Mediterranean Enchantment – 2009
Monte Carlo’s Yachts, Barcelona’s Ramble
April 26 - May 10, 2009
Updated July 4, 2009
By LEWIS NOLAN
To view photo album of 128 pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, go to www.ritzpix.com and sign in under Lewis’ email name of firstname.lastname@example.org (password ln9876 with lower case initials). Under “My Albums,” activate “Rome and Mediterranean Enchantment” album and play as a Slideshow with longest offered delay in seconds.
Friday, May 1, 2009 – To Monte Carlo to See Yachts of the Very Rich
It’s a beautiful morning at sea as the ship Noordam steams into the harbor of the Principality of Monte Carlo in the South of France. The shining sun is bright, the waters of the Mediterranean are sparkling blue and dotted with big yachts out for a morning cruise. The warm temperature is near 80 degrees Fahrenheit. No wonder Monte Carlo in the country of Monaco is the playground of the rich and famous.
Some smallish fishing boats and very large yachts are making their way out of the harbor entrance with the hillside of mansions and expensive condominiums marching up the concave mountains rising over the sea. In the distance is a white beach likely filled with barely clad, beautiful bodies of citizens and tourists.
Betty and I spent most of a day in Monte Carlo in 1991 as part of our riverboat cruise to the Cote d’Azur to the west. We had already visited the Palace where Prince Rainier and the late Grace Kelly once lived, the church where onetime American actress and international beauty Princess Grace is entombed beneath the floor, some of the expensive shops and the unbelievably modern and clean train station. So we stayed on the Holland America ship and admired the views of the harbor, passing yachts and hillside estates.
It was a good thing that I had such exquisite scenery to enjoy as I was in real need of some rest due to an up-creeping upper respiratory infection and deep coughing. We think I somehow picked up the stubborn virus that didn’t respond to antibiotics a week or so before we left Memphis. It got worse as the trip progressed but didn’t slow me down too much. But by the long flight home, I was thoroughly miserable and continued hacking for several more weeks back in Memphis.
But I still felt good enough to enjoy the fabulous food served on the Holland America ship Noordam. I had all-American breakfasts most days delivered to our statement. We ate most of our lunches in the ship’s Lido Restaurant and I kept it fairly simple – ham and cheese sandwiches with a few French Fries, ice tea and a small taste of the wonderful desserts served buffet style. Betty typically went for baked chicken and a few vegetables. On one day I enjoyed a serving of delicious Salad Nicoise made fresh on the boat and several pieces of sautéed flounder and a slice of really good apple pie.
We walked around the circumference of the boat on a wooden deck to get some exercise and enjoy the views of the Monaco Harbor from a 360-degree perspective. Signage said three laps around is equal to a mile of distance.
It was fun for this one-time sailboat racing couple to admire several dozen gigantic yachts docked in the harbor or sailing around. There was a regatta underway just beyond the harbor’s breakwater. Several of the big sailboats – truly the racing steeds of the deep - had a crew of a dozen or more. What we saw was serious sailing that is only available to the ultra rich and those willing to kiss up to them.
One motor yacht I’d estimate to be 100 feet long docked near our cruise ship. Called the “Lady Marina,” it was equipped with a new helicopter tied down on its fantail. A couple – with the man silver haired and his lady companion appearing to be in her mid 40s or beyond – dined on a multi-course luncheon delivered by nautically uniformed crew to a big table set with silver in a small cockpit at the top level of the boat. Truly a marriage of style and luxury.
I’ve read that many of the yachts docked at Monaco are owned by extremely wealthy Arabs who buy them with their oil millions. But the couple in the mega-yacht we watched didn’t appear to be Arabic in appearance.
Strange how comforting it was to this retired American pharmaceutical company executive to reflect on how the ultra rich Arabs would likely be back in the desert with only horses to ride if it weren’t for the life-prolonging and life-saving drugs my industry delivers and how short their lives would be if they didn’t have the mega-incomes provided by gas-guzzling cars driven by Americans. Or how they’d be helpless in the face of jealous enemies was it not for the steel umbrella provided by the U.S. Military that protects them.
At mid-afternoon on this sunny day, I repaired back to our stateroom for a nap while Betty went topside to sun. I admit to being concerned at the failure of some potent antibiotics to restore my health. I was reading, courtesy of the ship’s delivery of mimeograph copies of a daily digest of the New York Times, about the growing pandemic in the world of Swine Flu.
and I enjoyed another very fine dinner that evening in the extreme rear of the
ship in its well-appointed dining room. Joining us at a table overlooking the
Mediterranean as we sailed from Monte Carlo were Bob and Barbara Connallon of
New Jersey and their adult daughter, Karen. Despite my cough, my appetite was
undiminished and I had some excellent grilled salmon glazed with maple syrup,
served with shrimp and a Caesar salad, boiled new potatoes, followed by a piece
of very good chocolate Sachertorte cake, plus a couple of Miller Light beers. It
was fun seeing a now-famous cake from a recipe developed at a restaurant in
For Betty’s dinner, she went for a dish of pork tenderloin, a margarita drink and a rum baba for dessert. I enjoyed talking with Bob, who spent much of his career working for ATT and related companies at a location I used to drive by when visiting Schering-Plough’s corporate headquarters in New Jersey. Ironically, Barbara had done a lot of VIP office work for AIG, a major insurance company that’s run into headwinds in recent weeks that Betty and I fault for mishandling some of her retirement savings.
After dinner, Betty and I repaired from the main ship’s restaurant in the tail end of the boat to our stateroom, where we watched a James Bond-Hallie Berry movie.
Saturday, May 2, 2009 – At Sea in the Western Mediterranean
I was awakened at 7 a.m. by a gentle tapping on the door, which turned out to be our room polite steward delivering yet another excellent breakfast I had ordered through the ship’s system of putting out menu requests on the doorknob overnight. I must say that the orders were unwaveringly filled to perfection every day.
On this morning I enjoyed a bowl of Raisin Bran cereal with skim milk, servings of bacon and ham, toast and sliced banana.
Despite the good meal, I was feeling downright crappy from the upper respiratory infection that at this point was pretty well overwhelming my body. It was lucky that this “really sick day” came while we were steaming across the Mediterranean so illness did not encroach on my sightseeing. But I did feel up to walking to the ship’s Internet café, where I paid 75 cents a minute for a slow connection to the Internet. I was able to send a trip report to loved ones back in the States, including our son, Casey in Virginia.
Betty also checked her email and found a backlog of 195 incoming messages, nearly all of them junk which she deleted unread. We also heard from our lovely daughter-in-law, Caroline, and got some good news about her younger brother’s speedy recovery from injuries suffered in a bad fall at the University of Michigan.
For lunch, I enjoyed a grilled burger with French fries while Betty went for a slice of veal at the ship’s Lido Restaurant. We both had some tiny desserts that were delicious. At dinner at 5:30 p.m. in the ship’s main restaurant, I was feeling so bad that I excused myself at mid-meal and returned to our stateroom for some much needed sack time. About 10 p.m. I got up and finished a ham and cheese takeout sandwich saved from lunch and also had a glass of tonic water to suppress any onset of night leg cramps brought on by blood pressure medications draining my body of potassium.
Unfortunately, I was coughing very deeply a lot, hurting my chest muscles and ribs without breaking up a galactic case of congestion. My sense is that the Z-pack of antibiotics prescribed “just in case” by my physician back home aren’t having much effect on whatever that I must have picked up at home.
Sunday, May 3, 2009 – In Barcelona, Spain
We had ordered a later-than-usual breakfast delivery at 7:30 a.m. due to my body’s need for extra sleep and rest. As usual, our room steward delivered the great meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, banana slices, toast and tomato juice plus ice water. Strange how wonderful breakfast food tastes despite my flu-like illness.
It’s another beautiful day on the Mediterranean and Barcelona looks like a far-more modern harbor city – and important site of the Olympic Games in 1992 - than I had expected. There are already a half-dozen cruise ships and several very large car ferries docked here even though it is before 9 a.m. A neat, elevated and covered walkway several hundred yards long connected the ships to a main terminal, relieving passengers of having to scurry among all the dockyard action and ropes.
We hiked from the ship to the terminal where the buses and taxicabs stopped. Once there, we learned that this being Sunday the buses were running only every hour or so. We went ahead and paid a taxi (a late model Mercedes Benz) 15 Euros to drive us two or three miles to the mouth of the harbor and site of a column 100 or more feet high topped by a metal statue of Christopher Columbus.
Fodor’s describes Barcelona as a thriving metropolis because of its “business acumen and industrial muscle.” It goes on to credit its citizens for their use of their own Catalan language used in street signs, museum exhibits, newspapers, radio programs and movies. A broad boulevard with lanes for vehicle traffic on both sides of a middle section for shops is called “La Rambla,” which loosely translates to “The Ramble.” Thousands of pedestrians stroll along the Ramble all day and well into the night. It is said to be hot spot for prowling singles dressed to the nines.
Betty and I walked perhaps a half mile on The Ramble and saw a number of weirdoes wearing wacky costumes and pretending to be immobile manikins, called mimes. Here and there were small, trendy places to eat and drink and dozens of vendors selling all manner of consumer goods. A square just off the boulevard seemed to be the province of small businesses in collapsible stalls selling collectibles like stamps and coins.
After poking around, we finally tired of the crowds. Betty poked around a tent city of souvenir vendors while I was content to watching the boating action in the harbor. She didn’t find any suitable bargains so we paid a taxi 12 Euros to drive us back to our ship. I spent a couple of hours napping in our stateroom on Deck 6 while Betty sunned on Deck 9. I do feel a little better than I did yesterday, but the flu-like aches and heavy congestion in my chest are getting the best of me.
The Barcelona harbor is quite beautiful. A dozen or so sailboats 25-to-30 feet long are engaged in a regatta just beyond the breakwater, giving me something to watch with fascination dating to our days of racing in the 1970s a 19-foot Lightning day-sailing sloop in a fleet based at Arkabutla Lake just south of Memphis.
We had another very good lunch at the boat’s Lido Restaurant. I had a ham and cheese sandwich served with potato chips and carried out a second sandwich to eat later. Betty had fruit and roast turkey. The cafeteria-style service offers many dozens of tasty delights of all persuasions and ethnic attractions to passengers, who may eat as much as they please at no extra charge beyond their original passage fare.
For dinner, Betty and I opted for a table for two since we hadn’t really clicked with any of our table companions to date even though the views from the ship’s fantail were superb at the larger tables. I enjoyed some wonderful shrimp-crab appetizers served on toast, followed by a delicious chunk of lamb then a slice of Opera Cake. Betty went for sliced roast beef then had some caramel for dessert. As we dined, the boat sailed for the next stop of the Island of Mallorca to the south.