Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020.

20.12.2019 Palma de Mallorca. On the Road Again.

After six bleak days in Germany, I got a car to Schönefeld Airport with Roland and we had Bloody Mary’s in the lounge. I got a worldwide lounge pass recently, courtesy of one of H’s credit-card accounts, which is a great thing as you can take cheap-as-chips flights with Business-Class pampering in the airports. Flight to Palma and taxi to the Hotel Horizonte with a balcony room overlooking the port. We met up with Heike’s friend Karin and walked down the hill in a light rain in search of food. Not finding anything particularly Spanish we went into a Tony Roma’s for ribs and margaritas. I was expecting something identical to the stuff we get in Berlin but franchises are hard to police and in subtle ways it turned out to be more of a Spanish meal than the original American. I didn’t sleep well as some idiot, me, forgot his anti-snoring device and at 05:00 I could see AIDAsol had arrived in the port.

21.12.2019 At Sea.

After breakfast, Heike came to the hotel to take us to the ship. We sorted the cabins out so that everyone was happy. At one stage it looked as though I would be sleeping with a 20-year-old German girl called Janina. I’ve never met her, long story. Even now I am theoretically sleeping with Karin. As my wife doesn’t approve of such things, in reality I’m in my usual officer’s cabin near the bridge.

Later, I was issued with my first of many tasks on this cruise which was to string lights and baubles on three large Christmas trees in the theatre area. Jingle Bells!

Dinner was in one of the fancy restaurants. Seven courses got quickly whittled down to three and even that had to be wolfed down due to a fast approaching Safety Drill. Then it was time to leave the harbour and venture out into a very rough Mediterranean.

22.12.2019 Still at Sea.

The destination port was all a bit uncertain. We were scheduled to go to Civitaveccia, Italy but I knew from past experience that Civitavecchia gets cancelled when the weather is bad. The phone app Marinetraffic was showing me Bonifacio, Corsica as our destination all morning, but it turns out we were actually heading towards Livorno, Tuscany which was fortunately my original guess and usefully where I had already got a rental car booked.

23.12.2019 Livorno and Florence

We rented a Jeep Renegade and drove out of the port of Livorno to Florence or Florenz or Firenze, whatever. First stop was the La Loggia restaurant on Piazzale Michelangelo for lunch. This restaurant is high up on a hillside with excellent views over the city. H and I had been here before some years ago but it was raining then. This day was all blue sky and sunshine as it should be in Tuscany.

Next was a drive into town and parking under the Mercado Centrale. We walked the streets for a while. H went mad buying Venetian-ball masks from a shop specializing in such things. This is for the New Year party on the ship. We must have 50 or 60 masks and other bits of fancy dress kit now and only four faces to cover between us. We walked past the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, with the big red dome, but the lines were too long to go inside. Another time. We did a bit of Christmas shopping and then back to Livorno.

One part of a Christmas sing-along on the ship had the galley crew doing Jingle Bells in different Asian languages. Heike made me turn up in my Santa Claus outfit which disappointed a little girl who stood expectantly in front of me and must have thought I was on Christmas-present duty. You can snarl under a white beard and nobody can tell.

24.12.2019 Livorno, a German Christmas

We had a hour standing outside the Crew Mess at lunchtime making fools of ourselves. I was OK with the beard and Santa costume on but Karin had a giant set of feathered wings attempting to look like the Chriskindl but actually it made her look like a giant startled seagull. I had a Weihnachtsmann’s bell that said “Ring For Sex” but nobody noticed.

Lots of dressing up this day. We had a seven-course dinner in the Rossini restaurant which was an excuse to get my dinner jacket out. They call black-tie Smoking in Germany. Don’t know why. The theatre was really crowded with seats protected by beach towels. Just kidding with some gentle stereotyping. Indoors, Germans actually use books and angry-looking small children to guard their seats when they have to get up for a pee. As no seats were to be had, we watched the Christmas Gala show on Roland’s in-cabin TV.

25.12.2019 Ajaccio, Corsica, a British Christmas

All morning was spent Ho-Ho-Ho-ing and handing out two presents to each of the crew. Best part of one thousand gifts, and all while dressed up in my sweaty Santa outfit. I’ll not be sorry to see the back of Christmas this year.

We walked the streets of Ajaccio in the afternoon. Almost everything was closed for Christmas but it looked nice in the sun with snow on the mountains in the distance. We found a fairground open with a rickety-looking ride, which I believe is technically known as a “Whirl & Hurl”, which H and I risked our lives on. Karin declined on the grounds of being a chicken, or maybe a seagull.

There was one final outing for my Santa costume late in the evening which was to hand out presents to the Scouts who were out on tours earlier in the day. About twenty of them were found huddled in the dark in the on-board cycle-shed with a couple of crates of beer. They were probably hoping to not be seen but Santa and the Christmas Seagull tracked them down.

26.12.2019 Mostly a Sea Day to Barcelona

A departure from Ajaccio in the morning. A quiet day.

27.12.2019 Barcelona

The day was cool and sunny and we got a taxi to the Mercado de La Boqueria off La Rambla. This is a food market which has such amazing displays of fresh Spanish foods that it’s well worth going to just for the spectacle but we also indulged in some local samples of ham and some enormous oysters. Next was a stroll out to the Catederal de Barcelona where the Christmas Market outside had been transformed into a posh flea market since we were last here. Lunch called and we found an outdoor restaurant called Ambos Mundos in the very nice Plaça Reial where we ate tapas and drank sangria to the sound of some very professional-sounding opera-singing buskers in the square.

After lunch, Heike and Roland headed back to the port and Karin and I took another taxi to La Sagrada Familia church. Tickets for the day had already sold out so we walked two and a half kilometres all uphill to the Gaudi House Museum in Parc Güell but it was the same story. Sold out. We had a short stroll in the public part of the park and then grabbed another taxi back to the ship. Online booking will be done before next week.

28.12.2019 Return to Palma de Mallorca

Karin, Heike and I had a day out in Palma. First the impressive cathedral, then the Banys Arabs the ruins of a Moorish bathhouse . Then on for lunch. We messed up ordering the tapas as we ended up with three huge plates of sandwiches and some squid and chips.

29.12.2019, A Review of 2019 Travel

A sea day.

I managed to squeeze in 22 different countries this year with Taiwan, South Korea and Japan coming in as new entries. This is my own personal list. H has more time out of Germany, more time at sea and has one or two countries more on her list but I can’t track everything.
It needs a few rules to measure this stuff. For me, tracking daytime locations make the most sense. We have too many overnight sailings (or flights) for actual sleeping locations to tell a complete story.
Where there are entire sea-days spent travelling between countries then the day is recorded as “sea”. For repeat visits to the same country then I’ve added up all the days spent there in the year. I’ve also counted all the new country arrivals but where there is an overnight sailing between two ports in the same country then I count it as a continuous visit.
What is, or what is not, a country is also a slippery thing. For example, I count Corsica as part of France; Tenerife as part of Spain and Spitzbergen as part of Norway but The Century Travelers Club, more generously, defines all these as separate countries on geographic and cultural grounds. So, go ahead and add three more to my list if you wish.

Hong Kong653
South Korea111

30.12.2019 Civitaveccia

Happy Birthday Holly

A drive in a rented car from Civitavecchia to Rome. Sunny but cold weather. This was a highly condensed tour spent galloping on foot from the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps to Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona was planned for lunch but we had no time so we had a couple of bags of roast chestnuts on the street instead. Then on to see the outside of the Pantheon; views of the Vittoriano monument and the Roman Forum at a distance and a quick drive around the Colosseum on the way back to Civitavecchia. Must do better next time.

31.12.2019 A Tuscany Silvester in Livorno

The last day of the year. I was issued with yet another job. Helping to blow up hundreds of big white and silver balloons to decorate the theatre. I was not looking forward to that but somebody found an air-blower used by the cleaners for blowing the cobwebs away. So it was not too bad.

Karin, Heike and I then had a drive to the nice Tuscan town of Lucca which we scouted out recently. A quick walk in the chilly medieval streets then lunch. I had my usual Zuppe Toskana with a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is literally that. A mug of what seems to be melted dark chocolate. I dropped H and Karin off at the shuttle-bus stop back in Livorno and returned the car. It took over an hour for another shuttle-bus to get me back to the ship almost making me miss the start of our New Year’s Eve dinner. New Year’s Eve is called Silvester in german. I always get this mental image of a cartoon cat and an annoying yellow bird.

The aperitif with our dinner was a bottle of Dom Perignon 2009. According to the menu it was about the same price as a small car and not something I would ever buy myself. But this was a gift from the ship, to me, for recently flying all over Europe wearing a red hat and a white beard, and it was very nice to have.

As midnight Central European Time approached it was back to work again opening bottles of celebratory fizz for the 500 crew. They don’t get Dom P., obviously, but as the countdown begins, nobody cares. The ship’s party theme was “Venetian Carnival” and I had a Medico della Peste “plague doctor” type mask with a big nose which was one of the masks we bought in Florence. Complicated engineering was needed with drinking straws to toast in the New Year. After the New Year has arrived, Germans eat sugary jam-doughnuts, known in Berlin as Pfannkuchen, or Berliners elsewhere in Germany. Ich bin ein New Year doughnut, as JFK once famously said.

Happy New Year to all.

01.-02.01.2020 Marseille

Arrived late in the day at Marseille and we all went downtown to the old harbour area. The Marché de Noël was still in full-swing and we got some vin chaud to be going on with. Then we went in search of bouillabaisse but the restaurant said it was merely fish soup. Can’t say I know what the difference is. It came piled up with fish, shellfish and crustaceans. We washed it down with pastis.

The next morning we got in touch with our Uber driver of the previous night and got a ride to Aix-en-Provence. This was much easier and cheaper than picking up and returning a rental car in Marseille. We had a coffee in the Place de l’Hôtel de ville; looked into the Aix Cathedral; inspected some of the countless soap shops then had a nice lunch in Le Café Voltaire.

03.01.2020 Barcelona

Didn’t do much. packing bags for departure tomorrow in Palma. The Sagrada Familia will have to wait until next time.

04.01.2019 Palma de Mallorca to Berlin

Taxi to the airport with Roland and Karin. Flight to SXF and another taxi home. Miserable wet weather in Berlin. This blog is on hold for a few weeks until the end of January when I will be back in Mallorca.