Since we were not going to the YCG for lunch, on April 12, in Piraeus (Athens), Greece, we had the usual port morning, and I went walking out, with my computer on my back, around noon.  There was a pamphlet in the terminal about an Archeological Museum, which looked nice, and was a ten minute walk away.  After I had walked for twenty, maybe thirty, minutes, I realized we must be at a different terminal, probably the one I was now across the street from.  I didn’t know if I had another ten minutes in me, before the computer did real damage to my neck, so I found a cab.

The museum was small, but very nice, as were its keepers.  They minded my computer bag, while I toured it.  I enjoyed the tour, but they didn’t have a coffee shop, nor Internet.  They did know where there was a good hotel within easy walking, and I soon found myself in the Hotel Savoy lobby, sipping a Coke and enjoying decent Internet.  The table I chose was right beside the half wall of the office.  This turned out to be handy, as I had two faxes to send and the ship doesn’t do that anymore.  They just attach to email like everybody else.  Interestingly, one of the faxes was to HAL, but I wasn’t questioning that.  The nice gentleman in the office offered me a glass of wine.  I said I couldn’t take that, as I was working, but could he possibly send the faxes for me, and he did!

I took a taxi back to the ship, at the last minute, enjoyed sailaway, and a nap before dinner.  The entertainment was Rita Rudner and she is always a hoot.

It’s nice being places you have been before, as there’s no obligation to see the Acropolis, or the Olympic Stadium, or whatever.  You can just enjoy the little town.  On April 13, that was Katakolon. Before I went out I tried to enlist Christel’s help in getting an upgrade for the Harrolds, who would be boarding the Koningsdam on April 15 in Civitavecchia.  I was having trouble reaching my BDM (Business Development Manager), who had been sailing on the Koningsdam, herself.  Koningsdam is Holland America’s newest ship, and she just launched.  Christel wasn’t very encouraging.  One of our President’s Club people had left this ship to join the Koningsdam, also paid more than the sale price, and Christel had not been able to upgrade her.  She did take Patrick Spencer’s driver’s and car license down, to give to the Port agent, so Patrick could get in the gate at Livorno.

I did a little more travel work and walked out about one o’clock.  I was only going shopping.  That’s all you do in Katakolon: have a nice fishy lunch, eat ice cream, and shop.  I got a lovely new dress, a few other bits, and a nice ice cream cone.  I was well pleased.  Sailaway was very nice, and we had Nicola, the IT Manager and his girlfriend, Louisa, for diner.  They are a truly delightful young couple, and we wish them very well.   The Lomax Brothers did the Ferranti and Teicher bit, not as well, but still fun.  I think our own Connor and Michael do it better.

At sea on April 14, there was just a little traffic at the desk, which was a good thing because I had a letter to write and deliver.  It was time to get serious about Cadiz and Flamenco.

We had dinner with Marketing Manager Noelle Kiswiny, and three of my people.  The entertainment was Ruben Vilagrad, mime, magic, etc.  Good enough.

I got up really early on April 15, as Steve and Tricia Harold were coming to breakfast on the Amsterdam, before boarding the Koningsdam, in Civitavecchia.  Their upgrade had come through last night.  I had accepted it on their behalf and wanted to print the confirmation, which would surely be on my email.  By 7:00 am (don’t faint), I was at my desk, with my computer attached to its printer.  I pulled my email and it wasn’t fun.  My BDM had not put through the upgrade, without confirmation the clients really wanted it.  It was to a verandah on the Sun Deck, a significant upgrade, but it would take them farther away from the dining room.  As if that matters, I mean.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Port Agent in Livorno had asked for a picture of Patrick’s passport and he had just snapped one with his iPhone and emailed it.  Everyone, please note:  Do not do this to people who are stuck with ship’s Internet.  Those phones take enormous pictures.  The thing took 57 minutes to download, a huge waste of time and money.  But I needed it for the next day, to get Patrick through the gate to pick up Elvon, so I had to suck it up.

Luckily, the Harrolds were resourceful, and we had cell phone texting.  They got through security and came to my desk, just as I was finishing up.  I had to PhotoShop the passport photo down to one tenth its size, to email to Christel, to email to the port agent.  And I had to print the email for the Harrold’s upgrade to walk over to the Koningsdam.  It was too late to deal with Seattle any more.  The Koningsdam was here.  We were docked stern to stern.

Hugs all around.  We went back to our cabin to drop Steve’s computer bag and pick up Elvon.  Then it was up to the Lido, for our favorite breakfast, this time with some of our favorite friends.  The Lido did not disappoint and we filled our boot.  Then I gave them my Amsterdam tour and left them the run of the ship, while I ran over next berth, for their upgrade.

Everyone on the Amsterdam, who had asked for one, was issued a pass to board the lovely new Koningsdam, but there was a catch.  There were organized tours.  I neither wanted, nor needed, an organized tour.  I needed to be free to get to Judy Becker, Christel’s counterpart on the Koningsdam, and make the upgrade, which I had in my hot little hand, take.

I got off the Amsterdam, ignored the waiting shuttle and walked over to the Koningsdam.  There I met our Hotel Director, Henk Mensink, and explained my mission.  He walked me over to Koningsdam Security, talked me through, as a single, and told me to go to the Front Desk to find Judy.  A few quick inquiries got me there.  Lo and behold, there was Christel, assisting a wheelchair passenger, until her care giver got back.  I showed her my email and she was delighted.  The care giver returned and Christel and I approached the Front Desk.  She saw her counterpart disappearing into her office and said “Wait right here”.  I did.  Who wouldn’t when the stars were aligning like that?  After about five minutes, she came back, “All done.”  So, the Harrolds can put their new cabin number on their luggage and just check in.  Their luggage, of course, is in Shiv’s office because it would not fit on our cabin.  Tagging it would be easy.

For my present to the Harrolds, I bought a wine-blending package, figuring that would have some appeal.  I knew it would, because I checked over breakfast.  They will disembark, with their own blend, with their own label on it.  I decided not to tour any more of the Koningsdam, than I could see getting off by taking the stairs and poking around a bit.  She’s a floating luxury hotel, where the Amsterdam is a real ship, but she looks like a lot of fun.  BB King’s Blues Club particularly appeals.

Back on the Amsterdam, we had a pizza lunch by the pool, with the Harrolds, and they collected their luggage and went off to board.

I texted the Wescotts that I was ready and thought I found out where they were.  I was wrong.  Consequently, I took the shuttle too far and it cost me a bomb in taxi fare to pick up Wells and go to what was purportedly the best hotel in town.  I don’t know what the rooms were like, but it had no bar, nor anywhere else one could use the Internet, and the one person on duty was particularly surly.  We went back to an ice cream shop Wells had spotted, back near the Port Gate.  It wasn’t ideal, but it did work for our purposes.  I was able to activate his copy of MSOffice with one of my codes, and he’s all set.  We worked away at our email for a while and went back to the ship to do sailaway and happy hour.  I had called it for Friday, as there was no way I wanted to do Happy Hour, after a day of wine tasting on Saturday.

We had dinner with Connie Fischer and Jim Detwiler, previous DV guests.  The entertainment was a Beatles tribute, by a married couple, a bit odd, but good enough

On April 16, in Livorno, the untour got started around 8:30 am, as it was supposed to.  Our car held Patrick Spencer, Mike Holt, and ourselves.  Patrick was our guide for the day.  He is the manager of the Villa we rented in Montebenichi, last year.  We never got to go but have been seeing him every year, as we pass by.  This is the third time.  The two rental cars assembled one containing Paul Kerr and his partner, Sharon, Chef Peter and Trevor, from HAL head office in Seattle, the other Michael Innis, Gail Hanson, Alan Laurin and Lynn Blair.  Off we went, bound for Bolgheri, and a day of tasting Super Tuscans.

I was never clear on exactly what a Super Tuscan was, but I am now.  Net, to the bottom line:  A Super Tuscan is a wine grown, crushed, and bottled in Italy, made of mostly French grapes, mostly the ones in the Bordeaux blend, processed pretty much exactly the way we do it in the New World.  Don’t you feel smarter now?  I know I do.  Mind you, I always feel smarter after I drink wine.

Bolgheri is one of the cute little castle towns of Tuscany, complete with wineries and cafes, and shops of all kinds.  Getting Elvon into our winery “Castello di Bolgheri”,,  looked like a major challenge, until they opened the back door, which only had one step, and a bit of a ditch.  Our guys lined up to make a human banister.  It sure is easy when you are traveling with seven able bodied men, most of them under 40.

The lovely Sylvia showed us through the winery, tanks, barrels, and all, and sat us down for some serious tasting.  The wines were good.  Just like home, the better one, CS, Merlot, CF) is not for drinking right now, but the cheaper one “Varvara” was lovely.  It’s Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot.  I bought six bottles to fuel my parties, and they gave me one, for bringing the group.  Lunch was just next door at Ristorante Enoteca Tognoni”,  It was exceptionally good and a lot of fun.  They were serving Sassicaia wine, a bottle for every three people, and they, too, gave me a bottle to take back to the ship.

After lunch, we continued on to “Tenuta Argentiera”, , where the lovely Isabelle Benedetti, whom I could have sworn was French, by her accent, treated us to a major tasting, with wine and salumi.  Since we seem to drink a lot of white on board, I bought 12 bottles of Poggio Al Ginepri, (IGT Toscanna Blanca) which is a blend of Vermentino, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, which we liked a lot.  This time the gift was a bottle of Poggio Al Ginepri, (DOC Bolgheri Rosato)  I would not have bought it.  It’s training wheels for wine.  But everyone’s doing that now.

It was a perfectly wonderful day.  Thank you Patrick, from the bottom of my heart.  We never got to the show.  Bed looked very good.

In Monte Carlo, Monaco, on April 17, we ate a very light breakfast and went to the gym.  At 11:30 am, we mustered at my desk for lunch at the Yacht Club de Monaco. It was the Wescotts, Yetkes, Dan Samaniego, Joan Harrison and us.  As luck would have it, the skies opened just as we got to the gangway.  To make it worse, the gangway was steep and not covered.  Elvon took one look at it and refused to go.  Ten minutes later, it had cleared, but everything was still wet, and no one could move him.  He went back to the cabin and the seven of us continued on.

The YC was just across the harbor, but since we don’t walk on water, we took a couple of taxis.  Oo-la-la, what a place it is.  It’s not the one we went to in 1998, where Elvon and Ernie waited in the consort’s lounge.  It’s way, way nicer than that very nice place.  It opened in 2014 and is a Norman Foster design.  Norman Foster is a very famous architect.  He designed the Hearst Tower in NYC, the Hongkong Bank building in HK,  Millennium Bridge, London, UK,  Hong Kong International AirportChek Lap Kok, and a whole bunch of prestigious buildings all around the world.  Here’s the list:

YCM looks like a huge ship in a harbor of fabulous yachts.  It’s an experience in itself.  We were booked to eat in the more casual, but amazing setting on the roof.  But, it had just rained.  So, all the members were down in the Main Dining Room, which was set up for Sunday Brunch.  There were no free tables, but they offered to set up a private dining room for us.  In places like this, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it, so we just said “yes”.

The room was gorgeous.  The food was fabulous and beyond delicious.  It cost 90 euros each, and no one minded.  It was one of those bucket list items you might never get to check off, unless you know the likes of me.  I keep the RHKYC and RStLYC memberships going for just this.  Purrr. And, yes, I did eat six desserts.  They were very small.160417-009 Monaco YCM Helens6dessertsweb

Tom Mullen came to dinner.  He’s always a treat.  He has been doing my job for Cruise Specialists for about 30 years.  To top off a perfect day, we had Rita Rudner again.

Docked in Barcelona, Spain, on April 17, we had the usual Lido pig-out and gym time, when I am planning to go ashore alone.  I thought I would walk, as my goal was the Monte Carlo Hotel, with a nearby shoe shop, around the middle of La Rambla. Somehow, I managed to turn myself around, and, after a twenty minute walk I was at Pier C, when we had docked at Pier A.  Now Pier A is closer to town and Pier C is, well, out to sea.  I didn’t feature another twenty minute walk, with a computer on my back, to get back where I started.  So, I took an expensive taxi to the Monte Carlo.

La Rambla is a walking street, so we approached it from a side street, and it happened to be the one the shoe shop was on.  I got out and went looking for the Fluchos Elvon wears.  These shoes are so good and so consistent, that I can buy them for him, while he relaxes on the Promenade Deck.  But this year, they didn’t have a model that I thought would work.  On to the Monte Carlo.

We always stayed at the Monte Carlo in Barcelona, thanks to my cousin, Rosemary.  The location can’t be beat.  It’s right in the middle of La Rambla, yet still clean and reasonable.  At least it was.  Its steel doors were rolled almost to the ground.  I rang the handicapped bell and introduced myself as a past guest.  The guy who answered the door didn’t have much English, but managed to tell me the place was “close ed”, accent on the last “ed”.  I asked when it would re-open and he reiterated “close ed”, and repeated:  “close ed”, “close ed”.  I got it.  I didn’t want to, but I did.  Luckily, there’s now a Citadines next door, so we still have a great place to stay in Barcelona.

Since I wouldn’t be using the Internet at the Monte Carlo, I continued on to Corte Ingles, the big department store, where we had bought the first Fluchos.  Sure enough, they had something Elvon would wear.  Things were looking up.  I added a belt, and a couple of pairs of great quality socks, and he was done.

Next stop: RCNB, Real Club Nautico de Barcelona, for lunch and Internet.  It was Monday, so the restaurant was closed, but, once again, I was welcomed graciously and had peace, quiet, and good Internet in the library.

Sail away was good and I don’t remember what else we did.  There were a lot of ports in a row and we were pretty done in.