Saturday, July 8, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - Sea Day #2


This would be the second and last sea day of the trip. Again, we set our alarms too late to get breakfast in one of the dining rooms, and had to eat in the buffet. With one exception, we had nothing to do today except to get photographs taken in the portrait gallery.

After a relaxing afternoon, we got dressed in our “formal” wear, and hastened to the gallery. Unlike the color photos taken all over the ship by ship photographers, these photos would be in monochrome, tones of silver and gray giving shape to the contours of our faces.

Unlike other parts of the ship, the portrait gallery can be reached by only one elevator in the aft part of the ship. We were lucky to be able to find that elevator and summon it to reach our desired floor on time for our appointment. When we got to the selected floor, we had to navigate a short and narrow maze to reach the studio, And then the photography session started. I started posing for a few photos, and then RQS joined me for some couples photographs. It took a joke from me to bring life back to the smile on RQS’s face before she posed alone for more photos.

Once done with the photographer, it was time to go to our second specialty dinner. As with our first visit, the restaurant seemed understaffed. But once service started, we had no complaints. Dinner was flawless. After we were done, it was time to go to the lounge to meet the couple we met earlier in the week. This time, RQS felt much more comfortable chatting with this couple. Hopefully, we will connect with them again while on the cruise, and when they are passing through New York for a future cruise.

Friday, July 7, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - San Francisco (Day Two)


The first thing I wanted to do today was to take a trip to Fort Point, and pay my respects to my late wife. (This is where I scattered her ashes.) Unfortunately, the fort was closed, and I scuttled this plan for the day. Instead, we were off to the Swan Oyster Depot to have a good seafood meal.

After breakfast, we bought another day pass on the Muni, and walked over to the trolley stop to start our journey. Instead of the expected trolley car, a bus was servicing the line. This would be the theme for today’s travel - substitution. Even if we wanted to take a cable car for part of today’s rides, it looked like San Francisco’s cable car network wasn’t running, as I saw some buses running on the California Street cable car line as substitutes for the cable cars. The bus we took to the Oyster Depot was rerouted to avoid the area where the president was in town for a conference.

We made it to the Oyster Depot by 12:30, and ended up waiting 45 minutes to be seated. With only 18 seats in the place, a long wait is always possible here. But once seated and fed, it was all worth the effort to make it here. YUM! I had the smoked salmon with shrimp salad, while RQS had the mixed plate of clams and oysters. Both of us had clam chowder. It was well worth the $120 spent on this meal.


Then, it was back to the ship. Both of us knew that our stay in “Fog City” was too short, and that we’d want to visit this city again. As the ship left the bay, RQS and I got some interesting pictures from our balcony. It was too bad I couldn’t have book-ended stills and videos of our arrival in the San Francisco bay with our leaving the bay. But it was nice to get views of both Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge on our way to our next stop, San Diego.

This was not yet the end of our day. It was Italian Night in the main dining room, and our waiter made sure that we had extra dishes for each course. Yum! Although we didn’t eat everything in front of us, we had a good sampler of what the restaurant had to offer. And this was a nice touch that we didn’t experience on our other cruises. Did I eat too much? For the day, yes. But not at this meal. Everything was served in “human sized” portions. So if I had been hungry, I’d have no problem ordering a second (or third) place of something to enjoy.

Once done with dinner, it was off to the lounge, where we saw our two friends from the other night. This time, Sue was more a part of the conversation, and we had a couple of hours of good chatting before it was time to go to bed for the night.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - San Francisco (Day One)


The first thing we wanted to do today was a shore excursion to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  I’ve been there a couple of times before, and felt that would be a perfect place to take RQS on her first visit to the city.  So, after a rushed breakfast, we were off to find the tour bus that would take us to the garden.

One thing I have noted about tour guides is that they will often use “filler site” descriptions to avoid moments of silence on bus trips to the sites that people want to see.  For example, I can imagine a bus tour through Hartford Ct, where the tour guide says: “We are now passing the John Oliver Memorial Sewer Plant” when the guide has nothing else to say on a long ride,  And this ride was no exception.  

RQS was not disappointed by my choice of excursions.  This 5-Acre site is well worth the visit, as one can not help but get a beautiful, serene view from anywhere in the garden.  And after 90 minutes, it was back to the ship.  I found it hard to believe that we had already walked 2.5 miles, and still had more to go today.

After lunch, it was off the ship, and on to the Musee Mechanique at Fisherman’s Wharf.  There are many old time coin operated machines to enjoy there, as well as the more modern pinball and video arcade machines we grew up with.  One of my favorites is an old Wurlitzer which is a work of art that still plays music as if it were brand new.

Our next stop was to have clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.  Yum!  It was a little pricey, but not outside of reason.  So we sat down in the cool San Francisco air and enjoyed some soup before getting on the Market Street Historic Trolley to the end of the line.

We had to wait a while for the trolley, and when it came, RQS and I were forced to sit in separate seats. This allowed me to get into a conversation with a SF local who told us how his city has changed since the pandemic.  Most of the downtown storefronts and office towers seem unoccupied, as the technology elite are now working from home.  Downtown office space is no longer needed, and the business depending on these workers have closed up shop.  We saw evidence of this ourselves, and still wish we could afford to live in this city.  


Eventually, the trolley landed us in The Castro, and we decided to walk around a little.  We explored one of the local “general stores” (I don’t know how else to label it) and then walked back to the trolley stop.  On the way back, both RQS and I got a glimpse of a man, who if painted in gold, would look like a walking Oscar statuette.  The most notable thing about this man was that he was completely naked!  This fellow is a fixture around The Castro, and RQS only wished she had her camera out at the time, as her friends might not believe this otherwise.

The trolley ride back from The Castro was uneventful.  By the time we were back on the ship, we were too tired to do anything but have dinner and go to bed.  Four and a half miles of walking will do that to us.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - Sea Day #1


Sea Day #1.  

This was a day to relax.  We had nothing to do and nowhere to go. So we stayed in bed and had a late breakfast.  After exploring the ship a little, it was time for lunch in the main dining room. And that is where we shared a table with two ladies who went to college together.

Often, it is quicker and easier to get a table in the main dining room when one is willing to share a table with others.  This is something I tend to do on most of my cruises, as it allows me to meet with new people and learn new things.  This time, RQS and I were able to share some of our Eastern Canada / New England cruise experiences with others who had an interest in the itinerary.

After lunch, we decided to rest a while before dressing up for dinner.  RQS made a stop at the ice cream station on the lido deck where she got a specialty dessert for us to split.  (Getting these desserts is a perk we are entitled to in our cruise package.) It was yummy, but not something I’d have every day.

Soon enough, it was time for us to get dressed for the evening. Unlike one extremely formal cruise line I want to take soon, I didn’t need a “Dinner Suit” for formal night.  Princess is happy when women get dressed in nice dresses, and the men get dressed in a blazer, shirt & tie with a pair of dress slacks.  This would be the first time we got dressed up since our last cruise, and we enjoyed it.

Dinner in the specialty dining restaurant (the steak house) was good.  But one thing marred it a little.  The place was understaffed, and it took a while for service to get started.  When it did, it was up to the level met by the complimentary restaurants on the ship.  RQS was impressed, as it was a consistently higher level of service than NCL has on its ships. Yet, both of us agreed that NCL’s steak house had the better quality steak.

So how would we rate the ship so far in this cruise?  Princess has better quality service.  There are not as many attempts to upsell the cruiser extra products and services to make money.  We both prefer NCL’s buffet, but prefer Princess’s main dining rooms.  We are not as happy with Princess’s Medallion experience as we’d like, as the App doesn’t carry all the information one might need from the daily Princess Patter (such as times restaurants are open), but it is something I’d like to see implemented on other cruise lines.  

After dinner, we met up with a couple of people at the lounge.  We had a nice chat, although the band was playing too loud for comfort.  I wonder - is the band playing loud because the older demographic of the cruisers imply hearing troubles?  Who knows?  But I’d have loved to have chatted in an area less noisy.  At least, I was able to use my louder male voice for conversation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - Embarkation Day


Embarkation Day.  This is where I figured that we'd have some problems because I had lost (or misplaced) my Princess Medallion.  And I was right....

- - - - - -

Getting up this morning, I knew that when I arrived at the pier, that I'd have to go through a gauntlet of headaches before we could get to our cabin.  So I made sure to touch base (again) with the Princess personnel at the hotel to confirm what I needed to do to get on the ship.  And then the fun began.

RQS and I refused to pay $50 to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast.  So we got on line for the in-house Starbucks, where we found reasonably priced breakfast beverages and refreshments before getting on the bus to the cruise ship in San Pedro.  While making a Bio-Break, the bus came and RQS went outside for the bus.  She didn't hear me announce that "I had to see a man about a horse," so she went outside looking for me.  I got a little anxious looking for her, but things turned out all right and the bus started making its way to the pier.

Once at the pier, we had our first expected problem.  It took forever for the people at the pier to cut one-time-use cruise cards that we'd use to get on the ship.  And then, we walked onto the ship and into our second headache - the wait at Guest Services.  Normally, a visit to Guest Services shouldn't take too long.  But it was chaos in front of the desk, and the air conditioning was not able to keep up with the heat.  As a result, I was dripping when I approached the counter.  (Thankfully, I had no need to wear a wig on this trip, as I'd be presenting as Mario for the duration of the trip.)  About ten minutes later, I had a functioning medallion, and I was set to go.  One problem.  RQS's medallion no longer worked.  So it was back to Guest Services, and another ten minutes later, RQS had her working medallion.

It was a long day, and we took a much needed rest before dinner.  This would be the first of seven days where we'd enjoy great food, walk around a lot, and feel tired by day's end.  Things finally were starting to look good....

Monday, July 3, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - Los Angeles

The Birth of a Nation.  It was one of the landmark films of American Cinema.  But its racism gets me sick when I think about how the KKK is portrayed in this film.  Yet, this film is referenced in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures as part of its exhibit of how African Americans have been portrayed in American cinema.

But first....

Last year, I contacted MWL (a woman I once dated) to find out which shore excursions I should take when in Hawaii.  Recently, she contacted me to find out whether I knew of some good places to eat in Los Angeles in her upcoming visit. And after her return, I found out that she used the mass transit system (mostly buses) to get around town.  So that gave me the idea that we might be able to use LA's mass transit system to get around town, and avoid having to use Ubers or local cabs.  I didn't know how bad a decision that would be, given our the experience we were to have in this city.  

- - - - - -

RQS and I made a decision to see both the Academy Museum and the Petersen Automotive Museum before trying to visit my uncle in the nursing home.  We asked people at the hotel how we could get to an active Metro station, and no one had a clue.  LA is a car culture, and almost no one uses mass transit.  This was evidenced by the directions we got to a metro station "only" 4 long blocks away.  After walking there in the heat, we found that the station was was under construction and wouldn't be open until next year.  So, we ended up deciding to take an Uber to the museums.

This was my first time using the Uber app, and it took me a bit of time to get things working.  Luckily, we had help from an Uber driver who was waiting for an airport call.  After I got things set up and clicked on the "Ride Request" button, someone else agreed to the fare before our Uber driver even got the message.  AARGH!  We wanted to give him the business.  But we got a driver with whom we had a nice chat, and he helped us fix an error in the destination address while on the way to the museums.

Once at the Academy Museum, we gravitated to the exhibit of Blacks in Cinema, and I found it very interesting.  Although I identify as White, I knew of some of the racism Blacks faced in American cinema.  But I didn't know how diverse the black cinema experience was.  I found it interesting that movies targeted to the African American audience had as many themes as those targeted to a White audience, and often noted that the films had an all Black cast.

Both RQS and I noted that this museum gave a superficial view of what goes into making a movie.  New York's Museum of the Moving Image and New York's Paley Center gives the visitor a better idea of what goes into making a motion picture (Movies and TV Shows).  But I digress....

When we were done with the Academy Museum, it was across the street we went to the Petersen Automotive Museum.  And it was here that the full history of automobiles was on display, using individual automobiles (and motorcycles) to show the art of personal transportation by motorized vehicle.  We spent a couple of hours here, and wished we had more time, so that we could visit "The Vault."  But that's something for another visit.

Next, it was off to my uncle's nursing home.  On the way there (via Uber), my uncle returned my call and said that he wasn't up to having visitors.  Of course, this is understandable, as he was just told that he will never be able to return to his home due to injuries sustained in caring for my aunt.  So we walked around Beverly Hills a little bit, and then went for dinner at a reasonably proced Indian Restaurant.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel to get ready for our first day on the cruise ship....

Sunday, July 2, 2023

California Vacation 2023 - We're on our way!


The California Coast.  I haven't been here in a while, but surprisingly,  I wasn't feeling that great about taking this cruise.  My uncle might not want to see me.  I might not enjoy the visit to San Francisco. And RQS's cousin (in San Diego) and I might not get along.  So many things could go wrong, and I wasn't yet ready for this trip.

So it was with a little trepidation that I trekked off to RQS's place on the day before our flight.  I took the time to explain this to her, and she understood how I was feeling.  She was a little nervous, as she'd be leaving her 18 year old cat with the sitter for 10 days.  Even with these things on our mind, we were committed to this trip, and hoped to enjoy it, no matter what happened.

- - - - - -

The next day, it was off to the airport.  We got there a bit early and breezed through security, leaving us 2 hours to kill before the flight was to board.  When we checked our bags, we found that our seats had been changed.  Our plane was changed, and we were lucky to get compatible seat assignments to what we had on the original plane.  We boarded the plane quickly, accidentally cutting in front of the line. And this gave us the leeway to find space in the overhead bins for our carry-on luggage and my CPAP machine.  Given that we were told that there might not be enough space in the overhead bins, this was a stroke of good fortune.

About 6 hours later, we were in Los Angeles, and made our way to the hotel.  We found that by being a member of the hotel's loyalty program, we could get free wi-fi.  So I signed up, but the software wouldn't let me finish the demographic entry process.  This was a problem that the hotel's staff couldn't fix.  And this caused me to be charged for wi-fi later on.  (Mariott's Bonvoy software is crap, and I don't trust their programmers to get things right - avoid the chain and its partners if possible.)  

Being tired, we didn't bother to shop around for a restaurant, as there was nothing in walking distance of the airport hotels.  Instead, we ate at the hotel, and spent $120 for a dinner we could get at a local diner for $50.  You can guess how quickly we fell asleep after dinner....

Norwegian Fjord Cruise Vacation - 06/28/24 (Zeebrugge, Belgium)

Today is our last stop in mainland Europe, and our last shore excursion.  We have been choosing relatively low energy shore excursions, as n...