by Lauren and Ian Wright
Recently, we breakfasted on the terrace the first morning warm enough to dine alfresco here at 5,000 feet in the mountains of Reno. I sipped my Earl Grey, trying to ignore the voice of a television news anchor wafting through the open French doors, droning on endlessly about our President’s latest dilemma. With the media constantly telling us the sky is falling, my spirits had sunk so low, I’d begun to feel like a dead fish cast upon a lonely beach and left to the mercy of the wind and tides.
Those of you who follow our chronicles will remember that Lauren is never happier than when her well shod feet are treading the Promenade Deck in the ocean swells, breathing in the zephyrs of the sea. That particular cocktail of salt air and diesel fuel is more intoxicating than anything mixed up with ice in a silver shaker and served in a long stemmed glass. Daydreaming about swanning down an ocean liner’s grand staircase, swathed in something sinuous and beaded was the only thing keeping me from sinking into a dreadful lassitude and taking no further interest in life. Just when it seemed I was neck deep in the soup with no hope of striking for shore, our agent called to say he’d booked Ian on Celebrity Reflection’s transatlantic crossing where Ian would lecture about his book, On The Brink Of Fame, Pop Stars In The Swinging 60s, available on Amazon.com (forgive the shameless plug).
With all immediate worries becoming increasingly evanescent; my thoughts were consumed with packing which I consider one of life’s greatest joys. Even though the airlines now charge for even one checked bag and economizing is fashionable if not downright necessary – I simply refuse to scrimp on luggage.
A few years ago I told you about some spiteful wag at an airport check in counter who looked askance at my excess baggage saying, “In this economy, you should be ashamed or at least afraid to travel with so much Vuitton.” Looking at her as if she were a two headed monster, I resisted the desire to say, “Let them eat cake.” You see; I had been collecting the Vuitton since the 70s and persuaded myself to believe the nicks and scratches, small rips and gouges gave it a patina of age that bespoke travels around the world. Now close scrutiny and an honest introspection made me admit the beloved luggage just looked old and worn out, quite similar to the reflection in that beastly 10x mirror on my dressing table. Without a backwards thought, I got out the sewing machine and scissors, tore the luggage apart and used the best bits to line the trunk of the Jag, then bought quantities of new luggage. If only the visage was as easy to refresh as the luggage.
After much flurry of rolling and folding, amidst drifts of tissue paper and accompanied by my long standing packing soundtrack – Harry James and Helen Forrest, we arrived at the pier with six pieces of the new navy and brown crocodile luggage, fur coat over my shoulders and a sheaf of white lilies on my arm. To me the pier is one of the most exciting places on earth. The stevedores shouting, expectant looks on everyone’s faces, taxi’s honking, boats hooting and drays filled with stacks of luggage all lovingly packed with well thought out wardrobes. All this a prelude to 14 days in the lap of luxury where the only serious decision you have to make is where to dine. I always like to stop for a moment at that point on the gangway where it abuts the ship. There’s a narrow aperture though which you can see the water below and the immense wall of the ship rising up out of view. This will be your last glimpse of land life for eight days, then you step onto the golden embrace of the ship, the whistle rents the earth with a deafening blast and the giant vessel heads out into the Atlantic swells.
If you will take the word of one who would not deceive you, the Reflection is vast, breathtaking and surprisingly unique for a mid priced line. Every public room is lofty and extraordinary. The Library soars to the height of two decks overlooking a several deck high atrium with banks of glass elevators and a live Ficus tree in a giant gimbaled planter suspended 50 feet above the floor. It would take several pages to describe the wonders of the Reflection, a truly a spectacular ship. More information at www.celebritycruises.com
We especially loved ambiance of the Martini Bar with its aquamarine colour scheme backlit frosted glass walls and ice frosted bar top. With several different specialty restaurants to choose from, we favored The Opus, main dining room where old Hollywood glamour meets a stunning contemporary design composed of a symphony of white and silver highlighted by a dramatic, two-story glass wine tower and a fabulous glass staircase down which to make a grande descente!
Formal nights have been abandoned and replaced with “Evening Chic”. I do miss seeing everyone in formal evening dress and especially miss wearing the beaded gowns I mentioned earlier. During the day almost everyone was dressed in ultra casual clothes more suited to beach holiday than a transatlantic crossing. In the evenings, most make the effort to look their best and while their idea of evening chic is my idea of what to wear for shopping and luncheon…..well!
Typical cruise ship extravaganzas interspersed with brilliant headliner entertainers perform in the gargantuan Celebrity Theatre where Ian’s lectures were a huge success so much that he had to repeat them all. His finale performance was his personal biography of Paul McCartney, “The Genius I Know”, the last picture of Paul, 20 feet high on a soaring screen. As the closing song, Hey Jude started, many people came up on stage to sign along…“Ian’s Beatles Choir”. Celebrity’s Beyond The Podium speakers are a big draw for transatlantic passengers. Over 1,000 people per month apply for the positions. This voyage, our dear friend Melinda Bates gave fascinating talks about her eight years in the Clinton White house as a special advisor to the president, and Jim Kennedy from NASA regaled us all with behind the scenes stories of space exploration.
After a smooth eight day crossing of the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale, we entered the Mediterranean with port calls at Malaga where I was happy to see shaded snakeskin shoes are back in style (since the early 1990s) and in all the shops. In Cartagena we maundered the cobbled streets, popping in and out of beautiful shops selling exquisitely made men’s clothing at reasonable prices. Ian bought a truly gorgeous linen blazer in Mediterranean blue for 129 euros. Barcelona was as usual far too crowded with four massive cruise ships in port. We spent the day on the Boardwalk lined with shops and cafés that runs along the seaside and only a short taxi ride from the pier. Most cruise passengers spend the day swarming on Las Ramblas or seeing the Gaudi architecture so the Boardwalk is blissfully quiet, with locals building extravagant sand castles on the beach, relaxing in cafes or just promenading.
Our favourite port was Ajaccio, Corsica which aside from being the birthplace of Napoleon is the quintessential Mediterranean port with a fantastic yacht marina, and enchanting villas along serpentine cobbled streets overlooking the white sand and turquoise sea. Since Corsica is part of France, the shops were dependably filled with chic clothes and divine shoes. I bought a pair of Loding of Paris, velvety suede loafers in periwinkle blue for 135 euro.
The voyage ended at Civitavecchia the port for Rome which is located about 90 minutes from Rome city centre. Celebrity provides transfer coaches direct to Ostiense Station which we think is by far the easiest way to get into the city. This time we stayed at Pepoli9 which is a villa with six suites all beautifully decorated in contemporary black, white and silver with touches of purple. Breakfast is included and served in your suite. Lunch, tea and dinner are served on very pretty Villory and Boch china in the bijoux “Living Room”.
Pepoli9, which overlooks the extensive ruins of the Baths Of Caracalla, is located in an extremely quiet leafy neighborhood filled with mansions and embassies surrounded by vast crumbling walls, behind which peacocks screech. It’s a half an hour easy walk to the Coliseum and about a 10 euro taxi fare to any of the Eternal cities attractions.
We’ve been to Rome so many times yet neither of us has bothered to see the ancient monuments since the 1990s. Pondering on the fact that life is fleeting and we may never again see the monuments, I quashed my natural snobby instinct to avoid anything touristy and braved the incredible seething mass of humanity at every location. Even so, the Coliseum is undergoing massive restoration and the efforts are quite amazing and definitely worth seeing!
One day we spent hours walking though the seemingly endless and glorious Borgehese Gardens followed by a truly nonpareil lunch at Harry’s Bar on Via Veneto. Sadly most of the formerly divine shops on Via Veneto are closed, having relocated to Via Condotti. We spent hours lingering at Café Tucci on the Piazza Navona admiring the beautiful architecture surrounding the square and listening to a marvelous string quartet playing near the fountain. Each evening, it was heaven retuning to the quietude of Villa Pepoli after the crowds in Rome.
Our final evening we sauntered along the Via Condotti, admiring the shop windows of every famous jeweler and designer. It was like the adverts in Vogue magazine coming to life. As the sun was about to set we worked our way through the hoards on the Spanish Steps and made it to the top, just as the sky was streaked with orange and purple, the bells in multitudes of church towers began to ring and the nightingales in the umbrella pines were singing. The perfect end to a fabulous voyage!