Here’s our daily log and observations about our Western Mediterranean cruise. This was our second cruise on Windstar Cruise Line. For a description of our first, see here. In that 2000 report Hal covered a lot about the ambiance of the Windstar ships, their passengers, and crew; we’ve updated that description and included it at the end of the daily log. This ship, the Wind Star, was essentially identical to our 2000 ship, Wind Song.
This vacation actually comprised two seven-day Windstar cruises—Lisbon to Barcelona and Barcelona to Nice. Hal’s contribution to this was to record the mechanical details (as a service to prospective travelers considering this itinerary) and Nancy’s was to provide color commentary and smooth over the rough edges of an ornery traveler.
This is one of my earliest travel webpages and I had not yet gotten into a routine of posting photographs. On this trip I had 371 photographs, which I have uploaded to this 79MB PDF.
We left San Francisco International at noon on United Airlines. It was an overnight flight to London Heathrow, then TAP Air Portugal to Lisbon.
We arrived in Lisbon at 11am. Since we were able to sleep on the United flight, we were ready to go immediately after checking into the hotel. Windstar selected the Meridien Park Atlantic hotel as part of our package. (The name’s a bit disingenuous. Neither Lisbon nor the hotel is on the Atlantic. The hotel is next to a park, though.) It’s a quiet and comfortable hotel that doesn’t seem to be overrun with hordes of frantic tourists. Good breakfast buffet, too.
We had lunch at a tiny café off the Avenida da Liberdade, one of the main boulevards. Fried pork cubes, rice, French fries, and the house tinto (red wine).
We took an afternoon bus tour of the city to get our bearings. Neither of us had been to Portugal before. It was a pretty good tour, except the poor lady guiding us had to repeat herself in three languages, so we got rather attenuated explanations of things. (And that tinto at lunch caused a bit of head nodding in the slow parts.)
Most of the tour was in the western area of the city along the Tagus River called Belém (which means Bethlehem in Portuguese). We visited the Coach Museum and saw some fancy antique horse coaches created for royalty, the oldest dating from the 17th century; some extremely ornate and gilded, and huge: 20 feet long by 10 feet high with back wheels 6 feet in diameter. The Monastery of St Jerome was quite beautiful, and supposedly the only Catholic church in which elephants play a pivotal decorative role (due to the ancient connection of the Lisbon explorers to India and spices). It’s amazing that this gothic stone building survived the big 1755 earthquake, which flattened or burned the rest of the city.
We also saw the famous Tower of Belém and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). The latter was a relatively new statue that is 170 feet high, with dozens of large sculptures of famous guys from Henry the Navigator’s time in 1460. Nancy pointed out that there were no women depicted. And Hal noted that it was built by Salazar the dictator. But quite impressive anyway.
Then the bus headed back east and we had a short walking visit of the Alfama, the ancient part of the city. By the time we were through, the afternoon temperature had reached over 90° and it was moderately humid.
For dinner we walked again down the Avenida da Liberdade and selected one of the dozens of modest outdoor cafés. We had grilled sardines, a local specialty, and leitão (suckling pig). The sardines were about six inches long and quite tasty, although complete with head, tail, and bones. The wine was Quinta da Teixeiras, a local red. (It was the most expensive wine on the list, about $12 for the bottle. Young and fruity.) By the time we trudged the mile back up the hill to the hotel, we were pretty wiped.
We slept pretty late and had the breakfast buffet at the hotel. We took the metro downtown and then a commuter train to the mountain town named Sintra. (The train ride was 45 minutes and cost $2 roundtrip. Food and transport in Portugal are very bargain priced.) We saw a lot of countryside along the way. Not much vegetation, a very arid climate, similar to the California chaparral where we live. Lots of apartment houses and almost all of the buildings were white stucco with red tile roofs.
Sintra is west of Lisbon, not far from the coast, and mountainous. It was a summer retreat for the Portuguese kings. Now it’s Tourist Town, quite picturesque. The National Palace dominates the town and we toured inside. The most interesting part for Hal was the kitchen, which had two enormous (100 feet high), white conical chimneys. Apparently fires for spit-roasted meals were burned right out on the open floor of the room and drafted up. There were also a number of large rooms that were decorated in an odd style—the ceiling had some motif, such as swans, stags, or magpies, and the artist painted about 50 of them in different poses. They used lots of decorative hand-painted tiles as well, often in blue and white. Different kings had added décor over the centuries, so it was quite a mix.
Lunch at a sidewalk café was pizza. A bit blander that other pizzas we’ve had around Europe. There could have been an oregano shortage, but we noticed that most of food we had in Portugal was relatively spiceless. They served tiny sardines with marinated onions to start and this time we could eat them whole, head, bones, and all.
We took a horse carriage ride to the beautiful Hotel Seteais, formerly an 18th century palace. We shared the narrow, winding cobblestone streets with cars, and our carriage driver had to sound a bulb horn to warn cars coming around corners. The horses had to hustle up those hills at near car speed and we felt a little uncomfortable for them.
We ran out of time and energy before visiting the other big attraction in Sintra, the Pena Palace; looking at it again in the guidebook afterwards made us regret that decision. Sintra is quite mountainous and spread over a wide area. There are small buses, but they were always crowded. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Casa de Sapa café for queijadas, tiny cinnamon-topped cheesecakes, which they’ve made on the premises since the 1750s.
Back at our hotel, the local tour lady hired by Windstar had a hospitality desk set up. She recommended a restaurant for fado and folkloric dancing. Luso, in the Bairro Alto district, is the oldest fado house in Lisbon. Fado is the local folk music, sung as an expression of longing and sorrow (fado means “fate”) to the accompaniment of a guitarra, a Portuguese instrument shaped like a mandolin. Well, Luso was an experience. The menu seemed to be a direct copy of the list of typical foods we found in our guidebook. Nancy had Caldo Verde (a potato soup with kale) and Pescado (Hake) and didn’t like either much—reminiscent of bland cafeteria food. Hal had cured ham from Chaves, like prosciutto, and Arroz de Peixe (rice with seafood), and enjoyed both. The wine was 1998 Quinta da Pacheco, a Douro, which was more sophisticated than the lighter wines the previous nights. All this was considerably more expensive than the previous nights, but pretty inexpensive in comparison to the US. This was one of those tourist-magnet restaurants and there were a few busloads of people seated in front of us at long tables.
The entertainment was a hoot. The fado was performed by individual male and female singers, accompanied by the guitarra and two guitars. Of course we didn’t understand what they were singing, but noted that the accompaniment didn’t seem to match the singing at all. It was like hearing a person singing Old Man River while a banjo played Zippity-Doo-Dah. Each set was performed by a single person, dressed in black, singing passionately with eyes closed and head back. The folkloric dancing was performed by three couples in costume. Nancy remarked that she pictured Saturday Night Live doing exactly this kind of dance as a spoof: running around in circles, then clapping hands with the opposite person. Hal pictured Vasco de Gama out exploring the unknown while these fancy boys were prancing around back at home.
Our travel agent arranged transfers from the hotel to the ship with Windstar and this seems convenient, but there’s a hidden catch. They really eat up your day to accomplish this. You have to have your bags to them by 11am and then meet for the bus at 1:45. So any lengthy tourism this day isn’t practical, even though the ship doesn’t sail until 5pm.
After we checked out of the hotel, to fill up the morning, we taxied to the Castelo de São Jorge, which is a huge, but mostly ruined, castle overlooking the city. Lots of ramparts to climb and great views to see. We walked down the hill on the cobblestone streets, past the Sé Cathedral; we didn’t enter because it was Sunday and we were dressed too casually, but it looked great after 900 years. (They’ve actually rebuilt it twice after earthquakes.) We wandered around the Alfama district, with its narrow cobblestone streets. Surprisingly, this whole area is serviced by tiny narrow-gauge streetcars; it was amazing to see them climb those grades.
Back at the hotel, we had snacks that were set up for the passengers and then bussed through the empty Sunday streets to the dock, arriving at about 2pm. We unpacked and explored the ship until the 4:30 lifeboat drill. Hal fiddled around with the CD player in the room. He had brought along CDs burned on his PC, collections of classical, light jazz, and oldies. The CD player was working poorly, but our cabin steward, Tony, had the maintenance department fix it while we were out of the cabin.
Departure at 5pm was dramatic as we sailed out the Tagus River to the Atlantic, thinking of the brave crews who sailed this very route five centuries earlier. The Windstar habit of playing Vangelis’ new-age theme music to the movie 1492 seemed quite appropriate.
In the lounge that evening, we heard the introductory talk from Cheri, our Hostess, who is the closest thing to a Cruise Director on this ship. Cheri had been in this same role on our previous cruise in the Caribbean. It was poorly attended and the dinner following was also characterized by late arrivers. Apparently this group of passengers keeps a later schedule than we’ve seen in previous cruises. It is certainly younger on average; many people seemed our age. There are several extended families aboard with grandparents and children, the youngest maybe eight years old.
We dined with Mel and Joan from Ottawa. Hal had carpaccio, a salad of prosciutto-wrapped Romaine lettuce, and salmon with white beans and sun-dried tomatoes. (Nancy isn’t really interested in recording dinners, so only Hal’s choices will appear from here on.) Wine: 1998 Firesteed Oregon Pinot Noir.
We arrived at 8am. The port is quite small; a larger ship would have certainly run aground. On the other hand, Portimão and its surrounding beaches are quite large and very well to do. Lots of beautiful new high-rise apartments, all in pastel colors. The beaches are expansive and really packed. As we departed at 5pm, it looked like there were 20,000 people on the sand and in the water. It got quite hot—probably 100—and it was rather debilitating.
The major activity was a bus tour inland through the province of Algarve that attracted about thirty of us. Hal was dismayed to learn that it was one of those European buses with about 30% less legroom than an airline coach seat, so was uncomfortable most of the trip. We had a great local guide who filled us with more facts from memory than you can imagine. She talked almost nonstop for most of the time, in perfect English. We drove to the town of Silves and visited the cork museum, which was a lot more interesting than it sounds. There was a movie and live demos and the place was beautifully designed; in fact, it won a prize for the best industrial museum in the European Union. (We can imagine the portion of the Brussels bureaucracy in charge of that.) The place was actually a working cork factory until 1990, and the demo was done by a former cork maker. Then a little train took us to a nice church on a hill and to a great castle, where we wandered around the battlements. There’s a lot of ancient history here, with Crusaders and Moors, and the city changing hands multiple times before the twelfth century. Finally, a lengthy drive to Monchique to visit a gift shop on the highest mountain peak in Algarve.
Back on the ship it was lunchtime with vegetarian pizza and raisin bread pudding. By then it was really too late (and too hot) to go downtown or to the beach, so we collapsed in deck chairs and read until our departure.
The captain hosted a welcome party with champagne and hors d’oeuvres before dinner and introduced his officers.
Dinner with Bill and Natalie from Westchester, NY. Sevruga caviar, tomato soup, and chili-encrusted pork tenderloin with tropical fruit salsa. Wine: 1999 Vichon Syrah from the Côte D’Oc.
Today is our 25th wedding anniversary and we’re spending it on a new continent for us. (Now there’s just Antarctica and we’ve visited them all.)
It was cool and windy when we arrived at Tangier, but the cool didn’t last. For our shore excursion, we were dressed as requested by the hostess—no knees or shoulders showing. We were quite happy we signed up for the tour because we wouldn’t have wanted to wander around on our own. The streets were mazes and poorly marked. It was fascinating to watch the people going about their business: getting water from the public faucets (no running water in their apartments), taking their dough to the baker to be baked (no ovens at home). We were inundated by street vendors hawking cheap bracelets (and Rolexes!). They want to bargain and don’t take “no” for an answer. Our tour guide was friendly and well spoken. He told us he had spent twelve years in Idaho as an exchange student, but his accent was strongly New York City. The bus had ample legroom this time.
The bus tour started in the Medina, or old part of the city, and visited the American Legation. Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as an independent country, so this building, which was our first overseas building, has some historical significance. It was hidden away in the maze of tiny streets and would have never found it on our own. Then we drove through some of the affluent nearby suburbs and passed by the entrance gates of big mansions and palaces, such as the kings’ of both Morocco and Saudi Arabia, without seeing the buildings themselves—just the soldiers outside. Thinking Morocco was primarily a desert, it was interesting to us to see how many giant pine trees covered the landscape.
Near the coast we saw from a high road where the Atlantic and Mediterranean divide. Oddly, the Atlantic looks calm and the Med rough, but the difference is not dramatic. We visited the Caves of Hercules, which are notable primarily because a gap through which you can see the sea is shaped like a reverse silhouette of Africa. When Hercules was here 4,500 years ago, he probably didn’t encounter the gift shops we did. Upstairs there were camel rides of which we did not partake.
Back in the city, we passed by the late Malcolm Forbes’ mansion (where he celebrated his 70th birthday with friends such as Liz Taylor at the expense of $12 million) and walked through the Kasbah. Kasbah means castle and it is on a high hill, where the royals lived at one time, although no longer. It’s all residential and quite poor. The highlight of the Casbah was a snake charmer who allowed us to photograph Nancy with a snake around her neck, all for a dollar! A funny aspect was that we were in a parking lot and every time they rattled on a drum to attract the snake, a BMW’s alarm went off. After lunch at the ship—cheeseburgers and fries—our guide talked a number of folks into returning on the bus for an afternoon of shopping, but we demurred.
Dinner with Hunt and Diane of Moline, IL: Black bean soup, tomato and mozzarella salad, and prime rib. Wine: 1997 Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet. Dana, our maitre ‘d, arranged a special anniversary cake as a surprise (well, not to Hal, anyway).
After dinner we reached Gibraltar at 10pm and cruised around in front of the giant rock for about an hour. The rock, 1,400 feet high, was well illuminated and quite spectacular. The Med was almost completely calm and it was beautiful, cool night with a full moon. The Straits were filled with brightly lighted oil tankers that were loitering, waiting to hear about prices in either Gibraltar or Morocco before deciding which direction to take.
We switched our clocks ahead by an hour last night and lost an hour of sleep. (Oddly, Morocco is actually an hour behind Portugal and the UK, but the ship did not change its clocks. Spain and the rest of our cruise is an hour ahead.) When we awoke, the ship was deserted; most had selected one of two shore excursions. The first was to Alhambra, a seven-hour round trip by bus. Since we visited Alhambra and Granada in 1978, we figured it hadn’t changed much and didn’t relish the bus ride. The other tour was in the local vicinity and it didn’t seem to interest us. So we took the tender into the port, amidst dense fog. The fog burned off quickly and it became a beautiful hot day.
Marbella (pronounced Mar-bay-uh) is the fanciest resort on the Costa del Sol. Sean Connery lives here, we’re told, although we didn’t see him downtown. Part of Marbella is a standard modern city, but we concentrated on the Old City. This district was certainly the most pristine and gentrified old fishing village we’ve ever seen in Europe, just immaculate, with lots of upscale stores and restaurants, like a Spanish Carmel. We wandered around and had coffee and churros at a sidewalk café. Then we walked along the beach and determined we wouldn’t return for a swim; there was almost no surf and it was pretty crowded, although very clean.
Back on the ship it was barbeque for lunch—steak, chicken, ribs, fish, hamburgers, hotdogs, sausages, and corn on the cob. Hal took a swim off of the sports platform in the stern. This was the first day they lowered it; they don’t do so when they are docked and this was the first tender day. The Med was a bit colder than the Caribbean from the previous cruise, but warm enough to enjoy. Other passengers water skied, kayaked, sailed, and banana boated. There were lots of really expensive boats zipping around us. Reports back from the returning Alhambra tours were mixed; a rather long and tiring day to spend two hours there. We departed under full sail, but the captain admitted that the engines were getting no help from the wind on this trip so far.
Dinner with Lowell and Lynn of South Orange, NJ. Grilled Portobello mushroom with Hollandaise, mushroom and garlic soup, local red snapper encrusted with pistachios. Wine: 1997 “J” Pinot Noir. (J is produced by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Tom at Jordan Winery in Sonoma County.)
A quiet day at sea on the way to Ibiza, which we spent mostly following the shade around the deck and reading. Others spent the full day under the direct sun. There is a large group on board from a company called Learning Technologies and they are allegedly having their board of directors meeting; the dining room was off-limits all day and business facts and figures were being bandied about in the library. Some of them have been searching out Internet cafés all week to get their email.
Lunch was an Indonesian buffet, which was excellent. Some of the on-board activities to keep us busy: cheese fondue demo, jewelry fashion show, vegetable carving and marzipan molding demo, and the galley tour. The galley tour was interesting because it’s hard to imagine how so few men produce so much good food in such a small space. Our chef, Tony Gatherall, owns a restaurant in Vancouver and also has an occasional show on the Food Network. (Nobody had the gumption to ask what he was doing here on a tiny ship for months at a time.)
Dinner with Anne and Susanne, mother and daughter from Connecticut and Washington, DC: crispy salmon, French onion soup, lamb shank. Wine: 1996 Edmeades Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir.
Ibiza is the westernmost of the Balearic Islands off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The locals also spell it Eivissa. When we arrived it was heavily overcast, so cool for a morning walk. It burned off by 11am and became sunny and hot, probably upper 80s in the shade, but in the sun and humidity it felt a lot hotter. It’s an attractive port with a number of huge private yachts and giant ferryboats. Above it all is the Dalt Vila, or old town, dominating the harbor with massive castle walls atop the highest hill. That’s where we walked, up through two sets of walls, on winding narrow streets. If it hadn’t been overcast, this would have been pretty tiring. We visited the Archeological Museum, which was beautifully designed and had interesting displays of artifacts—pottery, tools, coins, statues—representing civilizations as far back as 2,000 BC that had been unearthed on the island. They included the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Catalans.
On the way down the hill, we browsed through a number of touristy and crafty shops and had coffees at a sidewalk café. There’s a lot of hippie culture here, remnants of the 60s. So there were head shops and tie-dyed tee shirts and marijuana-leaf décor alongside nice dress shops and the ubiquitous generic tee shirts that could have come from any tropical resort. Many of the voices we heard on the street were speaking German. It was a very young crowd, with many backpackers, a late-night, party culture. Some of the bars and clubs don’t open until after midnight.
In the afternoon, we considered the beach, but it was a taxi ride away and Cheri warned us it was very difficult to get taxis on the way back. (She also warned us that the bus tour was disappointing, so not enough people signed up for it to be scheduled.)
Before dinner we attended a folkloric dancing show in the lounge. We don’t want to get into a dispute between Portugal and Catalonia, but this was a significantly more interesting show than the one in Lisbon. The male dancers played very large castanets and had very wild movements with lots of scissor kicking; picture John Cleese. The women, dressed in heavy costumes, merely tiptoed around in circles with dour facial expressions. The musician was one guy who played both the flute and the drum simultaneously, which was cool. They also managed to embarrass six audience members by making them dance along.
Dinner was a barbeque on deck. Loads of salads, plus steak, lobster, suckling pig, lamb chops, chicken, and more desserts than a circus load of fat people could consume. Wine: 1997 Torres Gran Reserva Cabernet.
Since it’s a short journey to Mallorca, we departed late—10:30. The sailing out was very dramatic at night. The Dalt Vila castle was well lighted and the whole harbor busy with lights. Our departure attracted quite a crowd of people out strolling along the harbor.
Mallorca (or Majorca in English) is the largest of the Balearic Islands and the only one with a true city, Palma. The city’s quite beautiful and has a lot of design accents that made us think we were France, not Spain. Its Old Town is one of the largest in Europe, they say. We docked a good distance from downtown and needed a taxi to get there, avoiding the 45 minute walk due to the heat. The ship offered a city tour, which was canceled for lack of sign-ups, and one to the town of Valldemosa, where Chopin had tuberculosis with George Sand. Neither called out to us, so we went out on our own. Fortunately, unlike Ibiza, taxis were plentiful.
There were two main stops downtown, right next to each other. The cathedral is really spectacular, with gorgeous, brilliant stained glass windows, which seemed more Tiffany style than gothic. And it had lots of opulent décor inside. The Almudaina Palace was also quite interesting. It was originally a Moorish castle and it was turned into a Christian-ready palace in the 13th century. The architecture was somewhat hodge-podge with modifications and repairs over the centuries, and there were lots of beautiful tapestries and sunny courtyards. A self-guided audio tour was included and it was easy to follow. We saw the office in which the king of Spain works while he’s on the island. After these two landmarks, we wandered around the old city, which was clean and interesting. There was a big open-air market in the square called Plaça Major and we enjoyed seeing performers playing Chilean-style folk music, like they do in many places in the US, but they were costumed as American Indians in full feathered headdresses. There was also a street performer dressed as Zorro. We taxied back to the ship for an early 3:30pm departure.
Dinner with Jay and Susie of Cincinnati: (oops, forgot the appetizer), tomato and grilled onion salad, Jamaican jerk chicken. Wine: 2000 Georges du Beouf Côtes du Rhône.
This was the changeover day between the two cruises. Seven couples are continuing on to Nice. We kept the same cabin, of course, and there were almost zero administrative tasks associated with starting the new cruise. We did have to repeat the lifeboat drill and sign a new credit card authorization form.
Hal had been to Barcelona on business a few years earlier, so we knew generally what to do, but Cheri provided good guidance as usual. The day was overcast until mid-afternoon, so it was pleasantly cool. We started by taxi to Park Güell (which seemed to be pronounced “Way”), a small park designed by Antoni Gaudí, the famous Barcelona architect. On the way there we passed by some of his famous buildings, such as La Pareda. He has an indescribable style, like art nouveau on LSD. A typical treatment is wave-like surfaces covered with broken shards of ceramic tile.
Next was Gaudí’s great unfinished work, the Temple of La Sagada Familia. It’s a huge undertaking with eight soaring towers 350 feet high, but only partially finished, despite having started in 1883. This is an astounding work of art, far different from any other building, and took nine years for the first drawings to be done, from the time Gaudí was chosen as the architect. Inside the museum you can see how huge it will be upon completion, with a central tower almost 650 feet, topped with a cross that has an observation deck in it. Some of the décor is quite bizarre, but it’s an awesome sight.
We walked down La Rambla, which is a lengthy tree-shaded boulevard that is the heart of Barcelona nightlife. It was lined with cafés, bird markets, book sellers, and street performers, including guys who dress up like statues and stand perfectly still until you tip them. We had pizza at a café and then found the Picasso Museum. It was very crowded, but interesting because it houses works primarily from his early life. As a teenager and in his early days, he studied and painted in a classic style and you’d never know they were his paintings. Around the 1920s he started branching out into other styles that are more familiar to us today. Then we had a coffee and people-watched at another café in a huge square full of flea-market stalls and families out for a Sunday stroll, and returned to the ship.
Dinner with Clive and his daughter Holly of Santa Barbara: Gazpacho, prosciutto with Romaine leaves, duck breast with fruit. (It appears that the menus for this second leg of the cruise are going to repeat the first week.) Wine: 1996 Edmeades Pinot Noir, which we had been given as a cabin gift by the hotel manager. Clive is the owner of Pine Traders Antiques in Santa Barbara and we’ll drop in to see his shop the next time we’re there.
Menorca (or Minorca in English) is the easternmost of the Balearic chain. Mahón’s port (or Maó in Catalano—isn’t multilingualism cool?) is at the end of a long “fjord” and entrance from the sea is quite picturesque. It is the birthplace of mayonnaise, which was whipped up to disguise some spoiled meat long ago.
We kept entirely in town during the day and it certainly is the most delightful, upscale town we’ve visited so far on the two cruises. Spotless, colorful, many lively cafés and non-tacky tourist shops. This was such a nice place that we’d consider returning in the future for a longer stay. The island specializes in two oddities: a handmade sandal that, in its original form, had car tire rubber as a sole, and gin, a holdover from a brief English rule. We didn’t visit the beach because Cheri scared us off again with tales about the difficulty of getting a return taxi ride. But we have a number of beach opportunities coming this week.
We climbed about a hundred steps of a wide staircase to reach the town and started in a bakery, where we tried an ensaïmada, a Balearic spiral pastry that was like a cross between bread and a croissant, dusted with powdered sugar. Cheri warned us that its big ingredient was lard, so we selected a small one as a cultural test; not bad, but Nancy will stick to muffins. Next door in a cheese shop, we sampled the local cheese, which tastes like a very salty parmigiano.
Next was a concert in the beautiful church of Santa Maria, played on an organ with 3,410 pipes, one of the world’s largest. There were four interesting classical pieces, followed as an unannounced encore by the famous organ work that was used in the Phantom of the Opera.
Hal found a wine shop and admired its selection of Spanish wines at excellent prices, buying two bottles for dinners later in the week. Windstar allows you to bring bottles to your table for a $10 corkage fee.
We had our now traditional coffees at a sidewalk café and people-watched. The small city was very crowded. The street along the waterfront was clean and lively. We walked along the waterfront for a half-mile or so, admiring the various yachts and large boats for rent. Lots of vacationing British families were having lunch at the sidewalk cafés.
Then lunch on the ship, followed by an expedition to the local gin factory. The manufacturing process wasn’t too interesting (we could see the stills in the back room but there was no explanation), but there were complimentary tastings of gin and a number of flavored liqueurs. The gin was pretty good, but not worth exporting by hand luggage.
At departure time, for the first time in our Windstar experiences, the ship was held up waiting for a late passenger. A couple strolled on board 20 minutes after sailing time while the captain tapped his foot on the dock. Perhaps a language problem was involved. This group of passengers is much more international than the previous, maybe a quarter speaking languages other than English. Walt told us that “two pages” of passenger listings had non-US passports, which apparently slows down immigration formalities in ports. We found out subsequently that there are large groups from Spain and Argentina. There are also ten travel agents on “fam” cruises, along with their spouses or boyfriends.
Dinner with Doug and his wife, one of the travel agents, from Portland: Sevruga caviar, celery noodle soup, and surf and turf—beef medallion and lobster tail. Wine from the Mahón shop: 1998 Les Terrasses, Priorat, which is an emerging wine region near Barcelona, difficult to find in the US.
There’s not much to this port except as an example of a small, working fishing village. The attraction is the village of Collioure, a couple of miles over the hill. The ship chartered a motorized road train, Le Petit Train Touristique, to drive us in groups of 40 to Collioure in the morning. The village was packed with people and cars because the festival of Saint Vincent was just being set up and this was the 300th anniversary of that festival. It was too early for us to see any actual festivities, but lots of booths were going up. Collioure was the birthplace of Fauvism painting because of the bright colors in town and on the beach. We strolled around the shops and visited the big castle, which had been built starting in the 13th century. (The castle brochure mentioned a great name we wanted to remember: Wamba, King of the Visigoths.) We walked along the sea wall and watched people on the crowded beach, which was completely covered with stones. Some of the ladies on the beach were not completely covered, however.
We had lunch at a very crowded sidewalk restaurant called Copacabana, trying assorted plates of crustaceans and shellfish with various mayonnaise-based dipping sauces (one garlic, one saffron), along with a small bottle of 1999 Côtes du Rousillon. Then delicious ice cream cones at one of the many stands; they were more like Italian gelato than American ice cream and came in many flavors, displayed in glass cases in fluffy mounds with the fruit or nut of their flavor on top.
The return trip was on the little train, but rather than going straight back, we headed slowly up into the hills overlooking both towns and saw beautiful vistas of the sea and steeply terraced vineyards, mostly of the Banyuls appellation. There was a long running explanation of the scenery from the driver, but only in French, so we just enjoyed the view. We stopped briefly at a little fort or castle on the highest peak.
After we left the port, the sails went up and the engine was shut down for the first time since Lisbon. The captain was really excited to announce this, but he added that we were actually sailing in the wrong direction, so we’d have to resume engine travel later in the evening. (In our Caribbean cruise last year, the winds cooperated about 60% of the time.)
Dinner with Jerry and Gilda of Palm Beach: carrot soup, tomato and mozzarella salad, and local swordfish on mashed potato with a chunky tomato salsa. Wine: 1997 Chateau Sainte Michelle Washington Chardonnay.
We were not anticipating great things in Marseille. Our bus tour to Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape was cancelled and Cheri was warning us about how deserted the city would be on this holiday, the festival of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, which shuts down all of Catholic Europe. But we had an excellent time all day anyway.
We took a substitute bus tour to Aix-en-Provence, a considerably shorter ride. (So far on this leg of the cruise, four of six of the shore tours have been cancelled for lack of sign-ups.) We had a nice young lady as a tour guide and she crammed us with information and color about Aix, Cézanne, and Provence. It was primarily a walking tour and although we had visited Aix a few years ago, we learned a lot from her descriptions. It’s a very pretty ancient town (founded in 600 B.C.), small enough to walk across through the winding cobblestone streets, and quiet due to the holiday. We enjoyed coffee at the Café des Deux Garcons, where Cézanne and Emile Zola had a drink together every afternoon. On the return bus ride, we stopped for photos at the Longchamps Palace, which is a spectacular monument commemorating the completion in 1869 of a big canal supplying water to Aix. Easy access to water is very important and luxurious in a hot, dry climate: each public square and corner contained a lovely old fountain, totaling 40 in the town. We couldn’t visit the museums behind the monument since they were closed due to the holiday; they reputedly have fossilized dinosaur eggs found in the area.
Back in Marseille by lunch time, we walked around the Old Port, its giant marina, and numerous sidewalk cafés. The day started off quite cool, but it got blazing hot in the sun later in the afternoon. We taxied up a steep hill to the Basilica Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the symbol of Marseille. It was a beautiful cathedral inside and out, but its main feature was a stupendous panoramic view of Marseille, the mountains, the port, nearby islands, and the sea. It was very crowded with visitors due to the religious holiday; in fact there was a Mass in progress so we tiptoed around in the back to admire the inside. There were no taxis to be found for our return, so we walked down the hill, which was less strenuous than you’d imagine when seeing the basilica from the ship, way off in the distance.
Dinner with Andy and Pam: a repeat of Friday’s barbeque on deck, a true Cavalcade of Meat. Wine from the Mahón shop: 1997 Tinto Pesquera Riserva, Ribera del Duero. Unlike Friday, we lingered after dinner and got to see an entertaining show. About ten of the waiters danced to Kathy and Si’s music, including a well-choreographed line dance, a limbo, the Macarena, and a conga line. A lot of the women passengers joined in, but the men were more reluctant. The port was beautiful with the cranes bathed in colored lights and the Basilica fully illuminated on the hill above us. We departed Marseille at 10:40.
After the late night, the decks were deserted until at least 10am. Sanary was a typical fishing port of modest size and we chose to read on deck for the morning. Others who went ashore thought the street market was interesting. After lunch, the Indonesian buffet, we went on the sole shore excursion. Once again we had an excellent young lady, Dominque, as a guide and we bussed to Le Castellet, which is a tiny medieval village clinging to a hilltop. There’s not much to see there, other than to soak up ambiance and shop. The village was essentially abandoned until recently, but the French seem to be gearing themselves towards restoring their heritage in touristy ways. There were beautiful vistas to enjoy.
The second stop was at a winery called Domaine de Souviou. They also have beautiful olive trees, some of which were 1,000 years old with massive trunks, and yet still productive. We didn’t get to see much of the winery, but had a tasting of three of their wines and two of their olive oils, all of which were pretty good and very inexpensive. The wines were from the Bandol appellation, a subset of Côtes du Provence: a white of Clairette and Ugni Blanc, a refreshing rosé, and fragrant red of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Cinsault.
Sanary is a tender port, so the sports deck was open for the first time in the week. It was used for scuba-related things in the morning and general swimming and other sports only in the afternoon.
Before dinner the captain announced that thunderstorms were forecast for Friday and he was changing our itinerary to stop at Saint-Tropez instead of Ile de Porquerolles, which is a beach-only port. That brought great rejoicing among the passengers.
We dined at the captain’s table along with the Hotel Manager and ten guests. Nancy sat next to both officers, half of the meal each, and Hal next to the captain’s mother. The captain’s parents revealed that they honeymooned in Saint-Tropez and hadn’t been there in 46 years, which made us wonder about the true reason for the itinerary change, but we weren’t complaining. Dinner: crispy salmon, vichyssoise with caviar, and grilled grouper with Basque vegetables. Wines, selected by the captain, and served very generously: Rutherford Hill Chardonnay and Cambria Pinot Noir.
It turned out that the weather report was correct—Porquerolles had rain in the morning, but Saint-Tropez was sunny, with some overcast in the afternoon cutting the temperature nicely. It was also accessed by tender. Due to the very busy yachting traffic, though, there was a prohibition on motorized activities from the sports deck.
We tendered in at 10am and visited the Annonciade museum, a relatively small collection of impressionist paintings. There was an exhibition of Marquet as well as their permanent collection. Walking along the Old Port, we marveled at the enormous yachts squeezed in side-by-side. Most had dining tables or lounges at the stern, so they were able to breakfast like at a sidewalk café, although why they wanted the hordes of tourists to gawk at them was beyond us. We watched as a yacht departed, probably 100 feet long and much larger than our house. It had less than a foot of lateral clearance and three crews frantically moved bumpers along to keep the boats from scraping each other. We had coffee at a sidewalk café and watched the crowds. Some local celebrity must have been there because all sorts of teenaged girls were hovering around, giggling. The town was a complete zoo. The sidewalks were full, causing half of the pedestrian traffic to spill over into the street, where they had to dodge motorbikes and cars whizzing around chaotically.
After the barbeque lunch on board, we returned to check out the “Catamaran” beach that was a 15-minute walk away. It looked very pleasant and not super crowded, but we were walking and gawking, not swimming. Then we spent the next hour or so roaming around the shopping areas. Saint-Tropez has 400 shops, but most of them close from 1pm to 4pm. There’s a castle in town with a maritime and military history museum, but we’d had enough castles on this trip. On the ride back to the ship, our tender hit a small sailboat while our captain was on board (traveling undercover in civvies). We left a big smudge on the boat, but the owner didn’t make a real fuss about it, so off we sailed.
Dinner with Linda and Natalie of Chicago and Cleveland: grilled Portobello mushroom, shitake salad, Osso Bucco. Wine: 1998 B&G Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
After dinner the ship cruised around the harbor of Saint Raphaël where a fireworks show was launched from the casino there. Quite a large number of boats were in the harbor watching with us.
We had been impressed with the yachts in Saint-Tropez, but the ones in Cannes were even larger. (Cheri told us a local saying that Saint-Tropez yachts are generally leased, but Cannes yachts are owned.) There was one anchored near us that appeared to be a 1950s era cruise ship that had been converted to private use. We also passed by a smaller, but still very large ship that was rumored to be either Prince Rainier’s or the richest woman in Kuwait. It had a white helicopter parked on board.
Today was our final shore excursion. We started in Grasse, the capital of French perfume, and visited the Fragonard factory. This was only marginally interesting since it concentrated on selling us off-label perfumes, soaps, etc. Then to Saint Paul du Vence, which is another medieval town on a hilltop that has been turned into a series of art galleries and cafés. It was larger and more upscale than Le Castellet and had a long pedigree of famous artists and celebrities who lived there, such as Modigliani, Sartre, and Catherine Deneuve. This tour was definitely not oriented to the male passengers, but Hal found the town quite picturesque.
After lunch we walked down the Croisette boulevard and passed by a number of famous hotels, such as the Carlton, the charmless “Bunker” building where they hold the annual film festival, and checked out the beaches. All beaches in Cannes are artificial with sand trucked in to cover the stone surface. Most of them are privately owned by hotels and restaurants and you have to rent your space, chair, and umbrella for the day. It looked like approximately $10 per person per day. We decided not to because the people were packed in like sardines. The beach umbrellas seemed to cover 90% of the sky. The water looked calm and shallow, without appeal to us. So, alas, through various misadventures we spent two weeks cruising to beach ports and never swam on a beach. After the beach inspection we roamed through a flea market, browsed through shops, and once again people-watched at a sidewalk café. Cannes seems to be the shopping Mecca of all the ports we visited, with all the big Paris shops represented.
Dinner: shrimp cocktail, tomato and grilled onion salad, rack of lamb. Wine: 1997 Edmeades Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
This was our last day on Wind Star. We found out earlier in the week that the ship would arrive in Nice too late (7am) to accommodate our return flight (8:20), so with the assistance of Walt, our host, we got a hotel at the Nice airport for Saturday night and left the ship after dinner to taxi there. The disembarkation procedure was completely effortless and the crew was very friendly and helpful getting us and our luggage tendered and into the taxi they arranged.
An uneventful return trip: British Airways from Nice to Heathrow, then UAL back to SFO. Hal was delighted that he gained only two pounds (versus ten last year), but Nancy is mum. Unfortunately, the tans are already fading.
The Wind Star powered sailing ship is intimately small, carrying 148 passengers, generally including a significant percentage of “repeaters.” It is somewhat like a big private yacht in tone, without the constant public address chatter and merchandising. No big shows after dinner (the lounge had a keyboardist/singer duo), no bingo, no ship photographers, no gentleman hosts dancing with single ladies, no art auctions, no “horse races,” no Mariachi bands and streamers leaving ports. (They do have music as the sails unfurl: Vangelis’ new age theme from the movie 1492. Oddly, this movie wasn’t in the ship’s video library. Nor was Poseidon Adventure or Titanic.)
The passengers on this cruise seemed to average about 50 (versus low 60s in our 2000 cruise). There weren’t a lot of really elderly. (This is not a ship for the frail or disabled—no elevators, and wheelchairs would find obstacles at most doors.) There were a few children on board, but there are absolutely no child-oriented facilities or activities. Few smokers, but cigars on deck at night were popular. We’d say we met about a quarter of the passengers and socialized with about two dozen of them. (This is a lower percentage than in 2000, due mostly to the corporate or nationality groups that kept to themselves.) The officers were mostly British, the crew from Indonesia and the Philippines.
The cabin was quite nice, said to be 188 square feet. The queen bed was formed from two twins, which could be separated. The bathroom had a nice strong shower, but other aspects were pretty similar to a conventional cruise ship, including the underpowered hair dryer and low ceiling. Very tasteful room decor, more reminiscent of a yacht than a Holiday Inn: lots of polished dark wood trim. Minibar and snacks for sale at slightly less than typical hotel equivalent prices. Two small portholes. 19-inch TV with recent movies and CNN International. The ship library, which has only a handful of books, has about 500 videocassettes of movies from about one year and older; also a large collection of CDs for the room stereo. All of the outlets were 110 volt. Probably the best thing about the room was its quiet; we could hear the waves, but rarely heard our neighbors.
Dining was delightful, and Hal is normally quite a critic. It clearly was the highlight of the cruise for us. There was one seating at dinner and you could arrive anytime from 7:30 to 9:30 and sit alone, with friends, or ask to meet new people. We were a bit apprehensive about this policy because we’re somewhat shy and ungregarious, but it worked great and we met a lot of nice people. There were tables for 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12. The officers seemed placed at random except on the one night the captain hosted a table for 12. (In 2000, dinner filled up pretty early with only a few stragglers after 8pm, but this year some tables didn’t arrive until 9.)
The food was excellent: all fresh, prepared from scratch—no pre-packaged meals. The chef worked to the standards and menus of Joachim Splichal, whose food we’ve enjoyed at Patina in LA and Pinot Blanc in the Napa Valley. We’ve included Hal’s menu choices in the daily log; there were always five courses—3 appetizer, 2 soup, 2 salad, 5 main, and 5 dessert. There was also a vegetarian main course, and a full “light” menu. Hal often skipped dessert, but Nancy said they were great.
The wine list was larger (106 bottles) than most restaurants’ and prices were not outrageous. Most were mass-availability wines, as you might expect, so very few hidden treasures appeared, but there were a number of decent choices in the $20-40 range. None were too young, as you often find in restaurants. The by-the-glass selections were limited. Oddly, at the poolside bar there was an interesting selection of wines from local ports available by the glass, but this wasn’t carried into the inside bar or dining room. In terms of soft drinks, iced tea was free, but canned soda from the bar was $2.25.
Breakfast and lunch were in the Veranda, offering in- or outdoor seating, with both a buffet and menu choices. The quality and selections were excellent. Breakfast had a great fruit buffet, pastries, cereals, waffles or pancakes, and lots of different egg dishes. Memorable highlights of lunch were the great salads and the daily bread pudding, pizza, and toasted sandwich selections. The coffee was pretty good and they sold (caffeinated) espresso drinks. 4:00 - 5:00 daily was tea time with sandwiches, cookies, and fruit at the pool bar, 6:30 - 7:30 was the cocktail hour, with different hors d'oeuvre each evening served by the chef himself. Unlike big cruise ships, there was no late-night buffet (or champagne waterfalls), but there was 24-hour room service, including the full dining room menu during meal times. (We never saw the point of exercising this option.)
The dress code for cocktails and dinner was “casual elegance,” with casual the operative word: no jeans, shorts, tee shirts, hats, or sneakers, but otherwise it was like a Silicon Valley restaurant. No formal nights or ties. Hal wore short-sleeved collared shirts and khakis every night. Despite a cruise review we read that talked about little black dresses and lots of jewelry, only a few women did that. The other meals are completely casual, including bathing suits.
Service was understated and excellent. Waiters and bar guys learned our names within a few days and greeted us on deck. This was impressive given that we didn't have fixed seatings and the same waiters every night. We rarely saw our cabin steward outside the hallway, but he worked effectively in the background.
The deck areas were small, but had adequate seating and reclining space for everyone. One of my only gripes about this cruise is that there was insufficient shaded space on deck—room for maybe a dozen lounge chairs. Otherwise, it was sit at a covered table in the noisy bar or fry yourself to Melanomaville. On at-sea days there was a good deal of jockeying to get the shady spots as they moved around. When the sails were up, more shade was available. Some awnings or umbrellas would be nice. There was a tiny pool, suitable for four standing up, and a hot tub for three or four. Inside were a small gym with a sauna and some sort of beauty salon.
A nice yacht-like feature was open access to the bridge, and we visited frequently to check the charts and radar screens. The officers were always friendly.