One of the interesting things about visiting foreign countries — and there’s no better way to see many of them than from a cruise ship — is the number of photo ops. Signs quickly became a subject we kept an eye open for, and below are some we found “interesting” for a variety of reasons…
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One of the Caribbean ports that attracts a lot of cruise ships is Nassau, partly because of its geographical location as either the first stop or last stop for ships based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale…and perhaps partly because of those constant TV commercials about Paradise Island and Atlantis.
In any event, Nassau is popular.
During our visits to the capital of the Bahamas, of all the places we’ve visited — and for whatever reasons, Nassau is a place where we’ve always had a tendency to go off on our own — the most memorable was a hotel. The Graycliff Hotel.
We stumbled on it, while walking the streets not far from the cruise terminal, where we’d disembarked from the Norwegian Sky, on a four-day cruise. It turned out to be an amazing stumble, and here’s one of the reasons why…
Somehow we wound up in the cellar — a genuine cellar — that allegedly houses the third-largest private wine collection in the world. It’s owned by Enrico Garzaroli, who also owns the hotel — or did — that he bought in 1973. It’s a hotel that’s only had four owners, the first of them a pirate named Captain John Graysmith, whose presence clearly had something to do with its name.
That was more than three and a half CENTURIES ago.
It’s important to remember that we just walked in off the street. There was no arranged tour, no greasing the palm of a concierge, no introductions by somebody in high places because we didn’t know anybody in high places in the Bahamas, or anywhere else for that matter.
It was simply our good fortune to wind up in the presence of the cellar master, Sudhir Varot Kangath, and that he was kind enough to show us the corks, as they say. One of them was sealing the wine in a bottle of 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, a German white that hasn’t been tasted in 46 years. When it was last tasted, the wine passed the test and today that bottle is worth an estimated $200,000.
The entire cellar has been valued at $20 million.
In it, you can arrange for private dining, for $1,000, at a long rectangular table at which the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis and Lebron James have dined. We didn’t ask if that was $1,000 per person…we just assumed that it was. And when we combed through the dusty racks that supported these dusty treasures, it wasn’t like we had to keep our distance. The wines were RIGHT THERE.
On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that Sudhir calls the "Million Dollar Rack" because that's the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to him, his boss sells "four or five" of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case of 1982 Bordeaux that is in "high demand", and a couple of Barolos from the '50s. They are all carefully catalogued, of course, and there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.
On the other hand, most visitors would just feel lucky to SEE something that unique.
Like we did.
Today at portsandbows.com: Scrubbers and emission controls
They say crime is on the rise in Nassau, the popular Bahamian cruise port — "they" being (among others) a website authored by maritime lawyer Jim Walker, an industrious watchdog of sorts for all things cruising.
According to Walker's writings, armed robbery is up in Nassau and recently even a daycare was a victim of the thieves. His business is all about cruise passengers' rights so it's safe to say he's not on the Christmas card list of any of the cruise lines.
His warning in the Bahamas, and perhaps other places, is that travel agents and cruise lines neglect to caution tourists of imminent danger…or increased imminent danger. To that end, Walker recommends that cruise passengers become their own advocates and do lots of homework before disembarking in ports.
He suggests that "homework" means reading the local papers and other media sources in the city and/or country you're visiting. We've never been influenced much by such research, our theory being that there are good people and bad people everywhere, and being a victim is most times being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But if you have safety concerns about visiting somewhere, Walker's advice is good…whether travel agents and cruise lines like it or not.
Having been fortunate to have met some fascinating people on cruise ships, we sometime feel compelled to tell you their story in more than one installment.
Such is the case with Kathryn Kelly.
To passengers on Oceania ships Marina and the new Riviera, and to people in the parent company, she is simply Chef Kelly. Her story is being told here in two parts…today, how she came to play a part in the culinary world, and on Monday, why she does what she does, which is help passengers learn how to cook at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.
Yes, on a ship.
That part of her story began when a friend, the eminent pastry chef Dieter Schorner — who brought creme brulée to America — said he had an interesting opportunity: Float around the world cooking. Herr Schorner also said he was too old (in his 80s) and that she — at 56 — should do it.
By then, Chef Kelly had paid some dues, or at least earned some credits.
"My whole life," says the lifelong entrepreneur, "I always wanted to be a chef. In my 40s, I had sold my third — and last — company [mergers and acquisitions]. I took six months off. I watched a lot of Bette Davis movies, I walked on the beach and I adopted a dog. Then I had a call from a headhunter who said there was a Fortune 500 company on the West Coast looking for a CEO, and would I be interested. I'd been idle long enough that I would take a look but the minute I put on that suit and pantyhose and headed for the airport, there was no way. I went back home."
Following the obvious phone call, she made another one.
To the CIA…and that's not what you think it is. The Culinary Institute of America.
"I asked if I was too old to come to school, and they said if you can keep up, do it," recalls Chef Kelly. "I was living in Florida. I went to New York for 21 months. I have two Masters and a Doctorate, and cooking school was a helluva lot harder than any of them. I was studying for exams at 50 years old and when I graduated, it was the happiest day of my life."
Her story was impressive enough for the Wall Street Journal to carry a piece about her this summer, as an example of somebody who had made a career change late in her business life, and done it by choice.
"You know the movie Up In The Air, with George Clooney?" she asks. "It made me sad, not because it was a sad movie, but because it was me. I'd been in all those airports. And I had a therapist who told me 'You need to give yourself permission to do what makes you happy.' I knew in two seconds what would make me happy, and what was the worst that could happen? If I get there and find I don't want to be a chef, I quit."
That led her to Oceania, and the job that won't quit.
Monday: Find out why
You meet the most interesting people when you travel and, for us, that usually means when we travel by cruise ship…
His name is Lavardo Smith, and we met him in a parking lot of Nassau. As ominous as that sounds, it isn’t. We didn’t even have a car. We were just walking through the parking lot in front of the Governor-General’s mansion, on a self-directed foot tour of the area nearest where our ship, the Norwegian Sky, was docked.
Lavardo was on duty, smartly dressed in his Royal Bahamas Defense Force uniform, but that’s not what made him so interesting. While chatting with us about why some cars in Nassau have steering wheels on the right side of the car (65%) and some on the left, we discovered that he is a track star.
Or plans to be.
He’s only been running for three years, not including 2010, when he was sidelined with a torn hamstring muscle.
“I hurt my hamstring when taking a commando course,” he says. “It tore my body down!”
The RBDF is not made for sprinters. This sprinter runs 100 meters, 200 meters and the 4×100 relay. He has competed against Tyson Gay, currently the fastest man in America. He wants to compete against Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who has the world’s title, preferably in August in South Korea at the World Championships…and definitely next year in London at the Olympics.
Lavardo’s fastest time is 10.28 seconds, seven-tenths off Bolt’s world record. In the sprint world, that’s almost like being lapped. Ten years ago, his time would have tied him with Tyson Gay’s best. So he knows he’s in tough, but he’s determined and he can dream, and this young man dreams with conviction.
“I’m going to be in London,” he says emphatically.
On the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s list of world-class athletes, there are 132 Smiths. None is named Lavardo.
He plans to change that.