131 posts categorized " Excursions "

October 29, 2014

PERFECT PAELLA: Chef Kelly Leads Culinary Discovery Tour in Valencia

Valencia is known as the birthplace of paella, the fabulous dish cooked over an open fire with short grain rice and an assortment of seafood and meats. On our Culinary Discovery Tour during Marina’s recent call in Valencia, guests learned the secrets to preparing authentic paella and sampled this famous dish in the city in which it originated.

Photo 2Before heading to the market to shop for paella ingredients, we stopped at the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by world-renowned Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. Among the stunning collection of modern structures are the striking Hemisfèric, which houses an IMAX theater; the Science Museum, resembling a whale skeleton; and Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium. During our stop, we enjoyed a refreshing horchata, a local drink made with a tuber called “chufa” that has been farmed in Valencia for over 1,000 years.

We continued on to another architectural masterpiece, the Mercat Central, which was designed by Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial and houses one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe. With over 1,000 stalls, Valencia’s Mercat Central is a feast for the senses, overflowing with seasonal produce, artisanal pork, fresh seafood and tapas bars. It is a lively place where the locals shop daily and politely mix with the tourists drawn to the beauty of the building as much as the magnificence of the market.

Photo 4-2 Photo 5

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After a brief orientation to the market, our guests split into groups and set off to find a ripe tomato, onion, garlic and red pepper for our afternoon cooking class. Everyone enjoyed shopping the stalls brimming with fantastic produce and selecting the finest ingredients available. Meanwhile, I went to purchase local Bomba rice and pimento, as well as some jamón for tasting later. As the fall season is upon us, squash were beginning to appear, so I sampled the Calabaza squash that was roasted and served in wedges to eat while strolling through the market. It was so delicious that I purchased one to roast for the group when we returned to the ship!

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Photo 1-3We then regrouped for the short drive to La Pepica, a local restaurant renowned for paella. La Pepica has a kitchen that would make any chef’s heart skip a beat, and the setting for our lunch was no less stunning – a seaside promenade where we could enjoy the ocean breeze and the company of new friends. We could hear the waves crashing not 50 feet away, musicians strolling along the boardwalk, and the quiet chatter of Spanish exchanged between the locals. (Not many tourists have the chance to discover this wonderful place.)

Photo 5-3

Our luncheon began with local wines and traditional pan con tomate, a remarkably simple yet delicious dish of grilled bread with fresh tomato, garlic and extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course). This was followed by a refreshing green salad, fried baby squid, and pickled fish and red peppers in olive oil. 

Then the masterpiece was unveiled – Valencian paella served in a paella pan the size of a flying saucer! After a round of applause and many oohs and ahs, we savored a heaping plate of delectable paella made with rabbit, flavorful rice and the requisite green beans that typically distinguish Valencian paella. The finale was a passion fruit mousse, after which we enjoyed a stroll along the lovely beach as the perfect digestive.

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After returning to the ship for a short respite, we gathered in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class in the art of paella. So as not to leave our readers out of the fun, I’ll share the recipe on tomorrow’s blog!

October 3, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES 2014 SPANISH CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS IN CÁDIZ

Cadiz statueAfter a glorious summer in the Baltic, Marina traveled along the Brittany coast and around Portugal to call on several ports in Spain. Today I want to share with you the delightful Andalusian city of Cádiz and our Culinary Discovery Tour focusing on tapas, olives, fish and sherry! 

One of the most influential ports of its time, Cádiz became the center of the culinary universe when Christopher Columbus returned with treasures from the New World. (Imagine Mediterranean cuisine before tomatoes, peppers and potatoes!) Because of its position on global trade routes, Cádiz was where the New World ingredients met the spices of the Far East and the 800-year influences of the Moors and Arabs in the sophisticated cuisine of North Africa and the Levant.

Hanging peppers-2We began our tour of Cádiz with a short stroll along the cobblestone streets, picturesque squares and narrow passageways to the Mercado Central, where I shopped with Chef Jacques Pépin during his last visit. The market was overflowing with freshly caught fish and seafood, from exotic species of shrimp to the pearly white strips of squid, tiras de chocos. Local fish roe, such as huevas frescas de merluza, was a delicacy in abundance this season. Shrimp
The market also offered copious fresh produce, olives, jamón and cheeses, so we selected some for our class later in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board. We also picked up two bottles of local Fino and Pedro Ximénez sherries to taste.

 

Another specialty of Cádiz is olive oil. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with Andalusia contributing over 50 percent of that yield, thanks to the ideal growing conditions and the passionate dedication to the craft of producing, harvesting and pressing olives. We chose two olive oils for tasting in class: picual and arbequina. Produced locally, the picual varietal creates an extra virgin olive oil with the slight fragrance of dried fruits. The more bitter arbequina is grown farther north and typically used in aioli or salad dressings.

After exploring the market, we walked through the Old Town to El Faro. A Cádiz institution, the restaurant has hundreds of photos of celebrities and politicians crowding the walls, not unlike Sardi’s in New York City. After being seated in the elegant yet friendly surroundings, we were treated to a fabulous tapas luncheon.

El Faro couple Jamon and bar Shrimp omelet

SherryBecause of the abundance of fresh ingredients available to chefs in Cádiz, the cuisine is simple, allowing the ingredients to shine. We enjoyed Iberian pork, shrimp mini-omelets, chickpeas with tripe and cod, and several other delicious tapas. Fresh seafood, exquisite meats, seasonal vegetables, exotic fruits and aromatic olive oils were perfectly complemented by world-famous wines and sherries from this sunny piece of heaven in southern Spain.

After a fond farewell to our hosts, we returned to Marina for a short respite before reconvening in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. We enjoyed a class on fish cookery and sampled the treasures we found at the market – the perfect ending to the perfect day!

September 30, 2014

The African Safari: Adventures of a Lifetime

Get a glimpse of lions in their majestic natural habit on a safari
Get a glimpse of lions in their majestic natural habitat on a safari

The African safari has long epitomized the kind of quintessential and exotic adventure many travelers only dream of — remarkable untamed wilderness, majestic landscapes and some of the most unforgettable wildlife encounters. A safari heightens the senses and enlivens the spirit, providing the extraordinary opportunity to witness the iconic Big Five (the lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo) along with other stunning animals such as giraffes, cheetahs, hippos and zebras in their pristine, natural environments. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler to Africa, or this is a dream you’ve long been waiting to realize, we invite you to immerse yourself in an authentic safari experience on one of Oceania Cruises’ thrilling tours. Highlighted below are just a few of our professionally-guided safari tours, available on a range of voyages aside from those listed.

 

Kapama Private Game Reserve
Covering approximately 30,000 acres of prime big game territory, Kapama Private Game Reserve combines exotic wilderness with the comforts of five-star hospitality. The Drakensberg mountain range provides a majestic backdrop for the largest private game lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park region. Nestled along the riverbed, Kapama River Lodge offers luxurious safari accommodations, while the natural environment and lush ecosystem create the perfect opportunity for a close encounter with some or all of the Big Five African animals, or any number of other unique animal species that roam the reserve.

Available as a pre-cruise tour on Nautica’s South African Holiday voyage, December 22, 2014
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Nautica’s Indian Ocean Odyssey voyage, January 6, 2015

 

Encounter herds of zebras during a game drive
Encounter herds of zebras during a game drive

Chobe and Victoria Falls
The Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana sits above the Chobe River, offering panoramic views across miles of islands and flood plains. Chobe National Park is famous for its abundant elephant herds and is home to many other animal species as well. Relax on your private veranda after a day on a safari, or enjoy a Chobe River sundowner cruise for spectacular sunset views. Then, enjoy the fabulous vista of Victoria Falls – in sheer scope, the largest waterfall in the world. Known to locals as the “smoke that thunders,” its roar deafens as the Zambezi River plunges into the chasm below.

 

 

Available as a post-cruise tour on Nautica’s Mystical Odyssey voyage, November 22, 2014
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Marina’s Southern Seas voyage, November 28, 2015

 

Legends of Kruger
Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African savannas, Kruger National Park offers the ultimate safari experience. Morning and afternoon game drives provide multiple opportunities to view the tremendous variety of wildlife that roams this vast reserve. You will likely see not only the Big Five, but also Africa’s unusual flora such as baobabs and fever trees, as well as an astounding array of exotic birds. During the evenings, enjoy the stunning views from the open decks of your luxurious lodge overlooking the Lwakahle River.

Available as an overland tour on Nautica’s Marvels of Time voyage, October 25, 2015
Available as an overland tour on Insignia’s Sultans & Safaris voyage, October 26, 2015

 

Witness the iconic Big Five on a memorable safari
Witness the iconic Big Five on a memorable safari

Winelands & Wildlife
Explore the bustling harbor city of Cape Town before taking a journey to the famous Cape Winelands, set below the dramatic mountain range Hottentots Holland. Tour the Winelands, home of some of the world’s finest wines and Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa. During your visit to an estate, have lunch and enjoy a wine tasting. The following day features an extraordinary wildlife experience on a hosted game drive through one of Africa’s pristine wildlife reserves, where you will see some of Africa’s most iconic animals, including the Big Five in their natural habitat.

 

Available as a post-cruise tour on Insignia’s Atlantic Ocean Odyssey voyage, January 20, 2015
Available as a pre-cruise tour on Insignia’s Indian Ocean Exploration voyage, February 15, 2015

 

For further details on our safari tours or additional voyages offering these safari tours, please call us at 855-OCEANIA (855-623-2642) or contact your Travel Agent.

 

 

September 24, 2014

Panama Canal Celebrates 100th Anniversary

PcIn 1914, the iconic waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama opened to ships and revolutionized international trade forever. The 48-mile-long passageway created a landmark shortcut for ships and vessels, saving nearly 8,000 miles—which is what’s required when traveling around the tip of South America. During the past 100 years in operation, the Panama Canal has continually boosted trade between continents, serving as the passageway for between 13,000 and 14,000 ships every year—about 40 each day.

In honor of the Panama Canal’s 100th anniversary, here are some fascinating facts about this iconic engineering feat. 

  1. Nicaragua was actually the original target site for the canal. During the 1800s, the U.S. considered Nicaragua a more feasible location than Panama. A French engineer shifted the focus to Panama, drawing attention to a number of volcanoes in Nicaragua.
  2. More than 60 million pounds of dynamite were used to excavate the site of the canal.
  3. In 1963, the Panama Canal transit began operating 24 hours a day, thanks to the introduction of fluorescent lighting.
  4. Every vessel that makes the transit must pay a toll based on its size and cargo. Tolls for the largest vessels can be as much as $450,000. The smallest toll ever paid was 36 cents, paid in 1928 by Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal.
  5. In 2010, the 1 millionth vessel crossed the canal since its opening in 1914.
  6. When passing through the canal, ship captains do not transit the canal on their own. Instead, a specially-trained canal pilot commands the navigational control of each ship. The transit takes ships between 6 to 8 hours.
  7. To this day, the gates that control the transit are the original gates installed 100 years ago. The most significant change made since construction in 1914 has been replacing the mechanical gears of the locks with hydraulics.
  8. Though the canal’s engineers had enough forethought to build the passageway significantly larger than what was necessary for ships at the time of construction, today’s megaships have finally spurred an expansion. The expansion project began in 2007, and is set to finish in late 2015.


Celebrate the magnificence and history of the Panama Canal with one of Oceania Cruises’ memorable voyages that make this time-honored transit:

We look forward to welcoming you aboard soon!

September 5, 2014

CHEF KELLY'S TOP 5 PLATES FOR PASTA LOVERS IN ITALY

This season Riviera has made several calls on one of my favorite culinary destinations – Italy. From Venice to Rome and from gnocchi to fettuccine, it seems like a new pasta dish has tempted me in every port of call. Here are my favorites and the restaurants where you can enjoy them on your next Oceania Cruises voyage:

Gnocchi-2

 

GNOCCHI GORGONZOLA

Ristorante da Raffaele | San Marco 2347 – Venice

Here they’ve mastered the trick to a light, pillowy gnocchi: avoid overworking the dough! Together with a glass of Soave, this was a perfect meal.

 

  Salvatore Seafood Pasta Ravello Pasta
PACCHERI CON GAMBERONI

La Vecchia Cantina | Via della Mara 15 – Ravello (near the port of Amalfi)

On our Culinary Discovery Tour in Ravello, our host Salvatore treated us to a sumptuous pasta made with shrimp and a rich, flavorful stock. A side salad of arugula really brought out the pasta’s flavor.

 

Chef Turi Sicilian Pasta with Fish
PASTA CON PESCE

Osteria Nero D’Avola | Piazza San Domenico 2 – Taormina

In Sicily, pasta is typically served with fish – and rarely with cheese! Chef Turi’s delicious pasta was complemented by bountiful treasures of the sea and a white wine from the Benanti winery on Mount Etna.

 

Roscioli Photo 3
SPAGHETTONE CARBONARA

Roscioli | Via dei Giubbonari 21 – Rome

The most decadent of all pastas, carbonara is made with egg yolks, pecorino Romano cheese and pancetta. This dish was the definition of comfort food.

 

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FOCACCIA COL FORMAGGIO DI RECCO

Da Ö Vittoriö | Via Roma 160 – Recco (near the port of Portofino)

While some think of focaccia as a pizza-style bread, the Ligurian town of Recco is known for a thin, pasta-like version. On our Culinary Discovery Tour to this third-generation family restaurant, our host stretched an enormous sheet of dough over a pan, added stracchino cheese and another sheet of dough, and served us a piping hot plate of cheesy goodness right out of the oven. Focaccia prep Photo 4-1

 What’s the best pasta dish you’ve ever had and where did you enjoy it?

August 28, 2014

CHEF KELLY ANNOUNCES NEW CARIBBEAN CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS

At Oceania Cruises, we’re always seeking new opportunities for our guests to experience firsthand the culinary cultures of the marvelous destinations we visit, so I am thrilled to announce two new Culinary Discovery ToursTM that will debut on board Riviera during the upcoming Caribbean season.

St. LuciaSt. Lucia - Spices Cooking Studio

Accompanied by your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, you’ll begin your tour with a scenic drive along Rodney Bay to a magnificent private estate situated on the grounds of a former sugarcane plantation. You’ll explore the estate’s expansive herb garden and then head inside the home for some hands-on cooking instruction. Learn about the subtle flavors and historical influences of St. Lucian cuisine while preparing an authentic meal using fresh local ingredients. Savor your creations while dining alfresco and taking in the breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding landscapes. On the return drive to the pier, you’ll stop at the bustling open-air Castries Market, where farmers have sold locally grown fruits, vegetables and spices for nearly 100 years.

L1030781Antigua – Market Visit & Cooking Demo

In the center of downtown St. John’s, walk to the local market with your Bon Appétit Culinary Center chef, who will show you a wide variety of local fruits, such as breadfruit, mangoes, soursop, dasheen and possibly even the famous Antiguan black pineapple, known as the world’s sweetest. A short, but scenic, journey takes you to the Villas at Sunset Lane, a charming beachfront oasis owned by renowned Chef Jacquie, who will invite you into her kitchen to help prepare lunch. Chef Jacquie shops daily from local organic farmers and will share her secrets for shopping and eating seasonally. Following a hands-on cooking demonstration, enjoy a lunch of local favorites while taking in fabulous vistas of the lush gardens, private beach and sparkling bay.  

The following sailings offer your first opportunity to experience these new Culinary Discovery Tours. We hope you’ll join us!

December 23, 2014: Holidays in the Tropics, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 12 days)

January 24, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

February 23, 2015: Island Paradise, Miami to Miami (Riviera, 10 days)

 

August 12, 2014

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA RECIPE

In yesterday’s blog I told of my wonderful outing with Jacques Pépin to the Ballymaloe estate in County Cork, Ireland, the site of one of our newest Culinary Discovery Tours. Our host was Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I thought you might enjoy this recipe from her latest book (which I highly recommend!), celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the school. It’s an infused vodka, and Darina notes that she uses orange rind, wild garlic, rhubarb, peaches and apricots as seasonal substitutions for the blackberries shown below.

 

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Ballymaloe matriarch Myrtle Allen, Jacques Pépin and Darina Allen

DARINA ALLEN'S BLACKBERRY VODKA

{makes one pint}

 

  • 1 ¼ pounds (600 grams) fresh, organic blackberries
  • 1 ½ pounds (600 grams) fine sugar
  • 1 pint vodka
  • 3 sweet geranium leaves

 

Put all the ingredients into a sterilized jar and set aside in a cool, dark place to mature for two months, shaking the contents every few days to dissolve the sugar.

After two to three months, strain, reserving the “booze-sodden” blackberries, which can be served with yogurt, panna cotta or a fruit salad. Return the strained vodka (or gin, if you prefer) to the bottle and store in a cool, dark place. Ideally the mix will be drunk within three to four months, but it can keep for up to a year.

August 11, 2014

CHEF KELLY HOSTS JACQUES PÉPIN AT BALLYMALOE IN IRELAND

We thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin – his cooking demonstrations, book signings and informal visits to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. He is always eager to meet our students and see what’s cooking in our onboard culinary studio.

We especially enjoyed our call on Cobh, Ireland, where I hosted Jacques for a day at Ballymaloe Cookery School, the location of one of our newest Culinary Discovery ToursTM. Founded in 1983 by Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell, the Ballymaloe Cookery School is a bucket list destination for food enthusiasts. Allen is one of the leaders of the famed Slow Food movement in Ireland, dedicated to preserving biodiversity and artisan food production. Located on 100 acres, the school utilizes the vegetables, fruits and herbs from their organic gardens and greenhouses. They also maintain their own pigs, ducks, chickens and a small herd of Jersey cattle from which they make the most delicious buttermilk (perfect for Irish breads), yogurt, butter and cheeses.

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School 2

Ballymaloe is a family affair, and Darina’s son-in-law manages a Slow Food consortium of farmers’ markets in County Cork. We began with a stroll through the lively morning market where Jacques and I checked out the local fishmonger and explored this week’s last harvest of berries and an impressive array of root vegetables. 

Market 3 Market 1

Market 2

 

Then we were off to Ballymaloe, where the teaching kitchens were bustling with students and their cooking assignments. The school offers everything from a 12-week certificate program to 3-hour demonstration classes.

We were greeted by Darina’s son, Toby, our host for a tour of the cookery school gardens. Our tour began at the culinary herb garden (complete with a lady scarecrow) and Lydia’s Garden, a miniature Versailles. Jacques stopped to smell the herbs and noticed some snails in the hedgerow – so we had an impromptu lecture on snails. (What doesn’t Jacques Pépin know about food?!)

Garden 1

Garden 3

Garden 2

The bountiful greenhouses were brimming with tomatoes, squash, fruits, herbs and lettuces – all lovingly maintained. Behind the greenhouse are the perennial gardens, herbaceous borders, and the Shell House. In the Shell House, the entire surface – walls and ceiling – is decorated with shells in patterns that resemble the intricate and delicate mosaics of Turkey and the Middle East. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful and difficult to capture in a photograph – so you’ll have to come on a cruise with us to see it!

Greenhouse 1

Greenhouse 2  Greenhouse 3


Back Garden 2

Back Garden 1

Shell House 1

Shell House 2

JP and ChickensTo conclude our walking tour, we took the farm path that passes the chicken house, where happy chickens strolled around the yard and munched on the kitchen scraps from the morning’s cooking class. We also stopped into the dairy and were able to observe the mis en place for an upcoming demonstration on the making of yogurt, buttermilk, butter and cheese. 

For lunch, we traveled to Ballymaloe House, an elegant restaurant and hotel owned and lovingly operated by the Allen family. There we met Myrtle Allen, the family matriarch who, with her husband, founded the culinary empire that is now Ballymaloe. We were also joined at lunch by Darina, who regaled us with stories of how her family developed this 100-acre farm into the celebrated establishment it is today.

DSC_6616Jacques had brought a few of his books to share with Darina, and she asked him to sign several of his books that she had in her personal library. It was so special to see these two teaching icons together in one place and enjoying each other’s company. I was often pinching myself because it was so amazing to be in the company of two of my idols and mentors, surrounded by the dreamlike setting of Ballymaloe.

The Signature Sailing with Jacques Pépin is always one of my favorites, and our visit to Ballymaloe will always be a cherished memory. Check the blog tomorrow for Darina's recipe for blackberry vodka and in the coming weeks for the announcement of next year’s Jacques Pépin cruise! If you've ever sailed with us on a Jacques Pépin cruise, what was your fondest memory?

July 9, 2014

ALASKA AND REGATTA: THE PERFECT COMBINATION

By Jason Lasecki, Senior Director of Public Relations

The hottest thing on cable television these days seems to be America’s 49th state. With shows ranging from Alaska State Troopers and Deadliest Catch to Buying Alaska and Wild Alaska, there is a never-ending fascination with America’s last frontier, and with good reason. Alaska offers some of the most picturesque and pristine natural settings in the world, and there’s no better way to experience the wonderment of Alaska than on board the newly refurbished Regatta.

Having recently sailed on the 10-night Majesty of Alaska voyage, it’s clear to me that the beauty and splendor of Alaska coupled with the elegance and style of Regatta create a magical and memorable combination.

Regatta

The ship itself was immaculate, and the additions made during the refurbishment, such as Baristas coffee bar and the cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café, were a huge hit with guests sailing on Regatta. Many guests congregated at the redesigned Horizons bar to soak in some musical entertainment and incredible Alaskan vistas, while others enjoyed sipping a cocktail at the restyled Martinis.   

Baristas(New)

Horizons(New)

Oceania Cruises is well known for having the finest cuisine at sea, and when it’s paired with one of Alaska’s stunning late evening sunsets, you’re assured an amazing dining experience. While enjoying an exquisite dinner one particular evening at Toscana, we were treated to a painted sky sunset as the ship sailed a scenic fjord, passing by glimmering waterfalls and soaring bald eagles.

Sunset

The intimate nature of Oceania Cruises’ mid-size ships allows the staff to provide attentive personalized service to each guest, and the ideally sized ships offer an additional advantage when cruising Alaska because the captain can provide closer and more breathtaking views of one of Alaska’s premier attractions—the glaciers! During our visit to Hubbard Glacier, we were so close we could hear popping sounds as sheets of ice calved into the ocean.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier 2

One of the highlights of any Alaska cruise is the wildlife. Whales, bears, eagles, otters and seals are abundant, and Oceania Cruises offers a wide array of shore excursions that provide you the best opportunities to see these majestic animals. Definitely a sight to remember was a pod of orcas that paid our boat a visit during a whale-watching tour in Juneau. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s common to spot whales, eagles, seals and sea lions from the comfort of Regatta.

Orca Pod 2

Orca Pod

Speaking of wildlife, we came across this guy while on a nature hike in Hoonah. Readers, any clue on what species of bird this is?

Bird

June 27, 2014

FIVE ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS THAT TELL TALES OF BUCHAREST

Athenaeum Bucharest
Romanian Athenaeum

The colorful history of Bucharest, Romania’s capital and largest city, can be read in the architectural lines of its most famous buildings. Prior to World War II, the city's elegant architecture and sophisticated culture earned it the nickname “Paris of the East.” Today the cityscape is far more eclectic with remains of medieval churches, French palaces, Soviet Era buildings and 21st century construction. Join Riviera’s Black Sea Legends cruise, featuring an overnight in Constanta, and you can travel to nearby Bucharest to see these five architectural landmarks that capture a bit of this city’s storied past:

Radu Vodă Monastery: Founded by the reigning prince in 1568, this church has a fascinating history of occupation by the Turks, destruction by fire, reconstruction in the 17th century and extensive rebuilding in the 19th century.  The monastery is notable not only for its architectural beauty but also because it stands on the site of the oldest known settlement in Romania, dating back well over 10,000 years.

St. Nicholas Bucharest
St. Nicholas Russian Church

Romanian Athenaeum: A symbol of national pride, this elegant concert hall has been an important cultural landmark since it was built in 1888. Financed almost entirely by money raised from the general public, the "Give a penny for the Athenaeum" campaign saved the project after the original patrons ran out of funds. The gorgeous dome of the lobby ceiling sparkles with gold leaf, and the inside of the concert hall is decorated with a monumental fresco depicting some of the most important events in Romanian history.

CEC Palace: Once the site of a 16th century monastery and church, the CEC Palace was built in 1900 as the headquarters for the savings bank CEC. One of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest, it is now open to the public as a museum. A particularly striking feature, the enormous glass and metal dome allows natural light to flood the ornate main hall.

St. Nicholas Russian Church: A rare site in Romania, classic Russian onion-shaped domes define the silhouette of this church, originally a gift to Bucharest’s Russian community from the Russian emperor Nicholas II. Authority over the church transferred repeatedly between Russia and Romania before it finally became a Romanian Orthodox Church serving students and professors at the University of Bucharest. The gilded iconostasis is said to be a copy of the altar in the Cathedral of the Archangel in Moscow's Kremlin.

Palace of Parliament Bucharest
Palace of the Parliament

Palace of the Parliament of Romania: Bucharest's immense Palace of the Parliament was meant to be the pièce de résistance of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu's ambitious urban development plan. Construction began in 1984 after demolishing most of Bucharest's historic districts, including 28 churches and synagogues and more than 30,000 residences. The world's second largest building by surface area, it stands 12 stories tall and has over 1,000 rooms, 480 chandeliers and over two million square feet of woven carpets.

June 17, 2014

SUMMER BREWS ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN OSLO

My friend and colleague Chef Annie B. Copps led guests on a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo to kick off the Baltic season. Check out her blog below:

The Scandinavian port of Oslo, Norway, was the perfect place to kick off a series of Culinary Discovery Tours as Marina makes the Baltic Sea home for the summer months. After a long and cold winter, Norwegians have been bursting with anticipation for the arrival of summer, and we were warmly welcomed to Oslo by enthusiastic locals enjoying a bright and sunny day. We explored the historic streets of the city and toasted the wonderful weather with the region’s favorite summer beverage – beer!

We were greeted by beer aficionado Bjerte at his beer academy, a downtown spot dedicated to the study of beer. Fortunately for us, this study involved tasting. We learned about the history of beer in the Norwegian culture and the growing popularity of artisanal and home brewing. After tasting both a commercial pilsner and artisanal Belgian ale, we were off to the Mathallen Food Hall.

Beer Academy

Commercial and Artisanal beer

The short walk through Oslo to the Food Hall was particularly beautiful with all the trees and flowers in bloom. We crossed the Aker River and arrived at Mathallen, located in a former rail works building along the riverbank. We strolled among the neatly arranged food stalls, and guests sampled cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, pastries and chocolate.

Aker River

Mathallen Food Hall

Bjerte led us to his eatery, Oltorget, where we sampled more beer – this time paired with cheese. Pouring our beer was Kim Daniel, who is a master bartender and champion beer pourer. He won top honors at the annual championship in the Czech Republic, which requires knowledge of pouring techniques and the brew’s history. The two masters served a tart beer paired with fresh, tangy goat cheese, followed by a rich porter matched with an aged blue cheese. Perfection!

Oltorget at Mathallen-Kim and Bjerte

Oltorget Beer List Porter beer

Next we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant called Smalhans, a word of German origin that loosely translates as "frugal." The restaurant is so named because it sources seasonal local produce and ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of simple yet delectable dishes offered at a remarkable value. A light, warm potato salad laced with artichokes, roasted red peppers and capers in a light vinaigrette was served alongside fresh asparagus and a red fish called uer fisk. (Search the internet for an image of this fish and you’ll see it looks like something out of Dr. Seuss!) A light Weissen, or wheat beer, was served with our main course. For dessert, ruby red strawberries over panna cotta were paired with a hearty stout that mimics many of the flavors of coffee. It was an excellent end to a delightful summer day of perfect pairings in beautiful Oslo.

Smallhans meal

June 13, 2014

FARM-TO-TABLE CUISINE ON A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN COUNTY CORK

As I continue the Culinary Discovery ToursTM with our guests on Riviera, the delightful and talented Chef Annie B. Copps is hosting guests on board Marina. Below is a blog from Chef Annie about our exciting new tour in County Cork, Ireland:

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. It is wonderful that these words are part of our culinary vocabulary—and even more wonderful that this is not a passing trend, but an age-old model that so many chefs and farmers strive to embrace. On Oceania Cruises' newest Culinary Discovery Tour, Marina guests visited the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where they practice this philosophy today and have been for decades, even before it was “cool.”

Ballymaloe Cookery School

The Ballymaloe estate is a short drive through the spectacular County Cork countryside of rolling hills covered with verdant crops, ancient castles, small villages and herds of cows and sheep. Ballymaloe consists of a hotel, market shop, professional cooking school and a certified organic working farm with both crops and livestock. Our tour began with a history of the Allen family, who have worked the land for three generations, and then a walking tour of the beautiful grounds. Each of the many gardens we visited seemed like a secret spot that we luckily happened upon, because each is separated by intricate topiaries, canopies and trellises—it all felt a bit like the work of fairies. There were also large open fields filled with sculptures. One garden was entirely herbs and artichokes. Another was cutting flowers, and a third grew potatoes and carrots. One had chickens running about. The family also maintains a large greenhouse, which was filled with tomatoes of all sorts ready to be picked.

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After our jaunt we settled in for a cooking lesson taught by Chef Pamela Black, whose bright red hair, soft giggle and twinkle in her eye belied her serious cooking talent. For all the good food we saw growing, the proof was indeed in the pudding. Chef Pam demonstrated traditional Irish soda bread, butterflied chicken breast and potatoes boiled with a touch of fresh mint. I can’t remember a potato tasting better than these, which were pulled from the ground that morning.

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We also enjoyed a salad of freshly picked greens and a lovely soft meringue filled with fresh strawberries—the first of the season. It was a simple meal, but an honest one made with ingredients almost entirely from the property. The exceptions were the wheat, olive oil and the chickens, which came from another local farm. At Ballymaloe they use their chickens for their eggs and get whole chickens from others to support their neighbors—also part of sustainability.

With full bellies and happy hearts, we made our way back home to Marina for a stunning sail away from the harbor of Cobh. I can’t wait to return and share this wonderful experience with more Oceania Cruises guests!

June 4, 2014

TOP UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN SOUTH AMERICA

IguazuSouth America is a fount of stunning landscapes, diverse ecosystems, historic cities and architectural masterpieces. Numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites await your discovery on this great continent, and below are some of our top choices for must-see destinations you can visit with Oceania Cruises. Be sure to add these to your bucket list!

Iguazu National Park (Buenos Aires): Over 250 feet high and nearly 9,000 feet wide, the magnificent waterfalls at the heart of Iguazu National Park, situated on the border between Argentina and Brazil, emit a thunderous roar as their spectacular cascades crash into the massive river below.

Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea (Rio de Janeiro): From the highest peaks in Tijuca National Park to the shores of the sea, this site includes lush botanical gardens, Corcovado Mountain with its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, and the scenic hills around Guanabara Bay.

Cristo RedentorHistoric Center of the Town of Olinda (Recife): Dating mostly from the 18th century, the historic center of Olinda is celebrated for its harmonious balance between public and private buildings, accented by beautiful gardens, charming Baroque churches, convents and numerous small chapels.

Peninsula Valdés (Puerto Madryn): The nearly 250-mile shoreline of Peninsula Valdés supports a diverse ecosystem that is home to a variety of rare and endemic species and is a breeding ground for the endangered southern right whale as well as southern elephant seals and southern sea lions.

Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaiso (Valparaiso): One of the first and most important ports on the sea routes along the Pacific Coast of South America, Valparaiso’s historic quarter presents a beautifully preserved example of late 19th century urban architectural design in Latin America.

 

 

May 27, 2014

CULINARY ADVENTURES WITH CHEF KELLY IN ISTANBUL

The city of Istanbul is as remarkable for its breathtaking skyline as it is for its exquisite food found in the labyrinth of winding streets and neighborhoods below. The Turks love food and are proud of their culinary heritage, so hosting a Culinary Discovery Tour here is as much about meeting the people as it is about tasting the delicious cuisine.

Our first destination was Istanbul’s famous spice market. As we approached the market, the tantalizing smells of roasting eggplant, searing kabobs, and pide baking in wood-fired ovens emanated from the restaurants and market stalls lining the streets. As we entered, the bright lights and vibrant colors invited us to explore.

Spice Market

In the first spice shop we visited, we were treated to a lesson on how to tell real saffron from the many imposters one can find all around the Mediterranean. When you put the stamen of saffron in warm water, real saffron will turn the water an amber-gold color, while fake saffron will leave the water a pale yellow. Considering this exquisite spice is one of the most expensive in the world, you certainly want to ensure you’re getting the real deal!

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Our next stop was a cheese shop where we compared fresh goat’s milk cheese to a more aged variety. We then visited a shop with cured meats and other delicacies. Finally, we were off to the fish market to check out the fresh catch of the day and savor the fish roasting on open grills. I had brought with me a chart listing the fish of the Mediterranean, so we were able to expertly identify sea bass, sea bream, snails, blue fish, flounder and much more. I took this opportunity to go over the things I look for when buying fresh fish: bright eyes, hearty flesh, scales and fins intact, no belly-burn from being packed in ice, maroon-colored gill flesh and a fresh sea smell.

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We then toured the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, before heading to the Turkish Cultural Center for lunch at NAR, a restaurant that offers authentic Ottoman Turkish cuisine in a modern setting. Here we were served a tasty selection of dozens of dishes, each meant to be enjoyed in one to three bites as part of a degustation that formed a mosaic of tastes, flavors, textures and sensations. What an absolutely exquisite and delightful culinary experience!

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After lunch we were treated to a mouthwatering demonstration of traditional candy making. The candy, caramel rolled in mastic sugar, had a hint of mild pine that was both unique and delicious! Everyone was very impressed by the master candy maker and his apprentice.

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Our day in Istanbul was a wonderful start to a fantastic voyage through some of my favorite culinary destinations in the Mediterranean!

May 22, 2014

ASIA’S TOP UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

From feats of humankind to wonders of nature, a voyage with Oceania Cruises offers you the opportunity to see some of the most iconic and impressive sights in the world. Below are some of our favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can experience on our upcoming Asian cruises.

China-beijingThe Great Wall (Beijing): Astounding in its scope, the Great Wall of China is over 12,000 miles long and represents the largest military structure in the world. A stunning feat of human ingenuity over 1,400 years in the making, the wall formed a remarkable defense system against invasions from the north and today offers astonishing views of the surrounding landscape.

Classical Gardens of Suzhou (Shanghai): A tranquil escape from the bustling urban life of Shanghai, the beautiful Gardens of Suzhou date back to the sixth century BC.  Masterpieces of ancient Chinese art, these nine gardens recreate entire natural landscapes in miniature, harmonizing the aesthetics of nature with cultural influences from the urban environment.  

Taj-MahalTaj Mahal (Mumbai): A monument of love built by the Mughal emperor in memory of his favorite wife, the glistening white marble Taj Mahal is a stunning masterpiece of Muslim art of truly massive proportions. Construction began in 1632 and took 22 years to complete, using over 1,000 elephants to transport building materials sourced from all over India and Asia.

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto): A collection of 17 magnificent sites, including temples, shrines and castles, these celebrated monuments embody the fascinating evolution of Japanese wooden architecture and Japanese landscaping over nearly two millennia.

Ha Long Bay (Hanoi): An unforgettable cruise amidst the 1,600 islands and islets in Ha Long Bay reveals a spectacular seascape of scenic limestone pillars, home to rare and endemic floral and fauna species. According to legend, a family of dragons created this spectacle by spitting out jewels that turned into the islands dotting the bay, so as to protect against seafaring invaders.

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May 19, 2014

THE CHARMS OF COPENHAGEN

My very first voyage with Oceania Cruises was a journey through Scandinavia and the Baltic. I had never visited this region of the world before and wasn't sure what to expect. Today, eight years later, the fascinating destinations found along the Baltic Sea remain some of my favorites.

Our cruise began in Copenhagen, a fantastic city that is quintessentially Scandinavian and thus offers a perfect welcome to the region. Colorful 17th century homes line meandering canals; elegant parks embrace grand palaces; and a low skyline is broken only by the soaring spires of churches and castles. Copenhagen is also the perfect place to relax and refresh after a transatlantic flight to Europe, because this city demands nothing more than a leisurely stroll to enjoy its many charms.

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Amble along the colorful Nyhavn waterfront and stop for some refreshment in one of the many inviting cafés. Or meander along lovely Langelinie Promenade to see the iconic Little Mermaid statue – with a view of your ship as a backdrop! There are also any number of parks and gardens and several impressive royal palaces to explore within a mile or two of the cruise pier, including Amalienborg Palace, Rosenborg Palace and Christianborg Palace. A relaxing canal cruise is another a great way to take in the sights of this scenic city.

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If you haven’t yet explored this region of the world, I encourage you to add it to your bucket list. And if you’ve visited before, I'm guessing you’re like me and eager to return. Meet us in Copenhagen this summer and explore the many charms of Scandinavia with Oceania Cruises!

 

 

May 2, 2014

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RAVELLO

Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is a festive and enchanting village that I have been visiting for decades. I’ve been eager to share this town’s charms with Oceania Cruises’ guests for some time, so I am very excited to be launching the new Culinary Discovery Tour: Ravello Lunch & Amalfi Chocolate Demo

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, I seek out markets, restaurants and culinary venues that capture the essence of the people and uniqueness of the cuisine of each destination. Last year, with the help of my friends Margarita and Salvatore, I set out to design an authentic Ravello experience Ravello Duomo
for our guests. This brother and sister team is so excited to share their love of Ravello. Margarita runs a ceramics shop with her father. Cosmolena, whom we all affectionately call “Papa,” is a master painter whose ceramic artwork has been exported all over the world, including my home in Florida. Margarita’s brother, Salvatore, operates a restaurant that serves fresh, local Mediterranean seafood as well as sumptuous pastas and sinful desserts. You can bet that I tried as many dishes as possible before settling on the menu for this Culinary Discovery Tour!

Riviera’s recent stop in Amalfi marked the first time I led guests on this new tour. After a brief but beautiful drive up to Ravello from the port, we had some free time to explore the small piazza or simply sit in the shadow of the Duomo and people watch over a cup of coffee. 

Then we gathered for a short walk to our luncheon spot, where Salvatore greeted us with a glass of chilled limoncello. Next door at the ceramics shop, Ceramiche Cosmolena, there was a bowl of Amalfi lemons with a “Welcome Chef Kelly” sign (made by Papa), and guests were invited to select one of the famous lemons and take home a bit of Ravello. Papa told me he how pleased he was with the success of his children’s businesses and that, even though he is now retired, he comes to the shop and restaurant every day. He is such a dear man, and I am thrilled that Margarita is carrying on the tradition of beautiful ceramics and warm hospitality.

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We then took our seats for lunch overlooking the Amalfi Coast, starting with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced ham and freshly cut melon, sliced minutes before serving. The wine was flowing and the conversation was lively and relaxed.

Because this tour offers an insider’s look at an Italian family restaurant, guests were invited to watch the chefs as they prepared and plated the dishes.  Guests learned some of the secrets behind the next course, a delicious pasta in an exquisite shrimp sauce, served with a big smile by Salvatore. Next was a local branzino, or sea bass, in a light broth with local cherry tomatoes and a side salad of crisp greens. The combination of the fish and the greens was unforgettable! 

 

 

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After a dessert of lemon tiramisu and a strong espresso, we said our goodbyes and headed down the winding road back to Amalfi. (Thank goodness for our local bus driver!)

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In Amalfi we toured another multigenerational business – Pasticceria Pansa – where we tasted candied lemon peels from the family garden, chocolates with hazelnuts, and a lemon sorbet. It was a marvelous day filled with delicious treats and the chance to learn about traditions passed down for generations in local family-owned businesses.

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April 28, 2014

CULINARY DISCOVERIES IN NICE AND ÈZE

I cannot imagine a more glorious reception than the one we had in Monte Carlo. Everyone on board Riviera awoke to a beautiful spring morning, and I opened my drapes to a blue sky that took my breath away. Soon we were all happily preparing for the day’s adventures in another magical port of call.

Several guests joined me for a Culinary Discovery Tour to two of my favorite destinations, Nice and Èze. We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center, using my trusty map as a guide to review the various influences on the cuisine of Nice. We discussed the ancient spice trade that brought flavors from lands as distant as Asia and Africa, and we also looked at culinary trends from the regions of Savoy and northern France that migrated into Provence, all influencing the cuisine of Nice in subtle yet distinctive ways.

Traveling to the market in Nice, we discovered the usual eye-popping rainbow of colors, made even more spectacular by the fresh flowers available this time of year. Lilacs were in bloom and paired with white roses in elegant bouquets, and my personal favorite, peonies, were overflowing in all shades of pink, including a tangerine color I had never seen before.

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Nice Lilacs Nice Peonies

After stopping to smell the flowers, we were on to the produce, where we found an abundance of asparagus, peas, fava beans and artichokes. We also shopped for olive oils before making a requisite stop at my favorite chocolate shop, Maison Auer, to see the last of their exquisite Easter eggs. 

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Nice Market guests

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We then savored a bite of peppery socca, the Nice specialty made with chickpea flour and olive oil, fried like a pancake and served in paper cones with lots of salt and pepper. We were disappointed to learn that our favorite socca vendor had retired, but happy to discover that her replacement was making a creamy socca that was equally delicious.

After a refreshing snack, we headed to Èze, a medieval town perched at the top of a mountain overlooking the Côte d’Azur. This is our third year offering a Culinary Discovery Tour to Èze in which we visit the grand Château Eza. Today the chef of Château Eza prepared seasonal favorites: a salad of baby lettuces atop a mousse of garden greens, a cream of asparagus soup, and an entrée of sea bass with braised fennel and artichoke purée. The dessert was a mille-feuille of chocolate mousse with a hint of citrus. As always, it was an impeccable meal served with local wines and enhanced by unparalleled views. Everyone always loves coming here, and I love sharing this unforgettable experience with our foodie guests.

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We returned to port with time to spare, so we all headed in different directions to explore Monte Carlo. I stopped by the gardens of Princess Margaret, where I called my mom and relived a few memories from our 2008 trip on Insignia to celebrate her 80th birthday. Oceania Cruises has been such an important part of so many people's lives and travel memories, and my family is no exception. As I strolled through the gardens, I saw many familiar flowers of spring and one that I had never seen, the black petunia, majestic and sensuous! I love discovering new things when I travel!

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What an amazing day of culinary discoveries in Nice and Èze, topped off by a lovely jaunt through Monte Carlo! Next we head to the Pitti winery and the market in Livorno for a day of pizza, focaccia and biscotti in the Tuscan countryside. It doesn't get any better than this!

April 25, 2014

SPRINGTIME IN PROVENCE WITH CHEF KELLY

It's spring in Provence! And what better way to kick off Riviera's 2014 season in the Mediterranean than a Culinary Discovery Tour in Marseille.

We began in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board, gathered around my map of the Mediterranean for a review of the day’s itinerary and a discussion of the cuisines of France. Several guests were new to Oceania Cruises and the culinary center, so it was a thrill to introduce them to the culinary culture that is part of Oceania Cruises’ DNA.

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Eager to experience Provence firsthand, we went ashore for a stroll through the market of Sanary-sur-Mer, a quaint village where the fish is unbelievably fresh and the seasonal produce is of the highest quality imaginable. On this beautiful spring day, we found baby artichokes, white asparagus, green fava beans and piquant radishes. 

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MiravalWe also came across a shop that was carrying the new Miraval Rosé from the historic Provençal winery that was resurrected by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The wine has received rave reviews, so I snagged two bottles to try this summer. It will be the perfect complement to a Niçoise salad and an afternoon spent relaxing by the swimming pool. 

MacaroonsAfter shopping for herbes de Provence and other local treasures, I bought some macaroons bursting with coconut flavor to share with guests during our bus ride to the Domaine de Souviou winery. It was the perfect sweet treat!

When we arrived at the winery, we stretched our legs a bit on a lovely tour of the groves of thousand-year-old olive trees. Then we were treated to a luncheon prepared by our friend and host, Chef Gui Gedda, who is known as the godfather of Provençal cuisine. Chef Gedda serves something different every time we visit, and today we were treated to market-fresh vegetable soup with chickpeas and fresh marjoram, as well as the classic Provençal dish of tomate farcie, a slow-roasted, veal-stuffed tomato. We also enjoyed a delicious Cannes-style poule au pot, a chicken mousse wrapped in chicken thigh and served over rice with a light cream sauce. We ended the meal with crème au pain d’épices, a magical dessert resembling bread pudding that perfectly complimented the day, the wine and the company.

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After saying goodbye to our friends at Domaine de Souviou, we returned to the ship for a cooking lesson on preparing fish in the Provence style. Guests made a delightful shrimp Provençal as well as a Provençal version of the Italian acqua pazza, a dish of seared fish with tomatoes, Niçoise olives and wine.

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All in all, it was a spectacular day, and this season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM promises many more to come. Next stop is Monte Carlo and a meal at Château Eza. Yum!

April 24, 2014

BUDDHAS AND BARGES IN BANGKOK

For many people, the changing of the seasons is heralded by the chill in the air or the blooms on the trees. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I track the seasons by following our ships’ itineraries. This month Nautica sailed from Bangkok en route to the shores of the Mediterranean, a sure sign that spring has sprung. As Nautica bids a fond farewell to Asia for the season, I wanted to share some of my highlights of the bustling city of Bangkok.

Temple on river-BangkokIf Bangkok is in your future travel plans, the city’s canals offer a wonderful way to see the sights, and the best way to navigate is with our Canals & Royal Barges shore excursion. Traditionally Thailand’s cities were protected by moats, and it was for this reason that the first klongs, or canals, were built around the Grand Palace in the late 18th century. As more were constructed, the klongs became arteries along which trade and travel unfolded. In the 20th century, modernization shifted traffic to paved roads, but a few thriving canal systems remain, where visitors can get a taste of what life was once like on the waterways.

On the Canals & Royal Barges excursion, you will be treated to a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River and through the complex network of klongs in the Thonburi district, where you’ll see floating grocery stores, speeding water taxis, teakwood houses built on stilts, and hidden temples. 

Imperial Barge Museum-BangkokKlongs were the site of magnificent royal processions filled with elaborately decorated barges designed for the royal family.  Today the royal fleet comprises a much more modest fleet, but eight of these ornate vessels can be viewed at the Royal Barges Museum across the river from the Grand Palace.

Along the Chao Phraya River across from the Grand Palace is one of the most impressive and distinct temples in Bangkok, Wat Arun. While it is believed that a Buddhist temple sat on this site at least as far back as the mid-17th century, the current structure was built in the early 19th century. 

The temple enshrined the Emerald Buddha and was part of the royal palace grounds until King Rama I moved the palace across the river, taking the treasured Buddha statue with him. Even without the statue, the temple was still revered, and later kings restored and enhanced the compound, including its most prominent feature, the Khmer-style tower that soars more than 200 feet in the air. Although the temple derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, who is the personification of the rising sun, you’ll discover that some of the most spectacular views of this temple will come when the sun sets.

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Don’t miss your opportunity to watch the sun set on this shimmering city during an overnight stay in Bangkok on an Oceania Cruises voyage in 2015:

Photos by Peter Pretty

April 23, 2014

COOKING UP NEW CLASSES AND TOURS IN THE BON APPETIT CULINARY CENTER

The excitement continues on board Marina and Riviera as we introduce a new season of Bon Appétit Culinary Center classes and Culinary Discovery ToursTM. We’re launching a total of 21 new classes in the culinary center this year, and four of those will debut during this season in Europe. We're also IMG_6518 - Version 2unveiling two brand new Culinary Discovery Tours this summer, and we’ve added some wonderful new experiences to favorite tours of years past. All in all, it promises to be the most fun season yet!

Our new classes this season feature a diverse array of regional cuisines from every corner of the European continent. Our classes on Greek cuisine have always been some of my favorites, and the new Healthy Greek class is no exception. In this class you can learn flavorful recipes inspired by the famously healthy dietary lifestyle of Crete, and you’ll also learn to make the prized tomato fritters from Selene Restaurant on Santorini. The Modern Nordic class features treats such as salted caramel ice cream and other fresh, inventive dishes reflecting the latest trends of edgy Nordic restaurants such as Noma and Geranium. If, like me, you find Turkish culture intriguing, you can discover the secrets of the country’s cuisine in our new Turkish Arabesque class. Focusing on the renowned cuisine of Provence, Beyond Ratatouille offers the chance to make the favorite dishes of our own Jacques Pépin as well as Gui Gedda, considered the godfather of Provençal cuisine.

I'm especially excited about the launch of our brand new Culinary Discovery Tours in Cork and Palma de Mallorca. The beauty of the Ballymaloe country estate in Cork is reason enough to visit, but when you add in a private tour of the gardens and a cooking demonstration and tasting at the world-renowned cooking school located there, it becomes an experience not to be missed. Palma de Mallorca is also sure to be a hit, as we’ll shop the local market, sample different varieties of olive oil and dine at El Faro, a restaurant perched above the harbor where the view is only rivaled by the fabulous Mediterranean menu. We’ve also enhanced our Culinary Discovery Tours in Amalfi and Sicily with new restaurants such as the renowned Osteria Nero d’Avola in Taormina.

Photo1-2Of course, we'll continue offering Culinary Discovery Tours in the many destinations that have become guest favorites, as each season promises new trends and dishes to discover in the ever-evolving regional culinary scenes. This week we enjoyed fascinating tours in both Madeira and Morocco. On the island of Madeira, we explored the town of Funchal, always a treasure trove of passion fruit, exotic orchids and fresh fish. We tasted Madeira wines at Blandy’s, shopped the local market, and enjoyed an authentic Madeiran lunch.  

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In Tangier, Morocco, we strolled through the medina and the fish market, stopping to select some preserved doqq lemons and midway olives from one of our favorite vendors. We shared a luncheon of chicken tagine, pastilla, and couscous with a fantastic onion and beef confit, topped off with an exotic tea-pouring ceremony.

This is only the beginning of a great new season of exploring food and wine while making new friends both on the ship and amongst those who host us so generously in their wineries, restaurants and markets ashore. I hope you'll join us for the fun!

April 1, 2014

A GREAT DEAL IN ST. PETERSBURG

Of all the amazing places I have traveled over the years, St. Petersburg truly captured my heart. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that Oceania Cruises is now offering a dozen St. Petersburg shore excursions FREE on five Marina sailings in 2014. And with two or three full days in St. Petersburg on each sailing, you can explore at will because the number of free shore excursions you can enjoy is UNLIMITED.

On the shore excursion St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral and Spilled Blood Cathedral (a great deal at $195 and an even better deal for free), you will visit three magnificent centers of spiritual life. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a breathtaking monument to 19th century Russian architecture with its shimmering gold-plated dome that is a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.   

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Image0908C8AC-58E6-4DFE-9DDD-F014EE657AF5Strikingly different but no less captivating is the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, so named because it was constructed as a memorial on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. From early childhood I have been impressed by images of this style of Russian Orthodox temple so different from Western cathedrals. The colorful exterior and five copper-plated and enameled domes positively sparkle in the radiant summer sun. The interior is adorned with an incredible collection of mosaics, the largest in Russia and one of the largest in the world.

If you are an art lover, a visit to St. Petersburg may well inspire you to relocate permanently and spend the rest of your days wandering the Hermitage. If that seems impractical, the next best thing is the Hermitage, A Wealth of Art and History shore excursion (normally $195). Because of the convenience, comfort and a host of other reasons, an Oceania Cruises shore excursion is always the best way to experience a destination, but I especially recommend an excursion when visiting the Hermitage. The expert guides allow you to circumvent the lengthy lines and ensure that you see some of the most renowned works in the collection.

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One of the oldest and largest museums in the world, the Hermitage boasts a collection of more than three million works of art and artifacts, only part of which can be displayed in the complex of historic buildings that includes the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors. Some of my favorites include the 23 works by the Dutch master Rembrandt, Michelangelo’s sculpture Crouching Boy, and two of Leonardo da Vinci’s oil paintings, an extremely rare medium for this Italian Renaissance polymath. The environment in which these masterpieces are housed is as impressive as the works themselves.

Hermitage Rembrandt Portrait of an Old Jew

Hermitage Michelangelo Crouching Boy

Hermitage da Vinci Benois Madonna

These are just a few highlights of the 12 free shore excursions. There is obviously a great deal to see in St. Petersburg and no better way to see it than by taking advantage of this great deal from Oceania Cruises! And for a limited time, Oceania Cruises is also offering free pre-paid gratuities, unlimited Internet, and a shipboard credit up to $300 per stateroom on the sailings below, as well as the option to purchase a $99 premium economy air upgrade on select sailings. There has never been a better time to explore this magical city:

March 21, 2014

HONG KONG BEYOND THE SKYSCRAPERS

Hong Kong-2A world financial power of over seven million people, Hong Kong is a city that reaches for the sky with soaring high-rises that bustle by day and glitter by night. But don’t let the dazzling skyline distract you from the deeper and more contemplative side of this historic region. For underneath the hustle and bustle of this dynamic city, there is a spiritual heritage that is the center of its beating heart. Today Nautica is in Hong Kong for a two-day call, and many guests were able to get a glimpse of the spiritual culture of this region on the Lantau Island & Po Lin Monastery shore excursion.

Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong and until recently was largely unpopulated except for a few fishing villages. Though recent years have seen increasing activity on the island, guests were treated to a look at what life was like just a few decades ago on a walking tour of Thai O Village on the western side of the island. The traditional stilt houses built over the water have given this scenic village the nickname “the Venice of Hong Kong.”

Tai O Village-Hong Kong

Thai O Village-Hong Kong

The main attraction of Lantau Island is Po Lin Monastery, situated on Ngong Ping plateau. From its humble beginnings as a “Big Thatched Hut” in 1906, Po Lin Monastery has become one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums, with several prominent architectural structures, rich with colorful Buddhist iconography. Home to many devout monks, the monastery has been called “the Buddhist World in the South.”

Ngong Ping Base of Buddha

Po Lin Monastery-Hong Kong

Sitting opposite the Po Lin Monastery is the world’s largest Buddha, a bronze statue built in 1993 that stands over 110 feet tall and weighs more than 275 tons. Drawing visitors from all over the world, Tian Tan Buddha (known as the “Big Buddha”) faces north to look over the people of China, with a right hand raised to deliver blessings to all.

Ngong Ping Tian Tan Buddha-Hong Kong

Ngong Ping-Tian Tan Bronze Buddha

Visitors enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains and water from the monastery complex as well as peaceful moments in the serene gardens. There is also a vegetarian restaurant that serves excellent food prepared by the monks.

Nautica will spend today and tomorrow in Hong Kong, so guests will have the opportunity to experience the thrilling energy of the city as well as the tranquil outposts that surround the metropolis. All of Oceania Cruises’ 2015 voyages offer two days in Hong Kong for this very reason:

Photos by Peter Pretty

March 10, 2014

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND

WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND - TAURANGA (159)Rotorua sits in the middle of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, a highly active volcanic area in northern New Zealand that attracts visitors from all over the world. Marina has been sailing the coast of New Zealand this week, and yesterday guests got an up-close look at the remarkable effects of this geothermal hot spot at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, about 15 miles south of Rotorua.

Originally settled by Maori in the 13th century, Waiotapu is the Maori word for “sacred waters.” Protected since 1931, the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with colorful hot springs, craters, geysers and boiling mud pools. 

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At over 200 feet in diameter and approximately 200 feet deep, the Champagne Pool is Waiotapu’s largest hot spring. It was formed more than 700 years ago and is named for the abundant flow of carbon dioxide that gives it the appearance of bubbling champagne. The pool temperature averages 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and the oversaturation of metalloid compounds are what create the distinctive orange deposits that frame the pool. 

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The Champagne Pool is tilted due to seismic activity, causing mineral-laden water to flow over the surrounding sinter-encrusted flats. Minerals in the water, micro-organisms and wind patterns combine to create an ever-changing array of colors on what has become known as the Artist’s Palette. 

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One of the more active areas of the thermal reserve is the Mud Pool, where visitors can see – and hear – bubbling explosions of mud. Mud pools form in high-temperature geothermal areas where there is little water, and the boiling mud can sometimes reach heights of three to five feet. 

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Craters, formed when the ground collapses, can be found throughout the thermal reserve. They range from 15 to over 150 feet in diameter and reach up to 65 feet deep. The most recent crater, Thunder Crater, was formed in 1968.

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Many types of geothermal activities can be observed within the craters, including steam vents, known as fumaroles, as well as sulfur vents and bubbling pools. 

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This thermal reserve is just one of many fascinating places to explore in this region. Other excursion opportunities include a Culinary Discovery Tour, in which guests learn how the Maori used geothermal activity to prepare food, and a tour of the verdant New Zealand countryside where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed.

A call on Rotorua holds great appeal not only for aspiring arm-chair geologists intrigued by the geological hot spot of Waiotapu, but also for anyone who wants to witness some of nature’s most beautiful wonders. Oceania Cruises calls on Rotorua three times next year:

February 17, 2014

HO CHI MINH CITY AND THE VIETNAMESE COUNTRYSIDE

SaigonAlthough Ho Chi Minh City made the news last week for the grand opening of Vietnam’s first McDonald’s, guests on board Nautica got nothing but a quintessentially Vietnamese experience over the weekend while exploring this city of more than nine million and its surrounding countryside.

Known as Saigon prior to the end of the Vietnam War and still referred to as such by many, the city’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, in honor of the revolutionary leader who served as prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. Oceania Cruises offers several shore excursions that explore this bustling metropolis, from its wartime relics and colonial architecture to its folkloric traditions and spiritual heritage, and excursions into the Vietnamese countryside are available as well.

Because Nautica frequently stays overnight in Ho Chi Minh City, guests have ample time to explore and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the contrast of city and country life. For me, there is nothing as energizing as immersing myself in the culture of a thriving urban center, but just as appealing is the serene countryside, where often I find a more authentic expression of cultural traditions that have been passed down through the centuries.

Guests on board Nautica enjoyed warm temperatures and bright sunshine while exploring the Vietnamese countryside on the Mekong River Cruise shore excursion. At the mouth of the seventh longest river in Asia, the Mekong Delta is one of the “rice baskets” of Vietnam, contributing about 50 percent of country’s rice production. Life in the Mekong Delta is centered on the river, and many of the locals spend their time paddling its canals and tributaries, whether farming, fishing, trading or escorting visitors on tours.

Mekong River Dusk

Vietnam Canal Cruise Paddler

The shore excursion began in My Tho. Considered the gateway to the Mekong Delta, the city was founded by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan in the 1680s. Here guests toured the Vinh Trang Pagoda, an ornate sanctuary near the city center set amidst beautiful gardens and decorated with carved and gilded wood. The laughing Buddha statue, an image believed to have originated in Chinese folklore, towers over the peaceful retreat where monks provide a home for orphaned, needy and disabled children.

Vinh Trang Buddha

Guests then boarded a motorboat and began to get a feel for daily life on the Mekong Delta as they passed fruit orchards, stilt houses, fish and shrimp farms and a vast variety of boats.

Far from the lines at the new McDonald’s in Ho Chi Minh City, guests stopped to explore the picturesque Thoi Son Island and enjoy a lunch of authentic Vietnamese food before continuing on to visit a family-run coconut candy factory. They then traded their motorboat for smaller, more traditional sampans and concluded the day with a scenic cruise through the narrow, tree-line canals of the lush delta.

Lunch at Thoi Son Island-Saigon

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Oceania Cruises offers several opportunities to visit Vietnam in 2015. Enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the countryside, a thrilling day in Vietnam’s largest city, or both, because all the 2015 cruises feature overnight stays in Ho Chi Minh City!

 Photos by Peter Pretty

February 12, 2014

HIGHLIGHTS OF SIHANOUKVILLE

Nautica is spending the winter months exploring the great cities of Asia and today calls on Sihanoukville, Cambodia. This provincial capital on the western shores of the Gulf of Thailand enjoys relatively dry weather this time of year and typically hovers between 75 and 85 degrees. By all accounts, it sounds like the perfect place to be in February!

Guests can enjoy any number of adventures during their stay in Sihanoukville. The Amazing Ream National Park shore excursion explores the beautiful national park that protects over 50,000 acres of mangrove forests, beaches, tropical jungles, a thriving monkey population and more than 150 species of birds. For a more urban experience, Oceania Cruises also offers a day trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, where guests tour lavish palaces and gardens on the Mekong River, famous pagodas and infamous relics left from the tumultuous civil war.

There is also plenty to see and do within Sihanoukville itself, as revealed on the Highlights of Sihanoukville shore excursion that spends the day exploring this recently revived city. In the 1960s, Sihanoukville was a brand new, thriving port city with golden beaches that attracted Cambodia’s elite. But war in the region led the city to fall on hard times, and the beaches and resorts lay empty for decades.

With the end of the civil war and the opening of markets in Cambodia, Sihanoukville has been one of the main areas of economic growth in the nation. It is once again a bustling resort town and has been called, “Asia’s next trendsetting beach.”

As the name suggests, the Highlights of Sihanoukville shore excursion lets guests experience all the best this port city has to offer, from its sacred sites to its delicious cuisine to its lovely beaches. Guests begin with a visit to Wat Krom, one of the most important pagodas in Sihanoukville. Built on a hill with beautiful views of the ocean, the temple offers the opportunity to see Buddhist monks chanting or young monks learning Pali, the sacred language of the Buddhist scriptures.

On the way through town, the tour passes the popular Golden Lion roundabout, named for the giant golden statues that crouch in the center of the traffic circle. The lion has become a symbol of Sihanoukville and is depicted throughout the city.

Golden Lions Sihanoukville

Guests get a taste of the local culture on a walk through the lively local market, where one can buy the extraordinary seafood for which the area is famous as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other local goods.

The tour really gets your blood pumping with a stop at the Snake House, known for its exotic snakes and freshwater crocodiles as well as an impressive collection of tropical fish and exotic birds.

Crocs and Snake Farm-Sihanoukville

After some close encounters with the snakes and crocs, guests can recuperate from the excitement by relaxing at the luxurious Sokha Beach Resort, an idyllic, garden-like setting on the south side of Sihanoukville. Take a refreshing dip in the pool, stroll along the pristine beaches or simply sip a cool drink while musing about all of the impressive sights of Sihanoukville.

Today is Oceania Cruises’ only call in Sihanoukville for 2014, but there are two opportunities to visit in 2015. Now is the perfect time to begin planning your Asian journey with Oceania Cruises!

Photos by Peter Pretty

February 7, 2014

A MEMORABLE DAY IN SINGAPORE

SingaporeNautica has completed the Safaris, Temples & Jewels cruise, sailing from Africa across the Indian Ocean to Asia, where she will finish the winter season exploring the ancient temples and modern metropolises of this vast continent. The voyage ended with an overnight stay in cosmopolitan Singapore, and guests on the next sailing, Pagodas & Palaces, kicked off their journey with an overnight stay here as well. It’s no wonder that Nautica lingers in Singapore on several of her Asian cruises because there is so much to see and do in this bustling and beautiful city.

Known as the “Garden City,” Singapore continues to fulfill its green vision that was instituted decades ago by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the first head of the independent Republic of Singapore. Despite staggering economic growth over the past 50 years, Singapore is less a concrete jungle than a literal jungle. Its soaring skyscrapers are embraced by verdant parks and tree-lined streets.

Most recently developed were the Gardens by the Bay. Covering 177 football fields and housing 80 percent of the world’s plant species, the gardens were designed to create a continuous ring of greenery enveloping the Marina Bay area. Nautica guests on the Singapore By Boat/Trishaw–Raffles Visit shore excursion viewed these spectacular gardens from the skypark of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The vantage point offered beautiful vistas of the Supertree Grove, a cluster of enormous structures designed to provide shade and shelter while also acting as hanging gardens and rainwater catches. The Supertrees even harvest solar energy! Singapore’s commitment to “green” goes well beyond lush vegetation; the city has a master plan for environmental sustainability.

Marina Bay Sands Casino View from Marina Sands Bay hotel, Singapore (6) (Medium)

Some guests took the opportunity to further explore the expansive gardens, including the ethereal Cloud Forest, an indoor mountain showcasing an astounding diversity of plant life as well as the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The vibrant colors and sweet scents of the Flower Dome are also a highlight of these magnificent gardens.

Gardens by the Bay Tribal Masks

Gardens by the Bay Cloud Forest 1 Gardens by the Bay Cloud Forest 2

Gardens by the Bay Flowers 3

Gardens by the Bay Flowers 4

There is an actual city to be found in this “city within a garden,” and a cruise down the Singapore River allowed guests to enjoy views of modern skyscrapers and other important landmarks. The cruise began at Clarke Quay, which is named for the second governor of Singapore. Once the center of commerce, Clark Quay is now a bustling array of restaurants, wine bars, entertainment spots and retail stores.

Clarke Quay

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The cruise sailed by landmarks such as the Cavenagh Bridge, one of Singapore’s oldest bridges, and the Merlion statue in Merlion Park. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion is the mascot of Singapore, paying homage to the city’s heritage as a fishing village as well as its original name, Singapura, which means “lion city.”

Merlion

Clarke Quay

Maybank Tower

Shutterstock_91915742Guest also had the chance to experience an invigorating ride on a trishaw, Singapore’s ubiquitous bike taxis.  They rode along the streets of the Colonial District, passing St. Andrew's Cathedral before ending up at the Raffles Hotel, a must on many travelers’ lists of Singapore sights. The iconic hotel is renowned for its elegant High Tea and is also said to be the place where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented. It was the perfect spot to stop for a bit of liquid refreshment!

For those who love the invigorating energy of a bustling city but are drawn to the lush greenery and fresh air of the pastoral countryside, Singapore has it all. If an Asian voyage with Oceania Cruises is in your plans, consider these fabulous itineraries that call on the amazing city of Singapore.

 

 

January 14, 2014

SNORKELING ON THE ISLAND PARADISE OF GRAND TURK

In my recent Christmas Eve post, I mentioned that guests on board Riviera were celebrating in beautiful Grand Turk, and today it is Regatta’s turn to call on this lovely island paradise.

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Grand Turk Port 2

When I think of Grand Turk, I think of one word: blue. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I’ve seen a lot of water in my day, but I’ve never seen water in such vivid, myriad shades of blue as I saw when I visited Grand Turk. Perhaps the light was just right, or perhaps I was so happy to escape the gray of my hometown winter that I was bedazzled by the bright colors, but Grand Turk had me in its spell from the moment the ship approached. It was as if the essence of every blue mineral and gemstone had been captured and splashed across the sea. I even took a close-up shot of the pure blue surface in a futile attempt to capture its brilliance.

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The island itself is as enchanting as the surrounding waters, and it is very guest friendly. There are several shops just off the pier offering everything from beachwear and jewelry to souvenirs and sundries. Abundant lounge chairs are available for sunning yourself on the beach, and the entire area is beautifully landscaped with swaying palms and fuchsia flora. And if lounging on the tranquil beach and gazing at the serene water somehow isn’t enough to relax you, perhaps a beachside massage will do the trick!

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Despite the allure of a relaxing beach chair, I chose on this visit to partake in one of Oceania Cruises’ more active excursions, the Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure. Our group was welcomed aboard our vessel by three enthusiastic and informative guides, who provided everyone with the requisite snorkeling equipment and explained how to use it for the novices in the group. Then we set off for our first destination, Horseshoe Reef, where I finally got to take a dip in the beautiful blue water. The colors underneath the surface were just as vivid, with various species of shimmering tropical fish too numerous to count. The guides provided us with cards to help identify several of the fish, which made the experience all the more interesting.

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Sail Boat

We then continued on to a second snorkeling site, a reef off of Round Cay. Here we saw another array of colorful fish, and our guide also introduced us to the friendly neighborhood nurse shark. The mellow nurse shark is nocturnal, sluggish during the day and generally harmless, and this nurse shark seemed accustomed to relaxing in this particular spot that the snorkelers frequent and content to be the center of attention.

After a wonderful snorkeling adventure, I stopped into Margaritaville, just a short walk from the pier, to enjoy a tropical cocktail under the warmth of the Grand Turk sun. The restaurant has a large pool with a swim-up bar for those who wish to enjoy their cocktails and the water at the same time. I decided to forego dining here because I knew their burgers couldn’t possibly be as good as those in Waves Grill on the ship. So after finishing my drink, I returned to the ship for a Kobe burger with black truffle sauce and baby cress – a delicious ending to a wonderful day on Grand Turk!

Image068EBADC-2C93-46DE-95CF-AB5DC060C6A9 Grand Turk Port

January 6, 2014

GUESTS SAVOR ARGENTINE CUISINE ON A CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN BUENOS AIRES

Marina finished the year 2013 exploring the exotic coasts of Brazil, and during a recent call on Buenos Aires, guests enjoyed a fabulous Culinary Discovery Tour led by Bon Appétit Culinary Center Chef Noelle Barille.

Guests took a brief tour through the city on their way to the bustling, bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, in which the cobblestone streets are lined with antique shops, galleries and tango halls. San Telmo is home to one of the busiest and most famous local markets, where guests were able to explore and sample some of the local treats. They tasted local liqueurs as well as dulce de leche pastry handmade by Margareite, an Italian immigrant. Many immigrants from Genoa settled in San Telmo in the past, and the Italian influence is still evident in the area.

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After the market visit, the group continued up the street to the Havanna Café, to try its robust coffee and famous alfajores. Said to be the best in Argentina, these delicious confections are filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate.

After this sweet nibble to whet their appetites, guests traveled to the Palermo neighborhood for the hands-on part of the tour. The Argentine Experience is not only a restaurant but also an interactive culinary experience that teaches people about the local cuisine. Everyone was greeted with the refreshing national drink of Argentina, mate infused with fruit juice. Then they moved on to the cooking class, which taught the entire process of making traditional Argentine empanadas, from the puffy dough to a variety of stuffings. Guests could fill their empanadas with caramelized onions, mozzarella, ratatouille, malbec-glazed beef and other savory treats. They even held a contest for the most creative empanada.

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A wonderful lunch of empanadas was complemented by roasted carrots and onions, whipped potatoes and three different Argentinian wines: a sauvignon blanc, a malbec, and a malbec blend. While historically known as one of the six grapes that can be used in a red Bordeaux wine, malbec has surged to prominence in Argentina and is now one of the most notable Argentinian wines.

After lunch everyone learned how to make mate and to assemble alfajores, so the secrets to several Argentinian specialties were now revealed. Before returning to the ship, the group stopped at an artisan ice cream shop called Volta. Considering the warm temperatures of the Argentine summer, this was the perfect place for the tour’s finale. Guests enjoyed one final incarnation of the ubiquitous dulce de leche, this time in ice cream. It was delightful conclusion to a day spent experiencing the vibrant Argentine culture through the local cuisine.

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November 18, 2013

A DAY IN FLORENCE

Last week Nautica, Marina and Riviera all called on the port of Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. From this port, you can explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and so many charming towns, from Pisa to Cinque Terre to San Gimignano. Of course, one of the most popular places to visit is the grand city of Florence.

View of Florence

I recently took the Florence On Your Own shore excursion, which is perfect if you want the freedom to wander the streets of this amazing city at your own pace without worrying about getting back to the ship on time. A comfortable, air-conditioned bus picked me up at the ship for the two-hour trip to Florence, during which a guide shared info and maps that helped me navigate the city. Once we arrived, I had six lovely hours to enjoy Florence before the bus picked me up and returned me to the ship.

The bus dropped me off at the Piazza di Santa Croce, just off the Arno River and near the Basilica di Santa Croce, where I began my day. Construction began on the basilica, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, in 1294. With 16 chapels, it is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the burial place of some of history’s most famous Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

Basilica di Santa Croce Basilica di Santa Croce Door

At the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce stands a statue dedicated to the great Italian poet, Dante. Donated in 1865 to celebrate the sixth century since Dante’s birth, the statue was moved to the steps of the basilica in 1968. Born in Florence, Dante was eventually condemned to exile for political reasons, and it wasn’t until 2008 that Dante’s sentence was rescinded. Thus, while the city of Florence built a tomb for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in the 19th century, his remains are still in a tomb in Ravenna, the city where he died. At each corner of the base of the Dante statue sits a rather stern-looking heraldic lion with one paw on the city’s coat of arms, said to represent the power of the people of the Republic of Florence.

Basilica di Santa Croce Dante Statue Basilica di Santa Croce Lions Dante Statue

With only one basilica down, I was already starving. I stopped at a restaurant on the piazza and enjoyed one of the best Caprese salads I’ve ever had, accompanied by some delicious prosciutto, a rich lasagna and a glass of red wine. Suffice it to say, I was sated and ready to continue exploring.

Lunch Caprese Salad

My next stop was Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. Originally built during Roman times, it is the oldest bridge in Florence. The current structure was built in 1345, and the workshops along the bridge were mainly used by butchers and tanners. Today the shops offer a wide array of jewelry and souvenirs to the many tourists that visit.

Ponte Vecchio

Plaza VecchioAfter Ponte Vecchio I moved on to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. At the end of the 13th century, Florentines decided to build a palace that provided greater security to the magistrates. The massive Romanesque fortress is one of the most impressive in Tuscany and overlooks the Piazza della Signoria.

The Fountain of Neptune stands on the piazza, as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s David, marking the place where the original statue once stood. The original is now housed in the Accademia Gallery, about a 15-minute walk north of the Palazzo Vecchio, and I consider it to be one of Florence’s must-see sights. While you’ve probably seen any number of the images and replicas of the statue that seem to pervade Western culture, the original is truly astounding in its scale, detail and beauty.

Palazzo Vecchio Neptune

Plaza Vecchio David

Uffizi Gallery CourtyardNear the Palazzo Vecchio and also well worth a visit is the amazing Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The gallery houses some of Italy’s greatest works of art, including works by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. One of my favorite works in this museum is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, although it’s almost ludicrous to name any favorite amidst the incredible collection of masterworks. There is usually a long line to get into the Uffizi, so I highly recommend advance reservations, which can be made online for a fee. Oceania Cruises also offers excursions to both the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, so you can avoid the lines at both.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Florence, and I haven’t even mentioned the Duomo yet, one of the most famous and impressive cathedrals in Europe! I’ll save that for a future blog, and if you want to see this wonderful city for yourself, here are just a few of the ample opportunities to visit with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 12, 2013

POMPEII: IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS

Vesuvius and Temple of Jupiter

One of my favorite moments of any vacation is when I get a true sense of the tiny place I occupy within the world and its history. On a recent trip as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, that moment came as I walked through the incredible ruins of Pompeii, an ancient Roman city that was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

I will try to limit my use of superlatives, although many come to mind when describing what an amazing experience it is to walk through an ancient Roman city relatively untouched by time. Preserved in volcanic ash for more than 1,500 years, the city appears very much like it was on the day it was destroyed, allowing for a unique look at life at the beginning of a new millennium. Of course, as I gazed in awe at the ruins, with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background, I was acutely aware that we can only experience this piece of history today because of the tragic disaster that struck this once thriving city of 20,000.

While I had previously seen photos of Pompeii, I didn’t realize how expansive the city was until I visited. It currently covers about five square miles. You could spend hours exploring the wide streets and narrow alleyways lined with homes and shops, and much of the city is still being excavated. Beautifully preserved mosaics adorn the ceilings and floors of homes, and political propaganda can still be found on the city streets.

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Ceiling Detail

Political Propaganda

One of the oldest parts of the city, the forum served as one of the main centers of public life in Pompeii. In addition to being a marketplace, the forum was a place where townspeople conducted business, took part in religious and political events and socialized, among many other things. 

Columns Along the Forum

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After Pompeii became part of the Roman territory, the city was endowed with several public buildings, including a large amphitheater. A period of modernization brought an aqueduct, streets designed to divert water and waste, and high sidewalks and stepping stones for pedestrian crossings. The Romans were incredibly advanced in their engineering of water management.

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Street

Dedicated to the god Apollo, the Temple of Apollo is one of the town’s most important religious sites. The temple underwent several renovations throughout the years due to modernization and earthquake damage. As the temple was largely destroyed in the volcanic eruption, what remains today is the original foundation. 

Temple of Apollo

The Temple of Vespasian is thought to honor the Roman emperor from 69 to 79 AD, and it is believed that construction was not complete on the temple prior to the eruption. A marble altar, decorated with reliefs on all four sides, stands at the center of the courtyard. 

Temple of Vespasian

Temple of Vespasian Close

Jupiter was one of the most important gods of ancient Rome, and the Temple of Jupiter was built at a time when Roman influence over Pompeii was increasing. Built in 150 BC, it would become one of the city’s main temples after the Roman conquest. An earthquake in 62 AD destroyed much of the temple, and it was awaiting restoration when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later.

Arch near Temple of Jupiter

Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Pompeii from both Naples and Sorrento, as Pompeii is situated more or less right between the two cities. I took the Pompeii & Herculaneum excursion from Sorrento. Herculaneum sits even closer to the crater of Vesuvius, and while the city may not be as famous as Pompeii, it is equally impressive. More on that in a future post, but in the meantime, I hope you have the chance to visit Pompeii and other fascinating Mediterranean cities on a voyage with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

November 4, 2013

MORE OF THE BIG APPLE

This week Regatta made her final stop in New York for 2013 before sailing south to warmer waters for the winter season, so I am taking this opportunity to share the remainder of my photos from my most recent trip to this fabulous city as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises.

On this trip I was very much looking forward to visiting to the 9/11 Memorial. Tickets to visit the memorial are free, but you do need to get them in advance if you are not on a prearranged tour. I highly recommend the Oceania Cruises shore excursion Downtown Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial, which includes a harbor cruise past the Statue of Liberty and a walking tour of Lower Manhattan followed by a visit to the memorial.

Honoring the lives of those who were lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, the memorial occupies 8 of the 16 acres of the former World Trade Center complex. Names of all the lives lost are inscribed in bronze plaques that surround the two waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the twin towers. Like a beacon of hope, the new One World Trade Center being built to replace the twin towers rises over the memorial plaza. 

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There is no way to describe the feeling of arriving on this solemn scene. The roaring water of the fountains blocks out the ambient noises, so I was left with what felt like a very solitary experience of the monument despite being surrounded by visitors. I knew it would be a powerful tribute, but there is no way to really know how moving the experience will be until you are there. It is a poignant testament to the impact of the tragedy and the incredible strength and resilience of the American people, particularly New Yorkers, in the wake of the devastation.  

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After visiting the memorial, I spent some time walking the streets of Manhattan and just taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful city. The skyscrapers soaring over historic churches nestled in their shadows. The car engines and taxi horns blending somehow harmoniously with the din of voices, within which I could discern any number of accents and languages as I strolled through the multitude of faces. Ultimately, the tempting aromas from the street vendors and local restaurants drew me to my final quintessential New York experience of the day – pizza!

When an Italian immigrant reinvented a Neapolitan staple food in 1897, New York–style pizza was born. In 1905 Lombardi’s was licensed by the city of New York, becoming America’s first pizzeria. There are now pizzerias on just about every street corner in New York (Ray’s and Original Ray’s being the most ubiquitous), but what makes Lombardi’s special, along with a handful of other pizzerias in the city, is the brick oven. In an authentic New York pizzeria, the ingredients are fresh and the pizza is baked to order in a brick oven.

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I “accidentally” ordered a large pizza and for a few minutes was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish, even with the help of my friend who had happily agreed to join me. But walking the streets of New York and the smell of Lombardi’s pizza have a way of making a girl hungry, and I am proud to say, there was not much left when we were finished.

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One of the greatest things about New York is that, no matter how many times you visit, there is always more to see and do. If you’ve never been, you simply must add this city to your bucket list. And there are some distinct advantages to seeing the city on an Oceania Cruises voyage. New York is a city in which it’s easy to drop several hundred dollars on food and lodging in just a day or two, but with your Oceania Cruises home away from home awaiting you in port, you can sample the local fare, see the sights and then return to the luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine on board and take full advantage of Oceania Cruises’ incredible value. Plus, on these 2014 voyages, you can also visit a number of other wonderful cities along the American and Canadian coasts – and even the Caribbean!

 

October 23, 2013

A DAY AT THE ACHILLEION PALACE ON CORFU

Marina and Riviera both call on Corfu this week, and guests have the opportunity to explore this lovely island on the Corfu Town and Achilleion shore excursion. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently enjoyed this wonderful excursion on a perfect summer day.

Achillion Palace

Gate at Achillion Palace

When reading about the Achilleion Palace, you will always find mention of the great views from the palace grounds, and many have attempted to capture these impressive vistas in photographs. But it is not until you are actually standing there, looking out across the beautiful island with the Ionian Sea glistening in the distance, that you truly understand what all the fuss is about. Having said that, this palace is more than just a pretty face. It also has a quite fascinating history behind it.

View from Achillion Palace

Empress Sisi StatueUpon arriving at the palace, I was greeted by a marble statue of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, affectionately known as Sisi, who built the palace in 1890 as an expression of her passion for Greek culture. In fact, she spoke Greek better than most Greek queens of her time. The central theme of the palace is Achilles, Chapel a mythical figure whom the empress admired for his strength and beauty, two characteristics she herself possessed. Achilles and Sisi also shared a tragic fate. At the time when the empress built the palace, she was desperate to escape her grief over the loss of her only son to suicide the previous year. And the empress would herself be killed by an anarchist in 1898.

One of the most moving and impressive rooms in the palace is Sisi’s Catholic chapel with its domed ceiling depicting the trial of Christ and a painting of Madonna and child hanging above the altar. I found this particularly poignant given the devastating loss of the empress’s son.

As you would imagine, there are several depictions of Achilles inside the palace. One of the most imposing is an enormous painting, The Triumph of Achilles by Franz von Matsch, in the hall above the main staircase. It dramatically portrays Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind a chariot in front of the gates of Troy.

Achilles Painting Over Staircase

Achilles is also well represented on the palace grounds, which I found even more impressive than the palace itself. High on a pedestal stands the centerpiece of the gardens, a marble statue of Achilles at the moment of his demise as he tries to pull the fatal arrow from his heel. Elsewhere in the gardens, a huge bronze statue of Achilles was added by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who purchased the palace after Sisi’s untimely death. The antithesis of the beloved Sisi, he too would only enjoy the palace for a short time because he soon launched Germany into World War I and was later exiled with Germany’s defeat.

Achilles Statue (renown) Achilles Bronze

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Many other monuments to ancient Greek mythology also adorn the grounds, including several statues that line the courtyard. Some of my favorites were the nine muses, especially the one pictured here, whom I like to think of as the musing muse. 

Statue of Muses Musing Muse

The Achilleion Palace is only one of many fascinating things to do on lovely Corfu, and I am resolved to return and further explore the other palaces, forts and quaint villages and learn more about the history of this beautiful island. There are several opportunities to visit Corfu with Oceania Cruises in 2014:

October 9, 2013

CHEF KELLY LEADS CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN SAN SEBASTIAN

Fall is in the air in the markets of Spain, and I led a wonderful Culinary Discovery Tour in San Sebastian last week, where guests enjoyed a hands-on workshop at the exclusive restaurant Ni Neu.

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We were traveling onboard Riviera from Southampton to Barcelona, and along the way we enjoyed fresh oysters in Brittany, Calvados in Le Havre and pintxos in San Sebastian. For those who may not be familiar with pinxtos, they are similar to tapas and are especially popular in the Basque region of Spain. Many say that San Sebastian has the best pinxtos in Basque country.

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In Bilbao we boarded a bus for San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin-starred restaurants and fabulous food. Our first stop was a market in the old town with a wide selection of fresh fish. The city’s finest chefs shop here for anchovies, sole, squid, swordfish, hake, snapper and various shellfish. The bacalau vendor offered an array of salted cod varieties – always spectacular in Spain. 

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After purchasing jamón, local cheese and wine, we walked across the bridge for our pintxos workshop and lunch at Ni Neu. The chef and his interpreter greeted us warmly, and everything was set up for our workshop.

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The circulator was at the perfect 145°F temperature for the eggs, which we would eat on a mash of potatoes and garlic – with Spanish olive oil and salt of course. I shared with the class the method known as “sous vide, a hot trend in the culinary world today. Oceania Cruises chefs have used this method to prepare one of the courses on the tasting menu in La Reserve. They’re expanding the technique to dishes in other venues as well and are excited to continue showcasing one of the latest culinary trends onboard the ships.

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We worked in tables of five and made four different pintxos, all very tasty. Many of our guests were inspired to host a pintxos party at home. We also sipped Spanish wines and learned about the emerging wine regions in central Spain. 

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After a 60 minute workshop, we enjoyed two signature dishes from Ni Neu. The first was roasted lamb IMG_3768on a bed of Parmentier cheese purée and a wild mushroom dust. “Parmentier” refers to dishes made with potatoes and honors the 18th-century Frenchman who devoted his life to promoting the attributes of the potato. For dessert we had the restaurant’s famous French toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized and served with homemade ice cream.

Waddling back to the bus for the scenic ride home, we all had a full appreciation of why San Sebastian is heralded as the culinary capital of northern Spain.

September 25, 2013

MORE ADVENTURES WITH JACQUES PÉPIN ONBOARD RIVIERA

AnniversaryThe Jacques Pépin Signature Sailing onboard Riviera continues, and it has been a festive and eventful cruise. Jacques and his wife, Gloria, were surprised with a special celebration in Privée for their 47th wedding anniversary, complete with confetti and a beautiful cake created for the occasion by Oceania Cruises’ talented chefs.

When Riviera called on Ibiza, Pépin enjoyed a trip to the Sa Cova winery in the green hills of San Mateo. Grapes have been grown in this region since the time of the Phoenicians, including varietals such as monastrell, malvasia, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Covering more than 22 acres, Sa Cova produces wines with grapes grown on the estate, using modern production techniques and high ecological standards combined with traditional methods and aging processes.

Pépin and his guests had a wonderful time with the winery’s friendly staff, who explained the production process and also offered a tasting of several different wines paired with local bread, aioli, sausage, cheese and ham. Any food and wine lovers on an Oceania Cruises voyage to Ibiza will not want to miss this shore excursion, Wine Tasting at Sa Cova!

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While everyone on the cruise has greatly enjoyed exploring ashore, there have been several special events onboard as well. Chef Kelly of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center hosted “An Informal Chat with Chef Pépin” in which he shared several personal stories with guests, from his childhood as the son of restaurateurs to his position as the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. Pépin also shared several fond and funny memories of his work with Julia Child, with whom he collaborated on the award-winning television series Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home.

There have also been book signings and other opportunities for guests to interact with the renowned chef who is the inspiration behind Oceania Cruises’ exquisite cuisine. While the culinary experience on any Oceania Cruises voyage is exceptional, having legendary Chef Pépin onboard has truly made this cruise extraordinary.

August 22, 2013

REGATTA LEAVES HER HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Regatta is wrapping up another fantastic summer in Alaska with a final stop in San Francisco before following sunny skies to the Southern Hemisphere. Highlights of the summer included Oceania Cruises’ 10-year anniversary sailing with Chairman and Founder Frank Del Rio and his wife, Marcia – godmother of Regatta and stops in destinations as far west as Kodiak and Seward. As Regatta calls on San Francisco, this seems like the perfect time to share some of the amazing shoreside activities available from this charming city by the bay.

Alcatraz Island is a 25-acre island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, a little over a mile from the city. Designated as a maximum security prison in 1933, Alcatraz housed many infamous criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Straud, known as the “Birdman.” The tour of the island includes a roundtrip ferry ride with scenic views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city, an opportunity to explore the island with a tour guide, access to the prison and a fascinating 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring interviews with former inmates and prison guards.

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Considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and certainly the most photographed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from 1937 until 1964 when New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened. Completed in four years, the tremendous 746-foot-tall towers, enormous main cables and signature orange color attract 10 million visitors annually. And the views are stunning from either side of the bridge!

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San Francisco boasts several highly regarded museums, and many of the museum sites are as famous as the collections themselves. The Legion of Honor is a three-quarter-scaled adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, perched high on the headlands above the Golden Gate, offering fantastic views of the bridge and the city as well as a wonderful collection. Reopened in 2005, the new de Yong Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is an impressive modern building in the heart of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is also renowned for its cuisine. The birthplace of California Cuisine, the city is also home to some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and fusion cuisine in the world. Wine lovers will not want to miss an opportunity to tour Napa Valley, which offers world-class wineries as well as exquisite restaurants by famed chefs such as Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to visit this amazing city, Regatta returns to San Francisco several times in 2014. Because many cruises embark or disembark here, you can take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel programs and spend a few extra days exploring the city before or after your cruise. It will be an experience you will never forget!

Regatta in San Francisco:

August 14, 2013

A SECOND LOOK AT EPHESUS

DSCF0970 - Version 2There are certain places in the world that are worth revisiting because they are so rich in history and beauty. Ephesus is one of those places, and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the great fortune of visiting this extraordinary archaeological site twice. Today guests onboard Riviera’s Sacred Sanctuaries voyage explored the ruins of this magnificent city.

Ephesus is 13 miles from the port city of Kusadasi and 10 miles from the Aegean coastline, so I was a little surprised to discover that this landlocked city was previously one of the most important ports in the world. As a result of the silting of the Meander River, what was once the bay had become marshland by the end of seventh century, and 60,000 people were killed by malaria from the mosquitoes. The town was rebuilt nearby, but because it was no longer a port city, it never regained its prior importance.

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During Roman times, the population of Ephesus was 250,000, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Most of the ruins that can be seen today were originally built between the first century BC and first century AD. Ephesus was uniquely positioned in both place and time to be at the center of perhaps the greatest evolution of religious philosophy in history. Sacred monuments in the city pay homage to the Greek goddess Artemis as well as the Apostle Saint John.

Ephesus is thought to be where Jesus sent Saint John and the Virgin Mary after his death. After being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote Revelations, John came back to Ephesus and died of natural causes at the age of 100. He was purportedly the only apostle who was not martyred. John was buried in Ephesus in the place where he died, and later the Basilica of St. John was built over his grave.

Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis had been standing in Ephesus since centuries earlier. Even though only one column remains, you can still see the foundations of this magnificent construction from the Hellenistic period, which stand a few hundred meters from the primary archaeological site of Ephesus. While the ruins are sparse, it is nevertheless impressive to stand at the foundations of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and envision its past glory. The temple was four times larger than the Parthenon and had 127 columns, each standing nearly 60 feet high.

Ephesus was plundered by numerous invaders over the centuries, and marble from the Temple of Artemis was used to build the Basilica of St. John, which then later became a mosque. At any given point in history, Ephesus was under the control of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and other empires.

Archaeologists have been excavating Ephesus since the 1890s. Among the many fascinating discoveries was the sophisticated water collection system that brought water from huge cisterns on the hill down into the city via clay pipes. This ancient city had running water!

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I was astonished to find that original marble remains on the main road through the city, which leads down to the most famous edifice in Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. It took seven years to reconstruct the façade, 75 percent of which is original. First built in the first century AD in honor of the Roman senator Celsus, the library was destroyed by an earthquake in the third century and only the façade survived. It remained a monument until it, too, was destroyed by an earthquake.

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The magnificent Great Theater is the largest Roman theater in Turkey and the best preserved in the world. 

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The acoustics in the theater are so advanced that it has hosted modern performers, such as Diana Ross, U2, Sting and Pavarotti, without the need for amplification. Overlooking what was once the harbor, it seats 25,000 and it is believed that Saint Paul preached here. Because most people were idol worshippers at the time, there were tradesmen, especially silversmiths, who made money selling idols. Paul’s preaching warned against idolatry and threatened the livelihood of these tradesmen, so he met with resistance and persecution during the three years he was in Ephesus.

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The center of Ephesus was relocated a few times during its long history, but remarkably, it stood at the location of this archaeological site for a millennium. Centuries of earthquakes and changing landscapes buried and protected these ruins so that today we can take an incredible journey back in time. Whether you visit once or many times, Ephesus always has more fascinating history to reveal, and I highly recommend any of the upcoming Oceania Cruises sailings that call on this amazing city.

The following voyages visit Ephesus in 2013:

 

 

August 2, 2013

THE AMAZING GEIRANGERFJORD

Guests onboard Nautica recently visited the incredible Geirangerfjord on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and this weekend Marina’s guests will also have the opportunity to see this breathtaking destination on the Isles & Fjords voyage.

Just northeast of Bergen, Geirangerfjord is one of the world’s longest and deepest fjords and is considered an archetypal fjord landscape. Its exceptionally captivating beauty derives from its narrow canal flanked by steep-sided rock walls that rise over 4,500 feet above sea level and descend more than 1,500 feet below.

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The sheer walls of the fjord have numerous waterfalls, the most famous being the Seven Sisters. The falls are made up of seven separate streams, the tallest cascading from a height of 820 feet.

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At the head of this nine-mile fjord is the little village of Geiranger, where Marina will stop on this journey so that guests can further explore this astounding fjord.

Highlights of a shore excursion in Geirangerfjord include Eagle's Bend, a viewpoint reached by a meandering road of switchbacks and hairpin turns that climbs to a fantastic vista of the scenic mountains and the fjord below. At Flydal Gorge, the view towards the fjord is also superb. The ship in the distance looks like a toy boat, giving you a perspective on the soaring height of the mountain cliffs that embrace the fjord.

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Equally scenic is the lovely Djupvatn Lake. Usually covered by ice and snow until the end of June, the lake lies over 3,000 feet above sea level and is part of the Otta river system.

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Next year offers just a single opportunity to visit the magnificent Geirangerfjord, when Nautica sails there on Path of the Midnight Sun, which departs on August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see one of the most fantastic fjords in the world! 

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

July 22, 2013

NAUTICA GUESTS FOLLOW THE MIDNIGHT SUN

Guests onboard Nautica wrapped up a thrilling journey to the top of the world today on Voyage of the Midnight Sun, and to celebrate we are sharing photos provided by guests who have enjoyed this adventure in the past. Typically Oceania Cruises offers an itinerary that ventures this far north just once a year, and it is a special trip for guests who truly yearn to explore the far reaches of the world. Remote and indescribably beautiful, these northern ports offer a glimpse of untouched areas seldom seen by most travelers.

Kristiansand, the capital of Vest-Agder County in Southern Norway, is Norway’s fifth largest city, with approximately 90,000 residents. Founded in the 17th century by King Christian IV, the old section of the town is brimming with character, notably its strictly right-angled streets called kvadraturen in Norwegian. This photo of the shores of Kristiansand captures the quaint beauty of the city.

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Equally as enchanting is Bergen, which has been one of Norway’s major port cities since the 9th century. On the Troldhaugen & Fantoft Stave Church Tour, guests enjoyed a fascinating tour of Bergen and the suburbs including a stop at Troldhaugen, the home Edvard Grieg, one of Norway’s most famous composers. The excursion also visited the stunning Fantoft Stave Church, originally built in 1150. After a fire in 1992, the church was reconstructed exactly like the original, using timber from the Sognefjord forests north of Bergen.

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In North Cape many guests participated in a crab fishing expedition on a deep-sea raft in the waters near Sarnesfjord. King crabs can live up to 30 years, measure up to 6.5 feet between their claws and weigh as much as 22 pounds. The king crabs caught on this excursion weighed in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, and guests enjoyed a fantastic meal at the end of the day.

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One of the northernmost towns in the world, Hammerfest is situated on Kvaløya Island. The modern town was completely reconstructed after it was destroyed in World War II. The Hammerfest and Sami Camp Walking Tour explores the streets of this beautiful town and also visits Mikkelgammen Sami camp, where guests learn about the history and culture of the Sami people. On this excursion guests were treated to a reindeer spotting along the way.

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Surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers that rise majestically from the Arctic Ocean, Magdalena Bay is embraced by absolute wilderness and is covered with ice most of the year. One of the most remote and exotic places in the world, the bay is renowned for its pristine beauty. Very few travelers ever make it this far north, which is why this cruise was especially exciting for Oceania Cruises guests.

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The journey ended in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark since the 13th century. Far from being spoiled by modern developments, the city has done a remarkable job blending 20th century additions with the old world charm.

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This unique cruise that makes its way to some of the northernmost destinations in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and usually this type of itinerary is offered only once a year. Next year Nautica will journey north on the Path of the Midnight Sun, departing August 2, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth!

 

Photos by Peter Pretty

July 17, 2013

OCEANIA CRUISES ANNOUNCES ITS FIRST-EVER AROUND THE WORLD CRUISE

The year 2013 marks Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary, and we have been celebrating with a number of signature sailings and special events. Today we look forward to our next decade at sea with a new milestone: Around the World in 180 Days. The first-ever around the world cruise in Oceania Cruises history, this unprecedented, port-intensive voyage onboard the elegant Insignia sets sail from Miami on January 10, 2015, and circumnavigates the globe.

Insignia’s 180-day journey begins by visiting boutique ports in the Caribbean and then steers south to South America and east to Africa before heading to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Hawaii. Via the Panama Canal, Insignia returns to Miami on July 8, 2015. This extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime voyage will visit five continents, 44 countries and 89 ports of call and will feature 11 overnight stays plus 4 two-night calls in Cape Town, South Africa; Yangon, Myanmar (Burma); Singapore, Singapore; and Shanghai, China.

 

“As the leading specialist in destination cruising, we wanted to create a unique port-intensive voyage that reflects the dreams of the true explorer, rather than speed across the seas racing to the next convenient port as is the norm in a typical 100- to 110-day world cruise,” says Oceania Cruises President Kunal S. Kamlani. “By eliminating the 100-day time constraint, we freed ourselves to conceive a remarkable dream voyage designed to visit the world’s most fascinating destinations.” 

In addition to crossing the equator four times and sailing through all 24 time zones, the Around the World in 180 Days cruise will traverse three oceans and 10 seas, call on 45 islands and offer the chance to visit 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of the 89 ports visited on this extraordinary cruise, 13 are new to Oceania Cruises, including Corinto, Nicaragua; El Guamache (Isla Margarita), Venezuela; Langkawi, Malaysia; Santa Marta, Colombia; and Xiamen, China.

Bookings for the Around the World in 180 Days cruise open today and feature two-for-one cruise fares, free FIRST CLASS round-trip airfare and free pre-paid gratuities. Additionally, guests will receive free visa packages including visas for 16 countries, unlimited Internet and laundry service, luggage delivery, round-trip transfers and free onboard medical service, a first for the industry. Guests will also enjoy a one-night pre-cruise luxury hotel stay in Miami and free exclusive shoreside events in Walvis Bay, Namibia; Myanmar; Bangkok; Beijing and Honolulu. 

Early Booking Savings of up to 70 percent will be available through September 17, 2013. We hope you will join us on this journey of a lifetime!

July 7, 2013

ANNIVERSARY SAILING CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF SPECTACULAR DESTINATIONS AND FINE CUISINE

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Greetings from the Italian Escapade sailing onboard Riviera and the ongoing celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. It has been a wonderful cruise so far, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet many of our past and first time guests. I couldn’t be more proud of the officers and crew who continue to make everyone onboard a part of the Oceania Cruises family.

DSCN1004-2Oceania Cruises was founded on the vision of a group of people with a passion for spectacular destinations and fine cuisine, and we are enjoying both as part of this anniversary sailing. In celebration of 10 years of culinary delights, Senior Executive Chef Alexis Quaretti and Bon Appétit Culinary Center Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly hosted a culinary demonstration. I welcomed guests to the event and shared a bit about the culinary history of Oceania Cruises before turning it over to the experts to share some of the secrets behind our exquisite cuisine.

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As we were celebrating 10 years at sea, it seemed appropriate that the chefs would prepare dishes from the sea. They demonstrated three guest favorites: Salmon Gravlax with Cucumber Salad, Poached Halibut with Lemon Cream Cuisson on a Quinoa Cake, and the ever-popular Red Ginger specialty – Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass. It was both educational and heartwarming to see Chef Quaretti and Chef Kelly, two special members of the Oceania Cruises family, working together to share their knowledge with our guests and illustrating one of the reasons that our guests have continued to return to us for the past 10 years: the finest cuisine at sea prepared by some of the most talented – and entertaining – chefs in the culinary world.

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Soon after the demonstration, Riviera dropped anchor in Sorrento with the impressive Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. Situated on a terrace overlooking the splendid Amalfi coastline, Sorrento is imbued with charm and echoes of the ancient past.

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There are a number of appealing ways to spend a day in Sorrento, from going to see the ruins of ancient Pompeii to visiting the Blue Grotto in Capri to simply walking around the rustic, sun-drenched town of Sorrento. The Blue Grotto was on the bucket list of many guests, so a group of us boarded a ferry and headed to Capri for the afternoon.

The grotto is a uniquely beautiful sea cave on the coast of the island of Capri. A small opening in the cave at the surface of the water and a larger opening beneath the surface provide the only light sources. We entered the grotto through the small opening, just large enough for a rowboat to pass through. Inside the cavern itself was dark, but the water was illuminated with a brilliant blue glow. The effect was absolutely dazzling. It’s difficult to fully capture the beauty of the experience in a photograph, so if you haven’t visited the Blue Grotto, I highly recommend you add it to your own bucket list.

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After a spectacular day in Sorrento, we returned to the ship and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Jacques. Then everyone gathered on the pool deck for a sail away party.

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Cruise Director Leslie Jon was emcee of the event, and General Manager Thierry Tholon led the entire crew in a parade around the decks. This was truly an emotional evening as the officers and crew of Riviera celebrated Oceania Cruises' 10th anniversary with our cherished guests.

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I look forward to more celebrations with our guests, officers and crew, and I’ll share further stories here on the blog as our Italian Escapade continues.

July 6, 2013

Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani Launches 10th Anniversary Sailing with Chef Kelly on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Livorno

L1070125Summer has arrived in Tuscany and so has Oceania Cruises President Kunal Kamlani, who joined me to host a special sailing on Riviera in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. What better way to celebrate than with fellow food and wine enthusiasts on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Tuscany!

We started the morning in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship for an orientation to the day’s schedule and then boarded our coach for a short ride to the Mercato Centrale in Livorno.

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This market has been a favorite of mine for years because it yields exquisite products, and I also love its atmosphere. Like many public daily markets that we visit, there is a central closed building as well as individual stalls spilling out on all sides from the main market. As July is upon us, there were willowy yellow zucchini blossoms, fresh cherries and fragrant tomatoes. Don’t you just love the smell of a great tomato?

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All guests were given a shopping assignment, so they set off to experience the local ambiance of the market. Some stopped for a cappuccino and others headed to our favorite cheese shop. One couple was celebrating their 50-year anniversary with us, and this was the perfect beginning to their cruise and celebration.

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L1070088We enjoyed an hour at the market exploring the meat and cheese counters, vegetable stalls and fishmongers. Then our sous chefs, Asif and Raj, gathered up our purchases and returned to the ship to prepare for this afternoon’s cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The rest of us returned to the coach for a miniature picnic of Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, focaccia, cherries and fresh mozzarella to fortify us for the day’s adventure in Tuscany.

I have led this Culinary Discovery Tour several times now, and every time we drive up the long cypress-lined driveway of Torre a Cenaia, I feel like I am on a film set for a quintessential Tuscan movie! The family is always so welcoming and happy to see our group from Oceania Cruises.

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We began with a visit to the winery and cellars, and on this day they were bottling, which was very exciting. We heard the constant clinking of the bottles as they left the warehouse to be taken into the cellar for storage. Outside of the winery, our horse-drawn carriage awaited us. The driver told me that the horses were quite frisky this morning because the grass is so lush and green – and they had been eating all night!

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Off we went for a tour of the villa. We saw the sangiovese and vermentino vineyards, lovely ponds and local pheasants, and everyone enjoyed taking in the beauty of this authentic Tuscan farm. At the end of the tour, we arrived at the 300-year-old farmhouse that had been converted into a kitchen with a wood-fired oven. Chef David was there to greet us and begin my favorite part of the tour – the cooking!

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Pizza dough was the first item on the agenda. While making our dough, we learned that some of our guests were of Italian heritage, so this was like coming home for them and a great way to spend the first day of their cruise with us! While our pizza dough rested, we moved on to focaccia. We shaped the dough into an oval shape, punched it down with our fingers and spread it with olive oil (lots of it!) and sea salt. Into the oven it went, and while it cooked, we began tasting some wines from the Pitti family vineyards. We started with a chardonnay–sauvignon blanc blend and then moved on to two vermentinos, one quite young and the other aged in acacia oak for a bit longer. Both wines were spectacular, and the second was particularly good with the family’s salami, which made the perfect complement to our wine tasting.

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Next up was the highlight of our trip – pizza! We took full advantage of the farm’s bounty and made too many pizzas to count – with vegetables, farm sausage, cheese, salami and even just plain tomato sauce. At the market I had purchased some burrata cheese, and we enjoyed it with our pizza, focaccia and, of course, more wine! This time we tasted a delicious sangiovese, a rosé and a sangiovese-cabernet blend.

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L1070130As we sat together family-style around the table, sampling the wines and pizza and focaccia, we all commented on how this was such a wonderful way to travel. To meet and interact with locals, share their home and cooking secrets, and relax over great food and wine – what a blessing!

Our meal would not have been complete without dessert, so for our final recipe we prepared cantucci. This sweet bread is often baked twice to make biscotti, although we would enjoy the original version baked once in the wood-fired oven. We grated fresh lemon to add to the eggs, sugar, butter, flour and anise seeds that made up this yummy “biscuit,” as they call it in Livorno.

While the cantucci was baking, we strolled back to the winery to sample a late-harvest vermentino and take in the fabulous surroundings of olive trees, fresh blooming lavender, sunflowers poking their early green stems from the rich earth and sensuous flowering annuals overflowing their pots. Soon the cantucci was ready, and we enjoyed its buttery deliciousness as the grand finale to our day at this beautiful Tuscan farm. It was then time to say “arrivederci” and return to Riviera.

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After a short siesta on the coach ride back to the ship, we met at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class celebrating the foods of Tuscany and the many things we purchased at the market that day. We had found some zucchini blossoms, so we made zucchini fritters with chickpea flour. We also found fabulous cherry tomatoes and made a batch of Chianti-style crostini rossi. The class focused primarily on fresh pasta, and I was so proud of all the great pasta that our students made.

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L1070136We topped off the day with a salted caramel ice cream and a pine nut cake that we had purchased at the market.

What a great way to kick off this 10th anniversary sailing! Kunal had the chance to visit at length with some guests who were on their first voyage with Oceania Cruises as well as some guests who had sailed with us before. I always enjoy having our executives along on Culinary Discovery Tours, not only because they are true lovers of food and wine but also because they are able to interact with the guests and see how much everyone enjoys this unique program and the truly special experience it offers. There are more Culinary Discovery Tours to come on this cruise, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon!

June 25, 2013

BOB BINDER JOINS CHEF KELLY TO LAUNCH NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN TALLINN

Upon my first visit to Tallinn a few years ago, I was enchanted by the spires, pastel-colored buildings and fairytale-like qualities of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So over this past winter, I decided to design a Culinary Discovery Tour that would highlight the unique personality and intriguing history of this magical city. This week I was thrilled to be able to launch the new tour on our anniversary sailing celebrating Oceania Cruises’ 10th year at sea. Oceania Cruises Vice Chairman Bob Binder is hosting the sailing, and he was pleased to join me on this exciting new Culinary Discovery Tour.

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Because the sea is such an integral part of Estonian culture, we crafted our tour around a local fisherman and famous Tallinn personality,Vladislav Korzets. He is not only a fisherman but also a poet, cookbook author and naturalist.

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Vladislav welcomed us at the seaside village of Pringi, northeast of Tallinn. This fishing village has an immaculately restored facility with reconstructed fishing sheds, smokehouses, drying racks and net-mending platforms.

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On the grassy banks of the sea, we watched in awe as our host brought forth dish after dish of fish specialties – each with an explanation of the fish, its fishing history and the best ways to prepare or preserve it!

The first offering was a steaming bowl of fragrant fish stew, made with pike and leeks in a light milk broth. Vladislav explained that traditionally milk was only added to fish soup for a celebration, as milk was not plentiful in Estonia and was reserved for special occasions. Served with the fish stew was a croissant-like pastry with cheese and a smoked Tallinn sardine with herbs. Absolutely delicious! We were also treated to several wines to try with our fish. Both the soup and the wines were a big hit with Bob and all of our guests.

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Tallinn sardines are quite a delicacy, and each one of us received a baby blue can of these little treasures to take home with us. We were informed that there is a season for these fish and that the quota had just recently been reached – halting the fishing season for this year. So our timing was perfect, and our host was very generous to share this special treat with us.

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Next up was a brown bread with a pickled sardine and some vinegar and herbs. This was a real crowd favorite, as the tangy brown bread, sour vinegar, salty fish and fresh herbs made the perfect flavor combination.

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Vladislav then brought out a more exotic fish for us to try: smoked eel. This, too, is a delicacy because after the fall of the Soviet empire, Germans came to Estonia and their unquenchable demand for eel drove up the price. Some of us had never tried smoked eel, and a few were a bit nervous about tasting this exotic delicacy, but as culinary explorers, we all forged ahead. To our collective delight, we found it to be delicious! It tasted a bit like smoked monkfish – mild and buttery.

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The last two dishes were pike and salmon. The pike was marinated and then grilled, and the salmon was pegged to a stake and smoked over an open fire right there in front of us!

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After a few magical hours with Vladislav, it was time to bid a fond farewell. We all agreed that it had been quite a treat to see a true local legend in his element.

On our way back to the coach, we strolled past a vegetable and herb garden and came upon a fisherman smoking a huge catch of the day. He generously lifted the blanketed roof of the smoker to show us his technique, and we enjoyed yet another enlightening culinary experience thanks to the kindness of the locals.

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We then returned to the coach and were off to the Old Town for a tour of the Luscher & Matiesen wine cellar.

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We were greeted by one of the owners, an entrepreneur who restored this former distillery into a classic Tallinn-style wine bar and one of the city’s most popular destinations. 

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I have always found the winery and coffeehouse scene in Tallinn to be so unique and inviting: the pastel walls of basement enclaves with overstuffed sofas and candlelight, where locals talk politics and drink wine into the wee hours of the night. You can sense the energy in this city, having won back its independence and now celebrating freedoms so long denied. It was delightful sharing the dreams of this young entrepreneur, and while many of the wines offered were imported from faraway lands, we still enjoyed an authentic taste of Estonian culture.

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After sipping a few wines, we meandered down the cobblestone streets to a new café housed in the restored bank building, Scheeli Panga Kohvik. It was time for dessert, so we enjoyed a delicate cheesecake as well as a sample of Vana Tallinn, a wonderful local liqueur that to me tastes like a caramel brandy.

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As we strolled back through the unique buildings and quaint shops of the Old Town to meet the coach and return to the ship, we all agreed that Tallinn was a place we would like to visit again. Once back onboard, we met in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a Flavors of the Sea class, so we could master some of the techniques used to prepare the delicious fish we had enjoyed that day. And to further preserve our memories, we made a yummy vanilla ice cream flavored with Vana Tallinn. None of us will soon forget the delicious flavors of this charming and historic city.

June 21, 2013

BEETS, SAUERKRAUT AND CHERRIES: Can you guess where Chef Kelly is?

L1050109-2One of the nicest things about our second season of Culinary Discovery ToursTM is returning to see the local chefs and culinary experts that we met last season in the Baltic and Mediterranean. 

Such was the case this week in Riga when Chef Karlis greeted us at the port with hugs and stories of the cold Latvian winter. Chef Karlis was born and educated in Seattle but moved to Latvia 10 years ago in search of the authentic “peasant” cuisine that he refers to as “Latvian fusion.” This balance of simplicity, Baltic ingredients and seasonality is the hallmark of the restaurants and food trucks for which Chef Karlis is now known in Riga.

The sky was blue, the temperature was perfect and we were off to the Central Market. This impressive collection of five 20th-century German zeppelin hangars was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses more than 3,000 vendors in 778,000 square feet. Each of the five hangars is dedicated to its own product: fish, dairy, meat, dried and pickled delicacies, or baked goods. The colorful and impressive displays held our attention, and until we looked up, it was easy to forget that we were in a building that was once a hangar for gigantic zeppelins! 

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We began in the fish pavilion, where Chef Karlis informed us that the fish in Latvia primarily come from freshwater streams. We then continued on to the pavilion dedicated to smoked fish and pickled vegetables to sample some sauerkraut, pickled carrots, garlic-infused pickles and curry-turmeric cabbage. We also tasted several local cheeses laced with nettles and herbs. 

 

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Since it’s spring in Latvia, the peas and cherries were abundant. There were also cups full of wild strawberries from the local forests.

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My favorite part of this market is the section devoted to flowers, and on this trip I found them to be just as beautiful as I remembered. The rows and rows of colorful begonias, petunias, hanging baskets and herbs were just breathtaking!

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After a lively stroll through the market, we were off to Chef Karlis’ teaching kitchen in the old city.  The kitchen sits on the second floor of a charming bed and breakfast that is typical of the café-bohemian style of this quaint neighborhood. 

Chef Karlis and his staff had set up his kitchen with work stations where we would help him prepare our Latvian fusion luncheon. The menu for the day was a chilled beet soup with quail egg and goat cheese, a braised pork belly with spring vegetables and a fruit salad with kefir and black bread crumble. 

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L1060927Our job as sous chefs was to peel and chop roasted beets, shuck fresh peas, shell quail eggs and scrub baby carrots. With aprons on and knives in hand, our tour group pitched in and had a lot of fun working together. Chef Karlis instructed us as to how to complete each task and also shared with us his culinary philosophy.

After about an hour in the kitchen, it was time to take a seat at the beautifully set table. This is one of my favorite times on any Culinary Discovery Tour – chatting with our guests, interacting with chefs and culinary experts in their home settings and relaxing in an authentically local environment. On this tour we were joined by Bob Binder, who is not only one of the founders of Oceania Cruises but also one of the creators of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center. Bob certainly enjoyed jumping in with the kitchen prep work and mingling with our guests in a relaxed atmosphere. And I have to say I was quite impressed with Bob’s knife skills!

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Lunch was delightful. The beet soup was an elegant combination of sweet from the beets, creamy from the goat cheese and texture from the quail egg – all topped with the spike of fresh and fragrant dill. 

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The pork was fork tender and lightened by the fresh, seasonal peas and baby carrots. Chef Karlis garnished this dish with pea shoots and a radish peel, which I thought elevated the rustic dish to the level of haute cuisine! The meal also included a tasting of three local beers that made for great conversation about which ones we liked best with which dishes. We finished our lunch with wild forest strawberries and other berries on top of a crumble made with dried black bread and a yogurt and berry coulis. 

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The day was such fun and was perfectly capped off with a return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard Marina for a class on crepe making, using cheeses, mushrooms, meats, tomatoes and herbs purchased at the market earlier that day.

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We topped our dessert crepes with my new recipe for salted caramel ice cream, which I’ve included below in case you’d like to try it at home.

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon Maldon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and milk. Heat, stirring frequently, until nearly boiling, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Meanwhile, in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes to a light brown color, about 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as the sugar caramelizes, stir the hot cream mixture into the caramel. Decrease the heat to low.

In a medium bowl, stir together the beaten eggs and a small amount of the hot caramel mixture to temper the eggs. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel mixture. Cook on low for about 10 minutes to form a custard.

Add ½ teaspoon of the salt to the mixture. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using an ice cream maker with a frozen bowl, let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to the bowl, but be careful not to cool the mixture too much or the caramel will solidify. When the ice cream is prepared, sprinkle it with the remaining ½ teaspoon of Maldon salt.

I hope you enjoy the recipe, and I hope you have the chance to join us on a Culinary Discovery Tour in Riga on an Oceania Cruises voyage in the near future!

June 15, 2013

BOB BINDER & CHEF KELLY LAUNCH NEW BALTIC CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS ON ANNIVERSARY SAILING

Vice Chairman Bob Binder is currently onboard Marina hosting a sailing in celebration of Oceania Cruises’ 10th anniversary. I’ve joined him on this wonderful voyage because, as part of the many festivities and special events, we are launching an exciting new season of Culinary Discovery Tours in the Baltic. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Oceania Cruises’ 10 years of destination-rich itineraries and exquisite cuisine than with a series of new tours offering an in-depth, hands-on culinary experience of a diverse array of local cultures.

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Today Bob and I kicked off the Baltic season by welcoming guests on our new Culinary Discovery Tour in Oslo, which includes a visit to the famed Mathallen Food Hall and a lunch with beer pairings at a local restaurant that is both historic and trendy. 

L1060818We began the morning in Marina’s Bon Appétit Culinary Center with an overview of New Nordic Cuisine, which has been setting the pace in the local, fresh and simple culinary trend among chefs worldwide. Initiated by the chefs of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, a group of 14 chefs from the Nordic region held a summit in 2004 to discuss their passion for local, fresh, simple and sustainable cuisine, which soon put this culinary region on the map. We also discussed the salmon farming industry and how Norway continues to lead the world in the innovative arena of aquaculture.

After the overview, we were off on this sunny, Nordic spring day to our first stop at the courtyard of the Mathallen Food Hall. We were greeted by our host for the day, the owner of the smallest pub in Oslo, which seats only 16 guests and was officially opening that night. Before entering the pristine food hall to explore the 33 fascinating stalls, we were treated to a tasting of three artisan beers – so we would be fortified for our shopping adventure. Not knowing much about beer, I was enlightened about this region’s passion for beer and the wide diversity of brewing styles and products. 

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Then we ventured into the food hall for a tasting of cheeses and smoked salmon. The Mathallen Food Hall is a feast for the senses, with each vendor presenting their specialty product in eye-catching and innovative ways. 

 

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The airy, ultra-modern building is quite inviting and caters to those who want to wander and taste, as well as the business person who pops in for a quick bite of lunch. After a brief orientation, we were off to try some local cheeses – an assortment of soft blues and aged sheep cheese with a hint of juniper berry. We were then treated to a lovely taste of smoked salmon and cream cheese as well as another local beer. 

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Each pair of guests were given a shopping assignment and 200 kroner, so we had about 30 minutes of free time to purchase local and seasonal produce, some cured meat, specialty preserves and other delicacies. We wandered the market, taking in all of the eye-popping displays and delicious offerings. There were even beautiful carvings made from a turnip!


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L1060863One of the things I love most about our Culinary Discovery Tours is the opportunity to interact with the local vendors.  And the experience is all the more meaningful because we are able to return to the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard the ship, where we can taste our purchases and make local dishes. The hands-on experience gives us an even greater appreciation and understanding of our experiences ashore.

At the cheese tasting, one of our guests purchased her favorite cheese and planned to share it with the class later that day.

L1060877When our shopping was complete, it was time to take a brief walk to our luncheon spot, Akersberget, which sits at the base of a mountain that was previously a mining site. The red-painted wood building had a rustic yet upscale Nordic ambiance. This charming and very trendy restaurant is booked for months in advance, but we were fortunate that our host had agreed to open for a special luncheon exclusively for Oceania Cruises guests! 

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We took a seat in the restaurant and were soon poured a glass of beer to welcome us. (I’m starting to figure out that beer really is the national drink of Norway!) The chefs were beginning to plate our lunch, so we grabbed a quick sneak peek at their handiwork.

 

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Soon we were served a fabulous white fish in a light sauce with new potatoes, spring carrots, baby spinach and radish foam. Bob said the potatoes were his favorite, and we soon learned the secret: they were simmered in butter, herbs, sugar and – of course – beer!

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L1060889We all enjoyed sitting around the table together, not only savoring a wonderful meal but also meeting new friends and hearing about where they had traveled. We finished our lunch with a chocolate fondant cake with fresh strawberries and, you guessed it, a dark beer that paired perfectly with the chocolate!

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After saying a heartfelt thank you to our host and chefs, we boarded the coach for a quick tour of downtown Oslo and its distinctive architecture.  The city was alive with locals and tourists, all enjoying the beautiful, crisp, sunny day. Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems that there is more oxygen in the Baltic, and today I had happy lungs breathing in this clean Nordic air!

As with all of our Culinary Discovery Tours, we met back at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center onboard for a brief class to bring together what we saw and learned today. Bob was pleased to discover that the culinary center has a magical machine that churns out granitas in just 20 minutes. So we started by making my special recipe using champagne, lemon and St. Germain, the liqueur made from the fragrant Alpine elderflower. As we sipped our cocktails, each guest shared what they had purchased at the market today.

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The class was devoted to salmon, so we made smoked and poached salmon rillettes with toasts, as well as gravlax. It was a delightful way to end our special day in this enchanting city of trendy restaurants, stunning architecture and, of course, its passion for beer!

Just in case my elderflower cocktail appeals to you as much as a beer does, here is the recipe:

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) cold sparkling wine
  • 1½ cups simple syrup, infused with lemon rind and cooled
  • ½ cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour all ingredients into and ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer's instructions. Enjoy!

June 14, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES A NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR IN RHODES

I have so many fond memories of visits to the Greek island of Rhodes with Oceania Cruises. One of my first is from 2008, when we celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday on an Oceania Cruises’ voyage. Underneath the shadow of the ruins in the old city of Rhodes, I had a memorable lunch at Hatzikelis, feasting on some of the best grilled fish I’d ever had. Until then I had never tasted tzatziki – that heavenly mixture of cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon juice and creamy Greek yogurt. I was certain I would never be able to replicate this lunch at home, so I promised myself that I would return someday.

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I have returned to Rhodes many times. Since joining Oceania Cruises as executive chef of the Bon Appétit Culinary Center in 2011, I have shared many meals at that family restaurant with friends and family as well as guests and chefs on Marina and Riviera.

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While hosting a luncheon here last fall for Susie Heller and David Shalleck, two of our Bon Appétit Culinary Center chefs, we were all inspired to ask the family to host a Culinary Discovery Tour. They are always so welcoming, taking us into the kitchen and sharing today’s catch as well as their family’s Greek cooking secrets.

Over the winter I worked with the family and staff at Hatzikelis to design an authentic Greek cooking and dining experience for our guests. When Riviera docked for the first time in Rhodes this summer, those plans became a reality, and Hatzikelis hosted their first Culinary Discovery Tour.

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After a very brief walk from the ship, we arrived at the restaurant to tables overflowing with fresh produce, fish, cheeses and bread. Warm smiles and ouzo greeted us on the patio of our hosts’ family restaurant. We were told that the restaurant was originally a bakery, but when Pappa retired and the family business passed to his son, the passion for fish was so profound that the bakery was turned into a fish taverna. Not only was the present owner there to greet us and cook with us, but Pappa also dropped in to round out the hospitality.

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The first dish we made was spinach pie, and we began with the phyllo dough. We made the dough and rolled it out, then filled it with a spinach and feta cheese filling. We popped it into the oven, and our first dish was complete!

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Our next dish was the traditional salad using barley rusks, tomatoes, capers, lettuce, a lovely vinaigrette and sprinkles of fresh oregano.

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No Greek lunch is complete without grilled eggplant. We were able to master the art of charring an eggplant, scooping it out and filling it with a mixture of tomatoes, onions, dill, mint, oregano and Greek yogurt. Smoky eggplant – yum!

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My niece, Sarah, was traveling with me on this cruise, so she stepped in to make the tzatziki. She was so impressed with the family hospitality and Greek food that she promised to return soon and asked if, in the meantime, they might find her a suitable Greek husband! We all enjoyed a good laugh at that comment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does return soon (perhaps with a husband of her own choosing).

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The owner of the restaurant was busy making squid risotto and mussels saganaki, two more dishes we would enjoy over lunch. He also described how to select fresh squid and octopus, just in case we happened to find ourselves in the market for a fresh octopus! Soon after hatching their eggs, squid and octopus die, and often these less than desirable specimens are fished and sold. But we learned how to select a fresh one, which should be firm to the touch and resistant to pressure.

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While various dishes were being finalized and the staff was readying our lunch, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes visit to the kitchen. Now that we had learned how to select fresh squid, we acquired the same expertise regarding fresh fish. We also learned how to clean and filet a sea bass and how to grill it over open flames. The only seasonings used on fish at Hatzikelis are lemon juice and olive oil.

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Finally it was time to sit for lunch and enjoy some delicious local wines and the dishes we had made with the Hatzikelis family. The food just kept coming and coming, with the finale being the day’s catch of fresh fish, which was perfectly grilled.

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After saying farewell with lots of hugs goodbye and promises to return, guests were free to stroll the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rhodes. Later we returned to Riviera for a cooking class in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center to review what we had learned earlier that day.

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If you are planning a cruise that includes Rhodes on either Marina or Riviera this year, you will definitely want to put this special Culinary Discovery Tour on your “must-do list.” It’s a fabulous day with a friendly family who makes you feel welcome – and well fed – in the warmth and hospitality of the Greek island of Rhodes.

June 6, 2013

ICONS OF THE ETERNAL CITY

Today both Nautica and Riviera are in Civitavecchia – the gateway to Rome. Traveling just an hour or so inland takes you to the Eternal City and all of its legends and wonders. Western society is rife with images that give us a notion of the grandeur of Rome, but until you visit, it’s difficult to truly conceive the immensity of the city.

Amidst the classical architecture and ancient relics sprout the trappings of modern man, from high-end fashion boutiques to souvenir shops selling aprons that make you resemble a gladiator. This mélange draws criticism from some visitors, but I actually feel a relative sense of harmony in the city considering its vastness. I enjoy grabbing a gelato and then rounding the corner onto a 17th century piazza that transports me back in time – or a forum more than two thousand years old that takes me back much further.

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I recently returned to Rome as Blogger-at-Large, and because I had already seen many of the historic monuments, I had a simpler plan this time: espresso, pasta, vino, gelato. But despite my intent to focus on culinary culture, and despite the rain that assured me this was a wise decision, I found myself drawn back to the city’s landmarks for another look. It just didn’t seem right to go to Rome without strolling by the Colosseum and tossing a coin in Trevi Fountain. This trip confirmed that, no matter how many times I visit Rome, I will always be awed by its icons, learn more of its history and discover new wonders.

On this trip I joined the Oceania Cruises excursion Rome on Your Own, which was great for those who have visited before. It provided transportation from the ship to the city and back, with the added benefit of an informative guide along the way who shared historical facts, helpful tips and a well-marked city map.

We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo, a large, impressive square that was a great starting point because from here Via del Corso led right into the heart of the city. Several of Rome’s most famous monuments are within blocks of this main street.

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The fact that I wanted to visit some landmarks did not deter me from my original plan, and I began the day with a delicious cappuccino. Buoyed with espresso, I set off for Trevi Fountain, passing by the famed Spanish Steps during the first of several rain showers that day. Like the horses pulling the carriages, I donned my rain gear and forged ahead. The famed Trevi Fountain had to be my first stop so that I didn’t miss the chance to toss in a coin to ensure that I would return to Rome again.

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Trevi Fountaoin and LPF Spanish Steps

After tossing the requisite coin and taking a few minutes to gaze at the majestic fountain, I headed for the Pantheon. Once a temple to the Roman gods and now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. While hardly visible from the front of the Pantheon, its dome is one of the most impressive features. To this day it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Its oculus is completely open, acting as the only source of natural light and also allowing in rain. It was remarkable to see the sunlight and showers falling from the heavens into the center of the church.

Pantheon panorama

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Pantheon Alter

Pantheon Inside

As I left the Pantheon, I was pleased to see it was time for lunch. On to the pasta and vino part of my plan! The Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon is surrounded by cafés, which one might assume are tourist traps because of their location. But while the prices may be a bit higher than a restaurant off the beaten path, the food I had there was delicious. And I was happy to pay a little extra for the view!

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The Piazza della Rotunda 3

I’ve eaten twice at the café on the southwest corner of the square, and I confess I had the lasagna both times. If you like your lasagna with béchamel sauce, then the lasagna in Toscana onboard the ship can compete with just about anything shoreside. But while I love a good béchamel, I sometimes prefer to forgo the milk and butter in favor of a hearty tomato sauce in its purest form, and in that case, the best I’ve ever had was at the café on Piazza della Rotunda. If you’re in the mood for a white sauce, try the gnocchi with arugula and prosciutto, which is divine!

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Having checked the pasta and vino off my list, I wandered for a bit and stumbled upon the lovely Piazza Navona with the Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, arguably Rome’s greatest achievement in the fountain genre.

Piazza Navona Sant'agnese in Agone church

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I continued south again and arrived at a work that is modern architecture by Roman standards, the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument has met with some controversy since its inauguration in 1911 because an area of Capitoline Hill was destroyed to create it.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

The Cordonata, a grand staircase designed by Michelangelo, led to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, the smallest but most famous of the seven hills of Rome and the origin of the English word, “capitol.” Once the site of Rome’s holiest temples, the hill fell into ruin in the Middle Ages. Michelangelo was asked to redesign this ancient square in the 16th century, including the Palazzo Senatorio, which is now the city hall and is flanked by the impressive Capitoline museums.

Piazza del Campidoglio

At the base of the hill, I could see the Roman Forum, once the economic, political and religious center of Rome and home to some of the most ancient and renowned excavations in the city. Just beyond the Forum stood the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the world and the most recognized landmark in Rome. Coming from a country just a couple centuries old, I could hardly conceive of a structure that had been standing for a couple millennia, surviving both natural disasters and human plundering.

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Colosseum close

This iconic monument seemed an appropriate place to conclude my day and head back to meet the coach. I grabbed a gelato on the way and completed my culinary tour along with my historic one. I only hope that the legend of Trevi Fountain is indeed true, and that my coin will ensure that I return to this great city again!

May 30, 2013

THE LAUNCH OF A NEW SEASON OF CULINARY DISCOVERY TOURS CONTINUES

In this week’s earlier blog I shared some of the delightful Culinary Discovery Tours™ we just launched for the European season. From the colorful markets of Funchal to the delectable lunch at the famed Chateau Eza, the tours continue to meet with rave reviews from our guests.

Our Culinary Discovery Tour in charming Portofino, Italy, offered a delightful contrast to the elegance of Chateau Eza in France. After a scenic ferry ride, we were greeted in Rapallo by our friend Guido with a sampling of meats, cheeses, olive oils and wines from Liguria.

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Then we took a quick stroll through the market for basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil (guess what we are making?) before heading to Recco to spend the morning with the pasta master at Da O Vittorio. I never tire of watching this master and the grace and speed with which he rolls out his pasta, fills his ravioli and spins his focaccia dough.

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Lunch was fabulous and the pasta-making class was such fun for the guests. I get emails frequently with tales of our students mastering the art of making fresh pasta at home! One of the best ways to serve fresh pasta is with a basil pesto, and as we were in the Liguria region of Italy, where pesto originated, we of course had to make some with our purchases from the market.

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The next region of Italy on our itinerary was Tuscany. No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a visit to Torre a Cenaia for a pizza and focaccia-making class using their wood-fired oven amidst their vineyards and centuries-old Cyprus trees.

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After a stroll through the market in Livorno and a tasting of local ham, we headed off to the winery for a tour and enjoyed a lovely wine tasting while making our pizzas and placing them in the searingly hot outdoor ovens. Then after a carriage ride through the vineyard we returned for sweet wine and biscotti. I could hardly think of a better way to spend an afternoon in Tuscany!

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One of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ I was most excited to launch was the new one we are offering in Venice. It began with a private water taxi ride from the ship along the Grand Canal to the Rialto market. The trip was a real treat in itself!

The market was buzzing and alive with locals, tourists, vendors and, of course, our special Oceania Cruises foodies. After an hour wandering through the market looking at the beautiful scallops and fresh fish and magnificently displayed produce, we were off to the private home of our chef host.

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The magnificent villa was like something out of a Merchant Ivory movie set – so decadently Venetian and yet so welcoming at the same time.

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Our host was a former television chef on the Italian Food Network and conducted an engaging cooking demonstration of local Venetian dishes, such as fried zucchini blossoms and a seafood risotto.

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We sat for a candlelit lunch in her dining room and enjoyed another opportunity to relax with our guests and make new friends while savoring fabulous food and wine!

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Our last stop was the trendy new chocolatier, Vizio Virtù. What better way to finish this day than with spectacular chocolate delicacies?

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You are probably asking yourself the same question my mother asks me, “They pay you to do this job?!” I am excited for more adventures as the season continues with new culinary tours in Rhodes, Corfu, Istanbul and Sicily. You can also join me in the Baltic to launch our new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, Riga, Oslo and Helsinki. If you can’t join me this summer, stay tuned for more culinary discoveries here on the blog!

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Portofino - Ligurian Cuisine & Pasta Making Class

Tuscany - Oven-Fired Focaccia, Biscotti & Pizza at Winery

Venice - Market Tour, Cooking & Chocolate Demos

Rhodes - Cooking Demo in Greek Family Restaurant & Lunch

 Corfu - Culinary Traditions & Greek Cooking

Istanbul - Fish and Spice Markets with Turkish Luncheon at Grand Bazaar 

Taormina, Sicily - Sensuous Sicily

Amsterdam - A Behind-the-Scenes Chef Tour & Lunch

Copenhagen - Food Market, Nordic Food Demo & Lunch

Tallinn - Fish Workshop, Winery Visit & Tallinn's Old Town

Riga - Central Market, Latvian Cooking Demo & Lunch

Oslo - Spectacular Mathallen Food Hall & Norwegian Pub Lunch

Helsinki - Visit to Food Market & Finnish Cooking Class

 

May 29, 2013

CHEF KELLY LAUNCHES NEW CULINARY DISCOVERY TOUR SEASON IN MEDITERRANEAN

L1060426As I sit sipping an Earl Grey tea beneath the centuries-old canopy trees overlooking the waterfront in Rhodes, I can definitely feel that spring is in the air. It is a sunny Saturday in the Mediterranean, and families as well as tourists are out for a seaside walk along the promenade of fishing boats, sailing vessels and, of course, the elegant and majestic Riviera. I just ordered a cheese pie, which I am reluctantly sharing with a few starlings. We chefs are always handing out food!

As I enjoy my lunch, I’ve been thinking about the recent launch of a wonderful new season of Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Europe. As you may remember, Oceania Cruises first unveiled Culinary Discovery Tours™ last year with the christening of Riviera, and we are thrilled with the success of these full-day excursions to the world’s most exciting open markets, restaurants and culinary destinations. I’m delighted to have the chance to share our experiences on this season’s tours.

As Riviera crossed the Atlantic at the end of April to begin the European season, she stopped first in Funchal and then Tangier, where we offer exciting culinary tours in both cities. Madeira, one of my favorite ports, is an enchanting island home to some of the most exotic fruits anywhere, and the local market in Funchal is always an adventure.

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When we arrived, we took a short bus ride to a local fishing harbor where the fishermen were drying their bacala (a dry salted cod), for which the Portuguese are famous. After an hour in the market buying all kinds of passion fruit hybrids and local spices like piri piri, we took a stroll through the old city past brightly colored doors painted by local artists. We had a lovely tasting of local Madeira wines at Blandy’s and then sat for a delicious lunch at a local tavern where we sampled island fish and meat specialties and more local wines.

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Then we were on to Tangier for a day in this city of exotic scents, eager merchants and charming locals. We strolled through the market, bought preserved lemons and herbs for our Moroccan cooking class and dropped some serious cash on a few tagines for the culinary center.

The highlight of our tour was lunch at Detroit, a restaurant that was officially not opening until the following week for the annual visit by the Rolling Stones but treated us to a special preview. We sat above the medina with a beautiful view of the sea while feasting on a meal of couscous and chicken tagine. Dessert was a flaky and delicately seasoned pastilla and a generously sweetened Moroccan tea – our lovely host impressed us all with his pouring skills.

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Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Riviera continued on to Europe and the site of one of my favorite tours from last year, Marseille. I favored this tour mostly because of the delicious meal prepared for us by Gui Gedda, the undisputed godfather of Provence cuisine – not to mention the magnificent Bandol wines we tasted!

This year I kicked off the tour with a shopping stop in the charming fishing village of Sanary-sur-Mer. The merchants were so proud of their spring produce, as well they should be: bright green zucchini, blood oranges and early fresh peas, the ultimate taste of spring.

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Here we met a pastry vendor who, upon hearing my English (and very bad French), asked if I had heard of Jacques Torres. Of course, I told her. She informed me she had studied with the famous chocolatier in New York City. We tasted her chocolate (we had to) and it was soft and flavorful. It just goes to show that the world of food really is very small!

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After our morning admiring the colorful fishing boats and picture-perfect produce, we were off to the Domaine de Souviou for our lunch with Chef Gui and a wine tasting that we so loved last year. 

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Riviera then sailed for Monte Carlo, the point of origin for one of our most popular Culinary Discovery Tours™: a visit to the market in Nice followed by lunch at the famed Chateau Eza. The picturesque market in Nice was brimming with beautiful flowers and produce, and we were all especially impressed with the early white asparagus. Those sweet white vegetables and zucchini blossoms were only a few of the items we had to purchase at the market. And there is always time for socca and a hug from Theresa, the “socca lady.”

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Then we were off to Eza and an unforgettable meal. I always think of Jacques Pépin on this tour because he remembers meals not only by the food but by the company as well. I am touched by the friendships that form around the table here at Chateau Eza. Our guests can relax, visit with one another, share stories of their families at home and enjoy what dining is meant to be, the perfect confluence of food and friendship. The food was exquisite, as always, and served with the ultimate flair!

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Well, I have finished my cheese pie – and the starlings are full – so I will wrap up this blog and return to Riviera. Be sure to check the blog again this week, when I’ll share more stories of our latest Culinary Discovery Tours™ in Italy.

Following are some of the Culinary Discovery Tours™ mentioned in the blog and the sailings on which they are offered – in case you wish to join us!

Tangier - Market Visit, Tangine Shopping & Moroccan Lunch:

Marseille - Exquisite Flavors of Europe:

 Monte Carlo - Local Market Visit & Lunch at Chateau Eza:

 

 

April 26, 2013

50 DAYS AT SEA FOR 50 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

A few days ago I received an email from Peter and Pauline Pretty, loyal Oceania Cruises guests from Oakville, Ontario, sharing several photos from their 50-day Grand Voyage to celebrate 50 years of marriage. You may remember the Prettys from a previous blog post I wrote on their South Pacific cruise or from the article in the January 2013 Your World Your Way brochure. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their wonderful photos as well as congratulate them on this amazing milestone.

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The Prettys feel at home on the ships of Oceania Cruises, one of the many reasons they return year after year, and celebrating such an important anniversary did not go unnoticed on this momentous sailing. Nautica General Manager Jason Gelineau arranged a special celebration at the Polo Grill, Pauline’s favorite restaurant, and the social director, Emmanuelle, serenaded the couple.

Of course, the best part of the Grand Voyage for these adventurers was the nearly two months spent exploring Africa and Asia onboard Nautica. As Nautica prepares to sail for Europe for the summer, the Prettys’ stories provide a lovely recap of some of the highlights of a wonderful winter season.

The Prettys got a feel for the history and culture of Mozambique during a tour of its capital on the Discover Maputo shore excursion. Stops included the Central Train Station designed by Gustav Eiffel, famous for conceiving the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and also the Museum of Natural History, Independence Square and City Hall. Highlights for the Prettys were the opportunity to observe semi-wild lemurs and a visit to a local market where they shared a moment with these adorable kids.

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In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Prettys took the Ingiriya Tea Plantation shore excursion, where they got an insider’s look at how Sri Lanka’s most important cash crop is cultivated. They watched harvesters pick the fresh tea leaves – 65 to 75 pounds a day are collected – and saw how the leaves are processed. Afterward they enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of tea and were able to purchase some to bring home.

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The Prettys frequently enjoyed tea onboard the ship as well because afternoon tea is one of Pauline’s favorite activities. Longer voyages provide the chefs the time to really flex their creative muscles and create an extraordinary event even more splendid than the traditional teatime – the Grand Gala Tea Party. The pastries and cakes were not only beautiful to look at but scrumptious too. Jason and Emmanuelle were among the crew members who were in attendance to celebrate the special occasion.

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Back ashore on the Scenic Phuket & Elephant Camp excursion, the Prettys had the chance to ride an elephant after enjoying an impressive show put on by the elephants and their handlers. In this photo the elephant is hoping that the Prettys will tip with bananas.

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As a contrast to their adventures in the countryside, the Prettys also visited some of Asia’s grandest cities. Known as the “Garden City,” Kuala Lumpur is a modern urban environment with an abundance of greenery and beautifully landscaped parks. The Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world, are an indelible feature of the city’s skyline.

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The Prettys also enjoyed a day exploring Singapore and the truly unique modern landscape.

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We’re so pleased the Prettys shared their photos and these wonderful highlights of Nautica’s season in Africa and Asia. If their adventures have inspired you, now is the perfect time to reserve a voyage for next season. Nautica will be back in Africa starting in December with Lands of Grandeur, and then in Asia starting in February with Pagodas & Palaces.

A special thanks to Peter and Pauline for sharing this special occasion with us, and congratulations on 50 years of marriage!