Friday, September 18, 2009

Dolphins and Stars Like You Wouldn't Believe

I don’t see the point in spelling out my cruise adventure one day at a time, so I’ll say this: Wednesday touring small towns near Lisbon was delightful, and we bought a bottle of port from a small shop with an owner eager to hand out samples. We also bought little purses made from the bark of cork trees. As odd as that sounds, they really are cool, something exclusive to Portugal, they say. Someday we may actually spend time in Lisbon without a big bus full of tourists. It looked beautiful from the outskirts. Enough about that.

Yesterday is what I’ll devote some attention to. We anchored at Gibraltar, a place I knew nearly nothing about. OK, absolutely nothing. I now know that the rock is home to a British colony that enjoys a certain amount of independence. From it, you can see Spain and Morocco, and the bay is full of industrial ships. You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain where there are spectacular views, a restaurant perfect for afternoon tea and a precocious group of apes that some say are trained to steal purses and wallets. We didn’t do any of that. Husband is afraid of heights, so we went on a dolphin-viewing excursion instead that had us on a little boat out on the bay.

It was a windy day, so the water was choppy, and we were all soaked in salt water within ten minutes. People were grumbling that sighting dolphins seemed hopeless, and the captain should release us from this terrible circumstance and take us back to shore. But then the captain announced there was a large pod of dolphins up ahead, and we were soon surrounded by them—not bottlenose dolphins, but a smaller variety all swimming and jumping around the boat. Very cool.

After a harrowing tender boat ride back to the ship, Husband took a nap while I found a secluded reading spot in this amazing library. Other cruise ships I’ve been on have a “library” full of pulp fiction and tattered paperbacks, but this one is set up like an actual library and is packed full with every subject you could want to explore. The reading chairs each sit in front of a large window at the bow.

After that, I went to the spa for a pedicure, and the nail technician showed me what the crew call a secret elevator that takes you to a quiet observation deck most people overlook. After that, I took a nap. After that, I joined Husband in a lounge for some espresso and watched the boat slowly leave the bay. After that, we went to an upper deck to watch Morocco go by. After that, we had dinner in a lovely and quiet restaurant where the servers and sommelier remember you from your last visit and deliver exquisite dishes to your table–blood orange and fennel salad followed by sea bass (reminder for next time: don’t follow a martini with a glass or two of wine. It only leads to a headache).

After dinner, we saw a magic show with this crazy Englishman stuffing himself into a giant balloon and bouncing in place. The words don’t describe the visual—it’s something you have to witness for yourself. After that, we went to the top deck for some stargazing led by a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and it was an amazing experience. AMAZING.

Everyone gathered around a large telescope aimed at Jupiter, and we were each able to see it complete with the belt and with three moons aligned on one side and one on the other. As soon as everyone had had a look, the speaker, Francisco Diego, whose name must be spoken slowly and out loud for the full effect, turned out all the lights. And suddenly, we were standing beneath a Mediterranean sky so full of stars, it took your breath away.

We saw the Milky Way and clear constellations. Francisco Diego used a laser to point them out and name them. And he told the story of poor Andromeda lashed to the rocks as a sacrifice to save Ethiopia with a giant whale about to eat her alive. Through a series of heroic acts, Medusa was beheaded, and Pegasus threw the head at the whale that then looked at the head and was turned to stone, and Andromeda was saved. Each constellation in the story was visible, and I was in awe.

We left the deck and went back down to a theater where a Ukrainian string quartet performed a brief concert. They were utterly charming, and it was the perfect way to end a wonderful day.

Today, we’ve got a full day at sea. I started with a watercolor class where I painted a remedial tree which you will never see, and then we'll sit in for a 55-minute version of Romeo and Juliet performed by a British drama company. After that, who knows. Maybe Francisco Diego's lecture on the ghost universe.


dive said...

What an awesome cruise, Robyn. And you've only just started!
I am jealous beyond words but also very happy for you.

Madame DeFarge said...

All sounds very exciting, but don't forget to relax too.