Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Return home and post-cruise thoughts

I've been home from this cruise almost 2 months now, and am amazed, as I normally am, at how quickly life reestablishes itself after an adventure. My traveling companions have left my daily life and working on this blog has brought them back into my thoughts. I hope that their lives returned to normal quickly and easily, and I look forward to the next time I might share their time.

Thanks go to Arlene Dace and June Brittingham for being wonderful cruise directors for our group. I'd travel with them again, and hope it is sooner rather than later. Thanks to Dana and Audrey for the wonderful adventures we had in Rome. Margaret was a gracious and generous roommate, and I was reminded of the fun times we had in New Orleans. In fact, it is hard to not talk about all of the group - we were three tables of fun loving librarians, friends of librarians, and definitely people who liked people. Perhaps we will meet again with another MLA trip.

Our journey home was mostly uneventful - we made all our connections, enjoyed reasonable service in 'cramped coach', and I was met by my wonderful husband in Baltimore.

This trip was unusual for me in that Jim did not join me. He is still working and with our own vacation plans for August was unable to take off for a 16 day trip. We also plan to be in Kansas with his dad later this year. However, I believe we will duplicate this trip at some point and he will have the fun of seeing what I experienced. Antiquities and modern cities surrounding them, friendly people and and active series of days. (I clocked almost 90,000 steps on my pedometer which translates to almost 40 miles of walking. I came home from this cruise and the wonderful food choices almost 6 pounds lighter.)

The cruise met all my expectations and provided surprises along the way. I can't wait for my next adventure, and I promise to provide blog entries for you.

Cruise day - Sicily and day at sea

May 28, 2010

A day in Messina, Sicily began at 2 pm when we docked. It was a long way from Egypt to Sicily and after leaving around 7 pm on Thursday, we sailed all day yesterday and half of today. The excursions began almost as soon as the shop was officially docked. I went with Margaret, Glennor and Bob early so I could again sit in the front seat. This time I was really happy for the accommodation as the journey up the side of the volcano Mount Etna was really curvy and twisty. I thought about my friend Anita, and I'm afraid that even with her patches, she would not have survived the trip. All she will need to think about is the trip from Pericles' village to the lunch restaurant to understand what my trip today was like – TWICE!

We learned at breakfast that one of our group fell overnight – gave herself two black eyes, a cut at the top of her nose and cracked her head hard enough to need stitches. Apparently she had been ill during the night, had become dehydrated and passed out. Luckily her roommate heard her fall and called the medical team. They came immediately and took her to the ship's hospital for examination, stitches, and finally quarantined to her room for the day. At dinner we learned that her roommate may be catching whatever caught our friend in the first place. We wish both of them well. If you ignore a quarantine imposed on you and leave your cabin, you will be unable to get back in because your room keycard has been disabled.

The trip up the volcano was really interesting. We went through a number of villages, all that had been destroyed several times by the volcano or earthquakes between eruptions. It makes me wonder what keeps the residents there, rebuilding their lives, their homes and their futures, time and time again. Margaret just compared their attitude to the Californians who live on the earthquake fault or on the coast and hills that continue to give way during their rainy season. I guess the need to stay in place exists in many forms.

It was 2 hours from the ship to the location on the volcano where we spent about an hour. We were at just over 6,000 feet and the top was still about 4,000 feet above us. There were no odors or other indications that we were on an active volcano. However the whole area was rebuilt within the last 5 years after the most recent eruption. There is a small village of shops and restaurants, and a gondola that can take you to the top of the volcano. We did not have time for that experience.  (These photos will try to show the 'other worldliness' of this experience.  The colors in the photos are very true to life, and if you can locate the people, you will have a sense of scale.)

We did go to the Silvestri craters from the 1898 eruption. They are low enough in some areas to climb and walk the rim, which most of us did. Another cone across the road was considerably higher and with sharper sides, so a walk up that one would have taken too much time. Before we visited the craters, we were treated to juice, fresh cannolis and almond wine. The juice and cannolis were tasty, the almond wine not so much. We also had time to visit the gift shop.  There was always time for shopping on this trip!

Walking the edge of the crater was an exhilarating experience. The wind was blowing strongly, it was much cooler than at the port, and the view was very different than I have ever seen. I took lots of photos of the desolation and regrowth.

On the way down we drove through the town of Xasos and Taormino, two absolutely lovely villages right in the line of volcanic activity. In Xaxos we saw an area of volcanic rocks at the edge of the Ionia Sea between Sicily and Italy which is the farthest that lava has run.

We were a bit late getting back to the ship, and the gangplank was pulled in right after we arrived. The dining room was ready for the late seating, so we needed to go to the Windjammer for dinner.

I came back to the room to begin organizing my stuff to pack tomorrow. I have the large suitcase packed but it feels too heavy so tomorrow I'll move some stuff around. Margaret made it back from the evening show, so I'll end for tonight.

May 29, 2010

Here is where my blog will become a little empty, as I find I didn't write an entry for our last day at sea. We left Messina, Sicily in the evening and sailed all night arriving early morning. So I guess all I have to tell you is that we slept through our last hours on the ship. A nice restful way to end a wonderful trip. I will post just a small entry with my thoughts after returning home.

Cruise days - Egypt: Alexandria (2 days) and day at sea

May 25, 2010

Although I expected to sleep late, I woke as Margaret was finishing her makeup. She needed to be ready to board a bus to Cairo around 7:30 and have breakfast before it. Because her trip is to be almost 12 hours long, I don't expect to see her until evening. Box lunches are to be offered to all on the trip. The area across from the ship was filled with buses. I don't think I have seen this many for any stop on any of the cruises I have experienced. I don't think more than a couple hundred people are still on the ship, at the most. Almost everyone has gone to Cairo, either for the day on a bus, or by plane to Luxor to see the Valley of the Kings and stay overnight for a Nile cruise back. Everyone agrees that having seen the pyramids less than 2 years ago, probably means that I would not see too much change in them, so I am remaining in Alexandria. A day alone seems restful.

My missions today are twofold. I have an appointment in the spa for a color change on my nails, and I hope to find a pharmacy where I can purchase more of the wonder cream prescribed by the doctor in Cairo when I hurt my leg two years ago.

I leisurely began my day after I knew Margaret would be on her bus and not needing to come back in the room. So I locked the cabin and began to shower. After I was dressed in the requested long pants, long sleeved shirt and a scarf to possibly cover my head, I went to breakfast where I found maybe twenty people eating. A larger selection of breakfast was still available as they had already closed more than half of the buffet stations. I sat watching the city of Alexandria come to life as it is a work day for the Egyptians living in this large city on the northwest portion of the Nile delta.

I stopped in the medical center just after breakfast to see if they, by chance, had the muscle cream I was venturing out to purchase. Their answer was no. So I left the ship showing my passport to an Egyptian official inside the ship and to another in the customs terminal and a third time when the taxi I hired left the port area.
Hiring the taxi was not in my plans because I had been told inside the ship by a couple of employees that there was a free shuttle bus to one of the largest shopping areas in the city which would have several and perhaps many pharmacies. But the officials on the group representing the port facility said that that bus was not running today, and suggested that I rent a taxi for an hour.

Negotiating the price was interesting because prices were given in American dollars or euros, neither of which I had brought with me from the room. I had brought a a little over 200 Egyptian pounds thinking that that would been plenty. The money has remained in my travel stash since returning from the trip in 2008. The first price quoted was 200 euros, followed by 250 American dollars – all for 1 hour of service. When I explained that first I did not have any euros or dollars, only Egyptian pounds and all I planned to do was be taken to a pharmacy or perhaps one more, I was able to bring the price down to 100 Egyptian pounds (about $40 US). And I promised that if the driver was able to find me a good pharmacy quickly so it did not take the full hour, he would get the full price as agreed.

Most pharmacies were not yet open which worried me just a little as I had been told they would open at 9 am. Of course all the pharmacies in Athens which we saw after our tour of the Acropolis were closed all afternoon. Mohammed did find a pharmacy open, but they did not have HEET which is what I had been hoping to purchase. They looked in their computer database and did not find it. When I added the detail that I had been given it by a doctor in Cairo, they surmised that it was particular to that city. Certainly not like where over the counter meds are available in most ares of the United States. However, when I explained that the cream I was looking for included capsicum not Mentholatum, they found one with 25% capsicum and another of the same type with 75%. I'm hoping that one or both will provide similar relief to what I had been given in Cairo. I have a friend who may be able to keep me supplied as she does business with Cairo. That is assuming I have the same reaction to the new cream in a blue box rather than an orange and white box.

Coming back to the port, my passport was examined as we came through the main gates. All the way back, Mohammed wanted me to rent his taxi for the whole day tomorrow with 5 of my friends so we could all save money over the 'expensive' buses. He did not want to hear that I was already taking one of the bus tours tomorrow, so I finally and repeatedly told him I would talk with my friends.

Luxor and see those antiquities. I really have no interest in returning to Cairo, except we probably will since Jim has not seen the pyramids and Sphinx, and I have not seen the museum and bazaars.

That's all for now. It's almost time for my spa appointment. I'll finish today later.

My manicure was moved ahead a bit partially because I arrived early, but mostly because I was the only person in the hair salon part of the spa. I spent a lovely 30 minutes with a friendly Jamaican young woman from Ocho Rios, where the visitors climb the famous river. We talked a bit about the uproar in Kingston over the extradition of the drug load wanted by the Americans. She does not believe the riots will move out of Kingston. According to the BBC this afternoon, he has fled the country. She was very clear that she did not like 'those people' in her home country and felt they should all be killed for supporting him. According to her, his supporters 'do nothing to support themselves, only take money from the drug lord and do what he wants them to do'. This was one angry woman. It will be another 3 or 4 months before she returns to her home. She works for the spa company so can travel and works on many cruise line ships, and it will be her decision when she returns to work after her trip home.

After spending time in the spa, I walked through the area outside the spa and met a mother and daughter also on the ship for the day. They too plan to leave the ship tomorrow. We spent 90 minutes talking about their experiences, my librarianship (they have already met Louise and Doris in the spa), our families and how we grew up. We jumped from subject to subject and laughed a lot. Both love to read and the mother was complaining that she didn't seem to have time to sit down and read – she needs large print books these days. I suggested Audiobooks and Playaway, a new version of individual audiobooks that are self contained in a package like a small MP3 player which many libraries are now adding to their collections. They wanted more information than I could give, so I gave them my email and invited them to contact me with their future questions.

I visited the library as I have finished the book I brought with me – THE OTHER WES MOORE – a newly published story that I received as a publisher's proof at the MLA conference. It is the true story of two men of the same age who grew up similarly in the neighborhoods of Baltimore. The difference is one went the positive way and the other is in prison on a life sentence. The book asks the questions when were the important choices made that determined their future, and why did one answer differently than the other.

I found several books in the library, and don't think I will have enough time to finish all of them before this cruise is completed. Right now I am reading a book I learned about several years ago, and it's still on my 'to read' list. It is the story of the first half century after the landing of the Mayflower, describing a history that is quite different from that which we all learn about in elementary school. I'm already hooked and past my 50 page rule, so I'll probably be trying to finish this one before we land back at the Rome port.

The muezzin is calling the faithful to evening prayers all over the city, all mosques included so the call is quite loud. I leaned yesterday that the leader who calls to prayer usually uses his own voice, but sometimes will use a recording he has made.

As I read, my thoughts shifted to my Cypriot sister Liz. We had hoped she would join me in Alexandria for a brief face-to-face visit. That proved impossible when her sister-in-law Xenia, with whom I stayed two years ago, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. The last I spoke with Liz, she told me that Xenia is in a special hospital as her husband could no longer take care of her, and it was believed that she did not have much longer to live. Liz told me that Xenia is a bit older than George, Liz's husband, and partially raised him, so she is like a mother to him. He is finding this process very difficult and Liz felt she could not leave him, and he did not want to come to Alexandria. I totally understand both parts of the previous sentence. I wish everyone well in Cyprus and hope they find peace.

Our cabin steward was just here to refill our ice bucket. We have not actually seen him too often, because we are gone so much of the time. He seems like a magical creature who pops in and out of our room taking care of it while we are gone, but I guess we should have expected this.

This trip diary is very different from the last one of two years ago. I remember spending lots of time comparing visits of more than a decade apart to Botswana and Cyprus. I had reference points about the cultures, the people and the development of each country. This time everything is new, and I find that I don't have as much to speak about in a philosophical way. I can say that each country I have visited during this trip has reminded me of the United States in a number of way – traffic, stores, attitude toward visitors, and general ambiance. But there certainly have been some unexpected differences – the gracious smiles of the store owners or employees when I purchased something, no matter how large or small. The willingness of the hotel owners in Rome to lend umbrellas to cope with the rain of our first two days. The cars in Italy that actually do slow at intersections when someone is crossing the street. The taxi driver and the shop owner who were very kind to me today when I was looking for something when I had no idea where it was (the pharmacy) and the special blessing given to me even though I did not have the money to buy from his shop (even the lower negotiated price) As I talked with the mother and daughter this afternoon, we agreed that it is probably the politicians in many countries that create difficulties in their own country and between countries. People almost everywhere are more alike in our needs and feeling for each other than we are different, at least from my perspective.

And, with that little bit of thinking, I'll close for today. Margaret is not back just yet, although I suspect she is heading directly to the dining room for food. She was supposed to have a box lunch today, I hope it was something that appealed to her.

May 26, 2010

Today's entry will be brief – I did not go on the excursion I had purchased because I awoke with the beginnings of a Menniere's episode and knew that if I tried to ride in a bus, I would likely progress to full blown vertigo. I took the medicines I carry with me, and knew that in a few hours I would be feeling fine. I have just returned to my cabin after an early lunch, since I did not try to make it to breakfast. The medicine makes me very sleepy as well.

What is frustrating about this situation is that there is no way to get to money spent for the missed excursion unless you visit the ship's medical facility and the doctor issues you an excused absence. However, the cost of the medical consultation where the doctor would do nothing since I had already taken my medicine and was beginning to feel better, was almost 2.5 times the lost cost of the excursion. It seems to me that the doctor's excuse should not be that expensive.

So after lunch, and just before I started writing this entry, I stopped at guest relations to see if an official letter from my doctor describing my occasional condition would have helped. Guess what? As I expected, there is no trust in the company, probably because too many people would take advantage of the opportunity to just not show up for the excursions they had paid for in advance, and would expect refunds. It's a bummer of a policy, but there certainly could have been worse things that might have made me miss the tour.

I asked Margaret to watch for a book that might have photos and explanations of all we were to have seen. Today I was to have visited Mansheya square where there is a large statue of Mohammed Ali the founder of modern Egypt and the tomb of the unknown soldier. We were to have been at the catacombs of Kom el Shoqfo from the 2nd Century AD, which are dank and musty after a trip down a winding staircase of over 100 steps. I don't think I would have enjoyed that part of my tour, although Margaret said it was interesting. Next would have been the Qait Bey fort, the former location of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, and the mosque of Abu el Abbas. We were to have visited the Montaza Gardens on the grounds of the summer palace of one of the former kings of Egypt. Finally, and most important to all librarians on the trip, was the Bibliotheca Alexandria, a new library built on the location of the famous library of Alexander the Great, and housing Papyrus scrolls and other antiquities. We were to have a guided tour through this library. The original one is under the Mediterranean Sea off the coast. I learned that there are over 2000 computers for public use in this modern library, and will definitely want to see it should I return to Alexandria.

So, I will look for photos in the public domain to show you what I will see the next time I come to Egypt and Alexandria.

Tomorrow is another day at sea as we head for Sicily and Mt. Etna.

May 27, 2010

Today is the middle of a long trip across the Mediterranean from Alexandria to Messina, Sicily. We will not arrive in port until 2 pm tomorrow afternoon. The night and much of the day has been rougher than the rest of our sailing time. I slept almost 12 hours after the Menniere's episode yesterday, and got up to breakfast after most of my friends had already gone or were still sleeping late. We have been busy and are all becoming weary.

After a quick breakfast in the dining room with Margaret, Lucy, and 4 others whose names I know but can not yet quickly tell apart, I went up to the highest level inside the ship to read. It provides a wonderful view from the front of the ship and was very quiet for a couple of hours, at least until the bar opened.

I am reading a really interesting book I found in the library, having completed the other book MAYFLOWER. The new book is written by a woman who is an avalanche specialist with her husband in Alaska. The harrowing stories she tells and the information she provides is written so anyone could understand a fairly complicated semi-science. She keeps saying that no matter what the experts think will happen in an avalanche area, it probably won't be as expected. Some rescue stories have happy endings, many do not. I want to finish the book so I can return it before we leave the ship.

I also realized that I had not been in the on-board shops, so I spent some time in them this afternoon, purchasing only an ornament of the ship for our Christmas tree the next time we actually put one up. We haven't been to see Jim's dad at Christmas in a while, so I'm thinking we may be in Kansas this year.

Then it was time for the ice show as this ship has an ice rink about 1/3 the size of most rinks used for shows – maybe even smaller. The show highlighted ICE DANCING of all types with all sorts of music, costumes and good skaters. I took out my hearing aid as as most of the shows are too loud for me to stay for the entire show. (In fact, I have not attended any of the large productions that are a hallmark of most cruises.) Even without my hearing aid, I still needed to put fingers in my ears for a couple of the acts, and realized I should have taken earplugs. For the size of the ice rink, which can be used by passengers at specific times, the show was amazingly professional. Margaret was sitting almost directly across the rink from me but did not see me waving to her. A number of our group did not make this performance – there was another while we were eating dinner, and the final show will be on Saturday as we sail from Sicily back to our Roman port.

Tonight was our 3rd and final formal night. Jim would have been happy as one of the men was in a black tux, one was in a suit and tie and one was in a new tee shirt. Jim might have come to dinner in the dining room, or we both would have been up in the Windjammer buffet.

I decided to come back to the room to write today's entry before finishing my book and then perhaps going down to the casino for a while. Margaret watched me play $5 in a machine which gave me $50 this afternoon. I won immediately and almost doubled my money. I explained that if Jim had been with me, he would have wanted me to cash out and take my winnings. Of course, that is not what I did, and as I lost my last cents, Margaret said “I still don't understand what you just did.”

Soon we will be starting to pack our bags and get ready for this wonderful trip to end. I look forward to rereading these entries – adding more details and photos to make the story more complete.

Cruise days - Ephesus and at sea

May 23, 2010

Margaret and I had separate tours today, although we saw one place on both tours. Her tour was back to the ship in about 4 hours and mine took 8.5 hours. I chose the longer tour because it would give me a chance to learn about more than just the Christian history of this part of Turkey. Both tours left very early around 7:30 so we were ready for breakfast around 6:30 only to discover that the dining room did not open until 7:30. We were forced to go to the buffet at the Windjammer which Margaret does not like. It was so crowded that it took most of our time just to find a place to sit. I sent Margaret off to find her breakfast, and then I went looking. After about 10 minutes of eating we needed to leave for the staging area. Margaret had taken medications that needed food and so did not fell well during much of the morning and after she returned to the ship. She was feeling much better by evening and joined everyone for dinner.

I took medication that is to be followed by food within one hour and certainly had not had enough in the short time we actually ate. So I picked up a small box of Raisin Bran which I ate while waiting for my group to be called to the buses. I also had an orange which I ate before the tour and an apple which I had mid morning. Luckily, because lunch was not until almost 2:30.

However, despite the rocky start, Margaret and I both enjoyed our trips. My day began at Ephesus, a large historic site dating back to several centuries BC. It was a large city for many years before simply being abandoned after a series of regular earthquakes every 10 or so years. There is an archaeological museum which we did not see, but did enter through the Magnesia Gate near the Odeon.

There is a Fountain of Trajan, the Steam Baths and toilets near another brothel, the Temple of Hadrian and Library of Celcius.


The largest outdoor theater is in Ephesus and is estimated to have held 24,000 people – St Paul is said to have preached here as well as next to the Acropolis back in Athens. We walked the Arcadian Way where Antony and Cleopatra were to have rode through Ephesus. Today we saw street performers showing what might have happened on that day.

Ephesus is one of the most complete ruined cities I have seen during my travels. Much is not restored, but has been discovered in place. The library is amazing and is on one side of a city square which leads to the location of the ancient market. Our guide was interesting and informative, funny and serious. He was Muslim and spoke from that personal point-of-view plus a more cosmopolitan world-view that included all on the tour.

A short bus ride took us to Magnesia next where we were unable to see all that has been uncovered because of recent heavy rains. Portions of the site were under water or mud. However there were a couple of really interesting buildings to photograph standing in the water. This particular city became know for the stones that attracted and repelled each other – magnets as we know them today. The site is still being excavated and there is not too much signage as yet. Our guide did a good job keeping us informed here as well - the walkie-talkie receiver and ear bugs worked well.

 Miletus was close and our next stop. We entered up several sets of very tall steps into the Roman Theater. Not as large as the one in Ephesus, but perhaps a bit better preserved.

I was not willing to follow the group as they climbed the very steep steps up into the seats with no rail or chain for assistance. And I thought they would be coming down another similar set of steps. However,the group actually left the theater through a lower entrance, but as soon as they went into the tunnel the connection through the speaker system we were all wearing in our ears quit reaching my set. So I made my way out of the theater the same way we entered, and waited for the group to return. I spent time in the 'bone yard', my term for the areas outside the ruins we had been visiting where artifacts have been placed after discovery and before their proper location is determined in the restoration.

Our tour guide was distressed when he discovered the reason I had not followed. I had been walking behind the group much of the time, as I was taking lots of photos, so he did not realize that my absence was for another reason. No worries, I simply asked the man who had been sitting across the aisle and who had been taking photos in many of the spots I had chosen, if he might share his photos of the back and outside of the theater. He promises to sent me the link to his Picassa album. (So far, no link, so I don't think I will see these photos.)

Our next stop was the town of Didyma where we had a traditional Turkish buffet of hot and cold dishes as appetizers and our choice of fresh fish or chicken as our entry. I chose fish which was very good except it was full of small pointy bones, and this made eating it somewhat difficult. Dessert was either fresh fruit which we were warned against, although many of the group ate them, and a honey cake and Turkish baklava. Nice and tasty although quite late. I was happy I had brought the apple for a mid morning snack.

Once again, to enter the Temple, one must climb multiple steps with no handrails. So I stay on a slightly higher areas in front of the main entrance to the temple taking photos of amazing broken pieces of the columns and other engraved stone. As the group made their way up into the temple and out of sight, I could still hear the commentary.

When our guide announced that everyone should finish their photos and return to the bus, I headed back on my own.

We were still over an hour away from the ship and were scheduled to stop in a carpet factory at the pier. When we arrived, I begged forgiveness of the guide and came directly back to the ship where I found Margaret dozing as she recovered from her morning without breakfast.

Dinner was with the group as it has been the other days. Most were planning to see the evening show either in the big theater or in one of the smaller bars. I have been doing neither as the music in most venues is much too loud even with earplugs. So I have been working on my diary to be ready to upload to the blog, or spending a few hours in the casino. So far I am not winning, but I'm having fun.

May 24, 2010

Today is a day at sea with sunny warm weather and little to do. Margaret was gone when I awakened around 9:30 am. I leisurely got ready for my day which contained only one must-do. Early in the afternoon we are to get our passports back, as Egypt requires their use. All other countries until Egypt have accepted our Sea Pass cards issued by the cruise company as we board as if it were a passport, although it does not contain a photo. One is embedded on the strip when a photo is taken as you board the ship and use the Sea Pass for the first time. I can't imagine that the strips can be read anywhere other than on the Navigator. It has felt really weird to be in a foreign country without any photo ID. I left my drivers license at home which is the only other photo ID in my possession. However, so far I have been off the ship only with Royal Caribbean excursions.

I arrived for a late breakfast just in time for breakfast and about 20 minutes before the Windjammer buffet switched to lunch. Only part of the large buffet was still working as breakfast, but I managed to find something that interested me. I met up with Audrey, Dana, June and her mother Arlene. We got caught up on everything we had been doing, sometimes the same thing but with different tour group buses. Yesterday, most of us went to Ephesus and then the Virgin Mary's home, which I did not see on my slightly different and longer trip described in yesterday's post. Margaret told me that it was a tiny 2-room home with a special wall where people, especially women, tie requests to Mary for a healthy child, marriage or other needs of the woman. Our bus guide described the home as also having a 'promise' tree, but Margaret does not remember seeing a tree filled with ribbons. Perhaps I misunderstood my guide when he was talking about this, and he was describing the wall which I imagined as a tree.

Around 12:45 I got in line at the wrong dining room, and was happy when the correct dining room was announced for our cabin floor. Margaret arrived soon after I entered the correct line, so we moved through the easy process together. I think we keep our passports now, even though we still have one more port after two days in Alexandria.

Dinner tonight was preceded by a cocktail party in our cabin since we have a balcony. Organized by Barbara and Dave, several folks brought wine to share, and I went to the Windjammer to find the fixin's for hor d'oeurves: crusty brown bread, wheat rolls, several types of cheese in small slices and fresh warm raisin and cranberry scones. Several guests added some fruit which we cut using a pocket knife brought by Glennor and Bob. Tonight was another formal night, and Michael Gannon in his white tux made quite a statement. Several photographs of him were taken by some women in the group. In addition to Margaret and me, we welcomed Barb and Dave, Glennor and Bob, Michael and Joanie, Arlene and June – I think that's all.

After dinner I hoped to catch the final showing of Julie and Julia, but it was too late. So I went to the casino where I came home with some of the money I had lost. The last machine I played was very generous. I have not found a machine that is ready to give up large amounts yet, so I am behind quite a bit on what I have played. However, I have been mostly playing the penny and two-penny machines and you can't lose too much on them.

Margaret was returning to the cabin after the evening show just as I was walking the hallway from the other direction. Great timing. We weren't too long opening the door and lowering the air conditioning. And, we were not too long getting into bed to read before turning off our lights.

Cruise days - Greece: Athens and Rhodes

May 21, 2010

Today was a day that Margaret and I could sleep in a bit, as our joint excursion did not begin until almost 10 am. So we were up for breakfast, basically the same choices we had in the dining room a couple of days ago. We met up with Joanie Bradford and Michael Gannon, friends who I have not seen in a while, and had a nice conversation over breakfast. We were all going on the same excursion, but ended up on different buses with different guides. In fact, I think that all 24 of us were going to the same place.

Our excursion was called Scenic Athens and Acropolis. Our bus trip to the ruins included running commentary about the important locations, gardens, buildings, statues, ruins, etc. that we passed. During the early part of the trip we saw the remaining columns of the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, the National Parliament Building with the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with the guards in traditional dress including skirts, and the Panathinion Stadium location of the first modern Olympics in the 1896 (this is where the Olympic torch is lit every 4 years).

And then we reached the Acropolis where the walk up and down can be difficult and dangerous. Much of the pathway is paved with marble stepping stones and steps, both of which can become really slippery in rainy weather, which was forecast for today. That coupled with the incredible crowds of visitors (which one guide told the group was 'low' and we were 'lucky') makes the ascent and descent slow and tiring. Margaret and I had received numbers for the same group as her friends, Dave and Barbara, so the four of us mostly walked together helping each other. The steps were slanted, mostly higher than normal with shorter step areas. And once we arrived at the top of the Acropolis, we then needed to walk on gravel through which marble points and rocks protruded. After centuries of people walking on the marble near the ruins, the rocks have been rubbed smooth and slippery in many places, and with cracks, crevices, and other natural shapes that are difficult to negotiate.

Most of the ruins – the Parthenon, the Temple of Nike (warrior Athena), and others – are partially hidden by scaffolding because of the enormous amount of restoration being completed. Two years ago when Anita and I went to Africa and other places, we passed on Athens as a connection city because we did not want to see the Acropolis until the restoration was completed. Well now I have seen it, taken a lot of photos with many tourists in them because it is almost impossible to find a view that does not include tourists. And, I still think our decision of two years ago was the right one. The restoration will be amazing when completed, but for now, you must concentrate really hard to see the ruins without modern interruptions.

I wandered around by myself most of the time, looking for unusual points-of-view for photos. I found a spot that gave me what I think will be one of my favorite photos of the trip - a spot where there were few people and a view of the Parthenon which included some flowers.

We were all to make our own way down from the top to a meeting place for the bus to pick us up. We were taken to the center of Athens, near the Parliament building where we were met by a Royal Caribbean representative who led us to a shopping area and made recommendations for trusted shopping or restaurants for lunch.

 Barbara, Dave, Margaret and I stayed in town for lunch – my sister Liz makes a better pork stuffed with Feta cheese, peppers and tomatoes. The restaurant was fronted by this beautiful multi-story bougainvillea. We walked a few blocks to another area and found a narrow street lined with small shops with reasonable prices catering to tourists, where all of us were able to find a few things to purchase for ourselves or gifts.

I have a nephew who is anxiously awaiting my return because his birthday present is coming from the trip instead of at his birthday on May 10th. I feel certain he is going to like my choice when he receives is after I return and get it mailed to him. And since his older brother's birthday will be within a week of my return, I found something for him today.

I also found what has become a traditional trip souvenir - a pair of Grecian earrings - lovely and recommended by a kind shop clerk, with approval from Margaret, who also purchased earrings.

Back to the ship by reduced fare taxi complements of Royal Caribbean. Time to clean up a bit, go to dinner, visit with some friends in the Viking Lounge almost at the top of the ship and then here to my room to get ready to try uploading after I brought these entries up-to-date. Unfortunately, it's after 10 pm and we have an early excursion in Rhodes tomorrow morning, so I'm off to bed instead of to the computer room.

See you all tomorrow. I wish I could confidently upload photos without breaking my budget, but once again, photos will wait until after I return home. Perhaps I'll have better luck with free wifi in our hotels during our anniversary trip from mid August to early September.

May 22, 2010

After the bus left the pier, we drove for about a hour along the beautiful coast to Kamiros, an ancient city in ruins. The guide spent several minutes explaining what we would see before we left the bus. (She had also identified towns, the airport and power plant on the way to the site, as well as talking about the types of houses we passed.) Once out of the bus, we moved up a hill (the lady from the previous paragraph stayed on the bus – important, so keep reading) and gathered at the edge of the main and lowest areas of the ruins. Our guide suggested that everyone walk up the gravel and large stone path to the top of the valley. As I looked at the site, I decided that one would not need to walk too far to see most of the important areas. (Barbara and Dave confirmed this after they returned to the bus.)

I motioned Margaret over under a tree where I had found an empty bench so she could sit for a while. She was still tired from walking up the hill yesterday to see the Acropolis. I explained that I had walked up the path right in front of us and felt that I had seen all I needed to see and photograph of Kamiros. She made the short walk and agreed, so we sat and chatted. We left to visit the bathrooms (or bathroom – one per sex). The men's line was moving much more quickly, so some women moved over to join the line. Apparently there was no difference inside. This worked with some of the men, and more women joined that line, while the women's line continued to move really slowly. Some men were offended and would not wait at the back of the line, but instead just moved into the line after the first man at the front of the line, or in front of the woman heading the line. Despite this, the men's room line moved faster. Cultural differences were apparent in this experience.

As I walked down the hill to the bus it occurred to me that if the lady who stayed on the bus, had realized she could see much of the ruins without climbing the hill (very difficult to imagine in her wheelchair), she might have left the bus to come to the location where Margaret and I looked over the ruins. According to the guide when I mentioned this to her, she understood what I suggested and still chose to stay in the bus. At least the guide had tried, and I'm certain that several men and/or women would have shared the pushing of her wheelchair.

We returned to the city the same way, along the coast, that we had left a couple of hours earlier.

Our final stop was the old medieval and walled city of Rhodes. We had a walking tour of the city and then about 45 minutes on our own. Our tour included the Port d'Ambrose, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Hospital of the Knights of Malta, the Street of Knights, the Governor's Palace, and the Hotel des Rhodes. All these locations were within the city walls. It was interesting to walk within this very old city, with four entrance gates on the waterfront, and feel as if you were in a semi-modern city. There were cars and motorcycles, lots of stores, museums, street performers, and more than just tourists milling around. It was quite an unusual experience.

The bus returned to one of the gates, nearest to where the tour ended, to take those who did not want to walk right back to the ship. Margaret said “Why should I walk when I can ride?” So we rode.

We were back in time for me to check my email and try to get online with my netbook. Understand that I had used some time from the package I had purchased to lower the price per minute from 65 cents per minute. The cost is still quite high, but there is no refund if you don't use all your minutes, and I didn't think I would use the largest package. Little did I know just how slow the connection is on the ship. Margaret used a couple of my minutes to check her email, and then I went looking for one of the hot spots a couple of decks below us. I found it and could not stay connected. I finally approached a man who appeared to be working on line, explaining that my 'geek' had stayed home. He walked me through the process and got me connected. However, everything went from bad to worse because of the slow connection. Ultimately, I did not get any more work completed, nor was I able to upload pre-typed diary entries to my blog, nor did I stay connected. Suddenly every window closed and I was unable to log in.

At this point I was angry so I walked over to Guest Relations, told them of my experience, worked with one of the IT guys to prove that I could connect and knew how to do it (although his way was different than the way I was taught by the man who helped me.) Once everything was confirmed, they kindly refunded the entire amount I had paid to open the account. I protested, saying that I had used some of the minutes to be online a day or so ago, but the Customer Representative insisted and I said OK.

I still don't think that I will be able to do much with the blog while on the cruise, but I should have almost everything ready when I get home. I have been editing and deleting photos each evening, so the first sort will be completed by the time I return to Ellicott City. I thought Africa and Cyprus were difficult from a computer point-of-view, no way, they were a piece of cake when compared to what I found here on Royal Caribbean. I hope the wifi we find in California will be faster. Then I might be able to blog and upload photos at the same time. Keep your fingers crossed.

Cruise days - Naples and Pompeii, and a day at sea

May 19, 2010

I was up early as I had two excursions scheduled for today. Margaret was also up to meet her daughter-n-law for the day, so we went to the dining room for breakfast. I ordered one scrambled egg and then visited the muesli bar for a bowl of fruit muesli with plain yogurt and other fresh fruits. Yummy and filling.

My excursion left at 8:15 am and was entitled Panoramic Naples. This was mostly a bus tour with excellent commentary and a few hop off spots for photos. We passed the Castle Nuova, Piazza de Boursa, the Galleria Umberto, the Piazza Plebiscito, several Royal Palaces, the San Carlo Opera House, the Church of St Francis, Posilipo Hill with a view of both Naples bay and Posilipo Bay, the Merelina port where we stopped for gelato (and caught a view of Mt. Vesuvious), and the Castle of the Egg in Santa Lucia before returning to the ship. I wanted an overview of Naples and got what I hoped, lots of suggestions for when I return – especially the archeology museum where most of the artifacts from Pompeii are housed.
We were turned to the ship in time to have some lunch before heading out to my second excursion, surprisingly with the same excellent guide from the morning tour – Fiorella was funny and informed. The afternoon adventure was to the ruins of Pompeii, at the top of my list of things to see in this city. I ran into Audrey and Dana at lunch who warned me about the very uneven streets of cobblestones, and the extreme slant on the entrance street into the city. I had purchased good hiking boots before the trip and had them well broken in, so I felt I was prepared.

Our stop at Pompeii was preceded by a visit to a cameo factory, which did not interest me as much as the clean toilets available in the building. However there was no paper, so I'm happy I was prepared. The group was given bottled water and we entered Pompeii. Our entrance was not as had been described to me and I discovered later that we did not go into the city the traditional way, as most groups were diverted due to the collapse and possible death of an earlier tourist. Audrey and Dana and their group moved past the man who was receiving CPR as medical personnel were arriving.

Pompeii was very different from those ruins I've seen in Cyprus. The city was both boring and exciting. The story of the discovery and excavations was interesting, but there was not much variety in most of the areas we explored. We did see a few rooms where the interior decorations had survived, but must of the man-made parts of this ancient city either did not survive the violent explosions and fire from Mt. Vesuvius, or have been moved to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. We also saw the brothel, a popular stop on all tours because of the recovered wall paintings which advertise the 'services' provided. There were some partial temples still visible in the forum, or political center, of the city, and a couple of theaters.

The city was very crowded with tourists which made photo-taking difficulty without unknown people in your pictures, not always a bad thing, but when the crowds form so quickly that your photo subject is hidden, well, that is frustrating. We did end our visit with an area which was a grain storage facility and now stores the amphora discovered in Pompeii plus several of the plaster casts make of cavities found that later and providing replicas of people killed in the ash cloud and poisonous gases. We left Pompeii by a long steep staircase, which has not been mentioned in any literature I had looked at as I prepared for the trip.

Jim had sent me off on this adventure telling me that “I could look for the places and sites that would interest him when we returned together.”  I don't think we will return to Pompeii because of the quality and variety of early ruins we have seen in Cyprus when we have visited my 'sister' Liz. (I will want to visit the Archeology Museum and Jim had said that he will probably want to go there instead as well.)

Back to the ship in time for dinner and sailing, and then to my room to begin working on these entries for the blog. I have not explored the cost of Internet minutes, but have been told that the connections are very slow, so I'm thinking that these daily documents will be uploaded, but the photos will be added after I return home, where I can work with a really fast connection. (I found that the ship's Internet connection was so slow and costly, that nothing was uploaded during the trip. Those of you who have been waiting patiently since May, I'm really working on this now, and apologize for the delay. You'd think that someone who is retired could find time to finish what she promised!)

May 20, 2010

Jim was supposed to have a doctor's appointment today, so I hope he made it.

Today is a day at sea, so I slept in until after 10 am. Margaret was ready to leave for breakfast, and I planned to meet her. I went up to the Windjammer which is the ship's buffet and met Glennor. We sat and talked for about 90 minutes – we had not had so much time together in a long time. It was a great time!

wifi account for my little netbook, but did not activate it as the netbook was still in the room, and I had not begun to get caught up with my blog.

Because I ate breakfast so late, I skipped lunch – they were actually beginning to serve lunch as Glennor and I left.   Dinner is at 6 pm for all of us, and we received word from our head waiter that because all of us are in the same group, we will be permitted to move between the three adjacent tables assigned to us. That will make it easier for us to get to know everyone. They have asked that we all sign up for the automatic gratuity program which I completed soon after boarding.

After dinner while most went on to the Broadway type revue with songs from popular musicals, I went to the casino. I was not quite as lucky as I had been a couple of day prior, as I was trying several games that looked interesting but I could not figure out what was a good screen and what was a non-paying screen. So, as of today I'm down, but not empty. I save money for cruise casino nights, knowing that is is probable that I will lose my money. I have fun with the machines that have a type of story – guess it appeals to the librarian in me.

Up to the room for bed around 10 because we both need to be up relatively early to catch our tour of Athens and the Acropolis. We tried leaving the heavy curtains open so we could see the darkness of the sea at night, but I finally got up sometime in the middle of the night to close them. Our neighbor did not turn off his balcony light.

The Mediterranean adventure continues...

May 16, 2010

This is disturbing...and Jim and I will need to find the cause. I just opened Picasa to begin adding photos, and they all seem to have disappeared between the time I opened them and when I went to choose the first photo. Right now, I have decided to post my narratives, and will add photos when Jim helps me find my photos again. I know they still exist on the camera disks, so if Picasa has eaten them, they will be found.)

The day began early for breakfast in the hotel – eggs, muesli with yogurt and fruit, hot tea. Those of us who came to Rome early are getting to know each other. Audrey and her daughter Dana became my companions for the day. We decided to walk to St. Peter's square, not really realizing that it was Sunday and the square would be packed with worshipers for Mass. NOTE: I thought the crowds carrying signs which I could not read were protesting the Vatican lack of response to the abuse of children by priests. I learned after returning home that this particular crowd was filled with supporters of the Pope as he was back in Rome unexpectedly early.)

We bypassed entering the square to get to one of the city tour buses which would begin our horrible/wonderful day. The buses did not stop at their regulars locations near the Vatican because of the crowds of people coming for outdoor Mass. So we needed to look for the alternative stop which we finally found because we saw the bus, went running after it and caught it in a block or so. After paying for 2 days of riding, we were off, although we did not receive our earphones to hear the automatic commentary in time to learn about where we were going, and or, passing on the way. Our first stop was the Trevi fountain which was about 4-5 blocks from the bus stop. No guide came with us, just on and off service. Luckily there were signs on the corners of buildings, and lots of folks seeming to be traveling in the same direction. We reached the fountain in about 10 minutes.

The fountain area was very crowded so there was no way to get photographs of the entire fountain without the crowds, although this ultimately showed the fountain and how important it is to all Roman tourists. (This photo shows the parts that were interesting to me.)  It also began to rain while we were there, but not at hard as yesterday, nor as long. Our hotel loaned umbrellas, so I stayed dry and happy. Audrey and Dana had ponchos. The Trevi Fountain is at the back of a building and is essentially the back wall. It appears as if some of the top portions are windows, but I couldn't be sure. According to legend, tossing coins in the fountain will guarantee your return – so I tossed! Later I learned that you are to toss backward over your shoulder, so I don't know if my forward toss will be accepted by the gods of the fountain and Rome. The fountain's location was a surprise to me because I expected it to be free standing. I've only seen it in travelogues or movies, and I guess I never paid enough attention to its surroundings. The open area around the fountain is all bordered by buildings, so there isn't a large 'piazza' like other fountains we found.

As we walked back to the bus stop, we shopped a little bit in the shops of the alleys. One set of gifts that I am collecting will be for my nephew whose birthday was the Monday before I left. I wrote in his card that I would look for something wonderful from far, far, away, and would send it to him after I returned. According to his mother and after she showed him on a map how far away I would be, he is excited. Not knowing what might appeal to a 14 year old, I noticed a collection of baseball caps with Rome or Italy on them. Right then I decided that a cap from each country would be fun for a boy who loves baseball caps. One cap has been purchased! Now I need to find something for his older brother and for our two great god-daughters, who we will see later this summer in California. The boys live in Ohio.

At the bus stop we did not see our bus company, nor did we see the sign designating their stops. We weren't yet worried, although we should have been. This absence began the horrible part of our day. We examined our map and realized that we were not too far from the Pantheon – an important site for Dana. So we walked, and checked our progress with a policeman along the way. From him we learned that we were “5” minutes away. It seems as if Italians can get anywhere in 5 minutes, although we did not.

We did stumble upon an Egyptian obelisk from the 6th century BC in Piazza Colonna which was fun to find. The first building that was without marble near the obelisk did not really look like the Pantheon, but we took photos of it anyway, because it showed where the street level was when it was built. (NOTE – many of the oldest buildings have a 'moat-like' area around them, simply because of the years between their construction and today.)

We checked with another policeman who told us '5 minutes' and pointed his finger.

As we walked inside, the building immediately opened into a round room that, I learned, is as wide (diameter) as it is tall, up to the oculus (round window in the ceiling). The room has very little artificial light, but the light coming through the oculus lights the whole area.
It is a beautiful room with evidence of Roman gods and their worship, and the most prominent niche across from the entrance, which is now a Catholic religious area and has been for many years.

It was time for lunch, so we chose one of the sidewalk cafes and had a great meal – me, a house salad and my friends shared a pizza. Sustained again, we checked the map to compare where our bus stop should be, and discovered that we again were not too far from Piazza Navona, where there was a shop selling porcelain flowers by Capo di Monte, a very old and famous porcelain company. So we walked to the Piazza.

Piazza Navona is amazing, at least the day we were there. It is quite large with three fountains, a stage area where bands were playing, and a large area of sidewalk sellers of trinkets, paintings and photographs, and food. We spent most of our time with the fountains – a Bernini – Fountains of the Four Rivers. (This is the fountain that figures prominently in the ANGELS AND DEMONS Dan Brown novel and film.) The second fountain is called the Neptune Fountain and features Neptune fighting a sea creature and has horses with dolphin tails with other sea creatures. The third fountain was not as interesting. There is also a large palace-like building which stretches most of one of the long sides of the Piazza. (NOTE: This building is currently the Embassy of Brazil and was originally the palace of Pope Innocent X from 1644.) (NOTE: There are not identifying signs on much of Rome, so you aren't able to tell what you are looking at very easily. I'll have lots of research to do when I return home.)

The store Dana and Audrey wanted to visit was actually in the Piazza, but, unfortunately was closed on Sunday. Many were open, but not the most important one for my new friends.

The map suggested that a bus stop was only about 4 blocks from the Piazza, so we walked that way, got to where it was supposed to be and could not find it. We waited a bit, and then because we were on a main road that would take us back to the Tiber River near the Vatican, we walked. According to our map, there were to have been 2 more stops for our bus service on that road. We never found them, and so when we got to the river, we rested a bit, looking at Castle St. Angelo and the Bridge of Angels.

We also talked a little bit about Dan Brown's ANGELS AND DEMONS, which takes place in Rome, the Vatican, the Castle, and the main fountain in Piazza Navona. This was the fun part of our day, because I did not expect to find and see some of the important locations of the novel.

During our walk of about 20 minutes more, I took a photo of St. Peter's dome, which I really like, and then we were back in the street heading into St. Peter's square and there was the bus we had been looking for. Except they insisted that we had not purchased tickets from them in the morning. They told us that we had purchased tickets for the bus company that used orange signs to mark their stops, and we had been looking for blue stops, just like the one we got on and the one where we stopped for the Trevi Fountain. We were quite confused and angry, so we walked down to the orange sign stop and tried for a refund, which was of course not possible unless we went to the company office which would not reopen until Tuesday because Monday was a holiday. (It was not until Monday when we did go back to use the second day on our tickets, that we discovered that the blue sign and orange sign buses had been part of the same company, had parted ways, and were now separate companies.)

Another walk past the Vatican and to the hotel, with an hour or so to rest before dinner. A couple who was leaving the hotel on Saturday had recommended a great hotel for that evening's dinner. We all wanted something a bit different for Sunday evening, so we took the recommendation from the hotel staff. Again a 10 minute walk took closer to 45 minutes so we were late for our reservation. Our lateness did not seem to bother the restaurant staff as we were a group of 11. We did have a minor disagreement over what we were to eat, and politeness stopped us from becoming ugly Americans, which in hindsight, we should have insisted. We finally agreed to a PRIX FIXE meal to include bottled water, wines and 5 courses, but everything would feature fish. Several of our party do not eat fish willingly, and we were able to get agreement that some of us could have similar meals with meat. The meal was not as well cooked as the night before, and we ended up with extra charges for wine because the 11 of us drank more than two bottles of wine. Seems to me that two bottles should not have been expected as satisfactory for 11.

It was raining again as we began to leave the restaurant, so 4 of us called a taxi rather than walk in the rain for so long. We got back to the hotel just as the fastest walkers arrived.

May 17, 2010

We were all up early because most of us had tickets to the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel at either 8 am or 9 am – I was with the 8 am group. However the reality was that when we walked the 2 blocks from our hotel to the entrance to the museums and the chapel, everyone(!) had tickets for the early entrance, so we ended up standing in line even with the tickets. (NOTE: these tickets can be purchased on the Internet. I suggest taking a slightly later entry time, as the 9 am group did bypass the line and go right in.)

All I knew as I walked through the museums(!), and there were lots of rooms with different themes, I wanted to get to the chapel before it became too crowded. Apologizes to Bucky who had made suggestions of specific items to see, but I really thought I would come back through the museums – nope, that's not the way the route works. Here are a couple of photos that I snapped while I was walking.

Simply walking through exhibit rooms, up and down staircases, across wings, up and down staircases, and in one area on a catwalk along the outside wall of some part of the buildings, I finally reached the Sistine Chapel. Glennor was the first friend to join me, with Margaret not too far behind. I had especially wanted to find room on the benches that line the room so we all could sit. Bucky had recommended this plan which included bringing small binoculars. Thank you, Bucky, for this suggestion, and I pass it along for future visitors. However, remember to get up and walk across the room to see the wall where you have been sitting, which I did not do. Guess I'll need to return to Rome!

The Sistine Chapel was a great surprise in many ways. It's bigger than I imagined, and the floor area is divided by a screen – visitors can be in either area, so I don't know exactly why the screen is there. (Another question to answer when I get home. As of 7-28, no answer.) Of course the famous painting of God with Adam is right in the middle of the ceiling, with the creation of Eve, the temptation and expulsion from Eden close. Other stories from the early books of the Bible are there as well. What I found really interesting was a series of panels near the bottom of the walls that depicted the stories of Jesus, from birth to last supper. Michelangelo's Last Supper is quite different from Leonardo de Vinci. All those sitting at the table have colorful cloaks with halos, and it is Judas who stands in front of the table with dark colored clothing. I did purchase a book on Rome and the Vatican, and I know I can find more information once I get home. When I got back to the room to look at this book, I realized from a map that I had walked almost half way across the Vatican grounds from where we entered through the wall that surrounds the small country to a building that sits right next to the Basilica of St. Peter.

Audrey and I met up in the Chapel and left together to find our bus company. This time we were simply riding to the Colosseum and getting back on at the same point after our visit. The bus was sitting by the orange sign in the VIA Pietro, which ends at St. Peter's square. Our tour guide was real instead of recorded and very interesting. She is the source of the information as to why we had so much trouble yesterday. We had a lovely tour through Rome on the way to the Coliseum. There is an entrance fee to go inside, and we were approached by a young man who offered an English speaking guide, a way to by-pass the entrance line and tours of both the Coliseum and the Roman forum area where there a remnants of temples as well. The price was right so we joined the tour.

Once again we had a good guide with interesting stories, lots of information, and a book which showed (through the use of plastic pages) the before and after views of many ancient buildings and areas of Rome. I'm hoping I will be able to find this book when I get home, because I did not have enough time to purchase one during the visit. (I also needed to replenish my euros before leaving for the cruise.) Near the end of his tour of the Colosseum, it began to rain too hard to remain outside in the open areas. We moved under the upper seats, and heard the rest of his presentation. That's when the surprise occurred.

We learned that they were breaking for lunch and the tour of the Forum and temples would recommence at 2 pm – 90 minutes later. It was still raining, and I was weary from touring, so I left Audrey and Dana to find someplace to eat and wait for the afternoon tour, while I made my way back to the hotel. (They told me that there was not too much to see in that area of the ruins.) By the time I got back to the Vatican stop, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. As I walked back to the hotel (about 6 blocks away), I looked for a place for lunch. I found a cafeteria style restaurant where you went through a self service line, and simply was served what you wanted. I found a tomato and mozzarella cheese plate with a selection of greens. After a dash of olive oil and dressing, I was ready. I joined a French couple and although we did not speak, I thanked them as I left.

I knew a different place for dinner would be important for most of us this last evening in Rome, and I also figured that most of us had done enough walking for a bit. Along the slightly different route that I took home, I noticed an interesting cafe whose menu showed inexpensive costs and a nice variety of choices. They advertised recommendations from Rick Steves, Frommers, and others, although I realized that anyone COULD say this. I was offered a small brochure which I took back to the hotel. As it turned out, Margaret and I decided to eat lightly in the small cafe in the hotel, and most everyone else went to the restaurant I recommended with virtually nothing to go on except it was only 4 blocks from the hotel! Margaret and I enjoyed risotto with mushrooms, she had a bowl of lovely fruit pieces, and I had spinach with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Just the right amount of food for the smallest cost of any meal in Rome. The restaurant where everyone else went was a bit more expensive than the lunch menu I saw, but folks were pleased with my recommendation.

We went up to our room to pack for tomorrow morning when our bus will arrive to take us to the pier. Some members of our group are arriving tomorrow morning as well and are expected to meet us on the ship. Others came a bit later and are staying at other hotels, but will be joining us tomorrow morning to be on the bus with us. Margaret and I were getting ready for bed when our neighbors – Margaret's very good friends – invited us next door for some wine and conversation. Glennor and Bob and June joined us to chat until almost midnight. Margaret and I were happy that we could simply to to bed because all our bags were packed.

May 18, 2010

Margaret and I were both us fairly early for breakfast in the hotel before returning to our room for last minute packing. Our bus would arrive around 11:30 am for a noon departure. Check out at the hotel was 11 am. Everyone seemed to be ready to head toward the cruise ship. There is lots to Rome that I would like to see, so there will be many reasons to come back with Jim.

The bus was a bit early, the individuals staying at other hotels arrived on time, and we actually left a couple of minutes early. Our bus was too big to come down the narrow street by the hotel, so we needed to move our luggage to the corner. No bother because the bell boy was helping as well. There were enough seats so that everyone did not need to share a seat.

The ride south to the port (Civitavecchia), the name of which I can still not pronounce and will learn, was interesting – out through the suburbs of Rome and into the countryside where we saw small farms, vineyards, olive groves, and burgeoning suburbs with new housing developments. Since Margaret has visited this area several times when she has come to visit her son and family who are living in Naples, she was able to tell me about what we were passing. It's nice to have a knowledgeable friend..

We were at the dock in a little over an hour and then began the boarding process. Margaret had brought distilled water for my C-PAP from Naples via her son, and liquids coming on board have extra precautions. My two bottles were passed. We gave most of our luggage to be delivered to the room, but not the heavy water or my smallest bag with my electronic gear. After a quick visit to our room, we went up to the Windjammer cafe for lunch. We met up with some other members of our group and rested for a while. When we next went to the room, most of our luggage was waiting, and the other pieces arrived soon after. So, by dinner, we were all moved in.

Our group has an early dinner – even earlier than advertised which was 6:45. Now dinner is at 6 pm which seems to please most of us. First meal was watermelon gazpacho and roasted pork medallions with broccoli. Very good and tasty.

After dinner, I went with one of my table mates, Diane from Delaware, to the big theater for a FIRST NIGHT PROGRAM with a small sampling of the acts that will be entertaining us. A young couple danced wonderfully with lots of energy, and then the most amazing couple took the stage and using a strong projector light made shadow puppets with their hands and fingers. The effects were beautiful and unexpected. Their presentation ended with hand manipulations which created profiles of famous individuals from history, Hollywood, musicians and stories. If they perform again on the cruise I will definitely attend just to see how they can top this program. (They apparently were on board only the first night, so folks who missed the first program missed this amazing act.)

Into the casino which was conveniently located close to the theater to play for about an hour. I found a couple of new games which intrigue me, and left most of my daily allotted money in the machines.

Margaret was in the room so we were not too long before going to bed.