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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Maderia Islands: Gem of Portugual

Today we arrived in Funchal, capital city of Maderia Islands which are part of Portugal.  The weather could not have been better; calm seas, sunny skies and the temperature in the 70's. The Emerald Princess docked at 7:00 am this morning as we were finishing breakfast in our room. 
Our day was already planned with a bus tour to see the entire island.  Because MA is getting around in a wheelchair, we arranged to get off the ship before our group.  We packed our bags and headed to the gang plank for tour group Blue 5.  We quickly located our bus, the guide, an Englishman by the name of John and our driver. The bus is practically brand new and it was very comfortable all day.  The driver stowed MA's wheelchair in the baggage compartment and we waited for the rest of our group to disembark and board the bus.  That happened quickly and we were off for a great day of sightseeing.
Banana trees with blue bags to ensure they grow at the same rate, You can see the photographer in the mirror.

The tour took us through the capital, Funchal.  The streets are lined with a flowering Jacaranda trees.  They have these bluish-purple flowers that bloom on the branches.  The bus followed a route that took us along the seaside and then we began to climb.  We stopped at our first village, Ribeva Brava for 45 minutes.  We got out and got the wheel chair out and made our way to the front of an old catholic church.  I, of course, went inside and took some photos of the interior.  We stopped at a souvenir shop for a few minutes and got back on the bus.

We then went up 3000 feet through the valley.  Maderia's location and elevation below 1500 feet allows its inhabitants to grow tropical fruit; bananas, avocados, mangos, etc.  Most of the yards, hills and pastures are planted in some kind of fruit or vegetable.  Gardening is done on terraces and the land is terraced from the top to the bottom.  Stone walls keep the terraces from eroding away. You can see that in some of the photos I've posted.
As the bus climbed we moved from a tropical environment to a subtropical environment. Here residents grow traditional vegetables.  Our tour took us through a pristine forest of eucalyptus and cedar trees. 
Our bus for the day

We stopped for lunch in the village of St. Vincent on the north side of the island, approximately 36 km from Funchal. The roads are lined with ferns, flowering plants and laurel trees that are also flowering.  The whole island is a giant flower garden.
Lunch was at a restaurant in St. Vincent, Quebra Mar.  It sits right on the north coast of the island.  We had a great lunch of salad, soup and fish.  After lunch we headed to the village of Cohleita for a visit to a rum factory. The rum distillery was running as we walked into the front entrance.  Trucks with sugar cane were lined up waiting to unload their cane into the hopper.  A worker pushed the cane into a giant crusher until it squeezed out all the juices.  The juice was captured into a giant vat used in the distilling process.
They were passing out samples of rum with honey but I did not care for it.  MA stayed on the bus.  I did enjoy the cake and cookie that was served and brought MA some samples. This was our last stop of the day and we headed back to the ship.

Tomorrow is a sea day and Saturday we dock in Cadiz Spain.  I have an all-day tour to Seville. MA opted for a shorter bus one.

We have managed quite well despite our horrific accident two weeks before departure.  MA's challenge is managing back pain from her two fractured vertebras and mine is bruises and contusions from head to toe.  But what better place to manage thee things than aboard a Princess Cruise Ship!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Days at Sea: Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic

Days at Sea:  Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic

Friday:  We have been on an easterly course from Fort Lauderdale for the past five days and we are somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  On these voyages I am always struck by the color of the ocean, a deep dark blue, the bluest blue that you can imagine.  It only changes when the ship slices through and creates an aqua surface.  There are no birds, no fish and no whales.  I've been looking.  We have passed a couple of ships during the day.  Other than that, it seems like we are the only ship in the ocean.

Our day begins early, seven am when the steward arrives with coffee and yogurt.  We learned about room service many cruises back and take advantage of the perk.  We normally watch the news in the morning. 

We enjoy going to the DaVinci dining room on the 6th floor for breakfast and sharing a table with 6 other passengers.  It's fun to meet them and find out about their lives and where they live.  We've met folks from Australia, Canada, England, Scotland and of course Texas and other parts of the USA. By the time breakfast is over we've made six new friends that we see from time to time on the ship. 
Mary Alice and I started playing "Trivial Pursuit" from Houston.  We are in what's called "Progressive Trivia". This means we are part of a six person team and as a team we compete with other teams on all sea days. .The scores are cumulated daily and the  winner will be the team with the highest score at the end of the cruise. 
Mary Alice ordered a wheelchair for the cruise and it was waiting for us in the room.  Although she walks whenever possible, she has no stamina for long distances. I'm her "driver" and the other passengers are fantastic about holding elevator doors, helping us out, making way, etc. So far its worked out great.
For lunch it's back at to the DaVinci dining room.  We enjoy the sit-down meal (as opposed to the crowded buffets). During the afternoon we usually watch a movie, read, or have a nice long nap. I'm on my second book already.  This may not sound all that exciting, but to us, it's life on a cruise ship! We love it!

Our first port of call is Funchal, Portugal, next Thursday.  More on that later. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Houston to Barcelona: Departure from Houston

Transatlantic Departure:  Sunday 11:00
Houston to Barcelona, Spain
            Our thanks to good friends David and Tammy Buford for driving us to Bush IAH where Princess Cruises had a bus waiting for us.  This was really convenient since we are leaving from the Port of Houston but returning home to IAH.  Our friends took our car home and when we return H in 20 days, we will have a car and driver waiting to take us home.
            Anyhow, I made myself comfortable on the bus, dozed off and woke up just as we were approaching the Cruise Terminal.  Our bags went ahead by truck and were deposited outside our room later in the day.  The boarding process was incredibly easy since only about a third of the passengers got on in Houston.  We'll pick up the other 2600 in Fort Lauderdale.
            Our balcony stateroom this cruise is on the Carib Deck (10). We met our cabin steward, Randy, who seems eager do whatever it took to make our cruise comfortable, including bringing six extra fluffy pillows so MA can convert her twin bed into a sit-up sleeping recliner. Her rented wheelchair was waiting in the closet. FYI: The ship is very wheelchair friendly! I wheel her around trying to avoid bumping into corners or worse yet to other passengers!  I call this bonding as she reminds me to drive carefully.
            Because our next order of business was lunch, we made our way to the 15th deck where we joined a couple from Austin, Texas, Luigi and his wife Mary.  Luigi is a retired doctor, Neurologist. He has homes over the place, from Buenos Aires to Vancouver! They were fun to talk to and get to know.  When we told him we were from Cypress, he recognized the place as the location and origin of many of his municipal bond investments.
            All our bags arrived and were waiting for us outside our door.  We spent the next hour unpacking and hanging up clothes.  The great thing about cruising is you only do this once.  We had dinner later and met some more nice people.  It looks like this is going to be a great cruise.  See you later.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida.........Day 3
Fort Lauderdale Departure

            We have spent the last two days in the Gulf of Mexico cruising around the Florida Peninsula and docking at Fort Lauderdale this morning.  We have met some great people from all across the US at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  On Tuesday afternoon I hosted a veterans get-together of about 30 vets, including a USAF female master sergeant.  We are doing a lot of reading and relaxing, watching movies I downloaded.  Ship-life this time is not exactly as we would have liked, but it is exactly what we need to rest and recover.