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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part five

As I mentioned in part four, we were about to go back to the hotel and hit the sack when I noticed a bright blue neon sign lit up. It was nine o’clock, and that meant the Antwerp Piano Bar was opening. Although Bill and I were decidedly casual in our dress, and we probably should have changed, we decided to stop in for a drink or three and listen to live music. I have to admit, at first I got the sense that maybe the proprietor wasn’t too pleased about our less than dressy appearance, but the bartender gamely invited us to sit at one of the plush booths. Then the proprietor, a distinguished looking gentleman with a beard, started playing piano– very well, I might add. He reminded me a little of the late Albert Hague (aka Mr. Shorofsky on the 80s TV show, Fame).

I love piano bars, so I was pretty excited that we found this place, not that it was hard. This bar, which I think used to be open more nights per week, is located very close to the Grote Markt. The bar stays open until at least 4:00am on the nights that it’s open. A sign on the door indicated that they are not open on Sundays, Mondays, or Tuesdays. Maybe this is a new feature, due to the pandemic.

We started with a round of cocktails, but switched to beer when it became apparent that the seasoned gentleman tending the bar didn’t understand our English too well. I’m not sure if it’s because of us or him. But anyway, I had a margarita and Bill had a martini. After a short while, another piano player showed up, along with a woman singer. They were both very good, and we had a lot of fun listening to them play, in spite of my shabby appearance.

At one point, a man got up to sing– he appeared to be a friend of the proprietor. I noticed there were a lot of people coming in who appeared to be regulars, rather than tourists like us. There was also a rather rowdy group of young guys who sat in the cigar bar and smoked stogies. I felt better when I noticed that they were dressed like me.

Below are a few photos and videos from our Saturday night stop. I should add that we almost never go out on Saturday nights anymore, so this was a treat. We got back to the hotel at about 11:30, which was definitely past our bedtimes.

I really took more videos than anything else… and as you can see, it was kind of dark in there…

If we ever go back, I’ll be sure to look prettier…

As we were leaving, I stopped to get another short video of the wild party still going on in the market! It was quite a lively scene!

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the receptionist what was going on in the square. He had no idea!

The featured photo is a picture of the fancy art book in the hall at the hotel. Someone turned the page to Lady Gaga, who was being photographed at Tony Bennett’s house.

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anecdotes, cruises

Ten shocking, funny, strange, amazing, and annoying things I have encountered on small cruises…

Last night over dinner, Bill and I were talking about some of the things we’ve seen on any of the seven cruises we’ve been on so far.  Cruising is a lot of fun, but if you’re on a small vessel, you can end up rubbing elbows with fellow passengers more often than you would on a larger ship.  Sometimes, that extra contact leads to making new friends.  Sometimes it ends up being way too close for comfort.

I write this, knowing that I have probably inspired a few blog posts or Facebook rants myself.  Indeed, on our first Hebridean cruise, I faceplanted in the dining room right next to the buffet on a formal night.  I bet a few people who were cruising with us remember that incident.

This post may or may not be for the faint of heart.  I just thought it would make for a funny blog topic.  All of these stories are true, though I have tried not to be too specific in the interest of not embarrassing anyone (too much).  If anyone else wants to share an anecdote, feel free in the comments section.

10. A man with a mustache resembling an overgrown caterpillar. 

On our second SeaDream cruise, Bill and I were mingling among the newly embarking guests and happened to sit down with a British couple we ended up hanging out with all week.  As we were checking out the new folks and making small talk, a man walked by with his very large group of family members.  He had a very unusual black mustache that pretty much demanded that you look at him.  Our new British friends were commenting on the way the facial hair was styled and the wife quipped, “It looks like an overgrown caterpillar!”  Leave it to the Brits to come up with such a hilarious and truthful assessment!

9.  A woman with an electric fan in her cleavage.

On our very first SeaDream cruise in 2010, there was a woman from California running around with a tiny electric fan clipped to her tank top.  It blew breezes toward her face.  We were in Puerto Rico and it was very hot.  I had to applaud her genius!

Wow!  Such ingenuity!  

 

8.  Some German guy’s balls…

While cruising in Italy a few years ago, I happened to be sitting on the pool deck, trying to catch a few chilly mid May rays of Italian sun off the coast of Amalfi.  While I was sitting there sipping prosecco, a young German guy, who had just been using some of the ship’s water sports equipment, casually changed out of his bathing suit while he was on deck.  I noticed he was trying to be somewhat discreet, but I still ended up with an eyeful of his family jewels.  Later, I was talking to a woman from Northern Ireland who confessed that she’d also gotten an unsolicited look at this guy’s junk.  While nudity is definitely not a big deal in most of continental Europe, I sure got more than I was bargaining for as I gazed at Amalfi’s famous coast.

7.  Brawl in the piano bar.

 

One night, while singing hits from the 70s and 80s in SeaDream 1’s piano bar, I witnessed a drunk and belligerent man calling out a bunch of partying Norwegians because he thought they were being too loud while he was trying to sing.  There we were, singing “Just The Two of Us”, and this guy suddenly got pissed off and demanded that the Norwegians “step outside”.  Fortunately, the Norwegians had cool heads and declined.  For a minute, I thought a couple of people were going to have to walk the plank!

6.  Liquor theft in the piano bar.

On the same evening of the same cruise, the cagey drunk guy and another guy decided to slip behind the bar and help themselves to scotch.  Most of the liquor was actually included in the price of the fare, but I had to admit being surprised at their moxie.  Fortunately, they were not busted by the very competent Portuguese bartender who brooked no nonsense and made a mean mojito.

5.  Fractured facts and annoying anecdotes about America…

On a recent cruise, Bill and I were two of only four Americans on a very small ship.  One of the other Americans happened to have a voice that carried and a mouth that rarely stopped running.  While sitting on a bus, waiting to go on an excursion, she regaled fellow passengers with strange stories about poor people in Appalachia force feeding their babies Mountain Dew, *fish* (not shrimp) and grits in the South, and tales of her parents forcing her to drink warm powdered milk when she was a child.  I kind of wished I’d brought along my noise canceling headphones, but we kept hearing snippets of fractured facts throughout the week, no matter where we were.

4.  Raging paranoia…

We met one couple from Texas on a cruise.  They were pretty nice to talk to, though the husband was a little bit on the odd side.  Once the cruise was finished, we went back to our homes in North Carolina and Texas respectively (this was before our year in San Antonio).  After our trip, I somehow ended up getting uninvited correspondence from the husband, who was first upset that SeaDream had sent us a cookbook as a gift and he and his wife didn’t get one.  Then he said he’d made a film of the cruise and posted it unlisted on YouTube.  He offered to send us the parts of the film he had taken of us, but there were many strings attached.  He said we weren’t to share the links with anyone and had a whole list of other rules designed to protect his privacy.  Apparently, it never occurred to him that perhaps Bill and I value our own privacy.  Neither Bill nor I like to see ourselves on camera, though Bill patiently puts up with me photographing him all the time (because I love him and mostly manage to get good shots).   Since I didn’t actually want to see the video, I tried to politely explain that we weren’t interested.  He wrote back that he didn’t understand, so I found myself forced to be blunt.  Naturally, that didn’t go over well, but at least he quit emailing me.  Not that I mind being in people’s videos or photos.  That’s going to happen when a person goes on vacation.  I just don’t necessarily want to see the photos or videos unless they happen to be flattering.  😉

*Speaking of unsolicited photos…

Here are a couple of unsolicited photos the aforementioned partying Norwegians took of me with my camera while I was singing to Bill…

I think I look pretty horrible in these photos.  I had a terrible blistering sunburn; my hair was all messed up from the humidity; and I felt as big as a beached whale.  But I kept the pictures because I love the way Bill is looking at me and the night itself was a lot of fun.  I guess I should appreciate the unsolicited pictures, even if they do make me feel kind of icky about my appearance.  Damned narcissism!

3.  Bolt ons galore!

 

I confess that before I took a small ship cruise, I had never heard of the term “bolt ons” to describe breast implants.  But on our first SeaDream cruise, a Canadian lady used that expression to describe the apparently perfectly perky breasts of a very attractive trophy wife type woman who was on the ship.  Whether or not that particular woman actually had bolt ons, I don’t know.  But since that cruise, I have seen a lot of obvious bolt ons.

 

2.  Celebrities!

 

On our first SeaDream cruise, we ran into a couple of celebrities, neither of whom I initially recognized.  One was a star of a then popular reality show that I couldn’t watch because we lived out in the boonies and didn’t get TV.  The other couple had discovered and launched the music career of a very popular female rock star.  I ended up becoming Facebook friends with the rock star couple, which has been a source of a lot of fun for me, mainly because I am a music geek.  We struck up a conversation after attending the worst karaoke show I’ve ever been to!  On another SeaDream cruise, a German guy surprised everyone by taking over the piano player’s piano and delighting everyone with a live performance.  I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling he, too, was in the music business.  He came over and gave me a big hug when he was finished!  Sometimes music can lead to unexpected bonding!

1. Hand job at the dinner table… 

While cruising through Scotland on the tiny Hebridean Princess, Bill and I were two of four Americans onboard.  The other American couple happened to be sitting within my line of sight, next to a wall in the ship’s dining room.  She was a brilliant but extremely introverted medical doctor who also had a PhD.  He was a much more outgoing professor of literature from an Ivy League university.  As we were eating, I happened to glance over their way and noticed the female half gazing intently into her husband’s eyes.  He was doing his best to keep a straight face.  I looked down and saw her hand kneading his package while the rest of us dined on Sunday roast.  I must say, Hebridean Princess is the last place I would have expected to see something like that!

I’m not sure when our next cruise will be, but it will probably be on a small ship.  And if it is, I am certain I can add to this list of misadventures.

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Our third SeaDream cruise…

May 11th… the day Bill and I had been looking forward to for many months had finally arrived.  We had arranged for a private taxi, courtesy of RomeCabs.  I booked RomeCabs on the advice of several Cruise Critic regulars, most notably Jim Avery.  I am not at all sorry I booked with RomeCabs, though it would have been cheaper to take the train.  Our driver, Marco, took outstanding care of us and picked us up a little bit early with a small, clean, Mercedes van.  As he drove us out of Rome, he pointed out some of the sites and made a point of reminding us that RomeCabs was ranked #1 on TripAdvisor.  I told him I knew about that and, in fact, booked his company due to RomeCabs’ many fans on Cruise Critic.  Bill later told me that Marco had encouraged us to write a review and Bill was happy to tell him that I always review things.  I’m pleased to note that I will be writing a very positive review of RomeCabs.

We arrived at the Civitavecchia pier at the stroke of 2:00pm, which anyone who has ever sailed with SeaDream Yacht Club is the magical hour at which guests can board.  Marco pulled up right next to the tent where we dropped our bags.  After very briefly stopping to arrange for our bags to be delivered, we were waved aboard one of our favorite vessels.  It’s truly a breeze to board SeaDream.  There’s no standing in line to speak of.

We climbed the gangway and were greeted by Captain Bjarne Smorawski and his crew, which included new club director Nat Green, and several Thai spa ladies passing out chilled washcloths and glasses of bubbly.  We made our way into the salon, where a very nice spread of finger foods was laid out for us.  George the pianist and the guitar player, whose name I never managed to catch, were playing tunes on the baby grand piano on the stage.

A couple of passengers immediately recognized me from Cruise Critic, which kind of made me feel like  a celebrity.  It’s nice to know I still look like my photo.  We were quickly issued ID cards and shown to our stateroom, which was room 212.  On our two previous voyages, we stayed on the third deck.  The only difference between deck 2 and decks 3 and 4 is that deck two has portholes instead of a picture window.  Other than that, I didn’t notice a difference and can honestly say I wouldn’t pay extra for a room on a higher deck.

First view of SeaDream I

Half bottle of chilled champagne…

Traditional shot of Bill in his life vest.  I do this every time we cruise.

 

Bill and I immediately met a couple who had recognized me from Cruise Critic and we chatted for awhile as people were checking in.  I always enjoy looking around on the first day, checking out the people with whom we will be spending the next week.  As usual, the folks cruising on SeaDream mostly fit a certain well-to-do segment of society.  Bill and I are far from wealthy; he is an Army officer and I make a pittance from my writing.  But we save and plan so we can be fancy for a week out of every year or so.  And on each of the three cruises we’ve taken on SeaDream, we have met some very nice people.  This cruise was no exception.

Of course, some of the very nicest people on SeaDream are staff members.  Bill and I were glad to see some of our favorites were still onboard, smiling and welcoming as always.  The one exception was Felix, a German waiter from Hamburg who was on our first two cruises.  His dry wit and consummate professionalism had won us over.  Alas, Felix went to work for the passengers on Seabourn Legend.  I had heard from a couple of sources that he hoped to come back to SeaDream someday.  Now that Legend has been sold to Windstar Cruise Line, who knows what the future holds for Felix?  Hopefully, we’ll see him again.  I know I wasn’t the only one who missed him.

But anyway, though Felix was not onboard, many other favorite staff members were.  I could list them all here, but in reality, everyone we ran into was excellent this time.  I can’t complain about anyone, though we interacted with some staff members more than others.

After an excellent dinner, Bill and I headed for the piano bar, which is really my favorite place to be when the sun goes down on SeaDream I.  I did lots of singing with George, the pianist, and enjoyed way too much prosecco poured by chief bartender, Manuel.  The prosecco gave me a slight hangover, which I dutifully reported on the Internet.  I was glad to see the price of Internet had gone down significantly since our last voyage.  It went from $35 a day to $99 for the week.  It’s still a lot of money, but $99 beats the hell out of $35 a day.

When it was time for bed, there was a lovely rose waiting for us.  Our stewardess, Antonette, put it in a vase for us to enjoy all week.  Having taken a Bonine earlier to ward off my customary seasickness, I was feeling fine after a nice, hot shower in the three headed shower stall.  I slept well my first night as we headed for our first port of call on the Island of Capri.

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cruises, Italy, SeaDream, trains

Train tickets…

I’m a little overwhelmed by the prospect of buying train tickets in Italy.  The last time I did significant train travel in Italy, I had a Eurail pass.  Things have gotten more complicated since then.  Italy now has a few private train lines as well as the national line.  And Bill is not wanting to buy tickets now because he doesn’t want to lock us in to a specific time of day.

I like to have things paid for upfront.  But I guess there is something to be said for waiting until we get to Italy before we buy train tickets…

I’m getting pretty excited about our trip and really looking forward to it.  On the other hand, it’s a little bittersweet, because after this trip, we probably won’t get to do as much travel.  Bill will be in transition and whatever his new job is probably won’t be as liberal with annual leave as the Army is.  Or he may not get a job and we might have to live out of a box!

But for now, I look forward to Italy and Greece and wish we could stay longer and travel more…

I also look forward to the piano bar on SeaDream I…

This was taken on our last SeaDream cruise.  The piano bar was sort of my second home that week.  I love a good singalong!  That week, a bunch of Norwegians were onboard.  They were very boisterous and annoyed the Brits on the ship.  However, they were nice to me… until they started taking pictures of me while I was singing.

They did get this shot…. I’m looking very sunburned and bloated… but Bill seems to be enjoying it.

This time, I plan to stay out of the sun… and hide my digital camera!

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