Sunday, June 17, 2018

Seabourn Sojourn in Alaska - Part I (Getting There)

My Alaska cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn will be my third trip visiting the Inside Passage.  I previously sailed on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in 2005 and then on the Silversea Silver Shadow in 2012.  Having the ability to compare how the three deliver their luxury experience in Alaska should be interested; noting that because of the 13 year span, certain things will have changed both onboard and on land.

Cruising the Inside Passage to Alaska
on the Seabourn Sojourn
I am sailing in a Penthouse Spa Suite (1091) with its magnificent views over the ship’s wash; which will most certainly be a bonus on this cruise from Vancouver to Seward spanning twelve days.  If you would like to know more about these unique and fantastic suites, please read my article:  Seabourn Quest's Penthouse Spa Suites - Are They Really That Good? Yes!  (There have been a few tweaks and upgrades, such as a tea kettle for your floral teas, a cushioned seat at the desk and "male" Molton Brown products being provided.)

To this I note that the distance is covered by most cruise lines in seven day, but with a twelve day itinerary, Seabourn’s ability to go places most other cruise ships cannot combined with its Seabourn Ventures program with scientists, naturalists and experiential opportunities should make this a better overall experience.

My trip started with a visit to the Escape Lounge in Reno, Nevada before my Reno to Seattle and then Seattle to Vancouver flights.  Because my flights always seem to be first thing in the morning, I settled into the lounge about 5:30 a.m.  After my drink arrived and I had a bit of a breakfast, an unordered shot of vodka appeared with the hostess giving me a sly grin.  Doing a shot at 5:55 a.m. was not part of my plan, but I said to myself, “Why not?”.

My first flight on Alaska Airlines was delayed due to traffic control issues in Seattle.  Making my connection was going to be very, very, tight.  (I am glad I upgraded to premium economy so that I could be near the front of the aircraft…just in case.)  Arriving in Seattle seemed to take forever, including an extremely long taxiing to the gate and then having to run to…you guessed it…the last gate with not a minute to spare.  Running through the airport, dodging people left and right, I could see Gate C17, but my path was crossed first by an electric cart and then a man in a wheelchair.  Seriously?  It was like a comedy.  Arriving at the Gate I was told that the doors were closed, BUT because of a ground hold Alaska Airlines would put the jetway back and let me (and a few others) board.  Whew!  (United Airlines: Are you listening?) 

We arrived in Vancouver to chaos because several flights, including international, arrived at the same time so there are huge lines.  I assume this was related to the reason for the ground-hold in Seattle: Traffic controller issues.  Regardless, I was happy to be in line because the alternative (sitting in Seattle trying to find an alternative flight) would have been worse.   And then…

As we were standing in line the hundreds of other people just doing what you do, a woman that just oozed she was a Kansas bible-thumper ducked under the rope barrier and looked at me with a big smile and then waved to her friend that she should come too; as if all was as it should be.  Well, too bad for her that she did this right in front of me.  After I unhooked the rope from her backpack-fastened neckroll, I “kindly” advised that the line was “all the way back there”.  As she turned to leave, not saying a word, her backpack-fastened neckroll hooked onto the other rope barrier.  Amazing.

But what was more amazing?  After finally getting through passport control and over to baggage claim: My luggage was there!  (United Airlines: Are you listening?)

I decided not to spend a fortune on a hotel in Vancouver but opt for one that was just OK but right near the waterfront…and not the waterfront by the cruise terminal, but where the locals hang out on the other side of town.  With our room not ready until late afternoon, I was guided to the Yaletown area of Vancouver but as I started walking I decided it wasn’t by the water…which is why I chose the location.  A quick Google search and I found Ancora, a waterfront restaurant specializing in Canadian seafood, but with a Peruvian chef who also has a Japanese influence (which is typical of modern Peruvian culture).  Perfect!

Ancora's Seafood Platter
Canadian seafood with a Peruvian/Japanese

Not wanting to miss anything I ordered an incredible seafood platter that rather speaks for itself, which I paired with a Summerhill sparkling rose; perfect for a late spring lunch.

For dessert there was a wonderful charcuterie plate.

Ancora's Charcuterie platter
After a bit of work and a nap it was, well, time for dinner.  Once again Vancouver and the location of my rather ordinary hotel did not disappoint.  This time I did find my way to Yaletown after a 15 minute walk where I stumbled upon a Lebanese restaurant called Nuba.  A quick look at the beautifully presented dishes and a crowded restaurant I knew I was in.  A nice al fresco table, perfect for people watching, filled with the expected dishes and a bottle of Lebanese wine I was set for the next couple of hours…along with the Millennials that otherwise were the sole diners there.


 As the sun rose I knew it was time to get into Seabourn cruise mode, so I did my necessary pre-cruise paperwork (as I am the Ensemble Travel Group host for this cruise), watched some of the World Cup soccer and chilled out with my partial waterview.  I would note that Vancouver’s architecture hasn’t exactly left me inspired.  I could find hardly a building that made me go “That’s nice” no less “Wow”.   (The business area, where the office buildings are located, is a bit better, for sure.)

I headed to the cruise terminal to drop off my bags before meeting up with some of my clients/friends that had just disembarked the Seabourn Sojourn having sailed from Kobe, Japan.  We had a lovely chat over three dozen oysters paired with prosecco.  Importantly I learned that a splash of limoncello and a bit of black pepper on an oyster is pretty amazing.

Time to head over to the Seabourn Sojourn and, one would think, an easy embarkation.  Nope.  Someone put their passport in her luggage.  Seabourn was great in eventually finding the luggage and my embarkation was able to proceed.  And then…more lines: US Customs and Immigration clears you into the US in Vancouver combining those boarding the Seabourn Sojourn, the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam and the Emerald Princess.  Ugh. 

And, with that behind: I boarded the Seabourn Sojourn. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Silversea Cruises & Royal Caribbean - Synergies Both Financial and Operational Result in RCI's 66% Stake in Silversea Cruises

It was announced today that Royal Caribbean Cruises will acquire 66% of Silversea Cruises, bringing both something each needed.  I think it is going to be a very good things for both parties...and that is something that rarely happens.  I will, of course, focus on the luxury end of things; with some historical perspective.

Silversea Cruises has, to my mind, always been missing "something".  While its owner, Mandredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, has always been at the fore of the luxury cruise market, Silversea has suffered from a failure to find a true vision of what it is (other than of Italian heritage) and financial stresses.  This had led, over the years, to a rapid and significant turnover of executives (other than at the very top) and ships that suffered from lack of consistency, maintenance and, of course, age.

Silversea Silver Shadow
While Silversea began working on updating its hardware with the 2009 launch of Silver Spirit, the ship build-out had many issues; most of which were related to financial issues including issues with its interior designer, which lead to a series of design flaws.  With the Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, Silver Wind and Silver Cloud getting a bit long in the tooth, things were not going well at all from the ships to the service to the cuisine. I, personally, experienced this during my 2013 sailing on the Silver Shadow.  Goldring Travel's Review of Silversea Silver Shadow (With Comparisons to the Seabourn Odyssey-Class Ships)

Silversea Silver Discoverer
Meanwhile, Silversea's excellent expedition experience was being hampered by the same issues.  And as it worked to expand in this high profit area, it ships were suffering as needed maintenance and upgrades were deferred. I personally experienced this in 2016 when I sailed on on the Silver Discoverer. Silversea Expedition Cruises - Exotic Journeys Focus on "The Journey" - Silver Discoverer Indonesia/Myanmar Expedition: Part IX (Reflections)The ship was literally just out of dry dock and it was in woeful condition with broken air conditioning, improper lighting, and tired staterooms...but the Expedition Team made it a fantastic experience; if not a luxury one.

It was clear things had to change...and, fortunately, it did!  Silversea did four very important things:

  • Obtained significant financing;
  • Properly designed a state-of-the-art luxury cruise ship, Silver Muse;
  • Converted the Silver Cloud into a true luxury expedition ship; and,
  • Engaged in a serious refurbishment program of its existing luxury fleet

However, with all of these sorely needed investments, Silversea needed it ships to sail full and with strong pricing since there is all that debt it took on to do the foregoing that has to be serviced.  In theory these upgrades would cause that to happen, but it only has to a degree.  And that is where Royal Caribbean, with its very deep pockets and its world-class marketing and distribution systems come in.

There is a dirty little secret in the Luxury and Expedition cruise markets:  Oversupply of ships both presently and into the future.  On the luxury end, for example:

  • Seabourn has brought on two ships in a two years (Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation) 
  • Regent Seven Seas launched Seven Seas Explorer last year and upgraded its other ships
  • Hapag Lloyd recently launched Europa 2

On the expedition end:

  • Lindblad Expeditions is rapidly expanding and bringing on new hardware
  • Ponant is focusing more on expedition and is bringing on six new ships
  • Celebrity Cruises is building its Celebrity Flora for the Galapagos
  • Hurtigruten is building new ships
  • Quark Expeditions is building new ships
and the list goes on. While this is going to be a boon for the consumer, it doesn't make things great for Silversea...especially with a heavy debt burden and no ability to really market itself differently or tap into various "move up" and "new to cruise" markets.

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas
Meanwhile, there is the other half of this equation:  What is in it for Royal Caribbean?  

It has strong positions in the contemporary (Royal Caribbean), upscale (Celebrity) and premium (Azamara) markets, but even though it has some fantastic luxury suites on its ships across its brands, it has not been able to provide either its move-up guests with a true luxury product or to better tap into the "new to cruise" luxury market.

It may sound like a lot of money, but to effectively take over Silversea for one billion ($1,000,000,000) dollars is actually a very good deal for both parties...and the 66% ownership interest makes it clear to me that there is a very good level of trust that Royal Caribbean has great faith in Manfredi, personally, and the Silversea vision and product deliver.

I do not know the corporate structure of Silversea or how that might change, but my guess is that only certain major decisions can be made with a two-thirds (67.6667%) vote, so Manfredi retains enought control to make him feel as it Silversea is still his baby.  It may be that Manfredi cannot be removed absent such a vote, so if he sells off any portion of his holdings Royal can up in its own CEO or restructure the entire company.  But until then Manfredi continues to run significant portions of the operation.

However, there are things that Silversea needs (as noted above) that Royal can easily give and things that Royal may want that Manfredi (with a minority interest) will not be able to prevent happening; though clearly he has a high degree of trust in Royal Caribbean.

Azamara Journey
I am looking forward to Silversea getting "buffed up" and the addition of Royal's vision.  Why am I so positive?  If you recall I recently sailed on Royal's Azamara Journey and found Azamara's premium product in its suites to be better than Regent Seven Seas. Azamara Club Cruises - Azamara Journey Asian Adventure - Part VI - Reflections (Azamara Journey vs. Regent Seven Seas Voyager)Royal allows Azamara's captains a good bit of flexibility both operationally and guest experience, keeping things that may be relevant to large ships on the large ships and not imposing them on the smaller ones (unlike its larger ship brands) keeping Azamara nimble. A vision of "a luxury product is different" is essential...and, so far, Royal has shown it well understands this. 

This is an exciting development in the luxury cruise market...and not only for Silversea. It is going to force all of the luxury cruise lines to up their games.  That is good news!

Interested in experiencing a Luxury Cruise or want to ask me a question? Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain - Travel, Taste...and Troubles

Anthony Bourdain's suicide is both shocking and something that I could see coming.  It saddens me and I wish I had been wrong.  Let me explain.

People I run across during my travels often comment that my propensity to "get out there" and try truly exotic foods, to really "go local" by connecting with people and pushing far outside one's comfort zone cause them to say, "You are like Anthony Bourdain!" I kindly respond that I was doing "Anthony Bourdain" before he was.

But it is not about longevity. Anthony Bourdain had a presence, an intellect, passion, and even, early on, a charm that drew people to him and his candid views and wanderlust that I long admired and respected...and don't believe I have the capacity to honestly put myself into his league or measure of stature.  As you will read, he affected my life in more ways than one.

My love of cuisine combined with travel probably got its true start back in the early 1980's when I visited the Peruvian Amazon for the first time.  I was in a very small group that included three recently divorced, out of shape, women that were using the trip to prove themselves strong individuals.  Well, let's just say our guide spent a lot of time trying to keep these women from injuring themselves and pulling them out of the mud during our treks through the Amazonian forest.  So needing a break he asked me if I would join him leaving our encampment for a cold beer, as he knew a woman that had a propane refrigerator.

We walked through the forest to a clearing on the riverbank were a donkey was turning an old stone grinding mill.  We entered her shack and was given a cold beer.  We sat and her monkey climbed onto my shoulders, made himself comfortable and began sipping on my beer with me.  Seeing I was a white man comfortable in her home/store/restaurant, she offered to cook us dinner.  Not knowing how to compliment this woman who spoke no English I asked my guide if requesting more of her cooking would be OK.  Well, she was so excited!  She was out of fish, but brought me into her kitchen (a small stone grill that burned wood on a dirt floor) to show me how she cooked and my next course:  one of the guinea pigs that was running around in a pen (a/k/a live garbage disposal)!  After my unique second course, we thanked her and as we walked out into the pitch black night she offered me her monkey, as he was so comfortable with me and I loved her cooking.  (BTW, walking back in the dark - and without the monkey - was more than a challenge!)

Added to that, just a few years earlier, I was also a bartender in a James Beard and Wine Spectator Award winning restaurant...solidifying my culinary and travel connection.

So with those sorts of life experiences, and my generally curious but somewhat snarky, approach I was drawn to Anthony Bourdain. I read Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour twice, watched every episode of A Cook's Tour, No Reservations and The Layover.  I loved how our paths would cross from time to time, but also how much depth he found in each experience.  He was more than a great storyteller.

But I noticed something when Part Unknown, his last television series, started.  I felt a bit of darkness, sadness, bad attitude.  My thrill of seeing a new Anthony Bourdain show pop up on my Tivo became less exciting; eventually transforming into, "I don't know if I really even want to watch it."  But because of my business and desire to learn I have tried to make myself watch the shows.  It was hard and I have probably a dozen I haven't yet watched. But why?

A couple of years ago Anthony Bourdain was a guest speaker at the Ensemble Travel Group International Conference.  He met with the owners of the mega-agencies in a private function, but I ran into him at the hotel bar.  He was not happy. He exuded he didn't want to be there.  He, at best, acknowledged I was in the room.  I left him alone.  He was not nice to the Ensemble staff who had to mike him up when he was running late.  And when he finally got on stage he fumbled for about five minutes...until his "persona" kicked in. And then he showed that happy, cocky, enthusiasm that drew people to him. But I knew...really knew...he was just putting on a show.  It affected me and not in a good way.

It really didn't hit my until today why my near lust for Anthony Bourdain's experiences had become disdain:  Mental illness.

I was married for over two decades to a woman that suffered with a variety of mental health issues as well as a hidden alcoholism.  I stayed in the marriage for the sake of my children and did everything I could to help my ex from counseling to therapy to prescriptions.Without making this about me, suffice it to say she presented well to friends and others.  Quite charming for the most part.  But I knew what she presented publicly and what she was like privately were two different people.

So I have been reflecting today, thinking about the "tells" that professional gamblers and athletes look for in their opponents.  And Anthony Bourdain - despite "Having It All" and "Living the Dream" - had his "tells" and I picked up on them.  And I did what I did during my marriage:  Tried to avoid dealing with the fallout from mental health issues when I knew there was nothing I could do.  But with Anthony Bourdain I did not identify his tells as a mental health issue, but wrongly as sadness and arrogance.

I have my own sadness today for a number of reasons; the least of which is that Anthony Bourdain will not be around to create enthusiasm and wanderlust in people.  My sadness is that he suffered and suffered for a long time.  I cannot imagine the pressures he felt when he was alone.  When he had to struggle to be that persona with people wanting him to invest in this, endorse that, create something else, fulfill their celebrity expectations.  It had to be such a struggle.

Anthony Bourdain helped change the face of travel and culinary experiences. He made diving deep not only a cool thing, but something that one really had to do.  I am confident that he made my experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and India more relevant, deep and important.  I am sure that because of Anthony Bourdain I better enjoy my cheese in France, my pasta in Italy and my meat pies in Australia and my overwhelming wonderment of Antarctica even more so.

I do not want Anthony Bourdain's suicide to be ignored.  For all that he had done to make people think, to experience things they never thought they would, I hope he can posthumously encourage people to see the tells and to intervene.  It is an uncomfortable place and an unnerving experience, but pushing us into those places is what Anthony Bourdain was all about.

May he, truly, rest in peace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Seabourn Ovation - She Gets a Standing One!

Now having spent a few days on the Seabourn Ovation I have to admit that I figured it would be cool to sail her out of the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa, Italy, but otherwise she would pretty much be an identical sistership to the Seabourn Encore.  I was wrong.  The Seabourn Ovation is more akin to a Seabourn Encore 2.0 as well as a showcase for some new or improved Seabourn initiatives.

What an Honor!  Sailing the Seabourn Ovation
out of the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa, Italy

When I boarded...after a typically chaotic Italian inspection (where I was stopped for having a pair of pliers in my bag. Huh?)...the first thing everyone mentioned is the art work.  There is so much of it and it is beautiful.  The suite corridors are now galleries with various themes:  Birds, collages, maps, pastel colored women in landscapes and more.  The art in The Grill by Thomas Keller is exceptional from both painting and photography standpoints.  Beautiful sculptures abound.  Seabourn is definitely going to have to up its art game on the other ships.

I also need to mention that I am a "proud papa" as my daughter, Devin, interned with Adam Tihany, who is the interior designer for Seabourn, and as part of her internship worked on the curating of the art collection on the Seabourn Ovation.  

While the artwork is stunning, for me, it is always - first and foremost - about the software:  Officers, Staff and Crew.  What has struck me is how happy and enthusiastic everyone is.  There is a genuine sense of pride and excitement; far different from the debut of the Seabourn Encore.  While some of this can be associated with learning from her older sister, there just seems to be a "glowing" that harkens back to what captured me about Seabourn when I boarded the Seabourn Pride for my first Seabourn Experience in 2003.

To quell any rumors, while there is definitely a team which has some of the best staff and crew that Seabourn has to offer, don't believe for an instant that all of the best staff is here.  Many are doing their Seabourn thing on the Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn, Quest and Encore or are on holiday.  There are many staff and crew that love particular ships and are loyal to them. So not to worry!

What I can tell you is that maybe not so true is in the area of Seabourn Executive Chefs.  Here there is an absolute All Star Team including Kurt, David, Jess, Franck, Raj and more (including one of Thomas Keller's chefs).  Add to that the enthusiastic (and a little the best, inspiring, creative, way!) Seabourn culinary visionary Tony Egger and let's just say the cuisine and the new concepts are incredible.

Culinary Visionary Tony Egger
Chef Jes putting on a show in the Colonnade
(as usual!)
There have been certain changes and improvements in the hardware.  For example, the bar in The Club on the Seabourn Encore was not good.  On the Seabourn Ovation it is a showpiece.

There are nice subtle change to, for example, The Grill by Thomas Keller with more casual seating areas and a more rich, steakhouse, tone with more comfortable and intimate seating.

The most impressive change is the Patio Grill, which now - in the evenings only - is a legitimate full-fledged ala carte dining experience named Earth & Ocean; transformed from the prior partial buffet arrangement which still exists for lunch.  As I understand it, as Earth & Ocean is now considered a full dining venue it will be open every night, including formal nights.

Earth & Ocean and is now my favorite dining venue on the ship.  The culinary focus is on blending flavors from cuisines around the world with one dish each evening being served in a Moroccan tagine (though the dish probably will not be Moroccan cuisine).  Earth & Ocean will also focus on more local flavors, as the Seabourn Ovation sails, but will always put an interesting and unexpected twist on the dishes.

The first thing you may notice is the beautiful music or the artistic table settings, with pottery tableware from a single artist with homages to ocean and earth.

You are then presented with a fantastic bread presentation on a beautiful wood palate followed closely by a smoke-filled cloche with a surprise starter inside.  (I had duck confit.)

Yes, those are bacon-wrapped twist breadsticks!
 And then you have your choice of a variety of dishes.  'Er um, solely for investigative purposes I ordered the Fuzi (Croatian spindle pasta, Merguez sausage, smoked tomato and Parmesan), "Royale" Bouillebaise (Lobster, sole, dorade, scallops, lemongrass flavor, rouille, croutons) and a Bone-In Cowboy steak.

I, of course, had to try the Baked Camembert and then The Dessert Collection.  (And, No...I did not eat it all!)

Sushi has upped its game with more and more diverse Bento boxes and rolls now available at lunch.  There is also a Formal Night Menu which is only available on those nights, so your options have expanded yet more!

Speaking of matters culinary, Seabourn has upped its game in two other areas:  Gelato and Coffee.  Seabourn now makes its own gelato and is focused on obtaining fruits and other flavors (like pistachios) as they sail around the world.  It is truly world-class gelato created from recipes and oversight from one of the world's top gelato makers.

Seabourn Ovation's Gelato
Available in the Seabourn Square, The Patio
and, of course, the Gelato Cart!
As with the Seabourn Encore coffee is now being roasted onboard.  You do need to ask for the freshly roasted coffee the beans for which are prominently displaced in the Seabourn Square.

Freshly roasted coffee beans are prominently displayed
in the Seabourn Square
Overall the color palette of the ship has changed slightly and it definitely gives the ship a warming, more yachtie, feel.

My Penthouse Suite is very similar to the Seabourn Encore but there are changes to seating and a much larger television.

The Seabourn Ovation pool area remains consistent with the Seabourn Encore.

While I am sure I will  discover more about the Seabourn Ovation, there are two things you can count on:  The Seabourn Ovation is a very happy ship and it will, no matter what your tastes, have something that will wow you.

Interested in experiencing the Seabourn Ovation or any Seabourn cruise or want to ask me a question? Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Prelude to the Debut of the Seabourn Ovation: From Southern Asia to Dubai to Genoa, Italy - Thought Provoking! Oh, and Yeah: An Italian Culinary Adventure!

I wasn't going to write this article.  I mean all I was going to do is stay in a Genovese four star hotel (which in Italy the scoring requires you delete a star), see my friend of years ago and relax for two days. I mean I was just killing time in Genoa, Italy before boarding the brand new Seabourn Ovation to sail her out of the Fincantieri shipyard for her five night Shakedown Cruise after my eighteen night Asian Adventure of the Azamara Journey.

But it's me and, well, I just go so inspired and excited by things and then I start to reflect and think...and, well, travel should make you think. And when I think I tend to write.  So here I go!

Two days ago I disembarked the Azamara Journey and spent the day at the Park Hyatt Dubai on the Creek before flying out to Genoa via Frankfurt.  The hotel was very nice, the staff wonderful and my room was very comfortable with an awesome bathroom and lunch with the Associate Director of Sales was delicious.  If you are looking for a reasonably priced resort or want easy access to Dubai's best golfing, the Park Hyatt Dubai is a solid choice.

The Dubai skyline from my room at the Park Hyatt Dubai
And then there was the Dubai skyline.  I have never been a big fan of Dubai because, to me, it is so artificial...huge man made structures with hardly any men (or women or children) living in them.  Dependent on who you listen to only 10%-20% of the total population of Dubai is Emirati. Love it or not, Dubai makes a statement.

After my flights (with, of course, and as per usual, a very large man sitting next to me on my seven hour flight from Dubai to Frankfurt...who was extremely nice, was heading home from Afghanistan, and extremely muscular, so I couldn't say anything when he filled a quarter of my seat)...I hopped, or shall I say the taxi driver grabbed my bags and threw them, into a taxi.  And I instantly knew I was in Italy...and a scam was happening!

The meter said 18 Euros in extras and was turning over very, and I mean very, fast.  Humm, do I say something and possibly wind up on the side of the road?  Nope, I'm letting him think I am sucked in.  And then he pulled the wrong turn to run the meter up even more scheme.  So when I arrived at my hotel he demanded 41 euros for my 15 minute ride while waiving a blank receipt in my face.  Knowing that the Guardia de Financia frown upon fake receipts (an ever-present attempt to curb money laundering) and the Policia don't take kindly to scamming tourists, I made sure my bags were out of the taxi and then told my taxi driver in my best (terrible) Italian "Venti euros o Policia".

Twenty euros later I checked into my hotel, the NH Genova Centro with my room having a wonderful view.  And, if you are looking for inexpensive and in a convenient, relatively quiet, location in Genoa, this is it.  (Just let the hot water run for a bit to get the rust out of the pipe and it is BBC news or nothing if you want English speaking television!)  I chose it because it is walking distance to my friend's office and only a few minutes from the hotel where Seabourn will have a hospitality room for us before heading over to the Fincantieri shipyard and clearing security.

The view of a Genovese Park
from my NH Genova Centro Hotel room
After checking in and sorting myself out, I was off to visit with Giando; a fellow attorney who worked on some crazy Italian yacht litigation with me.  As it was a sunny Friday afternoon and the streets were fairly quiet as I wandered about before meeting him.

What struck me is that Genoa had cleaned itself up.  In the past years it was a fairly depressing wannabe small city back closer, but now it is heading back to be a city of grandeur it once was.  I was amazed and inspired.  And as I walked and started to look at the architecture, the details, the enormity of the artistry and design I first thought of Dubai and its focus on "bigger is better", "simply striking" and over-the-top approach to itself and better understanding why it just doesn't do anything for me.

One of more than a dozen spectacular
Genovese churches
And then I thought of the slums of Mumbai that I had visited earlier this very week and the backwaters of Cochin just two days before that.  Wooden and corrugated metal shacks to glass skyscrapers to indescribably beautiful ancient stone buildings; once impossible distances between them, and now within reach of each other...but still worlds apart.

I thought of not how fortunate I am to have done this, but of the humanity of some of it and the cold starkness of other aspects.  Of people "living" (not surviving) with almost nothing of material value, others with unimaginable wealth of material things but with a starkness of not really knowing what "living" is, and yet others who lived in the past with artistry and beauty being integral to their daily lives...and how that was neglected, but is now seeing a rebirth.

I'm still working on getting my head around all that!  It has been, in a way, a bit overwhelming.  But it is also a blessing.  My two days in Genoa could have been wasted, or could have been seen as meaningless, but instead have been incredibly inspirational and thought provoking.  But my time has not all be deep in thought, but in appreciation of this little Italian city.

Getting back to my lunch with Giando - He wins for the most spectacular office entry.  (And his offices ain't bad either, but I will keep that beauty private!)  Giando's office used to be near Christopher Columbus' childhood home, but is now on Garibaldi; a UNESCO Heritage site.  In short:  You can keep the Burj Khalifa!

The Garden Entrance to Giando's office
We went for a local's lunch. I had been waiting for this lunch.  It's not that reminiscing with Giando wasn't great, but I craved my favorite pasta dish:  Trofie with Pesto Genovese!  It is made with durum wheat semolina flour and water; no eggs...both of which makes it special in flavor and texture and is particular to this region, Ligure, of Italy.

Trofie with pesto Genovese = Perfection!
After a few glasses of wine it was time for a coffee; Italian style...which takes about 10 seconds. BUT I saw an incredible looking chocolate cannoli, so it took me a bit longer.

As Italians tend to start late, have a late lunch and then work late...and then not (if ever) work on the weekends, Giando had to get back to work.  And I had to take a bit more of a wander before finally calling it a day.

The cruise industry has helped revitalize Genoa
(See the two MSC cruise ships in the background?) 
I awoke early, but thought a Saturday in Genoa would be quiet.  Boy was I wrong...and the reason became obvious:  Cruise ships!  MSC had a couple in town and the streets were flooded with cruise tourists.  Some roads were closed with artists lining the streets and the waterfront filled with vendors selling pretty much everything from under tents.  Yikes!

Only in Italy: 
A street filled with prostitutes (who work days)
under siege by a pack of unknowing tourists
and their children!
I decided to do my best not to be a tourist, so I wandered the the backstreets and found a shop crammed with locals which sold everything delicious; including trofie.  The number on the counter said "60" and pulled my ticket: "74".  This could take a while and, honestly, I'm glad it did.  It reminded me that I needed to be "Italian".

So I waited and watched, and smelled, and listened and I enjoyed every second of my wait.  And then it was my turn...and there was no chance of anyone speaking English.  But I knew enough, "Due kilo trofie" "Uno kilo trofie di casagne" (trofie with chestnuts...a Ligurian specialty)!

Eagle-eyed I spotted trofie!

This is only part of the Italian cheeses for sale
After wandering Genoa looking like a local (in my dreams!) carrying my bag of pasta rather than a backpack I headed back to my hotel until later in the afternoon when the cruise ship folks would be gone.  It worked.  It was actually amazing the difference.  The streets were quiet and I could enjoy Genoa as it lives its days when the cruise ships aren't there.  And that made me think back to Genoa before the cruise ships, when Costa had a ship or two a week cruise out of nearby Savona and Genoa was depressed.  Nothing is perfect, but this is definitely better than it was!

It was time for me to continue my being Italian and find the right place for lunch.  To be sure there were still tourists around and, not surprisingly, the restaurants with the sandwich signs and posters were filled with them.  But that was never where I was going to be.

Somehow I saw a very small sign on the side of an alley and I thought New Jersey.  Seriously.  It said "Soul Kitchen 30 metres" and I thought of Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey which he established for homeless people to learn restaurant trades.

I walked 30 meters and nothing.  I walked a bit further:  Nothing.  So I started to wander back and looked down a very narrow, dank and dark alley...and there is was:  Soul Kitchen; a tiny restaurant with two bright red tables outside and about six crowded tables inside.  Al fresco dining in a dark, dank, alley was all me!  Trust me the waitstaff, the chef and the food brightened things up.  And I found my place to be Italian for a couple of hours.

Soul Kitchen, Genoa, Italy
Octopus with a ultra creamy potato and basil sauce followed by gnocchi with tomatoes and basil.  (It sounds so much better in Italian:  Polpo alla piastra, crema di patate, salsa al-basilico and gnocchi pomodoro e basilico) along with local white wine and delicious bread.

My last evening in Genoa had only one thing on the agenda:  Pizza.  Why?  Because it is impossible to get a great pizza in Lake Tahoe, California or, probably the entire state of California and definitely Nevada.

In the afternoon I was on a mission to find a great pizza place that would open in the evening and I thought I found it.  I walked down the hill on this narrow street, found a table and was promptly told that since I was only one person and did not have a reservation I was not welcome.  Ouch!  But I understood.  Once you sit down it is your table for the evening, so they would be losing money on a Saturday night. (Their pizza probably wasn't any good anyway, right?)

So I wandered around, was about to give up and there it was Osteria Sivori.  Now there was a bit of a compromise in that it served pinsa, which is an ancient Roman dish similar to, but a bit different from, pizza.  But when I saw the crust on some other tables I was in.

Tomorrow is the day we have been waiting for:  Boarding the brand new Seabourn Ovation!