Saturday, April 3, 2010

Catchin up Day at Sea Long post may need coffee!

So………..Rome yesterday 3/30. Off the ship by 930 but no bus………..no bus………..finally figured out had to take a shuttle to port gates where our bus was waiting. It was bloody freezing and windy outside this morning. Finally on bus and on our way to Rome. Cute young man Danilo said something about Etruscans on the way, lots of sheep and green hills. Got to piazza navona (sp), we were on our own for a couple hours. I joined some of the ladies for a Panini and wine, after visiting the bathroom. I know too much info. Beautiful day, sunny with a little breeze. Back on the bus through the antiquities area and coliseum (sp) then to a spot where we walked in to the Duomo, Spanish steps and Trevi fountain (not in that order) bought a pair of red leather and tan gloves and had tea and scones with jam and cream in a tea house next to Spanish steps. Back on the bus thru the Borghese gardens, and back on the ship 20 minutes before the boat took off. Whew! Really indulgent dinner of rice, beef curry, chutney, and that cucumber yogurt whatever the heck it’s called riata, and……wait for it……mushroom ravioli with pesto sauce. Only on a cruise ship! Then I went to the flamenco show and fell asleep in my seat! Off to bed…remember to turn clocks ahead AGAIN!!!




3/31 Jumped out of bed at 9:30 this morning off to breakfast. Favorites yogurt, berries nuts baguette cheese salmon and some sort of cured meat, fruit. Good coffee. Grabbed the computer and downloaded photos to hard drive. Two days in and already blew through the $100 250 minute internet plan because I forgot I was paying by the minute. Also forgot that I don’t have to upload all the photos because a) no one is that interested (b) it takes too many paid minutes (c) there are a bunch of photos I should just delete anyway. Nice today, went out and sat in the outdoor eating area on the back of the boat, German music blaring. Already some guy at the bar plastered “bucket o beer” buy 4 get 5. Already figured out that they always encourage you to buy a bottle of wine and then they say you get a claim ticket and they will carry it to anyplace on the ship you want it next. Only, once you open it they are very good at topping off your glass, and I have yet to have any remaining for a second visit. No more bottles. It’s about 10:30am according to local time; I am not even going to try to guess what time it is at home. Guess I’ll have a Guinness- and write on my little notebook computer. Oops too sunny to see the screen, beautiful day, will just sit here and enjoy the sun. Not windy on the back of the boat. Got a seat right by the rail, table for 5, just me and my HP. Watching people lusting after my table. Hey, I was here first, I paid for the seat too. How will I save it though when the lunch buffet opens – I’ll attach my water bottle to the condiment holder and put my sweater on the chair? It’s German day on the back of the boat, and the music is hofbrau house Oktoberfest music. The buffet had great dumplings, all sorts of wurst, potato salads, and sauerkraut salads. Back to my prime table, watching a couple trying to find a table. She sees me alone, asks if they can join me and my afternoon kicks off with my new Aussie friends from Brisbane, think I’ll stick around and have one more beer, German this time, then my glass gets filled, they got the 4 for 5 beer bucket, top ya off mate! And for a couple of hours I relived my life in Australia and said toe ma toe instead of toe may toe, laughed a lot and the afternoon flew by. Then into a piano lounge area guy about my age playing 60 and 70s tunes, nice voice, yes I’ll have the bottle, whoops it is gone… all the staff are smiling, buy another. No thank you. (If I get confused on the days, excuse me, with all the time changes eek, it’s hard enough to keep track of time, the days are impossible.






4/1 Athens. My stateroom mate is very excited. She did a foreign exchange thing here for several months in the mid 90s. We sit on the balcony drinking coffee. I was in Athens for a week back in 1981, yes 1981. We had arrived around midnight on the train from Corinth, it was about 109 degrees F, and we had been waiting at the station in the middle of nowhere outside Corinth since we could not find a room for the night or a hostel anywhere in town. There were no seats on the train when it finally came, and we were directed to the backpackers car, where we were jammed in like sardines, and the windows were stuck closed with only an inch at the top- imagine 109 and no air and a bunch of 20 and 30 somethings from around the world – all on the road and ready to party, and sweaty and young. We finally made our way all the way to the front of the train behind the engineer and sat on our packs on the floor, and he opened the doors on both sides, brought us plums to eat, and we leaned back and watched the Greek countryside at night pass us by, through little towns, unusual (for us) colors of bougainvillea, and women in black until we reached Athens, and followed some other backpackers to a hostel, where it was really cheap to sleep on the roof, and a tiny bit more expensive to sleep on a bunk bed in a dorm, so hot and humid everything was wet, and we crashed until morning. One week later and we had not done anything remotely cultural. We started off each morning towards the Plaka, but never made it up the hill. Back to the present……..We negotiated the price then took a cab from the port into Athens so my roommate could see her old apartment, she took a million pics and got real emotional and ran around getting shots from every angle. When she first left the cab, she got out and started walking ahead of us, gradually walking faster as the steps became more familiar to her, and she saw it, the building with the memories, the streets with the laughter and craziness. Off to the Plaka, he dropped us off near Katarina church and we arranged for him to come back at 5:30 to get us, about 5 hours away. We walked into the first jewelry store we came to and looked at some gorgeous gold stuff, including some stunning gold earrings, large dangly detailed. The cost? Euros or dollars? 2200 Euros…….eek. A bit out of my price range, or rather completely out of my price range by about $2100!


We continued on, took pics of each other; let restaurateurs take pictures of us. She wanted a Gyros, I wanted lamb souvlaki. Both of us bringing our memories of the best gyros the best lamb souvlaki from our previous visit. None of the tavernas we passed had my lamb souvlaki, only a beef lamb formed meat like the gyros meat. I am positive I had chunks of lamb, not some sort of meatloaf on a stick, so I was holding out for the lamb I remembered. We sat down, she got her Gyro, and some tyzicki (sp), pita, French fries, Greek salad with a slab of fresh feta, and I got a coke (in a bottle!). I had salad, fries and coke, holding out for my lamb, and she only ate a few bites of her gyro, but enough to bring tears from her eyes. I’ve eaten here before, she said, I shopped there Zara, it was the only place to shop then. The Plaka now has a high end designer district and glass fronted shops. In 1981 when I was here it was a charming rabbit warren of stands on the street, and you walked down narrow steps to get to the shop itself, under street level. Lots of nightclubs and restaurants, cheap and fun, but what I was seeing now were cafes- nice, but not what I remembered. Lots of touristy junk, or high end designer stuff, and on the back streets lots of “garage sale” type things. The Greek government declared bankruptcy within the past few months, and they economic situation was visible around the edges. There seemed to be a lot of visitors in town this day, but Easter is coming up on the weekend, and its spring break in parts of Europe so people are moving around. We had decided we were not going to try to visit the Parthenon just to see her apartment and go to the Plaka. She decided she wanted to at least get closer to it, and I wanted to try to find the street of clubs I remembered going to every night those years ago so we split up and went to do our own thing, agreeing to meet in about 3 hours at the church. I took a pic of a guy in full costume pretending to be a statue in the square. There were lots of African looking guys selling sunglasses and knock off designer handbags, and guys who appeared to be from India or Bangladesh selling these gel-like objects looking like tomatoes or little piglets, and when you throw then down they flatten out like a pancake and then reform. Sara bought some for her daughter but in retrospect thinks they probably wouldn’t make it home. I looked at all the menus on the way, finally seeing lamb souvlaki for 14 Euros, but I was no longer hungry. I think that probably lamb was much cheaper back in the early 80s and is not served commonly on the street anymore. Too bad. The salad and fries and the rest of the meal I did have was great. The area near the base of the Parthenon (geesh or is the acropolis?) what country am I in, anyway it’s that ruin on the top of the hill overlooking the plaka, I remember it was a street with side steps, and tables set up 2 on each step leading up the hill to the base of the hill. Off to the left there had been an open air club with a stage, and every night good looking Greek men got up and danced, they were gorgeous, and for an American who is used to guys NOT wanting to dance, their willingness to do so for us was enchanting. So I started to remember where I was, back to the present, and looked up the next street and there it was. My street. They were just starting to set up tables on the stairs for dinner crowd, and I walked all the way up to the top where a restaurant was open, and run by the grandfather son and his wife, and asked for a cappuccino. I sat looking down at the place I had so much fun, 30 years ago, and smiled to myself, enjoying the moment of quietness in the bustle of the new really touristy Plaka. I told the grandfather I had been here a long time ago, and asked wasn’t there a nightclub down there, and the son said yes, I used to dance there, but all the clubs are moved outside the Plaka now, it got very bad with drugs and crime, so now they’ve done some upgrades to make it more romantic. The son went back inside, waiting on tables in the terraced area and then during a lull, I asked for my check and he disappeared back inside. He came back out with my check, only charged me 1.50 and brought me another glass of water, and a shot of ouzo. The grandfather followed him to the doorway and motioned to me to drink it all at once and then drink the water, and I did it and he smiled and clapped. This was the Greece I remembered. Shopkeepers inviting you in to their shops below ground, sending out for cokes or coffee, they just wanted to chat with an American, much more open and charming. I finished up, left them a big tip and carefully made my way back down the stairs, smiling all the way. Feeling very young and romantic. I decided to go see the museum that the taxi driver had told us about, that had artifacts from the Parthenon, and was created for the Olympics; it was a gorgeous building, with clear walkways what revealed ruins beneath your feet as you entered. They looked like water from a distance, and it was a little disorienting walking on them, especially with sea legs. I found the ladies, and then walked through the displays, amazed by the sculptural folds in the figures and the amazing age of the artifacts, ending up on the top floor watching a slide presentation about the building and the Parthenon. I started nodding off during the presentation and remembered thinking, I’m probably pretty safe here, but I had to get back to the meeting place in an hour so I netter not fall asleep. I got up, walked outside and took a b better shot of the top of the hill than street level and headed back, trying to find the street I wrote down where the church was. I stopped in a few shops and finally bought a silver bracelet that is a tube of silver with indentations woven out of silver mesh. It was 95 dollars us but is unusual. The Plaka is not a bargain anymore. I did see however the canary yellow gauze skirt I bought, just like the ones years ago, and the gauze dresses with the crocheted straps also that I bought years ago. The guy with the giant cart full of pistachios and other nuts was also around, and I started to feel more at home. I walked down found the church and still had time to go, so thought another coffee was in order, saw Sara and we went for a quick cup before heading back to the ship. Travelling this way is very interesting because you have so little time in port and have to get back on the ship or it leaves without you. Saves you money on shore, but a little frustrating because you hav3e to make fast decisions and keep moving to see enough to feel like you got a taste of the city.


To tell you the truth I’ve already lost track of what day I did this, but I went to the sushi bar on the boat for dinner one night, had eel, ahi tuna, and octopus sashimi, probably 15 pieces all together, some miso soup and a beer and a dessert I’ve already forgotten, and other than the beer it was all included in the $15 cover charge for the specialty restaurant, and it was really good, and I could have gotten more if I wanted. I do know it was the same evening I went through the bottle of wine listening to the piano bar guy, singing the lyrics to myself while I fooled with the computer and probably looking like a loon. One good thing about this cruise stuff, is that everyone is as dazed as you are, most probably more so because they are drinking non-stop. The first night we were going to try to get free drinks at a party listed on the program as friends of Bill W, but decided to skip it, which was good because it is apparently the code phrase for the AA meeting. We still don’t know what friends of Dorothy means may be an NA meeting, whatever. Glad they make accommodations for sensible chemical dependent in recovery guests.


Here’s something else that is really darling on the boat, apparently not unique to NCL, but new to me and absolutely charming. Our stateroom porters are all from Thailand and the Philippines and are young men, many with families and children back home, and always smiling, remember erring your name, etc. We walked in after dinner one evening, and they had created a little piglet out of towels which was smiling up at us as we entered. It was so darling I walked up and down the hall with it in my arms making everyone look at it. Those experienced cruisers were not impressed, but I was, and now the porters are doing different animals every night to greet us in the evening. They know we like it!


One night we had dinner in Alcazar which is the sit down free boat restaurant with Phyllis, her daughter Tracy, her granddaughter darling little Kyra, my new friend Carol, and Sarah. O once again I have no idea what I had to eat, but it was good. And I didn’t have desert, and I drank water instead of alcohol. We had lots of laughs! I went to bend early, while everyone else carried on wherever on the boat. Lots of entertainment, dancing, gambling, etc.


One of our days at sea I sat for awhile in the main lobby, had a latte, chatted with a couple from Costa Rica – she’s from Dominican Republic, he’s from Virginia. Most people are very friendly, sharing tables, standing in line, and being respectful. Kids are around but the boat is big enough and they have enough activities to keep them engaged. We have a 16 or 17 year old in our group that went to the teens gathering the first night and at first thought it was lame, then gave it a chance, decided to be a kid for a while longer, and met some cool new friends. She is off with them somewhere right now, just stopped by my chair, where [‘m sitting in the shade watching the world pass me by, to see if I was on face book. I’m not by the way, doing all this in word now that I’ve figured out the cost of blogging live at 40 cents a minute. Cut and paste is my new favorite activity.


4/2 yesterday was Izmir and Ephesus Turkey. My friend Dana gave me a book her late father had bought there many years ago, and she had been there too. I looked though it at home, but didn’t want to risk wrecking this family book so I left it at home. Since too much history makes my head hurt, I mostly looked at the pictures. I found out several of my shipmates had the same wonderful friends and they just looked at the pictures too so I don’t feel too stupid.


It’s odd, but I did look this up on the net before I left and couldn’t find a whole lot about this area. Izmir is one of the largest cities in Turkey and the area is a port city with 7 universities so it is pretty affluent. We rode approximately an hour to Ephesus, and I have to say, I could have stayed here for a couple of days. It was really really magical and interesting and we spent several hours on a guided tour though the ruins. We took tons of pictures. I have to upload some soon, but it takes a lot of internet minutes so I may wait just because I’d rather eat, drink or buy stuff with my money than pay for more internet. $200 in 12 days is more than enough. We stopped at the museum on the way out, and it was spectacular. The area still has a lot of areas that they haven’t even begun to look at and several recent discoveries have changed history as we know it recently. Very exciting. Then we drove back into Izmir and went to this elevator thing. We were running out of time and wanted to get to the bizarre to shop, but Phyllis had read about it and was very insistent. We were all so glad we did it. There are all these old houses on top of a very steep cliff and the elevator is built into the side of the hill, and this is an alternative to walking up literally hundreds of stairs for the locals and tourists like us. It also has a magnificent view of the city, and was worth the k1/2 hour we spent there. I’m going to fill in the name of the place later, when I’ve got the papers that tell me the name. I’ll be editing the blog retrospectively with more specific things – but probably not till I get home, or someone asks me directly. Then we went to the bizarre which is streets and streets full of shops, and people selling all sorts of stuff. We followed Phyllis to the gold area, and I had the same (out of my budget) experience pretty quickly so I stood around and chatted with a shopkeeper who spoke English and that had been to Brooklyn New York and Washington dc with a rich tourist when was young. We had a great time. He thought my ship mate Sara’s bracelets were real Turkish gold, but we told him they were gold plate costume jewelry from Nordstrom. Funny, I asked him if he would trade her for the real thing but he wasn’t buying it. Our guide was getting a little testy because he thought he could escape the women for a few minutes and have a quiet lunch, but Phyllis had other plans for him so we didn’t waste time looking for the gold area. We finally finished up there, with a few people buying stuff, and went back into the central /pick up area, and took a quick look at the touristy stuff right there, then I joined carol and some nurses from SD from our group at a little café and had chicken kebabs, pita rice and a salad. We also ordered beers and he had to send out for those. Bloody Americans, having beer in an Islamic country on a Friday afternoon. Minarets everywhere. The owner spoke English pretty well and was a very cute 27 years old who sat down and flirted with us. I told him I was 15. He asked me to go dancing (ha) but too bad, I’m back on the boat. When we left I hugged him and did the two kissing the air cheek things to both him and the waiter who spoke no English. And all the local shop keepers roared. He loved us and we had lots of fun, and could probably go back next year and he’d remember us! He had an iphone too so we were discussing the itranslate app, and I told him it worked great at home, but didn’t do me much good because I left it at home. Back on the b us, back to the boat, back to our room, Carol came in we finished up a bottle of cava, rested a few minutes and went to dinner. I do remember this dinner. One glass of red, strip steak medium rare, Yorkshire pudding, veggies, vanilla flan type thing with caramel sauce and a first course of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. I was off to bed then, and left them to carry on.


4/3 Day at sea. Time change – turn the clocks back an hour! Yeah! This is the 3rd or 4th time change since we arrived, so the internal clocks are all off. Probiotic tabs from Henry’s doing a great job, also the high energy vitamin packs I got there and am taking daily are helping to keep me healthy. Sara out cold, I got up, took at shower and had breakfast with one of the ladies I ran into just past the hand sanitizing stations that are outside all the restaurants. Croissant, salmon, ham, assorted cheeses, yogurt, fruit, coffee juice. We had a great chat about traveling solo, cruises etc. She is from lakeside and works for her son in hillcrest. Down to the French restaurant where we pick up our passports so we have then to go into Egypt tomorrow for our overnight off the boat. Back to the room, took all my stuff out of the safe and went on deck to sort it out, left my water in the room, so back to the room to put away the passport and money, get my water. Sara up now watching a movie called Wally cartoon movie or something like that, having breakfast in bed. We watched a great movie, British I think, the Athens night called Whatever Lola wants. It was the perfect lead in to our Egypt tomorrow.


Well, quick spell check and I’m posting this. Pretty well caught up I think, and need to have lunch and take a mile or so walk around a deck. Had a dream last night about vacuuming my house (never got to it before I left, hope the dogs are OK, hope I don’t have a water leak in the house, hope Fred remembers to turn the engine over in my car so I don’t have to call road service when I get home for a jump- ladies in the elevator already talking about cabs to the airport at end of cruise, we still have 6 days to go. Let it go, let it go, it will all work out. Bye for now!

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