Category: travel

August Birthday Celebration – Tasting Menu at One Market San Francisco

  • One Market Tasting Menu
  • Amuse bouche
    Amuse bouche
  • Avocado Gazpacho
    Avocado Gazpacho, kampachi, toy box tomato, opal basil
  • Lamb's tongue
    Lamb's tongue, lambs lettuce, asian pear, puffed quinoa
  • Grilled octopus
    Grilled octopus, rancho gordo white beans, lovage, celery
  • Lightly smoked wild king salmon 'mi cuit'
    Lightly smoked wild king salmon 'mi cuit', potato rosti, pancetta vinaigrette, quail egg
  • Seared scallop
    Seared scallop, mushrooms, parsnip puree
  • Pan seared red snapper
    Pan seared red snapper, english peas, mashed carrots, olive oil emulsion
  • Roasted Liberty Farms duck breast
    Roasted Liberty Farms duck breast, sunchoke, duck andouille sausage, hazelnut granola, chocolate
  • Dessert tasting, part 1
    Dessert tasting, part 1
  • Dessert tasting, part 2
    Dessert tasting, part 2 (that Jeremy and I helped to prepare by brulee-ing and plate decorating)
  • Dessert tasting, part 3
    Dessert tasting, part 3

We had a wonderful time at One Market. We were able to secure the Chef’s Table for the evening so we sat in the kitchen and were able to see all the preparations for most of our meal along with the impressive assembly line they had going for a large dinner party going on at the same time. We were treated wonderfully by all of the staff and even got an extra mini tour of their wine cellar. As part of the evening Jeremy and I also got to assist in preparing the desserts, brûlée our creme brûlée and decorating the plates with various sauces. A fantastic evening and very highly recommended if you are in the Bay area.


Avocado Gazpacho
kampachi, toy box tomato, opal basil

Lamb’s Tongue
lambs lettuce, asian pear, puffed quinoa

Grilled Octopus
rancho gordo white beans, lovage, celery

Lightly Smoked Wild King Salmon “Mi Cuit”
potato rosti, pancetta vinaigrette, quail egg

Seared Scallop*
mushrooms, parsnip puree (*bonus course!)

Pan-seared Red Snapper
english peas, mashed carrots, olive oil emulsion

Roasted Liberty Farms Duck Breast
sunchoke, duck andouille sausage, hazelnut granola, chocolate

Dessert Tasting


California Wine Country trip

  • The view from dinner at Trinchero
    The view from dinner at Trinchero
  • Breakfast at Sutter Home
    Breakfast at Sutter Home
  • Jeremy and I waiting outside Rutherford Grill
    Jeremy and I waiting outside Rutherford Grill
  • The view at Round Pond
    The view at Round Pond
  • La Luna Market menu
    La Luna Market menu
  • Tasting at Elizabeth Spencer
    Tasting at Elizabeth Spencer
  • Barrel Room at Mondavi
    Barrel Room at Mondavi
  • Jeremy and I in aforementioned Mondavi barrel room.
    Jeremy and I in aforementioned Mondavi barrel room.
  • Summer vegetable salad with burrata cheese croquette, part of lunch at Mondavi
    Summer vegetable salad with burrata cheese croquette, part of lunch at Mondavi
  • Jeremy and me in amongst the vineyards at Mondavi.
    Jeremy and me in amongst the vineyards at Mondavi.
  • Birthday dessert at One Market
    Birthday dessert at One Market

Additional photos are up on Flickr

Day 0

The day started at 3am, for our 6:30am flight out of Richmond. Thankfully all of the flights were on time (after a brief scare the previous afternoon with our original SFO flight getting cancelled, thankfully TripIt notified us immediately and we were able to get a flight less than an hour later). Our travel mates, Jess and Eric, were on a flight that arrived at 2:30pm so when we landed at noon we grabbed our bags from baggage claim, picked up the rental car and headed to the nearest In-n-Out Burger for lunch. The place was so packed that after 15 minutes of trolling the parking lot for a spot we opted to go through the drive through…two cheeseburgers “Animal Style” with fries and drinks, a fitting beginning to the week. We camped out in the cell phone lot at the airport, ate our lunch and chilled until the Golds arrived. Even sitting in a shade-less airport parking lot is enjoyable when it’s 75 degrees with a lovely breeze coming off the mountains, oh northern California and your great weather.

Once we picked up the Golds we made an immediate departure for St. Helena as we had an appointment at 5pm at Trinchero for a reception and a pizza dinner at 5:30. However, the traffic was not in our favor and we didn’t arrive until 5:30. Despite our late arrival our hosts were very gracious and ushered us past a beautifully appointed kitchen through to a dining room set for five that had floor to ceiling windows that looked out through the vineyards and surrounding valley. Definitely a nice way to start out the trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find the dinner was not pizza, but a multi-course meal paired with five wines.

We started with assorted cheeses and fresh baguette with estate-grown olive oil and a sparkling white. Followed by Sauvignon Blanc paired with a delicious heirloom tomato salad with micro basil and burrata cheese (my love for burrata begins!). The main course was Kobe loin cooked a perfect medium with creme fraiche polenta and yellow carrots with 2010 and 2011 Cabernets. It was very interesting contrasting the two wines, both from the same grape and the same general region but with vastly different flavors and aromas. One was more herbal and green peppery and the other was more of a familiar Cab flavor as it was the same region that Elizabeth Spencer grows their grapes in. The final course was a dark chocolate mousse paired with port. The whole meal was excellent and the lead wine educator for Trinchero joined us for the evening so we had great conversation about the wines and the area.

Once we were finished with dinner we headed to the Vineyard Country Inn, our lodging for the first two nights. The Inn is right on the main road through the valley (29) and is a collection of small bungalow style buildings. Our suite has a separate living room with small fridge and sink, then two double beds with a porch off the back facing the adjoining vineyards and a mountain backdrop. We made quick use of the hot tub and pool when we arrived, then headed back to the room to enjoy some Sauvignon Blanc that we were given at dinner. Afterwards we all called for an early bedtime, being up since 3am EST (with an hour nap on the plane) with lots of traveling made a 9:30pm PST bedtime very welcome.

Day 1

The morning started off pretty early as we all were still kind of on East coast time, with everyone awake by 6:15am. We sat on the porch, enjoying the views and watching the sunrise and then got ready for breakfast at Sutter House. Since we had gotten up early we walked down the road and spent some time at the nearby Dean & Deluca store (the highest grossing store in the country) before walking to have breakfast at Sutter House. We were treated to fresh squeezed orange juice and Illy coffee to start. The breakfast had a southwest flair with a black bean and corn omelette/casserole, amazingly crunchy bacon, mango habanero sausage, fresh berries, sheep’s milk yogurt, and delicate and crunchy lemon poppyseed scones. We ate our fill (got to have a good base for wine tasting) and then walked back to the hotel to relax for a bit before heading to our first tasting of the trip at Sequoia Grove.

We were met at the Sequoia Grove tasting room by a wall of huge bottles of their wine, each etched with the two trees that are the namesake of the winery. We enjoyed a full tasting of their wines, a rose, Chardonnay (lightly oaked with no ML fermentation), Sauvignon Blanc, Cab Franc (much different than VA, more fruit forward), Merlot, and multiple Cabernet Sauvignon (blends and three single vineyards). We were then taken to the vines where our guide checked the sugars on the grapes with a little telescope like contraption. We went past the mobile bottling facility that was set up today and past the fermentation tanks into their barrel cellar. 1400 barrels and we were able to taste a 2013 single vineyard cab from the barrel, much sweeter and nowhere near as complex (as one would expect) compared to what we tasted earlier.

Afterwards we headed to downtown St. Helena for lunch at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The day was getting warm but we opted to sit outside, the table we chose had been shaded but unfortunately didn’t stay that way for long so we were pretty hot by the end of the meal. We ordered a bruschetta appetizer with fig, prosciutto, ricotta and a micro green salad on top. Eric and I each had their highly recommended duck burger (quite tasty, seared well, although perhaps slightly dry and very simply dressed with a nice thin bun and grilled marinated mushrooms). Jess had their adult grilled cheese (option rotates daily, today was a pepper aioli and mozzarella on a walnut bread) with polenta fries and Jeremy had their beef burger.

After lunch we wandered through the various antique stores, wine shops and galleries along Main Street and then headed back to the hotel to cool off for a bit before heading back to Trinchero for their full tasting.

We were met by Sandra at Trinchero and sat in their huge deep sofas with tastes of two Sauvignon Blancs while she recounted the story of how the Trinchero family got into the wine business (a very fun story, White Zinfandel was created thanks to four hot days one summer, and that one fluke brought the winery from barely making it to highly profitable in just a few years). We then tasted a Merlot, two Cabs and a Meritage.

We went to Market for dinner where Jeremy and Jess had jalapeño ginger cocktails and Eric and I had California pilsners. I started with a cucumber avocado soup with mint, creme fraiche and yogurt (a cold soup). The guys had a watercress and potato soup made with cream and cheddar cheese. Both soups were amazing. Jess and Jeremy had fried chicken for their entree, Eric had ribs and I had a very tasty Parmesan Mac and cheese. Everyone was so full from dinner we opted out of dessert and headed back to the hotel. We started up a fire (aka lit a dura flame log) and sat in the living room vegging for a bit before heading to bed.

Day 2

This morning everyone was able to sleep in a bit more, time adjustment is slowly taking place. We headed to breakfast at Sutter Home again (vegetable frittata, maple sausage and bacon, blueberry galette, sheep’s milk yogurt and strawberries) and then stopped by the grocery store for a cheap cooler (to keep the wine we’ve already purchased cool while we are out until we get to the AirBnB spot this evening), packed up the hotel room and headed to the first tasting of the day at Whitehall Lane.

…And here’s where by the end of each day I was too tired to write up a blog post. So, for posterity if nothing else, here’s the itinerary from the last days of the trip.

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6 (Jeremy’s birthday)


Cruise day 14

So today was our last port of call, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. For this stop we signed up for the “Mini Jeep Adventure and Ranch Visit.” At this port we are tendered rather than right up at the dock so we met in the theatre per usual after breakfast (and saw Derrick and Nicci at breakfast and they said since their kayaking trip had been cancelled they opted for our excursion) and then made our way to the tenders. Once onshore, we were met by a guide who brought us to a tour bus that took us through town and out towards the desert area where the ranch was. We offroaded a bit in the bus on the way to the ranch (both a standard highway detour and the “driveway” to the ranch which went past a few homes, both fancy and plain) and came up to the staging area where the folks that were on the horseback riding tour split with those of us going on the offroad tour. We were then brought over to our vehicles, the tour guide called them Rhinos, they were open air (no windshield) automatic transmission vehicles with rollbars, two seats, and a little flatbed in the back. I drove first and Jeremy said he would take the second leg back. We were told our rough itinerary, shown the basics of how to operate the vehicle, given a helmet, goggles and a bandana to wear over our mouths and nose and we were off.

It was a blast driving, up dunes and down ravines, we went through cacti and various flowering scrub brush (where thee were lots and lots of little yellow butterflies), then through a dry river bed and along the Pacific coast. We took a break for photos and water at the coast and it was beautiful. The coast was pretty rocky so the waves crashed rather spectacularly, I got a little too close to one and got my shorts half soaked but it was fun anyway. We then swapped drivers for the ride back along the course. It was fun to practice getting out of fish tailing and handling a rather loosely controlled vehicle (both the steering wheel and accelerator/breaks were very…forgiving). When we arrived back at the ranch we sat in the shade and were given water and granola bars and could purchase Coronas if we chose (Jeremy and I both did). The whole way Derrick and Nicci were behind us so it was fun to get to do an excursion with folks we “know,” as it was fun to get to share the experience with folks.

The show tonight is a broadway medley but we won’t see Derrick and Nicci there as they have been invited to sit at the captain’s table at dinner tonight (fancy!) and they don’t eat until 8:45 (the show we were planning to go to is at 8:45). On the way back to the ship we went through the inevitable and ever present souvenir shops next to the dock and picked up a last few souvenirs. We cleaned up (we were so dusty! My black shirt was brown by the end) grabbed some lunch, and are now watching the last 2pm tender come back before we head out for our last sea day and San Diego.


Cruise Day 13

So today was our first of two stops in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta. The city is rather large and has a big port so we met our tour group on the pier, weaved our way through the opening tourist and souvenir shops and came to our rides for the day, 2 door soft top Jeep Wranglers. Jeremy and I were paired with a younger couple (she rather significantly younger than him) who were from the UK and Australia but currently live in Switzerland. Both she and Jeremy volunteered to drive so Jeremy took the first leg. We were given a red Jeep and set off in our caravan of 7 cars out of the city (past rather disappointingly a Walmart, KFC, Outback, Dominoes, McDonalds and a bunch of other American chain restaurants, along with a bunch of hotels along the beach) towards what our guide Jose Pepe called “real Mexico.”

We drove through some agricultural areas that were growing corn and squash, forded a rather deep ravine and “off roaded” a bit along a dirt road (granted the secondary roads in Mexico are in pretty rough shape so that was almost more offroading than the actual course) along with some smaller villages (thankfully none with McDonald’s) and stopped near a local elementary school to hear about what we had driven past. The kids in the schools were just emerging for their gym class and one of the middle aged guests who spoke Spanish talked to the kids, asking what grade they were in and seeing if they knew how to say “my name is” in English. We were brought through a “real” Mexican house which was very likely someone’s home but was also set up for folks to walk through the living/kitchen area through to the back yard where they had various fruit trees growing (they also sold bottled water and soda). There were a bunch of stray dogs of various shapes and sizes and some free ranging chickens, but oddly I have only seen one cat this whole trip, not sure why that is.

We then drove another 15 minutes to a tequila factory and little souvenir market, we forgot to bring cash with us on the excursion so even though I was tempted by an agave weave bag and some jewelry I wasn’t able to get anything as they didn’t accept credit cards.

The tequila tour and tasting were fun. To make tequila they use rather similar methods to winemaking for a lot of the process, after they pressure cook the heart of the agave plant it is crushed/juiced and then put into tanks to age and then is distilled or aged longer in oak barrels. We did a tasting of “silver” (unaged) as well as tequila aged for 6 months and 18 months (each increasing in price, although the flavor I found was best to me in the unaged). They also had three flavored tequilas, peach, almond and coffee/chocolate, these were very sweet and didn’t really taste much like tequila but were tasty nonetheless. We opted to buy a little variety pack of the regular tequilas and then after being given 10 minutes to shop the little market we were off back to town towards the beach to enjoy a “traditional Mexican snack.”

On the way back the Australian woman drove, she got stuck with a bit more traffic and city driving than we did on the way out and ended up being rather frazzled by the time we reached the beach, but we made it just the same. We parked in a side garage/alley (and all the cars were thankfully turned around when we came back to leave) and walked to the beachfront to the “Burros Restaurant” for our snack, thick tortilla chips and fresh pico de gallo, then a plate with a sampling of quesadillas, a chicken taquito, fresh guacamole and refried beans. We also ordered drinks, a margarita for Jeremy and a Pacifico beer for myself (quite a tasty beer, by the way). We only had 45 minutes at the beach so after our snack we had just enough time to dip our feet in the ocean (we were expecting a bit more time than that at the beach, but oh well), and then we headed back through the early afternoon traffic to the ship.

Since we were already in our bathing suits and had wanted to try out the pools on the ship Jeremy and I stopped back by the room, dropped off our stuff and put on sunscreen and went to try out each of the saltwater pools they have on the ship, two outside (one four feet deep, one five to six feet) as well as the “therapeutic” pool which was warmer and had various jets and bubbles. We saw Nicci and Derrick in one of the regular pools and chatted with them for a while, as well as one of our fellow hikers from the volcano climb in the therapeutic pool (the guy who in fact was the high altitude climber who got us permission to do the farther/higher hike). It’s been fun to start seeing and recognizing various folks on the ship, too bad we only have 2 full days left!

We had another tasty dinner and after dessert our waiter Adi came out with a “complements of the chef” Grand Marnier soufflé which was amazing, I could have had two. We also had our cookbook from the chefs table delivered tonight, it’s huge and has lots of beautiful photos of the food we have had on the ship along with a general overview of Celebrity cruise ships. Tomorrow we have another Jeep tour, we may have convinced Nicci and Derrick to come along as their kayaking tour was cancelled, so we will find out tomorrow.


Cruise day 12

Today was a pretty quiet day, even though I had a bit of a rush of a start. The entire cruise we have been going west and setting our clocks back an hour but for whatever reason Puerto Vallarta is actually an hour ahead, not back. So not realizing that the night before we set our clocks back and when I woke up and checked the tv I saw it was 8:35, not 6:35 so I rushed off to my watercolor class while Jeremy stayed behind and had breakfast. I’m working on a painting of a bird of paradise flower, and I’m pretty proud of it actually. Linda Lee Curtis, the instructor, let us use some of her higher quality paints and they really make a big difference in color and application. I’m tempted to buy some more paints and paper when we get home, may be a fun relaxing thing to do on weekends and such.

After class I met up with Jeremy (who saw a sea turtle go by as he was reading out on our balcony) and we went to a talk by the first navigation officer in the theatre about how they do navigation and itinerary planning on the ship. After that, also in the theatre, was bingo. I bought one strip of cards and Jeremy managed to tolerate watching for about half of the games, then he headed back to the room while I and Felicia and Chad finished out our games (none of us had any luck, one guy behind us however won two games in a row). I met up with Jeremy for lunch then we went to the pool deck, planning to read, but ended up watching the officers vs guests pool volleyball game instead. We happened to be standing by Derrick and Nicci at the bar we were watching from so we chatted a bit with them and then headed back to the room.

Our plan had been to take just a short nap but we ended up sleeping until 5:35 so when we woke up we had to rush to get ready for dinner. After dinner with John and Karen we met up with Derrick and Nicci at the martini bar where we joined them for a drink and then we all headed to the evening show. I was quite excited for this one, it was a performance by Dale Kristian, who played Christine in Phantom of the Opera, both on Broadway (with the original Phantom, Michael Crawford) and in LA. She sang a lot of Phantom songs as well as “Memory” from Cats, “Don’t cry for me Argentina” from Evita, and to our great surprise, our first dance song, “It Had to Be You.” So overall a very enjoyable evening, even if we didn’t do so great with the waking up on time parts of the day.


Cruise day 11







So today was the first of two sea days before we reach Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was a bit slow moving this morning and didn’t wake up until 8:10 (typically I’ve been getting up around 6:30 or 7, kind of staying on East Coast time). Since I wanted to go to my watercolor painting class at 9 I told Jeremy to go ahead to breakfast without me while I got ready for the class. You pretty much can arrive anytime after 8:30 and there are already folks there setting up. Today’s class you were supposed to use a photo of your choice to paint, I chose a photo I had taken in Cartagena, Columbia of one of the restored colonial homes that had a balcony covered with a red and green flowering plant, and it turned out pretty good if I do say so myself 😉

Afterwards I came back to the room and met up with Jeremy and we chilled in the room for a bit and then headed up for a quick lunch at the poolside grill for burgers and fries. The seas had been a little rough so we headed back to the room and I took a nice two hour nap while Jeremy read. At 4:30 there was another cruise staff vs guests volleyball game so we headed up to the sports deck for that. Initially I had said I was just going to watch but after a game and a half of watching (and having one of the couples who were sitting out that game asking why I wasn’t playing, and saying I needed to go “help the team” and play) I went back to the room and changed into more suitable clothes (a bathing suit, coverup and flip flops were not ideal for volleyball playing) and came back out and played for probably 45 minutes. We then headed back to the room and got cleaned up for dinner at 7 at one of the ships specialty restaurants, Qsine, with John and Karen.

After having a little bit of trouble finding the entrance to the restaurant (you can see it on deck 11 but there are no entrances on that deck, you have to go down to 10 and go up the midship staircase) we entered right behind John and Karen and were seated. The restaurant is decorated in black, orange and white, with mismatched black lacquer and white high backed cloth chairs and the food was amazing. You can order as many things as you like off of the menu (which is an iPad app) and they’re all kind of mini-portions with one portion for each table. We had spring rolls (served in giant springs), sushi lollipops, build your own sliders, filet mignon, so much tasty food and capped off with a “chocolate tombstone” for dessert for me (super tasty chocolate mousse with a nutella crunch crust). I haven’t been that full of food in a long time, but it was worth it.


Cruise day 10, part 2

So this evening proved just as fun as the day. Jeremy and I headed out for dinner a bit early so that we could stop at the martini ice bar on deck 4. Jeremy ordered a lime martini and I (unknowing what was in store) ordered the martini tasting. Jeremy got his drink first then the two bar tenders went to work setting up and mixing my drinks. They laid down napkins on the ice bar, then placed four cocktail glasses upside down of varying heights as well as a tall bottle of Stolichnaya vodka and balanced little tasting sized martini glasses on the top of each, along with one on the bar, for a total of six different flavors. Once that was set up the other bartender Ali came over with six cocktail shakers stacked on top of each other and he poured all six drinks at once, it was quite the spectacle and lots of folks oohed and aahed as he was pouring. The drinks were a classic martini with olives (honestly my least favorite, I prefer them dirty), an appletini (which was the first drink I had on my 21st birthday), a peartini, a raspberrytini with chambord (a favorite), a citrus martini (also very tasty), and a sunset martini (was tropical flavored with a splash of grenadine). Unfortunately we only had 15 minutes before we were supposed to be at dinner so I didn’t really get to savor each drink (and ended up kind of doing the last sips as shots) but they were all very tasty and it was a fun “show bar” experience since they were twirling bottles and flipping cocktail shakers.

So we headed down to the Olympic restaurant which is where our invitation (that we finally received late the night before) instructed us to go. We were warmly welcomed by the maitre’d and the director of food and beverage for the ship and taken into the specialty wine room/cellar where a friendly sommelier served us a very tasty champagne with sliced strawberries and we waited for the other guests to arrive. Not long after Erin, the officer in charge of revenue on the ship and our host for the evening, arrived along with a friendly young couple from North Carolina, Derrick and Nicci, who both work in the anesthesiology unit at Duke hospital. Shortly after three folks arrived, a deaf couple from the Bay area and their interpreter who were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. After chatting and introductions we finished our champagne (after Jeremy made a quick shirt change, it was really hot in the cellar room) and were led into the ships galley.

Our table was situated right in front of the chef’s office in between the dish washing area, the bread area and the appetizer stations. There were folks furiously working away the entire time we were in there, and 600 meals were served while we were down there and you would never have known. So we chatted away about what we all did for a living, traveling, and commenting on our surroundings including the head chef who was busily preparing our meals behind us at a temporary cooking station.

The first course was a choice between a warm goat cheese soufflé and a smoked salmon and peekitoe crab parfait layered with avocado, two kinds of salmon caviar, creme fraiche and petite greens. Jeremy and I each chose a different option so we could taste and split both. The parfait was very tasty but the goat cheese soufflé was the winner of that course, savory and fluffy with herbs and a strong goat cheese flavor, so good.

The second course options (again we got one of each) were a cioppino, a rustic San Francisco seafood stew with garlic, tomato and herb crostini, or insalata di arugula with fried bocconcini mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, crisp shallots, sundried tomato vinaigrette and balsamic syrup. The stew won this course, it had great tomato flavor as well as a deep seafood stock and it was Jeremy’s favorite as well even though he doesn’t generally like tomato based soups. We were served an intermezzo course of mango sorbet with a blackberry and chocolate curl to cleanse our palates then moved on to the main course.

We had the option of a Loup de Mer, grilled Mediterranean Sea bass, red pepper melange, crispy eggplant, balsamic syrup and sauce nicoise, or steak Diane. Jeremy and I both chose the steak and were not disappointed (per usual all of the steak we have had on the ship has been top notch, all sourced apparently from Colorado). The steak was perfectly cooked, with a flavorful wine sauce and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables artfully arranged on the plate.

The fourth course was a cheese course where we had a Brie, two smellier cheeses, and a firm mild cheddar along with pain de champagne and dried fruits. The Brie was probably my favorite of the cheeses, one of the soft smellier cheeses was a bit too smelly for my taste.

We finished with dessert, either a floating island with chocolate cream sauce or crepe ballon rouge with balsamic strawberries, vanilla ice cream and Chambourcin sauce.

Both Jeremy and I chose the crepe and were very pleased with our choice, the sauce had a bit of black pepper in it that went fantastically with the strawberries and smooth vanilla ice cream that filled the crepe.

The sommelier and servers kept our wine and water glasses full the whole time with some very tasty wines as well as flat (and then later upon Jeremy’s request) sparking water.

After getting probably 15 minutes to chat with the chef (who said he normally does not get the chance to chat, so that was a nice treat) we ended a great dinner, the ladies were given single red roses, and we were escorted up the escalators to the main floor (we also were escorted up any time we needed to use the restroom). We decided to join Derrick and Nicci for a drink at the martini bar before heading to the room and that was quite fun. They are well aquainted with a lot of the bar tenders on the ship so it was like coming to a local bar with them. We chatted about our pets, cruising, and random other things while sipping a Bloody Mary martini (me) and an apple martini (Jeremy). We then walked with them to the casino as they had some “match money” to play and we watched them play their game of choice, roulette for a few minutes (until they ran out of the match money as they’re “not gambling people”, they came out $11 ahead though after a $20 investment, so not bad), and then parted ways to gratefully head to bed. What a great day.


Cruise day 10, part 1

So today we are in Guatemala. Yesterday we signed up for the Pacaya Volcano Climb, it was listed as “strenuous” which is the same level of difficulty as the other excursions we have been on so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had the earliest departure time from the ship, 6:45am so we had an early breakfast and retrieved our stickers for our group in the Celebrity theatre. Once our number was called we headed off the ship and boarded our 2-and-1 bus around 7:15 and were off to the mountains. There was one couple that had been on the kayaking trip with us was on the tour, a younger couple from Miami, both who could speak Spanish, so it was nice to see some “familiar” faces.

When we arrived at the national park where the volcano complex was there were many younger children renting walking sticks for $1 shouting to us “it is necessary!” And I just figured they say that to get you to rent one, not the case as I found out later in the hike. There were also men and older boys with horses who followed us as we began up the path. I’m thinking, this can’t be so bad that folks would bail out to ride a horse, but it was definitely a challenging hike. The first leg was very inclined and we were already a few thousand feet up and the altitude got to you quickly, so I was huffing and puffing after the first few hundred meters when we stopped the first time. Thankfully that was one of the steeper inclines, but not by much. One older British couple and one older lady ended up using the horses during the climb (and descent), it was $15 each way but I’m sure for them it was well worth it. We would go usually 10 minutes of walking and then pause to let everyone catch up and our tour guide Mynor would translate for the nature guide that we had picked up on our way in.

There are big signs in both Spanish and English at these “rest stops” telling visitors about the view they were seeing, the different types of volcanoes, vegetation, etc. As we are ascending we had a black dog that stayed with our group the entire way up, he just trotted along in the line with everyone else and would flop down in the shade when we reached a break spot, it was very cute (and of course the whole time he was looking for food when someone would pull out a snack bar or something). We were given two Milky Way bars and two bottles of water for the trip and we brought a Clif bar and two additional bottles of water, by the time we reached the top we had gone through three of the bottles of water and one candy bar and one energy bar. At what is typically the top of the climb there is a seasonal little hovel that houses a “lava jewelry” shop, but today they were on vacation so it was empty. The horses were allowed to come up to that point but then there was another 100 meters or so to climb to get to the high lookout point.

At this point we had gone from being in what started almost as a temperate forest to quite desolate black volcanic rock/gravel/sand with greener mountains off in the distance. We had gone from seeing the volcano from the road to being three quarters of the way up its side. There was a hiker in our group who specialized in high altitude hikes and he asked if we could go farther. At first this sounded like something we were too tired to do after the 4km hike up but wow as it worth it. Our Guatemalan guide took us up an additional 500 meters or so (probably 1km of walking), past where any normal tour goes, and typically where folks have to pay an additional fee to go. We walked through the lava fields, with their lightweight pumice stones and eerie shapes, at certain points it was like walking on styrofoam as you walked across and slid down the pumice stones. I had my Meryll hiking sandals on up to the top of our hike, but on the way down we essentially had to carefully slide down the loose gravel slope so I put on my sneakers I had brought (much to the relief of a few of the ladies on the hike who were worried about me). Before we had gotten to this point the older couple asked to go back to where the horses were so our main tour guide took him back and our nature guide continued on, with the wife from the Miami couple acting as a translator for him.

At the crux of our hike we were in one of the craters of the volcano, probably 3/4 of the way to the very top, which was split in two. In 2010 this volcano had erupted and went from a smoothed pointed mountain to a mountain top split in two, with both sides still steaming and smoking lightly. The lava flows and ash and rock that we were walking on were only two years old and just two weeks ago there had been an earthquake that mussed with the stability in various parts of the trail (so much so that at times we had to be very careful to follow exactly where the guide walked). As we walked along the side near the top there were many places where the ground was steaming and you could feel and see hot air coming up out from under some of the rocks. It is so hot that as a “treat” our guide brought up marshmallows for us to roast in one of the little scoops where the temperature was over 200 degrees. I have to say that was the coolest way I have ever roasted a marshmallow and wow were they a welcome sugar rush after the climb as well. We then began our descent down the gravelly path that was really just worn down lava flow, it’s amazing how much the lava stone breaks up, but that’s what makes the great volcanic soil around here as well as the black beaches on Guatemala’s Pacific side. The descent was much faster than the ascent and we rarely stopped for a break. As we came down a cloud moved onto the mountain and a lot of the trip we were shrouded in the cloud, only being able to see a few dozen meters above or below us. It was actually kind of a nice change as it made you focus on the path and what was nearby, which was gravel for the first part, but then lots of little pink and purple and white flowers began to appear as you got a bit lower, then turning into more of a standard early growth forest by the end of the trail, with the ground transitioning from pure pumice stones about the size of golf balls to finer pea sized stone and sand, to mostly sand, and finally mostly soil with some rocks.

Once we made it back to the bus (our knees very grateful for it) we drove abut 30 minutes to lunch at a local restaurant. The food was great, simple but very flavorful. We had the choice of grilled chicken or beef that was served with grilled halved potatoes with an herb butter, sliced tomato, fresh avocado slices, and some very tasty salsa. To drink we could choose from a rice based sweetened drink or a flower/tea based sweetened drink. Jeremy and I each got something different so we could try everything and it was all great.

After we were dropped off at the port we made our way through the little market of souvenirs that were set up outside, purchased some gifts for folks and I got an oval jade pendant, with the silver back a design with a quetzal bird.

We have now cleaned up, dusted off everything (our feet and shoes were covered in black dust) and are relaxing until our “Chef’s Table” dinner at 6:45, I can’t wait! So far this had been the coolest day on the cruise and I have a feeling dinner tonight will cement that.


Cruise day 9

So today was a day at sea, so that meant a watercolor class in the morning after breakfast and some reading time out on the deck (we decided we really like the brown wicker chaise lounges they have out on deck with the orange cushions, may be good for our deck at home). In watercolor class we have started doing paintings based on photos now, I chose a green and red spiky agave plant. After that I met up with Jeremy and we went to a cooking demonstration (the chefs were very entertaining) followed by a lecture about the engines and navigation of the ship (not as interesting as the cooking).

After that we grabbed a quick lunch and then picked out the excursions we wanted to do for the rest of the ports (volcano hike tomorrow, two Jeep tours in Mexico. After making the reservations we returned to the room and read for most of the afternoon. We spent a bit of time trying to calculate the distance of the horizon (yes, we’re geeks) and we hashed out ideas for lighting the new deck (I wanted criss crossed lights, he wanted them along the perimeter only, we compromised).

We got ready for dinner, our second formal night, and enjoyed another meal with John and Karen, we showed off wedding pictures and our engagement story this time around (I got chided by our other two dining couples for taking off my engagement ring to show them), and talked about Lord of the Rings. They loved Qsine so much and really encouraged us to go try it so we decided to go together the dinner after tomorrow. As an added bonus, the maitre’d overheard us discussing making a reservation and called for us and gave us a two for one price for dinner. We have to be ready by 6:45am tomorrow for our hike so we decided to skip the 70s musical show tonight and just read a bit of LOTR and head to bed early.


Cruise day 8

Today we visited Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. We pulled into port around 6am with a few rain clouds following us but the coastline was still visible. We can see mountains, black beaches (there are volcanoes, 7 active, along the backbone of the country), and a small tourist town. After acquiring some breakfast and waiting in the theatre for our tour time we boarded a small (2 and 1 seat across) bus for a lively two hour ride up the Pan-American highway to the restaurant and home base of the river tour company.

Turns out this was not a single inner tube kind of “river float” like we had done on our last cruise, but rather a 6 person raft plus a guide, and we had to paddle at various points. As we loaded into the raft the guide asked who wanted to be the leaders and sit in the front of the boat, without hesitation the other four folks in our group, a British couple and two ladies, turned around and pointed at us, so we were volunteered to set the pace for rowing (and probably ended up doing a bit more of the work, but that was fine). There were very small rapids in a few spots but most of the time the water was quite calm. Since I had thought we would be in the water more I did not bring my camera but boy do I wish I did (and I really could have as we did not get very wet until the last bit of “rapids” where a wave came right in on my legs).

We saw so many different kinds of wildlife, I had only seen them in zoos before but on this trip we got close enough I probably could’ve touched many of them. As we were loading into the boats there was a family of howler monkeys in the trees above us, including a few tiny babies, very cute. As we floated along we saw five different crocodiles of various sizes (I made sure to keep my hands out of the water at those times). We saw iguanas big and small, in trees and bushes as well as on the rocks and one even chilling on a branch in the middle of the river. Apparently during the mating season the males change their colors from green to orange and black, we saw three of the courting males. We also saw varying sizes of the Jesus Christ lizard (they can run on the water to flee from predators). When these lizards are small they look like a typical lizard but when they are grown they have a ridge/fin along their back and another along their tail. We also saw some really cute tiny bats. They hang around the rock outcroppings over the river and blend in almost perfectly with the rock. They are probably the size of a mouse but are kind of mottled brown and gray and almost appear spiky, but they are perfectly camouflaged against the stone. We saw two larger groups of a dozen or so bats, and as we got closer they flew off so that was neat to see. We saw so many different birds: yellow-crowned night herons, little blue herons, oriole nests (they looked like black drawstring purses hanging from the trees), pretty little blue mangrove swallows, snowy and cattle egrets, osprey (this is the migration season now for a lot of the birds of prey), a gray hawk (with bright yellow beak and feet, he was royally annoying some egrets by hanging around near their nests), yellow flycatchers, boat-billed herons (Jeremy thought it was holding a leaf in its mouth at first), magnificent frigatebirds, wood storks. It was really amazing to get to see these large birds up close.

After the tour we returned to the home base restaurant for rice, beans, carrots and green beans, plantains and steak for lunch, along with lemonade. Many of us also enjoyed the Costs Rican beer Imperial, which was very good, and was served ice cold so very refreshing as well. We did a tiny bit of souvenir shopping at the restaurant and then returned to the bus. I had a bit of a headache after the rafting so I napped for part of the way, Jeremy stayed awake for the entire, apparently rather harrowing, ride back. The highway is only two lanes and our driver was quite aggressive with passing other folks (at one point reportedly he was in the process of passing someone and there was an oncoming motorcycle Jeremy heard the driver mutter “shit” and apparently we almost ran the motorcyclist off the road). The driver was going along at quite a clip and engine braking often, for me it was just kind of a fun ride 😉 We passed pineapple farms, rice patties, sugar cane fields, tilapia ponds (with lots of white egrets hovering around), as well as cattle pastures and small family farms. Our guide Jorge was very nice (he was also our raft guide) and he always had “a plan” we had to follow and would be sure to let us know when something was “only ten minutes” away.

There is a tourist area with shops just past the cruise dock but it has started raining (it is the rainy season here) so I think we will stay on the ship, we do need to start buying some souvenirs though for folks, we are running a bit behind on that.