Glimpses of places and people, trees and textiles found while traveling from May to December 2013. Coming your way in small wavelets from time to time.

Month: October, 2013


Say Spain, and we all think tapas, so here are a few quick tastes of our short visit to Spain. Cadiz, the port du jour, is an historical city that goes back to the Phoenicians. It also tells tales of more seafaring men in small boats who dared to venture towards the horizon in the late 1400’s. In our two days there, we only enjoyed an evening in Cadiz. During both days we ventured out first to the ‘white cities’ of Arcos de la Frontera and Ronda, and on the second day to Seville. Both Arcos and Ronda are perched on high spots, with winding streets that lead to a vista. image Ronda was especially lovely as it has tiles everywhere, more small streets with their classic geraniums, imagesquares with fountains, and doors with the detail in iron that you also find in other things like Spanish leather. image A highlight of the visit was to the bullring. It is the largest in Spain, and our guide took us onto the ochre colored sand of the ring itself as well as behind the arena to where the horses and bulls are kept. We saw the ‘traje de luces’ suits worn by the toreadors too, but it was the smell and feel of the ring itself that left an impression; tense and sunny and evocative. Bullfighting is a tradition that brings a spark to the eyes of some people and a stony look from others. image The most memorable thing about Ronda, without a doubt, is the precipice it clings to and the views from the edges. image imageimage
Seville was a whirlwind tour with students from the ship, but I got to visit places that I missed on an earlier visit when I was working, like the Plaza de Espana built for the World Exposition in 1929. It still impresses with its tile work, the sweep of history it details, its fountains and the very fact that it was built to last! image Like standing at a bar in Spain, with a crowd around you, a glass of lovely red wine and those little plates of olives and shrimp and maybe a Spanish tortilla of egg, this visit to Seville was intense–a buzz in your ears and your head. Amazingly, within the few hours we had in Seville, we also got to see our friend Paco. From Granada [we all met in Mexico in 2011; a long story], he is a fine painter and marvelous person. We enjoyed a meal at just the bar mentioned earlier where we talked non-stop switching in and out of English and Spanish, catching up with his life and work and future plans. image He joined our group and together we visited the cathedral, image and also the Alcazar, a place that definitely is not a tapa–it deserves hours and hours to savor, but we got a taste. Then it was back on the bus to Cadiz. image I lived in Spain for several months in the 1960’s, visited it for work a few times in the decades after that, and on this return visit it tugged at me to stay. I would like to have enjoyed many more savory small plates, or even better a long, leisurely mid-day meal! But, it had to be enough for now. Next, it’s Casablanca, for me a totally new city and a totally new continent.image


Portuguese is a lovely language to hear spoken and Lisboa sounds so sweet. But it is not Spanish and the Portuguese prefer to use English to their neighbors’ language. So I felt a bit like the weather; a mix of rain showers and strong winds or sunny and calm. I was able to catch phrases only hit and miss; or I understood well. Lisbon is a stunning city with hilly, narrow, steep winding stairways in the Alfama district and broad plazas by the sea. A famous tram wends its way up and down full of tourists as it is the cheap way to get a city tour. But, we used our one-day bus pass and our feet to get around even more, including taking the funicular which climbs up a narrow street to this view.image Taking a bit from Rick Steve’s Walking Guide to Lisbon we visited the Port Institute to try and to buy some port. Then it was down the hill to a lovely square where we had lunch outside, down some more to the fashionable district where Greg sat with a statue of Passoa, a famous Portuguese writer…image and then eventually back to sea level. This port du jour offered good walking, good trams and one family restaurant’s tight quarters and memorable cod with potatoes roasted in a Bernaise sauce. imageWe also found one very unusual tree [you may recall that one goal with this blog was to bring you trees; but, well, there are not a lot of trees at sea] and a great view of the ship.imageimage One highlight of this port for me was the tile museum housed in the Convento da Madre de Deus. The old convent itself is a wonderful building and the collection of tiles offers early patterns that travelled all over the new world as the Portuguese explored, exploited and taught their craft traditions to the people they colonized. image Another day we went to a nearby area called Belem where pastel de nata is a tradition. This is custard in flakey pastry and when you need to jump inside as the rain and wind take over, this is the treat to order. In Belem the Monastery of Jeronimos dominates. Inside I found more trees of sorts as the pillars of this huge cathedral reach the ceiling as palms and the fronds are the supports.image The stained glass windows are also wonderful, especially this Madonna and child on the high seas supported by four ships. The Portuguese explored early and were amazing navigators. They wanted to cut out the middle men of the Silk Road and so sailed south along the west coast of Africa where we will be soon too. Their colonies may not have lasted as long as the British ones, but they sailed out fearlessly towards the horizon when its edge was still maybe the end of everything.image I would like to return to Lisbon because I would add visiting the Gulbenkian Museum, exploring more of the Alfama , and hearing late night ‘fado’ to my experiences. For now, this quick bite of Lisbon is just that–a taste of a place worth returning to for a full meal.

Dublin’s Crescent Bay

image This is a famous Dublin pub, but to be honest I didn’t go there. Instead I took the hop-on, hop-off city tour bus with friends from the ship and we got a sense of the city in a couple of hours. Then we had lunch in Avoca in Suffock St. Do eat there; keep climbing the stairs! The food and the setting are both great. But, a need to be with plants and rocks took over and so this port du jour is really all about the two points of the crescent that form the bay which Dublin port anchors. So, today’s fare is a picnic; a richly filled, hearty sandwich.
image Here is a view of Howth from the cliff path which wends its way along and above high, rugged cliffs. A short train ride out of Dublin, this village attracts a lot of walkers, and we joined them. Mist and fog swooped up from the sea on the way out to find Summit Pub, and views were silver, grey and subtle.image The vegetation this late September day was end-of-summer fragrant and the fish and chips at the end of the trail were all we needed to top off the hike.image The filling of this sandwich was a day trip to London. Yes, we flew to London and back from Dublin in one day. Our six hours in London were at a birthday party for Aunt Margery who turned 100. It was a gathering of her clan not to be missed. Greg’s folks are as varied as most family’s and then some. Margery held court well–here she is with Greg, and here is the clan from Marg at 100 to Xavier at 8 weeks.imageimage At the other end of the crescent shaped bay is Bray and beyond it Greystones. As Greg was busy with his students, I took the train to Bray and walked 6.5K along more cliffs with breathtaking views and great vegetation to Greystones. My destination was The Happy Peach, a highly recommended eatery. I found it and it was full of happy people as this day was like mid-summer, in the 80’s, and everyone was out. No seat to be found, I went to another nice spot for a richly creamy fish chowder and an ice cold lager. So, here are a few more images of terra firma before the ship sailed across the Bay of Biscay [notorious for its rough waters] to Lisbon.

Antwerp! Delightful!

Antwerp was different from what I expected, and delightful! Such contrasts in such a small space. From the cathedral with its tall spire and inside its four stunning religious works by P.P Rubens to the main square with its old-world charm on all sides.imageimage to the ultra chic shops with Vogue worthy clothes for children, for gala occasions, even for everyday. There were windows dressed to please the eye and inside the shops fabrics to feel and tailoring to savor. As well, here are two door handles to stunning shops. I found that there is a lot of creativity in Antwerp.imageimage So, I have offered a few tastes to start off this port du jour. For the main course, you have two choices. First is the Museum Platin-Moretus, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The building itself is wonderful and was the home and workshops of l6th century men who founded one of the first book printing houses in Europe. Inside are racks of lead type for printing Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, English…and rooms with walls covered in Spanish embossed leather. The museum gives you a feel for how the family and the workers lived and produced books in a complex series of rooms whose wide, dark floor planks groan and sigh as you walk around. In the middle is a lovely garden. Here is my good friend Andrea in the courtyard. image And here details of more iron work–a lock on a window in the museum and a printing press.imageimage And I haven’t begun to mention the collection of antique books…
Your second choice for the main course is MAS–Museum aan de Stroom–a brand new 10 story building that anchors the revival of a sketchy port area. There is a panoramic view of Antwerp from the top floor, and inside is a first class contemporary museum. It uses sound, touch, as well as smell and the usual sense of sight to draw you in. The exhibit on death–yes, you do want to try this choice–presented various cultures’ approaches and rituals. It was enveloping in the best sense of the word. Another floor had a collection of pre-Colombian art to rival what I have seen at the Met. in NYC and the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Belgian collectors brought home a lot of loot…Sorry–no photos to share and intice you. But, I promise that a visit to the MAS would surprise you in a wonderful way!
For this port though, I think dessert is the best. Not these Gent noses, a sickenly sweet tradition in Gent. Think bubble gum and Kool aid…one bite does it.
image But, a visit to our friends in Gent and the city itself are the best dessert I could imagine. Gent is a larger Brugge with canals, charming buildings, and bridges. And Mia and Lowie showed us such a good time. We met them in Costa Rica. He is a building contractor and she is a homemaker. To be with a family was a sweet treat. It was a warm and cosy way to end our time in Belgium, a country not given its due, I feel. Antwerp and Gent are both delightful cities. Here we are with Mia and Lowie, and in turn, they are with their son, partner and daughter.image image Belgium is a crossroads of languages and cultures worth lingering in a while. We could have stayed longer. Here we are with our friends: Tom from Belgium, Andrea, Mia and Lowie.image


Hamburg is a wealthy, prosperous German success story. The multi-euro renovation of its port area is underway and when it is completed the whole port area will shine. Hamburg already shines since it has lakes and canals and water to reflect the light. So to begin this port du jour, here is a shot of one of many bridges, and Greg enjoying a whimsical cube with horns sticking out of it. Part of an art installation in the new harbor, the concept is that you listen to various styles of music by moving from horn to horn. Let’s say that it begins our meal with flair!imageimageWalking around Hamburg is delightful. There are very upscale, posh shops, and stylish cafes, as well as an old Rathaus on the square. Do walk the city! You might, for example, cross this small bridge covered with padlocks inscribed with love notes. This pop-up-event started in France apparently, a gesture of love. So for your second course, here are the love-locks.image imageFor the main course, let’s go by train to Lubeck, an old-style city where Thomas and Heinrich Mann lived. The Buddenbrooks museum is full of photos and stories of the Mann family–the successful elders and their neurotic children with their insecurities and failures. It is a rich mix of tastes. Gunter Grass also lived here. His sculpture was new to me as I mainly know him as a writer. Here is his flounder for the main course! image
image Back on the street in Lubeck, let’s return to Hamburg and for dessert visit the Deichtor Hallen–one of the many art museums. Maria Lassnig, an Austrian painter with a one-woman show, caught our fancy for sure. She painted many self-portraits. Herself as an astronaut, rowing a boat; her style is unmistakable and I will remember her. This painting captured my fears of how this voyage might turn out. Thank goodness, not yet! But, here she is for dessert–a strange, blue concoction that is more nouvelle cuisine than apple strudel. And that is Hamburg too, very modern and business-centered. On the move, at the crest of the wave, not in the trough.image Twilight is lovely in the north at the end of summer. The Hamburg skyline glows. Do visit the city! It is a gem.image

St. Petersburg

To begin your leisurely Russian meal, here is a starter of music from a horn band. Each horn plays one note, like a bell choir. So the fanfare for this port du jour is a Russian folk song played by tuned horns in the gardens of Peterhof, a wonderful palace built to glorify Peter the Great and his kin.imageimage On your bread plate, please find this piece of folk art from the Russian Museum (a museum not to be missed). Perhaps you too think of the art of the Pacific Northwest, or Finnish or Swedish folk art–it is northern, simple and hearty.image Your salad is from Peterhof again, where the fountains in the lower garden splash and paths lead you to the Bay of Finland. Here is a view of symmetry and green and splashing water to prepare you for what’s next.image
The Hermitage was everything you have heard about it. If you have seen the film Russian Ark, you know of its many rooms, its gilt and surface ornamentation–every inch offers something to see. It’s a rich main course! Here is the stairway into one of the hundreds of rooms. Just imagine this richness for a few minutes and you’ll know how full we felt after being there!image As you relax after that plate of golden, rich and filling splendor, let’s talk about a new artist to me, Ivan Shushkin, whom I discovered in the Russian Museum. Not well known because he is perhaps too fond of landscapes and too realistic for some folks. I found his oak trees wonderful. Painted with a love of detail, light and romanticism. But, let’s go back to the Hermitage and its familiars. In case you want a second helping, here is the dome of the chapel at Peterhof.image. This candy floss collection of domes makes a wonderfully colorful dessert. Don’t let the name “Church of the Spilled Blood” put you off! It is a landmark you see from many different places in the city, and it always bring a smile.image. Well, I hope all that was as tasty and as filling as St.Petersburg was to experience. Let’s step outside and find a little cafe for the expresso to end the meal, and maybe a little digestif. These young men from some music conservatory were improvising on a theme of their making that mixed contemporary, strident sounds of a possibly Russian composer with their own young tastes. It was not soothing. Like our first port of call, it was a little raw, a little fanciful, with a little gloss to hide work needed behind the scenes; but, also full of a strong heritage that admires the achievements of a chosen few who lived life at the top. And the music was certainly heartfelt and full of hopeful energy. We ended our St. Petersburg visit very satisfied, and contributed our coins to help these lads earn a little something for being out there improvising music and adding youthful zest to an amazing city. image

At Sea

What can I say? The sea took over! So many waves to choose from. Just look at these photos from our cabin window. I am overwhelmed. That’s a poor excuse for this long pause. But maybe it’s not only so many waves, but also so many ports.image

So, I will attempt to send wavelets or portlets; let’s call it a “port du jour” or a “port del dia” featuring this chef’s best try for fresh local ingredients served in her own style with a twist of something unexpected.image
SMI – So Much Information in just six weeks of the voyage! I have been learning how to be a Good Tourist, and declare it tough but doable.image But these waves! And these ports!
Soon I’ll begin by looking back. St. Petersburg will be offered in three small courses. For now, please find a comfortable seat by the window and enjoy the sea.image