A Travellerspoint blog

EPISODE FOURTEEN: Last Gala Dinner –at the Captain’s Table

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Our day starts with a phone call from reception” The captain would like you to join him, the chief engineer and the hotel manager at his table tonight, will you be available?” Later in the day the official written invitation arrives. I guess we will be dining with the captain then.

Food on board is mainly served in two prominent areas. Every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner is available in the formal Galaxy Restaurant with a set 8 course menu (with 2-4 choices per course) or the more informal buffet option in the Sunrise Terrace. In addition you could have breakfast delivered in your room and a 24hour room service menu is available should you want to snack during the day. Lastly between 4 and 5 pm every afternoon, tea, coffee and cake is served on deck with a midnight feast from about 11pm that is themed every night- the chocolate feast being a firm favourite! The formal dinners also has a nightly theme mostly consisting of Gala events or featuring the cuisine of a specific country as interpreted by the Italian chefs.

Tonight is the dinner of all dinners since it is the last gala evening of the cruise. At 08h30 pm we arrive dressed to the tee (I am in one of my favourite Marianne’s of course) to meet our fellow table guests in the reception at a private little seating area. We are six passengers: ourselves; a couple from Argentina and then a lovely couple from Ohio, USA (whom we have actually started a friendship with, earlier on the trip). The captain and hotel manager (Giuseppe) arrive and we are formally escorted by the maître’d to the restaurant. With great fanfare and some applause from our fellow guests we arrive in the dining room. Well, we have been having dinner in this restaurant for give or take the past 2 weeks. The food has been great and the service excellent, tonight hover it is a bird if another colour all together.

There are a few advantages sitting at the captain’s table. Your portions are much bigger; the quality of products are exceptional; there is a wine course with every dish this is chosen and funded by Il ‘Capitan. Your food arrives before everybody else’s and anything is possible!
We choose to start with appetizers of “Duetto Imperiale” (rosette of smoke salmon and marinated shrimps with dill. Then follows the salad course: Romaine lettuce and baby artichokes with Parmesan shavings and a balsamic vinaigrette. Captain Ponti is a stocky little man with a peaceful nature. He smiles easily but takes his work very seriously. He has a long history with the company and share some details of the other ships he has worked on. Giuseppe - the hotel manager is entertaining with an excellent sense of humour and even thought he had only been on the Melody for 4 months he has helped launch many of the prominent ships in the fleet.

The soup is next, excellent shellfish bisque with brandy accompanied by freshly baked Italian breads (focaccia; cheese bread andwhite bread rolls). For the pasta course the risotto with porcini mushrooms is a winning choice and even the captain considers another portion. The main course is a no brainer and nearly everybody at the table choose the oven roasted lobster flavoured with mustard butter, coriander and anise served with pilaf rice.

After the main course all lights in the dining room are switched off and a wonderful surprise arrives. All our waiters walk in with flaming baked Alaska’s on their shoulders. They parade between the tables and create a magical energy in the room. Normally dessert is followed by a cheese and fresh fruit course but tonight the evening has many surprises in store (more about this later). The lovely dinner ends off with a selection of "petits fours" brought to each table. On the spur of the moment the very friendly Alexandro, one of the American guests (he is actually a gregarious Italian chef that owns his own restaurant in the USA) entices the captain to end the meal with grappa! So the best bottle of Italian grappa is produced and we all have a taste of this powerful digestive.

Just when we thought that this is it, the maître‘d announces that there will be a magnificent midnight feast for the cheese and fruit course! We have no space, but go upstairs to see the spectacular display. Fruit-, ice-, bread- and cake sculptures compete with each other to be the most impressive. There are tables laden, not just with bread, cheese and fruit but also various pastries, and elaborate cakes!

The evening’s extravaganza goes on until early morning hours and we secretly thank our travel angels for organizing such a special spot for us to view it from!

Posted by L and H 08:58 Comments (0)

EPISODE THIRTEEN: Cadiz

One of the oldest cities in Europe is our oyster for the afternoon. Our mission is clear: shopping, tapas and sightseeing; in that order! Cadiz doesn’t disappoint. The medieval part of the city is within easy walking distance from the port. Map in hand we follow the narrow alleyways, soon we are in the main shopping street and my favourite Spanish brand Desigual has a sale! Needless to say some time was spent there.

No for the long awaited tapas. Again we stick to the criteria. Eat where the locals eat. Never choose the nearest café to a major tourist site. Stick to establishments with menus in the local language only. This is a bit of a risk since our Spanish is limited to” Hola” and well “Hola!” We take the plunge. A street café with lovely smells and an exclusive Spanish speaking hostess looks inviting. The following selection of tapas seems sort off familiar.
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Firstly “Chorizo Iberco y Patatas- a good choice with lovely flavourful cured chorizo (spicy paprika Spanish sausage) and potato crisps. Then” Tortilla Espanola” – the direct translation would be Spanish tart. A good sized quiche or better known as a frittata arrives, basically a very tasty egg, potato and herb bake. Next is the “Croquetas Jamon y Bacalao”-these warm fragrant potato parcels specked with pieces of ham served with a dipping sauce are finger licking good. Last but not least “Huevas Alinadas”- this leads to a debate, of what exactly this might be.” Huevas” we know are eggs, but what arrive could easily be eggs if another kind. Little bags with small textured vesicles inside, served on a bed of pepper salsa could possibly be the castrated private bits of some poor animal. We both tentatively try a small bite, not too bad. I allow hubby to finish the dish, just in case. Later we find out that no animals were necessarily harmed, we ate fish eggs!
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With our two basic needs of shopping and good food met, we explore the beautiful old city. The Cathedral with its golden dome and towers situated next to the ocean is a prominent beacon in the medieval quarter and is easily spotted even from far outside the harbour on open water. Every street offers a new surprise, with spectacular fountains, unexpected little squares and serene marble statues in abundance. We soak up the history and ancient atmosphere.
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One of my favourite things to do in a new country is to visit a local supermarket. It gives you an instant glimpse of how ordinary people live. What they have for breakfast, how their washing is done and off course what delicacies they have that we don’t. We walk out of the Carrefour supermarket with some olives stuffed with anchovies, a whole chorizo sausage some bananas for a friend and good quality dark chocolate. On our way back to the port we end our culinary tour at a coffee shop that advertises “Churros” (the Portuguese version of this pastry is very well known and loved by us). We cannot resist, with some basic Spanish words and lots of hand signals we happily walk out with a carton of sugar encrusted churros, remembering another place and another time with other happy people.
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It was a very good day in Cadiz.

Posted by L and H 08:16 Comments (0)

EPISODE TWELVE: Las Palmas- Gran Canaria

Our next stop is the Canary Islands. We were supposed to dock at Arrecife on the island of Lanzerote but due to unknown circumstances we now dock on the main island in the group, the port of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The island group is managed by Spain and after all the Italian fare on the ship we look forward to some spicy chorizo and good tapas! We have heard that the island is tax free and cannot wait to do a little browsing as well. Our day is planned: a good meal and some shopping high on the list.

It is at about 8am that we enter the city. Initially we tell ourselves that it is so quit in the city because it is just too early. The shops will open soon and the city will come alive. A walk along the extended promenade of Playa de las Canderas a beautiful 2 km long white sanded beach brings us to our senses. Best laid plans of mice and men….. Soon we realize a big calculation error. It is Sunday and in Las Palmas everything; yes everything is closed, the whole day! So much for shopping.
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So we opt for one of our other favourite activities. We people watch. Slowly but surely the city wakes up. There are the surfers and divers that watch the current to see where the best spots are. The dog lovers are in abundance with their pets in tow. However there seems to only be about four kinds of dogs in the city (guess that happens on a small island). As fellow animal lovers we laugh at the tiny Yorkshire Terriers, smile as the Pugs come by, get excited to see the beautiful Beagles and drool with the Bulldogs! Next arrives the joggers, fresh from the Trans Gran Canaria marathon that was completed the previous day. Last but not least a group of elderly men play beach soccer and a bunch of you guys basketball.
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We now head towards the older quarter of town The friendly municipal bus driver assures us that his route ends at the Santa Anna cathedral which is a must see. As we turn a corner with the bus we see why. A magnificent building with bell towers and steeples rise above the city. Compared to the ultra-modern section of the beach, this side of town dates back to 1478. Crooked cobbled streets wind through the old city; we follow them eagerly trying to find the cathedral entrance. It is then that a magical travel moment occurs. Just as we turn a corner we stumble upon a little square where a lady dresses in tradition clothes burst out in song accompanied by a local band and some local traditional dancers. A morning market is in full swing. We soak up the energy and join with the laughter and merriment.
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The Cathedral offers another special moment, as we walk in, a service is in progress and the choir sings a Goosebumps creating, heart stopping hymn. This is why we travel, for special glimpses like these.
Santa_Ana_Cathedral.jpgNow in search of some tapas. We are looking for the real authentic thing. We love food and a ham and cheese sandwich is just not going to do it. Unfortunately most of the cafes offer just that and if you are lucky a chorizo omelette. So the search continues. Three Chinese restaurants in a row make the options look even bleaker, suddenly the omelette looks like a very good option. We walk further. Mac Donald’s is everywhere and there is even the opportunity of an all you can eat Chinese buffet. Lastly an overpriced tourist trap outside the local casino offers us a menu in English a sure sign that it is not authentic cuisine.

We are about to give up on our quest for the famous Spanish aperitifs and nearly settle for a chain restaurant that at least offers Paella. Therefor we are overjoyed as we go down a little street and find a big chalkboard sine outside ‘Son and Sol’, advertising tapas. Immediately we find a table in the quaint little place. This looks authentic, they have tapas on the menu, everything is written in Spanish and the owner/ chef/ waiter (all the same person) apologises that he cannot speak English.

We study the menu and at every dish we point at, he indicates with wild arm movements:, “finished we don’t have”. We surrender and ask him to make a suggestion. We learn that this is actually a Cuban restaurant and they specialize in Cuban delicacies- no kidding! Again we allow the travel angels to guide us. He brings us two of his suggested meals. Calamari fried in an herby batter served with salad and chips and shrimps with garlic and herbs served with fresh bread to dunk in the ample sauce. Both are freshly prepared in the tiny kitchen that is in full view of the restaurant. They taste superbly. The local beer called Tropical goes down well with the meal.
No shopping or tapas to be had but still a magical day on a beautiful island. Next stop Cadiz, Spain.

Posted by L and H 01:44 Comments (0)

EPISODE ELEVEN: Dakar and Goree Island

Before we arrive in Dakar there is a lot of speculation amongst some passengers, the usual question of “What are you going to do in the new port? “has become “Are you going to get off the ship at all?” Why are people so scared of Africa? One German couple point blank refuses to even consider venturing out. This is a place they believe they will be murdered. Over centuries Africa has been getting bad publicity and still the image of the “DARK CONTINENT “seems to remain in a lot of Europeans eyes.

As Africans we love our heritage and are overjoyed to see the city that previously we have only seen from the air on trans-Atlantic flights to the USA. Dakar also re-kindles some memories of the transformation proses that led to the South African democracy. Today however we are just two more people on the streets of this busy Senegalese port.

Busy being the operative word here. The streets are bustling, vendors, children, cars, chickens, cats, dogs, goats and cattle all lobby for a spot in the scorching sun. It is hot outside: 44 degrees and the long white robes of the Senegalese men now make more sense. It is a very colourful city with vibrant energy and beautiful, though neglected architecture.
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Yes, there is poverty, harassment from people trying to make a living, poorly kept infrastructure, opportunistic crime and if you come on a hot day with no wind blowing: THE SMELL. If you just look at these things, you would also see no reason to visit. You would miss the traders, coming all the way from Mali to sell their wares and the many stories they joyfully share. The small baby that cries because she also wants to have her photo taken. The drinking of mint tea that is an institution on the streets, with everybody trying to be more ingenious to successfully brew their special pot.
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On the other hand the very modern, clean and well organized ferry that takes you to Goree Island shows great development in this city with many faces. A visit to Dakar is not complete without visiting the Island. The biggest attraction for tourists being the role it played in slave trading and the House of Slaves has led to many pilgrimages to the island. Silently we wonder who we should be more feared; the European and American slave traders or the inhabitants of a dark continent.
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Goree Island is the complete opposite pole of Dakar. You enter another world and travel back in time to this World Heritage sight. No motorised vehicles are allowed on the island therefor it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. With laid-back little restaurants dotting the marina and cobble stoned walkways leading up to local artists displaying their work in makeshift galleries.
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We cool off with a La Gazelle (local beer) and admire the nearby Goree Institute founded by well-known South Africans Van Zyl Slabbert en Breyten Breytenbach. The Institute is a Pan –African Civil Society Organization, which works towards promoting self-reliant and open societies in Africa. We could easily stay longer on this peaceful island and with the work that the Goree Institute does, who knows we might be back sooner than we think.

Posted by L and H 01:38 Comments (0)

EPISODE TEN: The Equator Crossing Ceremony

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While we are at sea, one day seems to flow naturally into another and you easily lose track of time, place and position. The crew thankfully does not and we are informed that on 28 February at about 4h30 am we will be crossing the equator. Very few passengers if any would like to be woken up for the occasion and an official ceremony to honour the tradition of the event is planned for later in the day.

Sailors of ancient times believed to keep the sea gods happy and as a result the tradition of asking Neptune’s permission when crossing the equator had its origin. We sign up eagerly with the promise of Neptune’s favour and a certificate to prove we actually partook as our only incentives.

Fortunately the weather played along, it is an overcast day with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius and a slight breeze blowing. We gather enthusiastically in one of the lounges and is promptly handed a hoola skirt and flower garland. It looks like a massive convention of would be Hawaiian dancers. Now to see a bunch of guys of all ages, shapes and sizes in hoola gear is already worth the effort. However it does not end here, indiscriminate of gender our inner tribal ancestors are unearthed when we are handed body paint in bright vibrant colours.
We go wild. Wearing just a bathing suit hoola skirt, flower garland and every possible tribal and other painted body decorations all are ready for the next step. A carnival atmosphere is palpable as the authentic looking Neptune emerges to lead the procession. The non-participating crowd waits with cameras ready on deck. For a moment we relate very well with sheep being led to slaughter, but then the dramatic music echoes loudly over the PA system and the fun starts.

After a ceremonial lap around the deck, Neptune surrounded by his mermaids awaits in all his glory. Everybody is “christened “individually with a ladle full of champagne as you pass the honourable god and then have to kiss the ceremonial fish. So far so good the next step looks a bit more suspicious though as we are made to sit around the main pool with our feet in the water.

The announcer politely asks Neptune if he gives his permission for a save trip further. All sensitive readers should not read on , because what happened next is not a pretty sight! Neptune seems to be having a bad hair day and violently refuses unless we (the lot around the pool) pay a price. We should have thought this was going to easy. Had we not heard about the wrath of the ancient gods before?

As a humbling gesture we are all doused in milk by Neptune’s eager helpers. Still he refuses safe passage, we have not suffered enough. I turn we are “blessed” with flower, tomato sauce, cream, cacao and last but not least an egg is broken on each head. At last Neptune is happy with the human chocolate and tomato cake and grants the good favour sought.

All of this done in great spirit with lots of laughs and not a clean face insight! The pool is a natural refuge and we are just very glad the water is easily drained and cleaned by industrial hose pipes and chemicals.
To remind us of our journey back to messy childhood fun we are issued with a certificate bestowing on each one the title of BRAVE SEAMAN!

Posted by L and H 05:22 Comments (0)

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