Rome and Venice 2018
30 March 2018 - Aboard the MS Konigsdam En Route Azores Islands
“I can’t find a thing to complain about,” complained Dicky, a proud curmudgeon and grouchy urbane, world-traveling friend of circa 50 years, enjoying his ninth decade. Jeanne, Dick, his wife Glo, and I were in the midst of a spectacular meal at the Konigsdam Asian fusion speciality restaurant, Tamarind. It was the first evening of a 14 day relocation—Caribbean to Mediterranean—cruise aboard Holland America’s newest, 2016, and largest, 970 feet long, floating palace. At the conclusion of the soup, appetizer, glazed sautéed Maine lobster entree topped off with a fabulously rich chocolate concoction gourmet delight, Dicky gave his benediction to our first meal aboard the Konigsdam: “One of the finest soup-to-nuts meals of my life.”
Having lived for a combined eight months aboard the Holland America MS Amsterdam during the 2015 and ‘16 World Cruises, we find ourselves comparing the Konigsdam against our former “home.” The Konigsdam is almost 200 feet longer that the Amsterdam; it has twice the restaurants and cafes, and can accommodate 2650 guests, the Amsterdam 1380. The Konigsdam has more decks and more dedicated entertainment venues. I could go on about the statistical distinctions between the Amsterdam and Konigsdam, but won’t. Statistics and numbers have never been my strong suit, the written word has always served me best. What I will attempt to do is share with you, dear reader, our experiences before we are disgorged from the Konigsdam in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.
Without yet attending a show in the Konigsdam entertainment theatre, from a preview, I know that it is technologically top of the line, with huge, brilliant viewing screens, strobes and every light trick known to man. Yesterday we had breakfast in the casual dining venue, labeled Lido Market on this ship. In the evening the four of us late-dined in the mammoth almost 1100 seat, two-deck dining room; my table mates were delighted with their prime rib dinners. As we proceed toward Italy, I hope to fully share our experiences aboard this bright, new addition to the Holland America fleet.
My travel site, www.cruisin-thru-100.com, began in 2006, When I began an adventure as the sole passenger aboard the cargo ship Republica de Genova, on a round trip north Europe to Angola, West Africa. Since then many thousands of words and hundreds of photos have been uploaded to the site. My laptop fell into disuse at the windup of the 2016 Holland America World Cruise. Exotic travel experiences faded into memory, but life adventures continued apace.
Jeanne and I spent the 2017 winter in a rented condo on Venice Beach. During our four month Venice, Florida sojourn, Jeanne remarked “I’d like to live here.” In June of 2017 we bought a lake front home in the Plantation Country Club area of Venice. In the autumn, after 51 years, we sold our Jewell Hollow cabin in Page County Virginia, and in October became residents of the Sunshine State. We didn’t expect to be on the high seas again so soon after dramatic life style changes last year but... Change is the only Constant. Forward!
2 April 2018 - The Konigsdam is Two days out in the M. Atlantic from first docking at Praia Da Vitoria, Azores
While docked in Ft. Lauderdale, Jeanne and I first entered our Koningsdam balcony cabin; I picked up a flyer “Meet The Officers.” After a glance, I said to Jeanne: “We have a female Cruise Director,” and handed the flyer to her. “I remember there was an ‘Erin’ assistant cruise director on the Amsterdam during the ‘16 world cruise; I wonder if it the same person,” she replied. I pondered: “All the years on Holland America and we have never had a female cruise director.”
Lorraine, my go-to person in Guest Services, agreed to attempt to set up an interview for me with Erin Duffey. After a couple of days, Erin called. “How about 7:15 Sunday in the Ocean Bar?” Agreed. Jeanne and I attended the first show of the evening in the 1098 seat show theatre. Erin introduced The Alley Cats, a close-harmony guy quartet singing DOO-WAP from the 50s and 60s and spewing out a series of bad jokes built on old age and marriage. I left the show early in order to be on time at the Ocean Bar. Erin closed the DOO-WAP show and rushed to our appointment by 7:30.
After pleasantries regarding our mutual times aboard the world-wandering Amsterdam, we walked upstairs to escape cocktail hour noise in the Ocean Bar. “How did you get your start? You have been at sea and with Holland America only three years and you are already a cruise director.” “Both my parents were flight attendants for American, so travel and the enjoyment of meeting people has always been a part of me.” “So you were born into the culture,” I offered. “Yes, very much, the culture. I Graduated from Cal. Chico,” (where she double-majored in Theatre Arts and Communication Sciences and Disorders,) “Holland America held auditions for entertainment department jobs in Vegas; I auditioned and was offered one.”
By the time Erin got to the Amsterdam in 2016 she had risen to asst. cruise director. “The cruise director on the Amsterdam was a mentor; he gave me confidence that I could do the job.” When he left on medical leave, Erin was summoned from another Holland America ship to be interim Amsterdam cruise director for six weeks while the ship did it’s post-world cruise Alaska run. Now, only 26 years of age she is a full-fledged Holland America cruise director, and in reality, the public face of Holland America, opening and closing shows in the mammoth auditorium, doing a morning “Coffee with Erin” talk show, and speaking often on the ship PA announcing events of the day. Erin has a “boyfriend”, also in the entertainment department of another Holland America ship.
This is the Koningsdam’s fifth day at sea. There have been 1000s of meals consumed, five shows performed, multiple lectures listened to and God only knows how much money gambled in the casino, and at least three Catholic masses prayed. Dining is the favorite at-sea diversion. Jeanne’s birthday was the day before Easter. In celebration, the Frink’s and Glo and Dick, our traveling companions dined at the premium (extra cash on the barrel head) Sel de Mer, billed as an “intimate seafood brasserie with French classics...” It was a wonderful experience, superb food, unavailable elsewhere on the ship and in Sarasota County Florida, where we all reside. The service—provided by Dutchman Ewout Vermaak was expert—his deboning of a Dover Sole was a feat to behold—and entertaining. Hurrah for Ewlout for adding to Jeanne’s birthday celebration.
5 April 2018 - In port Ponta Delgado, Azores (a series of North Atlantic volcanic islands,) Portugal
LAND HO! After a week and 2819 nautical miles churning through the uncommonly calm North Atlantic, the Koningsdam docked at the diminutive, quaint Azores town of Praia Da Vitoria. The ship’s berth was two miles from the village; ergo, local authorities provided comfortable shuttle buses, in order to better facilitate the passage of passenger’s Euros (obtained in an ATM machine at Banco Santander, across the street from the bus stop) into the local economy. Praia Da Vitoria was a late port selection for the Koningsdam, after another Azores island was scratched due to stormy weather unbecoming a large cruise ship.
While waiting in a gale dockside for a bus, I chatted with a young woman from the tourist agency charged (on short notice) with organizing passenger tours and the shuttle buses. “Your ship is so large,” she said, her eyes reflecting her awe. “It takes many buses.” Praia Da Vitoria is clearly off the well-beaten tourist path, for it didn’t have any trinket shops, vending T shirts, caps and other staples of the tourist biz.. Hundreds of Koningsdam passengers wandered aimlessly up and down the town main drag, then quickly sought out a shuttle bus, returning to the ship empty-handed.
Jeanne Glo and Dicky have abandoned ship, to explore the wonders of Ponta Delgada, while I scribble on my laptop, with its new $100 auxiliary keyboard. Earlier from the Lido, I recognized the town’s landmark clock tower from one of our Holland America world cruise stops here, before beginning the return voyage to Ft. Lauderdale.
Last evening, we four reunioned pre-dinner in the large Crows Nest cocktail lounge in the bow of the ship. The Koningsdam, like most cruise vessels, provides passengers one-size-fits-all white bathrobes, for use in the spa and various hot tubs and stern and mid ships swimming pools. To our amusement, a portly, middle aged gentleman was entertaining a woman sitting on a couch during the 6pm cocktail hour wearing his Holland America-issued bathrobe, seemingly open in the front ala Harvey Weinstein, of Hollywood sexual harassment fame. My back was to the man and his lady. “Turn around, way around,” Dicky said. As Madeline Kahn said in character in “Blazing Saddles,” it was “Tru.”
In “olden days”, as I refer to our past 58 weeks—yes, that is over a year—aboard Holland America ships, music sang out during cocktail hour in the Crows Nest and various ship bars. The Koningsdam is a new ship, the leader of a new class of Holland America ships, and as a result, new policies are in place. All music on this ship is constrained to what has been labeled “The Music Walk” a string of venues on deck two extending to the bow.
The first step on this walk of music is the swingin’ist; it is B.B. King’s Blues club, with three shows a night, featuring two vocalists, a horn line of trumpet and sax and a rhythm section, featuring an outstanding electric guitarist. THE PLACE ROCKS. Next is a piano bar, to top all piano bars, with two nose-to-nose grand pianos, played by two guys singing the tunes of Elton John et.al. The piano bar also has a distinctive name: Billboard Onboard. Next, moving foward to the bow, is Lincoln Center Stage, with a string quartet plus piano playing chamber music most evenings and certain afternoons. The final stop on the Koningsdam Music Walk is the monster World Stage, where the ship’s compliment of singers and dancers perform, plus the rotating comedian and musical acts. The audio visual effects in the World Stage are technologically colossal; three huge visual panels provide a180 degree visual experience during the resident singers and dancers exertions.
When Captain Bowland orders the engineers to power up the Koningsdam this afternoon, we will be on a two day sail to Malaga, Spain.
9 April 2018 - In port Malaga, Spain
Malaga, one of the oldest cities in the western world, was the Konigsdam’s first dockage in Continental Europe. 30 miles to the east, along the contours of the inviting Mediterranean Sea, sits Nerja; it is a lovely Andalusian village, where Jeanne and I have, through the years, spent weeks soaking in its hospitality (I was the advance scout, arriving Easter week 1973). Dick and Glo also harbor good memories of their time in Nerja.
Sunday, the four of us were off the Konigsdam by 8:30, awaiting a 5 Euro shuttle ride to the elegant boulevard slicing through the center of Malaga; there, across the byway, we purchased tickets and boarded the bus for Nerja. After walking the narrow streets down to the Balcon de Europa, cantilevered over the Mediterranean, we paused for beers in an English pub and enjoyed tapas in the Round Bar, one of our old haunts. Back up to the Malaga Road, on a return bus, and we were aboard the Konigsdam by 4 pm.
We were in the deck 10 New York Deli and Pizza, overlooking the midship pool and facing the massive hi-tech screen used for evening movie projections. “So,” I said “what do you think?” “What do I think about what?” Jeanne rejoined. “About the Konigsdam.” “When I first came aboard, I said to myself I don’t think I would go out of my way to sail on this ship again; it was too big, too modern. After taking advantage of some dining and entertainment venues I realized that despite the fact that it was so much larger, it was still Holland America, with the warm, friendly and efficient service we’ve grown used to over the years,” she summed up. “And you couldn’t have as many specialty restaurants, the multi-venue Music Walk and the large hi-tech show theater on the smaller class ships,” I added.
Hotel Director Charles Verwaal stopped by our dining table Sunday evening. Tall, erect, and wearing his dress navy blue officer’s uniform he appeared as a Hollywood central-casting cruise ship captain; though he will never be a cruise ship captain because his training and experience is solely in hospitality. Eventual sea captains (masters of ships) train to develop navigational and other maritime skills. Having written about a number of Holland America hotel directors through the years, I told Glo and Dick “This guy is responsible for over 800 staff aboard; the staff he leads accounts for 80% of the total crew. In answer to Dick’s question, Charles responded: “I have 14 direct reports,” (department heads reporting to him) “though we’d like to organize that down to seven.”
Glo, Dick, Jeanne and I have had a running question, almost from our first breakfast in the Lido, where many passengers pass before our eyes, as they go to and fro from the various cafeteria food stations; some of the folks aboard the Konigsdam are grossly overweight—read morbidly obese. One man, who navigates the ship on a scooter, is clearly in the 300 plus sumo class. The vast majority of cruise ship cabin bathrooms are tiny, with basin, shower and toilet in very cramped space. How do these heavy- weight wonders manage on a daily basis? Jeanne and I encountered Hotel Director Charles again, in our cabin passageway. We chatted, and Jeanne reminded me to ask Charles the burning question. “Well, out of the Konigsdam’s 1331 passenger cabins, 27 are wheelchair accessible.” Obviously with larger bathrooms. “Further, these matters are sort of self-correcting. Remember, on most of our cruises passengers have to fly to or from. They have to fit into an airline seat.” Ah Ha! Puzzle solved.
Glo, Jeanne, Dick, and I disembark the Konigsdam tomorrow morning; a train from Civitavechia to Rome, change trains and on to the The Real Venice, the legendary home of Marco Polo, the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, Murano, Burano, and San Michele, the cemetery Island.
Before our last Mediterranean sunset fades out, I want to give a special shout-out to our diligent and good natured cabin stewards Aris & Mar. Lovely, young Malou created my morning blueberry crepe in the Lido and asked for me when I was absent. Toto, a dining room host could not be more attentive to us, in the Dining Room or the Lido, the New York Deli, seemingly wherever food was served to us. Again, I couldn’t have written much of anything without the help of Lorraine in Guest Services.
This morning I interviewed Staff Captain Frits Carsjens, a delightful young Dutchman of 39 years who already has 18 years with Holland America, following his father and older brother in HAL employment. As far as I can see Frits has a very successful future; his is a story for another post.
12 April 2018 - Hotel Dell’Opera, Venezia (hereafter Venice) Italy Thursday
Jeanne, overburdened with a heavy industrial-strength purse and second heavy shoulder bag, fell as she carried her suitcase off the Rome-Venice high-speed train. Apparently unhurt, her first words to me were: “Grab my arm and help get me up.” A Good Samaritan was first on her case, because I was following her off the train. Later she said, “I wish you had a photo of me sprawled on the concrete.” Not amusing.
After being discharged from our pampered life aboard the Konigsdam, real-life came hard-charging at the four of us. We each had a large, heavy, overstuffed roll-along suitcase that needed to be propelled to the shuttle-bus, lifted onto a Civitavecchia urban bus, then pulled around the Civitavecchia train station; finally lifted onto the train to Rome. In the Rome station it is a hell-of-a-long-distance from the Civitavecchia commuter track to the Rome-Venice high-speed train track. Our railroading day ended at the Venice San Lucia station.
It was disconcerting the Hotel Dell’Opera emailed Jeanne that an expensive private water taxi, instead of a cheap public vaporetto would be needed to get to the Grand Canal-fronting hotel.We stayed there briefly in 2006 after my 42 days as the sole passenger aboard the Republica di Genoa, as it did a cargo round trip—used vehicles to Africa and mahogany and other precious woods back—North Europe-Angola West Africa.
As soon as we four started down the steps from San Lucia station to the water, the taxi touts attacked. “Where you going Mister”, said the first one as he came for me. “None of your business.” I hailed a water taxi at the canal edge. I dickered, but not much, when the driver docked. “I know the Hotel Dell’Opera. I take you right to the door.” Soon, we were slowly churning through a series of thin Venetian canals, finally stopping at the dock of a narrow, beige four-story building. “Hotel Dell’Opera” proudly announced our water taxi commandant, as his passengers gingerly stepped out of the run-about, U.S. boat builder Gar Wood could have designed. I handed him 70 Euros, Dick gave him a five note tip.
“Where is the front door,” I asked the front desk clerk. Pointing to the canal, he stated in a puzzled way: “That is our front door.” Confused, I said: “We stayed here in 2006 and...” “That is impossible sir. The property was acquired and reconstruction begun in 2008.” “But the name, Hotel Dell’Opera, is the same...” I thought to myself, maybe the other hotel went belly-up and the owners here bought the name. One thing was certain: The hotel where we were deposited is in the midst of the maze of the narrow canals, forming the essence of fabled ancient Venice. Our hotel from 2006 fronts the wide-open Grand Canal, looking out to the Lido and beyond. Later, while pondering the D’Opera confusion I asked, “Jeanne would you go to our website and read the 2006 Venice piece?” “‘A Tribute To Music’ is the name of our 2006 Venice hotel,” she replied after a few moments. During our D’Opera breakfast I told Claudia, the Romanian attendant of our hotel confusion. “Then your being here is a mistake,” she replied. Indeed.
Our immense first floor room in the Dell’Opera has French doors opening to a petite balcony overlooking the Rio Della Veste Canal; through it, daylight to dusk, flow an occasional water taxi, the morning garbage scow, and a steady stream of bow-to-stern of gondolas which, on most occasions, are filled with stoic Chinese and Japanese tour groups; the rule-breaking exceptions are romantic Caucasian couples or small families being serenaded by an on-board accordion player doing his full-lung best to bellow out a cover of Dean Martin’s “Amore”.
16 April 2018 - Venice, Florida
During our two day sojourn in Venice when not making the obligatory walk—it was Dicky’s first sojourn in the ancient, Adriatic pre-Italy city-state—to Piazza San Marco, highlighted by Saint Mark’s Basilica, (consecrated 1117) the Italo/Byzantine, five-domed cathedral church of the Venice Catholic Archdiocese, the Doge’s (head of state) medieval Palazzo, we four stuck close to our hotel neighborhood, named after and dominated by the Venice Opera house nearby. After our stroll in and around Piazza San Marco—passing up the opportunity to sip an expresso or cappuccino at Cafe Florian, the oldest, and perhaps the most expensive, coffee house in Europe—. At Glo’s urging we set out in search of the legendary (largely because of Patrons Earnest Hemingway, Aristotle Onassis, Charlie Chaplin and other lords of 20th Century gossip columns) Harry’s American Bar. We found it. We four sat at a table. We enjoyed one round of drinks (with small tuna croquets graciously brought to our table by the manager.) We paid our $100. tab, and began the walk back to Hotel Dell’Opera.
In search of our first evening meal, we four ventured into the Opera house square and beyond. We paused to read menus fronting restaurants as we strolled the dimly-lit street. We selected a moderately-priced restaurant featuring pizza and a laundry list of seafood dishes; it was busy but not crowded. We were seated facing the street, and then ignored for 15 minutes. Suddenly, 40 or so high-spirited French school children streamed through the door, walked through the dining room, and presumably into a back room.
“We gotta get out of here,” Dicky shouted. No one ventured a veto. We instinctively headed for Opera Square, as light rain fell. As we scooted back to the square, with the Opera House on the right, straight ahead was a restaurant; wanting to both dine and remove ourselves from the rain, we approached a white-tied, formally dressed gate keeper at the entrance. “Do have a reservation”, he asked with a smug tone of voice. I said to myself: “Who is this guy kidding, this place is practically empty.” We were seated. Menus were presented. Dicky ordered a bottle of white wine. Jeanne was the first to give us a verbal hint that we had stumbled into something more than a local trattoria—though the white bow ties and black jackets of the waiters should have immediately tipped us off—“The corner of the carpet over there says 1720.” The fact that we about to dine at renowned Antico Martini—from its origin as an 18th Century coffee house into one of Venice’s most renowned 21st Century restaurants hit us. “Do you have clams,” Dicky asked our stern, plump waiter. “Yes, clams with linguine.” It was an unanimous decision. We enjoyed the meal, despite feeling unwelcome. “No,” we didn’t want desert. “No” we didn’t want coffee. When the check was presented, each couple laid down a credit card. The charge to each was $154.14. We withdrew through the backdoor, and walked around the corner to the canal and into Hotel Dell’Opera.
There was another restaurant in the back of the Antico Martini. During the day red-aproned waiters often loitered in the open door or in the narrow street beside. Once, on the way to our hotel, I stopped to question a waiter. “This restaurant is owned by the same family as the Martini; same kitchen. Prices are 40, 50% lower here than in the main dining room. Later he let me know “I was a Barman at the Cipriani before coming here.” “Then you know how to make a real American martini.” “Yes, of course.” “Do you have Beafeater’s Gin?” “I believe so. I’ll check,” He returned “Yes.” “And you will make them for us?” “Yes, of course. Dicky and I favor a 10 to 1 Beafeater’s Martini shaken. To my new Venetian friend, I said: “We’ll be four for dinner at 7.”
After our morning excursion to Piazza San Marco and Harry’s Bar, Jeanne, Dicky and I were ready for a moment or two of relaxation at our hotel. Not Glo. “I’m in Venice, and I’m not going to waste a minute,” and off she went. When she returned to the hotel two hours later, she exclaimed about the shops she had seen and the Al Theatro coffee, pastry and sandwich shop, where she had stopped for a glass of wine. It’s wonderful, and right next to the Opera House. Come on, let’s all go.” I was writing, and demurred, but my three fellow travelers were merrily on their way. When Jeanne returned to our room, she said: “I just had the best cappuccino.” Off my bride and I scurried so I could take the cappuccino test. After two each of the frothy milk and coffee drinks, I said to Nico—his family owns the joint—“You have the best bargain in all Venice: two great cappuccinos for only 3 Euros. Amazing!” He was pleased. I gave him my card, took his photo, and said I would mention him on my web site.
At 7, we four were seated in the canal side, bourgeois back-end of the Antico Martini. Our martini-maker’s efforts were so good, Dicky and I each had a second. The atmosphere was loose and casual, the food delicious. We four chatted, laughed and had a glorious time. The three alcohol drinkers among us went so far as to order an after-dinner sambuca. “With coffee beans or not,” asked waiter Marco. “Sure, let’s go all the way, coffee beans,” I replied. That evening, the two credit cards each got tapped $110.50.
Friday morning after breakfast, we checked out ($666.15) of Hotel Dell’Opera. There was a traffic jam on the Rio Della Veste Canal. Our waiting water taxi could not reach the hotel, so Enrico, the enterprising front desk man rolled our two large bags, telling us “Follow me,” to the spot where our taxi was waiting to enter the canal. There was an opening at the rear of the speedboat passenger compartment, so we stood and took in the splendor of the ancient city-state, as we languidly cruised toward St. Lucia train station.
The high speed train ride to the Rome station was cool as a cucumber; then on a local to the Rome airport, and a shuttle bus to the Hilton Garden Inn. Our dear friends Lena and Hans Isler took us for (and bought) dinner at a restaurant on the Tiber River, with docked commercial fishing vessels lining the bank. Unfortunately, I was not endowed with my usual vigor, had little appetite, and was a party-pooper. My apologies to Lena, Hans and Jeanne.
Saturday morning, on to the Rome airport, a Lufthansa flight to Munich, two hours in the Lufthansa lounge, and we were in the air on our way to Washington Dulles. Jeanne created what I consider a miracle: She got us business class seats and amenities on both Lufthansa flights using United AL points. It was glorious. The planes appeared new, the food first class and the cabin attendants bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed.
Everything collapsed at Dulles: Homeland Security funneled 500 or so ongoing passengers from various foreign-originating flights into an un-air-conditioned holding pen. ONE immigration officer worked the 100s of arriving U.S. citizens. It was insane and deliberately cruel. The bureaucrats know when flights are scheduled. No excuse! During the hour Jeanne and I were in that room I expected to see at least one person faint from the heat. When we left the hell-hole, there were no customs agents on duty. None. We still have our customs declaration. Department of Homeland Security: Your Tax Dollars At Work.
From Dulles, United flew us to Tampa. We easily found our scheduled driver. We were in our Venice home by 2:30 am Sunday morning. Konigsdam/Venezia Adventure over.
- 2016 World Cruise
- 2015 World Cruise
- Another Caribbean Christmas - 2013
- A South Pacific Adventure - 2013
- Historic Halifax, North Carolina - 2013
- Malaga to Miami - 2012
- Caribbean Getaway - 2012
- A Journey Down the Amazon - 2011
- A Hollywood Wedding and Hawaii - 2011
- Family Reunions - 2011
- A Carribean Christmas - 2010
- A Mini Mexico Cruise - 2010
- A Mammoth Asian Adventure - 2010