Cruising the Mediterranean Aboard the Celebrity Reflection

In June of 2017, I became the luckiest guy alive when I married Rebecca – my best friend and love of my life. To celebrate our joyous occasion, I planned a honeymoon that would be second to none. So, the day following our ceremony we boarded a plane to Rome, Italy and then found our way to the Italian seaport of Civitavecchia. Docked at the port was the Celebrity Reflection,  the luxury cruise vessel that would carry us around the Western Mediterranean. The Celebrity Reflection is the largest their Solstice class ship in their entire fleet. The vessel has a 3,046 max occupancy, is 1,047 feet long, and boats an impressive cruising speed of 24 knots. These are just some of the amazing memories we captured while underway.

Big John and Rebecca go cruising the Mediterranean aboard the Celebrity Reflection.

 

The Celebrity chefs surprised us with this delicious treat to commemorate our special occasion!

My beautiful wife takes a moment to wind down in our cozy little cabin.

One of the many lounge areas aboard the Celebrity Reflection.

Our shirts seemed to be a big hit on the ship.

Rebecca gets a top deck view as the Reflection prepares to shove off at Civitavecchia, Italy.

There are four swimming pools aboard the ship.

 

The Sky Lounge aboard the Celebrity Reflection.

There was food for every type of palate aboard the ship. I decided that I couldn’t go wrong with a crunchy plate of tacos!

 

The Celebrity Reflection has 13 fun-filled decks featuring various amenities. 

Fun in the sun aboard the Reflection.

There was even an outdoor walking/ jogging track to burn off some of those extra calories.

 

Believe it or not, this was a lawn of real grass!

 

This chair was probably bigger than the car we rented in Rome!

Twin hammocks outside the Lawn Club Grill.

 

 

The ship has over a dozen diverse bars, clubs and lounges.

Preparing for some nightly entertainment.

 

Sushi on 5

 

The main dining room offered fine dining with an ocean view.

 

That girl has class!

The Park West Gallery offered extraordinary art auctions on both sea and land.

Anchored off the coast of France.

Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera

 

Docked in Barcelona, Spain

The talented Celebrity Reflection chefs do a meet-and-greet with their passengers.

I taught this guy everything he knows… kidding!

A behind-the-scenes glimpse of all the magic made in the kitchen.

 

All of this prep work is making me hungry!

 

These guys take great pride in all of their culinary endeavors.

I plan to wine-n-dine this pretty girl!

Now that’s a pretty picture!

Off the Rock of Gibraltar, UK.

The beaches in Spain were breathtaking!

She was the most beautiful woman on the Spanish coast!

Sailing around the Mediterranean is hard work!

Nobody ever takes a cruise and loses weight!

Look at all those desserts!

There was plenty of fresh fruit for a more natural sweet experience.

The wine and cheese was to die for!

I’ll try one of everything, please.

The main buffet offered food any time, day or night!

Our cabin was conveniently located on the 8th deck.

 

Just in case you were still wondering about the food.

 

There were foods aboard the Celebrity Reflection from every nation.

 

 

On Celebrity cruise lines you can have your cake and eat it too!

Rebecca takes in the view from the stern.

 

 

A beautiful sunset from the Celebrity Reflection.

I hope customs doesn’t discover I smuggled these guns on board!

I think she’s into me!

Who knew she played the drums!

 

 

Nothing beats lawn games while out at sea!

 

Somewhere off the Spanish coast.

 

Cheesecake always makes my baby smile!

It was here that I witnessed the most beautiful view of my entire cruise!

 

 

Well, I truly enjoyed sharing these magical days with you aboard the Celebrity Reflection. Thank you for visiting my page at Big John’s Adventures in Travel. If you plan on taking a cruise soon, choose the very best and sail with Celebrity cruise line.

Happy travels,

Big John


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Cologne and Dusseldorf: Rivalry on the Rhine

Situated along the Rhine, and separated by a mere 27 miles, are the heavily populated cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf. These two German metropolises, while essentially neighbors, are completely at odds with one another. If you ask any resident of Düsseldorf which city is better, he or she will tell you that their city is definitely the best.  Not surprisingly, if you were to ask somebody in Cologne that very same question, you’re likely to get a similar response favoring their own neck of the woods. Not only is the architecture and various attractions in each city distinctive, the type of beer consumed in each city differs as well. As you may very well know, when it comes to matters of beer drinking, there are very few things in the Rhineland of greater importance!

Rebecca in the cobble-stoned courtyard of Alter Markt (Old Marketplace), Cologne.

Not to be easily persuaded one way or another, Rebecca and I decided to take a self-guided tour of both Cologne and Düsseldorf to assess the situation ourselves . We would explore the varied sights, dine in the various restaurants, and sample each of the city’s distinct beers. Perhaps then, after some toilsome and extensive research, we could offer our own unbiased assessment and settle this long-winded debate once and for all!

Papa Joe’s Biersalon in Cologne, Germany

Cologne has an estimated population of 1,096,152 people. It is currently the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. Of all the great things to do in Cologne, eating was definitely way up there on my list. I would say that Papa Joe’s Biersalon was, by far, the funnest dining establishment we visited in all of Germany. The traditional cuisine was delicious, the beer was great, and the atmosphere was fun for any age.

A short clip of the restaurant’s interior captured from my iPhone.

This guy wasn’t getting any of my nickels…. I didn’t have any nickels to give him.

Who doesn’t like a good ole’ fashioned pianola to liven up the room?

These guys could really belch a tune!

Kölsch is a popular type of beer originally brewed in Cologne, Germany. It gets its distinct taste and quality because its first warm-fermented with ale yeast, and then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager.

Yes, if you are a fan of German cuisine, this plate was as good as it looks!

More scenes from Cologne’s Old Town.

Meine schöne Frau!

The Great Saint Martin Church towers over this row of colorful structures at a height of 246 feet.

Believe it or not, the foundation of this church was actually part of a swimming and sports complex used for leisure by Roman soldiers. It dates nearly as far back as the time of Christ.

I just loved looking at all these wooden Santas, elves, and nutcrackers in this very German Christmas store.

It’s been a long-standing tradition for us to get a picture of Rebecca at every Hard Rock Cafe we encounter during our travels .

If you’re thirsty, there are plenty of places in Cologne where a person can get a beer!

The Cologne Cathedral is the most recognizable landmark on the city’s skyline.

This cathedral was so massively spectacular, I was unable to capture it all in a single frame.

The first bricks of the Cologne Cathedral were laid down in 1248 AD. Although the structure was heavily damaged in World War II, the cathedral miraculously managed to survive the war.

Cologne’s Love-lock Bridge over the Rhine River

Over the years, thousands of couples have fastened “love-padlocks ” onto the railing of this bridge to symbolize their love and affection for one another. I didn’t have a padlock at the time of my visit, but boy, if I had… it would have been a big one! I really love my girl!

There’s no better way to learn about Cologne’s brewing history than at the Biermuseum.

Rebecca peruses the menu at the Wirtshaus Schwejk, one of Cologne’s numerous dining establishments.

For me, Cologne had everything a man could want in a 2,000-year-old western German city parked along the lovely Rhine River. The twin-spired Cologne Cathedral gave the place a Gothic, medieval feel and its reconstructed old town let you know that you were smack dab in the middle of Rhineland. Rebecca and I had a lot of fun during our short visit there and our only regret was not being able stay longer.

A view of Düsseldorf’s industry from our lofty hotel room.

Düsseldorf is much smaller than Cologne, yet it seemed a bit more modern and industrial than its Gothic neighbor. Although the city is well-known for their fashion and emerging art scene, a lot of German’s tradition can still be found in Altstadt (Old Town).

The Düsseldorf Festival is an annual event that usually takes place in the autumn months of late September and early October.

For lederhosen, or any other costume needs, check out Deiters online store.

With the festival in town, Rebecca and I were determined to dress for the occasion. It’s not every day that a guy gets the chance to “represent” in some well-tailored lederhosen… Well, truth be known, we didn’t buy any lederhosen on this particular trip. I do, however, foresee some leather breeches in my near future.

Lucky for us, Düsseldorf was throwing their own version of Oktoberfest right at the riverwalk on the Rhine.

Düsseldorf is famous for their Altbier (German for old beer). This style of beer is brewed in and around the city and its name comes from it being top-fermented, a much older method than the bottom fermentation of other lagers.

A beautiful sunset on the Rhine.

Whether you’re looking for dark chocolate with almonds or champagne truffles, Düsseldorf can satisfy all of your inner chocolate needs!

Dining at the Brewery Schumacher

The Brewery Schumacher, located only a couple of easy blocks from our hotel, was the oldest brewery in Düsseldorf. Aside from serving phenomenal altbier, the brewery also had an impressive dinner menu.  Upon entering the popular establishment, we were immediately seated with another random couple at a community table.  While dining, as long as I had my glass right side up, a waiter would come by and immediate refill it with delicious beer. What you see pictured on my plate above is a very large pig knuckle. While I was leery at first, this just so happened to be the most tasty meal I had while in Germany.

It probably seemed like all of our activities in Germany centered around food. Now that I think about it, all of our activities in Germany did revolve around food.  That’s one of the greatest things about travel – trying the local cuisine!

I know you didn’t think I would fly all the way to the Germany and not seek out the longest bratwurst that money could buy!

Caster Boy (Gießerjunge) is a statue built in 1932 by Wilhelm Hoselmann.

Big John stands outside the Rathaus (Old Town Hall), Düsseldorf

Rebecca sends me a pretty smile at the Jan Wellem monument at the Old Town Hall.

Jan Wellam was an important man in Düsseldorf. He was like the Dukes of Hazzard… Not really, he was the Duke of Neuburg, Duke of Jülich and Berg, and Duke of Upper Palatinate and Cham. That’s a lot of Dukes, but still he is no relation to Bo, Luke, or Daisy Duke.

Statue depicting the Battle of Worringen

The Battle of Worringen was fought on June 5,1288 near the town of Worringen, which is now the northernmost borough of Cologne.

Now somebody really got medieval with this thing!

A sculpture depicting the crucifixion of my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, at the St. Lambertus Church, Düsseldorf.

A glimpse of the En de Canon Biergarten in Altstadt, Düsseldorf.

Just thinking I have the prettiest travel companion that a guy could have!

War Memorial in Hofgarten Park, Düsseldorf.

The memorial, created in 1892, was dedicated to all of Germany’s fallen during the German Unification Wars of 1864-1866 and the Franco German War of 1870.

Big John admiring the Peter Von Cornelius monument in Düsseldorf.

Peter Von Cornelius was a famous Fresco painter of the 19th century. The artist was well-known for painting in religious and dogmatic themes.

Altstadt, Düsseldorf at night

Allow me to share a funny incident that occurred shortly after snapping this picture. Rebecca and I attempted to enter a dance club in the area but were stopped by a bouncer at the door. Naturally, Rebecca was allowed to go inside… but only if she did so without me. Apparently I was just too old for the electric atmosphere inside and was politely told to go elsewhere. Luckily, my wife stayed by my side and escorted me away from the scene. I believe she just didn’t want to be accused of abandoning a vulnerable adult.

Now I feel at home with people more in my own age bracket! Hey, these old-timers really know how to let loose!

Big John stands over the famous Konigsallee canal, Düsseldorf.

Rebecca prepares to go shopping on the Kö (Königsallee).

The Königsallee in Düsseldorf is known throughout the European Union for its luxury stores and exclusive shops. 

Next time I might try taking the picture with my eyes open. I’m adventurous like that!

Big John and Rebecca pose for a selfie in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Well now that you’ve followed us through both cities on the Rhine, It’s about time we deliver our consensus as to which place is actually better. By far, Rebecca casted her vote for Düsseldorf. She said that it was much livelier, had better shopping, and still possessed some of that traditional German appeal that we found in Cologne.

I couldn’t agree less! Cologne was by far a better city than Düsseldorf, unless you are solely judging the beer. In that case, both cities tie with equally phenomenal beer. Nevertheless, you’re almost obligated to side with me over her. This is my travel blog and… and she’s just a silly girl (please don’t tell her I said that)!

Happy travels,

Big John


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A Glimpse into the Enchanted Land of New Mexico

There’s this guy I know who is a collosal dreamer. There’s really nothing wrong with associating yourself with people like that; unless perhaps you’re intent on surrounding yourself with only the more well-grounded, mundane types. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t recommend engaging this guy in anything more than casual conversation. I let my guard down just once around him and he had me nearly convinced he knew the whereabouts of some hidden treasure chest worth millions. Had I possessed anything less than the most superb rational mind, I would’ve packed my suitcase that very moment, grabbed my fedora and compass, and booked the very first flight to New Mexico.

Well, the last I spoke to this adventurous fellow, he had descrambled a bunch of secret passages in some old man’s book, purchased a flight to Albuquerque, and turned an entire wilderness area north of Santa Fe completely upside down. Unfortunately, the treasure had eluded him just like the thousands of others before. Suprisingly though, his failed expedition left him completely undaunted. He actually seemed assured that he was closer now to finding it than ever before. He told me he had simply strayed off course due to a matter of simple semantics and was planning to pick up the trail again in the coming months. I told him he should quit chasing waterfalls and come back down to level ground. He just sort of smirked at me and walked away. That’s how this guy is. He’s quite the character!

Anyway, not long after that peculiar encounter, I happened to visit the Land of Enchantment myself. Now don’t go spreading any rumors here. I wasn’t there trying to find any 11th century treasure chest full of precious gems and golden nuggets.  I was simply there to get some tasty New Mexican cuisine. I heard the green and red chili toppings were to die for. Since my wife, my son, and my friend were also feeling hungry, they came along for the ride. We had quite the adventure and before departing our 47th state, the beauty of New Mexico had us all a bit entranced.

Big John and team follow the old cattle trails to a mesa top with a view.

 

My son, Jonah, on a dusty trail west of Cimarron.

 

It was in a charred forest not too far from here where Smokey the Bear was rescued as a cub.

 

Big John and Mr. Ford taking in the crisp mountain air while admiring God’s handiwork.

Not only does New Mexico possess a diverse and magnificent landscape, the state has some of the most colorful history in in all of our country. From Spanish Conquistadors, Apache Indians, outlaw gangs, to rough-and-tumble mountaineers on the Old Santa Fe Trail, this place is teeming with its legends and lore.

A plaque adorns the wall of this old Santa Fe jail cell that allegedly housed Billy the Kidd.

Famous rustlers and outlaws such as the Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kidd once called New Mexico their home.

 

The San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, built in 1610, is the oldest surviving church in the United States.

 

 

Jonah, Big John, and the lovely Miss Rebecca all pose in front of this grand old church.

 

With centuries of worshipers, could you imagine the stories told if these walls could talk?

 

 

Reminds me of a famous book entitled “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.

 

I can easily count two of my blessings inside the confines of these church walls.

Just outside the doors of the oldest church in America rests the oldest house in the country as well. The De Vargas Street House began as the foundation of an ancient Indian pueblo built around 1200 A.D.

The De Vargas Street House is the oldest house in Santa Fe and America.

 

The original builders of this adobe style hearth probably had to wait just a little while before the invention of microwave popcorn came around.

 

Jonah seemed quite surprised when I informed him that the house was even older than me.

 

The Pueblo architecture found throughout Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico offers some insight into the state’s earliest inhabitants.

 

 

La Fonda on the Plaza is just one of Santa Fe’s luxury hotels offering an authentic Southwestern experience.

 

Built in 1931, the Lensic Theater is still operational, adding to Santa Fe’s old-style charm.

 

This beautiful church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, is another much celebrated landmark of Santa Fe.

 

 

One can’t help but admire the artistry in these beautifully crafted cathedral doors.

 

The Palace of the Governors has been a vital part of Santa Fe’s history since around 1610.

 

Since the time of its construction, the Palace of the Governors has flown three different flags: The Spanish, the Mexican, and finally the American.

 

The palace is now a great place to find local artisans peddling their wares through the Native American Vendor Program.

With over 240 amazing art galleries in town, visitors easily discover why Santa Fe is the art mecca of the Southwest.

 

 

New Mexico is the home of numerous Native American tribes, to include the Navaho, Tewa, Ute, Pueblo, Pecos, Apache, and many more.

 

Many of these galleries offer not only the amazing opportunity to appreciate creative expression; they also allow visitors to witness real pieces of history and culture on display.

 

Eagle and Indian sculpture outside of Mountain Trails Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.

 

Chili Peppers are the flavor of the day when at the plaza in Santa Fe.

 

New Mexico’s big game species include deer, elk, bear, cougar, pronghorn antelope, Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, and more.

 

The Palisades Sill is a popular natural landmark located on the Cimarron River canyon between Eagle Nest and Cimarron in the northern part of the state. It can be seen in the eastern part of Cimarron Canyon State Park.

 

One of the best places to eat in all of New Mexico can be found in Taos. Bella’s Mexican Grill provides a beautiful, comfortable  venue with a patio serving modern spins on traditional Mexican cuisine. The fish tacos & tortilla soup comes highly recommended! 

 

New Mexico is arguably the best state in the country to embark on a road trip through one of nature’s most diverse landscapes.

 

Constructed in 1793, the San Felipe de Neri Parish is the oldest church in Albuquerque.

 

I didn’t dare make any eye contact. These Abuquerque desperados were just itchin’ for a fight!

 

There’s always something festive happening in Old Town, Albuquerque!

 

Literally every place in New Mexico is like visiting a fountain of youth. These places won’t actually make you any younger, but many are so old that you will just naturally feel much younger by comparison. This restaurant, La Placita, has been serving up dishes since 1788. Yeah, they must be doing something right!

 

Did I mention that Albuquerque was named the low-rider capital of the world?

 

 

Where’s Waldo?

 

The Kimo Theater, another historic Albuquerque landmark, rests just a stone’s throw away from that historic Route 66.

 

After touring Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, we decided to break from the hustle and bustle and get back into the wonders of God’s creation.

 

Rebecca and Jonah briefly halt for a snapshot before disappearing in the slot canyons of Kashu-Katuwe.

 

 

Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs” is  a national park near Santa Fe famous for its tent-rock formations and slot canyons.

Over the span of time, weathering and erosion has created these magnificent canyons and tent rocks. The tent rocks themselves are cones formed of soft  pumice and tuff buried beneath harder caprocks. They vary in height from a few feet and upwards of ninety feet.

 

 

Jonah tries to find a bit of shade under the exposed trunk of this tree. Man, is it starting to get hot!

 

There she is! My one and only!

 

These layers of rock show evidence of weathering throughout the years.

 

 

What’s that pretty girl looking at? 

 

She must be up to something!

 

I think I’ll follow her!

 

 

She’s always one step ahead of me.

 

 

I tried stalking her from above but I’m almost certain she’s spotted me!

 

I love all of the cacti and other desert plant life. Just keep those rattlers away!

 

It’s becoming a tight squeeze through these canyon walls. Even Jonah is walking sideways!

 

 

 

Jonah is able to capture some fantastic photos to share on his Facebook page!

 

Squeezing through these cramped passages, I could only hope that all of these rocks had already fallen.

 

My wife and son lead the way as we hike through the canyon and up to the top.

 

 

…and that, folks, is why they are are called “tent-rocks”!

 

 

 

Sometimes my smartphone camera just doesn’t do the scenery any justice.

 

 

 

 

It’s almost hard to believe these formations weren’t man-made.

I wonder if anybody’s ever pulled out their swiss-army knife and set about carving themselves a home? I imagine, if there’s a Walmart nearby, that a guy could live fairly well in one of these pointy rocks. Although, I would recommend picking up a few other essentials like an air mattress, water, and lots of trail mix and beef jerky.

 

 

I don’t know why this cacti plant fascinated me so much. It just sort of looked like some alien lifeform. Yeah, I think the heat was getting to me.

 

 

 

This reminds me of the desert scene from Young Guns. (For all you too young to know anything, that was a hit movie in 1988 starring Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez).

 

 

With our very lovely guide leading the way, Jonah and I made it all the way to the top!

 

 

 

 

 

What can I say? She likes to live dangerously.

 

 

She was playing hard to get, but now she’s letting me get the gain on her.

 

Later on, I tried to get her to explore this cave with me. She didn’t really go for that idea.

 

As you can see, we had an amazing time in New Mexico. Thank you for visiting my page and I hope this site inspires you to pack those suitcases and make some of your own adventures.

Please feel free to explore other areas of Big John’s Adventures in Travel and show me a little love on social media. Come back soon.

Happy travels,

Big John

 



Posted in Adventurous Places, Great Dining, North America and tagged , , by with 2 comments.
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