Moulin Rouge, and a bunch of random avenues and buildings to which we said things like “look, an old building… I wonder what it’s for… well, let me get a picture of it.” So, I inform the group that we’re headed in the wrong direction. Soon after we get off the bus at our next destination... The Hard Rock Cafe.

Now, I can understand wanting to stop in for a bit, grab a T Shirt and get back on the bus. But due in part to some shopping, and also in part to some waiting for the next bus, we spent forty-five minutes there… Forty-five minutes… Forty-five minutes… And the words rang into my head… “Eiffel Tower or Bust.” Here’s a look of my temporary prison from the inside.

Tensions started to run a little high at this point. Finally, a bus arrived, and after taking the proverbial reigns, I informed the group of our next move. Here I am, the guy who prizes the compass in his car above all, telling the group how to get to the Eiffel tower. It involved getting off the bus, walking down some streets with our complimentary hop on hop off bus guide map (which was not truly meant for street navigation), and over to a green line bus stop somewhere over there (and then I would point to a street which I prayed was the right one).

Well, turns out my finger had the right idea, and we arrived in this square with a great big ol’ ferris wheel on one side, some other older buildings all around us, and the Arc di Triumph around the corner. After about 10 minutes our bus arrived, and I noticed that in the window, in the lower left hand corner, noticeable if you were looking for it, was a green square... Eiffel Tower or Bust...
Oh, and these buses were double-decker, with a convertible second level for picture taking, sun soaking, and general Oohing and Aaahing. The rain, by the way, is even less thrilling at speeds above thirty miles an hour. The wind also becomes far less impressive. But I was in Paris dammit, and I refused to take pictures from inside a dirty bus window. So, the rain came down, the wind attacked from the front, and the seven of us bravely Oohed, Aahed, and Clicked our way down the large road to the Arc Di Triumph. I would tell you something about it, but there was no tour guide on the bus… And still, even if there was, by now you should know better than to expect anything of knowledgeable substance out of me. Tell ya what, I’ll make something up real quick.

The Arc di Triumph was built by a bunch of Mexicans posing as French… It’s real name is “El Arco Del Triumph.”

After circling around it, our bus turned down another busy street, giving us a view of the Eiffel Tower looming over the trees and buildings. With my creative planning, I bought us about an hour at the Tower before having to get back on the bus to head over to the train station. As we passed by more Parisian buildings of a nondescript historical nature, the Tower got bigger and bigger… I thought I was wetting myself with anticipation, then I realized its just the rain coming down in buckets. Paris was putting up its last front to stop us from getting to the Tower. But I ran to the front of the bus, standing on the seats yelling “Come on Paris, show me what you got!” Then, as if the weather in France studied English in school in order to become well rounded, or for some sort of international business degree, backed down. The bus circled around the Tower, then dropped us off. Eiffel Tower or Bust? More like Americans 1, Parisians 0... Take that Frenchies.

For the next hour we walked up to the Tower, taking pictures… then walking up the hill to a building with a nice vantage point, taking more pictures. Richard and Josette took a video of him doing card tricks with the Eiffel Tower in the background… to be added to his growing montage of exotic locations. Unfortunately we did not have the time to go up the tower, but at least we made it to the tower… and believe me there were a couple of times when I wasn’t so sure. All right, enough talk, picture time…

Look! I´m eating a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower! Sweet...

After the Tower we made it back to the bus stop, getting on the right bus, which took us to the general vicinity of the train station. After asking several people to help us (Lorraine, anyway) we finally made it back to the station, tickets in hand, a mere five minutes before the scheduled departure. And we sat down, cold and soggy, and took the trip back to La Havre. Upon arrival we decided to walk around town to find a place to eat. What we didn’t realize is that Paris must have gotten really pissed off at us and called La Havre to complain. La Havre, either a close friend of Paris or just someone who does what Paris says out of fear, ripped open the sky and poured rain on us… but not right away… No, it waited until we were at our farthest point from the ship, and when there was not a single taxi in sight.

Paris was sending us a fond goodbye through its friend La Havre… and down the road we went, getting drenched to the bone, and never once eating any French bread or drinking any French wine. Eventually we made it back to the ship… my camera was the only casualty. Somewhere during that long walk back in the rain, a rouge drop of water infiltrated the black metal casing of my Nikon. While it still takes pictures, it now needs a little coaxing… The timer doesn’t work, and I can’t use the left button. Plus, as a form of insomnia, it will now turn itself off and on at will. So, when I’m not using it, the battery has to come out. For now we are still a team, but it will have to visit the vet when I get back. As for you Paris, you haven’t seen the last of me… Damn you.

Then there was a sea day. Now, normally I wouldn’t mention a sea day because it usually involves me doing the routine things no one would really want to know about… rehearsing, eating, working out… On this particular sea day however, I happen to have a story. We had just finished another fruitful rehearsal of Rock This Town (Oh, did I mention I actually have a job on this ship?) and we were milling about the theatre. Tracey and I were walking down the starboard side aisle which leads us aft and towards our cabins… When all of a sudden…

An older gentleman cuts in front of Tracey, who was walking in front of me. Now, lately this has been no surprise, as many of us have no shortage of stories concerning passengers who see us as either invisible or with a giant target on our chest. So, he cuts in front of her, no big deal… There was about three feet or so separating him from her as he continued to walk aft… and then it happened. Like a rumble of thunder ripping through the air he let loose the most tremendous… wait for it… fart I have heard in some time. It was loud, long, and yes… juicy. Immediately Tracey ducked into the next section of chairs, me following quickly behind, both laughing hysterically… me because a guy just farted on Tracey, and Tracey because she had no other way to emote the pure nausea of the situation (and also because it was, after all, juicy).

We sat down, crying from laughter for a good minute or two. The man, either too oblivious to notice or from lack of interest, moseyed on down the aisle. After a couple of minutes Tracey and I picked ourselves up and started our walk, this time on the port side aisle, aft once again. We had reached the back of the theatre, and just as we were about to leave, our sound technician Ivan said “So, you got farted on eh?” He was definitely not close enough to hear it, but could ascertain the event from our actions. Over the next few nights the story was told to our friends with little additions like “If he didn’t have pants on, I would have been sprayed!“ “I could actually see his pants baffle in the wind!” and “It was definitely juicy.“ Moral of the story: Ship life includes getting farted on… it’s a fact of life around here. Don’t believe me? Go back a reread some of my earlier blogs… This is a documented fact.

Okay, back to the Med… Our next stop was La Coruna, Spain. Like many other ports in Spain I have visited, it was composed of winding old streets flanked by four and five story balconies, colonial style lights, cobblestones… all fighting against the progress of Burger King and McDonalds. The Dream’s pier was right outside the city, so after a quick walk, you were in the middle of it all. I started my day with my fellow Texans, Sam and Michael, and the three of us followed our noses through the early Sunday morning streets. Spain doesn’t get up until noon on a Sunday, and so many of the streets, stores, and squares we visited were empty.

Part of the city is pretty slim, and we walked from one shore to the other.

With no agenda planned out, we decided to walk towards the slender sky piercing obelisk. When we got closer, we realized it was made of some sort of opaque material… maybe a leaded glass or heavy plastic. What was it there for? What did it symbolize? Beats me… here’s a picture.

From there we walked back into town, and I left Mike and Sam, making my way to the other side of town, towards the old lighthouse. Named something like “Hercules,” it was built in the second century A.D., and restored in the eighteenth century. So, it’s pretty damn old, and the restoration is also pretty damn old… it’s a pretty damn old lighthouse… Damn. For whatever reason I was not compelled to go up the damn old lighthouse, but I did take several pictures of the damn old lighthouse. So, here are some damn pictures.

From there I took the scenic route back to the ship, stopping once to take a picture of the fattest statue I have ever seen. Could it be because of the neighboring ice cream truck? Only the statue and truck know for sure…

The next day we arrived at Leixoes, Portugal (with a squiggly over the O… again, no squiggly keys here… I drew one on my screen however, which in retrospect I realize was a dumb thing to do). Ask ten people how to pronounce the name of this port, and you’ll get ten answers. However, since I have no degree in Phonetics, lets just agree to disagree. Essentially this port is a gateway to the meat and potatoes city next door called, appropriately, La Porte. A train system linked the neighboring cities, and while the train is convenient, the ticket system was not.

The funny thing about this picture is that it was taken after all of the following happened. Where I took the picture there was an identical ticket machine. When I arrived there was a line of about thirty pax all in line at the machine in the picture, with a uniformed attendant helping them out. There was no one at the other machine, so I went to use it. After a couple of minutes I realized it was broken. Fine, I’ll just get in line.

So I do, and I wait for ten minutes, watching the trains go by. The line was moving slow because each ticket had to be printed and paid for separately… Have seven people in your group? Well, then we must push buttons and insert money seven times… Finally I get up to the guy. “Quiero una boleta para La Porte.” Did I care that the Portuguese don’t speak much Spanish? Nope. Well, he asked me if I had coins. “No” I said, hoping that a Spanish “No” was the same as a Portuguese “No.” It was, but unfortunately what that meant was my Euro bills were of no use to me, or the machine, which was only semi-broken in comparison to the one across the tracks. So, he points to a magazine stand. Great… I get out of line and ask a guy who has probably been asked by a hundred other people for change. I know this because after he moaned in Portuguese, he gave me my change and closed his window. If anyone needed a magazine or change after that, they had no one to blame but me.

Now freshly armed with five golden one dollar Euro coins, I get back in line… again… Then Andre and Francine (our ballroom couple) show up. They are going to La Porte too, and rather than have them go through the almost half hour I have just experienced, I warned them of the delinquent ticket machine, the other ticket machine that doesn’t apply itself enough, and the great Euro coin debacle. Fortunately, I had enough change for them and we, after waiting in line again, got our tickets. Kicker is did anyone actually check our passes once on board? Hell no. At this point, I was looking for grey clouds, because Paris could be behind all of this.

Fortunately, that was the worst of the day. After a short train ride, we made it into La Porte, and we were greeted with a cool breeze and sunshine. La Porte is a busier city, but has still retained all of its historical charm. We walked around the city, stopping at a train station famous for its painted tiles, a church, and a nice view point of the city. Here are people’s exhibit’s A-D.

An Imperial McDonalds? Peculiar… After experiencing La Porte we hopped back on the train, and stopped a little before our original train station in order to have a nice walk through town, and enjoying some espresso and a pastry. And that’s about it! It took longer to describe the process of getting there than it did to describe… there. So, there you go.

Once on board I was a little hungry so I ducked into the Sports Bar, our suspiciously ambiguous sports themed buffet… I have been threatening for years to take some pictures of the “sports figures” we have hanging on the wall in there… Anyway, I get a plate and grab some food in the line, and then head over to our carving station, where tonight they were carving up some ham and making some fresh pasta.

I get some pasta, and I am about to reach for the spoon to add some Parmesan cheese to my plate when an older gentleman reaches in beside me and grabs the spoon. As if it the following happened in slow motion, I see his eyes move towards a small container that the carver uses to place the fatty pieces of ham not fit for human consumption. The spoon moves towards the fat… and I hear myself say, to no one in particular, but loud enough for anyone around me to hear, “Don’t use the cheese spoon for the ham.”

As if he was a deaf defiant child he shovels some pig fat onto his plate. Now I watch his eyes shift back to the cheese… Come on… I say, once again to no one in particular “Don’t put the spoon back in the cheese.” Plink… the spoon, now freshly covered in pig grease lands back in the freshly grated cheese. I felt the wind blow out of my sails as I shake my head and look at my pasta, now destined to forever be without cheese. Sigh...

Finally, in this installment, I will briefly mention Lisbon, Portugal. I have been here a couple of times before, when I worked on The Silver Cloud. During that time I saw all the historical stuff like the Columbus monument, the monument commemorating human flight, the nautical museum, the carriage museum… I have pictures, but not here. This time around I hung out with Federico, a great buddy of mine from my Spring contract here on The Dream. Just arriving from Argentina, he is the assistant shore-ex manager who took some of us on a exclusive crew tour in Belize last Spring. Today, a lot of shore-ex folks and I went out to do a little shopping. We hopped on a bus, made it to a shopping mall, had lunch, fooled around the general area, and went back to the ship. Nothing exciting… at all!

However, Lisbon does have that statue of Christ that can also be found in Rio. As we sailed away, I got some great pictures.

And that’s about it for this installment. While I have just been to Gibraltar, I will save that for the next installment. Tomorrow… Rome.

Keep On Livin’ The Dream.

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola (Taking in the Eiffel Tower)