Sunday, December 18, 2011

Queen Mary 2- Grand Caribbean Celebration Cruise - Sunday, December 18, 2011 – Chicago, IL – Cold – 23F

Travel Day

It’s a nippy morning in Chicago but our cab is 25 minutes early and we are nearly ready to go.  We are flying Delta today (got some good fares) so we are headed for Terminal 2 to catch DL5942 at 11:05 AM to La Guardia.  Security is relatively light but our plane is not waiting for us at Gate E6.  It arrives about 10 minutes after our scheduled boarding time.

 Our Embraer 170 arriving (Small)

Our plane arrives a bit late

The ground crew really turns the plane around and we start to board about 10 minutes later.

ERJ 170 ready to go (Small)

DL5942 (an ERJ 170) is ready to go

We take off a bit late but the pilot says a strong tail wind will get us into LGA pretty much on time.  The climb out from Chicago was scenic (you can see the fog layer).

Climbout Chicago (Small)

The flight is very smooth and the plane is pretty comfortable considering its small size (like a shrunken 737).  You can tell it’s a new plane because it doesn’t have a “no smoking” light but rather a “turn off electronic devices” light and a “seat belt” light.  Finally, somebody got rid of the “no smoking” lights.

We did circle for about 10 minutes before getting clearance to land.  We were on the “non-Manhattan” side of the plane so I didn’t get those great pictures of the City on approach.

Final Approach La Guardia (Small)

Final Approach to LGA

Even though the plane is small, we were able to cram our carry-on bags into the overhead compartment.  We went straight to the cab pickup area because our plan today is to visit Ellen’s uncle in Teaneck, NJ.

It turns out the cab ride was almost as expensive as the flight - $87.00.  The cabbie did not even help with the bags and to top it off, couldn’t find the destination in Teaneck.  I helped him with my phone GPS.  Mini-tip service.

We had a great time visiting with family (all the grandkids and cousins) and a great dinner as well.

We are now in our hotel (Hampton Inn) resting up for another cab ride tomorrow to the Brooklyn Seaport.

The hotel is new and quiet…looking forward to fresh waffles in the morning.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011 – At Sea – Sunny – Mid 60s

A nice day at sea…

   Sea Day 10-29 (Small)

Today is my first talk during a sea day (the only sea day on the cruise).  The talk was scheduled for 11:30 AM and was advertised nicely in the Pursuits Program.  Still only about 20 people showed up to hear the “Mystery of the Romanovs”. 

Talk 3 (Small)

Mystery of the Romanovs – Mystery of the missing Attendees

Ellen had gotten an invite to be a model for the acupuncturist on board.  How do you actually model for this?   I wonder if the treatments will work.

The 8:00 PM show tonight featured Robyn Sears in concert.  She was very good and had a pretty good audience.

Robyn Sears in Concert (Small)

Robyn Sears in Concert 1 (Small)

Robyn Sears in Concert (Looking Glass Lounge)

We passed on the 9:45 PM show and tried to get to sleep a little earlier tonight.  We intend to go into Jerusalem tomorrow to meet up with relatives.

At 11:52 PM…we were awakened by a long blast on the alarm system and, at first, I thought we were going to abandon ship.  Then the captain came on and indicated that Ashdod had been shelled by rockets from Gaza and the port had been closed to cruise ships.  We would, instead, go to Haifa and stay there for three days.

Our plans would change…

Thursday, November 17, 2011 – Venice, Italy – Clear, Sunny – 60s

Disembarkation Day

We had a very early breakfast in the Windows Cafe so we can be ready for our 8:45 PM Ship-run shuttle to the Airport (unaffected by the strike).  Checking out, we ran into Tony, who gave me some positive feedback on my lectures.  He also confirmed that many of the passengers do watch the enrichment talks on their cabin TVs.

Marco Polo Airport is a small airport about 40 minutes from the port.  On the way, I do see some busses so I am wondering how extensive the General Strike really is.  We arrived at the airport around 10:00 AM.  There are only two counters for British Airways at Marco Polo and there is no one manning them when we arrive.

Checking the Arrivals and Departures Screens, we do get the bad news that our flight – BA579 – has been delayed to 4:00 PM from the scheduled 12:45 PM departure time.  This would mean that we would miss our connection at LHR. We are checked in – on line yesterday – so we get in line and wait for the agents to show up and go over our options.

 Marco Polo Airport (Small)

The Shops at Marco Polo Airport

The agents showed about two hours prior to the original departure time.  They checked our luggage through to Chicago but had little information on connecting flights (I don’t think they were real BA agents but locals manning the counters).  We resigned ourselves to the delay (many other flights were outright cancelled) and headed over to the gate for a long wait.

Waiting at Marco Polo (Small)

Hunkering Down at Marco Polo Airport

On the bright side, my adaptor obtained in Piraeus worked in the plugs at the airport (we did find one within reach of seats).  Computers and Kindles were available. 

Around noon, we had lunch (lox and cream cheese sandwiches and pastries) thanks to the ship.  At least we won’t starve.  There are several folks from the cruise in the lounge also stuck in the same situation.

Ellen decided to walk around the airport – at about 1:00 PM she came running back.  She had seen our flight number flashing on the big screens (I had just looked at our local smaller screen and not seen anything and there was no announcement).  I tossed everything in my bag and we hurried to get in line at our gate.

It was true – for some reason, BA579 was indeed boarding.  Boarding went as quickly as possible but then just as I thought we were going to push, the Captain announced that three passengers, whose bags were already on the plane, were not on the aircraft.  It was now about 1:15 PM. Would we miss our window for connecting in London?

About 15 minutes later, two of the missing passengers arrived.  After about 5 more minutes, the Captain said that the luggage belonging to the missing final passenger would be removed from the plane – I could hear them looking for the bags in the hold.  The plane finally shut its door about 1:45 PM and pushed.  We would be an hour late leaving.

The flight to London was smooth (a little less than two hours).

BA579 arriving at LHR (Small)

Deplaning in London

We got off the plan using a gangway instead of a jet way.  From there a bus took us to the Terminal (Terminal 5).  At least we didn’t have to go to another terminal for our flight.

At this point we had about a hour to get to our gate and board our flight.  It turns out that our gate – C63 - was not in the main terminal building so we took the train to the gate.  We got there just about the time we were boarding.  BA had free Wi-Fi in its lounge so I shot off a quick e-mail that we would be on our original flight and it was leaving on time.

BA279 Ready to go (Small)

BA297 Read to Take Us Home

This BA 777 was configured 3X3 in coach (we had adjacent aisles) and the legroom was minimal.  Eventually, the passenger in the middle seat next to me found another seat so I had a spot for my elbow.  The flight was just under 8 hours long but it did seem a bit longer due to all of the hassle of the day.  I did have a chance to see parts of “Rise of the Planet of Apes”, “Captain America”, and “The Green Lantern” again.  BA has a lot of movie options.

We did have a very nice Kosher Meal (Shepherds Pie) on this flight.  The flight attendant initially told me that the Kosher meal was not mine but belonged to the passenger in the window seat.  After some discussion, I told the attendant to simply ask the passenger.  The Asian man did not even know what a Kosher meal was.  After apologies from the flight attendant, I got my meal.

We had a second meal (humus and grilled veggies) near the end of the flight.  Also, I finally, after all of this time, figured out that all drinks, including alcoholic ones, are free on BA.  This resulted in a Bloody Mary and some white wine being consumed. I will use this information in the future.

We arrived on time – a relatively smooth flight.  The BA cabin seemed more stuffy that other flights we have been on – this probably also made the flight seem longer.

It didn’t matter – not missing our connection – a smooth flight – our bags arriving – passing through immigration fast – passing through agricultural screening successfully – and our ride waiting for us – all added up to a positive outcome.

The General Strike didn’t get us after all.

Consensus: A great cruise

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 – Venice, Italy – Sunny – low 60s

Distance from Ravenna to Venice: 94 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage: 960 Nautical Miles

Venice, a city of about 250,000 people sits on a group of 117 islands in a shallow lagoon. About 400 bridges connect the various islands and the main form of transport involves water vehicles.

The sail into Venice was spectacular and narrated by Tony from the bridge. The Sail In took us past several churches and finally past Piazza San Marco (St. Marks Square), the main attraction in Venice.

Venice Sail In 3 (Small)

The Bell Tower of Piazza San Marco in the distance

Venice Sail In - San Marco Plaza (Small)

Sailing through the Grand Canal

San Marco Plaza 1 (Small)

Piazza San Marco

The ship passed the Bridge of Sighs, the bridge prisoners had to cross from the Doge's Palace (where prisoners received their sentences) to the old prisons (for execution or incarceration).

Bridge of Sighs (Small)

The Bridge of Sighs

The Quest is scheduled to dock at the Marittima Cruise Terminal. There are only two ships there today – The Quest and the Crystal Serenity (much bigger than the Quest). This should mean fewer tourists in town and in Piazza San Marco. Another small, local ship is also docked nearby.

Nearing Maritimme Sea Port (Small)

Nearing Marittima Sea Port

Since we had no tours today and there was no shuttle bus to take us a central location in Venice, we put together a plan to see the city on our own. We would a) take the “People Mover” train from the Port to Piazza del Roma; b) buy two round trip tickets on the Vaporetto water taxi, which would take us to Piazza San Marco; c) from there we would walk around the city.

We did a) and b) but I was pretty sure that we could walk to the Ghetto from Piazza San Marco (it looked close on the map). It turned out that the Ghetto was only a bridge or two away from P. de Roma.

Piazza Del Roma (Small)

Piazza Del Roma (Vaporetto Station)

Bridge to the Ghetto (Small)

Bridge leading to the Ghetto

A sign pointed the way to the Ghetto of Venice. This was the first Jewish Ghetto and gave the name to all of the ghettos in history. The word "Ghetto" comes from "gettare", which means to cast - like casting metal. There was a foundry on the sites near the present Campo del Ghetto. Jews came to Italy and settled in the Ghetto area after fleeing the Inquisition in 1492.

Sign for the Ghetto (Small)

Sign pointing way to the Ghetto

This ghetto consisted of narrow streets, a few Judaica shops, synagogues, a Jewish Museum, a large Square, and a Kosher Meat Restaurant (too pricey to eat at). There are five synagogues in the Ghetto area.

Ghetto (Small)

Ghetto Street

Plaque in Ghetto (Small)

Memorial to previous residents of the Ghetto

Ghetto Street (Small)

Stores in the Ghetto

Piazza in Ghetto (Small)

The Ghetto Piazza

Holocaust memorial plaques (Small)

Holocaust Memorial Plaques

H and the Ghetto (Small)

Piazza in Ghetto 1 (Small)

The Square from the other side

Of the five synagogues in the Ghetto complex, the oldest is the German Synagogue which was built in 1528. This synagogue is now the Jewish Museum.

Jewish Museum Ghetto (Small)

Ellen at the Jewish Museum

Bridge connecting Ghetto (Small)

Bridge leading away from the Ghetto

We had lunch (courtesy of the ship) in one the squares – I could get WiFi there and could get and received messages but no internet. After lunch, we set out to find the only McDonalds in Venice (according to their sign). We though it was only a few meters away but according to one person we asked - “four bridges down”.

We did find the McDonalds and it had free Wi-Fi and internet capability. I was able to get seats on both British Air Flights for tomorrow. I had been worried about the seats since we got these flights but BA had a mobile site and I did it all on my phone. I got a Cono for 1 Euro and we set off for Piazza San Marco.

We were both a bit peeved that we had been told that all of these sites were not walkable. We had walked the length and breadth of Rome so Venice should not be a problem.

The city uses signs to point the way to the various sites and the one for P. San Marco led us down narrow streets and across many bridges. We saw lots of sites along the way.

Gondolas (Small)

Gondolas parked on the canal

We did not see a lot of gondolas in action – perhaps it was too chilly a day for a ride of one the open air boats. We did see a lot of gondoliers in their striped shirts and funny hats.

On our way to McDs (Small)

We even saw “Occupy Venice” protestors – not many but enough to block that street leading to the Grand Canal (below).

Occupy Venice Protestors (Small) Nearing Piazza San Marco (Small)

Beautiful bridge near P. San Marco

We finally turned the last corner and we were in one of the most famous squares in the world – Piazza San Marco. The square, which is enormous, contains the Bell Tower, the Clock Tower, the Doge's Palace, and St. Marks Basilica. The street level of the baroque style palace are filled with high end shop and eateries. The Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) stands next to the Basilica and was the main government building and the home of the Doges.

Bell Tower (Small)

The Bell Tower

Shop at the Doges Palace (Small)

Section of the Doges Palace and Shops

St. Marks Basilica is a an example of Byzantine architecture. It was built in 830 as a chapel for the Doges. The current structure is from the 11th Century.

St. Marks Basilica 11th century (Small)

St. Marks Basilica

The Clock Tower contains a regular clock, a digital clock (yes, really), and a zodiacal clock. No way you can’t know what time it is.

The Clock Tower (Small)

The Clock Tower

Basilica Columns (Small) Basilica (Small)

Basilica (columns – top; facade – bottom)

VPiazza SanMarco from Grand Canal 1 (Small)

Piazza San Marco from the Grand Canal shore

Walking along the Grand Canal provided great views of some of the buildings lining the waterway. The Grand Canal is about 2 miles long and lined with marble palaces dating back to the 12th through 18th centuries.

XXXX from P San Marco (Small)

The Grand Canal from Piazza San Marco

H and E P San Marco (Small)

We are at the Grand Canal of Venice

Earthquakes have shaken the city of Venice many times in the past resulting in some of the bell towers leaning a bit from vertical (hard to see below but the tower was leaning)

Clocktower Jaunty angle (Small)

It is hard to find workable washrooms in Venice so you have buy something at one of the coffee shops to use their facilities. It this case, a 2 Euro Cafe Americano.

Coffee on the Grand Canal (Small)

Ellen had the terrific idea of riding the Vaporettos around their entire route (we did after all buy those tickets). We hopped one of the water taxis and we were off.

Heading on on the Vaporetto (Small) On the Grand Canal (Small)

Views from the Vaporetto

After making about 10 stops – the water taxi only stops for a minute or two at each stop so you better hop on or be left behind. We got off at Murano, one of the islands and famous for Murano glass. We walked along the canal streets and checked out some of the shops (very pricey).

E on Murano (Small)

Ellen on Murano Island

Vaporetto Station (Small)

A Vaporetto Station (a subway station on water)

An interesting stop on the way home is the Cemetery Island (below).

Cemetery Island (Small)

We got back to P. de Roma after dark and got back to the ship shortly after that. I got a great picture of the Quest all lit up.

2011-11-16 Quest docked in Venice (Small)

We had dinner in the Dining room and it was a fine meal for the last night – Spring Rolls, Halibut, a nice salad.

The Farewell Show again featured Lelani Marrell – a nice performance.

2011-11-16 Lelani Marrell (Small)

We did finally get a chance to really see Venice.

Bags are in the hallway – the cruise is just about over.

Pedometer: 11146 steps; 5.28 miles; 546 calories