Best of the Best

The Adventure in Akureyri

The Adventure in Akureyri

During this contract, I was able to do and see some truly incredible things.  Since coming home, I’ve frequently been asked about my favorite places, and I’ve had trouble answering!  There were so many wonderful places, but I liked different ports for different things.  Looking back through my photos, I tried to break down some of the highlights of the past few months.  This is what I came up with…  The Best of the Adventure.

Best Hike

Pulpit Rock

Pulpit Rock

Best Beaches

Paradise

Paradise

Photo doesn't do it justice!

Photo doesn’t do it justice!

Just look at that water

Just look at that water

Best tours

Tuk tuk tour

Tuk tuk tour

Camels at the base

Camels at the base

Magic at the top

Magic at the top

Best Place for Beer

  • Beer Wall in Bruges
    • I made a special category for Bruges, because I had such a great day there!  The beer is fantastic, but the whole city is worth visiting!
Beer Wall

Beer Wall

Favorite Landmarks

Amazing to see

Amazing to see

I could visit every day!

I could visit every day!

Best Museum

  • The Guggenheim Bilbao
    • The architect, Frank Gehry, also designed the Guggenheim Museum that will soon be built in Abu Dhabi.  There was an interesting article in the New York Times about the new museum.
Beautiful Gehry building

Beautiful Gehry building

Favorite City

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

Favorite Country

Sunset in Reykjavik

Sunset in Reykjavik

Northern Lights.  Photo by: Daffodaleia Williams

Northern Lights. Photo by: Daffodaleia Williams

I knew the quality of the places I was visiting was pretty astounding, but I just recently added up the quantity!  I’ve now been to 39 countries.  I can’t wait to add more to the list in the New Year!

Casey’s Travel Map

Casey has been to: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, China, Curacao, Denmark, Fiji, France, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Singapore, Sint Maarten, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican, Vietnam.

Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

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Last Days in Europe

Toboggan ride in Madeira

Toboggan ride in Madeira

We just completed a 14-day cruise beginning in Southampton, England and ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ship stopped in two European ports before sailing for 6 straight days en route to the Caribbean. Knowing a week at sea lay ahead, I tried to enjoy the first two days on land as much as possible!

View from the slopes

View from the slopes

The last time I was in Maderia, Portugal, I joined a large group of crewmembers for steak on a stone. It was so delicious, many of us decided to go back. The owner of the restaurant recognized us and greeted us with hugs and kisses on the cheek when we arrived.

Lunch, consisting of sangria, garlic bread, steak, and french fries, was just as good as I remembered! I could’ve sat there for hours, but I had plans with a fellow dancer to ride a toboggan down a mountain. We left the restaurant and went searching for a cab. We were able to haggle with the driver, and get him down to a reasonable price for a ride up the mountain and from the bottom of the toboggan ride to the ship.

Driver #2

Driver #2

Our toboggan was guided down a steep, winding pavement road by two old men. Considering the weight of the basket and the speed at which we were moving, I was a bit nervous. They guided us safely down the road, even though a light rain was making it extra slippery. We slid past a few cars, which was both scary and exhilarating. The views on the way down were fantastic. The ride was short, but completely worth the price!

Slippery streets

Slippery streets

In Tenerife, I joined my roommate and her boyfriend for a beach day. We took a city bus to the beach, and promptly claimed 3 beach chairs. A waiter from a bar on the beach delivered beers and fried chicken to us.

Beach in Tenerife

Beach in Tenerife

Black volcanic rock and green plants surrounded the beach. My friends said it seemed like a beach in “Jurassic Park”! Shortly after we arrived, clouds started rolling in. It started to rain, so we sought cover at the bar. We ended up sitting there for hours, chatting with the staff and local guests. It felt like we were there for days! I got a much-needed does of “normal” to prepare me for the upcoming days at sea!

Bartender at the beach

Bartender at the beach

I had a fantastic time during the European season. Although I’ll miss the beautiful European ports, I’m excited for the adventures that lie in store in the Caribbean!

Ready for sea days!

Ready for sea days!

Last Day in Lisbon

Overlooking Lisbon

Overlooking Lisbon

Most of my days in Lisbon were spent shopping and dining downtown. Although I’ve enjoyed those easy afternoons, my last day in Lisbon, I wanted to take the opportunity to see the sights.

Outside the castle

Outside the castle

I set off with my roommate and her boyfriend in search of the Military Museum, the oldest museum in the city. The museum houses guns, swords, cannons, and medals from different eras. The boyfriend was like a kid in a candy shop looking at all the gadgets. For me, the highlight of the visit was seeing the building. There were murals painted on the walls and ceilings, gold carved wooden molding, sculptures, and the signature Portuguese tiles.

First room at the museum

First room at the museum

Next, we stopped for a bite to eat and discussed our options for the rest of the day. I had heard good things about the tuk tuk tours in Lisbon, and luckily, I was able to convince both my friends to join me for a tour.

Tuk tuk

Tuk tuk

We started walking towards the cathedral to find a tuk tuk. The cathedral was beautiful, and as we hoped, there was a tuk tuk driver ready to take us around. The driver was a handsome young man. He told us that he started doing tours one month ago to supplement his usual job teaching physical education. He speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French, so he’s well suited for dealing with tourists.

Cathedral

Cathedral

The first stop on our tour was the Castel St. Jorge. We just saw the outside since tickets were expensive, but it was still lovely. Our tour guide explained that half the walls had been rebuilt. The larger stones were part of the historic section, and the older looking walls with more variety in stone size and shape were actually part of the renovated area that had intentionally been built to look old. We also learned how to spot the difference between old and new homes around the castle. Old homes have very short doors, and you often have to step down when entering.

Outside the castle

Outside the castle

Inside the gates

Inside the gates

Before getting back in the tuk tuk, we stopped for 1-euro shots of port at a nearby shop. If I had been allowed to, I would’ve bought a bottle to bring back to the ship with me!

Port tasting

Port tasting

When we hit the road again, our driver learned that we were sort of thrill seekers, so he started racing down the hills en route to our next destination. On the way, we stopped to see an old villa built in 1890. It used to house factory workers. The owner of the factory lived in the penthouse, and there was a central courtyard for the employees to socialize in.

Villa

Villa

Our next two stops were lookout points at the two highest parts of the city. The views were fantastic! We were able to see the difference between the parts of town built recently and those built before the earthquake. The architecture and layout of the four main areas were markedly different. There was a beautiful cathedral at the first lookout point. The streets between the two spots were full of locals. Our tour guide said that many of them never leave that neighborhood. The second, higher lookout point was his favorite place in the city. Looking out, shaded by an old tree, I could see why!

View point

View point

We then drove past another old church and then stopped in front of the Pantheon. The Pantheon took a total of 270 years to build! Due to financial constraints, construction was not continuous, but it still is a remarkable period of time to spend on one building. It houses the remains of many Portuguese figures. The most recent body added was an opera singer 3 years ago.

Pantheon

Pantheon

Next, we drove through Alfama, the oldest neighborhood in the city. Doors were much smaller than other parts of the city, and streets were very narrow. Only residents were allowed to have cars there. Since our driver knew we enjoyed alcohol, he stopped at a small shop to get us free samples of Ginjinha, a local cherry based drink. It was sweet, but very enjoyable. While driving around, we learned that the locals had mixed feelings about the tuk tuks coming through. They liked the money brought in by tourists, but didn’t appreciate the noise and pollution from the vehicles.

Alley in Alfama

Alley in Alfama

Ginjinha samples

Ginjinha samples

The tour ended at the Rua Augusta Arch. We stopped at a nearby wine bar to enjoy our last hour on land. All in all, it was a pretty perfect day! The tour and the museum made me appreciate the beauty and history of Lisbon on a whole new level.

Lots to see!

Lots more to see!

Local Flavors

One of my favorite things about traveling is trying local foods. My last day in Malaga, Spain, I went out with a few members of the art team for lunch. I’d spent time with them in a work setting when I help with registration for art auctions on board, but I hadn’t spent much time with them socially. Although we were a diverse group, consisting of 2 Americans, a Kiwi, a South African, and a Hungarian, we all were in the mood for the same thing… tapas!

Tapas in Malaga

Tapas in Malaga

We walked to a strip of restaurants and shops along a marina about halfway between the cruise terminal and the city center. The restaurants all had outdoor seating shaded by white umbrellas. It was a beautiful area! We stopped at a Spanish restaurant advertising free Wi-Fi. Three of us ordered a pitcher of sangria to share, and took a chance by ordering a tapas sampler. There wasn’t as much variety in the sampler as I would’ve liked, but it was very tasty. I had sardines, tortilla de patata, an octopus salad, tuna salad, and a potato and olive salad.

In Madeira

In Madeira

A week later, in Madeira, Portugal, I was told I had to try steak on a stone. I set out with a large group of friends to find a good restaurant. We chose a restaurant on the water about 10 minutes from the port. They served steak, steak with bacon, chicken, pork, tuna, or prawns on the stone, as well as a full menu.

On the Stone Menu

On the Stone Menu

Our servers, upon learning we worked on the ship, brought us all shot sized samples of their signature cocktail. I’m not actually sure what was in it, but it tasted so good, I ordered a full sized drink. Since “steak on a stone” was what people had been raving about, I ordered just that.

Special cocktail

Special cocktail

Our meal came with baskets of garlic bread, that may be the best bread I’ve ever tasted, and plates of fries, or “chips” as my English friends call them. The highlight of the meal, however, was the steak itself.

I was brought a platter with a hot stone and 3 pieces of raw steak. On the side, there was a sauce of garlic and olive oil, a bacon aioli, and a creamy tomato sauce. The steak was seasoned with raw sea salt. It cooked almost instantly on the hot stone, and melted in my mouth! I ate every bite I was served, because it all tasted so good!

Steak on a stone

Steak on a stone

The restaurant became the crew spot. By the time we left, there were 6 tables of people from the cruise division. We all agreed that although lunch was expensive, we’d be back next time we stop in Madeira!

Great little restaurant

Great little restaurant

I’m looking forward to trying more exciting foods in the remaining month and a half of this contract!

Looking Around Lisbon

Last cruise, one of my sisters and her husband came to visit me. The voyage had some wonderful ports, including Rome, Gibraltar, Malaga, Nice, and Lisbon. Due to extra rehearsals for mystery theater and parades, I was only able to get off in port with them once. Luckily, we still had plenty of time to enjoy together on the ship. I enjoyed showing them around the ship, my home for 6 months, and introducing them to my friends and cast mates.

Sister came to visit!

Sister came to visit!

Our final port and only day to play on land was in Lisbon. It was my first time in Portugal! We took a cab to Commerce Square, walked under the Rua Augusta Arch, and continued walking to find food. We sat at a lovely little outside table for lunch. My sister heard that cod fritters were a local specialty, so we both tried them. They had two variations, so we ordered both to compare. They were tasty, though not good enough for me to need again.

Arch in Lisbon

Arch in Lisbon

After lunch, we started walking towards Alfama, the oldest district in Lisbon. On our way there, we came across the St. Jorge Castle. We circled the outside, did a bit of shopping in souvenir shops, and then made our way down the hill to Alfama.

Once there, we continued strolling, found some nice local pastries, and then I had to head off to find a cab back to the ship. They stayed in town, and walked all over the city. I’m a little jealous of all that they saw that day, but I was able to return to Lisbon today!

Main square

Commerce Square

Today, I got off the ship with a Serbian friend, started again in Commerce Square, had lunch outside, and walked through the city before stopping at a park café for a drink. Although we didn’t really stop at any tourist destinations, I had a lovely, sun-filled day.

Lisbon is an interesting city. The architecture is beautiful, with many buildings covered in painted tiles. However, there’s a lot of graffiti all over the city. It makes for an interesting contrast. Some of the graffiti is actually really pretty, but most of it just makes the city seem dirty. Although it’s not my favorite port, I think I’ll enjoy going back next cruise.