Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Introducing Amy Farrah Meowler

That Fish was THISSS big!It's been three weeks since we took guardianship of our feline friend. As you might recall from the 'Soft kitty, which kitty?' post earlier in the month - which I typed just before we were about to visit the Assisi animal sanctuary (Northern Ireland's largest independent animal welfare charity). In that post I suspected we'd be matched with a cat who was a bit older - but I was wrong. The cat best suitable was a three month old kitten however this wasn't any trouble as we had time to prepare. Assisi were very good by the way, they do a great job and if you live in this neck of the woods and are ever looking for a pet to re-home, I'd recommend checking them out.

It was ever so surreal during the journey to bring her home. All the cats I've known, from family pets to other peoples', have always freaked out in cars. Amy didn't seem to care, I put my hand into her carrier and she nestled up against it and as I stroked her she purred herself to sleep. Given the situation, she was surprisingly calm. More recently we had to take her on the bus to the vet for her second injections and apart from a little scared, she was fine then too. She is certainly a resilient wee animal.

The story of how she came to be in the animal shelter was a sad one, someone getting a cat for all the wrong reasons and mistreating her before finally wanting rid. Thankfully she seems very happy in her new home with us. Our common ancestor, something like - Maelestes gobiensis (a shrew like creature) - would have been proud to see a couple of it's branches of evolution were getting on so well more than 70 million years later.
Well it would if it had a human brain and could use it for more than just evading being eaten by a dinosaur.

Like the reactions to travelling, Amy's initial reaction to the house was out of the blue - but again in a nice way. We had prepared our expectations for the worst but she took to the place like a fish to water. First she wandered around the rooms claiming them all as hers with a quick rub here and there. Within a matter of 20 minutes she was showing us her fancy footwork playing with her toys.

Catching that ball if it's the last thing

On the form at the animal sanctuary we'd answered the question about length of time willing to allow for the animal to settle in as 'As long as it takes', it turns out 'As long as it takes' in this kitten’s case was shorter than the time it took us to drink a cup of tea whilst keeping an eye on her. It was great to see her playful side, somewhat ninja like at times!

Hey You Human

Saying that, when she's being very playful she has had a few 'You've been framed' moments already. The speed she can pick up running around the house chasing her toys and screwed up paper balls sometimes has to be seen to be believed. At a guess - like all kittens, she also has her 'meaner' side. This Youtube video below had us almost in tears laughing - especially the part where he dons the overmits - it's a song entitled 'mean little kitty' by Cory Williams and is about his pet kitten named Sparta. He certainly experienced a kitten like our own and loves it just the same! after all they're just being kittens even if you are a human chew toy.

We didn't name our kitten after a city state famous for it's military superiority though, we called her Amy Farrah Meowler - named after a character called Dr Amy Farrah Fowler from the very funny US TV show 'The Big Bang Theory'. The name 'Amy Farrah Fowler' basically has the meaning: Beloved Joyful Birdcatcher. Though she is an house cat and won't be catching any birds unless they fly into the house, she is instead a 'Meow-ler. Saying that she doesn't meow often, only when she wants something and it doesn't look like it’s forthcoming. The good news is she's already begun to respond to 'Amy', I'm reliably informed that names ending in 'Y' and 'ie' are easiest for cats to learn.

As far as personality goes, she is like her namesake, a clever one! Where most cats I've known would be timid, Amy see’s only more opportunities to play. And when she's being mischievous, she knows just what to do. I'm sure at times the look in her eye is one that says "you think you’re using kitten psychological behavioural modification techniques on me! Nuh Uh! Muwhahaha, I shall reverse condition you back my human!". I wouldn't be surprised if one day to get away with something she put on the Super Mario theme tune for me and cooked spaghetti with hot dogs cut up for Norngirl.

Her playfulness, though boisterous at times is often very instinctive but ever increasingly adaptive. At the moment, to hunt a ball of paper, she'll first gather intelligence:

Spy Kitten

Then leap out at her target it least suspects it, before chasing it around the room and carrying it back in her mouth to somewhere she can lay down and toy with it. If you use more than one ball, she'll do the same for each and line them up together like they're mice. She's also very stealthy. If she wants to sneak up on you she will.

If a human is stood up and doesn't want to play there is a 2 second window to call her bluff, tell her 'No Amy' and move on without hesitation. If not done within that 2 seconds she'll proceed to play chicken with you. She's a master strategist at this game - well except the one time she got ahead of herself and did a back flip in some sort of confused strategic retreat, bless. Her pouncing at feet is her current specialty, only to be outdone by her first mini-beast kill when overnight she left a very large house spider curled up dead in the middle of the floor. Norngirl was very pleased with her for this mind you as she doesn't like spiders. Amy for the next couple of days became known as Amy 'Spider killer' Farrah Meowler.

Luckily the playful and sometimes 'mean kitty' moments are almost always followed by the amazingly cute - sleepy kitty moments.

Amy Farrah Meowler Sleeping

Like a light going out, after a good couple of hours of play time she'll regularly jump into her spot on the sofa where she'll just curl up & drop fast asleep. Most of the time though her routine is to go from manic playful to affectionate, you give her a stroke, she grooms herself for a minute then the light switch moment as she curls up into a ball or stretches out on her back and turns herself off for a couple of hours. It's very cute and it was like that from day one. Within just a mere matter of hours of being in the house with us she'd found a spot of her own on the sofa and was asleep slap bang in the middle of us!
We were expecting to have to coax her out from hiding places but nope, it was like she'd always lived here with us. Can't blame her, she'd found herself a home and was going to enjoy it damnit! Good girl yourself Amy lass.

Her daily routine so far is to be all purry, cute and out for affection first thing in a morning before being fed, once she's had her fill of breakfast it's then play time.
She will run about the house in a mad half hour before settling down in her room on top of some draws where she has the best vantage point out of the window to watch us head to work. What she does other than make a mess during the day we're not sure though given her fondness of technology she might be a 'Stewie' of Family Guy fame like creature, plotting her quest for global dominion.

Kitten Blogs You

We leave classic FM on low on the radio for her for some company, she seems to like it, or at least doesn't mind. If anyone has any better suggestions for cat radio, do let me know!

On an early evening, again after food and a mad half hour, her favourite place to spend some human interaction time is on Norngirl. AFM quickly adopted Norngirl as a motherly figure (Like Amy Farrah Fowler took to Penny as her 'bestie') and will spend lots of time as close to Norngirls head as possible, usually preening and often trying to lick Norngirl's skin too. It's cute but having seen where the cats' tounge has been, Norngirl wisely opts for the human form of washing.

Kitten Nose Lickin Good

At this point it's back to play which is when we normally play with her the most. It's can be quite a work out for us as well as the cat, she soon learns patterns when you're playing with her so it's a challenge to be random enough to keep her interested in the toy and not your feet.

Though she plays with the bought toys during the day, her favourite things to play with (apart from our hands and feet) are of course the packaging those toys came in. What else! She loves rustling brown paper, cardboard boxes and anything paper based that is scrunched up into a ball.

Food wise, she's quite picky, the vet (probably trying to sell the stuff) recommended dry food only but (on advice of more independent books we've read) we feed her 2 high protein (kitten specific) wet meals a day and access to dry food the rest. She likes strong flavours and smells, seemingly the stinkier the better, but only eats small quantities at any one sitting. If anyone can give us some better scientific advice, please do, the internet seems more divided on this topic than the extremes of the Northern Irish Assembly on the subject of national identity.

Then, as I mentioned already, comes the usual stuttering of the motor as she runs out of fuel. She enjoys some pampering and some self grooming before falling asleep on one of us or in between us. Later on around midnight we set up her room and fill her cat hot water bottle with some warm water and put her to bed. Her bed being a cat bed but placed on an office chair as the first night when she had a choice of the two she slept on the chair itself.

So yep, so far so good, she now has her routine and we've got used to the change in ours. At her check up she was in pristine health and growing purrrfectly.

Looking at my hands right now, like Norngirl's too, they've taken plenty of collateral damage these last few weeks, but it's been worth it. We've also learnt the advantages of using a blanket when she's showing her kittytude and it's certainly helped, as did clipping her claws. All being well, she'll grow from being an awesome energetic little kitten to be a big friendly clever cat. That’s the theory anyway!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Bounding around Boston - Part 2

Before we got the bus to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum located on part of the MIT campus in Cambridge we walked past the Prudential Tower we'd just had lunch at the top of.

Looking up at the Prudential Tower

The bus ride was a very short one and after a little confusion as to where we were going we found the Museum. It was awesome for nerds like us and probably non-nerds too. What sparked my interest in wanting to go there was the large collection of holographic images they have on display but I ended up enjoying everything there. From plasma balls to awesome mechanical objects and an area you can write your own ideas with colouring pencils! Lots of science, technology and design among other things.

Plasma Ball

Part of a mechanical exhibit

I have to apologies to Norngirl for what we did next which was to walk back to the hotel. In my defense it looked a lot closer on the map. Sorry again!

Memorial Drive river side footpath

The upside to that walk was the view, a view of the city across the river.

Charles River Scene in Boston

Sepia Boston Charles River Nighttime Panorama

Which also looks fun as an upside down reflection in the river.

Upside down river reflection of the Boston Skyline

The sun set as we walked back and we took it easy in the evening, taking our time over a swim in the pool then out for a long meal (I had a BLT pizza) and drinks.

The next day was the day we flew home but we had it planned so we could make the most of the day.

1st up we checked out then left our luggage with the water taxi company we were going to be travelling with to the airport later in the day.

Next we hopped across town, having a look around as we went.

Downtown Boston

Burns statue in Boston

We called into a few shops for the few remaining gifts we wanted to get for folks back home, a café for lunch, and made our way on the subway out to a place called Stony Brook which has a real old town US feel to it provided by the fun ye olde period looking houses.

Stony Brook, Boston

Located there is the Samuel Adams brewery who do free tours though a small donation of a couple of dollars to local charities is asked for on the tour itself. Our tour guide was great, I can only describe it as like being taken on a brewery tour by Boston's version of Al Murray - which was brilliant fun - give this dude a pay-rise.

Samuel Adams Brewery Tour

We got to taste the ingredients and then at the end, plenty of the finished product including some speciality lines. Not only that, they let you keep your Sam Adams taster glass. As well as our glasses we left with a new found appreciation for some of the beer.

Sampling beer at the Sam Adams Brewery

Back on the subway and enjoying the almost tipsy feeling, we got off the subway and took a look around Boston Public Garden, a large park in the middle of the city.

Boston Public Garden Panorama

Once we'd had our scenic fill, we got back on the T to Quincy Market where we'd been the day before.

Inside Quincy Market

Quincy Market's Dome in Boston

We had something on our bucket list that we hadn't done yet which was on sale there. With just a couple of hours to go before we needed to be at the airport, we had time to try some clam chowder which was very creamy and tasty.

Boston Clam Chowder

The trip was over all too soon, time has a habit of keeping ticking but as we'd planned we still had one more thrill, the water taxi. We'd looked at getting the T across to the airport but it just didn't seem as fun and it's always great to have something to look forward to right at the very end of your trip. I'm really glad we did take the water taxi as from the boat we were able to see the city from the water and it's quite the view, a fine way to bid farewell to the city.

Boston Skyline from Water taxi terminus

As I mentioned at the start of the post, I found Boston to be relaxed and welcoming. The best parts of our trip for me were the Ice Hockey and the museum at MIT, I also very much enjoyed the Sam Adams Brewery tour and the clam chowder. Though Boston seems to sell its tourism on it’s history and that probably works for a US crowd my opinion would be, that like Belfast, it's best assets are where it’s people get on board in creating it’s future. Old and historically significant buildings, churches and boats are a dime a dozen around the world, but exhibits like those at MIT and the friendly feel inside a large sports arena seem increasing unique – at least those that really do it well anyway! The taste and flavours of the city are great and there is loads to do, especially in the surrounding area and a lot more than we could fit into our 1 full day and 2 half days. I’d especially like to revisit the city at a good time for whale watching as I think it’d be awesome. Out of the 3 cities we visited (Washington, New York and Boston) Boston was the most down to Earth and most like being back in the UK but that comes with both a good side and a bad, good in the way it’s non-threatening and functional but not so good in that it lacks some of the real excitement and that almost undefinable life of it’s own that somewhere like New York has in abundance. I really enjoyed Boston and indeed the whole trip, I just hope that one day we can afford to revisit.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bounding around Boston - Part 1

In Boston (The one in Massachusetts, USA) we found a pleasant city with a nice atmosphere and friendly people. This was our last stop in our February 2012 US visit and we were only there a couple of days, a flying visit as we were flying back to the UK from Logan Airport.

Boston Massachusetts

I think we spent our time wisely as again thanks to Norngirl it was well planned. After getting off the train from New York we stood on an almost deserted platform, the complete opposite of Penn Station where we'd been just hours earlier. The first thing we did was buy our travel passes for the local metro service called the 'T' and found ourselves a station to get on a tram out to Cambridge where the hotel we were staying at was located.

Once we had made it to the hotel, checked and settled in, we made our way to the local Cheesecake Factory we found food and were introduced to the not so old Samuel Adams. His tastier brews became a firm friend during our visit.

Another ride on the T and we'd made it to TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins for the big game as they took on the New York Rangers.

Bruins TD Garden

I'll try not to delve into too much depth as I still aim to write a separate post on all of the overall Ice Hockey experience but suffice to say, we weren't at this game as neutrals. We were cheering for the New York Rangers! Boston and New York have quite the friendly rivalry. Inside the stadium we were set upon by a big fury Bruin, thankfully this one was the mascot dressed up in a big plush costume. I got a mocking tug of my hockey shirt that says 'NEW YORK' diagonally across it and some Bruin attitude... we laughed. Next up the dude selling beer was toying with us until he found out we'd travelled from the Emerald Isle, at which point ‘best buds’ and the beer flowed. It was all in good humour and it set the tone for a friendly but competitive game in which, complete with a flashing beer, we had a great time.

It felt like being in a friendly hornets nest (the Bruins club colours didn't help) or should I say Bruins den? We were little spots of blue and red scattered amongst an arena of yellow and black. A plucky fellow New York Rangers fan in the section across from us gave us both some confidence with some fighting talk and so as the NYR goals rained in we celebrated like we were at Madison Square Garden. The final score was 3-0, the Bruins fans did get to cheer but it was short lived as a goal was correctly ruled out muwhahahaha.

Rangers @ Bruins TD Garden Big Screen

We hung back as the crowds emptied from the stands to take it all in and ended up having a chat about hockey with a friendly Bruins fan and we wished them all the best for the season. On the way out the building we had to use the lift, turns out we weren't the only UK hockey fans in the building as a lady with a Coventry Blaze shirt was there too. Our night ended back in the hotel with a slice of Cheesecake, watching the Daily Show on TV.


The next day we set about our sightseeing itinerary. We'd decided not to bother with the USS Constitution as we've seen our fair share of ships and US history this trip. We also looked up the sights along the freedom trail but we hoped to do something different.

First of all we took a walk past Boston City Hall, Custom House Tower...

Custom House Tower Boston

and Faneuil Hall ...

Faneuil Hall Boston

...and through Quincy Market.

Quincy Market Boston

We then carried on our walk down Long Wharf amongst others...

Panorama near Long Wharf

Bird House? in Boston Inner Harbour

Boston Inner Harbor Panorama

The aim was to find where to go the next day for a water taxi to the airport and it found where we were looking for at Rowes Wharf.

Rowes Wharf Boston

To get to our next location we ended up in the Aquarium... well the stop of that name anyway. The place names were fun. We were heading inbound which wouldn't have been disappointing if we weren't giving up the intrigue of finding out what was is in Wonderland!

Aquarium Outbound to Wonderland

Where we did go was for lunch, a delicious and very reasonably priced set lunch (which on the day was $22 for 3 courses) at the restaurant called 'Top of the Hub' which is located at the top of Prudential Tower. It had amazing views of the urban sprawl and beyond.

Fenway Park and Boston view from View from the Prudential Tower

View from the Prudential Tower

This was followed by a short walk to the bus stop to catch our ride over the Harvard bridge to the University area in order to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum... more in part 2.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Part of the Daily Show Audience

The Daily Show StudioI realise it's not everyone's cup of tea but we really enjoy watching the US TV show - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The show is filmed in a small studio on the west side of midtown Manhattan in New York (it's pre-recorded before later that evening being shown on Comedy Central) and the awesome thing is, if you can get tickets online when they're released, you can watch it being recorded - for free!

Norngirl knows her stuff and prior to our East Coast US trip last February, she was scouring the Daily Show website many times a day to try to get free tickets for any day we'd be in the NYC. Her persistence with the F5 key paid off and on the afternoon of February 13th 2012 we were headed across town on a bus to get to the studio so we could be part of the audience on that day’s show.

Being nerds however, we got off the bus a little early to have a quick nosey at the building where they film the spin off show from The Daily Show, called the Colbert Report. Here is the building:

Colbert Report Studio 513 W 54th Street New York

... and here is one of the painted posters featuring a likeness of Mr Steven Colbert himself to be found on the walls of the studio:

Colbert Report painted graffiti poster

It's just around the block from the Daily Show studio and so it didn't take us long to make it past the park so often featured on their shows with Jon and Stephen chasing one another around.

Once at the building we got in the queue (see photo at the start of the post). We knew already that the ticket you get online is just the ticket to get a ticket - the ticket to be in the audience you get on the day itself. That means you do need to be there as early as possible (though don't go mad and camp out or anything) to guarantee a place as they do over subscribe the tickets given out on the internet to ensure enough people come to pick up a ticket to make a full audience. So along with a lot of other likely looking characters and some not so likely, we waited a while.

At the time the tickets said to be there by, some folks who work for the show came down the line to explain what was going to happen and how long it'll be etc. It wasn't too long we'd waited, around an hour or so and we were about halfway in line. As with pretty much every day on our trip, we thankfully got lucky with the weather and it wasn't too cold. There is a canopy however so if it did rain there would be some shelter. Indeed in the end it was a breeze really as we'd waited longer in line to buy theatre tickets before, so queueing up to watch something for free was no trouble.

Once we had been checked in and given our number we had a bit of time to play with so headed up town on the bus to see a part of town we'd not really seen much of, the upper West side. The area seemed to be a haven for local schools and was packed with teenagers munching away on fast food, having a laugh and giving their friends 'tude. After a bite to eat we headed back to the studio via 2 buses, as the Subway wasn't an option for reasons I can't remember, but we still made it back early and got into the right group area they'd set up for us to wait in that was ordered by ticket number. There was then a call for last minute calls of nature before a person came to tell us some more about the how they were going to do this thing. Once we passed through the airport like security we were seated by the seating people. We were very lucky due to circumstance and ended up sat in the front row. Looking around the room we were in the main block of seating, head on to the desk where Jon Stewart performs the majority of his show. The place soon filled and then there was an introduction and the warm up guy came to get us in the laughing spirit, though to be honest I don't think we needed much warming up, just being there with the set of the show in front of us was enough.

Jon then joined the rest of us in the studio and did a some meet and greet, cracked a couple of jokes and took questions from people in the crowd. As with everywhere in New York, we weren't the only folks from the British Isles in the building. Someone from southern England asked a question about why we didn't get the Daily Show on TV in the UK any more (which back then was the case). It was on the TV channel More4 for a while but they stopped showing it. Jon explained a bit and came across very understanding. I'm not really someone who cares much for celebrities & celebrity culture but Jon Stewart has to be up there as a well known person I've most appreciated being in the same room as. His presence is huge, and in a nice way, like the American version of Michael Palin - very understanding, brilliant at what they do but also worldly wise as well as very funny.

On a side note, Boris Johnson went on the show a few months later and not long after we got back to Northern Ireland, the show was on Comedy Central - good times! It saved us having to connect the HDMI cable to the laptop all the time in order to ever have chance to see it.

The show we saw that day was great. Being a member of the audience was a fun experience. When you're there you're told to try to try to laugh a little louder to accommodate the sound levels. Though awkward at first, you kinda get used to not holding back in laughing loudly. It's not forced laughter either, there are screens showing the pre recorded clips that will be in the show and Jon does almost all of it in real time, as if it was live. Also the thing about the sound levels is true, on the TV it's like the audience are in a box yet there it's like being in the crowd at a comedy gig.

Jon did everything first time, no retakes at all, as I said, he's brilliant at what he does. Can't beat the message he sends out with his comedy too, a sanity check of the US political and topical landscape through humour. One thing I would advise to anyone going to see the show, follow the news and watch the show a lot before you go so you get the jokes. Luckily we did and do but I'm sure if you're not up to speed with some of the news stories those jokes might wash over your head.

Pretty much the only parts cut on TV when we watched later were the in-between clips quips and interaction with the audience and the part where the studio hands mopped up the water that was splashed all over the floor as part of a sketch before the guest from the FBI came out. Safety first and all that! The special guest was Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent promoting his new book. As guest on the show go he was OK but it was quite a dry subject matter so not the greatest interview. It was all over seemingly far sooner than the time suggested, I'd love to go back and watch another being recorded and also maybe catch a Colbert Report filming too, we'll have to see what the future holds!

Later that night, after we'd been shopping for odds and ends we flumped back into the hotel, ordered a take out to the room and watched the show we'd been at followed by that night’s Colbert Report. Norngirl wrote a much better account here about this day including all the other places we ended up as well as this and the earlier ride on the Roosevelt Tramway.

We're still avid viewers of the Daily Show and watch it every night, laughing at the absurdity of politics and people that with our own quite liberal (striving for equality) views, often find common grou the madness in N.I, the rest of the UK and Ireland.

One thing that did spring to mind when we were there and still holds true now is that we could really do with a show like it dedicated to events in N.I. Just something to shine a light on the absurd idiocy of our political landscape. We had a couple of shows here in N.I. like the sketch show The Folks on the Hill and sit coms like Give my Head Peace, but they're not quite the same, a late night political satire show in a similar format to the Daily Show could be awesome!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

That Time We Went On A Cruise

This wasn't our usual sort of trip. For a start, our bed, the four walls and even the dinning room traveled with us.

Circle of Sea

Going on a cruise around the Western Mediterranean sea was mainly down to chance. Our first plan had been to try and book a trip that would start with a city break in Edinburgh then take in a train ride to London then more trains til we'd visited a city or two in Europe, somewhere like Brussels/Munich or Paris/Milan. This trip was to have us in London on the 10th anniversary of the day we met - and also our 3rd wedding anniversary. Sadly it was a no-go, after adding up all the train fares, hotel costs, factoring in it'd be November and potentially we'd face delays with so many connections, it was just too risky and costly. First world problems I know.

Other plans also fell by the wayside due to practicalities and cost but as luck would have it, one trip that Norngirl turned up in her extensive search was what must have been a rather empty cruise because the price was very low at the time for what it was. Though it did mean having to go on our first Ryanair flight (never again if I can help it!), it was doable. I think the words were along the lines of 'Why the hell not, LETS DO IT!'. So we worked out the logistics and itinerary and Norngirl got the cruise booked. It was an 11 night trip taking in Palma in Mallorca (a substitute stop in place of Tunis due to the unrest there at the time), Valletta in Malta, Messina in Sicily, Naples, Rome (Civitavecchia) and Pisa (Livorno).

Map on screen

Time soon caught up with our departure date and in the dead of night we traveled down to Dublin by bus (which we happened to get all to ourselves - it was the worlds largest taxi). Luckily it was the night of the US election and the bus and Dublin airport have free WiFi so we were in our element following it all. Thankfully a happy ending given that even in Northern Ireland Mitt Romney would be hard pushed at being electable and that's saying something!

Obama Re-election 2012

On the way out we flew with Aer Lingus. From what I'd heard through the grapevine I expected the sort of service we ended up getting on the way home with Ryanair. It was nothing like that though, it was clean and comfortable, they reminded me of generic low cost airlines likes Flybe, Jet2 or BMI. After a nice flight we landed in Barcelona. We'd been here a couple of times before so knew our way around and got the bus into the city. The hotel we stayed in was tucked away down a side street that didn't exist on Google Maps but it was quite new and nicely modern. Our room was clean and tidy and had a fun shower that was like one of those fountains you sometimes find at leisure centre swimming pools. In Barcelona we headed out for a bit of tapas and a bottle of wine (day drinking on a tired head... weeeeeee) followed by a walk to the harbour area where we had a look around.

Barcelona Marina Panorama

Our intention going down there was to finally ride the cable car.

Funicular de Montjuïc Barcelona

We'd been as close as the station at the top of the hill a couple of years earlier but time was an issue that day. Sadly, we were thwarted again. We got to the central tower only to find out that entrance/exit was closed for a few months. As we hadn't slept since the day before we didn't fancy any random trips across town to the top of the hill or around on a bus to the far side of the harbour. It wasn't to be, so we went back to the room, rested a while then went out in search of food using the downloaded maps on our phones. We found a bakery and a convenience store and got some odd looking snacks. I think mine was something along the lines of an imitation crab meat seafood stick sandwich which was ermm, different but not bad at all.

The next morning we made our way in a Taxi (which wasn't too expensive though they do charge a little extra to take you to the port or airport) to the cruise ship itself.
The ship was called 'Serenade of the Seas'.

Serenade of the Seas

This was our first cruise so we just went along with what everyone else was doing. Sea pass in hand we boarded and went through the now familiar on-boarding security screening. We were travelling with Royal Caribbean and onboard alcohol is rather expensive so some people were trying to smuggle it on. We didn't bother (as much as we wanted to!), we did buy a few drinks onboard during our trip however we went sparingly and opted to make the most of our port days. Like this wine we merrily passed the time with in the not so exciting city of Messina.

Red Wine in Sicily

It wasn't a bad thing as there was a distinct lack of real ale onboard the ship and most beer onboard came in cans or bottles and at posh hotel pint prices. Some San Miguel in Palma, Cisk in Malta and Sicilian Beer in Messina, though not the greatest drinks, were nicer than a can of Guinness for 5 times the price you'd usually pay.

Ummm, holiday beer.

A Beer in Spain

Messina Lager

Though we did very much like the cocktails onboard ship and got plenty of promotional glasses which we now use at home. They were also very nice for each sail away. We got very lucky with the weather during our trip and so had views like this to enjoy.

Sunset over the port in Barcelona

I'll be putting together some posts about what we saw in the ports we visited soon but as far as the cruise experience goes, here were the highlights and low-lights.

The good stuff:

- The ship itself was clean and tidy, and other than some of the old fashioned decor, it had some great sights:

Panorama night scene of a Cruise Ship deck

Serenade of the Seas Lobby Lifts

- The food: was brilliant! In all the spots you can eat (there was a huge choice and the standard was beyond expectation). The food was probably the highlight of the cruise experience. Evening meals in the dining room were perfect and other food around the ship was great too, so much choice it was unbelievable. Having views like this from one of the cafes was a awesome way to eat your breakfast!

Mount Vesuvius

- The service and staff: were brilliant - especially the waiting staff who covered our table in the main restaurant and our room’s attendant.

Towel animal in room

- The onboard activities: I had great fun with the mini golf course though it wasn't my proudest moment (OK, well I was a little proud) when my ball clipped a rock, bounced off 2 odd shaped obstacles and managed to find somehow squeeze between the protective screen and land on the deck below – oops! Shooting some hoops on basketball court was good craic too.

Basketball on a ship

We also went along to a couple of the ‘Language basics’ classes for Spanish and Italian, they were just the right amount of basic to pick up a few extra words to add to please, sorry and thank you and came in handy on our trips away from the boat. The swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, were grand to float around in though a little tricky to do much swimming, especially at busy times. The hot tubs when you could get a space in one were also nice and relaxing and the outdoor ones a nice place to chill.

Serenade of the Seas outdoor pool and bar

The entertainment – the shows we went to we enjoyed, the entertainment was like a dolled up Butlins show - lots of former talent show competition winners etc. The entertainment manager and some other guy from the entertainment team did a show each day where you could write in and have stuff read out. We found ourselves submitting slips of paper most nights by the crazy teapot.

Crazy Tea Pot

- Sleeping at sea: on a couple of nights it was a bit of a rough sea but we slept like logs, you just get used to the motion and it’s like a comforting rock, combined with lots of sightseeing we were asleep as soon as we turned over and our heads were on the pillows.

- I really quite like the relaxed feel onboard the ship and I could get used to waking up most mornings, rolling over and seeing a new port or city. Then heading for a cup of tea and some breakfast whilst watching a city or port go about it’s business below.

The not so good stuff:

- Fellow passengers, not all mind you (most of those in the photo below are probably lovely people) but 4/5 of those who tried to seriously engage us in conversation, I could have done without meeting.

Belly Flop Competition

There was one guy from Belfast who no longer lived in Belfast who seemed to want us to think he was Bono with a harem in tow – which he could have pulled off had it not been for the fact he was so drunk he knocked over his own drink without realising and then wondered where it had gone. Another guy from New York met us twice and gave us the entire same conversation both times before just ending mid sentence each time and wandering off like a puppy who got distracted and lost his train of thought.

- Sales technique - we were looking forward to what were described as destination lectures. Yeah, don't. Glorified sales pitches for overly expensive tours. Some of the information wasn't exactly accurate either.

- The location and transport options/price from where we docked in Palma (Mallorca) was terrible (unlike the port in Belfast, don't expect a free shuttle into the middle of town).

Overall: I enjoyed this holiday but it's hard to look at it as travelling in the usual sense because it was largely just a flying visit at each port of call (though the 2 days in Rome was great). The concept of a cruise like this with ports so close together seems a good idea for a taster of places, but there just isn't chance to spend much quality time to really get to know a place or see everything.

Wake of the Serenade of the Seas

We had 2 sea days on this 11 night cruise and I think if we ever choose to splash out on a cruise again we'd be looking for less ports and more days at sea. Time to be able to unwind and treat it as a beach holiday. I'd also be looking for a company that provides basic alcoholic drinks as part of the package. I think the cruise we were on was better suited to an older, wealthier crowd but we certainly made the most of it and had a good time though to be honest I don't think cruises will be very near the top of my wish list when we're next looking for a holiday for ourselves.


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