27 Aug 2008

Les Misérables

If you only do one thing in London, then go see Les Mis. I don’t know how I have missed it all of these years.

Les Misérables is the world's longest running musical, now in its 22nd year. It is based on the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo. The powerful story is full of passion, about a struggle for redemption.

What makes this production is the score. There are no spoken words. It’s not one of those fun musicals with a theme song that you find yourself humming for days. I am having a tough time articulating its moving strength. According to my wife, Allyn, who wrote music professionally, it is unbelievably musically sophisticated. The score fits perfectly with the tale.

Talk about staying power, it has been performed by 56 professional companies that have opened it in 233 cities in 38 countries, in 21 different languages. That is over 38,000 times to more than 51 million people.

Interestingly, it originally opened in September 1981 in Paris and failure in its short run.

Four years later when the English version opened in London, reviews by critics were mixed, scholars were offended by making a musical of this classic work and many thought it was too heavy to make it. The public felt otherwise.

Les Mis opened on Broadway in 1987, was nominated for twelve Tony awards and won eight including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

London Restaurant tip – A beautiful jungle-like setting is home to Blue Elephant, which serves “Royal Thai Cuisine”. You can also find it in about a dozen other major European and Middle Eastern cities. Just choose your beverage and order the tasting menu.


25 Aug 2008

Wind Surf – 10 Point Report Card

Our one week Italy and Spain cruise came to an end today. My report card follows:

1.   Cleanliness – A: The ship was kept immaculate at all times.
2.    Staff – A-: Staff was uniformly friendly and accommodating. They could do a bit better at remembering names.
3.    Cabins – B:  Even the smallest cabins are roomy. The architecture is so good that they seem even roomier. The only problem is that they have no private decks which is the current vogue for cruise ships.
4.    Restaurant ambiance/decor – A: Surprisingly there are four dinner venues which is considerable for such a small ship. Two are outside and have the feel of being on a private yacht.
5.    Food – C-: Lunch is by far the best meal. Dinner is marginal at best.
6.    Spa – B: It is clean, neat and tidy. They are a bit disorganized on scheduling however.
7.    Gym – B-: The gym has quite a bit of equipment for a small ship, but it is feeling its age.
8.    Sports Platform – A: When weather permits and the ship is anchored at port, a water sports platform is put into place that allows many water activities. It is populated in direct proportion to how many kids are on a given cruise.
9.    Dress Code – you pick it: The dress code is casual. No coats are needed let alone ties. Some think this is heaven; others prefer to dress up.
10. Entertainment/lectures/activities – C-: None to speak of. They do have a large DVD selection and nice TVs in the room though.

Overall the Wind Surf is a good value for people looking for a casual, smaller environment than many other ships and who can entertain themselves. It doesn’t have the elegance of similar sized ships such as those on Seaborne or Silver Seas. However it gives up nothing in the clean or friendly department. It also cost much less.

24 Aug 2008

Tarragona, Spain

Our final full day on this cruise was at Tarragona, Spain, about 40 miles down the coast from Barcelona. For those of you who like Roman ruins, this is good place in Spain because it was the Roman capital of this area, about half of the Iberian Peninsula, about 2,000 years ago.

Today it is probably most popular for its beaches which spread for miles down the coast.

We took the ship's shuttle into town and strolled down its lovely street, La Rambla.  For the first time on the entire trip, we had BOTH good shopping and reasonable prices.  We stopped for a mediocre lunch and I returned to the ship allowing Allyn unstifled shopping time.  To our total dismay it turned out that by the time she started to shop the stores were closed for their three hour siesta.  Bummer.


23 Aug 2008

Lost Jews of Palma (Mallorca)

Today I arranged for a private Jewish tour of Palma, Mallorca.

Tip – Generally opting for a private tour instead of a group tour is the smart way to go. Often just four people can sightsee cheaper with a private guide than signing up for the group tour. It certainly allows much more customization and knowledge while shortening the elapsed time. Sitting in a bus waiting for stranglers is not my idea of a good time.

I like Jewish tours because 1) I am Jewish, and 2) they tend to cover centuries of a region’s entire history. Therefore a Jewish tour is quite comprehensive.

Jews were persecuted severely in Spain for centuries going way back. They were formally banned about the time of Columbus, but many had emigrated by then. Many others converted to Christianity and their families practiced the faith for 600 years. Much of the population here is Chuetas who were originally of Jewish descent. Even after converting they were generally second class citizens.

Now some choose to regain their Jewish faith and convert, others feel there is no reason to convert because they already are Jewish. Yet others are very happy being Christian as that is what they have known for generations. Finally, some claim there never was any mixed blood. Actually there is significant mixed Jewish and Muslim blood all over Spain because of the mass conversions.

Many Chuetas practiced a few Jewish traditions, but never knew why. Sometimes traditions were passed along but not the rationale or background for the safety of the families. Even today there are some interesting things done and not said in the open community.

Note the picture on this blog. This is a window of a jewelry store mainly selling Catholic items. Notice the item circled in yellow containing a hand with a finger pointing inwards to the store. That is a yad. A yad is used by Jews around the world to point to their place when reading from the Torah. My theory is that here the store owner is secretly pointing out that he has some Jewish background – almost like a secret handshake. I asked my guide who knows the owners and confirmed they have a Chuetas background but are Christians.

22 Aug 2008

Port Mahon, Menorca Island

Once in a while a cruise stops in a wonderful port that I would never choose on my own.  Today's port was exactly that.  We moored at Port Mahon, Menorca Island, Spain.  It is less known and less visited than the more famous Balearic Island counterparts, Majorca and Ibiza.

Menorca is friendly, charming, slow and encircled with 50 beaches, each one nicer than the next.

We just strolled around.  That's the best activity here other than beaching.


I enjoy Spain because I get to practice my Spanish which I took for six years in school.  I did perfectly in asking where I could find an Internet cafe.  Unfortunately I had no clue as to the response.

Trivia tidbit - Port Mahon is known locally as Mao and is thought to be the home of mayonnaise or at least the derivation of the word.