07/9/13
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Art Cathedrals

On July 9, 2013, Ivan and I woke up early at 7:30 am.  The Carnival Legend was docked in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We had room service deliver our breakfast.  Ivan and I had smoked salmon with toast and cereal.  Ivan put the extra Raisin Bran in my bag in case he got hungry later.

In order to go into Russia from a cruise ship, you have to be booked on a tour.  It can be a tour that you booked yourself or through the cruise line.  Ivan booked a tour online since it was cheaper than the one on the cruise ship which is almost always the case.

Ivan, Lil Dave and I left at 8 am.  We stood in line for immigration.  20 windows were open, so it went pretty fast.  You have to bring your passport, immigration form and your tour ticket.  Ivan and I went to the The Immigration desk together.  The Immigration agent didn’t say anything and was stone-faced.  She took Ivan’s passport and glanced at Ivan’s paper for the tour.  She stamped his passport.  She barely looked at my tour paper.  I’m sure it would have been easy to book a tour to get the paperwork since you don’t pay until the last day of the tour.

Lil Dave left to go meet up with his cousin Davoff.  Ivan and I met up for The two day Grand Tour with Alla Tours.  We went on the bus which was a total of 15 people including us.

Our guide was a Russian named Vladimir.  We were given headsets, so we could hear what he was saying.  His voice was monotone, so it made you want to go to sleep.

The group’s first stop was at Admiralteyskaya metro station.  This station is 1 year and 7 months old.  We took a long escalator ride down which is 410 feet long.

Long escalator to Admiralteyskaya metro station

There’s a shorter escalator to the station since it’s difficult to build an escalator beyond 410 feet.  We took the train one stop and then came back to Admiralteyskaya.  Ivan and I thought it was pointless doing this since the station wasn’t all that special, the only cool part was the 410 feet long escalator.

Our bus driver drove us to the next stop which was the Hermitage Museum.    We didn’t have to wait and got right in to the museum.  This museum gets a million visitors a year.

Lots of cool art in the Hermitage

You know a museum is going to have some cool architecture and art when the staircase leading to the museum is impressive.

1 1/2 ton bronze chandelier

Vladimir pointed out the one and a half ton bronze chandelier above our heads.

We saw many halls like Peter the Great Hall, St. George Hall and the Da Vinci Hall.

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We would see one hall and you thought Wow, this is wonderful, but then you see another one that’s just as amazing.

The museum got crowded in some areas.

The murals on the ceilings were quite wonderful.

Beautiful art on the ceiling

You really do need a guide to show you all the cool rooms and artwork otherwise you’d be clueless to what you’re looking at.  Vladimir definitely knew his stuff.

Lovely artwork on the ceilings and walls

Our group saw lots of artwork varying in types like Baroque, Renaissance and Russian.  I did listen to what Vladimir said, but sometimes I went off to take pictures.  Good thing I didn’t lose our group.

Vladimir took us to the New Hermitage where we saw statues and art.

Crouching Boy by Michelangelo

Got to see the Crouching Boy statue by Michelangelo and a few paintings by Rembrandt.

The Holy Family with Angels by Rembrandt

It was great to be able to see so much during our 2 1/2 tour of this wonderful museum.  I highly recommend a visit to this museum.

The group was driven to Via Dell’ Oliva for lunch.  The restaurant was pretty inside.  There was coleslaw and bread at the table which wasn’t anything special.  Ivan and I were sitting with an older couple from San Antonio.

A soup was brought out.  Ivan told the guide that we were vegetarian.  No vegetarian soup was brought out as a replacement.

The Texan couple got a chicken breast and a boiled potato for their main dish.  Ivan and I got grilled vegetables.  We think the chef wasn’t very imaginative or Alla Tours is only paying a small amount for our lunches which means a limited, boring menu.

Our next stop was The Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood.  It’s an Orthodox church filled with beautiful mosaics on the walls and ceiling.

Mosaics in The Church of the Spilled Blood Savior

I thought this church was amazing inside and I would have loved to explore it more and take lots of pictures.

The driver took us to the river where we boarded a boat.  Ivan and I sat at the top where we could get a good view of everything.

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral

The commentary said St. Petersburg was modeled after Venice and Amsterdam, so it’s good to see the city by boat.  The boat showed us the sights of St. Petersburg.

It was off to another cathedral, this time it was St. Isaac’s Cathedral.  It’s the 4th biggest church dome in the world.

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The church is filled with classic and baroque art and architecture.  I can tell you one thing.. the Russian artists and architects seem to love to use gold in their work.

Our last stop was at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.  Many Romanov rulers are buried here:
Peter the Great and his family are buried here, Catherine the Great, all three Alexanders, Paul, Peter III, Anne and Nicolas I and II.

Inside of The Peter and Paul Cathedral

Ivan and I were tired, so I only walked around a bit to take a few pictures.  I did notice a lot of baby angels on the ceiling.

The driver took us back to the Carnival Legend ship.  Ivan and I got back on board at 6 pm.

Later, we went to dinner.  We were supposed to meet up with The Aussies at 8 pm.  Found out that Tim and Gabbie had already eaten, so we thought we’d get assigned to a table with other people.

We sat down with an English couple who live in Wales.  The lady got robbed on the first stop on her tour and she reckons the tour guides were in on it.  A handy tip: If you’re going to St. Petersburg, wear a money belt.

Ivan and I had the black bean soup which was delicious.  Ivan also got a study in sushi which is small, but tasty.

Lisa from dinner came over to talk to us about her boring guide, I guess we weren’t the only ones with a guide who had lots of knowledge, but was boring and monotone.

We both got the delectable baked herb polenta with mushroom ragout for our main dish.  For dessert, we got a cinammon, fig and raising cake which was yummy.

Since we were so knackered (tired), we went back to the room and called it an early night.

06/13/13
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Fez Food Tour

Ivan and I had breakfast at the riad at 9 am on June 13, 2013.  Lil Dave was already out to meet up with Abu for a tour of the medina and a banana tasting.

Ivan and I got a taxi to the Blue Gate.

The Blue Gate in Fez

We saw a Chinese lady there waiting for the food tour.  Shortly, Gail showed up later.

Gail was our guide for the Souk Tasting Trails food tour.  We went to a café inside the Blue Gate and met a young, posh girl from Oxford who was also part of the group.

We walked around the medina and Gail told us about the food.  She thinks it’s important to eat the local food to connect to a place.

We learned that fig and dates are mentioned in the Koran, so Muslims find it sacred.  They are stockpiling them right now for the upcoming Ramadan.  To break their fast, they eat dates since it has a high level of sugar which travels quickly to the liver.  We tried medjool dates which were tasty.

Muslims think that male meat is better than females.  You will see testicles attached to meat hanging outside a butcher to prove it’s male meat.

Hanging male meat

Isn’t that lovely?

Gail gave us something that looked like a little broom.  You tear off a piece of the dried flower of the agave and use it as a toothpick.

Ivan looks like a hick

Ivan stuck it in his mouth and he looked like a country bumpkin.

We saw uncooked stuffed camel spleen which didn’t look very appetizing.

Stuffed camel spleen

Gail really knew all about Moroccan food and life.

Our next tasting was celebratory candy like sesame and nougat candies.  The nougat candies are colorful with a variety of colors like green, white, pink, orange, yellow and brown.

We learned about olives and their antiseptic quality.  If a kid gets a cut on their finger, an olive is cut open and put around the finger.

Our group stopped to see the Mint Man who allowed photographs to be taken of him.

The Mint Man

He seemed like a nice guy.  Muslims can’t be too proud, so they don’t like getting photographed.  Some people will ask for money when you’re going to take a picture of them.

Holding some mint

We smelled mint and lemons at the mint place.

Blue barrel filled with honey

The group stopped at a honey souk where we got to try 7 different honeys in the back room where the honey was stored in big blue barrels.  A few of the honeys we tasted were eucalyptus, acacia, carob & grape, lavender and fig.  Some were gritty while others were silky smooth.  The flavors varied a lot from smoky to creamy to nutty.  I really liked the eucalyptus honey which tasted like caramel.

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Gail told us all about the benefits of honey like the fig honey is good for people with asthma.  Local honey is good for people suffering with allergies.  In the Koran, it says that bees should be free.

Gail also let us try smen which is fermented butter… it tasted like cheese and was so creamy and delectable.

The group visited the public bakery where anybody can bring their own dough to be baked in the big oven.

Taking out the bread from the old oven

Any whole bread that isn’t eaten is brought back to this bakery.  It will be re-toasted to be given to the poor or to the donkeys.  It’s good to know that it’s not going to waste.  Gail said that the bakeries know everything since they know if a family is expecting guests or if somebody is looking for a potential love match.  This oven is 400-500 years old.

We visited another public place which had an oven that was fueled by wood chips.  Gail has used this to make her tagines.  She says it can take 6 hours to make one.

Moroccan street food

At the end, Gail picked out street food for our group.  Our group sat down to eat bessara (fava bean soup) and the street food which consisted of fried aubergine, chips (french fries), fish, peppers and crumbed liver.

I highly recommend the Souk Tasting Trails food tour since you try a lot of Moroccan food and learn a little about the Muslim culture.

Ivan and I got a taxi back to the square and we walked back to our riad where we relaxed and I worked on the blog.

Later, Ivan and I went to Restaurant Dar Hatim for dinner.  We were picked up by the son who runs the restaurant and driven to the restaurant.  His wife and his mom cook the food.  The traditional house has beautiful wood artwork on the ceiling.  The wife served us – she was all smiles and very friendly.

Moroccan salads at Dar Hatim

The free salads (starters) came out – it was definitely the most Moroccan salads we’ve gotten at a restaurant.

Ivan and I had some mint tea.  Alcohol isn’t on the menu at Restaurant Dar Hatim, but you can bring your own.  We didn’t see any liquor stores in Fez.  Our food tour guide Gail said the owners at our riad could probably buy wine for us, but we forgot to ask.

Chicken Pastilla

Ivan and I shared a vegetable cous cous and a chicken pastilla which is the wife’s specialty.

The pastilla costs more than a cous cous which is weird since it’s a lot smaller. I think it’s because it’s a hard dish to make since you’re dealing with filo dough. The pastilla was tasty and sweet since it has cinnamon in it. It came with powdered sugar if you wanted to make it even sweeter.

Dinner at the lovely Dar Hatim

The wife took us upstairs to see a room that’s almost finished.  Her brother is the artist who paints the beautiful wood on the ceiling and makes wood tables.

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It was a great meal which came with so much food.  I highly recommend going to this restaurant to eat some quality food in a lovely traditional home.

Ivan couldn’t sleep for awhile probably since he had too much mint tea at dinner.

06/3/13
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Martini Contest

Ivan, Lil Dave and I slept in until 9 am on June 3, 2013.  It was great to get lots of sleep.

It was a Sea Day today, so the boat was floating away to it’s next destination which is Naples, Italy.

Ivan wanted to get everybody together for breakfast at the Taste dining room.  But, only Denise and Ken came.  We found out later that Neal and D had breakfast in their room.  I’m not sure why the breakfast in the dining room closes at 9:30 am.  It should be until 10:30 am or later since some people are probably still jetlagged.

Ivan and I both got salmon eggs benedict which tasted good.  I felt a little sick, think it was seasickness.

Right before 10 am, Ivan and I headed up to the Sports Complex.  It was time for Family Dodgeball.  Neal and D came to play as well.  It was kids and adults playing.  The balls that were used were meant for kids so they were really small and soft.  Not good for dodgeball.  Ivan was annoyed and stopped playing.  I played a bit.. but it wasn’t that fun like it usually is.  I prefer playing with just adults and with bigger balls.

We went to go chill in the room for a short time before going to the Champagne Art Auction.  Ivan and I sat on the chairs on the big balcony and worked on the blog.

The Art Auction is by Park West which is a major rip-off.  Ivan and I go just for the free champagne.  The artwork was the same stuff we’ve seen on our previous cruises.  Ivan’s family and D met us there.  Ivan got a chance to play auctioneer.

Ivan the Auctioneer

I wouldn’t bother buying any artwork on cruise ships.  If you’re rich, I’d go buy art in a proper art gallery on land.

Lunch time was at the buffet with a very limited selection of food.  The food wasn’t very good at all.

Later, Ivan and I signed up for the Martini Tasting for $15 per person.  We were sitting by four young English people.  On the poster, it stated the tasting would feature a contest with prizes.

An Indonesian man named Kadek was our tasting guide.  He told us that Martinis were invented by Terry Thomas in San Francisco in 1860.  It was actually first called the Martinez with many different stories as I’ve seen on the internet about it’s inception.  The drink contains gin or vodka.

There are 2 classes of martinis: Classic and Designer.  Kadek covered the first class the Classic Martini.  It has 3 types of martinis: Classic, Dry and Extremely dry.

The group got to try a Classic Martini which was good, but strong.  Kadek gave us the recipe as well.

Next, we covered the Designer Martinis which I definitely prefer since they taste better.  This martini was created in the 1980’s in Manhattan.

Our next martini tasting was the Cosmopolitan which gained popularity because of the tv show Sex and the City.  I love Cosmos and forgot that it was a martini.  It was very tasty.  Kadek recommended that Cosmos taste better with a good Cranberry juice like the brand Ocean Spray.

Kadek was a funny guy and helpful.  He did ask one question about martinis, but nobody got it right.

The third tasting was Vanilla Bansee which was very banana-y.  I know Lil Dave and his dad Big Dave would like this one since it has crème de banana in it.

Me & Ivan with our martinis

Speakeasy Martini was our last tasting.  It doesn’t even contain vodka or gin.  This one was tasty.  Try it at home with the recipe below.

Speakeasy Martini

Ingredients

1/4 oz. Southern Comfort

1 oz. Bols

1 oz. Grand Marnier

Splash of Sweet & Sour

3/4 oz. of Champagne

Directions:

Put the first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake it.  Pour into a cool martini glasses and top with champagne.  Serve.

Ivan asked Kadek about the contest containing prizes.  He said our prize was the martinis.  I don’t think that’s right.  If there are prizes, they should be given away.  He only asked one question and nobody got it right.  He should have asked more.  I don’t like false advertising.

Ivan and I headed to the Sports Complex for the Family Soccer.  Neal and D joined us.  I didn’t feel like playing.  I couldn’t play anyway since I didn’t have trainers (sneakers) or closed shoes on.  Ivan went back to the room to get his dress shoes.

Neal playing soccer

I watched Neal and D play with the kids and adults.

Ivan joined later.  He played goalie, but he was really bored.  The game turned out to be tied.  Each team didn’t win anything, but a piece of paper which if you collect enough, you can then win a prize.  Carnival cruise line is better since you’ll win a medal or a gold Ship on a Stick when you play games.

We met up with Denise, Ken, Neal and D for the Mr. Epic Contest.  I really wanted to be a judge.  I asked the assistant cruise director if I could be a judge and he said yes.  I joined three other women.  It was two English ladies from London and a lady from Malta.

Neal somehow was asked to participate in the contest.

Mr. Epic Contest contestants

Too bad he got kicked out in the first round since his dance wasn’t very good.

The contest had a variety of men from all over the world like USA, England, Belgium, Spain and Malta.  It was fun choosing who to kick out based on their dance skills and hula hoop skills.  A guy from New York was a good dancer who I found out later was a professional dancer.  It turns out that the guy in the contest from Malta was the son of Maria the Malta judge.  She didn’t want us to kick him off, but he wasn’t a good hula hooper.  Oh yah, the assistant cruise assistant didn’t want us to kick off the Spanish guy since he’s different.  I think he just wanted to please all the Spanish people on board.  I thought to myself Hey, this contest is fixed.

It was up to the audience to pick the final winner by their applause.  I was rooting for the New Yorker.  The winner turned out to be the Spanish guy.  I was disappointed that the judges weren’t given anything.. well, unless you count the kisses on our cheeks from the winner.  I’ve judged the Hairy Chest Competition on Carnival before and I was given a medal and a bottle of champagne.  Norwegian needs to step up their game a bit… stop being cheap.

After the contest, New York (that’s what I called the New York guy since I didn’t know his name) was dancing around to the fun house music.  I saw the two English girls from the Martini Tasting and came over to dance with them.  I love to dance.  A girl who was friends with the English people from the tasting loved me.  She said Let’s be friends.  I said Best Friends like in the tv show The Inbetweeners.  I hope she got the reference, otherwise I probably sounded like a right geek.  Her name was Amy and she looked like a hippie.  She loved my blue highlights.  Her friend Bethany joined us in dancing.

Ivan left to go shower and said that I should come get ready soon.  I danced around and enjoyed the music for awhile.  Amy and Bethany said they would be at the nightclub later and they hoped I’d see them there.

Later on, Ivan and I met up with everybody else at Headliners for Graffiti Classics.  It’s string quartet who play classical music with dancing and lots of humor.

Graffiti Classics

It was really quite entertaining.

Dinner was in The Manhattan Room.  I got prosciutto, melon and fig for a starter.  It’s so hard to be pescetarian on a cruise ship since the meat is free!

Us at dinner

I got the bean burrito for my main which had lots of rice inside and a BBQ sauce.  The BBQ sauce was really lazy – the chefs aren’t very inventive on this cruise ship.  Ivan thought a nice chipotle sauce would have been better.

Ivan left early to save seats for Blue Man Group. I stayed for a bit, but thought I should leave since I didn’t order any dessert. I walked around a bit and then went to the Epic Theatre to find Ivan.

The theatre was was getting filled up fast.  Unfortunately, there weren’t six seats available in the middle of the theatre in the first few rows.  Ivan did find six seats off to the side though.

Ivan and I have seen Blue Man Group a few times in Las Vegas.  Ivan has also seen it in other cities.  Denise didn’t like it since she thought it was weird and left a few minutes in.

We thought it was hilarious as usual.  It’s the old version while the new Las Vegas 2.0 version at the Monte Carlo is awesome.

Me with Mr. Blue Man #2

I got a chance to take a picture with one of the neutral Blue Men at the end of the show outside of the theatre.

05/24/13
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Beach Trance

Ivan, Lil Dave and I had lunch at Mar A Vila again on May 24, 2013.  Lil Dave got the chef to make a variety of banana pintxos like bananas and goat cheese and bananas empanada.  Ivan and I got goat cheese with vegetables, a tuna stuffed pepper, empanada with cheese and mussels and a new one a ravioli with octopus and tomato.  It was tasty food again.. this time enjoyed with a nice light beer.

We walked down to the beach in the Figueretas area.  It was such a lovey day out.  It’s always nice to have the sun shining with a lovely blue sky.

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We walked along the Figueretas Beach until it ended and then walked to Fusion to get a drink.  Ivan and I each got a mojito.  Lil Dave opted for a banana smoothie.  This restaurant is a great place to people watch.  Ivan and I chilled out for awhile while enjoying the tasty mojitos.  I wrote a message on the funny postcards that I bought yesterday. 

Stopped at an art gallery called Mad Dog Gallery.  The art work was really cool inside.  My favorite was definitely the Pink Panther with boobs.

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Ivan, Lil Dave and I walked back to the apartment.  Ivan used the internet while I worked on the blog. 

Later that night, Ivan and I walked to Formentera Restaurant for dinner.  Lil Dave decided to go have a banana pizza at a nearby pizza joint.  Ivan and I shared the tasty Padron peppers and the seafood paella with calamari (also, comes with shrimp and mussels). 

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This time we shared a jug of sangria which was sweet and tasted lovely.  It was another delicious meal here.  If you love paella, definitely check out this place.  Their paella is one of the best I’ve ever tasted in Spain.

It was time to walk up to the Dalt Vila Castle stage area at 10:30 pm.  It was a lot more crowded in Ibiza today since it was a Friday.  I had forgotten what day it was until Ivan mentioned it earlier.  The guy at the door recognized us, but he still asked for Ivan’s ID.  He said that there was no re-entry which was different than last night.  Also, they didn’t check IDs yesterday. 

Ivan guided us to the front of the stage.  Sven Väth was playing who is a trance DJ. 

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I was dancing around and the deep trance music made me feel like a zombie.. kind of drunk and drowsy.  I know that’s the point of trance.. but it wasn’t the best trance music I’ve heard.  Ivan wasn’t into it, so we left around 11:15 pm.  We definitely prefer house music that’s more fun.  Trance can be good, but it’s better with some lyrics every now and then… otherwise, it’s a bit repetitive. 

Ivan wanted to walk around Dalt Vila before we headed back.  This area is simply beautiful. 

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The white buildings, the colored doors and window coverings and the peeling walls are quite charming.  I’m going to miss walking around this beautiful part of Ibiza.

Back at the apartment, we used the internet.  Lil Dave was already sleeping.  It was time for bed at 5 am.  Hopefully, we’ll return to a normal sleeping schedule soon.

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