February 25, 2015

Guest Lecturer Post: The Legacy of Art & History in Renaissance Florence

Florence1Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world, and it’s not hard to see why.  Where else can you find an overwhelming concentration of historical sites combined with perfect weather, dazzling beaches, dramatic geography, and spectacular cuisine all set in a chic cosmopolitan culture?  Yet for all of these advantages, Italy is endowed with something that sets the country apart from all others - the gift of renaissance art.  It changed the world and it might change you as well.  There is no better place on earth to experience this than in Florence. 

Florence5Viewing art in Florence can be so impressive, the effects have actually made history.  On a trip to Florence in 1817, a French author named Stendhal was seized with palpitations of the heart and dizziness while visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce.  The alleged cause was attributed to being utterly overwhelmed by Renaissance art.  This has been dubbed the Stendhal Syndrome, or ‘Tourist Disease’ and has reportedly afflicted hundreds of visitors to this magnificent city. 

I can’t say that I have ever fainted or hallucinated in Florence but the city’s intensely rich legacy of art and history has at the very least sent shivers down my spine.  When Florence was emerging as a 15th century commercial powerhouse, an upstart class of nouveau riche led by the House of Medici tried to outdo each other in decorating and glorifying the city with civic art.  The results have been spectacular as artists, sculptors and architects have turned the Centro Storica, or Historic Center into what might be the greatest open air museum on earth. 

Florence3The best way to introduce oneself to Florence is to visit Brunelleschi’s graceful Duomo which is the landmark architectural symbol of the city.  Built with no scaffolding in the 1420s, I am never sure whether it is the beauty, balance and symmetry of the dome or the 358 winding steps to the top that takes my breath away, but suffice to say the experience never fails to stimulate all my senses.  The panoramic view of the red-tiled roofs, the meandering Arno River and the Tuscan countryside is itself a work of art.

The thing that amazes me most about Florence is how the Western imagination has been ignited by the remarkable number of cultural pioneers who have lived here.  The list is staggering, from Dante the poet to artists like Giotto and Botticelli.  The cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who gave his name to America hailed from Florence along with the quintessential Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci.  If you are seeking the epicenter of the Florentine talent pool, look no further than the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Stendhal himself was afflicted with the ‘Tourist Disease’.  The sixteen chapels festooned with glorious renaissance frescos might be enough to make you feel faint, but it is the pantheon of giants whose tombs are housed in the nave that make me weak at the knees. Niccolo Machiavelli, the dark knight of political thought who coined the phrase ‘the ends justifies the means’ is entombed here. You will find Galileo, one of the greatest scientists and astronomers in history resting at peace.  However, it is the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti that inspires me like none other. 

Florence2One cannot help but be awestruck by Michelangelo’s genius when gazing upon the David, the Sistine Chapel or the Pieta.  Yet I found myself even more moved when standing in the shadow of his tomb attempting to absorb a small measure of his greatness. If I am ever to experience Stendhal Syndrome, it is here. 

Italy is a country that should be seen. More than that, it should be felt. Just be careful when viewing the art.

Brian Unger is a historian and educator who shares his passion for art, culture and history as a guest lecturer on Oceania Cruises. Brian will be aboard Riviera’s Artistic Discoveries voyage this July for a spectacular Mediterranean journey that will include a visit to fabulous Florence. You should be able to find him at the Basilica of Santa Croce.

February 23, 2015

A Taste of South African Wines

A Taste of South African WinesWith over 350 years of viticulture tradition, South Africa has recently been experiencing a true wine growing renaissance, attracting attention from international winemakers and experts, along with those who simply love great wine. Some of the most notable regions include Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia and Walker Bay. The country’s best wines tend to be distinguished by their fusion of old-world heritage and cutting edge techniques.

Below our Executive Cellar Master highlights two of our favorite South African wines served on board.

Southern Right, Walker Bay, South Africa

Southern Right is a second label started by winery owner Anthony Hamilton Russel in 1994. Russel, the longtime proprietor of Hamilton Russel Vineyards, searched for 10 years to find the right place to found his winery, and settled on what is now the most southerly vineyard site in South Africa.

A Taste of South African WinesWine Profile: 97 % Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Semillon 13% ABV

Wine Maker’s Tasting Notes: Mouthwatering with lots of lemon zest, chive, gooseberry and flint notes, backed by an extra twinge of fleur de sel. Focused, pure and delicious.

Served Best With: dill poached salmon, seafood

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, South Africa

Hamilton Russell was the first wine estate planted in Walker Bay, founded by Tim Hamilton Russell in 1975 and since that time has carved out a reputation for producing wines that straddle the old and new worlds. Only two varieties are grown: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A Taste of South African WinesProduction: 10 months (1st fill 31%, 2nd fill 35%, 3rd fill 34%), Wooding: 100%, 228 litre French Oak Barrels

Wine Profile: 100% Pinot Noir 13.5% ABV

Wine Maker’s Tasting Notes: Not overtly fruity; soft and “sweet” and generally shows hints of that alluring savoury “primal” character along with a dark, spicy, complex fruit perfume.

Served Best With: smothered filet mignon, turkey, porcini mushroom soup

Cheers from Oceania Cruises!

February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the Goat

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatChinese New Year, celebrated with red paper lanterns, dancing dragons, fireworks and other colorful festivities, is widely considered the most important holiday in China and for Chinese people throughout the world. This year, Chinese New Year begins on February 19. It is one of the oldest festivals, a celebration with more than 4,000 years of history. The holiday is always linked to one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals; this year is the Year of the Goat (also referred to as the Year of the Sheep or Ram).

Festive Celebrations & Lucky Traditions
Chinese New Year is a lively holiday marked by a wide range of traditions including family feasts, colorful parades and more in order to bring about wealth, good health and fortune in the New Year. In preparation, many thoroughly clean their homes– it’s considered bad luck to clean on the first two days of the year, for fear of “sweeping away” good luck. Homes and city streets are decked with red paper lanterns, paper-cut decorations, scrolls and New Year pictures. Red is the main color for the festival, and since it’s the Year of the Goat, images of goats are also popular.

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatChinese New Year is considered a time to reunite, so families gather together for big reunion dinners. Fish, a symbol of wealth in China, is a classic at Chinese New Year gatherings. (In fact, the Chinese word for fish, 鱼 yú /yoo/, even sounds like the Chinese word for surplus, 余 yú). Dumplings are also popular since their shape represents silver ingots—a type of ancient Chinese money. Another popular tradition is to give money enclosed  in red envelopes as gifts to children and those who are retired. Firework displays and vibrant parades featuring dancing dragon and lions fill the streets, and many go to temples to pray.

Chinese New Year 2015: Year of the GoatThough the biggest celebrations are in mainland China, other countries with a large Chinese population also hold widespread celebrations, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Similar festivities take place in Chinatowns in cities throughout the world.

What Does the Year of the Goat Mean?
The goat is linked to peace, home and stability, so many say the Year of the Goat will bring about a calmer and more secure year ahead. The goat is also associated with art and artistic abilities, so this could mean greater success for those who are creative, contemplative and innovative. It seems the Chinese New Year will be all about the steady path, creativity and keeping the peace!

Happy Chinese New Year from Oceania Cruises!

February 16, 2015

Expert Photo Tips for Tours and Shore Excursions

Lisa, a tour guide with StepIntoFlorence
Lisa, a tour guide with StepIntoFlorence
(David Smith)

Who doesn’t wish they could better capture the colorful and unique moments of their travels?  David Smith, a world travel & fine art photographer from Vancouver, will join Insignia as a photo coach on several segments of the Around the World in 180 Days voyage. His recent publications include the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Geo Saison Magazine and USA Today Travel Online. Below, he and his wife, Anna, share simple and effective tips for taking better photos on shore excursions.

As frequent guest lecturers and invited escorts on shore excursions with Oceania Cruises, Anna and I have toured extensively throughout the Mediterranean, Baltic, Atlantic, Caribbean, South America, South East Asia, South Pacific, and Australia and New Zealand. Many guided tours and shore excursions provide excellent travel photography opportunities that are frequently missed. The travel photos in this post help illustrate some of the following suggestions for taking better travel images while on tour.

1. Research your tour itinerary by reading the detailed tour descriptions and attend shore excursion presentations on board to learn planned visit locations in advance to help prepare your photography strategy and a shot list. Local tour operators can move you around quickly so always have your camera ready for those one in a lifetime photo opportunities. Practice your camera techniques before touring to avoid fumbling with your camera on site.

Scenes and activities at St. Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia,near St. Petersburg
Scenes and activities at St. Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia,
near St. Petersburg (David Smith)

2. Locate yourself for uncluttered shots. If there is live entertainment or a cultural demonstration sit in the front or side of the audience to get unfettered action images. Consider walking about during the show to get different angles and distances from the action. All entertainers and presenters are willing to have their photographs taken. You paid for the tour and presenters are paid by the tour operator as well, so get your cameras out and ask. Be sure to capture locals in ethnic dress.

Tour guide Nina Kazarina in front of an Oceania Cruise tour bus in St. Petersburg, Russia
Tour guide Nina Kazarina in front of an Oceania Cruise tour bus in
St. Petersburg, Russia (David Smith)

3. Create a photo story of the tour to create more interest when you share your photography later. Capture your guide, the sign on the front of the bus, flags, icons and symbols as well as the typical shots. Get establishing shots (the most common type), medium range shots and close-ups to keep interest.

A shore excursion tour of the newly opened Titanic Belfast Museum
A shore excursion tour of the newly opened Titanic Belfast Museum 
(David Smith)

4. When you come across an excellent tour guide or fabulous entertainers a tip is always appreciated and use that opportunity to get portraits of your guide and hosts with and without your travelling companions and be sure to hand your camera to someone to get yourself included in the fun and excitement of your tour photo story. Exchange contact information, be Facebook friends and send your photos to your new friends. Revisiting those magical ports of call and having new friends waiting for you makes travelling with your camera a must while on shore excursions and tours.

David looks forward to meeting many of you aboard Insignia very soon! For more photo tips, visit David’s blog. Also explore more of his stunning photography on his World image archive, along with his fine art gallery.

February 13, 2015

A Romantic Evening in Privée

Abigail and Richard T., New York City natives, recently sailed aboard Marina to celebrate a major milestone in their marriage: 30 years of love!  Abigail writes about her private party in our most exclusive onboard dining venue:  Privée.

Privee1Of all the phenomenal dining experiences my husband and I had aboard Marina, the most romantic one was our evening in the very elegant Privée.

We sailed from Lisbon to Rome, Tapestry of Cultures, in the fall to celebrate 30 years of marital bliss— an anniversary gift from our three children who insisted we enjoy a two week getaway to the Mediterranean. I kept the bar high, as I expected the breathtaking destinations, exemplary staff and fine cuisine, but in Privée, we were treated like royalty.

Cosimo, our maitre’d for the evening, greeted us in front of Toscana. He welcomed Richard and I by our names and immediately congratulated us on our anniversary. As with every member of the staff, Cosimo provided a sense of familiarity and comfort as he led us to our special dinner. 

For those who don’t know, Privée is tucked away between Polo Grill and Toscana. As soon as you enter, you have to give yourself a second to catch your breath. Beautiful artwork hung on the wall, the red colors contrasting perfectly with the all-white room. Above the grandiose table (which I recently learned was designed by Dakota Jackson!) hung a stunning gold chandelier.  Spain’s illuminated twilight sky was visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. I remember thinking, wow, this is where we are having dinner tonight? The feeling of intimacy was a far cry from the busy restaurants we were used to in Manhattan.

  Privee3  Privee2

Richard’s plate setting was adorned with a bowtie, while I received a “diamond” ring. Our sommelier started us off with glasses of champagne, and recommended a tasty Cabernet Sauvignon for my husband and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc for me. We ordered from both Polo Grill and Toscana and watched Spain disappear into the distance as we continued dinner. Cosimo was attentive, but left us to enjoy our private dinner with a gorgeous view.  As requested by my youngest daughter, we took pictures of our food to send the kids:

Privee5  Privee4

Privee6  Privee7

In the first 30 years of our marriage, we thought a romantic dinner was a candlelit meal in a crowded restaurant. In the next 30 years of our marriage, we’re looking forward to returning to Privée often, and enjoying an intimate dinner with a first-class view of the ocean under moonlight. Now that’s romantic!