Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 9 - Venice

Several big events on or around June 9th. Elijah turned a mighty 6 on the 7th; Venice is our last port on this cruise; we booked our next cruise for January, 2009 to South America and Antarctica; PAC Tour's Elite Transcontinental leaves San Diego today to arrive in Savannah 17 days from now; and the Solo RAAMer's leave Oceanside, CA Sunday the 10th at 9:00 a.m. PT. Big Stuff.

If you ever come to Venice I hope you have the awesome experience of arriving by ship, a ship big enough to see over the tree tops and roof lines revealing the myriad, meandering canals of this city that was a major seat of power in the 9th century and has been welcoming tourists for at least 400 years.

Venice's major thoroughfares are canals with 400 bridges under which the gondoliers must duck. If you think urban parking is a problem, think about parking your own personal boat near your apartment! Navigating around Venice is by landmarks, not streets, or even addresses.

Getting around, other than by foot, is best accomplished on a vaporetto, or water bus, that carries about 100 people for about $9.00. Water taxis cost between $65-100, regardless of destination. Then there are the Gondolas. They are the equivalent of taking a horse-drawn carriage ride in NYC or Chicago. They run about $100-125 in the day time. Add 25% if you want to ride after 8:00 p.m. Add another $50.00 if you want to be serenaded.

There are as many pigeons in the squares as there are tourists! Vendors even sell little bags of corn for $1.30 so you can feed the pigeons. If you hold out your hand filled with corn, the pigeons will sit in your hand (or atop your head) to feed. I have a pix of a man in a wheel chair with probably 6 pigeons sitting on various parts of him feasting away. Of course with all those pigeons, ground and air born poop is abundant.

We spent time on St. Mark's Square Saturday afternoon--touring the Basilica, for which the square is named, and wandering the streets and alleys wide enough in places for only single file, two-way pedestrian traffic. Also on the Square is the Doge's Palace (Duke), the Correr Museum, the Campanile (dramatic bell tower) and the Clock Tower. The time is hammered out by two bronze men (Moors) with mallets. In the 17th century an unsuspecting roof-top worker was knocked to his death by the hammer-slinging bronze robot. Probably the first death attributable to a robot.

We have a full day, Sunday the 10th, to poke around Venice before an early to bed, early to rise on Monday the 11th departing Venice for Madrid at 7:50 a.m. (12:50 a.m. Chicago time). Then non-stop from Madrid to Chicago. Monday will be a day of endless sunlight for me as I'll land in Chicago and then board another plane for San Diego arriving there at 10:30 p.m. PT or 7:30 a.m. Tuesday Venice time. YIKES!! hope my black-out mask, ear plugs, and No Jet Lag homeopathics do their trick.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

June 7 - Easy Come Easy Go

I had been so excited to discover the ship had soy milk making possible my comfort bev of Soy Tea Lattes. But alas, the 6 quarts of soy milk on board for 3,000 passengers that we started our voyage with were consumed less than half-way through the cruise! The coffers were to be restocked in Istanbul, but alas, no soy milk and not to be for the rest of the trip. :(

A small miracle! In returning to the ship from Kusadasi there was a Starbucks. Lovely, as the English would say. I saw a couple of Starbucks from the window of the bus in Athens, but it wasn't worth missing getting on the boat to quest after a Bucky's.

On the way to Corinth we stopped to admire the incredible Corinth Canal an engineering marvel about 4 miles long, 200 feet deep, and the width of a medium sized boat. I visited a roadside shop hoping for some snackables that could meet my dietary criteria. Low and behold, I found nuts and apricots!

Public tran in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and France put the CTA to shame!. The trains and buses are modern, clean, fast, and on time. Signage is easy to use AND there are electronic marquis at each station, even bus stops, announcing when the next train or bus will arrive. Why can't we have something like that?

June 7 - Athens

I awoke with our ship secured in the Piraeus Port, a "suburb" of Athens, and with a compelling energy surging through my being connecting me to ancient Greek mythology, ancient Greek civilization, and present day Athens with its metropolitan population of 4.5 million, a rapid transit system that puts the CTA to shame, 39 stadiums built for the 2004 Olympics now abandoned, and 12 million olive tree in all of Greece. Our tour of the Acropolis, the Corinth Canal, and the ruins of Corinth will be anchored in memory with my pictures, soon to be uploaded to my Shutterfly account.

June 6 - Kusadasi & Ephesus

25 years ago Kisadasi was nothing but an unspoiled community of fishermen and farmers. Now it is a holiday destination for Turks and other Europeans. During cruise season, as many a 7,000 tourists are disgorged from the ships each day to surf the bazaars for carpets and jewelry.

The ruins of Ephesus, only about 10 miles from Kusadasi, are second only to Pompeii providing a most excellent introduction to ancient Roman civilization. Ephesus was once, itself, a major seaport, and home to 60,000 people as early as 9 centuries B.C. In the early A.D's. the population was more than a million.

Ephesus was an epicenter of the birth and evolution of Christianity. The Aegean Sea did some kind of trick many centuries ago, receding to such an extent that Ephesus was land locked, drying up the port. Over the centuries the people left and the city was covered over with dirt aided by several earthquakes, thus preserving the ruins of Ephesus. Only relatively recently have the ruins been discovered, renovated, reconstituted, and preserved. The amphitheater, where St. Paul preached seated 24,000 people. Today it is about 40% intact.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June 5 - Istanbul - Ten Times Older

How can an American whose country is not even 250 years old relate to a country so momentous, glorious, exotic, and chaotic that is ten times its senior?

Ethan had arranged for us to have a personal tour of the Dolmabache Palace constructed in the late 19th century. Fourteen tons of gold, 6 tons of silver, and countless tons of crystal opulently adorned the 285 rooms that spanned nearly 1/2 mile. One of the crystal chandeliers, the largest in Europe, weighs 4 1/2 tons!

Ethem also arranged for us to have a personal lunch and guided tour by the President of the Topkapi Palace, now a museum, but formally the residence for Sultans and the administrative seat of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. The Treasury (gallery of jewels) was home to an 86 carat diamond and many emeralds of similar dimensions. Do you have insurance, we asked? "No. Their value is priceless." Wonder if that's where Kodak invented its tag line?

We had just under an hour to try to absorb the awe of the Ayasofya, Hagia Sophia, or St. Sophia(how you call her depends if you prefer the Turkish, Greek, or English moniker). St. Sophia was completed in 537 A.D. after only 5 1/4 years. She was a Christian church until the 16th century, at which time it became a Mosque, the most prominent church in the world that has been a house of worship to both religions. Ayasofya's dome is so tall (184 feet, 15 stories) that the Statue of Liberty could stand under her dome and not put out her flame!

Huge mosaics of Christian motif adorn many of the walls. I can't imagine what it would take to create 9 x 12 or 20 x 20 foot mosaics using tile the size of a new born baby's thumb nail!

We had enough time to briefly visit the Blue Mosque, so named for its predominantly blue tiles used inside. This is still an active house of worship packed out, especially on Fridays at the 1:15 prayer service. Had to leave our shoes at the door and I wore my first Muslim head covering. Seemed the right thing to do, a way of showing respect.

Along with Barcelona, Istanbul and Turkey are places we hope we can return to in the next few years.

Be sure to check out the Istanbul pictures when they are up on my Shurtterfly account,which won't be till after I get home.

June 5 - Istanbul - Waiting For Ethem

Our Turkey time has been one of our most anticipated destinations on this trip, thanks to the last several years of building relationships with a number of Turks in Chicago who are also committed to cross-cultural dialogue and appreciation.

Waiting for Ethem at the port in Istanbul had a "Waiting For Godot" feel to it. For two hours we waited; we became friendly with the Taxi drivers, port security staffers, rogue cats feasting in the dumpster, and pigeons that looked far nobler than pigeons of the States.

Ethem was one of the Turks we knew in Chicago but whose permanent residence is Istanbul. Ours was a better outcome than those waiting for Godot. Several calls later on the security staffer's cell with Turkish translation as to our location, Ethem finally arrived. He lives on the Asian side of Istanbul; he'd been on the bridge crossing to the European side and became gridlocked by a major traffic accident. He returned to Asia to catch the ferry, leaving his car there. By the time we finally connected, his business shirt was drenched in sweat from having run from ferry dock to Princess dock.

Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4 - Mykonos

What a contrast to Spain and Italy!

Mykonos greeted us with austere, steep, rocky cliffs clustered with stark, white, adobe-style, flat roofed homes and hotels. The doors, window frames, and shutters in each cluster share the same color, predominently Greek blue.

The nearby, neighboring island of Delos, accoridng to classical mythology, was the birthplace of Apollo, God of the Sun, and his twin sister, Artemis, Goddess of the Moon. A rapid trasnport to the 21st century of global warming, overpopulation, and oft total disregard for public space, Mykonos is spotless! The sidwalks, made of large flat stones in the shopping area are painted to give an appearance of grouting. Shop keepers are required to repaint this faux grouting every 10 days else be fined. There is no trash anywhere, not on the sidewalks, not on the beaches, not in the water. There is no graffiti. The rest of the word needs to learn from Mykonos how to enculture an attititude of respect for our earth home.

Kirk was going to the beach and I was going to walk the shopping district. Streets are oh, so narrow. Even the ones that carry the huge tour busses leave pedestrians a shoulder of only three inces. Anyhow, I was walking along the road and gave a quick shoulder check for traffic and who is behind me but Kirk on a 4-wheel, off-road moto. So, I hooked a ride with him over hilly terrain (wouldn't be much fun on a bike) to the beach and then caught the bus back. He had some thrills on his return trip: getting the motor to start; not being able to read the Greek road signs; not remembering where he rented his 4-wheeler; and dealing with beaucoup de traffic--motorized and two legged, as some cruise ships were readying to leave and others were arriving. But, he was victorious and made it back to the ship with an hour to spare.

Fun morning. Now off to Istanbul. Hopefully we'll hook up with our Turkish friends who will give us a personalized tour of that great city.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gypsies and Pick Pockets

Every port we've been in, including Barcelona, has warned of Gypsies and pick-pockets. I carry my stuff in my hip pouch worn on my left hip, easily within my reach and view. In Barcelona when we we were riding the subway I had a most weird encounter with a young couple--a guy and girl. She blocked me from getting on the train as the door was closing. I thought she was a tourist unfamiliar with subway travel so I was somewhat forgiving and gracious trying to get around her, but she was hard to budge. Then her guy friend blocked my way from going down the aisle by standing in the middle holding on to the poles on both sides. As I would try to go one way, he blocked me with his body, and so we danced back and forth till finally I just shouldered him out of the way. When it was all over I noticed my pouch was open. But, the only thing in that compartment for looting was a pen, lip balm, and eye drops, all of which were still there. :)) When I'm in a congested, unfamiliar territory I move my billfold to an inner sanctum behind a clip and a zipper.

A fellow passenger on our boat, I'll call her passenger #1, wasn't quite so lucky. In Florence she was with two female companions. She noticed what she thought was bird poop on her friend's back. Man #1 in the crowd offered passenger #1 a Kleenex to wipe her friend's back. While doing so, man #2 in the crowd sprayed the white, fake, bird poop on passenger #1's back. A random woman in the crowd announced, "There, he's the one who squirted you!" So passenger #1 ran off to catch man #2, the squirter. She did, indeed, catch him, but then she didn't know what to do with him. Meanwhile, the random woman in the crowd took off with passenger #1's purse. The good news--her billfold was not in her purse. The bad news--she had taken off her diamond when her fingers began to swell and it was in her purse.

The moral? I guess is to just be careful.

Comfort Foods

I've discovered eliminating meat and foul (my choice for the last 6 years) and eliminating milk products, cheese, coffee, and gluten (my body's demand) have left very few snacks or comfort foods. Sorbets in the Mediterranean seem far more tasty and exotic than in the States, so that's a good thing. I also discovered the ship has soy milk, so I can get a soy tea lattee for $1.00, so that's a good thing.

Ashore today in Naples our mission was to find someplace to buy nuts in bulk (a real staple of mine at home) and nutrition bars, e.g. Clif. Both wer no-goes, but we did find a decent grocery store and found some rice and corn cakes and some Gouda Goat Cheese. With a little pullman fridge in our room for the cheese, I'm a very happy camper.

June 2--Naples

Your spirit and your body can only do so much heavy-duty touring before you ache to re-balance. So today was our day to do just that. An option had been to figure out the public tran and go to Pompeii to see the ruins after Mount Vesuvius erupted. But The Chicago Field Museum's exhibit about two years ago was so excellent; it was hard to imagine the end justifying the means, at least today.

We meandered ashore, Naples being right next to the seaport. This was the first day on this trip we were accosted by all sorts of folk hawking their wares and hustling a buck, including wanting to help us across the street! Not a bad idea, actually, because the cars and motos have never heard of pedestrian right of way and there are no cross walks with civilized buttons to push to change the light. There basically aren't even lights! Parents just push their baby stroller out into the traffic hoping for infant mercy. Seems to work.

In some places the side walks are only on one side of the street. The other side having maybe only 6 inches of space between you and cars whizzing at 40+ mph. Cross to the other side, you say. Good idea, but the cars never stop, so how to cross 4 lanes of traffic? I'm not sure.

Today was a national holiday for the Italians, June 2nd, Unification Day. So all the stores had their sidewalk sales. Mobs upon mobs, and lots of fun to walk amongst the junk. We were open to buying if there was anything we wanted. Only thing we saw was a gelato and sorbet.

Friday, June 01, 2007

June 1 - Rome

Today we entered Rome through Civitacchia, Rome's seaport since the 13th century. Like Florence, Rome is about an hour and a half from the seaport.

Today we opted for a guided tour since the city is waaay to large for walking AND getting anything accomplished in the short time we had.

The Colosseum, built in 80 A.D, was amazing. It was so easy for me to sense the pulse of Caesar's bloodsport--gladiators, chariots, wild beast, centurions cheered on by 50,000 fans cheering for their death. It was here many early Christians were sport for the lions before Constantine mainstreamed Christianity in 312 A.D. And, the Forum, just across the street, Rome's political religious, and commercial center.

Had some time, too, at the Vatican and St. Peter's Church. It's hard for me to war, up to the weight of all that Catholicism, but Michelangelo's Pieta, the remarkable sculpture of Mary cradling the crucified Christ, which he completed at age 24, and the tomb of St. Peter were worth everything.

May 31-Florence

Birth of the Renaissance--1400-1550--Michaelangelo, Donatello, Columbus, Galileo, Gutenberg, Luther, and Leonardo.

Combine my being an experiential learner with being intensely goal-focused in college; I missed out big time in a liberal arts education. (Thank goodness for Kirk who could be a docent for many things as well as a sports commentator). It's hard even for me to study up ahead of time because it's all just words on a page. But being there, seeing, feeling, hearing the energy of 700-2,000 years ago, oh my goodness, I think I'm beginning to like history!

We came into port in Livorno, the gateway to Tuscany. A two hour bus ride got us to Florence. We could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa from the bus. The LT of P recently got a new "orthotic" for its base correcting its lilt by 48 centimeters! That's quite a bit, I'd say.

We self-guided our own tour, of Florence thanks to Rick Steves' Guide Book. Got ourselves into the museum-groove at the Bargello seeing various iterations of David before Michelangelo created THE David that now lives at the Accademia. We couldn't get tickets for the Uffizi, but we saw many sides of the Duomo, Ghiberti's Baptistery Doors, Giotto's Tower (which Kirk climbed--all 413 steps); the 14 foot DAVID replica in the Palazza Vecchio Courtyard, and the Santa Croce Cathedral where Michelangelo is buried.

When I'm finally able to upload my pictures to the web, these narratives will truly come to life.