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Travel 2016: Day Thirteen – Bonifacio, Corsica, France

Bonifacio is a French commune (city) on the island of Corsica (Corse). It is a fortress city with a modest population of just under 3,000 inhabitants. Though it has a Roman origin, the island changed hands several times and in 1769 was conquered by France. Still, it retains much of its Italian culture to this day.

We tendered in from our ship to the gorgeous little harbour, nestled among the high cliffs of the island. From the port, we took a short train (tram) ride– uphill, to the top of the city sitting high above the sea.

Plaque commemorating the house where Napoleon had once lived.

Plaque commemorating the house where Napoleon had once lived.

After a rather long-winded introduction, our guide took us through the narrow streets of Bonifacio,  pointing out several churches and showing us some of the more breathtaking scenic spots. Along the Rue des Deux Empereurs we saw where Napoleon lodged (1793) and where Charles V had lived (1541), across the street.

Bonifacio has the feel of a resort town, full of history with many quaint shops and restaurants.

Once we were oriented, we were on our own to explore. George, Mary and I chose to take a boat ride from the harbour along the coast while Michael did some shopping along the docks.

As you can see from the pictures, the scenery is just gorgeous. It was all enhanced by perfect weather and great company to share it with.

 

The rocky coast of Corsica.

The rocky coast of Corsica.

 

Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.

Looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Michael, George, Mary and I in Bonifacio.

Michael, George, Mary and I in Bonifacio.

 

On the street in Bonifacio.

On the street in Bonifacio.

 

I loved the textures in this shot.

I loved the textures in this shot.

 

A typical street in Bonifacio, Corsica.

A typical street in Bonifacio, Corsica.

 

Looking down towards the stunning harbour.

Looking down towards the stunning harbour.

 

Starting the steep descent from the top of Bonafacio.

Starting the steep descent from the top of Bonifacio.

 

The fortress wall from our little tour boat in the harbour.

The fortress walls from our little tour boat in the harbour.

 

Leaving the harbour.

Leaving the harbour.

 

Inside the Cave of Sdragonato.

Inside the Cave of Sdragonato.

 

You can see where the rock of the island of Corsica changes from limestone to granite.

You can see where the rock of the island of Corsica changes from limestone to granite.

 

Bonifacio sitting high on the linestone cliffs of Corsica.

Bonifacio sitting high on the limestone cliffs of Corsica.

 

Last Night Onboard. The last night of a cruise is always difficult because you’re trying to say goodbye to everyone, pack and get your bags out to be moved off the ship by the staff; plus you still have dinner and a big final show. So between rushing around and trying to get everyone coordinated for our last dinner together, it was kind of a circus.

We made some great new friends and got to spend time with some of our favorite people from past cruises as well. Since many of us live all over the United States, and Anthony and Michael in London– you just never know when you’ll see each other again.

The good news is that quite a few of us have booked the Broadway on the Rhone River Cruise in May so we have that to look forward to in 2017.

The Big Show. Our final show of the cruise featured all of the performers including the ‘Broadway Ambassadors’ that didn’t give solo concerts. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Faith Prince on stage with her husband Larry Lunetta playing his trumpet.
  • Charles Busch singing “Those Were the Days” – It was a master class in storytelling.
  • Laura Osnes and Lindsay Mendez singing “For Good” – Both got emotional and teary eyed; sweet, spontaneous emotion.
  • Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford, Juli Wesley performing – Hudson is the multi-talented son of Andrea Burns and Peter Flynn; Lila played Annie in the most Broadway revival and Little Red in the film version of Into the Woods;  and Juli is the wonderful daughter of Seth Rudetsky and James Welsey. (Juli celebrated her 16th birthday on the trip!)
  • West Side Story Quintet – This was the show finale- thrown together in an hour! Featuring Chita Rivera singing Anita ( the role she originated); Andrea Burns (Maria) and husband, director Peter Flynn (Tony) – they met playing those roles in a European tour of West Side Story!;  The rest of the performers made up the Jets and Sharks.

 

Faith Prince

Faith Prince

 

Faith Prince & husband, Larry Lunetta

Faith Prince & husband, Larry Lunetta

 

Lila Crawford

Lila Crawford

 

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera

 

Adam Pascal

Adam Pascal

 

Charles Busch

Charles Busch

 

Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford & Juli Wesley

Hudson Flynn, Lila Crawford & Juli Wesley

 

Seth Rudetsky, Music Director and Master of Ceremonies

Seth Rudetsky, Music Director and Master of Ceremonies

 

The Creative Team & Travel Pros for BOTHS7.

The Creative Team & Travel Pros for BOTHS7.

Up Late. A bunch of us congregated afterwards for the last time. Bill, Paul, Janet, Ron and a few others came and went, chatting and saying their goodbyes. Michael left to go put his luggage out- it was supposed to be out by 11:30– and I assured him I was right behind him. As everyone left, Janet and I stopped and chatted for a few minutes with Andrea Burns in the lounge.

I escorted Janet to the elevator than headed back to the room. Of course, me being me, I was late getting my bags out– so they sat there all night. I went up to the casino to meet Michael, we played some slots, then headed back to the room and called it a night.

 

Tomorrow we disembark and head back to Rome for a day at the Vatican.

Tragedy and a Deserted Island

Southeast Asia Travel -11/14 – Day Sixteen: We woke up early to the news of the Paris attacks, as they were in progress; and we were instantly glued to the TV. Outside our balcony door, we could see our ship was cruising closer to the peaceful, sparsely populated island of Tioman, Malaysia… our destination for the day.

In the marketing materials for the cruise, Playbill touted (what other sources have as well) that Tioman was the island used to represent Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific but this isn’t true. Those scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, this beautiful island was here waiting for us.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The chaos playing out in Paris was diametrically opposed to the serenity before me. It just wasn’t right.

We broke away from the TV and headed to breakfast. Only a few people had started straggling in. Of course we wondered if anyone else knew what was going on in France. Our ship is French—did the crew know yet?

We checked the news again after we ate, and then decided to catch the first tender, figuring it was only going to get more crowded if we waited for a later one. We got down to the deck only to find out it had temporarily been postponed. After an hour, the temporary delay had become a questionable, permanent decision. No Tioman.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we'd get.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we’d get.

The story of what actually happened will probably always be a mystery. We were told that the resort we were supposed to visit (and use their beach)– suddenly went bankrupt overnight. This was odd as we were also told that as of the night before they were excited we were coming. I should also note that the population of Tioman (in 2008) is estimated at 432. So to believe this story, you’d have to believe that a small beach resort, knowing a ship was bringing over two hundred customers for the day– suddenly decided to close shop and not even wait an extra day, collecting whatever income it could. It makes no sense.

Add to this, there were two other resorts visible from our ship and no one could be reached at either of them. From our viewpoint, the coast was completely deserted.  A rumor started on our boat, early on, that initially I didn’t give much credence. A few people were suggesting that because of the Paris attacks and because our ship was French; the islanders were afraid to let us come ashore. Later I had no choice but to believe it, especially after seeing movement on shore as soon as our ship started drifting further away. A few small fishing boats also started to appear. It was curious to say the least.

At noon, the crew organized a brief gathering on the rear deck to remember the people of France and lowered the French flag to half-mast. Yes, all over the world- even on a small ship floating in the South Pacific– people were touched and solidarity ruled over despair.

It was announced that at 2 PM the Broadway performers were rallying together to put on a variety show to entertain the ship. This thrown-together event turned out to provide some pretty exciting moments. All the performers (except Liz Callaway whose concert was scheduled for tonight) performed; giving us a wonderful show. For many of us, it was probably a better way to spend the afternoon than basking in the sun anyway.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon's surprise variety show.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon’s surprise variety show.

This was our last night on the ship; tomorrow we’d dock in Singapore.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

Liz Callaway’s show was moved up to an hour before dinner. She pulled out all the stops and gave us a terrific show. I was especially thrilled because her final song was, The Story Goes On, from the musical Baby. Particularly poignant for many reasons. Liz is another of the many Broadway performers that gives her whole heart when she sings. It was a perfect last concert among so many great performances we received.

Following the concert, we had the introduction of the ship’s crew and our final toast to the end of a great cruise. Michael and I just happened to be sitting in front of Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, so we got to clink our glasses of champagne with them.

I regret not getting to say goodbye to a lot of people after dinner. I really wasn’t thinking about the unlikelihood of seeing many of them in the morning. We were smart enough to get most of the email addresses exchanged early though, so we’d be able to stay in touch.

We spent the last couple of hours before bed packing and dealing with the reception desk. The cruise has gone way too fast and I’m just thankful for all the wonderful memories. Luckily, we have a full day in Singapore tomorrow before we start the long journey home.

Riding Elephants in Thailand

Southeast Asia Travel -11/12 – Day Fourteen: Was it really necessary for us to be up and ready to go at 7:15 AM? (We’d be glad later.) With a limited serving schedule, breakfast was a rush. At least we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise to start the day.

Sunrise off the coast of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Sunrise off the coast of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Koh Samui is an island belonging to Thailand. There is not a port or large enough dock to accommodate our ship so we were tendered in to shore.

Of the excursion choices we had, we decided to take the Jeep & Elephant Experience. We soon learned that ‘jeep’ meant a small Toyota pickup truck with two benches and a plastic tarp for a top.

Shopping village at Namuang.

Shopping village at Namuang.

Maybe I expected too much but I really thought we’d be exploring some rural terrain in an actual jeep. I thought the jeep ride was part of the experience. In fact, it was just the vehicle that transported us from location to location.

Most of the tour was spent at Namuang Safari Park. First we visited a waterfall, hidden largely by too many trees. We then had a few minutes to wander a little shopping village. Instead, Michael and I watched an elephant bathing in the water downstream of the waterfall.

An adorable baby elephant at the safari park.

An adorable baby elephant at the safari park.

From there we went to the elephant camp. I have to say, riding an elephant is a pretty incredible experience. We got on from tall loading platforms. Our guide rode on our elephant’s shoulders while we sat on a bench seat on his back. He encouraged our elephant to walk by rubbing his ears with his feet. At one point, our guide got down and let me ride on our elephant’s shoulders.

 

Michael & I riding our elephant as he shows of for the camera.

Michael & I riding our elephant as he shows off for the camera.

After that we watched a short elephant trick show in the same park. This was followed by a monkey show… or, as we renamed it a ‘coconut show’. There was only one monkey– they made him spin coconuts before climbing a tree and dropping prop coconuts. Then he was gone. The rest of the ‘show’ was spent watching a guy open and shred a coconut. If that wasn’t enough, we then had to move to a different pavilion to watch a cooking class. By cooking class, I mean they made a salad. One of the ship’s photographers was with our group and laid down and took a nap.

By this point, it had started raining. As we were leaving we saw others holding umbrellas, riding the elephants. We were so glad we had our rides before the rain started.

The Mummified Monk of Koh Samui.

The Mummified Monk of Koh Samui.

The ‘jeep’ took us to the temple, Wat Khunaram to see the mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng. The monk died in 1973 at the age of 79. His body is displayed in a glass case at the temple. Sunglasses were put on him to hide his deteriorated eyes. No one can explain why his body has not decomposed with the humidity and high heat. Many Thai people believe it is a miracle.

I was sitting in the very back of the pick up… er, I mean jeep; and got completely drenched with rain on the way back to the dock. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ship and dry out.

Before dinner, we attended a reception for past BOTHS cruisers and the stars. It was just a nice way to thank us for supporting and traveling with Playbill Travel.

Our only Broadway performance today was Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructing Broadway. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the cruise that Seth became a more active part of the daily entertainment, aside from accompanying the performers. So we were ready for some Seth-time. He is a total showman—super funny; and knows more about Broadway than anyone else alive.

Our last sea day is tomorrow and there are four big Broadway events scheduled. Can’t believe how fast the time is flying!

Broadway Moms & A Broadway Beauty

Southeast Asia Travel -11/11 – Day Thirteen: We had a much-needed day at sea today. Very few people were up and about during breakfast after yesterday’s whirlwind day in Bangkok. Michael and I tried to catch catnaps in between the scheduled events.

I forgot to mention before that due to a previously scheduled engagement, Norm Lewis left the cruise yesterday in Bangkok while Kerry Butler and Rachel York joined the cruise there.

At 11 AM, the second and last autograph session was held. We got our posters signed and chatted a bit; then enjoyed watching the stars interact with the guests. Today featured Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody, Kerry Butler and Rachel York.

Talking about being Broadway Moms.

Talking about being Broadway Moms.

Mid-afternoon, John Fahey hosted a talk called, Being a Broadway Mom with Kerry Butler, Liz Callaway and Christine Ebersole. Towards the end Rachel York was brought in to the conversation. It was interesting to hear how they try to balance family with career and fun hearing how Broadway casts so warmly welcome the children into their show families. There were many touching moments as these moms expressed their love (and a few regrets) for their children.

Hunter Foster joined Kerry Butler for a number during her concert.

Hunter Foster joined Kerry Butler for a number during her concert.

Kerry Butler and Seth Rudetsky opened the concert tonight with Suddenly from Xanadu. It was the first time I’d heard Seth sing that way – he’s really got a nice voice. Usually when he sings, it’s in his Seth-schtick voice. If you’ve listened to him, you’ll know what I mean.

Together they basically did part of a recent concert they performed at 54 Below. Seth interviewed Kerry and she sang up a storm. One of her songs, A Change In Me, was not in Beauty and the Beast when she was Belle on Broadway. It was added later for Toni Braxton. It was a great concert and many wonderful stories were shared.

 

Kerry Butler

Kerry Butler

Royals & Ruins

Southeast Asia Travel Day Twelve: Today was the second of our most anticipated tour days of this vacation. One day in Bangkok is not nearly enough time to see everything, even on a surface level. Bangkok has such a rich cultural history with many historic landmarks dating back centuries in time.

A couple months ago, Michael and I found ourselves unable to decide between two of the excursions that were offered; wanting to visit the main attractions of both tours. It took some time but with the help of our travel agent, we were able arrange a private tour that allowed us to see both and then some.

Instead of breaking today up into separate posts, I’ll just hit the highlights. At some later point I’ll try to add another photo essay (post) like I plan to do with the Angkor photos.

The Emerald Buddha.

The Emerald Buddha.

Grand Palace. The Grand Palace has been the residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. The incredible maze of buildings in the complex feature intricate and highly ornamented details that are simply breathtaking.

One of the most famous attractions at the palace is the temple, Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha. Emerald is used to represent the color of the statute that is actually made of jade.

 

Stunning ornamentation at the Grand Palace.

Stunning ornamentation at the Grand Palace.

 

At the Grand Palace.

At the Grand Palace.

 

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At the Grand Palace.

At the Grand Palace.

 

At Bang Pa-In.

At Bang Pa-In.

Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. The Summer Palace dates back to 1632. Most of the existing buildings were built by King Chulalonghorn; son of King Mongkut of The King and I fame. These newer buildings reflect Victorian architecture in style.

We buzzed around the site on a golf cart in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to several of the buildings, we stopped at the Aisawan Thyphia Art Pavilion because Michael wanted to feed bread to the fish and turtles in the pond.

The royal residence and the Aisawan Thyphia Art Pavilion.

The royal residence and the Aisawan Thyphia Art Pavilion.

 

At the Summer Palace, Bang Pa-In.

At the Summer Palace, Bang Pa-In.

Michael and I at one of the temple ruins in Ayutthaya.

Michael and I at one of the temple ruins in Ayutthaya.

 

Ayutthaya. There are at least 18 temple ruins in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. At one point in history, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand). We had time to visit the ruins of five temples plus one temple that is still in use. Unlike the temples in Cambodia, the Thai temples are primarily composed of brick covered in stucco. Surprisingly, even with the small bricks, most of the temples here took a shorter time to build than the stone Angkor temples of Cambodia.

Buddha among the ruins at Wat Mahathat.

Buddha among the ruins at Wat Mahathat.

 

Temple ruins in Ayutthaya.

Temple ruins in Ayutthaya.

 

Buddha engulfed by tree roots.

Buddha engulfed by tree roots.

At Wat Mahathat, one of the must-see curiosities is a Buddha head peering from surrounding tree roots. There are several theories but no clear explanation for how this came to be.

The Reclining Buddha. Also located in Ayutthaya, The Reclining Buddha at the ruins of temple Wat Lokayasutharam is an amazing piece of history. Like many of the temples, it is made of brick covered by plaster (stucco) and is 138 feet long.

 

The Reclining Buddha.

The Reclining Buddha.

Playbill After Dark. With everyone on 8 to 10 hour tours of Bangkok, the only event scheduled onboard was Broadway Buzz at 10:30 PM. Seth Rudetsky used the opportunity to tell Broadway stories and gossip– initiated by prompts from the audience.

Today was completely overwhelming and exhausting. I’m so glad that tomorrow is a day at sea. Bangkok is an impressive city that really requires at least three or four days to adequately explore. I’m just glad we were able to see as much as we did. I’d certainly like to go back but there’s still so much of the world we want to see.

Beach & Banter

Drift wood on Koh Kood.

Drift wood on Koh Kood.

Southeast Asia Travel Day Eleven: Beach & BBQ day today in Koh Kood, Thailand. It was just what you’d expect of a fairly secluded beach on a tropical island– loads of palm trees and lush foliage. There was a huge sandy clearing with tables and chairs for eating and many beach chairs for sunning, down by the water. The crew from the ship hauled all the food and supplies out early before the rest of were tendered to the island dock. We stayed a couple hours- ate and walked the shoreline; then went back to the ship.

 

Our ship, Le Soleal from the beach.

Our ship, Le Soleal from the beach.

 

The beach lagoon at Koh Kood, Thailand.

The beach lagoon at Koh Kood, Thailand.

Looking out to sea from the island of Koh Kood.

Looking out to sea from the island of Koh Kood.

Lindsay Mendez at the autograph signing.

Lindsay Mendez at the autograph signing.

 

The first of two mingle and autograph sessions were held before dinner. Tommy Tune designed the poster for this year’s cruise. About half of the performers did the signing today: Tommy Tune, Christine Ebersole, Norm Lewis, Lindsay Mendez, Seth Rudetsky and Liz Callaway. It was a good chance to talk with them without feeling like you were imposing on their vacation time. On a day-to-day basis, some were more friendly and accessible than others; and we often found an opportunity to chat in passing.

 

Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky (with daughter Juli) signing autographs.

Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky (with daughter Juli) signing autographs.

Hunter Foster & Jennifer Cody chat about their careers and relationship during their evening performance.

Hunter Foster & Jennifer Cody chat about their careers and relationship during their evening performance.

After dinner, Broadway couple- Hunter Foster and his wife Jennifer Cody performed. They did more of a ‘chat and sing’ style performance, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. This was the perfect format for them. Especially, since most of us were less familiar with Jennifer Cody, by name… but most had probably seen her in at least one show if not more. From the shows that were mentioned, I figured Michael and I had seen her at least three or four times in different Broadway shows. We last saw Hunter on closing night in The Bridges of Madison County. They both gave impressive performances together and alone. It was also fun to listen to their witty banter and learn more about their careers and the two of them as a couple.

 

Hunter Foster singing, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

Hunter Foster singing, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

 

The always bubbly, Jennifer Cody.

The always bubbly, Jennifer Cody.

Saigon Sailing & Sliding Doors

Sunrise in the harbor.

Sunrise in the harbor.

Southeast Asia Travel Day Nine: Michael and I woke up this morning just as we set sail, leaving the port in Ho Chi Minh City at 5:30 AM. We sailed along the Saigon River heading out to sea. Little did we know that for the next hour we’d be part of some craziness that would be the talk of the ship.

Setting sail in the Saigon River.

Setting sail in the Saigon River.

As the Le Soleal was maneuvering through the river, we’d feel the ship slightly tilting as we sailed. I had jumped in the shower while Michael was dressing. The ship rocked a bit tilting to the left and I heard a loud rushing sound like someone dragging something across the floor. When I came out of the bathroom Michael explained the sound– and our morning adventure began.

Along the Saigon River.

Along the Saigon River.

It seems that when they were getting the ship ready for boarding, someone forgot to lock the wall adjoining our cabin to the one next to us. (With the wall open it is reconfigured as a suite.) So every time the ship tilted to the left, the wall would slide open revealing our neighbors who were sleeping in the next room. I emphasis WERE sleeping.

As the wall opened, Michael was staring directly at them and said he couldn’t think of anything else to say besides, “Good Morning!” Luckily, it was a couple (Peggy Sue and Champ) we’d already met and toured with, so they weren’t complete strangers.

Leaving Ho Chi Minh City on the Saigon River.

Leaving Ho Chi Minh City on the Saigon River.

After an hour of repeatedly shutting the ‘wall’ (and trying to hold it shut) and four phone calls, three men finally showed up at our door to fix the problem. I’d been sitting there working on my computer and holding it closed while Michael finished getting ready.

Phil Birsh, President and CEO of Playbill, stopped us in the hall later in the day, apologized and asked us if it was okay if he used it as a funny story to tell that night before the concert. We said ‘yes’. He, of course, embellished the story and had everybody laughing. He added that Peggy Sue and Champ and Michael and I had already booked Italy (BOTHS7) and had requested adjoining rooms. It was pretty funny.

Talking Miss Saigon with Liz Calloway, Seth Rudetsky & Norm Lewis.

Talking Miss Saigon with Liz Calloway, Seth Rudetsky & Norm Lewis.

A day at sea is a little more relaxed than an excursion day but full of programing with the Broadway stars. First, Seth Rudetsky hosted a talk about Miss Saigon with Liz Calloway who played Ellen in the original Broadway company (and had a baby a month before it went into production), and Norm Lewis who played John later in the run.

That was followed by a talk, later in the afternoon, with the legendary Tommy Tune– who’d been a surprise guest on the cruise, talking about his career.

Tommy Tune.

Tommy Tune.

Before dinner, Michael and I went up to the deck that overlooks the pool and found a bat hanging in the corner, just inside door. We had to get a crew member to come remove it because we thought it might scare someone, or God forbid, start flying around inside the ship. Yes, these things happen to us.

The concert that night was with Lindsay Mendez. Of course it was wonderful. We were thrilled to finally see her performing live for the first time.

The incredible Lindsay Mendez.

The incredible Lindsay Mendez.

The finally event of the night was Playbill After Dark. Seth Rudetsky hosted a Broadway trivia game and we won a 2016 Playbill calendar. It was quite an adventure for the first full day aboard ship.