Monthly Archives: April 2009

Familiar Funchal with a Fruity Twist – Funchal, Portugal

It was surprisingly pleasant to visit Funchal and I am glad I got past my initial struggle to get off the ship. To think I almost passed up this experience! The last time I was there I had an OK time but nothing spectacular. In all honestly, I wasn’t actually really looking forward to this port at all. To me, it was really just a stop along the way.

The ship docked early in the morning and since I had no stretch class to wake up for (the only day in the who two weeks there was no class), I decided to just sleep in. And sleep in I did! I was jolted out of bed when the stateroom attendant, Julio, rapped on my door to see if he could make up the room. That’s when I found out it was already NOON. What!?! I shrugged it off over lunch deciding that I really must have needed the sleep. Again, Funchal was not meant to be anything spectacular for me and I toyed with the idea of not even getting off the ship.

During lunch, I learned from Leo, one of our favorite fellow passengers, that he had spotted what sounded to me like cherimoyas that morning in a market he had visited. Upon hearing that, I was off the gangway in a flash and excitedly hiking towards the island town.

We skipped the $10 shuttle which I know, as I was familiar with this port, is mainly for the older or un-abled. The walk took only about 15 minutes and that included time to take pictures and gawk at the vibrant flora along the way.

I was on a mission and though I didn’t know exactly where this fruit market was, I followed my instinct. Leo had given us vague directions but I reasoned that if anyone could find a pile of cherimoyas, it would be me.

The streets were more quaint than I remembered and the atmosphere seemed more relaxed. As I padded down the narrow side streets canopied by trees lush with purple flowers, I kept a mental tally of all the places I recognized. I pondered how different things seemed to feel this time.

It was like no time had passed at all as I breezed past the same old flower lady selling her blooms. I thought to stop and take a photo of her rainbow display but then I would have two identical photos just a few years apart. Besides, there was no time to be lost…the ship was debarking in just a couple hours.

Suffice to say, that within 30 minutes hearing there were cherimoyas onshore, I had the sweet creamy flesh in my mouth. The first fruit stand in the market had a several piles of the lovely fruit in all shapes and sizes. The first thing I noticed was that they called them “anona” and I wondered if they would taste the same. I eagerly squeezed one gently to see if it was ready for eating when the shopkeeper wagged his finger disapprovingly and made angry noises at me. A little shocked at his lack of tolerance, I decided his fruit must be rotten. I promptly turned to his neighbor across the way who not only let me sample the fruit but sold me two at a much better price.

With my two babies tucked away safely for consumption later, I relaxed a bit and explored the rest of the market. Little did I know what was in store for me. While the shops downstairs sold fruit, flowers, vegetables and handicrafts, the entire upstairs seemed dedicated to fruit. As I gleefully made my way through the stands, I was stopped repeatedly with freshly cut samples of exotic juicy produce. Each vendor insisted I try THEIR fruit, even though I assured them I had just tried one from two stalls down.

Finally I decided just give in and let them feed me from their various crops all the while chattering away happily in Portuguese. I realized resistance was futile against these people…they knew what they were doing. This wasn‘t their first rodeo. It goes without saying that I ended up buying a few more fruits.

I am glad I was open minded because I got to try a new fruit that I really liked. They kept saying it was a banana but it wasn’t like any that I had ever seen or tasted before. It was long and deep green like a cucumber but the skin was rough. Rather than peel, the skin crumbles away revealing a yellowy white fuzzy flesh. It’s like little compartments littered with hundreds of tiny black seeds. It was like a cross between a banana and kiwi with a touch of pineapple flavor. Very peculiar indeed but I liked it enough to buy one for just under a Euro.

After completing my tour of the market, I left with my tummy full and my tongue satiated. On the way back to the ship, the sun beamed down as I strolled through the grassy park filled with flourishing with crimson reds, effervescent oranges, aqua blues, and fuschia pinks. Spindley branches wound up skywards creating natural sculptures of sorts in the trees. I gazed up appreciatively at the charming old architecture lining the cobblestone streets and shared warm smiles with passersby. After spending five days at sea, I suppose it was a nice sensation to be upon solid land for a little while.

Grateful for knowing the way.

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No Moby Dick – Atlantic Ocean

Every night we have lost an hour in the crossing of the Atlantic. It has made my energy all wonky and although I have still kept up my exercise, my balance is a little off.

I have had a few too many desserts and I think it may be time to put the brakes on. To be perfectly honest, I am getting a little sick of food anyway. There is just so much of it on these trips and it seems like it’s always time to eat.

Luckily I have devised a strategy that is keeping me away from half the mealtimes and all the snack times. On the daily schedule which the Cirque de Towels accompanies on my bed every night, I can plot my route. I circle activities which occur simultaneously with the almost constant food offerings that are held in rooms far from the troughs.

Last night I learned how to play Apples to Apples which I think is a grand game. Then a group of us played Yahtzee long into the night. I liked my new friends who seemed to all have the same type of sense of humor as I.

Tomorrow we get into Funchal and many have commented on how excited they are to set foot on land again. I don’t think the boat has been overly unstable but I suppose I don’t tend towards seasickness. There was one night which was rather rocky but I didn’t realize how bad it affected other passengers until I spotted the “sick bags”. Similar to the ones in your seat pocket on airplanes, they were provided by the dozen attached near every stairwell.

One of the favorite topics of conversation that seems to always come up at lunches is who has endured the roughest seas. Inevitably, the table will go round listening to each others horror stories, trying nonchalantly to top it. I have begun to realize that like fish stories, these tales of shipboard trauma can often be exaggerated. I now study the face of the wife sitting next to the buffoon who bellows “I remember the time…” Usually, her thin knowing smile and here-we-go-again sigh tells it all.

Grateful for safe passage.

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Sailing across the Sea – Atlantic Ocean

The ship, Vision of the Seas, plows through the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. It is mid-day on our third sea day which means we are pretty much as far from land as we will be on this two week adventure.

I have spent most of my days at the gym enduring Australian Shawn’s (the ship’s personal trainer) grueling 30 minute sessions. He is something of a drill sergent and has created quite an intensive boot camp. We start the day off with an 8am stretch class which can then lead into abs, circuit or total body conditioning throughout the day. He has put on some great workshops with regard to diet, nutrition and wellness tips which have helped me to be a bit more thoughtful about what I ingest. I have even learned some Tai Chi which I have to say is quite a challenge on a moving ship. We have affectionately dubbed Shawn the Fitness Nazi.

The meals have been pretty decent up until now. I admit that the quality has dipped just a little in the past few days. I suppose they must be relying on stored food which of course, will compromise quality. The freshest foods created just after restocking up at a port always seem to create the most tasty cuisine.

I usually start off my day with a smoked salmon and mushroom egg white omelette which is a heavy dose of protein to assist with my amped up training schedule. The main attraction at lunch has been the do it yourself salad bar which for me include succulent jumbo shrimp, sweet cherry tomatoes, spinach, and lightly steamed asparagus spears. Topped off with some salty feta and a splash of balsamic vinegar the flavor combo is delectable to say the least.

The ship is only two thirds full which is common for Transatlantic crossings. There seem to be a lot of Canadians onboard along with quite a few Brits, a smattering of Europeans, and of course, many of the American states are well represented. I have noticed a fair bit of Spanish being spoken which would make sense since we set sail from the Dominican Republic.

The first day we moved our room furniture around to create a more feng shui energy. Truly, I don’t know what that means but it looks more spacious and seems more efficient how we replaced the beds diagonally. I love having the window that lets in the light of day and displays the frothy white waves just meters below.

Grateful for reorganization.

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Driving around Dominican – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

After arriving in Punta Cana on WestJet, we stayed at an all-inclusive resort for a couple days before we were to embark on our 18 day ship journey to Norway. The resort was rather typical and I wouldn’t return for anything except the powder fine sand on the beach and the loungy king-size canopy beds placed everywhere from the lobby bar to the poolside to obscure areas shaded by the leafy palms.

Needless to say, the monotonous eat-beach-sleep-drink mentality doesn’t inspire me at all so I was more than ready to jump in the rental car to drive up to Santo Domingo on Sunday afternoon. The drive was exhausting as I had to navigate crater size potholes majority of the four hour drive.

Already quite grumpy from not having slept well for the past few days, I was annoyed at the windshield washer kids at the stop lights. Although I refused and insisted they stop, they continued to clean the already spotless glass with their makeshift squigees. I knew I didn’t have any cash to hand them for their “services” so when they begged for my sandwich which I had just taken my first bite, I had to hand it over. I realized that they needed it far more than I did and actually ended up feeling half decent about the transaction, although I would have preferred it were a little less manipulative.

After a bit of a challenge trying to return the rental car it being Sunday and all, we finally made it to the ship as some of the last passengers onboard. I was probably less than optimal company for the next few days while I settled down a bit. But once I got to the gym, began eating more salads, and got to bed at a decent hour I started to feel much more human.

One good thing, was that by arriving so late for embarkation, we missed the Muster Drill. Now this tedious exercise is something I take great pains to get out of with each succeeding cruise but I seem to have solved the dilemma. The early bird may get the worm but better late than never. Besides, I never liked worms anyway.

Grateful for travel instincts.

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