Sunday, June 04, 2006

Our Cruise of a "Lifetime"





I haven't written here since early May. I have missed it. I did write a journal/diary of our daily comings and goings but not too much detail. We decided early on, in order to make this a "true vacation/cruise" we would not "keep in touch", check any emails or accounts. We left numbers with our sons and sisters to contact us in case of "emergencies" but we just "escaped" as it were.

Believe me, we are glad to be back and more than ready for our routines and contacts with those we know and love but we just had to take some time to ourselves. At times it was exhausting and at times it was thrilling. I realized some lifelong dreams by seeing and walking in sites/sight that I had only read about and imagined. Yes, we'd do it again but maybe not to this same area of the world. Our weather was "perfect" throughout; alittle rain to start out our Amalfi Coast drive but then it cleared up when we stopped and had lunch at the seaside restaurant. It rained both times when we landed "in transit" in Toronto but we really weren't out in it. They shuttled us from Terminal One to Two in the rain. It was not too hot or humid at this time of year in our Mediterranean Ports of Call. It got a bit windy up on deck a time or two but then we weren't great "deck/sun soakers". We both stayed very healthy, just a bit of "hay fever" or pollen alergic reaction on our Rome Excursion above the forum. Had no reaction to the mold/musty dampness of the Catacombs. The group of 56 (mostly retired firemen) we went with were lots of fun and so kind. We'd do it again. Karen and Jack our leaders from Sun Lakes were excellent and so experienced at "cruising".

May 16: Living so far from LAX, we had to be up and ready to go by 2:30 A.M. It was hardly worth trying to go to sleep. Jack and Karen had rented two cars from Avis the day before and made reservations for the same on our way back on June 3rd. With the flight on Air Canada to Toronto to leave at 7:A.M. we had to be there 3 hrs. early for international flights. However, when we got there, we were third in line at 4:15, they didn't open their lines until 5:A.M. So we were already tired but excited. This feeling would continue and be repeated throught out the trip. Our three checked bags weighed a total of 111 lbs. well within the limit of 50 lbs. apiece.
We had time for a Starbucks and were pleasantly surprised to find we had the window and aisle seats with an empty between us. The plane wasn't full at that early hour. It was an unevenful flight with our own snacks since the cheap airline provided only drinks for a flight of only 4 1/2 hrs. One half hour after we got into Toronto Airport and got trammed to Terminal two, I discovered I had left my perscription sunglasses/case on the plane. So after several questions and half a mile a walking, I found the "lost and found" office, a little "hole in the wall" hidden under an escalator. There was my case, thank God. The attendant said he had tried to call the phone number I had left in it but no answer...I wasn't home. Our next flight left on time and we got what we wanted again, a window and an aisle seat together. There we were for the next 9 hours plus, unable to really stretch out or sleep for more than 5 mins. without aches and pains.
Our meal was a very acceptable veggie version of Indian curried something. Another snack, our own prunes and nut mix, and a movie we had seen. Lights out, and they left us alone. Betty was freezing next to the "bulkhead" and then they gave us a cold "snack breakfast" and we had to ask for hot coffee. And it was the next morning much faster than expected...ie. jet lag had begun.
May 17: Our tour guide for this part was from Brandon Tours and his job was to make sure we all got on the bus to our hotel in Rome. We kept asking him and his assistant to take the microphone and narrate the sights. Nope! Not their job I guess plus they didn't speak English very well. I had to point out or ask if that was the Tiber River...oh yes...nothing. The countryside was very similar to So.Calif. but little "kitchen farms" and laundry hanging out the windows. When we hit the city and the traffic we crawled thru the filthiest, most "graffiti" I've ever scene. There seems to be no attempt to even try and clean it up from when I was there last, about 6 years ago. I think the Romans (early Italians) Etrucans "invented" graffiti and have an inborn urge to decorate every public place and then there are all the political posters that they must plaster on every other free public space, not once or twice but 15 times in a row. Everywhere else that's left is some old partial ruin of a building or foundation or partial wall.
Even the basement of our ultra modern hotel had a little glassed off "dig site" at its entrance, next to the gigantic revolving glass doors. The Raddison SAS is near the center of town and a block from the "Termini" a very large/long railroad/metro station. It is all in black, white and gray, sharp lines and "form over function" type of place mainly for business conferences. The lobby is very sterile and we waited for luggage and room assignments over in a corner by two white plastic, backless benches and two white, leather appolstered cubes that have a cushy, eliptical seating area that tricks you. Our room was small with a raised platform in the middle of it, a sink and a circular shower all together. There was a separate small room with a commode. It took us quite awhile to figure out all the buttons and the whole western wall which was a shade. It had a white cloth "balloon-type" light that inflated when you finally found the switch. A small television gave us only CNN and the BBC and Italian game shows. On the third day we finally found a hidden full length mirror. There was absolutely no counter space next to the bed or sink or shower. It was a challenge and then it became a "sauna", if we opened the window, it turned off the AC. This was after we found the slot near the door that held our room "key" and kept everything turned on. I soon found another plastic card for that so it would function and "cool" during our absence. We had an overwhelming urge to nap but that would not help our "jet lag". We went up to the roof, #7 for cocktail hour and free munchies around the pool. Then we had our first "group dinner". It was excellent, cute Italian waitress too. We informed them that we were "veggies" who ate fish. No problem, for the "pasta course" we had a wonderful "Aubergine stuffed macaroni" and found out that was "eggplant". Then a delicious sea bass with an excellent sauce and Betty was happy. For dessert, a light chocolate thing but no coffee. That comes after not with dessert. They also served mineral water with "gas", which we made sure we never ordered again. Then we "crashed" in our ultra mondern pad after we called the desk 'cause we couldn't figure out how to turn off the neon lights in the windows.

May 18: We had set our travel alarm for 6:A.M. and I woke up four minutes before that. However, we were both groggy and couldn't find stuff, ie. shampoo. I set up the converter for her hair dryer on high, no problem, but then burned out her curling iron by not putting it back to low. "Doghouse." So we were almost late to breakfast buffet which was actually pretty good. I enjoyed the musli and prunes which I always seem to need on trips. By 8:05 A.M. we were down in the lobby and ready for our bus tour to the Vatican Museums, Sistine and St. Peter's Basilica. The traffic wasn't too bad so we got in a relatively short line outside a shady, massive wall. As we got plugged into our "whisper" intercom link to the guide beggars strolled through our line and hockers of postcards. One particularly pathetic little old lady shocked us with half her head an open sore (or a good makeup job) right under our noses as she hobbled by. It was hard not to ignore her ie. rich tourists standing in line to see the "source of the structure" of her religion who allowed her to do that daily. We had a very witty and intelligent guide who took us to the massive interior courtyard with the gigantic copper globe in the center, probably symbolic of the "catholic/universal" goal of the Vatican. Along the sides were big posters of the Sistine ceiling which we then stood in front of for the lecture on parts of it etc. since there is no talking allowed in the Sistine. We took a different route the the chapel and didn't pass by the Pope Urbanus tapestry, Galileo's Pope. The Sistine was so crowded, ie. standing room only and announcements to be quiet every few minutes. We found the last two remaining seats along the sides and then just looked until our necks aches. It is not all that big for all those people and you have a sense of clautrophobia and panic at maybe being separated from your group and guide. I looked diligently at almost every little sales shop and "no pope hats" on sale, sorry Trev. Then we took a side door to St. Peter's(front door line wound around the square already) and were disappointed that we couldn't get that close to the Pieta. It was widely roped off because parts of the ceiling had fallen near it and the crowds around it only permitted me to hold my camera up and snap. Other than the sheer massiveness of the place, I was just appalled at all the dead popes lying under glass and the big long line to kiss the toe/foot of a sitting statue of one. We tried to peer down into the "famed" crypt where St. Peter's Bones are supposed to be, again too crowded. There were side chapels having mass and little confessional booths with the language label above them. We just passed by dumb struck at the "near idolitry" of all that passes for religion in there. Outside, in the historic courtyard we were able to stand on a spot that geometrically showed all of one side's pillars as one instead of 4 deep as they really are.(architectural marvel) In giving up my transmittor and earpiece for the "whisper" I pulled off my glasses and put them in the bag of the collector. I then had to go find her in a shop and luckily find my glasses...the second time I tried to lose my "cheaters". When we got back to the hotel and rested a bit we decided to "check out" the neighborhood. The train station was only a block away and it had an ATM, a cappacino bar and a small grocery store. There we got some Euros, to cups of "Italian Coffee" and some room snacks since we only got breakfasts there from now on. Things were very expensive I thought with the exchange rate not in our favor ie. $1.00 = $1.37 E. All the shops in 2 or 3 square blocks around the hotel were run by Asians and I heard someone call the area Rome's Chinatown. It didn't look like they were selling much either ie. ladies fashions. Mostly tiny, empty shops and it was strange hearing them speak Italian.(probably tax write-offs for rich Asian merchants) We were able to find some Activia, my latest favorite snack...maybe it would help with my "movement problem". The management of the hotel had recommended a better restaurant that was about 6 blocks away. They gave us a very helpful map. We struck out and got lucky. "Nuova Stella" was classy for the area and the prices were too. Four Fromaggio, thin crust pizza, 2 mineral H2O's, 2 gelatos, all excellent was $40E. We went back a different way and stopped at a major basilica, St. Mary Magiore, elongated, box-like and encrusted with gold. I was told to take my hat off by one of the "guard/attendants". In the same square was a small department store that looked alot like IKEA. It was called UPIM and we enjoyed shopping there for our grandchildren. We also found the tablets for writing journals. Back to the room, a "no-no nap" and on TV was the Italian version of "Amazing Race". Up on the roof it was the "non-happy hour" again with 2 glasses of gewertzeminer for $16E. Then most of the group moved to a deserted end of the roof top and had our own party where we got to know each other better, lots of laughs and stories of other trips they had taken together, plus the day's adventures. Evidently there was a scheduled wedding party or "singles gathering" and so we saw lots of that type of action up there too. Back to the room and at 9:15 P.M. I was washing my two pairs of undies for the first time to hang out to dry in the room. I would continue that ritual every two or three days for the whole trip since I only brought four pairs total.

May 19: Up and ready by 7:A.M. in our "Sauna Rm." Went out early to check for a USA Today and a cup of coffee, which is my usual routine on trips ie. Vegas etc. No such luck. They did give me a free cappaccino since I couldn't find any tables with our tour group name, Brendan on them, different name was being used. Packed a day backpack for our guided tour of the Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palitine Hill. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and interesting. She got into quite a discussion with our retired firemen about all the temples to the Vestal Virgins. I noticed that after their emperors died they were then worshipped as gods and had temple made for them ie. similarity to the sainthood/virgin birth ideas in Catholicism. The interior of the Coliseum was just awesome. We took an elevator to the top balcony. Lots of good pix. I then got an outright sneezing attack, allergic to the umbrella pines or all the pollen in the air on the Palitine Hill and Nero's palace ruins. Some of the original marble floors remained and we walked on them! In Rome you have layers and layers of ruins because they just built on top of the previous buildings. They have more ruins than they are able to restore and their current streets and buildings are so old and narrow and grafittied that I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to do it and they could include all the little "smart cars" in the rubble. They park every which way. The vespa scooters are all over too, squeezing in between cars and buses with only centimeters to spare. The weather was perfect, overcast, 75-76 degrees. We walked all over the forum and overlooked the original stadium for the chariot races, Olympics. I was all a thrill for me since I taught it all for so many years in 6th grade S.S. Very few posing mime statues like we saw in England, or buscars. Men dressed like gladiator who wanted you to take their picture with you so they could collect a fee. Lovely rose garden next to the historic sites with the roses first blooms. We missed ours at home. No formal dinner, just wine and cheese party on the roof again.

May 20: Out again in the A.M. by 9:00. Calisto Catacombes, a bit of drive outside the city walls, vinyards and olive trees all around. My allergies were a bit better. The entrance to the catacombe is quite unassuming. We had an Indian guide with his clipped accent, easy to understand. No "whisper" this time. Good thing we didn't have claustrophobia because this would be the place for it. Over 22 kilometers (linear) of graves, in 4 levels with most ancient near the surface, we went down to the second level and checked out the crypts, and little glyphs or logos and symbols above each. Facinating, cool, damp, but actually well lit. He said there were estimated to be more than 500,000 graves and they weren't all early Christians hiding. There were those in our group who broke off with their own priest to have a mass down in that creepy place, with singing and candles. Yuk, a religion about death. Then the tour bus and native Italian guide took us to the Major Mary Basilica we visited before. Since we couldn't really understand her thick accent with an "ah" on the end of every word, we cut out and went into the square to have a gelato and capaccino. We then climbed onto a double decker bus with earphone narration and did a six-stop tour of the city. We got off on the 5th stop Piazza Populo which was next to the Villa Borguessi (sp) which is a giant urban park with all kinds of trails and ways to get lost. We had been there before, last trip and gone thru the art museum there. This time we had to find it and hike quite a ways. We asked a few strangers with sign language and some Italian, avoided the zoo and found the museum only to find that it was "full" for the day. The Rafaelian Show had just opened the previous day and it was sold out. Oh well, we walked back a shorter cut and found the d-d bus and took it back to the square where we started. We walked back to our hotel from there exhausted. Jet lag was just about gone and bowels finally moved. Thank God! We rested, then walked again to our favorite restaurant and had a scary walk back, pre-dark. We rested because the group had scheduled a late night bus tour of the "city lights" at about 9:30PM. We saw the "wedding cake" as it is called, a white marble castle, memorial to Garibaldi and the Revolution to make Italy a whole country. We ended up at Trevi fountain by walking thru back alleys and the place was "jumpin' " with "date-nite" youth. A "vendor" came up and gave my "beautiful wife" 3 long-stem roses as a ploy to get me to buy the bunch...nope. I took a picture and gave them back. He was mad. We found no souvenirs worth it and hiked back to the bus and a driver who could bend it around corners and little cars in very narrow streets. Collapsed in bed at midnight.

May 21: This day had been planned by one of the firemen in the group by emails to this famous gourmet restaurant "Paganellos" in Castel Gandolfo overlooking (sheer cliffs) Lake Olympico south of Rome. It was a 50 minute train ride on a graffittied Metro, we were in the smelly potty car. We loved the views of the countryside on our way down and then hiked up a narrow winding road to the popular restaurant. It was next door to the Pope's Summer Villa (castle). They were jammed and having an Italian wedding (of course) and we had to wait an hour to have our group of 30+ dinners in the wine cellar. We spent the time hiking up to the little, empty, hidden village square. There we finally found some reasonable souvenirs, trinkets etc. Lovely pix. Dinner(dinch) was a many coursed delight of surprises in tastes and contrasts of tastes. The best! From a different mimosa, to a meat and cheese dish to a bread bowl of bulgar-type soup to an indescribable dessert and espresso. Lots of fun and good laughter was had, including interaction with the "locals" and other tourists. Total: $171.E ($60.E per person for the meals, $5.60E for the train, $10.E for leader's meals + tip). Back to the country whistle-stop train station to wait for the metro, used my binocs to look across the lake and talked to Jack about his geneology hobby and how easy it was with Mormon help. Back to the "Termini", an ATM stop and to bed.

May 22: Ship boarding day. Be packed and ready by 10:15 A.M. Same breakfast, floor 7, had an interesting conversation with Gordon's wife, Elizabeth who used to teach. We shared our opinions/views on the plight of our country's schools etc. I'm a bit surprised at how much everyone in the group "respects" teachers (generically, I guess) We had a 50 min. bus trip to Rome's port and berth of our Celebrity Ship the Galaxy. Big, but not their newest. Check in was streamlined and easy with a type of e-ticket already in place. Champaign as you board and they take you to your "stateroom" We unpacked thoroughly and were quite pleased with our little suite with a window that didn't open on the starboard(right) side, midship. No announcements, loudspeaker-wise in the rooms, but in the halls, otherwise a daily news bulletin of activities etc. Up on the pool deck, 7, they had 10 or so stations with raffles to introduce all the ship's services. We won none, but had fun meeting all the "sales" staff and I mean "sales" because it never stopped. Every time you turn around they are trying to sell you drinks, pictures, treatments etc. We decided to book the excursion to Delos in Mykanos. We checked out the casino, too cold on the AC. So we "rested" in our cabin until our "late" sitting of dinner. 8:45P.M. too late in my book. Our large group of 56 spread out over 3 round tables of 8 or 10 and a couple of rectangles. Allan, our waiter and his assistant met our every need very formally and efficiently. We had a wine steward who had $4500. worth of wine to serve us "free" because all the bonus points for booking such a group were used to buy the wine. So, every meal we all had all the wine we could stand, but we ran out on the last meal and we went "tea-total" Shocked the stewards as several made many attempts to sell us more by the glass and bottle. All in all the food was excellent, with a wide variety of choices on every course, always fish of some sort. It was just too late because most nights we had a show to go to after the meal at 10:45P.M. We just had to suck it up and adjust our body clocks, especially when the excursion on the next day was early ie. 7:15A.M. After dinner, we had a little time for the casino. Betty found her favorite penny slot machines and I found 3-card poker. They gave me a card to fill out (get stamped) when I got all of the traditional hands, and I got them all over the trip except the "straight flush"...so I didn't win the "extra prize" which they wouldn't tell me what it was. Of course the first, launching show was a "knock out" singers and dancers, quite a fast-moving group. Crashed in bed and, at first was bothered by the AC that couldn't be turned off, but soon the slight rocking of the ship did it's job.

May 23: First full day "at sea"...ie. get around to explore the boat and our "sea legs"...it barely rocked at all, not like the Pacific Ocean cruise. Before the daily breakfast buffet I was determined to start my "daily routine" from home. ie. swim and jaccuzzi. I got my trunks on and the comp-ed white bathrobe and went looking for the same on deck 11 at the Agua Spa. Met a lovely "young thing" who sold me on the gym, sauna, therapeutic saltwater jacuzzi package for the whole trip at $100. U.S. Ok. (I planned to use it too, almost everyday) The extreemly turbulent indoor, salt-water jacuzzi was usually open at 8:A.M to 11:PM. It was quite an experience and was very popular with eastern European Women and men. It felt good, first thing on my arthritic joints. From there, I went to the sauna and then out to the ice cold outdoor pool for some laps. This was the hardest part. It was right out of the Adriatic or Mediterranean (salty) Then into a nice chlorinated calmer jacuzzi and I was all set to go...back to the room. Betty had the time to do her shower and stuff with me not in the way. Excellent. Off to a very varied buffet and the temptation to over eat. Again, lots of prunes, musli, fruit and no meat. Then we went to a "promo-shopping-guide" power point presentation in the ship's theater on shopping in Mykanos. Which shops had the "ship's approval and guarantee" sign in the window etc. You'd think that we all went on the trip just to shop and buy jewelry, rugs and leather goods. Then we discovered a little capacinno bar on deck 6 and started a daily habit of "duet capachinnos", A.M.'s with free danish, P.M's with free desserts. How could we resist? We then went to balance each other out in the casino, I'd win, she'd lose or visa-versa. Nothing big. Explored, walked the circuit on the 11th and 12th deck, found the ping pong table. Had fun. Went shopping in the ship's shops, mostly overpriced stuff but we got a few things. We went to afternoon Bingo but there weren't enough entries to make jackpots to play for that were bigger than the entrance fee so they did some free games and Betty won...a signed, authenticated original print of some unknown artist and some free drinks at the casino...we never used. It was the "first of three required formal attire night" so we watched couple descend the staircase and get their pix taken for a fee of course. We then did it having "late dinner" and we bought the first one since it was better than the one they took when we launched. Dinner again was a 6 course delight. I grossed out Betty by ordering "escargot"...delicious and very garlicy. Had a nice conversation with Val and his wife, he has an insurance business in Garden Grove and I bet sold alot of insurance to these firemen. Went to the late show, tired, to sit and "digest" "Broadway Express", poorly lit, speaking as a stagecrafts guy. Excellent acrobatic routines on a "jungle-gym" time bar thing with the moving ship and all the girls in heels. No slips. Blissfully bed at last!

May 24:We woke to Mykanos we thought but no...late yesterday the ship had to turn around and go back toward Italy because one of the passengers had a "medical emergency" and we had to be closer to land for a "tender" come along side and get her (all alone, I might add) So our Mykanos debarkation was delayed and so our "excurion to Delos and the Oracles" was cancelled. Boo! Money refunded. After my morning "swim" I went back to take a picture of one of only two "ship's life preservers" orange with "Galaxy and Nassau" on it (Port of Registry) They were all over the Disney Magic. They hid on in the jacuzzi room and one out on the side of the stack between the pools. I hope to post them here when I figure out how to down load about a gigabyte of pictures from my camera onto this computer. Looked for the "announced" poker game for our group and didn't find any going on. Had a light lunch and then decided to "book" a couple of future cruises with Celebrity just to get the on board $200. credit. We since have cancelled them for a number of reasons which will be revealed as I proceed with this journalling. We finally docked at Mykanos and shopped for about 2 hours up and down their quaint, narrow, white-washed canyoned walls of shops. It was so picturesque we were sad we could spend more time and tour the isle better. Betty bought some earrings, picture calendar and I got my first in a series of "evil eyes" We decieded to come back and have the advertized "Greek Dinner" on the afterdeck instead of the "local ? cuisine" Went to bed early, wiped out. No late dinner, no late piano concert because tomorrow an early start to "Rhodes".

May 25: Slept well, finally. Up early to go and jacuzzi and found it wasn't open until 8:A.M. came back then and it still wasn't open, complained and used the regular one. Noticed that there was no "emergency on and off switch" near it, which, I thought, was a requirement safety wise. Departure shuttles were alittle better organized this time and we were off for a "Scenic Tour of Rodos" Good guide, good jokes, fast ride along the coast to Kamiros, Ancient City ruins and Temple to Athena All you'd expect with some great views and pix. I bit warmer and I was thankful for my "Tilley Hat and personal fan" Then down to "old town" and medieval castles and battle works interesting. No sign of the "Collosus of Rhodes" a "Wonder of the Ancient World" They don't even know exactly where he stood astride the harbor(?). Just a deer statue on a pedestal which is their symbol. Betty got a trivet and olive pillow case and I got another "god's eye". Back to the ship early enough for two capas and reading on the deck chairs. We went the early show, Puppet (Marionettes) which were really "old school" and fantastic dexterity...some ribald humor too. (not many kids on the ship) All music was prerecorded and they just kept up with it. Some more, 3-card poker and I got my "strainght" all on their money. Dinner with Wayne and Linda, many topics and obsessive silverware usage. Checked out the late "mellon sculpting parade" and line-dancing on deck 11 and decided to hit the bed, exhausted and dredding that early call for Santorini.

May 26: Up at 6:A.M. again, so early that the ship's hot water hadn't reached our room level yet. Early breakfast by 7:A.M. and 8:30 Tender to the dock and the bus. We then had a fast and beautful countryside ride along the tops of the cliffs of the Island to Olia, alittle town where you could see the "caldera" bay and the remains of the massive volcanic explosion that formed this isle hundreds of years ago. It, supposedly is still active and they have tours out to the lava site on the little center island...no thanks. You are handed free pistaschio nuts when you walk up to the village shopping area and so we bought some on the way back...over salted and small compared to the ones we get at Pari's Persian Parties. Then we all went to a quaint winery and had 3 sample drinks and cheese and crackers. Delicious. Their grape vines are so hearty and low clinging to the volcanic soil so they can't be blown over or off...the vines form a "basket" for the grape bunches. We resisted the temptation to buy wine and E VOO (extra virgin olive oil) I wish we had now. Back to the capital city of "Fiero?", shopping, on our own and the only way to get to the bus and the tenders was by a steep stair case, donkey riding or a "funicular" type cable gondola. We chose the latter. The stairs, more than 500 long type, had the extra hazzard of donkey droppings.
Back before 1:P.M. so I went to my therapy pools and swam.

May 27: We got to sleep in a bit because our excursion to Istanbul was later in the A.M. We had the Classical Tour, with Celal Guner, a professor almost with lectures at the various sites. Traffic again was like Rome, but not as much graffitti. Toured the ancient Hippodrome area where, again, they had the races when Constantine was emperor and it was called Constinople. Then the famed Blue Mosque name for the interior blued trimmed tiles and intricate patterns that you could hardly see because of the low lighting. We had to take our shoes off and be metal screened. I heard that one of our group had his pocket picked by a little girl, who, by the time she was caught, had already handed the wallet off. I carried min around my neck, under my shirt. The overwhelming impression of the Mosque was the rancid smell of dirty feet and socks. It was massive and all carpeted. Lighting was supposed to be provided by low-hanging candleabra/converted to small bulbs that mainly weren't lit. There was a gigantic scaffolding in the center. Then main part was roped off for those who came to bow and pray toward Mecca which is indicated by the construction and direction of the carpets. Women's smaller rooms were in the back and off to the sides. Men can't concentrate on praying if the person bowing in front of him is a woman...so they said. Outside I almost got a shot of a proud papa, dressed all in black, carrying his newborn child and the wife(?) dutifully following 3 steps behind in her black, semi-berka(?). Lots of street hockers you almost had to push away. The Hagia Sophia was more like a church that had been switched to a Mosque and then back to a church I think (Russian Orthidox) No shoes off this time. Beautiful stained glass window(s) but no images, or saints or people in them...kind of a nice change. Then on to the Grand Bazaar which was just that! We were dropped of and it was indoors, crowded with thousands of shops, every other one jewelry, carpets, or leather goods or the usual tourist junk. We got some cheap fez-like hats, 5 for $10. U.S. Yes, they liked U.S. or Euros. We went about 100 yds. in and turned around. The salesmen were too aggressive and were out in the center pulling you into their shops, offering to shake your hand, complimenting your wife etc. We were just not used to shopping that way, it was "off-putting" to say the least. Some of our group stayed I guess and walked the whole thing. I can't even make it around the bazaar in casino in Vegas that immitate it. We went back early and saw another early show of another "old school" from Switzerland, Xylophonist..."a hurricane of hammers" He was good, but too intense and we needed a break from it all. Imagine doing that for 55 years all over the world. His wife sold the CD's at the back.

May 28: Got up to no water on the whole ship. No showers, no coffee, no bussing of dishes at breakfast ie. no dishwater. And yet, the gall, they were selling bottled water to exit the ship for our Second day in Istanbul. Out early again with the same guide. He and his wife were both guides with equivolent to Master's degrees, speaking several languages. His comment, once he heard we were mostly from Southern Calif. "You think you have problems with "illegal, Mexican Immigrants", how about us here in Turkey with Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Iran as neighbors" All in all our experience in Turkey was very friendly. First he took us to the Asian side of Istanbul where he lives and commutes daily to European side where the tours are. Asian side was much less crowded and more residential, more modern. We went over the "Golden Horn" on one long bridge and came back on the other. He gave us lots of History and Geography about the area and I tipped him well both days. We then went back to tour Topkapi Palace which is now a museum holding Ottoman Empire jewels etc. Long lines and poorly lit displays and rooms made it difficult. We, again, stepped asside and found restrooms and some coffee at a lovely garden cafe with a view. Coffee was $3. U.S. We then went to a major jewelry store, Stark and to its top floor restaurant. We had a very interesting and delicious, veggie/Turkish (several course) meal. I ordered my first turkish coffee, wow, very dark, rich and thick. Couldn't drink the last to millimeters. This reminds me about the previous day right before the Grand Bazaar we were taken to a major rug dealer, Orient, I think. Got the full treatment, big room, apple tea served as they did their sales talk and literally threw out over 100 same carpets, some very beautiful. Betty made the "mistake" of asking out assigned salesman about a "wall hanging" rug...silk of course. We were whisked off in an elevator to a private room where the real pressure sales began. We barely got out of there with our sales sanity. "Make me an offer..." "I would insult you..." With that experience in our past, you;d think we'd learned, but no we stopped on the way down from the restaurant the next day at one of the jewelry show rooms, and finally decided on a ruby and cz "harem ring". We were paniced because we were making the loaded bus wait. "Ping" the naughty duckling time. We, again, were leaving, and one final offer, $250. U.S. did it. We came back to another formal night and the "Group Picture" all 56 of us on a grand foyer staircase...came out great and we bought one later. The show was "Cirque du Soliel-like", that evening and probably their best, acrobatically. Excellent adagio duo and arealist. Took a couple exlax just to get things moving again.

May 29: On our own in the Port of Kusidaci (?) for shopping and just enjoying the last day in Turkey. We hadn't booked a nine-hour excursion to Ephesis...too much, we thought at the time only now I realized we missed the ruins of one of the only remaining Ancient Wonders, The Temple of Artimis (?) and the house of Mary(?) Magdalene(?) I don't know, were just ruin-inputted out. There was a brand new pier-side mall, with metal detectors at the entrance, "Scala Nuova" that was appealing to us and low and behold there was our first "Starbucks"! Oh the joy! We felt like we were home again in Turkey. They had outdoor tables next to the harbor (above ) perfect. We bought a cup with "Turkey/Starbucks" on it. They were new and so eagar to please. They didn't have a restroom though, as all U.S. Starbucks do, and I had to go 3 times. Thanks exlax. We finally toured the town a bit and again with the agressive salesmen. We went into one store because there was a "milder wonan" who then passed us off to the "shark"...a ploy. We finally went back to the safety of the "mall" and got some souvenirs, cheaper jewelry, ie. a $ money clip in silver from one of the "guaranteed stores" and had our dock-side lunch, quasi-Turkish/Italian pizza. Very good. Great ambiance/atmosphere. Nice dinner again on the ship and an Irish Stand-up comic that we almost always understood.

May 30: We got up early for our excursion to Athens and the strenuous acropolis. We had one "in charge" lady guide who gave "lectures" and lots of warnings about getting lost on the way back down the hill, and, of couse, we did...a bit...had to ask. What a thrill to finally see the parthenon and the "heavy, heavy hangs maidens (replicas) I had seen them in my H.S. Latin books, and taught Rome etc. so many times and here I was. Lots of pix. Again, excellent weather, not too hot on a pretty steep climb on some slippery, polished ancient marble paths. Lots of construction and strengthening the "old stil-standing ruins with titanium"...just like me and my titanium hip. I felt right at home. Quite a contrast between the old, dirty, stained marble and what it must've been like, new and gleaming on the hill back in the days. Similar feelings for me. Our guide took us to her "favorite gift shop and pit stop"...kick back time. We bought a gold, detailed goddess plate. We elected to stay on the bus and back to the boat instead of being dropped off in the middle of downtown Athens (or Paeris?) the port city. Didn't want to have to figure out the metros back. We did see where they light the Olympic fame from the sun every four years, a gigantic horseshoe type stadium. When we came back we dressed for the early show and finally heard the Pianist Elliot Finkel. Big hulking guy but oh can those fingers fly. Wow! Quite an eclectic program too with the band, mondern, pop, rock and roll and classical. Then we stayed on in the auditorium for the Celebrity version of the "Newlywed Game" Two of our group's couples got brave and went up to tempt "divorce". It was quite funny. We were too tired after late dinner to go to the "Rock and Roll" dance in the lounge. Hit the casino a bit and lost some of our money this time. Boo!

May 31: "A Day at Sea" while we go back to Italy. We needed it to rest. Had a later breakfast and went to an interesting lecture on the Roman Empire. We had our "new habit" capaccino and an almond crescant. We signed Betty up for a "Facial and therapeutic jaccuzzi" at a discount. We then went to a mandatory "disembarkation meeting". We were told we could pick up our passports on deck 12 and our scheduled time was in the middle of the required meeting. I went later while Betty was having her facial and stood in a long line for 25 mins. Two were passing them out, ...organization? Then we went to the hot salt jacuzzi together and I don't think it help Betty's sprained arm that much. I then left her to go to a "Poker Game" for the group and the invite had been at 1:30P.M. I got there at 1:20 and two tables were already in full swing with little and big blinds at only 100 and 200 chips. There was a waiting list of 3, I was content to wait and watch and learn. But then they kept raising the blinds and by the time I got in, 45 mins. later, the blinds were up to 400 and 800. I played two hads and ante-ed in and was got of chips. I was just "fodder" to had to the pot for the winners. Unfair I thought. Betty and I had miscommunicated about where and when to meet and she had waited on the deck for me and gotten sunburned. I then got "burned". Our only little "tiff" on the trip. We got dressed and went back to hear Elliot Finkel play strickly classical and it was awesome. I was able to meet and talk with him afterwards and learned that he did play at the McCallum in Palm Springs and that he did know and play my favorite, "Traumerei". He said that for years Horowitz "owned" it. email: elliotfinkelpiano@yahoo.com Dinner and our last night of "free wine" from the group's bonus money. Last show, "Around the World"...fabulous. One of the female dancer's headbands fell off towards the end number and sure enough a male dancer in the next song stepped on it and fell...not bad. Only fall I saw the whole trip.

June 1: Naples, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii excursion...I got down to the auditorium early and volunteered to collect tickets and go up for shuttle bus tickets so we could all go together, 8 of us. This would be our last and longest excursion. Our first stop was a small, roadside pitstop that turned out to be factory/sales room for inlaid music boxes etc. They gave a demo and then wanted you to buy after they offered free coffee and bicotti. This was near the shore and highway and across the bay you could see Capri. Betty bought 2 music boxes with "Return to Sorrento" playing. One was for her sister Patti. Then we got in the bus for a 2 hour drive along Italy's Hwy. #1 times 10! Edges and hairpin curves and head-ons with other buses where one or the other had to back up. Several near misses made it a very scenic "thrill ride". We climbed the cliffs then came back down to the quiant village stop of Amalfi for our lunch at a restaurant on the water. Again we had to not take the chicken and had tomato and mozzarella slices which were fine. We shopped in the village then climbed back on the bus and took the express/toll way back to Pompeii. Tons of groups at Pompeii and we had our guide, "whisper" and set time. The climb was gradual and not as severe as the acropolis. Here again we saw the remains of ancient grafitti. Beautiful weather again and some lovely pix. We got a "cast member" from the Ship's Show to take our group picture. I told her to "break a leg" (not) even though her shows were over for this cruise. She said they sign on for six months and then have the option. She was going back to college. The "buildings" and "homes" in Pompeii took lots of imagination and were all clearly labeled. It is truly amazing about this discovery and the fact that Vesuvius is still active today and only 9 miles away. Back on board ship, tired, we packed and filled out evaluation forms. We got our three suitcases out before dinner and before the deadline of 10:P.M. At 2:15A.M. we were awakened by our room's smoke detector with loud beeps. Then it happened again. We called down to service and they sent up a young guy who didn't know what to do and so finally we just screwed it off the ceiling. Even off, it beeped once more but with not as much volume. That was the "capper" to our general feeling of "older ship" "needing maintenance", "dirty windows" etc.

June 2: Time to have our last breakfast and disembark. We were ready early and there was some delay. One of our groups luggage was sent on to some other ship by mistake so they had to spend the last night in Rome and the flight home in the same clothes and borrowed sweatshirts. We got back to the Radisson in time for a small snack up on the 7th floor and reconnected with the group. The plan was to walk to another "recommended restaurant" since everything else was closed for "Republic Day" (like our 4th of July) It was quite a hike but the streets were not as crowded. "Pigneciolas" was "high class" and expensive for our last dinner in Rome. We didn't get the "meat course" but were happy with our spaghetti, salad, wine and terramisu. It had rained earlier and was threatening again. Most of the group wanted to walk to the Trevi Fountain Area again and have one last shop. We opted to share a cab with another couple and turn in early. Similar breakfast again and then wait for the bus to the airport. It was late(on time Italian) so when we got there we had to stand in a horrendous line and barely made our flight. Betty got stuck in the middle seat of the middle of the plane, just like last time.(from Milan's Malpensa-"bad idea") She was really ticked. Our agent was wrong on the seat numbering. Fortunately she did have a nice lady to talk to on the 9 hour flight to Toronto. We had no time to shop in Da Vinci airport and spend that last $50E on souvenirs for the kids nor did we have time in Toronto after they shuttled us between Terminal and made us ID and retrieve our own bags and take them through Canada's and U.S.'s screeners. What a hassle! We felt like we were on the "Amazing Race". Again, we just made our flight. This time we were in two different window seats across the aisle and one back. Fortunately the guy next to me moved by his daughter and I had two seats to stretch in...but I couldn't sleep. Air Canada took better care of us this time (between Italy and Canada) because it was a "daylight flight", more snacks, drinks etc. I dropped and broke my Saduko video game and I was just getting the hang of it.

June 3: So by the time we transferred planes in Toronto and made it to LAX it was the next day. It didn't feel like it, just a very tiring, longer previous day. When we got our bags and got a free cart in LAX we hit the Avis Shuttle and collapsed. I didn't envy Jack having to drive for 2 more hours to Banning. I drifted in back seat. We were home about 10:P.M. and very tired and happy we had left the pad all cleaned up and ready for us. Now the jet-lag worked in reverse and we didn't sleep too long before we were hungry.

June 4: We volunteered to help Jack and Karen return the rental cars to Redlands mid morning and then offered to take them to lunch at Soupantation. They wouldn't let us pay. We had a nice re-entry chat and would love to do it again with them and their group. They plan to go to Spain and Portugal next year but we want to cruise the Baltic first and have already made plans to do it ending with a car-tour B&B of Southern Sweden. We are such "World Travelers Now" Bob

2 Comments:

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Kristen said...

Sounds like you both enjoyed yourselves. Take care. Kristen

 
At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Marilyn said...

Sounds like most trips but glad you expressed it so well.

 

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