My Best Photos of 2022

Here we are on the last day of the year, and I only have one post left to do to wrap up 2022. Since I consider this site a travel and photography blog, I have saved my best photos post for last. And they are all travel photos so that kind of fits.

I wanted to do a David Letterman and give you a Top-Ten list, but I could only narrow it down to 14, and I need some of you to tell me which ones you like better. I shot a bunch of photos this year across two continents in seven different countries and all while traveling. I had some fantastic photo experiences, the best being in Venice and Tarragona, Spain, but I loved the other shots I got as well. So please let me know in the comments which ones I ranked differently than you would have.

Just a note: If you click on any of the photos, they will enlarge on a black background to fill your screen. That’s the best way to view them. And PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Number 14—The magazine ad from Eze, France

I took this from way up on the top of the village of Eze, a true hilltop town in the south of France between Nice and Monaco. When I got back to our stateroom and was going through my photos, I realized that I had taken an advertising photo. Is this not the perfect photo to illustrate any advertisement for the south of France?

Number 13—The view from the Number Two

Floating down the Grand Canal in Venice at 5:45 in the morning, I looked back and saw this view behind the #2 vaporetto I was traveling on. I stepped out onto the back deck and got this shot of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and the sky behind us, and I loved the light I got.

Numbers 11 & 12—My two best people photos

I have a bunch of people photos from this year, but I love these two the most. The first is from Corfu. We had gone on a shore excursion that took us to Olympia in Greece and then to a hotel where they did some cooking demos and lunch. After lunch, this wonderful man and his family did some amazing Greek dancing. ‘He was incredibly animated and he really played to my camera.

The second shot, from only two days before, is our guide George who took us all over Athens and then found us the best lunch in the world. I loved his quiet confidence in this shot. He was the perfect guide for us.

Number 10—A flamingo on Grand Turk Island

If you look back on my Top Photos of 2021, what I considered my best photo was a shot of a flamingo I took while we were in the Galapagos Islands. There is something about these birds; they are both majestic and awkward all at the same time. The reflection made this shot. And the really amazing thing is that I shot it from a tour bus at about 30mph.

Number 9—The money shot in Cinque Terre

This is incredible Manarola, one of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre on Italy’s eastern coast. We were visiting for the day on a tour with the amazing Luigi. We were going from village to village via the ferry. When we arrived in our second stop, Manarola, Luigi told me that I wanted THE quintessential Cinque Terre shot, I would need to climb this particular hill and then look back. He was right. This shot, of the more than 600 I took that day, says it all. It’s the postcard shot.

Number 8—The Columbia Bar, Astoria, Oregon

This one is my most peaceful shot of 2022. I love the way the spray and the water “humps” are just flowing. The lighthouse in the background helps as well. But conversely, this is really a pretty violent photo because, as anyone who has lived in the northwest can tell you, the Columbia Bar (where the Columbia River enters the Pacific Ocean) can be VERY dangerous. Lots of ships have been wrecked trying to sail through these waters.

Numbers 6 & 7—Wedding pics in Venice

Walking into Piazza San Marco in Venice at just before 6:00 am and finding the entire piazza empty except for these three people almost took my breath away. I had been there the afternoon before, and the crowds had been immense, smothering and overwhelming. To walk into the piazza and find this couple and their photographer taking photos right at dawn was like a miracle for me. But I can’t decide which one is my favorite, so this is another chance for you to pick.

Number 5—My best panoramic shot of 2022

This is a manufactured panoramic shot I took while in an indoor shopping center in Naples, Italy. I love taking panoramic photos. Not the kind you get with your iPhone but this kind. Ones where I plant my feet and move the camera by pivoting my upper body as I take a series of shots. Then I take them back into Photoshop and stitch them together to create what I was seeing from where I was standing at the time. This shot is one of the few vertical panoramas I have taken. I started as three vertical shots. If I have any complaints with it, it is that it seems slightly tilted to me and when I try and fix that, it only looks like it is tilted in the other direction. But I still love it.

Number 4—A hole to the sky in Barcelona, Spain

We were on a tour in Barcelona, Spain, and we had stopped to see Gaudi’s La Pedrera—Casa Mila. This is a multi-story building that initially housed two condominium-type dwellings for two fairly wealthy families in the early 1900s. Just before we took the elevator up to the top floor to work our way down, I leaned out into the center of the building and took this shot, looking straight up the shaft that is the inner courtyard. I had no idea it would turn out this good. And it really helped to have amazing weather, so I had the blue (with wisps of clouds for contrast) sky.

Number 3—The lights of Kotor, Montenegro

Someday I will blow this shot up and hang it on a wall. It might be the best nighttime shot I have ever taken. We were in Kotor on our Viking Sky cruise. During the day (while Kathleen was quarantined due to Viking giving her food poisoning), I hiked up this mountain/hill and took many great photos looking back. I was so impressed with the city. Luckily for me, the ship did not sail away from the city until fairly late that night. We were in our stateroom watching another episode of Downton Abbey (what else do you watch on a Viking ship 😜) when I happened to look at the bow cam on our TV and saw this scene. I literally grabbed my camera and ran to the front (and top) of the ship to get this photo of the entire town lit up, including the old fortress that protected the city. I have to give huge credit to my new Nikon z7 being able to get me a shot this clear when I handheld it at 1/20th of a second. Amazing.

Number 2—Man eating breakfast in Venice, Italy

My favorite (and I believe the best) photo I have ever taken was a shot like this. It told a story. You can see that one here. This one does the same thing for me. I was up early in Venice and pretty much lost and wandering the calles and campos I turned a corner, and there in the distance was a man having breakfast. And just like my best photo, this one was all about the light. Or, in this case, the lack of it. What light exists does exactly what I want it to do, it send my eye directly to the subject. No photographer could ask for more.

Number 1—The blue hour (actually about 15 minutes) in Venice

Lots of people know about the “golden hour” of photography. It’s that time just before sunrise or after sunset when the sky turns golden. What you may not have heard of before is the term “blue hour.” This really isn’t an hour but it’s the 15-20 minutes just before or after the golden hour. The sky is transitioning from the black of night to the golds, oranges and pinks of the sunrise. If you get lucky and do some planning, you can be in the right place (standing on the Rialto bridge) at the right time (the blue hour) to get the shot you want.

So that’s it. Another year of photography behind me. I like to think that I get better each year. Retirement, or at least cutting back on work and being able to focus a little more on taking pictures, has helped me improve. Sitting here writing this at 4:00 am on New Year’s Eve I feel really good about the shots I got in 2022. Can’t wait to see what I put in my post a year from now.

Happy New Year! Hope we all have an awesome 2023.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.      —Dorothea Lange

 

The best and worst of 2022

To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Isn’t that just the way life works? I always thought so. How would you know what the highs were if you didn’t have any lows? And sometimes, the lows lead to the highs. This brings me to the high and low of 2022.

To start the year, a quick substitution was just what we needed.

This one kind of slips in from 2021. If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that we booked a Christmas Market river cruise with Viking River Cruises that was expected to sail in early December 2020. Well, we all know that didn’t happen, so we postponed to December 2021, but then the Delta variant of COVID showed up just before Christmas. Even though Viking still sailed the cruise, we let them keep our money for another year because most of Europe shut down their Christmas Markets. But that second cancellation killed us. And that’s how we ended 2021.

But that brought us to one of the high points of 2022—our Sail with Seth cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam that we booked as a quick replacement. We went with my brother and sister-in-law and had a Neptune Suite (a last-minute upgrade), some incredible food, found new parts of the Caribbean that I actually liked (Bonaire and Grand Turk) and just generally had a great time.

Old condo problems lead to a new home that we LOVE.

Our disillusionment with our former homeowner’s association started a long time before Spring 2022, but that’s when things went from bad to…we have to get the hell out of here. We had lived in our condo for 23 years (two months before we got married), and to be honest, we really loved living there. So we made the decision to start looking for a new place. To be totally honest, I was sure I would never leave that place and making the decision to move from our close-in, easy-to-walk-anywhere condo where we had the best neighbors anyone could ever want was both tough and quick.

Kathleen and I have always made joint decisions quickly. When we bought our condo back in 1999, we weren’t even looking. We just stopped to see an interesting model home, liked what we saw, went for coffee for half an hour and then went back and bought it. Moving this year was no different. We already knew the area we wanted to move to (Trilogy Redmond Ridge, a 55+ community about seven miles from our condo), and we found an awesome realtor (Hi Linda) who took us to see a grand total of one house—the one I am sitting in right now. We walked in, looked around for about 15 minutes and told Linda to make an offer. Then we went and looked at another place so that we could see what else was out there but to be honest; it could have been wonderful (it wasn’t); we still would have bought the one we now call home.

We love living here! And I would say this was the best thing that happened to us this year. Of course, there is always a downside. We had two big downsides. One, we had to leave behind the world’s best neighbors, Jayesh and Lisa. Sure, they are only 15 minutes away (we are having our annual New Year’s Eve dinner with them on Saturday), but it’s not the same as sticking our head over the fence or having drinks on the spur of the moment to celebrate that it’s Friday. And two, we actually had to pack and move. But that’s another of this year’s highlights.

A Moving Experience

I hate moving. In my past life (BK=Before Kathleen), I moved a bunch. But since we bought our condo in 1999, we haven’t moved. Not for 23 years. The idea of taking things down off our walls, packing all our belongings, dealing with multiple trips to and from the new house, getting the condo ready for sale, and getting all the stuff done we would have to do to move into the new house…I hated all of it. But sometimes, good things come from bad things. Like the day in April when all our kids and grandkids showed up to help us patch walls, touch up paint and clean our old place to get it ready to sell. It makes a dad and grandpa very happy to have his entire family coming together to help.

Unless you have been to our house, you have no idea how much art we have hanging on our walls. Just the downstairs powder room alone had 84 framed pieces of art on the walls. We know because Maylee (our awesome granddaughter) counted them for us. And in our kitchen, we had more than 60  decorative plates hanging on the soffit. Those all had to come down, have the holes spackled and then have the paint touched up. There were other things that needed doing, including moving a bunch of stuff to a storage shed. But everyone pitched in to help, and we got it all done. Special thanks to our eight-year-old (at the time) granddaughter and our eleven-year-old grandson because we struggled to figure out what to have them do, and they just grabbed the spackle and the paint and went for it. They did an awesome job.

We should add that they all returned again a month later to help us move out of the condo and into our new house. And all of them worked their butts off that day as well. As I said, it brings a tear to this old grandpa’s heart.

Our travels: some good and some bad

As I mentioned at the top of this post, we had a great time in the Caribbean on Nieuw Statendam in January; then, we sailed on a May cruise on Celebrity Millenium from San Diego to Vancouver, BC. And we had our BIG trip of the year—our Viking Ocean Mediterranean cruise from Athens to Barcelona that took us to Europe for almost a full month.

Since I have detailed so much of this travel before, I will just list the tops and bottoms of that travel:

The WORST parts

  • Kathleen falling and breaking her elbow when we were in San Francisco on the Millenium cruise. Six hours in the emergency room, two long cab rides, one surgery and about ten weeks of recovery, all while we were moving, was not fun. All of this happening on a cruise that proved to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that our favorite cruise line (Celebrity) was not what it used to be and that this might have been the worst cruise we had been on in years. It is just sad.
  • Catching COVID in Venice or at least realizing we had COVID while we were in Venice. No awful symptoms (just a slight sore throat), but still a pain. Kathleen’s cough went on for a month.
  • Kathleen getting food poisoning on Viking Sky and then being quarantined because of something the cruise line did.
  • Us realizing that 28 days is too long to be gone from home.
  • Being on Nieuw Statendam with our good friend Seth (Sail with Seth) and finding out from him that he had been let go from Holland America on the day before the cruise, with his last day being in July. That was not cool, HAL. They then expected him to do his job helping the sixty or so people in the Sail with Seth group have a fun time.

The BEST parts

  • Most of our Viking Sky cruise around the Mediterranean was great. We had a great time, and we enjoyed Viking, but our expectations were a little too high.
  • I had at least two ultra-amazing photo-shooting experiences, one in Venice and one in Tarragona, Spain.
  • We spent another amazing five days with the grandkids at the beach (we have been doing this for a few summers), celebrated Maylee’s birthday and played MULTIPLE games of Skipbo.
  • Going back to Amsterdam and the Banks Mansion.

Hopefully, I will be back tomorrow to finish the year with my best photos.

The good times of today, are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.
—Bob Marley

 

 

Food! Glorious Food—the Top 5 things I ate this year

As the year comes to a close, I have decided to make my Top lists again. Today—the top five things I ate in 2022. Later this week, the top things to remember (good or bad) and finally, the top ten photos I took this year. Let’s get started.

Number 5—The french fries at The Grand Dutch Cafe onboard Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam

One January day on our “Sail with Seth” cruise, we returned after lunchtime from a very nice shore excursion tour of Grand Turk island. We really didn’t want to go up to the buffet because it was less than four hours until dinner, and let’s be honest, buffets are just too tempting. I know, I always say I will “just get a salad,” but then, “Oh, that pizza looks good—I’ll just have one piece,” or “I’ll need a roll with this salad.” You get the idea.

As we were getting back on the ship, we walked by the Grand Dutch Cafe, which is located directly across from the Guest Services desk on deck three. They do sandwiches, croquettes, soups and desserts. We decided that would work best because we could each get one thing, and that was it. Besides, they had a superb selection of Dutch and Belgian beers. So I ordered the veal croquette and Kathleen a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and we sat down at a table (You order at the counter, but they bring the food to you at your table.)

A few minutes later, the server brought out my croquet and apologized to Kathleen that her sandwich wasn’t ready yet, but he wanted me to have my croquet while it was still hot. And to make up for it taking so long, he thought we should try their French fries, so he brought us a dinner plate full of nothing but fries. Well, we really didn’t want to eat that much, but we had to try them, so we each bit into one…gave each other looks of incredulity, and then ate another…and another…and another. In the meantime, Kathleen’s sandwich came, and we finished her sandwich and my croquette…and all the fries.

A few minutes later, our server came back over and asked if we would like something for dessert, and we looked at each other, smiled, and I told him, “YES! Could we have another order of those fries?” They were that good. I need to add that we had a week left on the cruise, and we had those fries (as a side dish and as a dessert) at least three more times.

Number 4—Lunch in Athens, Greece, with our guide George.

On our full day of touring Athens before we departed on our Viking cruise, we did a six-hour tour with the amazing George from Tours By Locals. George took us to a bunch of places, including the Acropolis, the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers and the original Olympic stadium. But the best place George took us was…lunch. Early in the day, he asked if we wanted to have lunch or tour all day. We all voted to finish up our tour with lunch; if he would recommend someplace wonderful to eat.

Our incredible guide—George.

George (that’s him at left) said he knew just the place. He took us to a wonderful, family-run restaurant in a working-class section of Athens and said this is the place. We sat down at some tables pretty much across the street from the restaurant, and the owner came out and told us what was available for lunch. George recommended letting the owner bring us what he thought would be good. So that’s what we did, and that’s what he did—brought us some amazing Greek food. And he brought a TON of it. He kept bringing course after course after course. All of it amazing, all of it delicious. I wish I had photos of everything that he brought, but either we ate it too fast (at the start), or it was in another course that we forgot about. If you are ever in Athens and you want the ultimate Greek food experience, tour with George.

Number 3—Beer and pretzels at Valley House Brewing in Duvall, Washington.

This one happened by accident. My brother Steve and sister-in-law Jamie were here in June so Steve could help us do some stuff around our new home. One afternoon we decided to drive east to the little town of Duvall for lunch instead of into downtown Redmond. Duvall is a cute little town that is actually closer to our place (in the amount of time it takes to get there) than downtown Redmond is. We had looked online and found a winery that we thought would be great for lunch, but when we got to Duvall, we could not find the place, nor did we see anything else that looked interesting. One of the four of us found Valley House Brewing on their phones (not me, I was driving), so we went there.

Like the french fries I wrote about in Number 5 above, we found the world’s best pretzel. The beer itself was really great, but the pretzel was worth going back for. It came to the table HOT (burn your fingers hot 😜) and had just the right amount of salt. It tore apart perfectly and almost melts in your mouth. To top it off, it comes with two different sauces to dip it in; an outstanding honey mustard (my favorite) and a superb beer cheese. This is the kind of pretzel that you want to go back for again and again, and we have. But it’s been a while. Now I really want one. Guess I will just have to wait a couple of days/weeks/months.

Number 2—Pizza in Europe.

I was going to try and pick a specific place we got pizza, but two really stood out. First, I took a tour (Kathleen was too tired from COVID to go along) in Naples that was all about pizza and the pizza there was amazing. Of course, it should be; that’s the birthplace of pizza when we stopped at Solopizza, which has been in business making pizzas in Napoli since 1977. To be honest, I would have preferred we stopped someplace that had been there since 1797 but no such luck 😜. I did get to go into the kitchen and watch them make pizza which was eye-opening, and it changed the way I now make pizza. I also learned that in Naples, the rule is “one pizza, one person.” Everyone at the table for eight I was sitting with thought this was crazy, but when we finished the meal, we counted the pizza pans they had brought ours out on, and there were seven empties, so we got close.

After Naples, I thought that would be it for great pizza mostly because that’s where pizza was born but also because the pizza on our cruise ship was just OK. Nothing wrong with it but nothing great either. Was I ever wrong? About a week later, we docked in Monaco and were off on our longest tour of the cruise. We started in Eze and then went to Nice and finally wound up back in Monaco, where it was now almost 2:00 pm, and we still needed to eat since we left on tour at 8:30 am. Kathleen and I were famished, so when the guide stopped in front of the Monaco cathedral and just kept rambling on, we headed up the street to find food. There we found the simplest pizza you can buy and easily the best of the trip. We topped that off with our favorite beverage of the trip, an Aperol spritz, and we were in heaven. I can’t begin to describe how great this pizza was. It truly has changed the way I make pizza.

Honorable mentions:

Before we get to my number one food of 2022, I want to honorably mention these dishes that didn’t quite make it into the top five: the incredible anchovies in Monterosso in Cinque Terre, Italy, the soft-shell crab, Norwegian waffles and seafood buffets on Viking Sky, the lemon-basil gelato in Vernazza, also in Cinque Terre, the lobster rolls at Tamarind restaurant on Nieuw Statendam, the pintxos open-faced sandwiches we had for lunch in Barcelona with our guide Olga and lastly, the ratatouille at Rudy’s Sel de Mer restaurant, also on Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam.

My sister-in-law Jamie read this, and since they travel with us most of the time, she nominated some additional honorable mentions: Soppressata sandwich from Molinari’s deli in San Francisco (this was from our SF food tour—which was on a day I had completely blocked from my mind because later in the day, Kathleen tripped and fell on a bad sidewalk and we spent six hours in the emergency room), cannoli from the same SF food tour, the Peruvian chicken we had in the Club Orange Dining Room on Nieuw Statendam and the spicy arancini from Victoria, BC food tour. My brother was nice enough to include my Grilled Antipasto Vegetable platter (one of my summer specialties, pictured above).

Number 1 has to be the Dark Chocolate Amarone Cremoso onboard Viking Sky.

Let me first state here that I have never been that much of a dessert guy. I prefer carbs to dessert any day of the week. And when it comes to dessert, I (unlike my daughter) prefer fruit in my desserts. I love pies and crisps and cobblers. And I have never been that big a chocolate person—until now.

On our second night onboard Viking Sky, we went to their Italian specialty restaurant Manfredi’s. The food was fine. I was not too fond of the calamari appetizer, I thought the steak was poorly cooked and much too thin to be a true Florentine bistecca, but I did like the risotto with escargot. But then we got to dessert. My normal choice would have been the lemon cake they had on the menu as I love almost any lemon dessert but the name of the one chocolate dessert caught my eye.

One of our favorite types of wine is a deep, rich red from the Veneto region of Italy—Amarone. When I saw that word in the name of this dessert, I thought it must be an ingredient, and I had to try it. This turned out to be both a great and a bad thing for me to do. Great, because it was the best thing I have eaten this year and bad because I fell in love with this chocolate dessert and soon discovered that pretty much anything the pastry chef on Viking Sky did with chocolate was amazing, so I had to try it all. A few nights later, I found it on the buffet, and that’s where the photo came from. Suffice it to say; I had to have it again.

How much did I love it? So much so that when we got home, I did Google search after Google search until I found the recipe on another cruiser’s blog. She had begged the pastry chef on another Viking ship for the recipe (as I should have done) and was nice enough to share it. Since we got back, I have made it three times and still have two pieces of it in our refrigerator. It is incredibly thick and rich. Almost like a fudge (but definitely not!), it is very expensive to make. To do it right, you have to invest in some fairly pricey 70% cacao chocolate and a few other wonderful ingredients. But if anyone reading this wants to try it, I will happily send you the recipe. It’s going to become my go-to chocolate dessert for the rest of my days.

That’s it! My culinary adventures in 2022. Watch out later this week for more Top of 2022 lists. I hope to have the other two done by New Year’s.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.  —Charles Schultz

I hate it when this happens–but you get more panoramic photos to look at

Yesterday I was sitting on the couch working on yesterday’s post about panoramic photos. About halfway through uploading photos, I had to make dinner, so I thought I was saving the page, but the actual button I hit was “Publish.” When I hit that, WordPress (where I host my website) sends out an e-mail, and that’s it. I can make changes to the post, but you won’t be notified when I do.

The problem was, I still had a BUNCH of pano photos I still wanted to post. So here they are, and hopefully, you will appreciate them. I have never been able to post them in the past in my daily travel pics on Instagram or Facebook because they won’t let me add them and show you the entire photo. You only get the middle part. I hope you enjoy them. Make sure to open them up on the biggest screen you have. Otherwise, you won’t get their full impact. 

These first two are special as they depict the same scene, just taken from two different angles. I was standing in the same spot. In the first one, I started on the left with one ship in view and moved to the right until I had done almost a 360-degree turn. On the second one, I started with both ships in view and moved to the right. The first one is a BUNCH of pics stitched together.

Here are a few more with comments. And of course…don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. (If you have to, make sure to at least turn it sideways to view them horizontally.)

These next four are from our recent visit to Barcelona, Spain

Here’s some from our stop in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I climbed the walls that day and walk all around the city, so lots of chances for panorama photos.

Those seem to be the only multiples I have left, so here’s the rest with captions.

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.  —Theodore Roosevelt

Expectations Not Met but That’s OK

It was interesting to me that when we got our post-cruise survey from Viking, they had everything listed by expectations. For instance, a question might say, “Food in the main dining room: A) Exceeded expectations  B) Met expectations C) Did not meet expectations.” When I thought back on it, that was my problem with Viking. After listening to friends talk about how much they love Viking, reading a FaceBook group of Viking fans, and knowing that Viking clients are incredibly loyal, I was expecting an almost perfect experience. That was my problem and not Vikings. (Viking—do your surveys online. You are doing yourself a disservice because I truly believe you get more info that way. When I only have a tiny, multiple-choice survey with little space for comments, that’s all I give you.)

I also realized in retrospect that so much of what I knew I would love about Viking (I did a blog post about why we were moving to Viking, and you can read it here.) is things it does not have: kids, smoking (Ok, there is a tiny area outside, on deck 7 but Viking says “No Smoking” in their marketing), casino, ship’s photographers, art auctions and more. As little things went wrong along the way, I was thinking about those things, not the things that weren’t there that I loved them for. All those things were great; I just didn’t think about them because they weren’t there. But they really improved our cruise experience.

Since we got home, I have also been telling people who ask about the trip that “Now we know how long a vacation is too long.” A month is too long. Three weeks on a ship is too long. Especially when you are sick and quarantined or are self-quarantining. But if we were going to do three weeks, Viking is the cruise line I would do it on. So, without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what we loved and what we didn’t.

What we loved

  • Our stateroom. We had what Viking calls a Penthouse Verandah. It was the largest non-suite stateroom we have ever had. 338 beautiful square feet. With so much storage. How much storage? So much so that we had an empty drawer and a junk drawer—on a ship. Here are some pics of one of the best staterooms we have ever been in.
  • The mini-bar. On every single one of our previous cruises (except Celebrity Flora), one of the first things we would ask our room steward to do was to remove everything in the mini-bar. On Viking, we left it all in there. Why? Because it was all free. And it got completely refreshed every day. And if there were something you would rather have in there that wasn’t, all you had to do was ask. For instance, it was full of Sprite and Diet Coke—neither of which we drink. But we do love the Schweppes Bitter Lemon they served in the bar. So we asked if we could swap out the two we didn’t like for Bitter Lemon. Well, they didn’t regularly stock it, but they ordered it up from the bar at no cost to us.
  • All the upstairs food on the 7th deck. That means that we found some of the best food we have ever had on a cruise in The World Cafe buffet, Mamsens and the Pool Grille. I can count on my fingers the number of times in 30+ cruises we have eaten dinner in the buffet. We usually just do the buffet for breakfast or lunch but hardly ever for dinner. On Sky, we did. Almost every night because the food was amazing. I have never eaten so much outstanding seafood.
  • The service in the buffet is amazing. One of my complaints about the buffet on other ships is the absence of trays. Not because I like trays but because I only have two hands. One for a salad and one for the main course. Now, how do I hold the drink(s) that I want as well? So, I go and set my food on the table, and I run back to get the drinks, and by the time I am back, my food is cold. This never happened on Sky. Ninety percent of the time, within seconds of sitting down at the table with my salad and my entrée, someone was asking me what I would like to drink. The buffet also worked like a well-oiled machine. The managers were always coming by to ask how things were. Once I told one of the managers that the veal I had just grabbed was dry and tough. He immediately turned around, went to one of the chefs and told him to remove it and get new. That was impressive. I really felt like they cared what I had to say.
  • The room service was outstanding. Again, before this cruise, I could count on one hand the number of times we had done room service on our other cruises, but because of our quarantine situation with Kathleen’s food poisoning, we ate a lot on this cruise. We loved room service, especially breakfast. The order was always right, delivered hot, and except for one small hiccup with a pepper shaker, it was all outstanding. I do wish their non-breakfast menu had more variety, but everything we had was great.
  • The wonderful quiet places on the ship. I did an entire post on this subject a few days ago and I posted pics. Just click that link to read it. Suffice it to say; there were so many great places to sit and work on my photos and write posts. Or for Kathleen to go and read but still see the sights out the front of the ship or just someplace to have a quiet conversation.
  • Television choices. They were awesome. I know, who watches television  on a cruise? People who are quarantined. People who are feeling sick. People who are exhausted from being in a port and touring every single day. And we got to choose from quite the variety of shows, an excellent interactive map of our itinerary, old TV shows we love and more.
  • Embarkation and disembarkation. Not the transport from the pre-extension or back to the post-extension. But getting on the ship was a piece of cake. Viking under-promised and massively over-delivered. When we were checking in, we were told that our stateroom would be ready no later than 3:00 pm. So we headed up to the buffet for lunch (lots of tables available), and just as we were finishing up, our cruise director announced on the PA that all staterooms were ready—about two hours early. Under-promise, over-deliver. Both getting on and off the ship was about as easy as we have ever had in all our cruising.
  • Size of the ship. We loved it. It never felt crowded (except one night in the dining room). You could walk from one end of the ship to the other in no time. With only 9 decks and us on deck 5, we could get anywhere on the stairs, although we didn’t have to because the elevators were easily accessible. Kathleen hardly ever had to wait for elevators. But even though the ship is smaller than what we are used to, we never felt that much motion which we thought we would.
  • Fewer people. With only 928 total passengers, we never felt crowded.
  •  Laundry and pressing. In 30+ cruises, we have only sailed on one ship that had a self-service laundry. It was super to have clean clothes whenever we wanted them. And it was so great being able to not worry about it when we did laundry. I would go and toss stuff in a washing machine, set a timer with Siri and then go back when she went off. Same with the dryer. And since we were in a PV-class stateroom, we also got free pressing. So I would wash and dry my shirts and send them off to be pressed and they would come back the next day looking perfect.
  • The included WiFi. This was excellent. Very few glitches. No, I could not watch a Netflix movie, but I was able to upload all my pics, post to this blog, FaceTime twice with our grandkids and even watch Seattle Mariner highlights on YouTube. All for free. And it was only out on very rare occasions and never for that long.
  • The chocolate desserts. My brother just reminded me that I raved and raved about every single dessert that was chocolate. I am NOT a chocolate person. I prefer my desserts to have fruit in them or as the main taste profile (think lemon-polenta cake), but when we went to Manfredi’s, I had the best chocolate dessert I have ever had. From that point on, I made a point to try everything chocolate and almost every single thing was just as good. If you love chocolate, it might be worth going on a Viking Sky cruise just to eat it.

What we didn’t love

  • The entire food poisoning incident. I have written about it pretty thoroughly here. I personally was not happy with the way Kathleen was treated. It comes down to not listening to women when medical treatment is involved as well as jumping to conclusions. Everything worked out in the end, but it just should never have happened to the extent and in the way that it did. Kathleen had to miss at least three places that we had never been to before.
  • Any dining on decks one or two. This includes the main dining room (AKA The Restaurant), Manfredi’s and The Chef’s table. I want to look at them individually and tell you why we did not love them. None of these restaurants passed what I now call the “Steve Standard.” My brother Steve wrote this in his review of our May cruise on Celebrity Millenium, and I have stolen it from him because I think it is the best way to describe and evaluate a cruise ship restaurant. Here’s the “Steve Standard”: If this restaurant were in your neighborhood and you ate there, would you pay to go back? Pretty simple. And the answer for us for all three restaurants is no. They did not pass the “Steve Standard.” Upstairs, the World Cafe, Mamsens and the Pool Grille all passed. I would pay to go to any of them.
    • The Restaurant. On every other cruise we have ever been on, we have eaten 95% of our dinners in the main dining room. On this 21-night cruise, we ate exactly three dinners in the main dining room. Now I will give you that part of the reasons this happened was Kathleen’s quarantine when we ordered room service and long days onshore when we were just too tired and not at all motivated to get dressed to go to the dining room. But the times we did go, we were not pleased. Two of those times we felt the service was just weird. We are used to having the same servers for our dinners, but not only did we not get the same servers on these two nights, but we also had different servers for every course. And it seemed none of them really wanted to wait on us. Both dinners took more than 2.5 hours. That’s too long. We would be seated and then wait 20 minutes to get water or bread. Then another 10  to get our orders taken, then another 10 until the appetizers came, and it went on like this. And things would be missing from orders, or they would be cooked differently than asked. We were never offered a wine list, and when we would ask for one, it would take 15 minutes to get it. In the meantime, another server would just come around with the bottles of the evening’s included wines and start pouring those. We gave up. The third time we went to The Restaurant, we joined our new friends Corky and Larry, who told us they had cultivated a relationship with an outstanding server…and they had. He was amazing, and the wine steward showed up immediately to ask us about other wines. It was the kind of service we loved. And the food was great that night. But the noise level was deafening. We were sitting at a small table for four and could not hear each other talk. I still have no idea what half the conversation was about. I got tired of asking the other three to repeat what they said, so after a while, I just gave up and nodded my head. All in all, we just weren’t happy with The Restaurant.
    • Manfredi’s. One of the things we loved about Viking was that the specialty restaurants were free. On most ships, you pay extra for those. A lot extra in some cases. For instance, on Holland America, we went to Rudi’s, the seafood restaurant on board and paid $50 per person to go. So when we heard that we could get into Manfredi’s for $0.00, we were thrilled until we ate there. We went twice. The first time was the same sporadic service as The Restaurant. That got fixed the second time, but the food was never up to snuff. This is supposed to be Italian. I am an Italian-American, and I LOVE to cook Italian. I have lots of Italian restaurants I love. This is not a good Italian restaurant. Example: On Celebrity cruise line ships, there is an Italian restaurant called the Tuscan Grille. I love their calamari. I have been known to have it as an appetizer and an entrée at the same meal. I looked forward to that on Sky, but it was horrible. Reminded me of eating those old snack food, Bugles. Remember those? And their ribeye steaks (which are supposed to be amazing) were some of the thinnest ribeyes I have ever eaten. And my brother (who is a steak person) ordered one and got an entirely different steak. The only thing I had that I liked was a risotto with escargot. I might get that take-out from a restaurant at home. Suffice it to say that Manfredi’s was better than Olive Garden, but not by much.
    • The Chef’s Table. This is a matter of personal choice. The Chef’s table has a fixed menu that rotates every three days. We had four reservations there, but due to quarantines, we lost our first one. Then the second and fourth time, they were doing a menu that had nothing on it that Kathleen could eat. She is allergic to shellfish (two courses) and duck (the entrée). So that was out. The one time we went was on a night that they were featuring California food. She had one course she could not eat (crab cakes) and they brought her a very nice cheese plate. And the food they did serve was pretty good…for what it was. But as I said, this is a matter of personal choice and at home I would never go to a fixed menu restaurant if I could avoid it. While I thought that dinner was fine, there was not a single thing on that night’s menu that I would have ordered in a regular restaurant. The menu for two nights later looked good but we could never make it work with our reservations.
  • The included excursions. Another thing that drew us to Viking was that they included an excursion in every port. But those excursions just did not work for us. Either they were too long, the guides were incredibly boring and talked as if they were being paid by the word, or they just weren’t our cup of tea. I did love that Viking provided free shuttle busses in every port where we weren’t anchored right in the center of the city (Kotor), but the included excursions were just not up to par. I wish that Viking would give you a credit for excursions if you don’t use them.
  • The optional excursions. Out of 21 days in ports, we booked an optional excursion seven times. Only two of them would I do again (Dubrovnik and Messina). Two of them were pretty good for half of the tour (Naples and Bari) , and one was good for about a quarter of the tour (Olympia ). One was just “fine” (Kotor), and one was downright horrid (Monaco) because it was way too long, had the worst guide of the trip and included way too much crapola (like shopping). Our buddy Corky said that Viking should offer tours that were listed as “shopping or no shopping.” I totally agree. When you compare these to the pre-cruise tour we did in Athens with George of Tours By Locals, the post-cruise tour we did in Barcelona with Olga, also of Tours By Locals and the Cinque Terre tour we did with the amazing Luigi, there is no contest—there were all bad. I will give you that they were less expensive than the tours we booked ourselves, but I would gladly have paid more for better tours.
  • The weird weeks of this cruise. Our friends Corky and Larry, who are long-time Viking cruisers, told us that our 21-day cruise (and their 28-day cruise—they started a week before us in Instanbul) was NOT like any other Viking cruise they had been on because it wasn’t really one cruise. It was (for them) four one-week cruises, and for us, it was three one-week cruises. Did this matter? It kind of did. For instance, we could not see, book or change our shore excursions until the next week’s cruise started. Or the number of people getting off and on really was strange. Our first two weeks were primarily with a great crowd of travelers in our age group, and it worked well for us. Most were doing two-week cruises. But when many of them got off in Rome, the new group that got on was louder, ruder and generally younger. They were only doing a one-week cruise, and that meant they wanted to get all their partying in right away. We preferred the older, travel-oriented folks we had with us from Athens to Venice. Corky tells me that this particular cruise on Viking Sky is one of the few where Viking does this. We hope to avoid that in the future.

That about covers all of it. So what’s the final verdict? Well, we booked another Viking Ocean cruise while on board. So I guess that says it all. We have booked a 14-night cruise in 2024 from London up to the Norwegian fjords and ending in Bergen, Norway. We have never done this itinerary before, and it will give us a chance to compare a regular itinerary with this three week mess.

I hope you have enjoyed following along on our journey. I also hope if this was the first time you have read the blog, that you would both subscribe for future journeys and go back and read about some of what we have done in the past. I have been doing this since before the pandemic, and there are a bunch of other trips you can read about. I will be back in a couple of days with my promised treatise on how I do my photography.

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.   —Winston Churchill

Beautiful Barcelona

After our fun ride in from Tarragona and our lunch at La Rita, we got a decent night’s sleep on the first bed I had been comfortable on in 21 days. The next morning all six of us had been scheduled to do a 5-hour tour of the city, and the Gaudi highlights with Olga from Tours By Locals. Sadly, my brother had eaten something that did not agree with him so he and Jamie stayed at the hotel, and the rest of us set off for what was to be an outstanding tour. It was outstanding, primarily because of the excellent Olga.

I know I have mentioned Tours By Locals before, as we used two of their guides previously on this trip, Hans in Amsterdam and George in Athens. Both of them were great. I have used them on many occasions, but Olga may have been the best guide they have ever sent our way. To start with, she was 10 minutes early. I love early. I got a call from the lobby saying that our guide was there. As soon as Pam and Dave were downstairs, Olga’s driver pulled up in a wonderfully spacious Mercedes van. It was so GREAT not to be stuck in a “luxury motor coach.”

Kathleen and I with Olga on the roof of Casa Mila.

When I first contacted Tours By Locals a month previous, it had been hard finding a guide that either wasn’t already booked or could accommodate some of the things we wanted to do because of the festival going on for the entire time we were in the city. On the other hand, Olga was completely willing to work with me on setting up a tour that would incorporate the best of Barcelona. That’s what I love about Tours By Locals; the guides will work with you to see the things you want to see. When you go to Barcelona, some of the things most people want to see are the works of revolutionary Antoni Gaudi, the most famous of which is La Sagrada Familia. We knew upfront that the church would be completely closed to anyone but locals, so seeing the inside was not an option. Olga made suggestions of things we could see that would be a good alternative, and I liked them all. We decided to do Gaudi’s Casa Mila, Park Güell, see the outside of the La Sagrada Familia and then tour the old town. Olga said she would try and throw in some surprises along the way.

La Pedrera—Casa Mila)

When Kathleen and I were here in 2007, we toured the beautiful La Pedera—Casa Mila building. The building is an entire block made up of two condominiums totally designed by Antoni Gaudi (who designed La Sagrada Familia) as well as many other one-of-a-kind buildings throughout Barcelona. We wanted to see it again and make sure that the rest of the group also got to see it. Kathleen had no problem touring this building in 2007 and thought she could still do it because when you did the tour, you took the elevator to the top of the building. And then you walked down and did the tour on the way.

Olga told us that this had changed since we were there last (what hadn’t 😜?) and that now you walked UP the stairs and then exited by way of the elevator. This just wasn’t going to work for us. So Olga jumped into action as soon as we got there, and in no time, Kathleen and I were going up the original apartment elevator (not open to anyone but employees) to the top floor to start our tour down. I wish I had taken a photo because it was one elegant elevator. It even had a Gaudi-designed, hand-carved wooden bench that Kathleen got to sit on while we went up. This is what makes local guides so good. They know the people to talk to (because Olga toured there constantly), and they know what can and can’t be done with the right request. We were blown away.

We had an awesome time touring the building. I am going to let the photos and the captions tell you the rest of the story. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Park Güell

Our second stop on the tour was the beautiful Park Güell. This is another of Gaudi’s masterpieces that was originally built out in the country north of Barcelona, but over the years, the city has grown to swallow it up, and it is now almost in the city center. There is so much to see there, but I will just let you see it in my photos. Enjoy.

La Sagrada Família

Even though this incredible church was closed to non-locals due to the current festival, Olga wanted us to see it close up from the outside so she could explain the building and the significance of the art on the outside. You can’t believe the art on the outside of La Sagrada Família. Maybe you will have you see my photos. If you get bored with all the closeups, please feel free to jump out, but I did pair this down from more than 200 photos. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

The old city of Barcelona

Our next stop after the incredible La Sagrada Família was to head downtown (in HORRIBLE TRAFFIC) to the oldest parts of Barcelona. We walked by the original cathedral, which dates to the 13th century, while Olga pointed out a lot of truly remarkable sights. We saw a piece of art by Pablo Picasso that he drew with his usual minimalist style.

About this time, we were starving. So Olga recommended we try pintxos. If you have never been to a pintxos restaurant, it is almost worth a trip to Barcelona just to try it. Olga took us to her favorite place, Bilbao Berria Barcelona. Pintxos are topping of every kind placed on slices of awesome bread, and they put different colors and styles of sticks into the stack. The stack includes either cold or hot toppings. Hot ones might include melted cheese, roasted tomatoes, sausages, and serrano ham and the cold ones include cheeses, veggies, and so much more. There are even dessert pintxos. These are all set up on a number of buffet tables, and you choose what you want. Then after you eat them, you put the stick into a small metal container on the table, and when you are done, they count the sticks (different prices for different colors) and give you your check. Five of us ate a BUNCH of these, and the total bill was less than $80 and that included a bottle of wonderful Catalan wine. An amazing value, and every one of them is delicious. Here are some pictures from this part of the tour.

After lunch, we walked from the cathedral campo towards another campo where Olga was hoping she had a surprise for us, and she did. Hopefully, you remember a couple of posts ago when I wrote about the human pyramid building contests in Tarragona. Sadly, I could not see any of the actual pyramid building itself when we were there. I only got to take photos of the parade before the competition, which got rained out.

But when we walked around the corner in Barcelona, there it was, a castella (the Spanish name for the human pyramids) right in front of us. We got to watch this team (who were doing a demo, not a competition) build a three-story high human pyramid. Just look. It’s amazing.

A walk on my own

After watching the amazing human pyramids being built, our tour time was over. Olga had released our driver when it got to five hours, but she stayed with us to walk the other Kathleen, Dave and Pam to Las Ramblas to grab a cab and walked with me as I headed back to the hotel about four miles away. I wanted a few more photos to show you the huge crowds and incredible craziness that is Las Ramblas, the main tourist street in Barcelona. Here’s my last set of pics for Barcelona. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…