Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 9) - Venice

Enjoyed a beautiful day in Venice; even went for a gondola ride.
St Mark's in Venice
From our gondola
 Lot of pictures to share when we get home. Tomorrow we de-boat and begin the trip home. All-in-all, it has been a great trip. The only down side was the large crowds. Glad we didn't book this trip for July or August.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 8) - Athens

The Acropolis hasn't changed much since I saw it in the early 1970s. The only major difference is that today there is a lot more scaffolding in place and restoration work is in progress; not very conducive to nice photographs. Restoration work was on-going at several of the places we visited. It sounds like some of the restoration work takes longer than it took to originally build the structure.

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens.

We also took a ride along the Aegean coast from Athens to the Sounio peninsula and visited the temple to Poseidon. Sunny skies and the temperature in the 80s. I feel like I got too much sun again today.
Temple to Poseidon

The show in the Stardust Theater tonight was a tribute to the Beatles. The theater was packed and we enjoyed listening to all the old songs; not so much listening to the oldsters singing along.
Tomorrow is a sea day prior to our last stop in Venice on Sunday.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 7) - Izmir and Ephesus

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. It is also a much more modern city than Istanbul. Ephesus is about an hour's drive south from Izmir through hilly terrain composed mostly of metamorphosed marine sediments. In Ephesus, we saw a couple theaters, some temples, a fountain, and a stadium. My favorite was the library, at the time the third largest in the world after Alexandria and Pergamon. Peggy took a picture of me sitting on the steps. The columns that formed the facade of the library are composed of brecciated marble with white chunks of marble sitting in a fine grained black matrix. I imagine these columns were quite beautiful when polished. Had I lived here at the time, I can see myself having spent a lot of time here at the library. There is a lot of beautiful marble in Ephesus; even the streets are paved with  marble.

The Library at Ephesus

Saint John the Baptist is reported to have died here in Ephesus. Where he was supposedly buried, a Basilica was built. However, we didn't have time to see the remains of his church. Also, the Virgin Mary is rumored to have lived here. Our guide pointed out a small house on the hill above Ephesus as the supposed house of Mary. The only evidence for this seems to be a revelation that a woman at the end of the 18th century had that was confirmed by a local priest (not sure what that means). The house has been visited by three of the popes and has become a pilgrimage site for Catholics.

The large theater at Ephesus

The skies have been clear and sunny on this side of the Mediterranean and the temperature today probably got up into the 80s in Ephesus. Similar weather is forecast for Athens tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 6) - Istanbul

We docked this morning at 9AM in Istanbul, across from the old city. From our ship we could see several mosques that we were able to visit later in the day. The small boat, ship, and ferry traffic in the Bosphorus was amazing to watch; it's a wonder no one runs into each other. Some of the very small boats look like corks, bobbing wildly up and down in the wake of the larger boats. From the rear of our ship we could also see the suspension bridge over the Bosphorus that connects Europe with Asia. Apparently there is also a tunnel that connects to two continents.

Hagia Sophia to the right and the Blue Mosque to the left in the background.

Most everything we saw today was within walking distance of the center of the old town. We visited the Blue Mosque, where the ladies had to wear a scarf over their head and we all had to remove our shoes. We also visited the Hagia Sophia Mosque, which is now a museum. Many of the Istanbul mosques started out as Christian churches that were built by the Romans. Later when the Ottomans pushed the Romans out, they converted the churches to mosques.

The Blue Mosque

After visiting the mosques we went underground to see a large cistern built by the Romans to collect and store water. Apparently, a scene from one of the James Bond movies was shot down there.
Today was a national holiday in Turkey, so there were a lot of people out and the traffic was very heavy. Skies were sunny and the weather was just cool enough to require a sweater most of the day.
I had hoped to get some pictures of the ship passing through the Dardanelles. It was dark early this morning when we passed through on the way in to Istanbul and it will be dark tonight before we get there on the way out.

Tomorrow, Izmir/Ephesus.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 5) - Mykonos

Yesterday was a day at sea so many of us were sitting out on deck enjoying the sun and reading. I've noticed during the cruises that we have been on that there are usually a lot of readers on board. Yesterday, probably about a quarter of the people on deck were reading. It seemed there were probably about the same number of people reading e-books as were reading paper books.

I also purchased my first bucket of beer yesterday (buy 5 and get one free); so it was a very pleasant day. I overheard someone say, "It's not a cruise without the booze." Peggy enjoyed the hot tub and lying in the sun. Although we have a small balcony outside our stateroom, we spend most of our time topside near the back of the ship. It is more out of the wind than the larger area amid-ship with the larger pool, more outdoor chairs, and another outdoor bar. We enjoy our personal balcony in the evenings with a glass of wine.
We arrived in Mykonos, one of the Greek islands, about 8AM this morning, and had a small boat ferry us to the island of Delos, a short distance south of Mykonos. The entire island of Delos is an archaeological site and is covered in Greek ruins, mostly from the 2nd to 4th centuries BC. It is also the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. I was surprised to see that the country rock is mostly metasediments and granite; I guess I was expecting more volcanic rock. There is a lot to see on Delos and we just saw a small portion of it. It is a fascinating place.


Again, we are having beautiful weather. Although I was wearing my hat, my face got slightly sunburned today.
We left Mykonos around 3PM this afternoon so that we can arrive early in Istanbul tomorrow morning. I sat on the aft section of the ship and took video of us leaving the island. All the houses in Mykonos are white. Because they have sun almost all year, the white helps to deflect the heat. We enjoyed lunch at a small white outdoor cafe and enjoyed a Greek salad with a half liter bottle of wine; very nice.

Enjoyed a delicious Greek salad with wine here. (Love their olives)

We have had some great tour guides and have been informed so much about the places we are seeing. Because it is impossible to remember everything, I try to purchase a summary book with pictures about the places we see. So far, I have one for Florence, Pompeii, and Delos.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 4) - Rome & Naples

Yesterday near the Coliseum in Rome, we met a couple who live about 2 miles from us in Littleton. They also know people we know. Small world.

The Coliseum

The weather was great in Rome (70˚ F) but the crowds were bad. I thought we had planned our trip early enough in the season to avoid crowds and heat; I guess there are always crowds these days. The new pope must have had the day off; he didn't make an appearance to bless us.

Fontana di Trevi

When we left Rome, the seas were a bit rougher than we have experienced up to now, and a lot of people were looking drunk, without feeling the buzz.

When the ship arrived in Naples today, Peggy and I broke up again and took different tours; although we did have a common stop in Sorrento. Peggy got lost there but ran into a nice gentleman (with a cowboy hat) who helped her find her bus. From Sorrento, Peggy went by boat along the Amalfi coast while I went to Pompeii. My Pompeii guide explained that volcanologists had sensors all around the mountain of Vesuvius and he sounded confident they could give warnings of an eruption up to a month in advance. I didn't voice my skepticism, but imagined these volcanologists could become the target of a lawsuit similar to the one that imprisoned some seismologists here in Italy not long ago.

Pompeii with the volcano Vesuvius in the background.
One of the many bars in Pompeii.

The weather today was a little cooler and the crowds were not nearly as bad as Rome. Tomorrow is a cruise day and we have no shore visits until Mykonos, Greece, on Tuesday. Both of us are looking forward to a day of rest.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 3) - Tuscany

After our walking tour of Aix en Provence yesterday, Peggy and I stopped at a small establishment on a small plaza and ordered a wine and a  beer (very good beer). The cost of our drinks came to 6 Euros, and I gave the waiter 10 expecting some change. He stood near our table with the bill and money in his hand while talking over us to friends at a nearby table. After his conversation he continued to stand there and just look over the plaza.

"Change," I asked? (I don't speak French either.)

He looked at me like are you still here? "But of course," he said.

I was amused by the contrast between the look and the sincerity of his voice.

Having a cool one in Aix en Provence.

Today Peggy and I split up; I went to Florence and Pisa and she went to Cinque Terre. I was blown away by the art and architecture I saw in Florence and Peggy took a lot of pictures she can turn into paintings.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence
By the way, I fixed the leaning tower in Pisa. All it took was to tilt the camera. Now, the tower is vertical and the ground is tilted. But, that's okay; dipping sediment, like folded rock, is more interesting.


About 7PM the ship left the port of Livorno and tomorrow we will be in Rome.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 2) - Marseille

Around 1AM this morning, we were awakened to the sound of a helicopter approaching our ship. We got up and went out on our balcony to investigate. We couldn't see anything but definitely could hear the helicopter somewhere above our ship. The helicopter pad is directly above our stateroom. After several minutes the helicopter drifted to our side of the ship and we could see a line extending from the helicopter to our deck. We watched as they lowered a stretcher down the line to our deck. Apparently the helicopter pad on this ship was not large enough for the helicopter to land. The helicopter moved back to be directly over the helicopter pad when they brought the stretcher and patient back aboard the helicopter. We watched until the helicopter departed.

We learned the next morning that we had a medical evacuation during the night. One of our fellow passengers had a heart attack and the ship had to turn around to meet the incoming helicopter. Having to divert for the med evac, the ship was late docking in Toulon.

After the ship docked, we took a bus tour of Marseille and Aix en Provence. In Marseille we saw the Notre Dame en Marseille which is located on the highest point in Marseille and gave us a nice vantage position to take pictures of the city. After that we were able to spend some time down by the harbor, marina, and fish market. We spent the afternoon walking along the narrow curving streets of the old town sections of Aix en Provence.

Our ship - Norwegian Spirit
Our guide for the tour had the annoying habit of ending every other sentence with a short "huh?" Sounded like the habit of some Americans who use the term "you know?" in a similar manner or the Canadians use of "heh?"

We've had beautiful weather; sunny and highs in the 70s. I'm thinking I didn't bring enough short sleeve shirts or shorts. We were expecting it to be quite a bit cooler.
Tomorrow Peggy is going to visit Livorno and I will be seeing Florence and Pisa, or, at least, as much as is possible in just one day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part I) - Barcelona

Trips would be more enjoyable if they didn't require airline travel. We started our Mediterranean trip Monday with a flight that was scheduled to leave Denver at 12:30 PM. We were suppose to have an hour and 15 minute layover in Chicago before catching our connecting flight to Rome. When we checked in, we were informed that our flight would be delayed by 20 minutes. After arriving at the concourse gate from which our plane was to leave, the delay had been revised to 25 minutes. They stopped revising the scheduled departure time after that; it ended up being a 45 minute delay. By the time we arrived at the gate, midway down concourse G at O'Hare's Terminal 3, we had 15 minutes to catch our plane to Rome, gated at the distal end of concourse K. We did it in 8 minutes, looking like O.J. Simpson in that old Avis commercial. There was some delay in the departure for Rome, and, miraculously, our baggage also made the connection.
Airlines also discriminate against tall people. They seem to think people, these days, are getting shorter. I have a difficult time getting into a comfortable position and usually try to get an aisle seat, just so I can occasionally stretch out my legs. I'm also rarely able to sleep on an airline. The flight from Chicago to Rome was an overnight flight that was about 9.5 hours long and I slept very little. Fortunately, I had an aisle seat and was able to get up several times to stretch my legs. We had about a 5 hour layover in Rome before catching our connecting flight to Barcelona. However, they didn't know from which gate the plane would depart when we checked it. The boarding passes we received stated the plane would be leaving from gate "D??". The plane was to start boarding at 13:40 and we kept checking the electronic status board waiting for the gate to be announced. At 13:50 the board was updated and the gate identified. The aircraft we boarded was made by Airbus and I had been assigned a middle seat, so that I could sit next to Peggy who wanted a window seat. This was the tightest fit I can ever remember having; I even had trouble just sitting down. My right knee intruded into Peggy's space and my left knee extended in the lady's space, next to me in the aisle seat. Fortunately, the plane was only about half full, so as soon as I could I moved across the aisle where no one was sitting. I probably slept more on the 2 hour flight to Barcelona than I did on the previous flight to Rome.
But, we arrived and are now in Barcelona at a nice hotel near the center of town. Whereas I am not a Spanish speaker, Peggy is quite fluent. I enjoy listening to her converse with the local people and she translates for me. During the taxi ride from the airport, our driver told Peggy about an area near our hotel with good places to eat. After checking into our hotel and resting for about an hour we went looking for a place in the area that our taxi driver had recommended. There were a lot of people out and I always enjoy just watching people when I travel to other countries. Like their food, people in different countries seem to have a distinct flavor. The people here in Barcelona have been very friendly and helpful and don't seem at all put off by my not knowing their language. Although I don't understand Spanish, smiles and laughter in any language don't require translation.
Two days before we left Denver, Peggy hurt her back and it looked like we might have to cancel the trip. After a night of pain and not being able to sleep, I took her to the emergency room. They took X-rays and the Doctor decided that she had sprained ligaments between bones in her pelvis. He prescribed pain pills and thought the pain would subside after a few days. Peggy decided she could handle it and I was surprised at how well she has done; especially after having to sit for 9.5 hours on the Rome flight. Before the trip, she bought a small pillow to support her back while sitting and that seems to have helped. It still hurts her but it hasn't slowed her down (she beat me on that mad dash down the concourses at O'Hare).
Tomorrow we only have half a day in Barcelona before we board our cruise ship. Not yet sure what we will do, but I noticed a Geology Museum just a few blocks from our hotel.

Love all the balconies.