Packing for a Cruise and All that Nonsense

Formal nights, really?  You’re killing me Celebrity.  So, it’s true.  We’re headed out on a bucket list kind of adventure.  An 11-night Mediterranean cruise with two of our most favorite people on earth – Maylene’s parents.

Exciting, right?  And stressful!  Boy – is it ever stressful!  When you pack for a cruise, not only are you packing for regular touring like you normally would when you’re traveling but you also have to pack for all the fun in the water you’ll be having on the ship plus hopefully a yoga class / early morning jog to keep off the buffet food.  Then there’s the need to dress for dinner.  That’s right – dress for dinner.  What’s a girl to do??

In addition to the nine other dressy nights, there are TWO – count ’em two formal nights on this cruise and when they say formal, they pretty much mean it as far as I can tell – but I’ll report back more on that later.  Complicating the packing requirements are the need to remain lightly burdened for maximum touring post-cruise for ten more days.

A lot of careful consideration later and I decided that I simply cannot be confined to a single backpack for the entire month-long multi-climate adventure.  Instead, I packed my five pairs of shoes plus two formal dresses, five cute evening numbers, five dinner blouses, four touring shirts, five touring pants/skirts, four scarves, four bras, five underwear, leggings/hose, three swimsuits, electronic devices, journal, travel pillow, makeup, cosmetics, and all the other random requirements into two carry-on bags.  And really, I’m just guessing here since I haven’t counted and at this point can’t bring myself to unpack to get the count accurate – I’m sure we can all agree that I have brought a ton of options.  Okay – maybe just 75 pounds.

ebag MotherlodeOne container I’m using is a small, 22″ rolling suitcase from Swiss Army that I’ve had for years and while I still think I have a chance of getting it on the plane as a carry-on with the larger backpack — it will instead be checked for the long flight to Rome with layover in Amsterdam.  I’ll use my tried and true Deuter collapsible day bag as another carry-on backpack for the flight over.  This will help distribute some of the weight from my larger ebags Motherlode Weekender TLS backpack making airport navigation easier.

I have to say though, I have been very impressed with the amount of space in the Motherlode and the great pockets and organizing options available.  I would highly recommend that bag for a discrete, compact backpack – which would normally be all I would need for normal touring but then they mentioned formal night.  And all logic went out the window for me.  I managed to keep it fairly contained but am still traveling with twice as much as I usually have.

I’ll report back later on whether or not it was worth having all those cute outfits or if a lighter load would have been a smarter option.  All in the name of fashion! 😉

Keep St. Johns Weird-er

Since we moved out of the hustle and bustle of downtown to the ‘burbs of Portland and squarely into the quirky neighborhood known as St. Johns – named for a hermit who first settled the Peninsula.  It is said that he was a quiet, saintly man — and also that he didn’t frequent the local brothel — earning him the nickname Saint John.

One of the mottos that any visitor or newcomer to Portland hears over and over is “Keep Portland Weird”.

yep…it’s weird alright.

Portlanders are very proud of their city’s reputation for eccentricity and declare the statement broadly on entire building walls.   This propensity for odd behavior manifests itself in the behavior of its citizens.  It’s like we have all decided to flow through life listening to our own beat and expect you to do the same.

There’s just something about this town that’s so wrong in all the right ways.  Never fear Portland — you are in no danger of losing your bell-ringing weird status!

The funny thing is that if Portland is weird — St. Johns has to be the bacon dripped salaciously over the majestic maple delight donut of weird.  Thank you Voodoo.

You see — St. Johns has just a little something something — extra-especially weird.  It’s hard to describe.  An odd blending of old, new, down-on-your-luck, newly made middle class, and re-gentrification mish-mashed together and centered around a downtown core of tiny Mom and Pops and ubiquitous dive bars.

Just like a nice breakfast blend on a foggy morning, all the flavors of St. Johns come together nicely — creating a sum total greater (and weirder) than each individual.  So I guess the St. Johns’ rallying cry should be “Keep St. Johns Weird-er”!

A Cry from the Middle Class

Our favorite Burlingame political activist has been at it again with eye-catching commentary on life in these United States.  Strategically placed exactly opposite a popular freeway exit in Portland’s high-priced West Hills neighborhood, this graffiti takes direct aim at the squeezing of the middle class in America.

Unfortunately the artist believes the concept and truth of “middle class” has already been lost.  I choose to remain optimistic that we’ll be able to turn things around!  After all, Hope is my middle name! 😉

 

Smart Street Art

While Portland has its fair share of random, non-sensical let-me-mark-my-territory-arr-arr-arr graffiti, it also has a wide variety of thoughtful street art too.  In the Burlingame neighborhood of Portland recently, it seems one artist has been trying to force commuters to think critically about the world around them.

The first bit of brown spray paint that caught our eye was on a concrete retaining wall just off of Barbur Blvd in bold 12″ letters.  I like the way the artist ended the statement.  With a period.  Definitive.  The statement just IS — there is no sense in arguing.  Period.our future got outsourced.

SMILE ~ LAUGH

Since moving to Portland, we have come to slowly … well … adore it.  It has a character and a natural rhythm about it that echoes, challenges, and reflects our own sensibilities.  We connect with the city – for better or for worse.

We currently live in a high-rise apartment in downtown Portland, near the PSU campus.  One of the main routes we have to the SE section of the city is over the Hawthorne bridge.  Every time I go over I do as I am told.

Headed away from the city, I SMILE.

Toward the city, I LAUGH!

Why?  Why not? =D

What a Marvel…

In preparing for our European adventure, we put one city on and took them off the list several times – unsure if we should visit or not.  It is Spain’s 3rd largest city and not one of Rick Steve’s Best of Europe.  We did, however, enjoy Samantha Brown’s episode describing the amazing aquarium and science museum and the fantastic paella to be had there, so we headed to Valencia after visiting Barcelona.  We stayed in a really great, modern studio apartment just outside the city center but accessible to everything via bus.   We took two days exploring the city and checking out the sites and then headed for our big day at the museum.

The aquarium was really well done and basically deserted when we went so we had plenty of time to check out the animals.  We marveled at a fish we had never seen before swearing it looked like it was half-eaten and missing parts but really cool in that – I can’t look away from it’s grotesque but really intriguing body – kind of ways.

Sunfish - looks kind of like a huge clam...

Sunfish - looks kind of like a huge clam...

We saw some really cool exhibits and liked the way they did the tunnels overhead – the jellyfish – and the dolphin show.

cool fishies pic in one of the tunnels

cool fishies pic in one of the tunnels

cool medusas (as they call them in Italy where we swam with them - yipes!)

cool medusas (as they call them in Italy where we swam with them - yipes!)

I know, not sure how I feel about this one but at least the dolphins looked engaged and like they were having a good time...and yes, Maylene's camera operating skills are mad to be able to catch them in mid-air.  I swore I couldn't do it, so she took over and showed me! ;-)

I know, not sure how I feel about this one but at least the dolphins looked engaged and like they were having a good time...and yes, Maylene's camera operating skills are mad to be able to catch them in mid-air. I swore I couldn't do it, so she took over and showed me! 😉

Next, we were off to the science museum with high expectations after the really pretty well-done and very modern aquarium.  We were definitely not disappointed by the architecture or enormous size of the facility.

exterior of the science museum

exterior of the science museum

It was definitely spacious and perhaps, maybe even a bit too large because it didn’t seem like they really had a handle on the exhibits.  There were a few hands-on, interactive ones that would work especially well for kids.  We couldn’t help cracking up though over the largest exhibit of all – the Marvel Comics one.  It was cool but basically a big advertisement for the comics and many of the displays were broken.  Bummer – decent effort but maybe a little more in the delivery!  Unfortunately we didn’t even make it to the ono paella – we were too excited by our in-house kitchen and the prospect of cooking our own food to eat out.  The paella had to wait.

our wonderful, modern kitchen

our wonderful, modern kitchen

Poh-ta-gee Revenge!!

So in a way very much like Montezuma’s Revenge wreaks havoc on the poor, innocent traveler to Mexico, Maylene and I have fallen wickedly prey to da Poh-ta-gee Revenge in Portugal.  We have both been stricken by food poisoning (we think).  I had it for five days and Maylene is now on day 3.  I think the worst is over for me but hers just keeps progressing.  It’s kind of crazy.  Tons of pain and lots of mad dash races to the bathroom!

where we spent most of our time...

where we spent most of our time...

Couple that with the fact that we had no internet access in our rooms – that we had to use the lobby – and we’ve fallen dreadfully behind in our posts.  We hope to catch-up over the next few weeks, so please bear with us.  And while you’re at it, send nice healing thoughts to Maylene – I know they’ll help her feel better.

***Update*** – we are definitely both better and yes, Maylene’s symptoms lasted for five whole days as well.  Yuck!

They’re Harmless…Really…

When booking our hotel room in Madrid, there were a lot of considerations – as always.  A strong one was that since I couldn’t find availability anywhere – including our hostel – for Fri/Sat night, we could only stay for two nights and we needed to be in a central area.  I chose a “cheap” hostel near the Gran Via metro stop just off of the Puerta del Sol – one of the main squares of the city and a chill destination – conveniently where the Self-Guided Tour of Madrid from Rick Steves’ Best of Europe begins.

Rick had let us know to expect prostitutes in Madrid so we were prepared for it and he assured us that they are harmless.   Indeed, they are — but I nearly hurt myself laughing so hard after Maylene told me she was propositioned on her way to get us dinner.  LOL!  Good times!  And there were sooooo many of them working all hours of the day and night.  Anytime that we were awake – they were too – and working the street below our room.   Great people-watching from the 2nd floor balcony!

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view down the road toward Puerta del Sol

view from our balcony - the friendly prostitutes usually work right below this window

view from our balcony - the friendly prostitutes usually work right below this window

Knowing that we couldn’t find accommodation in Madrid, we decided to head back south (where it’s warmer) and found a room in Malaga.  We pre-booked it and would be charged in full if we did not arrive due to cancellation restrictions.  When we arrived at the train station, we needed to buy a seat reservation since the trains require them in Spain (for the most part).  This is all very normal and we’ve never really had problems obtaining same-day reservations.  After first waiting in the (relatively short) but very wrong line – we found the right information center and the very chipper woman behind the counter nearly gleefully informed us that all trains leaving Madrid and heading to Malaga were completely and utterly booked today.  All day.  All of them.  The outlook for tomorrow wasn’t very good either.  That’s like 8 train loads of people per day heading to Malaga.  You see, she said in Spanish and I’m paraphrasing — it’s Fiesta on Monday, so everyone is heading out of town.  And apparently into town too.  Crazy.

We freaked out just a little and then decided to check out the bus stations.  We grabbed nearly the very last seats on the last buses leaving for Malaga – a 7 hour ride away and arrived 30 minutes delayed at 22:30.  Oh yeah – I’ve mostly converted to 24-hour, Euro time.  And you know what has freaked me out more – yesterday I completed a US-based online form yesterday and input the date as 19/12/09 – the European standard — HAHAHA!!

Random TV Moment

We haven’t really watched any television since leaving the English-speaking countries.  This is usually just as well since we should probably be doing something productive like writing blogposts or watching the latest episode of Amazing Race on YouTube (internet permitting).  Nonetheless, I can’t help but do the obligatory once-through the TV channels once we are settled in the room.  On the continent, it’s usually a 60 second chore just to see if there is at least one English channel like BBC World News.  Then, we proceed to ignore the appliance but for the weather check in the morning if the internet is not working.

During my initial run through, I like watching a few seconds of each channel.  Normally, I am rewarded with some kind of American programming dubbed in French.  For example, today’s scan found that the French Cartman sounds fairly similar to his American counterpart.  In Ireland, I found that Sponge Bob knew Gaeltalk.  In Nice, we had a wacky deja vu moment…

IMG_1835

What's that category again?

Yeah, that’s the French Vannah White.  A couple more…

What's that E symbol?

What's that € symbol?

French Pat Sajak

French Pat Sajak

Madame, Monsieur, French Wheel of Fortune.

Playing High Roller in Monaco Baby!!

Before beginning our journey vagabonding around Europe, we knew we wanted to go to Monaco — Maylene’s “things-to-do-before-she-dies” list included playing a round of blackjack there and we wanted to visit a tiny country – we’ve missed them all so far except for Monaco!

When I began searching for a hotel, of course I found that they are all VERY expensive.  That’s why it was so nice to be able to use one of our Welcome Rewards nights to stay at the Fairmont Hotel Monte Carlo.  It is the #1 hotel in Monaco on TripAdvisor and ironically enough, I worked my Server Assistant butt off at the Brown’s Beach House restaurant of the Fairmont Orchid hotel in Hawaii many moons ago, so it was a nice bit of self-satisfaction to be able to stay at one of the properties – even if only because we earned a free night to do so.

The hotel was impeccable and the service excellent.  More than that though, we were super-impressed with our room which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and included a balcony with table, 2 chairs, and chaisse lounge to really enjoy it.

the view from our balcony looking left toward Italy

the view from our balcony looking left toward Italy

Having “splurged” on a taxi to get there (rather than walking/public transit as we always do) — we had read in the marketing materials that it was situated on one of the F1 turns and it definitely was — so you had the most amazing cars driving around the turns, tires squealing – shifting gears — but the inside of the hotel was super quiet.  In fact, we didn’t notice until much later that our room was built on stilts driven into the water and that a multi-lane road ran underneath our hotel.  From our spot on the fifth floor, all we could hear was the crashing of the waves beneath us.  Perfect!

side view of the hotel on stilts over the water

side view of the hotel on stilts over the water

road running underneath the hotel - looks like a Project Gotham Racing map section!

road running underneath the hotel – looks like a Project Gotham Racing map section!

The in-house casino had just what we needed to check off that bucket list.  While there were only a few blackjack tables open and the cheapest was 10 euros per hand (we watched someone dropping 500+ euro per hand on Casino War — nuts).  Not only did we play – on the cheap table of course – but we ended UP 40 euros – primarily because Maylene ROCKS and racked up the chips, more than doubling her money – you do the math — yes, I lost most of mine — haha.  We quit playing when we (ok, really it was mostly me) became too tired at around 1:30 in the morning but made sure to catch the gorgeous sunrise before enjoying room service breakfast.  What luxury!!

Sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea

Sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea

Speaking of luxury — we saw some of the most humongous yachts in the Monaco port.  They were incredible.  I had to ask Maylene if they were cruise ships or yachts! =)

here's two of the "cruise ships" from where we stood on the dock

here’s two of the “cruise ships” from where we stood on the dock

here are those same two ships but closer for detail

here are those same two ships but closer for detail

hey look -- it's the Mickey yacht!

hey look — it’s the Mickey yacht!

check-out the name of the luxury yacht parked in Monaco's marina

check-out the name of the luxury yacht parked in Monaco’s marina

...sigh...

…sigh…