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Farewell to the Caribbean – 2014

 

St. Kitts Andy Richards copyright 2014

St. Kitts
Andy Richards copyright 2014

Our final stops on our 2014 Caribbean Cruise were familiar – St. Kitts and St. Thomas. This cruise was really more of a “relaxing” trip and less of an “exploring” trip. Some of you who have been regular readers (thank you) may remember that about a year ago at this time, I blogged about St. Kitts. We stopped there in 2013, and took a tour around the island, learning much of its history. As you get away from the cruise port, the island actually has a lot of local life. In spite of the severe blow the island took some years back when the EC stopped subsidizing its sugar industry, the St. Kittsians are a proud nation. Their children study 2 languages in school in addition to their native language. The have worked to attract new industry, like electronics manufacture, and – of course, tourism.

 

St. Kitts Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

St. Kitts Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

 

This year, everyone else had an “excursion” planned, so I decided to play tourist, and just hang around the cruise port with my camera. I browsed through the liquor stores and t-shirt shops (but managed to avoid the jewelry stores), and just looked for color and people.

St. Kitts Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Kitts
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

As I walked a back street in the cruise port tourist district, I captured this amusing sequence. Watch the guy in the blue shirt (I know, guys, it’s hard not to focus your attention on the girl – I certainly did, at first. But then I saw this guy and something about his demeanor told me I was about to have a unique “photo – op,” so I waited for him to react. It was worth it.

St. Kitts Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Kitts
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

On still another quiet street, this young lady, taking a break from her duties in the Harley Davidson tourist trinket store, obliged me with a pose. As I approached the area, the color on the right and in the background caught my eye. She was sitting on the bench and I thought she would make good foreground interest. She asked me if I was shooting her, and I said, “sure, why not?”, and then she struck the “glamour” pose you see here. Good sense of humor.

St. Kitts Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Kitts
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Like every day stop on a cruise ship, the day inevitably comes to an end, and you must head back to the ship. The way was clearly enough marked.

St. Kitts Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Kitts
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our last stop was St. Thomas. We had been there before, a couple years back. St. Thomas is known for its beaches and the downtown area is just a huge tourist “trap” for jewelry and watch purchasers. Our plan was to take a short, leisurely walk around the downtown, find some trinkets to take home for gifts, and go back to the ship to sit in the sun and enjoy our last day.  We were at a different cruise port (the main one) than our stop 2 years ago.  I liked the earlier one better.  Smaller, slightly less commercial, and more laid back.  This one was clearly where it was all “happening,” starting with the obligatory Senior Frog’s Bar.

St. Thomas Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

St. Thomas
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our taxi driver had different thoughts. Or at least, we had a communications failure. The cruise port looks to be not more than about a mile from the downtown. As we started winding up hill and going higher and higher above the port (and the downtown), we realized that we were not headed downtown. There was another group on our taxi that was clearly headed for the beach for the day, and apparently our driver thought we were too. He was a little distraught when he realized we weren’t (I think he was thinking he was going to lose a bunch of money on us. In the end, all was well, as we paid him his full fare and we got a great tour of the island, including a shot of Magen’s Beach, where we plan to spend our entire day when our 2015 cruise stops in St. Thomas.

Magen's Bay St. Thomas, USVI Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Magen’s Bay
St. Thomas, USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The Caribbean has a warmth to it – both physical and spiritual – and we look forward to this annual break from the cold, Michigan winters!

2014 Caribbean Cruise – Part 2

Rainbow in the Caribbean Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Rainbow in the Caribbean
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our next 2 stops were Dominica and Grenada. At the risk of offending the residents of those two fine islands, what I have learned over the years is that these Caribbean islands have a bit of “sameness” to them. They all seem to have some mountain terrain and all have beautiful, sandy, white beaches. The people seem genuinely friendly and industrious, but they have certainly bought into the tourist economy.  In this part of the world, warm sunshine, unexpected but light, rain showers and spectacular skies are common.  And, same or not, what can be wrong with seven days of 80 degree sunshine, Caribbean water and beaches and great food and drink?

Dock From the Cruise Ship Deck; Dominica Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Dock From the Cruise Ship Deck; Dominica
Copyright 2014 Andy
Richards

The high vantage point of the modern cruise ship deck give a “birds-eye” view of these islands and is a viewpoint that one might not otherwise have to shoot island images.

Downtown St. George's, Grenada Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Downtown St. George’s, Grenada
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A downside of cruising is the very brief glimpses you get of each stop. I am pretty certain that the best way to “see” these islands would be to spend some time there, with some local knowledge. While we were in Dominica, we did not venture far from the docks. We walked around the small downtown of Roseau, and eventually landed at a wharfside bar for one of the local beers. In Grenada, some of our group took a tour. Again, we didn’t venture far from the port.

Bar in Dominica Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bar in Dominica
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

One thing, however, that all of the islands of the Caribbean have, is color. It seems to be everywhere, and it draws the eye.

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Bar in the Caribbean Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bar in the Caribbean
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Caribbean Cruise 2014

Celebrity Summit St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Celebrity Summit
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our cruise in February was the third, consecutive year we have spent a week aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. There is nothing like the warm, Caribbean sun, some good food and drink, clear water and sandy beaches, to thaw out from the cold, hard winters of Northern Michigan. And this has been a winter like none that I can remember – relentlessly cold and snowy.

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

So, this year, we embarked on what promises to be an annual event; this year from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to venture into the Southern Caribbean. Last year, our ship docked in San Juan Harbor, during on its way to our Eastern Caribbean ports of call. St. Kitts was as far South as we were to venture. But our short afternoon in San Juan yielded beautiful lighting and the old Fort of San Cristobal – a short walk from the ship – made for some very photogenic scenery. Our plane landed in the San Juan Airport at 2:30 in the afternoon, and our ship, The Celebrity Summit, was not scheduled to depart until later in the evening. Based on last year’s visit, we were naturally looking forward to walking the downtown, perhaps revisiting the Fort, and taking in some of the local food and drink.

Building on Main Street St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Building on Main Street
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

To our disappointment, the Cruise Terminal for cruises originating in San Juan is nowhere near the downtown harbor. There did not appear to be a good way to go from the Terminal to that area, so we were really unable to enjoy any of San Juan on this trip. We have booked a cruise that is pretty similar to the 2013 cruise on the same ship (The Celebrity Reflection) for February, 2015, which has a stop in San Juan. Hopefully, we will get to see more of this beautiful territory in 2015!

St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This cruise had 5 Caribbean island stops – the most we have seen (2 more than our 2015 planned cruise). Each of these islands has its own history and cache. But to an extent, all of these islands have a “sameness” to them. Perhaps sadly, they are all very dependent upon the tourist/cruise economy. This is evident as you disembark the ship for each island to find the same tents with t-shirts, trinkets, and “island” clothing. It is common to be approached as you leave the visitor center and “sold” on a “tour” of the island or the city. All of them have the beautiful turquoise Caribbean ocean and white sandy beaches. All of them have cold beer and seafood. The people are friendly and industrious, but the standard of living appears to be lower than we are used to here in the United States. Automobiles are common, but living quarters are small and often “run down,” at least by U.S. “suburban” standards.

Beach with fort in foreground St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Beach with fort in foreground
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our first stop was St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of all the islands we visited, this one seemed the least “touristy.” I have read, and heard, that it has long been one of the favorites as a long-term vacation destination. We did not see any evidence of high-end tourist accommodations, though, where we landed. We saw more of a “local,” island living flavor here than any other place we stopped.
A highlight, ironically, for me, was the local cemetery. It was a surprisingly colorful and photogenic place. There were also several large churches. St. Croix might be a place to visit with either a seasoned, occupant or a guided tour.

One thing, however, that all of the islands of the Caribbean have, is color. It seems to be everywhere, and it draws the eye.

Cemetary; St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Cemetary; St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A Glimpse of Rome

One of thousands of restaurants in City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

One of thousands of restaurants in City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Our flight out of Rome Airport home wasn’t ultimately scheduled until 3 days after our crippled cruise ship docked in Naples. After our nice day on the Amalfi Coast, we returned to the ship for one last dinner in the dining room on board. The next morning, we called the tour company we had originally scheduled the Amalfi Coast tour with (they told us to let them know if there was anything they could do for us) and asked them if they could get us a driver to take us to Rome. They found a driver and our friends, who had scheduled a couple days in Rome joined us. Our driver took us to our airport Marriot, where we dropped off our luggage and rode with them in to City Center. We would catch a shuttle back to the Marriot later that evening.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Our friends were in a hotel right in City Center and we were able to walk to several of the sought-after sites. The first thing we did after dropping off their luggage, was sought out a place for lunch. Just a few steps from the hotel, there was a long flight of stairs down to one of the main streets in the area, where we found a nice café. One of the things I found very inviting about the whole of the Mediterranean, was that virtually every restaurant or café had outdoor eating and it was the norm, when weather permitted.

Spanish Steps Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Spanish Steps
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Like each of our stops, we had booked a private and fairly comprehensive tour of Rome, which included areas in the City Center and the Vatican. Sadly, we only had a few hours that afternoon, and neither time, nor tickets for Vatican attractions. But we made the best of our self-guided walking tour, using one of the tourist maps we found along the way.

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Trevi Fountain
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

From our lunch stop, we found our way to the top of The Spanish Steps and at the bottom, somehow found our way to the famous Trevi Fountain. It is a tradition to stand with your back to the fountain, tossing a coin over your shoulder into the pool. This, it is said, guarantees your return to Rome. So, I guess I will be back -:). The Lonely Planet Guide says 3,000 euro’s are tossed into the fountain daily. The shear numbers of humanity in this area of Rome is impressive!

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Trevi Fountain
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

After visiting and photographing the Fountain, we followed one of the main streets South to the Colosseum, one of Rome’s most famous landmarks. Along the way, we saw buildings, and ruins everywhere. It is a magical city, and we are looking forward to a return trip with more time to explore. We hope to travel back to the Mediterranean for our “make-up” cruise sometime in the next 2 years, so stay tuned.

Colosseum Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Colosseum
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

From Lemons — Limoncello

Limoncello Shop Amalfi, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Limoncello Shop
Amalfi, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

There is an old saying about making lemonade when you have lemons. The Amalfi Coast of Italy is known for growing lemons and making, perhaps the best ever “lemonade”:  Limoncello, a sweet, lemony, liquour distilled from lemons. Used in some mixed cocktails, my preferred approach is straight up, very cold. We saw plenty of evidence of Limoncello during our day on the Amalfi Coast.

Gulf of Napoli Amalfi Coast Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Gulf of Napoli
Amalfi Coast
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Sadly, our beautiful, warm, sunny and relaxing day in Mykonos, was to signal the premature end of our Mediterranean Cruise. We were due to sail out of Mykonos for Naples, Italy around 6:00 that evening, with a planned “day at sea,” on the way. When we did not move at 6:00, we began to sense a problem. The captain announced that they were having mechanical problems with the anchor winch mechanism, which ultimately resulted in a complete re-build of the winch motor. We did not sail until much later in the evening, but the captain assured us that we had plenty of time to make our scheduled docking in Naples.

Driving the Amalfi Coast Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Driving the Amalfi Coast
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Naples, while itself perhaps unremarkable, marked the point of the cruise which I had most been anticipating. While many cruisers planned to visit the site of ancient Pompei, I had had my fill of ruins. From others who had been there, I had heard much about the Amalfi Coast, and we had a planned, private tour of the coast, with visits to Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano, and other villages along that coast line. On our “at sea” morning, we had a leisurely morning and were just contemplating our choices for lunch, when everything on the ship came to a complete stop, creating a deafening silence. After some fits and starts, the ship power came back on and all services were restored. However, there was a fatal problem with the ship’s propulsion system, allowing it only to make very slow progress toward the port of Naples, where we would eventually terminate the cruise and leave the ship. The cruise itinerary was originally scheduled for stops at Naples, Rome, Florence and the Provence, France region, before terminating in Barcelona. As I noted in the original blog on this topic, I give great credit to the Princess Cruise Lines for getting out in front of this significant problem, including refunding the full cost of the cruise, reimbursing us for our out-of-pocket costs to get home, and offering a substantial discount on a future cruise package. They obviously understand the value of customer service. Thank you, Princess, for making a bad experience (clearly for the line and its passengers) as good as they could.

Getting more than 2,000 passengers to a major airport (Rome was 3 hours from Naples by road) and onto planes home is a pretty major undertaking and it actually took an extra day to get us a flight out of Rome. The cruise line kept the ship operating in port and we were free to continue to use our stateroom and the services on board – which continued to operate nearly normally, including the dining facility. Since we didn’t make it into the Port of Naples until a day after our scheduled arrival, our private tour was cancelled. However, we were able to hire a taxi to drive us up the coast for the day, and visit Sorrento, and Amalfi.

Positano, Italy Amalfi Coast Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Positano, Italy
Amalfi Coast
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Shortly after we left Naples and headed up the coast, we were able to see what the “draw” to this dramatically photogenic coastal region is. Driving up the coastal road, we stopped at a scenic point to look back over the Gulf of Napoli, back toward the Port of Naples. The road itself, is dramatic, with views around virtually every curve.

Local Shops Sorrento, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Local Shops
Sorrento, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We stopped first, in Sorrento, which credits itself as the origin of genuine Limoncello liquour. Sorrento is perhaps a quintessential seaside tourist city, with a mix of quaint, local shops and big name designer stores. We walked around Sorrento and window-shopped for a few minutes, before continuing our journey up the coastal road, toward our destination, Amalfi.

Plaza in Center of Town Amalfi, Italy Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Plaza in Center of Town
Amalfi, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Like so many of the places we visited in Italy, the church and the plaza or square which the church anchors, seems to be the central focal point. Amalfi was no exception, and the church in the middle of town was magnificent. But Amalfi is also a beach resort on the Mediterranean and the resort on the beach near town was equally impressive. Amalfi, it turns out, was the penultimate (yeah, I just wanted to use that word J ) stop in our 2013 visit to Europe. The next day we would leave for Rome and spend a whirlwind afternoon in City Center, Rome.

Beach Resort Amalfi, Italy Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Beach Resort
Amalfi, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Mykonos; a Mediterranean Beach Vacation

Royal Princess; Mediterranean Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Royal Princess; Mediterranean
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

Having never been to the Mediterranean, Mykonos came closest to what I had imagined the area might look like — Picturesque cottages and buildings and crystal clear (almost Caribbean – like) water and an eclectic mix of pleasure, working, and commercial boats.

Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

The stop in Mykonos marked the half-way point in our cruise. By this time we had spent 4 fantastic (but exhausting) days traipsing around Venice, a brief “at sea” respite on the ship, and then 2 1/2 incredible (but exhausting) days touring Athens, Istanbul, and Ephesus. We enjoyed a leisurely morning aboard our ship (I was up and on deck early, as usual, looking for photo-ops) and then sailed into Mykonos about noon. We had no plans for the day, other than a leisurely stroll around this beautiful vacation spot.

Restaurant;  Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Restaurant; Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

What a beautiful place. We learned, during our visit, that there are 100′s of small Greek Islands and that many of them are sought-after vacation spots for Greek citizens (as well, I am sure, as others from the surrounding nations). On Mykonos, the “signature” architecture appears to be white painted stucco buildings with colorful blue and crimson trim. It may be that Mykonos is one of few that have a deep water port enough for Cruise ships (though we did “tender” in to the port.

Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

One local “landmark” on Mykonos is a series of windmills. Each is a residence. I tried to make an image that was not the typical shot of the windmills.

Windmill; Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Windmill; Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

There were also many tourist shops, as might be expected in a beach resort. We walked in the warm, Mediterranean sun, and then later, sat in the cooling shade at one of the many restaurants offering “free wifi” and checked our e-mail, as we sampled the local wine. It was a pleasant, slow afternoon, and we looked forward to our dinner back on the ship and not being rushed to try to get ready. We also looked forward to a day “at sea” the following day to relax and get ready for the second half of the trip which promised to be the best of the stops, including Naples (and the Amalfi Coast for us); Rome, and Florence and a day in Tuscany. We enjoyed Venice so much, and I knew I was in store for a treat in the rest of Italy!

Shops; Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Shops; Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

Things, as regular readers know, did not go according to the master plan. We “rolled” with it and were still able to have a delightful vacation with promise for a future visit back to the Mediterranean which we will continue to look forward to.MYKONOS Greece 092020130179

We will be on yet another Caribbean Cruise over the next week and will not be blogging for the next couple weekends. On return, the Amalfi Coast (we were fortunate to still see it), and a small taste of Rome (sadly, the end of the journey – this time).

Boats; Mykonos, Greece Copyright 2013;  Andy Richards

Boats; Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

Istanbul; A Frenetic Day

Entrance to Topkapi Palace; Istanbul, Turkey Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Entrance to Topkapi Palace; Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

TOPKAPI PALACE Istanbul Turkey 091920130050

Topkapi Palace
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Topkapi Palace was the seat of government and the residential address of Ottoman Turk Sultans for some 400 years. Construction began in 1459 and the first Sultan took residence there in 1465. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and since, the palace has been a National Museum. The Palace is huge, with it own Mosques, hospitals, and culinary facilities, in addition to living quarters, including the famous harem, where multiple wives and children of the Sultans resided.

TOPKAPI PALACE Istanbul Turkey 091920130038

Topkapi Palace
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We were impressed with how “plush” the palace’s furnishings were for a several – century back living quarter. Additionally, the marble and gold found everywhere in the palace architecture is amazing. There are many rooms in the palace that house numerous armaments, jewels and robes from the Ottoman Turk Empire. Unfortunately, photography inside was forbidden.

TOPKAPI PALACE Istanbul Turkey 091920130096

Bospor Strait from Topkapi Palace
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The palace is situated up high on a hill, but with significant portions fronting the Bosporus Strait. Our morning was spent in Topkapi Palace. But our day included additional stops, including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Hippodrome. On our way to the next stop, Hagia Sophia, we took a detour to the famous Underground Cistern. Prior to leaving for the Mediterranean Cruise, I had been advised to read Dan Brown’s most recent novel, “Inferno,” as it gave a great summary of some of the places we would be visiting; notably, Florence and Venice. However, there is a pretty significant plot turn involving the underground cistern, which I had never heard of until reading the novel. So, when we came to the entrance, I was excited to go down and look at it. Aside from the fictional aspects, the cistern is a pretty amazing piece of early technology and contained the fresh water source for the metropolitan area.

UNDERGROUND CISTERN Istanbul Turkey 091920130004

Underground Cistern
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The site of the Hagia Sophia was originally a pagan Temple. In the 6th Century, Roman Emperor Justinian began the construction of the Hagia as a Christian Temple. Later, when the Ottoman Turks overran the Roman Empire, they converted it to a Mosque. In “Inferno,” Brown notes that it is the only site where 3 distinct religions were housed – Pagan, Christian, and Moslem. Later, other mosques were built and the Hagia Sophia eventually was converted into a national monument. It is currently undergoing restoration and one of the interesting aspects is the uncovering of Christian Symbolism, which was painted over. It is now thought of by the Turkish government as a symbol of the two religions co-existing.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul, Turkey Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Hagia Sophia
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We started our afternoon by breaking for lunch and then spending some time at the Grand Bazaar. It is basically a huge shopping mall – Turkish style. Completely under roof, it still has an “outdoor feel” to it, with hundreds of shops with what I cannot think of anything other than to call them “trinkets” and scarfs – and of course, the obligatory Turkish Rugs. There are people everywhere, of course.

Grand Bazar Istanbul, Turkey Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Grand Bazar
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I am not sure what unique historical significance is associated with The Blue Mosque. It may be the largest mosque built. It faces the Hagia Sophia and gains its name from the unique blue tiles used to build much of the interior. It is a working Mosque and its architecture is remarkable.

Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Blue Mosque
Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Our day in Istanbul rivaled Athens for the longest day of the cruise. It was at once exhilarating and exhausting. We saw so much, and as much fun as we had, we were ready for our 1/2 day, easy stop in Mykonos, the next day.

The Harem; Topkapi Palace: Istanbul, Turkey Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The Harem; Topkapi Palace: Istanbul, Turkey
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

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