Sunday, December 9, 2012

Headed towards Home

I'm finishing off this blog from the Fort Lauderdale airport. I'll have to admit it's nice to be back with the Internet.  I'm hooked on being attached all the time.

Our final day at sea was filled entirely with meetings...general sessions, roundtables and workshops.  Basically, suppliers got 7 minutes to present their product in the roundtables, they then got 20 minutes to present their product in the workshops, and then a select few suppliers got another 20 minutes to present their product in the General Session.  It's all a blur, but there was some useful information.  Travel is a complex business and there's something new going on all the time.  The big news at the General Session is that Avoya is going to add a GDS to their booking system.  For you non-travel folks, a GDS is a General Delivery System lik SABRE through which you can book air, rental cars and hotels.  Looks like the role of the travel agent is expanding and becoming full service like the old days.  Friday night was the final formal night; like a good Durangotang, I'm not a fan of formal.

Saturday we called at Holland America's private island, Half Moon Cay.  It's a beautiful beach and was very pleasant sitting in the shade and listening to the lapping of the waves.  We returned to the ship for lunch and an afternoon of lounging by the pool.  I was frantically reading the second Girl with a Dragon Tattoo book to get it back to the library.  I'm now FINALLY relaxed and it's all over tomorrow.  I think a 10-day cruise (with no work attached) is best.  The year started with the lecture cruise on Oceania and ended with the Avoya cruise.  No more work vacations!

To sum up, it was a pleasant trip, albeit with a lot of work attached.  I was glad to learn more about Avoya and their major suppliers.  I think I'm more of a cultural traveler than a beach destination traveler; I'm hoping to see snow on the ground when we get back to Durango.  It's good to have access to news.  Cruise lines need to do something to improve their Internet service; fortunately, there were no problems with my clients, but I don't like being that out of touch, and what's more, blogging is no fun when you have to worry about Internet minutes and upload speeds.  Anyway, I'm stubborn enough to finish it.

Until the next trip.....

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sunny San Juan and St. Martin

Land, ho!  Finally a stable surface under our feet.  It was a relief to dock in San Juan and, as promised, we arrived early in the morning.  The port is only a few hundred yards away from the old town so we disembarked and explored.  We could see the old castle on a hill not far away but too far to walk, so we hired a taxi and overpaid him to give us a short tour and drop us at an internet cafe.  That accomplished, we settled in to collect email and eat a greasy (but good) lunch of cheese and chiraso.  We then walked back to the ship in time for a nap. Most people seemed to like San Juan, but I wasn't too impressed.  Maybe we should've made the effort to see something more in depth, but we didn't.  Maybe I've just travelled too much to be particularly interested any more.  For whatever reason, I was just as happy to move on.

We docked bright and early the next morning close to Phillipsburg, on the Dutch West Indies island of St. Martin.  The Dutch influence showed in clean, neat streets.  The main reason for its existance as a destination is shopping...again, not too interesting.  I needed a watch since I was late for meetings all week, and I did manage to find an $18 plastic watch.  That was about all the shopping I could stand.  We took a taxi to the French side just to get a sense of the difference.  It was an interesting contrast.  The French side is more crowded, dirty and laid back.  Nice beaches everywhere.  I wished we had gotten off with our bathing suits!  Lunch and then back on the ship.

The afternoon was spent in Avoya meetings.  Great news...we're getting a new interface for our cruise search engine.  It'll be much easier to accomplish searches for the best deals.  Everybody's gotta have a deal.  We've met some nice people and discovered that Avoya is a class act.  The family that owns it is professional and ethical, and I think I can make it work for me.  Mission accomplished on this journey.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Rocky Day at Sea

To try to catch up, we're currently sitting in a restaurant in St. Martin, but I think I owe a report on the day at sea that replaced Grand Turk.  It was not a bad day at all.  I got up feeling well, happy and hungry after a lousy evening before.  I think the Tylenol PM helped because part of the problem was sinuses.  For whatever reason, life was sweet again, in spite of heavy seas.  I checked out a book at the library, scored a primo chair in the Crow's Nest, took a nap there, and walked a mile around the Promenade Deck.  One of my favorite things about the Holland American ships is their retention of the Promenade Deck.  It's such a pleasure to walk the ship's paremeter on a lower level and enjoy the teak decks.  IA hot stone massage topped off the afternoon and dinner in the main dining room rounded out the day.

I'm somewhat upset with this Xoom.  Two years ago in the Aegean, I could write a blog post in another program, connect to the internet for a short while, cut and paste the post into the blog, add a photo from the Xoom and upload it.  Now, I can no longer cut and paste and the photo function doesn't work...something to do with having to belong to Google Plus in order the share your photos.  Everybody is finally learning how to "monetize the internet."  Rats!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Storms in the Caribbean

Our first day aboard was scheduled as a sea day so, of course, Avoya filled it up with conferences and workshops.  The best laid plans, however...  I made it through the morning General Session, the first round of workshops, and lunch.  Heavy seas got the better of me in the afternoon.  I went to bed, got up and donned formal attire for the Champagne toast, and returned to bed before dinner.  I wasn't really sick, just too drowsy to participate in anything.  Usually, I'm a pretty good sailor, but I never had time to get my sea legs.  In the evening, it was announced that heavy storms would prevent us from landing in Grand Turk.  We were to spend the next day at sea--oh, my aching head.  As a consolation, we were told we would dock in San Juan at 9:00 a.m. rather than the previously scheduled 1:00 p.m.  Whooppee, a whole day in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Got to go with the flow!

All Aboard

This is the 4th time I've written this blog post; the first two times were wiped out by an on-again, off-again internet connection on the ship.  I'm getting sort of tired of telling the story of our embarkation, but all you loyal readers deserve to know all the exciting details, so here goes again!

We flew from Albuquerque to Fort Lauderdale...uneventful, but reasonably comfortable since the airplanes were only half full (American driving clients away with less than reliable scheduling?).  I didn't get dinged by TSA--for once I kept my mouth shut although they would not have like what I was thinking.  The enlightened TSA officers, who probably did not graduate from high school, patted down my right arm after I had gone through the full boy scan.  Did they think I was trying to hide my chicken neck arms?

The Holland America rep met us in the baggage area and whisked us to the port only 15 minutes away.  The ship is beautiful and BIG, definitely the outer limit of my tolerance for people and distance.  We have a spa cabin on Deck 10 which basically means we're close to the spa.  The other amenities are hardly worth mentioning.

A very thoughtful client had sent us a Bon Voyage bottle of wine so, after checking in with Avoya, we uncorked the wine and enjoyed the view of Fort Lauderdale from our balcony as we sailed out of port.  Life is sweet!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Journey to Nowhere

I in no way mean to imply that Albuquerque is nowhere, but as the first leg of a journey, it's less than exciting. I think it'll be more exciting when we come home and have a day to shop at Trader Joe's and Sam's and all those other exciting shopping venues. Now you know how dull my life really is.

I wonder why after all these years of living abroad I've never learned to pack lightly? This morning was a blur of hangers and underwear and toiletries. At this point I have no memory of what actually made it into my bag. We were as far as Durango's Home Depot when I realized that I had left both my sun glasses and my rain jacket at home. Dwight politely declined to return home to collect them, but I politely suggested that 20 minutes lost on the way out of town might be preferable to an entire voyage lost listening to his wife bitching. He agreed. You see why our marriage has lasted 40 years?

Now the packing is all done and we're relaxed and ready to launch ourselves towards the warm waters of the Caribbean with a 4:00 a.m. call in the morning. The real journey will begin, but the every day has already been vacated.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Packing Again

It seems like ages ago we were sailing on the Marina in the Aegean.  Now we're off to the Caribbean.  Vacation is a great term for it--I'm ready to vacate these premises for awhile, not to mention vacating body and mind (I'll leave the soul intact).  It's been a stressful six months with new ankle and new job, but change is an opportunity for growth and hopefully, the growth will be in the right direction and not towards senescence.  I'm looking forward to a little beach time; it'll be only our second time in the Caribbean.   Of course, this is an Avoya Conference, so we're going to have to make time to relax in between all the rah-rah.  We have a special dinner planned for Wednesday night to celebrate our upcoming 40th anniversary.  Any advice from those who have done this itinerary will be appreciated.

One would think that going to the Caribbean from a mountain town in the winter would be an improvement in climate, but we've had so much warmth and sunshine this fall, we don't feel the need to escape from snow.  Hopefully, there'll be lots of white stuff on the ground when we return. Looking at the map above, I'm wondering about the possibility for heavy seas.  I talked to a client who had just returned from a similar itinerary and she mentioned a rolling ship.  I've got a good supply of Altoids for the tummy's sake.

We're sailing on one of Holland America's newest ships, the Nieuw Amsterdam.  It carries about 2000 passengers, which is a little larger than I prefer.  I'll tell you all about it when we get there.  First, to Albuquerque tomorrow and a very early morning flight (6:00 a.m.) on Sunday morning.  On the bright side, we won't have to watch the Cowboys stink up the field on Sunday evening.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

And Now It's History

Herodotus, Father of History 

The trip home was harrowing.  There was a delay getting out of Athens due to a bird hitting the engine on the inbound flight leaving a dent in the casing.  As a result, the Greek officials would not clear it for take-off.  It was clear the British pilot believed the damage to be well within the permissible limit for safe travel, but he had to contact the BA people in London to get beaurocratic permission to fly.  By the time we took off, everybody but me and Dwight were worried about making connections in London.  Dwight and I figured we had plenty of time since we'd requested wheelchair transport to speed up our connection time.  BA and American Airlines between them managed to queer the whole process and as it turned out, we were the only people on the flight from Athens NOT to make the connection to the DFW flight.  Instead, AA routed us to Boston where we would spend the night and continue our journey Sunday morning.  Bummer.  We missed a visit with my sister and her family in Dallas, among other things.  Airlines were being airlines.  We spent 24 hours either in an airport or an airplane.  At least TSA saved us from dastardly terrorists; we went through 3 security checks. 

Once we arrived in Boston, we discovered AA would not hold our bags for transfer the next day, so I had to contend with two 50 pound bags in addition to our carry-on bags.  Fortunately, they had trolleys available. Not wanting to complain about everything, I have to complement the wheelchair attendant in Boston.  She wheeled us all the way through the airport, and being concerned that we had no place to stay, wheeled us across the bridge, through the parking lot, to the Hilton Hotel, waited while we checked in, and wheeled us to the room.  We looked forward to a few hours of sleep.

After an uneventful Sunday, we arrived in Durango, were met by our son Sam and our dog Ollie.  How good to be back in our Colorado mountain home!  I think Ollie was as tired as we were after spending a jolly holiday with Sam and making many doggie friends in Telluride.  We're now all recovering and returning to life as usual.  Is there anything better than coffee and the Durango Herald in the morning, a fast internet connection, lunch with friends, and day-to-day duties?  Life is sweet in paradise!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Packing Again

Zeus or Poseiden -- take your pick

We’ve had two very pleasant days in Athens and we’re packing again for an early morning departure.  Yesterday we visited the National Archaeological Museum, and I was in heaven—Dwight less so, but I think he enjoyed it, too.  Those of you who know me know I go bananas when I’m able to see actual objects that I’ve shown to students in slides.  The Museum was packed with such objects.  It was also accessible, although you had to make an effort to find the accessible entrance.  The lower floor is devoted to sculptures from Archaic to Classical times.  The second floor has a suburb collection of vases from the same periods.  I took a million photos.  For dinner, we went to a tavern recommended for its rooftop terrace with a view of the Acropolis.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have reservations and were only able to be accommodated on the first floor, but it was a nice meal nevertheless.  Evening is a special time in Athens; the heat of the day fades and dusk makes all of the antiquities, especially the Acropolis, looks magical.

The Agora of Athens
Today we visited the Agora.  It, too, was a special visit.  We were able to find some good advice from a website which specializes in accessible travel.  Greece and the rest of Europe seem to be making an effort to increase accessibility in tourist areas.  In fact, we were waved through the gates of both the Archaeological Museum and the Agora without having to buy a ticket…a minor thing perhaps, but appreciated. One can really get a feel for ancient Athens by walking along the Panathenaea and wandering around the temples of the Agora.  In a way, it’s almost more “real” than the Acropolis, a place where people went about their daily lives.  After the Agora, we had another stroll down the streets of the Plaka, a light meal next to the New Acropolis Museum, and a taxi home.   Dwight has really done some walking in the last two days.  All along, he has been pretty game on this trip.  I’ve told him that when we get home, I’m going to put together a collage entitled:  ”Dwight in the bars of Italy and Greece.”

In spite of all their difficulties and sometimes surly attitude, I’m still drawn to the Greeks.  I don’t know why, but this city thrills me.  At least I’m not alone; a lot of people have been drawn to Greece because of its ancient history and our own attachment to their achievements.  For good or ill, we wouldn’t be who we are without the ancient Greeks.


·         I’ve never seen so much graffiti in my life!  Why does it give young people a thrill to deface buildings with graffiti?  They seem to have given up on controlling it here.

·         The Greek cars and motor scooters are twice as angry as any little angry Italian cars.   They seem to live to play Mexican standoff and “No Entry” signs only exist to be ignored.

·        Our taxi driver this evening claims to be an American citizen (Florida).  We asked him about last year’s taxi strike.  He said it cost him about $12,000 and now he can’t claim his Greek pension because he owes the pension fund for back taxes.  He also said now he can’t yet claim US SOCIAL SECURITY because of the strike.  He doesn’t own property in the US; he said his two sons were born there but now live in Athens; he talked like he never actually lived in the U.S.  This is not the first example we’ve seen of this sort of “Dual” Citizenship.  Most of the world claims some sort of ties to the U.S.  Everyone we've met in waiting for their Green Card.

·        Speaking of immigration, in the Monastariki section, we were approached by innumerable beggars and sellers of useless merchandise (although I did buy a useful walking stick from one entrepreneurial Bangladeshi commerçant).  There were even a significant number of children begging.  How and why did they all get to the “poor” country of Greece?

·         There are innumerable political rallies going on at the moment in preparation for Sunday’s elections.  That should be interesting. 

My mamma used to say the best part of any trip was getting home.  I’m looking forward to it.  I wish we could be there without 14 hours in airplanes!
Cheers!  See you in Durango.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Athens or Not to Athens

La Plaka

Debarkation day dawned, as it always does.  We overstuffed out backpacks and added a couple of plastic bags and were ready to leave the ship.  Among other things, deciding to take the second cruise had cut back on my trip-planning time.  I had read an article about the pleasures of Piraeus and its fishing/yacht port and had booked a hotel a block and a half from the port.  My thinking at the time was that we would rent a car and explore the outer regions of Attica without fighting the noise and dust and non-accessibility of Athens.  Hindsight:  bad idea, and I should stop thinking.  The hotel was only a block and a half from the port, true, but it was on a 60 degree incline and there was no way Dwight would ever get from there to the port.  On top of that, the taxi driver was rude and overcharged because he only got a short fare and was not taking someone into Athens. Dwight set up his computer in the room while I reconnoitered the area and came to the definite conclusion that we would have to change hotels; there was nowhere in the area he could even get to for lunch.  

I thought about calling my travel agent to fire her but was too busy trying to find us another hotel, this time in Athens.  The poor hotel owner in Piraeus was having a bad day (broken hot water pipe) and our leaving just added to his distress, adding to my guilt.  Unlike the ship, at least we had a decent internet connection.  All the usual travel sites had information and recommendations ad naseum.  I called the hotel we stayed in last year which we’d liked; they had rooms but wanted twice what we paid last year.  I turned them down on principle:  just another mistake in a long line of mistakes.  The next property I called had good reviews on Trip Advisor, but I didn’t read the reviews carefully enough.  The 4 ½ stars looked great, but it’s a budget property and it does budget stuff in a 4 ½ star manner.  When our taxi pulled up in front of the new hotel. the Aristoteles,  in Athens, I knew I had made a mistake, but, what the hey, it’s cheap.  What could we do…stand on the sidewalk with our luggage; find another taxi and say, “Take me to another hotel”; go to the airport and get on a flight. We walked in and booked a room.  We’ve both agreed that this hotel would be a real find were we young students once again—clean, cheap, adequate accommodations.  I have to add--an internet with blazing speed, which is a joy.

We were basically relieved to find a port in a storm and Dwight and I have become pretty resilient through years of travelling.  Weve' settled in to make the best of our days in Athens.  I did, however, call our travel agent and leave a nasty message; she hasn’t returned my call.    

After a shower and a nap everything looked brighter.  We took a taxi to the Plaka area, had a lovely stroll on a beautiful evening, a light dinner at an outdoor café, and back to the hotel.  At least the taxis are running now, a big difference from last year when we had trouble getting around.  The taxis now are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.  We’re looking forward to a Greek experience, but next time I’m booking everything through Paula at Fantasy Travel.  

A Relaxing Day in Mykonos

Bypassing Delos once again as we had last year, the Marina anchored at Mykonos in the morning even though the winds were kicking up swells and white water in a big way.  The waves were actually higher than they were last year when the Captain of the Nautica elected not to anchor there because of the winds.  One of the passengers, who had taken it personally when the Captain of another ship cost him a visit to Guernsey Island, told me it’s always the Captain’s discretion whether or not to anchor in a particular situation.  Since we have an Italian Captain at the moment, that didn’t give me comfort given what happened to the Costa Concordia.

 Mykonos is advertised as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.  It shows.  There are wall-to-wall people, lots of whitewash, lots of tourist shops, and lots of cafes.  We made our way along the quay where Dwight found a nice café where he settled in with an ouzo while I reconnoitered.  This is beginning to sound like a pattern.  As promised, I managed to get turned around and lost in the maze of little streets that all look alike, passing through Little Venice and seeing about all there was to see in a short time.  If Disney has not recreated this already, I’m sure they will. (I'm just bummed because we didn't go to Delos.  Between taxi strikes and tour guide strikes, the Greeks are fast losing my good will. They should get a little motivation from the Turks.) I found a nice restaurant within shouting distance of the tender embarkation point; we ate well, and rocked and rolled our way back to the ship.  All-in-all, a pleasant day in the Greek sun spent on the island of Mykonos.  

Back on the ship, we had to have our bags packed and out in the hall by 10:30.  It would be hard to say good-bye to our home for 20 days, but, on the other hand, we were looking forward to a dry land experience.  Packing is always a pain. 

Shipboard in Santorini and Showtime in Turkey


The hour of truth came yesterday when it was time to admit I really didn’t have my last presentation prepared.  It was time to spend the day aboard ship and fight with the slow download speeds of the ship’s internet to cobble together a lecture, one which was relevant to our upcoming stop in Delos.  I spent most of the day with my laptop in Horizons, the top of the ship bar/coffee shop; one can’t complain about being anchored in the Santorini caldera, one of the most beautiful locations in the world.   I finally finished (more or less) about happy hour time.  Back in our stateroom, I got a call from Dottie, our Cruise Director.  It seems that the scheduled call in Delos was being cancelled because of a strike of guides at the National Historical site.  Go figure.  Someone’s always striking in Greece.  Anyway, they wanted me to eliminate all mention of Delos in my talk so as not to rub salt in the wounds of the passengers who would miss the island.  (In case you haven’t noticed, Dottie is never going to be my new best friend.)  Back to the drawing board.

The Library at Ephesus
When we arrived next day in Kusadasi, I was determined to enjoy the day and forget about the afternoon talk.  That talk had been dogging me for months already.  Dwight and I had arranged a car rental.  Since he had stayed on the ship in this port last year, I thought he deserved to see some of the beautiful countryside.  We headed toward Ephesus with the idea in mind that we would visit either the Temple of Artemis or the House of the Virgin Mary.  I turned off at the Ephesus turning on the bottom of the hill thinking Dwight may be able to catch a glimpse of the theatre or Library if we entered at the bottom.  We were offered a ride in a horse carriage; both of us interpreted the driver to say we would drive to the top of the hill and from there be able to overlook the ruins.  Not so.  We were driven to the top and dropped off with instructions to walk down to the car.  Ooops!  From last year, I remembered a steep and uncomfortable climb down the hill, but the driver insisted there was a fully accessible ramp leading down.  We gulped and bought tickets.  We toured the upper area which was sandy, flat and accessible, but when the path started down, we quickly realized that Dwight would not be able to manage it.  No problem—he got an idea of the layout of ancient Ephesus, some fallen stones and columns, and then he returned to the entrance shops to sit in a café.  I continued down the hill, picked up the car and drove up to pick him up. He was feeling no disappointment after an ouzo (or two?) and a nice spell of tourist watching.  What crowds!

By this time I was getting a little anxious about the time.  My talk was schedule for 4:00 p.m. and I needed to get back on Marina in time for lunch, shower and nap.  I’ve gotten used to using my cell phone as a watch, but that no longer works here.  So I bought a “genuine, fake Rolex watch,” and learned that it was close to noon already.  By the time we got back to Kusadasi the watch had stopped.  I asked in a jewelry shop about a battery and the storekeeper told me the trouble was that I had not bought a GENUINE fake, I had bought a FAKE fake.  Such is life on the tourist trail.

Back on the ship, small crowd at the talk, dinner on the fantail…all in all, a successful day and my tour as Guest Lecturer is over. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Crazy about Crete

The Center of the World on Crete

Crete could easily be my favorite stop of the whole cruise.  We docked in Agios Nikolaos, a small port about an hour’s drive from Heraklion, the major city and usual docking site of cruise ships. We had docked in Agios Nikolaos last year, so knew that there was little of interest in the town.  I booked a rental car via the internet a couple of days prior to our arrival.  (The difference in cost from those cars we rented upon arrival and those I pre-booked on the internet was around 50 Euro…planning ahead pays off!)  We had no particular itinerary in mind but one of the ship’s excursions was bound for the Lassithi Plateau, so we decided to head there as well.

Zeus' Birthplace
After only a few kilometers on the autoroute we passed a sign advertising the archeological ruins of Malia, so we decided to stop.  It was a good stop.  Just a few hundred yards off the main highway, the ruins occupied a flat seaside area.  Dwight was able to find a comfortable bench in the shade overlooking the site while I wandered around a bit.  It was a Minoan palatial site with a number of residential areas as well.  All of the artifacts had been removed to the Heraklion Museum and the site didn’t have the drama of Sir Authur Evans’ reconstruction at Knossos, but it was interesting nevertheless.
My Donkey and Friend

After visiting the ruins and enjoying a freshly squeezed orange juice, we left the main road and headed into the mountains to find the plateau, an agricultural plain located at about 3000 feet.  On the way we passed the ship’s buses.  They were having lunch at a restaurant overlooking the plateau but after lunch they would head back to the ship.  We continued on.  One of the main attractions of the Plateau is the Dikteon Andron, the cave where Zeus was born.  I couldn’t miss that!  While Dwight waited in a small café at the bottom of the hill, I started up the rocky path to the grotto.   Aided by a patient Greek donkey, I found my way to the cave and paid my respects, being grateful for the aid of the same patient donkey on the way down.  We ate a delicious lunch of fresh moussaka offered by the tavern mistress after my arrival at the bottom and made our way back to the ship via a twisty, windy road on the other side of the mountain.  A great Cretan adventure! 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Mezzes in Monemvasia

Dottie, our Cruise Director, scheduled the third lecture for 8:30 in the morning, not my preference but a time which actually worked well since we were scheduled to anchor off Monemvasia at 10:00 a.m.   and everyone was aboard ship.  The question became whether or not they would be awake and interested.  Dwight counted about 40 people as they wandered in…not a bad crowd for the time and situation.  The talk was on Minoan Crete and the Bronze Age Mediterranean.  It was well received and set the stage for passengers’ visit to Knossos.  Several people have told me since that it provided them with some meaningful context for their visit.
As usual, we anchored right on time; I don’t see how everything on the ship is run so punctually since there are no clocks visible.  Monemvasia is a tall rock island and its small port town located on the southern tip of the Peloponnese Peninsula.  It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.  Our ship tender let us off in the middle of the causeway and the question became which way to go:  to the small town or onto the island.  We opted for the town remembering a pleasant time sitting in a café by the shore on last year’s voyage.  We found the same café, had a seat by the water, and ordered an assortment of mezzes.  A few people we had met on the ship dropped by for a short visit, and at one point an assortment of cheeses intended for the next table was delivered to our table.  That triggered a round of sharing dishes that added to the buffet.  I was relieved to get through the third lecture and was happy to sit by the sea and enjoy the afternoon of wine, mezzes, and conversation.  We wandered back to the ship for a long nap, dinner at the Terrace Café, and early to bed to watch Zorba the Greek.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One-two-three Corfu

Here we are back in Corfu for the third time in less than a year.  We decided it wasn’t worth the effort (off the ship, shuttle to the terminal, shuttle to the town, long walk to the Old Town) to get off the ship for lunch or shopping, and besides, I had a program to refine for tomorrow and another to write for Kusadasi.  So, we spent the day aboard our beautiful home.  Dwight’s immersed in a novel and I’m immersed in my lecture schedule.  Maybe it’s a good time for general observations.

·         Life aboard ship is not half bad, even with the stress of lecture preparation.  People wait on you all the time.  How can you complain about that?  It was maybe a mistake to take on the Rome-Venice schedule, but hindsight is 20-20.

·         Greetings are important.  The staff always greets you with a smile and asks how you’re feeling.  Fellow passengers avert their eyes and carry on without acknowledging your presence.  Significant?  Maybe all people should go through Oceania’s training classes.

·         Souvenir shops are the same the world over.

·         There’s nothing you can do about the weather, so you might as well not complain about it.

·         On a small ship, you meet people you like and find them again easily to enjoy their company.  On a large ship, you never see them again.

·         You recognize people you like instantly.  It’s all about pheromones, not a rational thing.

·         You never get too old to appreciate compliments.

·         It feels good to dress up every now and again as long as dressing up doesn’t involve uncomfortable shoes.

·         In an ideal world, one would travel with one’s hairdresser and manicurist and/or hair and nails nails that never grow longer.

·         Food is not that important to me.  Too much of it and my system just shuts down.  On the other hand, it’s nice to not have to cook.

·         Two and a half hours spent at dinner is too long. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Krazy about Kotor

The Port of Kotor

Pouring rain greeted our arrival in Kotor.  Kotor is a city in Montenegro, one of the states formed from former Yugoslavia.  Before Yugoslavia, Montenegro was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  I remember teaching about the ethnic groups included in that old Empire.  It was difficult to keep them straight then, and it’s still difficult.  We decided the people are Serbs, but the meaning of being a Serb is a bit unclear. The city sits at the end of long fjord, at least what passes for a fjord in the Adriatic Sea; it’s actually a deep river bed which is full of water.  It makes for an impressive entry for a ship; high mountains surround you on all sides.  We didn’t have any agenda for the day.  The rain cleared by mid-morning, so we wandered into town.  The Old City was just 5 minutes’ walk from the port, an easy walk for Dwight.  We proceeded through the gates and found a café which had an internet connection and served cappuccino…perfect! 

While Dwight enjoyed the emerging sunshine, I wandered through the town and found a couple of interesting spots:  an old Orthodox church where the priest and a penitent were chanting; an old Roman church full of dreary icons; a maritime museum which had models of sailing ships.  After my tour, I was still a little unsure about the history of the town, but decided it didn’t matter.  I collected Dwight and we wandered around looking for the perfect restaurant.  We found a seafood restaurant next to the Church of the Holly Spibit.  They served the freshest fish I’ve had so far—sea bass European style with head, etc. 

Back at the ship, we had gotten an invitation from the ladies who live next door to us who run the art program on board.  They invited us to dinner to compare notes.  It was an interesting evening.  We both have a few issues about our “employment,” but it’s great to know that we’re not alone.  They’re from Australia and will be doing another voyage Barcelona to Rome in a couple of weeks. 
The skies had all cleared for our sail away, so we could enjoy the views of the fjord as we departed.  All in all, we had a great day in Kotor

Friday, April 27, 2012

Doing Dubrovnik Again

Old Town Dubrovnik from the City Walls

Up early this morning for my 9:30 lecture.  There was a good crowd and it was well received.  I’m feeling a little better about this whole project.  The new cruisers are a lot loser and less formal crowd.  It’s funny how a group of unrelated people can have a vibe.  There’s a group of over 100 cruisers who come from the same retirement community in Central Florida.  They have a travel club.  It’s a good group…reminds me somewhat of Seniors Outdoors with less of an outdoorsy agenda.   So my speaing schedule worked out well; now I’ve got a couple of days off.  My next lecture is two days away at 8:30 in the morning.  I might as well enjoy a break.  

We docked in Dubrovnik at noon.  Dwight wasn’t interested in wandering into the Old Town again which is a fairly long shuttle ride away from the dock.   I decided to take another jaunt into town partly because we need some toiletries and I was hoping to find them.  Just inside the gate to the Old Town was the entrance to the Wall Walk.  I decided to give it a try, bought a ticket and climbed the stairs.  It’s an interesting tour, but really wore me out with the ups and downs of stone steps.  My old joints are feeling the humidity.  I’m looking forward to the new ankle, but now it’s my knee that’s bothering.  I guess I’m getting old. 

Goodbye Venice

When we returned from Ravenna my lecture schedule was waiting for me.  The schedule was set by the Cruise Director.  She never consulted me, which I thought a bit strange, but not my call.   We were scheduled to sail away from Venice at 4:00 p.m. and my first lecture was scheduled for 5:30…a good time since people would be on board and “into” things Venetian—the first lecture is Venice and the Fourth Crusade.  The second lecture will be tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.  All-in-all I’m happy with that schedule.  People will also be on the ship in the morning since we’re not scheduled to dock at Dubrovnik until noon.  We stayed on board all morning trying to do laundry.  Yesterday was debarkation/embarkation day; the Rome-Venice crowd would be debarking by 9:00 a.m. and the new group was to be on board by 6:00 p.m.  I thought it was a reasonable assumption that the new crowd would be busy in Venice today. WRONG!  They had all come to Venice early and were spending the day doing laundry.  Met some nice people in the laundry room

Evening came with laundry finally done.  After a reasonably sunny day, a slow drizzle settled in just in time for the sail-away from Venice.  What a disappointment that must’ve been for the new people, but it didn’t bother me since I watched from the room resting up for the evening “performance.” 

Showtime!  I actually had a good crowd.  It was thrilling to talk in front of people for the first time since we left Rome, and it was a good feeling to be prepared for the cruise.  There were more than 100 people in the auditorium.  Problem was, I was tired from a long drive yesterday and a long morning fighting the laundry-room crowd.  Oh well, so I was a little flat.  The lecture was well received and I’m finished in time to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s show.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Raving about Ravenna

My regret in deciding to join the cruise in Rome was missing the stopover in Ravenna we had planned.  Having a rather stubborn nature, I decided that on Sunday we should rent a car and drive to Ravenna, about 2 hours away.  Renting a car on Sunday in vehicle-free Venice is not an easy proposition, but we managed to get it done and headed down the coastal road in an angry little red Italian/Korean car.
Ravenna was worth the trouble, and it was a lot of trouble.  We drove into town without a clue where to go.  We had passed a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town, so we went back to them to see if we could pick up a map.  We thought about having lunch there as payment, but since the entrées started at 25 Euros, we decided the map was not worth that much.  Holiday Inn—I owe you one.   It was Sunday and everything in town appeared to be shut down, but we finally found a little café still serving lunch.  What a nice lunch it was:  fresh pasta and red wine, the best we’d had in Italy.  Sitting there looking at the deserted square, I panicked thinking the monuments might be closed, but fortunately such was not the case.  There are eight World Heritage sights in Ravenna; we were only able to visit 3.
I have shown slides of the mosaics in Ravenna in all the classes of Western Civ and Humanities I’ve ever taught.  They are even more impressive in person.  Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire ruled by the Visigoth Theodoric in the 5th century.  The mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the Basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo all brought tears to my eyes they were so beautiful.  Photos can never do justice.  

As icing on the cake, we visited the grave of Dante—may he always rest in peace in Ravenna and may the dusty, dirty, noisy city of Florence never get him back.  Ravenna itself is a lovely little town.  Put it on your next travel itinerary.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Viva Venice

St. Mark's Square

We’ve visited Venice before, but never approached the city via a cruise ship from the sea.  Arrival by ship is magnificent!  We sailed within 500 yards of St. Mark’s Square and got a bird’s eye view from the ship’s top deck of the network of canals.  We were docked by 9:00 a.m. and ready to go ashore.  A shuttle boat takes passengers from the port directly to St. Mark’s Square; fortunately, it’s very accessible with a ramp and kindly attendant to help.  We were a little unsure what to find in Venice as far as accessibility; our memories mainly consist of walking narrow streets over innumerable bridges. 

Arriving at St. Mark’s Square you would swear that at least 2/3 of the earth’s population had congregated there.  Moving around was next to impossible.  The line to enter the Basilica stretched from the front door almost to the docks.  Dwight found a perch on a folded table (the cost of occupying an actual café table in the Square was too precious) and I went to reconnoiter.   Nothing but people everywhere I looked.  We returned to the dock where there was a Tourist Information booth which had a handy guide called “Accessible Venice.”  They’re at least trying.  We studied the available options—there were suggested itineraries from about 6 starting points throughout Venice.  The key was to take a water bus to the different areas and make your way from there.  The waterbuses run on routes much like a subway system.  We figured out how to get to Rialto on the Grand Canal.  The area seemed to have a lot of side streets without bridges, and such was the case.  In the Rialto area we found a nice Osteria serving pizza and half litres of decent wine.   Good stop.  Good lunch. 

After continuing the waterbus route to the end of the line at the Plaza de Rome, we walked back to the port, which was quite a haul for Dwight.  Something, other than the incredible crowds of people, had felt different about Venice.  One of the crew members pointed out that it no longer smells bad.  I regret both the crowds and the lack of smell.  Venice is special and everyone should see it at least once; we’ve seen it 3 times.  The Marina is beginning to feel like home.  We’re looking forward to a new start to a new cruise.   Fruit basket turnover tomorrow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Now we've Done Dubrovnik

Old Town Dubrovnik

We both liked Dubrovnik.  We docked a good distance from the town and the ship again supplied a complimentary shuttle.  After our experience with the crowds flocking onto the shuttle in Corfu, we decided to take a taxi into town.  The driver, of course, offered us a special panoramic tour for 50 Euro, so we took him up on it.  It was well worth the money (which would’ve cost twice that per person if we had taken the ship’s shore excursion.)  It was an hour’s drive up the cliff and along a spur which separated the coast from an inland river.  It was a beautiful drive and our taxi driver, although dour in the old Communist style, was friendly.  We saw much of “new” Dubrovnik—the city had been rebuilt after the Serbs bombed it in 1991-92.  It’s hard to believe that actually happened with no one in the world lifting a finger.

We were dropped off at the entrance to the World Heritage Site Old Walled City which has a long entry way with flat paving stones, easy enough for Dwight to manage.  We found a comfortable bar where Dwight perched while I made a small tour.  The highlight was the Maritime Museum which had models of all the sailing ships that had sailed the Adriatic waters since the Greek trireme. 
Back on the ship for a noon departure, everyone was complaining that we didn’t have enough time in Dubrovnik, but I was happy since my last talk was scheduled for 5:30 and everyone would finally be on board.  The talk, which concerned Venice’s part in the Fourth Crusade, attracted twice the usual crowd and was very well received even though I had shortened it almost in half.  I feel a little like I’m getting my mojo back; I wonder where it went?  One friendly Texan even offered to buy me a drink afterwards.  It reminded me of how much I sometimes miss friendly Texans, and to put the cherry on the top, it turned out he attended the same elementary school I had attended in Houston.  Small world.  Sleep on that. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Corfu Town

Corfu Old Fort

It was really good to arrive back in Greece.  Evidently, the sun is happier there as well because Apollo greeted our arrival and never really left.  My talk had originally been scheduled for 8:30 in the morning, but since we went through a time change and 8:30 would’ve been 7:30 on our body time, the Cruise Director happily suggested that lecture time be changed to 4:30.  That would be before All Aboard time, so there wouldn’t be many people on the ship, but the later time still worked better for me.

The ship offered a shuttle into town, so we took it to the large main square and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Old Fort.  Corfu was controlled for many years by Venice; the buildings are squarely built and have a yellowish tint.  The Main Square and streets leading from it were very accessible, so we found a nice sidewalk restaurant and had a delicious fish soup for lunch.  I tried to remember all the Greek we had learned last year.  Wanting to be prepared for my afternoon talk, we returned to the ship after lunch for a nap and shower.  Do you think Americans are getting ruder every yeard?  It's always really a scramble to board a bus, and handicapped seem to be last.  I would say it's because we don't teach manners any more, but my generation has no excuse.  We were actually taught; we've just forgotten.
Main Square, Corfu Town

The evening lecture was, unsurprisingly, sparsely attended.  It was the Iliad and Odyssey talk I practiced on Camarata before departure.  That time, it took me a little over an hour.  Last night, it took about 40 minutes.  I’m learning that the Cruise Director was right—that’s about the extent of the attention span of cruisers.  I am, however, getting the same people attending and they seem to appreciate my efforts.  I’m looking forward to giving the talk on Venice since it will be the only one that actually works well for this voyage.   

Friday, April 20, 2012

Time in Taormina

Taormina, Sicily, was a beautiful spot.  We were anchored off-shore; the winds were fairly high and steady, raising whitecaps on the water, so Dwight and I decided to stay aboard Marina for another relaxing day rather than endure a choppy ride to the pier.  Also, the town sits on a high shelf on a cliff and is quite distant from the port; the cruise line did not provide a shuttle to town and taxis are evidently less than reliable.  Staying on board proved to be a good choice, although I would’ve liked to have seen the prime attraction, an ancient Greek theatre.   For once the sun was shining, but the steady breeze made it cool on deck.  I sat down in the library with a book, looked up, and was shocked by the sight of a large volcanic cone covered with snow—Mt. Etna.  It was uncovered only long enough to gasp and then the cloud cover returned.  The Southern half of Sicily was settled by the Greeks, so at least we’re getting closer to my old Greek friends.  I’ll be glad when we turn into Adriatic waters.   

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Sorrento in the Rain

The announcement was made Tuesday night that because of expected high winds we would not be going to Amalfi/Positano, but would be diverted to Naples.   Amalfi is a tendered port, and we could dock in Naples.  I wasn’t particularly disappointed since Naples looked to be the easier port for Dwight to visit.  In fact, they offered a shore excursion available to mobility impaired (a rarity) that was only a bus drive to Sorrento.  The tour offered a panoramic view of the Italian Riviera, two hours of free time in Sorrento, and an early return which would allow me time for a nap before the evening’s presentation.  It was a good idea only spoiled by the constant rain which accompanied us.  Sorrento is a pleasant little town.  We dodged the obligatory visit to a shop featuring inlaid enamel and found shelter under the awning of a coffee shop on the main square which also offered free Wi Fi.  It was actually fairly pleasant given the circumstances.  The heat of last summer’s voyage is beginning to look good.  I’m grateful I bought a rain jacket in Cannes.  We hope Greece will be warmer and drier.
Mt. Vesuvius

I had invested a lot of worry into the evening’s presentation because it really didn’t have much to do with our next destination—Taormina, Sicily.  I’ve never heard of Taormina, Sicily, but it was originally settled by the Greeks and one of the main attractions are the ruins of an ancient Greek/Roman theatre, so I took advantage of that to combine a talk on Dionysus with the history of Western Theatre.  It was well received by the sparse crowd, and I was looser than I was for the first presentation.   Maybe I’ll actually make it through this first cruise.  The last two lectures are ones that were planned for the outbound portion of the next voyage at Corfu and Venice.  At least the Venice one actually concerns Venice. 

After the talk, a man came up to me and asked, “Are you a humanist?”  Being wary of my response, I told him that I’m a Christian/pagan/humanist.  He then said, “Let me just ask you directly, Are you a Unitarian?”  He’s a nice guy, a Unitarian from Vermont.  I guess I’m unmasked. 

Showtime in Sardinia

Upon arrival in our stateroom, I found my lecture schedule waiting for me.  I thought it was really strange.  I wouldn’t be speaking for 4 days, not a bad thing after an international flight, but they didn’t have the Florence talk on the schedule at all.  Of course, that was the one I wasted the most sweat on trying to get ready.  So basically I’ve had four days to get nervous.   I didn’t realize what a stressful situation this would be.  We’ve shared tables with people at dinner and I’ve tried to sell them on coming, but there are a lot of activities available on this ship that I’m competing with.  Maybe the Greeks would appreciate the agon because it’s been agony for me.  The first lecture scheduled for today—four days out of Rome—is The Legacy of Rome.  This lecture I cobbled together from an old Western Civ lecture.   When I met the Cruise Director Dottie on our first day aboard ship, I asked about time.  She said 40-45 minutes per talk was max; people would start to lose interest and wander away.  Of course, I had prepared for an hour, so I was already in trouble.  I’ve been reworking my slides, deleting some and adding others based on what’s happening with shore excursions.  The set of lectures for this cruise are really not destination oriented, but I just didn’t have the time to do the research so had to stick with stuff I had.  Frankly, I’ve been sweating it.  Oh well, it’s Showtime.

Dwight and I spent the day on board.  I even worked out.  Sardinia looks nice from the ship, but I don’t feel cheated by not going ashore.  Keeping my fingers crossed, I reported to the theatre in time to meet the stage manager and get hooked up for sound.  Several people straggled in, and the show began.  It went pretty well.  I was a little flat, but the small crowd appeared interested and I brought it in in about 50 minutes.  Not too bad overall.  Time to relax and get ready for tomorrow’s show.