Fond Farewell to QM2

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We are back in the USA. We have loved our time on the Queen Mary 2 – going across the Atlantic in both directions.  Highlights of this trip (with pictures):

Table Mates

Everyone is assigned a table, so we have the same waiters and dinner companions each evening. We had fabulous table mates – Pat and Peter from Kent, England – who kept us laughing night after night. We hope to see them in our next travels to Europe. [Their picture was as we approached New York, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.]

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Christmas Caroling

The ship held Christmas Caroling one afternoon. Hundreds of people showed up in the Grand Lobby, where everyone lined up on two levels to sing their hearts out. Even the crew took pictures of this unique event.

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Ballroom Dancing

Our favorite spot to end every night was in the Queens Room Ballroom, where a big band orchestra played, while everyone danced the night away.  There were even gentlemen hosts to dance with anyone who didn’t have a partner (Mom and I both got tagged when our significant others either weren’t quick enough to ask or were in the restroom!)

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Statue of Liberty

The captain announced that we would be docking very early so if we wanted to watch the approach to NYC, we would need to set our alarms. We woke up at 4:30 and watched the QM2 glide under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (with only 3 meters to spare!) and then got our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, which brought tears to our eyes. Frank’s parents made this journey in 1925 and 1927, coming from Naples to Ellis Island. His dad came first and then sent for his mother, who was just 19. Imagine being alone on a ship across the Atlantic, coming to a whole new world, and seeing these same sights.

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We will miss the Queen Mary 2 and disembark with a little sadness, but wonderful memories.

Sailing Home

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We are back on the Queen Mary 2, sailing our way back across the North Atlantic. We are currently crossing the Grand Banks and only about 100 miles from where RMS Titanic rests – we are actually north of them, but no iceberg sightings yet. Several of the staff members remembered us from our trip over – mainly from the tea place and champagne bar – which tells you our most frequent haunts!

This voyage has been a little rougher, mainly because we are heading into the wind. They even had to close some decks and postpone the Broadway-style show. Some of our fellow passengers are not so happy. But we are good sailors and have all experienced far worse and doing fine. The only real hardship we’ve had is that we sometimes have some extra side-shuffles on the ballroom dance floor if the ship tilts too far one way – but then it will shift back the other, so the whole floor just side-shuffles back.

Another difference on this voyage is that we GAIN an hour each day – we lost an hour each day on the way over. Overnight, the clocks change so it is like losing Daylight Savings and “falling back” an hour every day. [At the moment, to be honest, I actually have no idea if it is 10:30 am or 11:30 am. But I don’t have anything to do until a Captain’s Reception at 7:45 tonight, so I assume I’ll figure it out by then.]

The ship is fully decorated for Christmas and beautiful. I’ve attached some pictures.  There is a giant Gingerbread Village, all made of gingerbread or candy – 176 pounds of gingerbread!  They are having a Christmas Market tomorrow in the Grand Lobby. We’re not sure what this is, but Mom and I are ready!

So we are having a very relaxing trip and looking forward to getting home and celebrating Christmas with the Volpe, Tinnes & Purvis Families. Cheers!

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Spectacular Stonehenge

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We are back onboard the Queen Mary 2, ready to sail back home for Christmas. But on our way to the ship, we were able to do a little sightseeing in Southern England.

Celtic Horizons

First of all, I have to put in a good word for our driver. While we were extra proud of ourselves for navigating the train and bus system in France, sometimes it pays just to have someone pick you up – especially with all of our luggage. While I knew this would be ideal, I thought it would be too expensive. But I found a company through the Rick Steves guide that was reasonable and would do exactly what we needed.

Neil from Celtic Horizons picked us up at Heathrow (with a card with our name on it even!), loaded all our (many) bags, and drove us right to our door in Bath. Then, two days later, he picked us up, took us sightseeing, and dropped us at the gangplank of the ship. All accompanied with funny stories and commentary along the way. If you are in this area, we highly recommend him.

The Magnificent Mystical Stonehenge

And what a sight we saw – the mysterious Stonehenge. No one knows exactly how it came to be, but we do know it was built about 3000 years BC, and it would have been extremely difficult to drag the heavy boulders to the site and lift them. So it must have been very important to the people of the time to have put so much effort into it. Also, it was aligned exactly to match up with the sunrise of the annual winter solstice. So these ancient settlers had to have observed that once a year, there is the shortest day and record exactly where the sun rose on that day in order to then build a giant boulder marking the spot, with the sun then streaming through a “doorway” of rocks precisely on the line where the sun rises only one day each year. Amazing. Archeologists have discovered artifacts of daily life, such as cooking utensils all around Stonehenge, but none inside, which suggests it was a sacred spot.

We were very fortunate because we understand it can be very crowded there, and the site isn’t that large. But since we were there on a damp December day, we shared the experience with about a dozen others so really could get the feel of the place. We were mesmerized.

Now we are exhausted from all the travel, Bath tours, and sightseeing, so ready for a rest onboard the ship. More news later . . . .

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Christmas Dinner at a Roman Bath

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What a wonderful day we had in Bath! We only had one full day in this charming city, but we made the most of it!

Roman Baths & The Pump Room

The highlight here is the Roman Baths (hence the name). About 300 years ago, it was discovered that there were hot springs here that were said to have healing powers. Excavation found that the Romans already knew this from the time of Ancient Rome (before Christ) and had built a large complex of baths and a temple – rivaling Pompeii and Ephesus.

Around the 1700s, the Baths were unearthed, to the surprise of locals and became popular with the English aristocracy. They built the sophisticated Pump Room restaurant overlooking the steaming Baths, and the British elite spent part of their social season here.

Nowadays, you can tour the excavated Baths, which are very well-preserved. Amazing. We spent a couple of hours exploring and listening to a wonderful audioguide – and enjoying the great view of Bath Abbey next door. Then, just as the English aristocracy, we had Afternoon Tea in the famous and elegant Pump Room.

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Christmas Dinner Overlooking the Baths

But most special – 4 nights a year during Christmas, the Pump Room hosts a special Christmas Dinner on the terrace of the Roman Baths. They light torches around the Baths and set up tables with a view down into the Baths. Only 20 lucky tables get to dine overlooking the Baths.

We stumbled across this outing on the website a couple months ago and were excited to get reservations. We were a little nervous in case the dinner was OUTSIDE – as it was in the 30s and rainy, but bundled up and were game to try anything for such a special event. But very relieved when they escorted us to an inside table view a view of the main Bath. They probably wondered why we had so many scarves and hats!

We had to go through two security checks to get in and – wow! To have dinner inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site over looking a 2,000 year-old preserved Roman ruin. Just incredible. (Believe it or not, they had turkey for dinner just like us! [Pictures below.]

Our whirlwind weekend in Bath is coming to a close – next stop: back to the Queen Mary 2.

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Jane Austen’s Bath

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A quick update – we are making our way back to Southampton to re-board the QM2 home and spending the weekend in Bath (as in Jane Austen fame).

We are staying in a Georgian apartment that dates from 1798. I found it on TripAdvisor and renting directly from the owner. You never know how these things will go, but it turned out perfectly. It is located at 30 Great Pulteney Street, which is in the center of things, and filled with antiques. It really makes us feel like we are in Jane Austen’s era.

Last night, we ventured out for dinner at Sally Lunn’s, which is in the oldest house in Bath (dating to 1482). It is tiny with only about 8 tables in Sally’s former living room, so we were thrilled to get a reservation. They are known for Sally Lunn Bread (kind of like a brioche), which I had heard of from Williamsburg – but apparently it really started here. Each entree is served over the special bread – it was delicious.

We have had a full day of sightseeing and resting up for a special Christmas dinner served on the terrace above the famous Roman Baths – a tradition they allow once a year for the holidays. We are lucky we got a table. So more in our next installment . . . .

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Au Revoir Nice

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It is Saturday morning, and we are packing up to leave Nice. We are sad to leave this wonderful place. We have loved watching the Baie des Anges change colors and moods with times of day and types of weather, walking up the Promenade des Anglais, and even our bus adventures. Nice has an excellent base to explore the Cote d’Azur.

And Nice has been the perfect place for me to rest and recover. As many of you know, my parents, Frank, and I were supposed to leave on this trip in September and barge through Languedoc and Provence. But my breast cancer diagnosis put that on hold, so we re-grouped and settled on a new trip with a delayed date. It is what I kept working toward all those mornings in radiation. My doctors said ok,but warned that I would be having the worst of fatigue and other symptoms during this time, so we opted for a low-key apartment by the sea. And it was just what I needed. For every day of sightseeing we did, we took a day off and rested, so I really did get a chance to recover but also be more than just a “patient.” Nice will always be particularly special to me after this trip.

We ended our time here in style – with champagne cocktails at the famous Negresco Hotel (see picture above) and dinner at our neighborhood bistro – Le Cocodile. Au revoir Nice – and hopefully a bientot.

Next Up: We fly to London this morning (we hope – London Airspace was closed yesterday, so numerous cancellations, but our flight is listed as on time). Then to Bath for the weekend – and another Christmas Market!

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Majestic Monaco

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If we thought Cannes was fancy, we had no idea what was in store in Monaco! And we saw it all. We took the #100 bus with gorgeous scenery along the way before spying a city built seemingly straight up from water to cliffside with more big yachts than I have ever seen in one place.

The Palace

We started at the Palace, perched high on a steep hill, which we climbed and got there just in time to see the daily Changing of the Guard. They take this very seriously, and we had front row seats.

Then we hopped on a bus for a tour of the municipality, which is bigger than we had anticipated. We kept noticing Olympic Rings and discovered that the International Olympic Committee is meeting there this week – they were making them feel welcome.

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The Casino

Then, the best part – Monte Carlo. We got out at the Monte-Carlo Casino – scene of many a James Bond appearances – and were in complete awe. In a horseshoe square was the Cafe de Paris, then the Monte Carlo Casino, then the Hotel de Paris – all famous and decorated in style.

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And a Few Rolls-Royces

Although it was only around 1 pm, cars kept pulling up and drivers jumping out as valets took over to park. And not just any cars, but Bentleys, Roll-Royces, and Ferraris – one after another, almost too many to count! The poor BMWs and Porches seemed rather dreary by comparison. We even got to window shop, as they had both a Ferrari and Rolls on display, with their stickers listing all the features and line item prices. The Ferrari was a cool 338,000 Euro, but the sticker explained that the buyer would get to choose the color of the seats and floormats.

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We gawked and took pictures before heading into Cafe de Paris for lunch. This is one of those places everyone has to try at least once – like Tavern on the Green. The food was really good, the setting amazing, and the fellow diners the best. The guidebook said it would be full of tourists, locals, and jet-setters. They were right. Women who looked like supermodels strutted in and never removed their sunglasses, fur-clad “ladies who lunch” swept in, offering “Bonjour” and air kisses to friends across the room before settling in at what looked like their regular table, and well-dressed older gentlemen wearing suits with no socks sipped Rose, smoked cigars, and conducted whatever business Rolls-Royce drivers conduct – and then there WE were, trying not to stare. What fun!

And then we boarded our #100 bus back to Nice, sharing the road home with all those Ferraris. A magical day in the Municipality of Monaco.

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Christmas Market & Comeuppance

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Well, we may have been a wee bit cocky in bragging how we had conquered the bus system and were living like locals with no problem in Nice. We had a wonderful day at the Christmas Market but did have a few lessons learned. Maybe others can learn from our mistakes. : )

Love Thy Neighbor

First off, we met our neighbor. She introduced herself by ringing our doorbell at 9:45 pm and then yelling at us very loudly in French for at least 10 minutes before slamming her door shut in our face (and we haven’t seen her since). We were too stunned even to say, “Je suis desole” (I’m sorry).  It turns out we have not been properly locking our outer door.  Each apartment has 2 deadbolts and a chain lock.  Then our apartment shares a foyer with our neighbor’s apartment – we think they must have been one big apartment at one time and were subdivided.  Our contact person said we could lock the outer door or not, as we wished (so we didn’t – after all we already have 2 deadbolts on our own door).  The building itself also is very secure, with a coded gate and two locked front doors. However, we have been duly chastened and  now tiptoe past her door and lock a total of 4 deadbolts when we leave. We have the safest Riviera apartment around.

Christmas Market – Say Cheese!

So that may have shaken us up a bit, and we weren’t in top form when we set out for the Christmas Market. We made it fine and had a wonderful time shopping. They have a little village set up with shops of jewelry, crafts, and gourmet foods, plus rides, a huge Ferris wheel, and many lights and Christmas trees. It was packed, and everyone was jostling for attention of the shopkeepers in their little village houses. Mom and I were very successful in securing a number of Christmas gifts, and Frank and Daddy were super patient carrying our bags.

So, Mom and I decided to surprise the men with some gourmet items for supper. We bought adorable little Italian cakes (a steal at 1 Euro each) and then got brave and went for the booth with the most people – fancy handmade cheese and sausages. The man let us taste different cheeses, and we loved them so much we decided on three kinds – including truffle. He had huge wheels and asked us with his knife how much we wanted – we gave him a vague answer, partly because we didn’t really understand. He seemed happy, and we were happy. He even said he would throw in a free sausage (we thought), so we selected which kind. When he rang it up, it was 94 Euro! (About $125 US Dollars!) Turns out cheese filled with bits of truffle is a bit pricey, and we have quite a big chunk of it. We also did not properly understand about the so-called “gift,” and the sausage turned out not to be free – but was a bargain compared to the cheese. [For comparison, a good wine at the market can be had for just 5 Euro – some are as low as 3!]

Needless to say, we have a lot of cheese to eat this week and will probably be the only people in France who will be sick of truffles by the time we leave.

And If That Weren’t Enough . . . .

We laughed about the cheese incident (kind of) and made our way back home. We boldly jumped on the #98/Airport bus after checking the list of stops that included ours. Our first clue something was wrong was the price was 6 Euro per person, versus the standard 1.50 Euro. I remembered reading that the airport bus cost more – rookie mistake -but at least we were on the way home and would know for next time. Then, we realized that the airport bus only PICKS UP people for the airport at all these stops – and will not let anyone off. We would have to ride all the way to the airport and find our way back.

We pleaded with the driver to let us off as our apartment sped by, but she refused. So we decided to sneak off when she stopped again (we were not very subtle with our plan and kind of loud, so I think she was on to us – but we had the backing of the rest of the passengers). So at the next stop, we all jumped off. Then had to figure out where we were – about 12 blocks past our stop. We hung our heads and trudged all 12 blocks back – more than if we had just walked home in the first place – plus had the privilege of paying 24 Euro for the experience (see picture below of our walk).

So – now we are happily home and about to open a bottle of 5 Euro bottle of wine and snack on 100 Euro cheese. Cheers!

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Cannes: Cary Grant & Christmas Markets

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We had our most fun day trip so far. I will give a very brief highlight and then just post pictures, which sum up the day better than I could.

Highlights:

– We found our way perfectly by bus to the train station, bought tickets in French, and even got off at the right stop – since the train was going all the way to Geneva, Switzerland, thank goodness! AND we found our way back home.

– We explored and had champagne at the famous Carlton Hotel – where Cary Grant & Grace Kelly filmed “To Catch A Thief” [The champagne was a special type named for the Film Festival award – the Palme D’Or.]

– We saw where the Film Festival is housed and walked along the Cannes version of Rodeo Drive – Gucci, Armani, Valentino, Chanel . . . .

– But we LOVED best the Christmas Market – little houses with local craftsman or shops, including an oyster bar, vin chaud (hot wine), and lots of fun browsing – like a fancy French version of the Jr. League shops or Aiken’s Makin’. We even watched the local stars practice for their tree lighting, featuring ice skaters singing “Frozen” songs in French.

Bonne Noel!

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Nice: Matisse, Daube & Our Hometown

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We spent the last couple of days exploring our own hometown of Nice – although we forgot to take many pictures. I am proud to report that we can now navigate the bus system with relative ease and pretty much find our way home from anywhere in the city. Mom even buys our pain chocolat (croissant pastry with chocolate squares baked in) all by herself at the boulangerie – in French!

Matisse

A highlight was the Matisse Museum (the peach colored home in the picture). It is in a villa that Matisse lived and worked in while in Nice and is set in a very peaceful olive grove on a hill overlooking Nice. It includes a variety of works from the beginning of his painting, which was more realism, through his more Impressionist period to his brightly colored paper cut-outs. Even more interesting, they has several of his personal possessions, including the palette with which he painted. We loved it.

Daube a la Provencal

We also had our very best meal of the trip so far. We were trying for a lunch restaurant in Vieux Nice (Old Town) that was recommended in the guidebook. It was around 2:15, and some places stop serving around that time, so we were hurrying through the cobblestone streets in a cold drizzle. We spied the place, and it was full – whew. However, as we walked in, they rather snootily told us that we were too late and the kitchen was closed.

Defeated, we wandered around for a back-up and stumbled upon Bistro Marie, which was tiny and a little frayed, but looked open. Only a couple of locals were there, and they welcomed us warmly. They were featuring the plat du jour (plate of the day), which was gnocchi daube. We weren’t exactly sure what that was, but were hungry and tired and said ok. It turns out “daube” is a speciality of Provence – a beef stew cooked with carrots, onions, and red wine. The owner is Italian so his daube comes over gnocchi potato/pasta dumplings. He proudly served our daube in individual red Le Creuset pots, so it was steaming and smelled and tasted amazing.

Frank struck up a conversation with him (in Italian) and discovered both are Sicilian, so we were like family. The owner even brought out Limoncello at the end. We have decided maybe we are more bistro people than restaurant people.

[If anyone goes to Nice, remember Bistro Marie near the Opera. It only has 4 tables inside – more outside – and tres delicieux.]

Next Up: Cannes – Can they make it by train??