Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 – Venice, Italy – Mostly Cloudy – 84F

Total Voyage: Civitavecchia to Venice: 2497 Nautical Miles

A cloudy day in Venice…

We have a late walk off at 9:45 AM so we can get a leisurely breakfast and relax a bit before we leave the ship.  Our bags are ready to go (below).

 Packed and ready to go (Small)

All my bags are packed…

Breakfast was not as crowded as it generally is on debark day (perhaps a large number of passengers had early debark).  We were able to enjoy our last breakfast on board and it was good.  We retrieved our bags from the room and went to our meeting place to get the call to leave the ship.  We wound up sitting right next to Table 514, which had been our dining spot for the last 13 days.

Table 514 on debark day (Small)

I’m ready to go… (Table 514)

The bus ride to Marco Polo was quick and soon we were ready to check in.  After a long wait in the Alitalia Line, we were told that our flight would now be handled by Delta.  Finding the Delta check in line, we checked our bags through Chicago (even though we would have to recheck them at JFK).  Security was a little slower than it should have been but soon we were in the waiting area.

We had some lunch (items we had packed) and the obligatory Coke Lite (trying to use up those last precious Euros).

The flight – still designated Alitalia 7616 - did arrive at the gate on time.  It was a Delta 777-300 and operated by a Delta Flight Crew. 

Delta AZ7616 (Small)

Alitalia 7616 being reading for flight

There was weather in the area (rain) and the flight boarded a little late – probably not an issue since we have a long layover in JFK.  We eventually made our way down the longest jetway and on to the plane.

In Jetway read to go home (Small)

Ellen on the Long Jetway 

The flight was full and we were in the center section about mid plane.  All of the washrooms were in the back of each cabin on this jet so that was a bit less convenient than usual.  The Delta Crew was very helpful and courteous.  When Ellen’s entertainment system would only operate in Hebrew or Arabic, the flight attended reset her system from the main computer.  Although we had standard seats, they were not as uncomfortable as I thought they might be. 

The transatlantic crossing was relatively smooth – with an occasional bout with “rough air” (as our pilot and attendants called it).  All in all, a pretty pleasant flight.  The washrooms stayed clean, there were scores of movies to watch (I watched “Haywire” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (both very good) and re-watched portions of “Prometheus” and “The Avengers” and tried some other movies as well).  Our Kosher Meals were pretty good (a chicken “Schnitzel” plus some veggies and a tasty dessert for lunch and a Lox Sandwich (no cream cheese) for a snack).  We also tried the regular Veggie Entree – Grilled Veggie Panini (I liked it).  I also had some of the complimentary white wine). 

It was raining in New York when we arrived – pretty much on time.  We went through immigration – pretty quick – but waited about 45 minutes for our luggage to arrive.  Just as we got the luggage, we were informed that our Delta flight to Chicago had been cancelled and we would have to take a morning flight.  The thought of having to sleep in the Airport was just not going to work.  Besides, i had to be in Chicago in the early afternoon.

Even though the situation seemed hopeless, we told the agent at the rebooking desk that we had to be in Chicago tonight.  After some tapping of keys on her computer, she said that we could get a flight out later tonight – from La Guardia.  She said she would give us a transfer voucher.  We lugged our bags up to the taxi area and after some wrong turns, found our cab and we were on our way to La Guardia. 

I was a little dismayed (euphemism) that we were sharing our cab and that a drop off at a hotel would be the first stop. We had about a hour to get to La Guardia because the flight was going to be delayed but we were also in some heavy traffic.  I was afraid that the plane would get a gate clearance and depart before we could get there.  The Cabbie assured me that we would get there on time.  We did get there in about 40 minutes only to find our that our plane was leaving instead from the “Marine Air Terminal”. The shuttle we hopped on did not go there but the driver was convinced by another shuttle agent to take us to the Terminal.

At the Marine Air Terminal, we discovered that our flight was delayed even further so we had an hour until boarding.  All other flights to Chicago had been canceled.  The Marine Air Terminal is more of a lounge than a terminal – there are chargers for phones and computers at every seat and a cute little cafe serving sandwiches and drinks.  The place was full of business travelers.

We boarded a little late and waited about a half hour in the “penalty box” until we got the go sign.  I had been watching the radar and I knew this plane had to fly through a band of thunderstorms on the way to Chicago.  The plane was a twin engine Embraer RJ170 (a mini-737 type plane).  We took off through a bumpy but manageable sky and were on our way. 

The entire flight was bumpy – seat belt sign always on – and some portions of the flight were downright scary.  At one point, the plane experienced considerable vertical ups and downs and, during some major shakes, I saw lightning outside the window.  I couldn’t read or do much of anything because of the severe rocking of the plane.  The flight attendants were still moving about  - providing some minimal comfort and assurance.  There was no way to get to the washroom safely.  At one point, when it got a bit smoother, I made a run for it.  I barely got back to my seat before the next round of “rock and roll” started.  I am going to go on record and say that this flight was the bumpiest in my flying experience.  The crew – while silent throughout the turbulence – did a good job of keeping the plan relatively level. 

I was very happy to see Chicago out the window. 

Final Approach ORD 1 (Small)

Final Approach ORD

We landed about 11:00 PM and this time, our bags came quickly.  We got our cab and headed home.  As we did, the weather got worse – lighting and thunder.  I guess we just snuck in.

Tired, shook up, but home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012 – Venice, Italy – Cloudy - 82F

Distance from Chania to Venice: 840 Nautical Miles

Local Information:  Venice (population 271,000) was established over 1000 years ago on the northeastern coast of Italy. The city sits in a lagoon along the Adriatic Sea and consists of 117 islets and 177 canals.  400 bridges connect the various islets.  Buildings are supported by millions of poles driven into the soft soil.  The city is easily walkable – there are no cars in Venice.  Transportation consists of private boats and water taxis known as Vaporettos.  The Grand Canal is the main waterway in the city.  It is about two miles in length and its shores contain over 100 marble palaces dating back to the 1200s and 1700s.

It’s a cloudy but warm day in Venice.  The sail in was once again picturesque – not narrated this time.

 Venice Grand Canal (Small)

Sail In – Grand Canal

There are some nice ships near the Cruise Terminal including the yacht or luxury passenger ship show below.

Nice Yacht Venice (Small)

We are both on the same tour today - “Doge’s Palace, Gondola Ride, and Glass Factory”.  Since this is Venice, transport from the ship to Piazza San Marco was not by bus but by water shuttle.  The Shuttle (a large boat) pulled right alongside the Silhouette (at the tender launch pad).  Passengers hopped on and we were off.

Silhouette from Shuttle Boat Venice (Small)

Celebrity Silhouette from the Shuttle Boat

The Shuttle Boat afforded a great view of the buildings along the Grand Canal.

Grand Canal bldgs from Shuttle Boat (Small)

View from the Shuttle Boat

Piazza san marco from Shuttle boat (Small)

Piazza San Marco and Doge’s Palace from Shuttle Boat

Earthquakes have hit Venice in the past causing some of the buildings to tilt – the church below is clearly not standing straight.

Leaning tower of Venice (Small)

The Shuttle Boat left us off very close to the Piazza San Marco.  This is probably the mostly crowded part of Venice – wall to wall people.  Everyone is polite and there is no shoving – the traffic flow of people just keeps on moving.

Wall to wall people Venice (Small)

Dense Crowd of Visitors and Locals 

Bridge near Doges Palace (Small)

Bridge and Doge’s Palace

From the Bridge near the Palace, we were able to get a good look at the Ponte de Sospiri (“Bridge of Sighs), which connects the Doge’s Palace and the Old Prisons.  This bridge, built in the 17th century, was crossed by convicted prisoners (who “sighed” at their fate) on their way to imprisonment or execution.  It is the only suspension bridge in Venice.

Bridge of Sighs (Small) 

Bridge of Sighs

The Palace is adjacent to the Basilica.  The Palace, built in the 9th century (and rebuilt after four destructive fires) was the seat of Venetian Government and the home of the Doge.  The Grand Council Chamber is decorated with paintings by the masters. We were not able to take any photos inside the Palace.  We did walk through the Bride of Sighs, which was fascinating (probably not for the prisoners).

Doges Palace 3 (Small)

Doge’s Palace

After touring the inside of the Palace, we entered the magnificent courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale.  Statues and columns (all marble I am guessing) made for quite the regal site (below). 

Courtyard Doges Palace (Small)         Courtyard Doges Palace 2 (Small)

Courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale

Ellen and I met up in the Courtyard and were able to get a passenger to take a picture of us in this fabulous architectural environment.

That's us Doges Palace (Small)

Venetian Veterans in the Palazzo Ducale Courtyard

The next stop was the Gondola Pier, where we hopped (six at a time) into the gondolas.  The gondolier was very careful to balance the weight in the boat since the gondola is very low in the water and prone to swaying.  I was positioned in the middle of the front seat facing backward (the main front weight).  The ride took us out into the choppy Grand Canal and then through the narrow canals of Venice near the Piazza San Marco. 

One of the other passengers had some difficulty taking pictures of me so I asked him for the camera back in the picture below.

  Give me the camera (Small)

I shot many of my pictures backwards over my head.  In the picture below, I didn’t have the camera high enough so I caught the top of my cap.

View from the Gondola (Small)

Top of Cap and Canals

Our gondolier (while not wearing the silly standard hat) kept barking orders in Italian to sit down and not change positions.

our gondolier 2 (Small)

Our Genial Gondolier

View from gondola 3 (Small)

The Gondola Ahead of Ours

We saw several hotels with entrances right on the canal.  It has to be a bit tricky to jump from the gondola to the landing and then to transfer your suitcases.  Somehow, they do it all the time.

 hotel entrance on the canal (Small)

Hotel Entrance right on the Canal – High Tide is a Pain

After the gondola took us back to the pier, I asked our guide if he knew where Ellen was.  He said she was ahead of us and already in the Glass Factory.  He took me there and Ellen and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon getting something to eat and walking around the city.  The Shuttle would be running back to the ship for the rest of the evening so the passengers were on their own at this point.

We found a nice restaurant, grabbed a table outside, and ordered a Pizza Margherita and a Coke Lite (about 10 Euros).  The pizza was really good with lots of fresh tomatoes.  When we got the bill, we found a 6 Euro cover charge added to the bill.  Protesting to the restaurant personnel did not prove successful.  The next time we are in Venice, we will need to avoid restaurants that charge covers.  Lesson learned. 

It was drizzling while we were looking for the restaurant, but while we were eating, the skies opened up and the rain was really coming down.  We hung out at the restaurant until the rain subsided.

really pouring in venice 4 (Small)

Really raining – view from the Restaurant

It was raining so hard that we gave up on walking any further and headed to the Shuttle Boat dock.  We caught the boat and in minutes we were back at the pier.  The shuttle did not take us to the tender deck but instead dropped us off pier side.  We went through security (passport and sea pass) and, after a bit of a walk, were back on board. While we were touring, the Celebrity Solstice arrived and was parked in front of us.

We took advantage of a relatively quiet ship to relax in the Sky Lounge.  From there, we could see the heavy rain as it drenched the Solstice.

Rain in Venice - Solstice (Small)

Celebrity Solstice in the Rain

The rain eased off a bit later in the evening.  No show tonight – everyone is in Venice.  We did have a nice, quiet, dinner in the Grand Cuvee Dining Room and bid our two great waiters adieu.

Venice Harbor at night (Small)

Venice Harbor at Night

During the show last night, I was surprised to find myself in the “Cruise in Review” Video.  I tried to get a screen shot of my brief appearance (with name included) off of a monitor playing the video.  The grainy, blurry, shot below is the best I could do.

Cruise in review video 1 (Small)

We are all packed and are planning to walk off with our luggage.  We have transfers to Marco Polo Airport (and this time around, there is no strike planned).  We don’t have to leave until 9:45 AM so we can have a relaxing breakfast and not rush in the morning.

Pedometer: 7538 steps; 3.57 miles; 369 calories

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012 – At Sea – Mediterranean Sea – Sunny – 80s

A beautiful day at sea…

 At Sea 9-2 (Small) 

My morning is pretty much taken up by my final talk at 9:45 AM.  “Identifying the Famous and Infamous” drew about 100 attendees, the best attendance of the cruise and a good turnout for this particular voyage.  A number of passengers stayed after the talk to discuss various subjects and several of them wanted business cards – as it turned out, I ran out of all the cards brought to the talk.  I was pleased by the overall turnout and the enthusiasm of the attendees on this cruise.

Just before I set up for the talk, I took a picture of the navigation map outside Celebrity Central.  The most interesting thing about the map is the speed of the ship – 21 knots.  That is really punching it.  Venice is a long way from Chania so some speed is needed to get us there in one sea day.  The Silhouette, while really moving, was smooth as silk.

Ship location and speed 9-2 (Small)

Navigation Map

after the talk, we went to the Restaurant for the Brunch.  It’s a bit hectic but the food was varied and good and there were lots of good desserts.  Nobody goes away hungry from the Brunch. 

The weather was nice for most of the day (below) but later in the afternoon, the ship passed near a storm giving us our first view of rain clouds in the distance.  The shots were pretty spectacular including one shot where the sun was peaking through the clouds.

At Sea 9-2 1 (Small) Strange Sky 9-2 (Small)

Strange sky (Clouds and Sun) (actual color)

Rain clouds at sea 9-2 (Small) 

Storm Clouds in the Distance

After dinner, we took in David Meyer in the theater.  He had some technical difficulty with his set up so his two shows were combined into one late show.  He combined the electric xylophone and a synthesizer to get some interesting sound combinations.

David Meyer Showtime (Small)

David Meyer Performing

Tomorrow, we are in Venice, Italy.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 – Chania, Crete, Greece – Sunny – 86F

Distance from Santorini to Chania: 86 Nautical Miles

Local Information:  Chania (“Hahn-ya”) is the second largest city on Crete (population approximately 100,000 in the metropolitan area).  It lies along the northern coast of Crete.   Chania sustained heavy bombing during WWII but is still one of the nicest urban areas in Crete.  The Central Square of the Old Town – Kasteli – has been inhabited since Neolithic times.

It is a beautiful day in Chania (sunny again with very few clouds).  The Silhouette is docked at Souda, the port city with a population of around 5000 people.  The last time we were here, our ship anchored off the old city and everyone tendered to the town.  Today, we are going to see what the new city of Chania is like. 

The town is buzzing with lots of stores, shops, and cars.  There are traffic signals and the locals are a little more aware of them than on mainland Greece.  One of the city squares, close to the market, is picturesque with the obligatory statue.

 Chania Town Square (Small)

City Square in Chania

We continue our walk and eventually wind up in the Old Town and the Harbor Area.  The Greek Orthodox Cathedral is a prominent feature of the Old Town area.

Chania Greek Orthodox Cathedral (Small)

Greek Orthodox Cathedral

The Venetian Harbor with its signature lighthouse is still a magnificent sight.  There are no ships an anchor on this day.

Venetian Harbor (Small)

The Venetian Harbor

Having seen both the New and Old towns of Chania, we head back to the harbor.  A couple of names were called out before we pushed so it’s possible some folks will have an extended stay in Chania.

The sequence below captured the scenic sail away from Chania on our way back out to the Mediterranean.  The deck was the perfect place to be for this sail away – being outside gave us a perfect view of the hills and mountains surrounding Chania.

 Chania Push (Small) Chania Sail Away (Small) Chania Sail Away 2 (Small) Chania Sail Away 3 (Small) Chania Sail Away 4 (Small) Chania Sail Away 5 (Small) Chania Sail Away 6 (Small) Chania Sail Away 7 (Small) Sail Away Chania on deck (Small)

Chania Sail Away Sequence (above)

We had dinner in the Restaurant and then caught a nice sunset in the Mediterranean.

Sunset 9-1 (Small)

Showtime tonight was “Silhouette the Show”.  This variety show,in the past, has generally been based on a Cirque theme.  It was very entertaining and featured just about all the entertainers on the ship (some that we had never seen before).  The main player was a tall thin contortionist who did some amazing things (e.g. climbing through a tennis racket).

Silhouette the Show (Small)

Silhouette the Show

Tomorrow – a relaxing day at Sea.

Pedometer: 8424 steps; 4.00 miles; 412 calories

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012 – Santorini, Greece – Sunny - 87F

Distance from Rhodes to Santorini: 143 Nautical Miles

Local Information:  Santorini is in the Cyclades group of islands. Santorini is believed to the be site of a massive volcanic explosion (1450 BC). The explosion wiped out the Minoan Civilization and may have been responsible for some of the Biblical Plagues of the Exodus.  What is left today of that volcano is a massive water filled caldera and a ring of islands (the remnants of the original island).   Three main islands are Thira,Thirasia, and Apronisi.  Santorini is named for St. Irene (by the Venetians in 13th century. The main city, Fira (Thira), is home to 2000 residents. Fira is 890 feet above the little village of Skala – at the base of the cliffs.  There are no ports and the caldera is too deep for anchor.  Ships have to actively maintain their position in the caldera.  To make it even more exciting, the ship will not be using its lifeboats as tenders – local Greek Tenders will do the tendering.

Ellen is on tour today – I am staying on board because my talk today is at 4:30 PM (before the afternoon tours return to the ship).

We checked out the Hideaway on Deck 7.  The place, while not that quiet, does have a coffee service and some very unusual seats.  Ellen fit perfectly into the space age seats – my back was bothering me and I couldn’t get into them at all.

 E in the Hideaway Deck 7 (Small)  E in the Hideaway Deck 7 2 (Small)

Ellen trying out the seats in the Hideaway

I spent most of the day up in the Sky Lounge enjoying the every changing view (the ship moves slightly in place).  The Sky Lounge also has power plugs for my computer – a Panera Penthouse, you might say.

When everyone is off ship, its just you, the view, and your computer.  

 Working with a view of Nea Kameni (Small)

The very volcanic looking and uninhabited island of Nea Kameni was postcard perfect.

Nea Kameni Island (Small)

Nea Kameni Island

Ellen took some nice shots while on tour, including the caldera and the Celebrity Silhouette sailing in place

Nea Kameni and ship (Small) 

Silhouette in Caldera (Small)

Silhouette in the Caldera

Thera and tender boat (Small) 

Greek Tenders taking passengers to Santorini

Tip of Thera Island (Small)

Far tip of Thera Island

Thera and Quarry (Small)

Thera Island and Quarry

Ellen got a very nice shot of Thera (coast to coast)

 View across the Island of Santorini (Small)

Thera (coast to coat)

Noordam and Fira Town (Small)

HAL Noordam and Fira Town

 E and Sophia (Small)

Ellen and a new friend on tour

Sometimes, the ships change positions within the caldera.  The Spanish Cruiser, Ibero, moved past us to a new spot in front of the Silhouette.

Ibero Cruiser (Small) 

Although there was talk about waiting hours for a return trip on the tram, some waits were shorter.  

My Fourth Talk – “Search for the Titanic Child” was at 4:30 PM in Celebrity Central.  Although the ship didn’t push until 5:30 PM or so, the talk still drew a respectable crowd of 70 enthusiastic attendees.  Ellen showed up near the end of the talk.

Even though we have been to Santorini a number of times, I can’t recall taking in the Sail Away.  Today’s picture perfect Sail Away was captured in the sequence below.

Santorini Sailaway (Small)  Santorini Sailaway 3 (Small) Santorini Sailaway 4 (Small) Santorini Sailaway 5 (Small)

The location of the ship during the Sail Away was confirmed on the ship’s navigation channel.

Santorini Sailaway on Nav Map (Small) 

Showtime tonight was Variety Night – Uncommon Ground (below), Jon Courtenay, and Lisa all contributed to an entertaining night. Uncommon Ground did a great job on the choreography of both the Temptations and the Jersey Boys. 

Uncommon Ground - Temptations (Small)

Tonight’s second full moon of the month is a Blue Moon.  I was able to get a pretty good shot with my camera phone.

Blue Moon (Small)

Blue Moon over the Mediterranean

Tomorrow we are in Crete.