I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Monday
Jan232017

Impressions of Guatemala

 

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Our first time in the country, so a few minutes after stepping ashore, my Hero and I looked at one another and went “Ker-ching”!!  We love to visit new places, to see new countries and to experience different parts of the world.  How fortunate we are to be able to do so.

 

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Even before we stepped ashore, we were excited.  We’d spotted a couple of volcanoes from our balcony this morning and recalled what we had learned about Guatemala in the last few days (not to mention what we knew already, from friends who’d been here)

 

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Our impressions were formed from a single day, so are really not worthy of deep discussion or great consideration and are really quite shallow.  But here goes.

 

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Our immediate impression as we drove from the port, through the flat, coastal plain was of a lush, verdant landscape.  What I thought was corn turned out to be sugar cane – and oh boy, was there a lot of it!

 

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So when I mistakenly said “it’s like driving through Iowa”, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

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Thankfully, we had the benefit of a great guide, Hugo, who gave us lots of information and a bag of worry dolls. Thank you, Hugo.  Nothing to worry about now!

 

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Our driver, Nixon, slowed down as we passed the roadside market place, which was a fantastic place to buy fruit.  Not much else, mind you!

 

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The highway was well maintained and a little quicker than the country road we’d been travelling on, and soon, our ears popped as we started to make the ascent to our destination.

 

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Soon, the sugarcane fields were overtaken by woodier, more shrubby plants and Hugo pointed out the coffee bushes.

 

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There was also the looming presence of a volcano, named Agua as a result of a lake in its crater.

 

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Actually, it dominated the landscape rather more than we expected.

 

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Whilst over my other shoulder, there was “Fuego”, the opposite volcano which was venting steam and dust – the lower of the two peaks above, shrouded in mist and ash.

 

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Drawing our attention away from seismic activity, Hugo pointed out the plant growth on the overhead cables.  It seems like anything will grow anywhere here and in spite of all cables being cleared of vegetation in the last few months, it’s already reappearing.

 

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Our first stop was Azotea, a coffee plantation with a great introduction to coffee production and Guatemala generally.

 

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Yes, of course we saw the beans ready for harvest (almost complete at this time of the year)

 

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We saw the “parchment beans” drying in the sun, having had the outer husk removed already.  Some were drying on concrete, others on red terracotta tile, especially for the Japanese market.  Though we asked what difference it makes, we failed to get an acceptable answer!

 

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Here too were the inferior quality beans, drying in the sun too – given to the workers, we were told.

 

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Having been dried, there’s still another layer to be removed before they can be sent for roasting.  This is a far from speedy process!

 

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Yes, of course we bought some!

 

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Next door was a small textile museum, demonstrating the features which distinguish the clothing design of one village from another.  The principal “set” was a wedding scene.

 

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Needless to say, the one which interested me most was the backstrap weaver.

 

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Next door focused on musical instruments of the Maya.  I rather liked the figures made from corn husks – but then I seldom focus on what I’m supposed to be looking at!

 

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I mean, who can look at maracas and drums when there’s a skeleton party and a cute armadillo above your head?

 

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OK, onwards, into Angtigua Guatemala, the old capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Hugo told us we’d know when we arrived by the cobblestones.

 

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Oh yes.

 

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I recognised the streets from friends’ photographs.

 

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It’s an attractive city with some distinctive buildings.

 

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Quite a lot of traffic too.

 

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First things first: Lunch.

 

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Very good!

 

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Then….to the Zocalo.

 

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I love these places.  The people!

 

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Come on!!

 

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Of course we don’t want a football or a bag of candy floss, but oh, my, just look at that!

 

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Oh yes, look at that too!  The central fountain was pointed out to us by Hugo with a wry amusement!

 

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We looked at the cathedral and admired the saints.

 

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then we walked to the market and admired something else

 

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So cute!

 

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As we walked through the streets to our final destination, I couldn’t help but notice and admire some small features of the doors and heavy gates along the way.

 

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I’d have bought a live orchid plant if I could, wouldn’t you?

 

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But we were headed for the jade factory.  Did you know jade comes from here?  No, we ddin’t either.

 

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We didn’t want to buy so spent the time people watching and admiring these dangly plants hanging from the ceiling.

 

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Oh, and  generally avoiding the crush of sellers at the gateway to the place with the exception of this young woman and her baby, Astrid, sleeping in spite of the commotion but opening one eye to look at the strange British woman who stroked her hair and said “Hola, Astrid”…  so sweet!

 

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Looking at the sunset as we arrived back this evening, I wondered what we’ll remember of our short time in Guatemala?  After such a rich day of colourful experiences, I need time to assimilate them, for sure, probably over a cup of coffee.

I think Astrid will feature in my memories too.

Saturday
Jan212017

Decks 7, 8 and 9

 

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Decks 7, 8 and 9 are residential decks, with no public rooms.  As a result, they appear broadly similar but it was only on closer inspection that I noticed the difference.

 

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Whilst taking a look at the photograph collections, I spotted the themes.  Here on Deck 9, there’s a broad Hollywood theme going on.  Film and theatre settings provide the backdrop to so many of the images, which feature a glamorous lifestyle.

 

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Speaking of glamorous lifestyle, though, brings me to another, more mundane but essential feature on several of these decks: the laundrettes.  Well equipped and free of charge, they are well used and it’s a rare sight to find an empty one as I did this morning!

 

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The are furnished with a couple of chairs and a TV set for those who prefer to watch something more interesting than a load of washing going round in the machine!  There is also a really good steam iron and a small – no, tiny! – ironing board, which demands patience when ironing anything larger than a handkerchief Winking smile

 

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But moving onto more leisurely pursuits and to Deck 8 where the theme of the photographic collection is focused on the beach.

 

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So many delightful images which bring a smile!

 

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Sweet families in exotic locations.

 

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Deck 7 is a little more serious with an automotive theme – classic cars and elegant drivers of course but occasionally, something a little off the wall…

 

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Now, having noticed the differing themes for each deck, I needed to return to our own, Deck 12 and see what’s what there, didn’t I?

 

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At first sight, it too is a beach theme, but all the photographs are of water related activities: surfing, swimming, boating.

 

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And now I’ve spotted the themes, I’ll take better note of where I am!

Saturday
Jan212017

Loco in Acapulco

 

Now, where were we?

 

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We were driving back along that precarious, single track shelf back the way we came.  Through the city centre and along the coast road.

 

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The town beaches were fairly busy with local people, out enjoying the sunshine.  As you can see, our ship was the only one in port today and so we had an ace parking spot!

 

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I always like to observe people on the beach.  Habits as so very different the world over – here, it appeared the main thing to do was to go swimming – no lounging about sunbathing.

 

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We’d been told to expect protest demonstrations, particularly about the price of petrol, which is not only government controlled but has been increased considerably recently.  Sure enough, at several petrol stations we passed, there were people with that distinctive orange banner.

 

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We were headed for the other side of the bay, passing this “fishermen’s beach”, currently quiet but later in the afternoon, when they bring in their catch, it will be the place to buy the freshest and best fish in the area.

 

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We stopped in Papagayo Park, a long established part of the city where there was an unrivalled shopping opportunity to buy jewellery and other trinkets.  As always, I used the time to make a few observations!

 

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Driving through the “gold” part of the city, then; a rather more modern series of hotels and fast food chains, Patricia pointed out the sculpture on top of the Hotel El Presidente awning.  It’s by Salvador Dali and is quite a landmark around here.

 

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At the top of the hill, we made another stop for photographs of the view.

 

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and yes, as we are learning around here, every view comes with the bonus shopping.

 

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This is part of the exclusive “Diamond area” of the city, home to the stars including the Seagram family and Julio Iglesias, whose home, we were told, is the one with a banana shaped swimming pool.  My apologies for the reflection which makes it even more difficult to spot – the best I could do as we turned the corner.

 

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Anyway, the reason for coming this far was to stop at the top for a view of Diamond Point, where luxury condominiums and hotels are surrounded by gold courses and sandy beaches.  Here too is the Black Lagoon , the scene of many films including, we were told, the African Queen and Rambo, too!

As we turned around by the Pierre Mundo hotel complex, we felt that this short tour had given us a good overview of Acapulco.  I’m not sure it’s somewhere to which we’d return in a hurry, but I was glad to have been here and to have seen a new part of the world, especially the cliff divers.

Next stop, Guatemala.  But first, a sea day to play with.

Saturday
Jan212017

Diving and Dancing

 

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We arrived in Acapulco this morning, in bright sunshine and higher temperatures than we’ve had so far.  It seemed like the whole ship breathed a sigh of relief as waiters in La Veranda opened up the outdoor seating and changed into their warm weather gear.

 

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I was looking out over our rail, at what I thought was a small pedalo or similar with four people in it.  They seemed to be just sitting there, basking in the sun, watching our ship manoeuvre into place.  I thought I’d take their picture – and only when uploading it to the laptop later did I see it’s a buoy!  Duh.  I thought those folks were sitting very still…

 

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We decided to skip an early lunch before going off on our tour at 12.15 and instead, tucked into the fruit Suren had left us this morning.  Oh, and that’s water, not gin!

 

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There was a lively musical accompaniment to disembarking and in good Mexican tradition, the enthusiasm more than made up for the intonation!

 

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We drove through the old town, spotting the old VW Beetles still operating as taxis – something we remembered from the last time we were in Mexico, more than twenty years ago (not counting yesterday!)

 

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There was a heavy police presence, hopefully calming those who were anxious about security here.  Some were reluctant to go ashore, though we took a more considered view of the issue and were confident in Regent’s decision to bring us here – something they would most certainly not have done if there had been any doubts regarding safety.

 

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We’d have liked a clear view of the Zocalo and the cathedral but sadly for us, the mobile cancer screening unit was parked in the way.  No matter – cancer screening is way more important than tourist photographs!

 

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As we drove, our guide Patricia pointed out the old hotels, many of which were opened in the 1930s, when Johnny Weismuller, Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, John Wayne and the like began to visit here and build holiday homes in the neighbourhood.  These days, we were told, rooms are available for $10 a night, everything included (with 2 Alka Seltzers in the morning, she added!)

 

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Our destination was the Hotel Mirador perched on the cliff high above the ocean.

 

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La Quebrada is the site where the cliff divers operate and they were going to put on a special show, just for us.

 

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With Pina Colada in hand, we trooped downstairs to the viewing area, unsure of what to expect.

 

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Once there, we noted several divers warming up at the bottom of the cliff face.

 

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Patricia pointed out the ledge at the top, where a small shrine was situated and the Mexican flag was flying.

 

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We spotted someone there on a slightly lower ledge, waiting to dive, perhaps?

 

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But the divers had competition from a bunch of whales out there in the ocean.  Can you spot the spray from one of them over there?

 

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As one offered a few words to the Saints, other divers were preparing for their moment of fame.

 

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Others were climbing up that cliff face, barefoot and with no assistance.  I suppose they’ve done it a few times before but even so, it was pretty amazing.  Patricia told us there are 54 professional divers in all, most in a Union who oversee the whole operation.

 

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We were getting a bit antsy by now.  We’d drunk our Pinas, it was hot standing in the sun, waiting, and we wanted them to get on with it.  Terrible, isn’t it?  Men are risking life and limb to put on a show for us and we can’t even exercise a little patience Winking smile

 

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And then one dived off the cliff!  Wow!  Even though he’d (only!) dived from the lower platform, it was still very high and precarious.

 

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I had my camera on “burst” setting, because after all of that, I didn’t want to miss the perfect shot!

 

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Did I get it?

 

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Well, I guess so!  But at the time, it was hard to tell.  Those cliffs don’t make an easy backdrop to see what’s going on and of course, my camera screen isn’t so clear in the bright sunshine.

 

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Oh, but there goes another one!

 

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By the time he’d struck his perfect diving pose for the camera, he was in front of the rock – but hey, I felt pleased to have captured the action at all.  Patricia had told us that they are allowed only one dive a day, because the repeated action of diving into the water from that height can damage the retina, and that although there have been broken bones and minor injuries, no professional diver has ever lost his life making what looks like an awfully risky stunt.

 

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Now, they were getting clever, doing somersaults and other tricks.

 

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But you know, that “other” show was going on in the bay!

 

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Where to look next?  Watch the whales or the divers?

 

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Well, easy answer: the last diver was about to go from the highest ledge, the one from where we’d been told it’s impossible to see the water when you jump.  Sure enough, he did the fanciest dive of all, a fitting finale to the show.

Loved it!

 

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As we turned around to return to the bus however, someone called for our attention.

 

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There was a dance show for us to see as well.

 

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Gorgeous, colourful dancers who moved with spirit and passion.

 

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And when the music changed to what I recognised as “the Mexican Hat Dance”, I waited for the chap to take his hat off and dance on it…I waited a while!  (He did in the end, though didn’t dance on it but around it!)

 

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And that was that for the first part of our time in Acapulco.  I’ll continue the story in the next post – after dinner!

Friday
Jan202017

Continuing my peregrinations on Deck 10

 

With a morning at sea, I had a chance to explore another couple of decks, enjoying the artwork and noticing one or two things which had previously escaped me.

 

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I am becoming quite the Goethe scholar, reading these German quotations which are nearly – but not quite – in the correct order.  Once again, I’m starting my route on the forward staircase of Deck 10.

 

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One of the first things we noticed on board Explorer was the Atrium.  Most ships have a light well in this area and here it seems to us to be very un-shiplike, for some reason.  Maybe the sharp rectangular design, maybe the enclosed windows? 

 

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Beyond that point, though, looking towards the stern of the ship, there’s a corridor on either side with suites to the left and service access to the right (vice-versa on the other side, of course)

 

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Along these residential corridors, there are collections of really cute photographs of a bygone age.  As soon as we spotted them, we loved them and have enjoyed making a note of our favourites as we’ve moved about the ship.

 

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We’ve imagined our parents and grandparents in similar poses, even though neither of our families would ever be able to dream of doing such things.  But the fashion, the style and the demeanour of the people is so reminiscent of photographs we have, even if ours were taken at Hornsea or Minehead!

 

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So, at the stern of Deck 10, on the Starboard side (I think!) is the steakhouse, Prime 7.  There’s a small bar at the entrance; perfect for pre dinner drinks and the Maitre D’ is right there on hand to keep everything running smoothly.

 

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The atmosphere is spacious and lighter than previous versions of Prime 7 we’ve known.  We like this one very much indeed and lunch yesterday was a real treat.

 

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This was especially so with the lunchtime dessert, which came in the form of a small carousel of treats – help yourself to Red Velvet, Brownie, Key Lime Pie, Banana something-or-other, Pecan and Caramel sandwich or Pear and Blueberry Cobbler!   Take two if you can manage (we couldn’t!)   What a great way to style small, lunch-sized desserts.

 

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Whilst sitting enjoying lunch, our eyes fell on the artwork in here, much of which was bovine-related (Steakhouse…yes?)   Knowing that a huge sum had been spent on the artwork for the ship and understanding that there were some rather fine pieces here and there, we asked Catherine, our server, if there was anything special we might look for.

She thought there might be a Picasso in the small, private dining room adjacent to our table and suggested we take a look.

 

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This small, exclusive venue has been referred to as both The Study and as La Chambre.  It’s not somewhere we’d choose to dine, so we’d paid no attention to it until now – but if there was a PIcasso in there?  (There wasn’t)

 

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So we asked Sergio, Maitre D’ if he knew where it was.  “Right here, behind me!” he said – pointing out the small plate-sized piece behind his desk.  “Oh, and there’s another one over there”

 

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On the wall of the bar area…

 

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Just next to the drawing by Chagall!

Oooo.

We thanked Sergio for a delicious lunch and the art spotting assistance.  Regent staff are extraordinary and really do go “above and beyond” in every respect.

 

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Next door to Prime 7, on the other side of The Study, is Chartreuse, the French restaurant, occupying a similar sized space but on the Port side of the stern area of Deck 10.

 

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Again, there’s a small bar for pre-dinner drinks.

 

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The restaurant is designed in a slightly Art Nouveau style, with touches of chartreuse green (of course) and specially designed china (as in all the restaurants on board).

 

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We look forward to dining here on an evening shortly, but lunch here the other day was super!

 

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From here, then, it’s a straight walk back along the Port side corridor of even numbered suites, where the collection of photographs continues to make us smile.  Before long, I’m back at the forward staircase and have completed my walk around Deck 10!

What do you reckon so far?