Thursday, May 31, 2007

What’s So Sardonic About the Sardonic Gulf?

Ok it’s really Saronic….not sardonic…..that would be different now wouldn’t it?

We spent the day in Athens, Greece, which is in the Saronic Gulf.

This is where it all began, a couple of hundred years to dream up world changing sacred and intellectual ideas. Some ideas have flourished thousands of years later and others are now relegated to myth and legend. The same society that created the foundation for democracy also believed that their protector was a woman god (ok, not a bad start) who was born from her father’s head (that’s where you lost me).

It makes you wonder what ideas we hold today will be mocked thousands of years from now.

Athens has what every great city needs, location, location, location. But it looks like someone just dropped incredibly ugly concrete buildings everywhere. It stuns from the blue water of the harbor in spite of itself. Very populated and very very loud. Did I say very loud? Good! But loud in a nice way, not a Bronx kid of way, more in a bunch of college kids on spring break kind of way. These are happy people having a good time.

Walking though the streets I was transported right back to the Greek pizza restaurant I used to work at as a teenager. Hellas, Hellas I heard everywhere I turned.

When I first viewed the Acropolis with my own eyes, all I could think of was,
this is the place that I used to color on the placemat of so many of my dinners as a kid. The entire day was the adventure I dreamt about while I waited for my pizza and looked at the pictures of the places the restaurant owners were so proud of. The Greeks had a good corner on casual dining in the area of Connecticut that I grew up in. I couldn’t find an Athenian Diner though, no Spartan’s Pizza, no Pizza Castle, but of course we did find the Athenian McDonald’s. This thrilled my Alexander the Great to end.

Speaking of my Alexander, he took to the city right away and so did everyone who asked him his name. He looked at the Parthenon and proclaimed it his own, as if he were the conquering Macedonian hero himself. We risked the wrath of the acropolis museum curators to get a picture of the 2 Alexander’s the Great in the same shot. (One is a bust done several thousand years ago and the other live, I kinda think they look a bit alike).(I guess you are not supposed to “pose” with the antiquities, who knew?)

It was also an unexpected thrill to see the Dionysus Theatre. This is where theater was born, hosting opening nights for Sophocles and Euripides. Alex was thrilled to peer down a wide shaft behind the stage area and see tunnels. He exclaimed, “Hey Mom, look! It’s an ancient backstage!” They probably had to be quiet back there, back then too.

There was a group of older teenagers sitting in the seats, taking turns, standing up and reciting monologues to each other. So idealistic!

Alex was also amused by the ancient public toilets, that’s right in the 11 year old boy’s wheelhouse of funny.

We were also amused by the wit of the Emperor of the occupying Romans, Hadrian. This beautiful arch stood for hundreds of years with the inscription, “This is Athens the ancient city of Theseus.” If he had spray paint, I think he would have blacked it out, but instead he had inscribed on the other side, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.” To the victor go the spoils.

Were also amazed at what appeared to be ancient piles of rubble. We learned from our guides that much of it was actual unused building materials, due to flaws or things they just discarded. How do you think the environmental lobby would look upon landfills that survive 3000 years? I don’t think my plastic grocery bag is really going to make it that long.

It’s a sea day tomorrow and off to Pompeii. Till then, Hellas!


Here's a link to Alex's photos from Athens and Santorini. This is what the view is like when you are less than 5 feet tall.

Alex Athens & Santorini

Blue, blue my love is blue........

I don’t think I ever appreciated the real inspiration for the 128 count box of Crayola Crayons before. I mean how many different colors of blue can there be? Since we sailed into the Aegean I stopped counting! I’ve always been a purple person, and lately more lime green, but these happy blues have left their mark. This ocean is a blue I never imagined.

I know this batch of photos from Santorini has many redundancies. I couldn’t help myself. This is how an artist must feel when she’s found her muse. The camera just kept finding something more beautiful in each new picture. Today I felt as if I was living in a Thomas McKnight painting.

I pray heaven looks like this.

Santorini Island is actually the top of a volcano. The eruption 3,500 years ago is said to be the world’s largest explosion. It killed the entire Minoan civilization on Crete over 75 miles away. What exists now is the sea flowing into the caldera, where our ship was docked. Picture Mt St Helen’s underwater, with just the top sticking above the water. The towns sit perched about 300 feet above the water, directly up sheer cliffs on the west side. To reach the towns, you can walk to the top, or ride the cable car or ride the donkeys. Be sure to check the scale on the picture of the switchbacks heading up the mountain. The best take on this is from the comedian Ron White in “You can’t fix stupid.” Look for it on HBO.

Ron White: So we make it to Santorini, and Santorini is on the rim of an ancient volcano. And for 2000 years, folks, the only way to get to the top of the rim on the port side of the island was to take a donkey 800 feet up these switchbacks, takes forever. Until 5 years ago, somebody installed a tram that does the same thing in 18 seconds. And I was shocked to see the donkey guy still in business because he had the worst sales pitch I had ever heard in my life. He says, "You can take the donkey to the top of the rim, or you can take the tram. It is the same price." That would be my biggest secret if I were you, buddy. I'd be lying to people as soon as they got off the ship. "The donkey is $3.50. The tram is about 2800 Euro."

We rented a little car and drove all over the island. We had breakfast at Mamma’s House. Mamma is famous for her yummy American style breakfasts. She’s a Greek who used to be a nanny in American when she was younger. She loves American’s and is just an overall character. An experience.

After spending the afternoon ogling the beauty of Oia on the far north end of the island (where most of the great pictures are from) we drove down the backside of the mountain and spent some time on the black sand beaches. The sand was incredibly soft and to top it off there were free pumice stones just for the taking! (Hey gotta save some money on this trip!).

Just enjoy these pictures. I know some of them are beautiful, but trust me, they do not even do this place justice. I’m already trying to figure out how I can get back there.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Video from Murano Tour

We've managed to find a free, albeit slow WIFI connection in the port of Athens. I'm trying now to put up some of the video we shot. Here is a quick minute or two from our glass blowing demonstration in Murano.

Monday, May 28, 2007

There is more to Croatia than Dr. Luka Kovac on ER

Yes, I will admit that prior to yesterday the only thing I knew of Croatia was Goran Visnjic from ER was from Croatia. And there was that war we tried to ignore in the early 90's. But after today, I have a new curiosity about the country. I guess that is the whole purpose of travel, to expand your world.

Backtracking a bit, last night was the sail away from Venice. It's about an hour and a half of beautiful Venice vistas.

The history of Venice was interesting, especially the convoluted government they established. They had layer upon layer of checks and balances. Lots of intrigue and mistrust. A cautionary tale for us…. 1400 years of existence, 1100 years as an independent rich and free republic and just shut down when Napoleon came to town at the end of the 18th century (actually May 12, 1787). They voted the last Doge out of office and handed the keys to the French. The Austrians took over for a bit and then in 1866 Austria handed Venice to the newly formed republic of Italy. It took a few hundred years for all the glory that was the Venetian Republic to fall apart. They didn't recognize that 2 important events, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and the Turks subsequent blocking of their trade routes as well as da Gama opening up the east via the west would sap them of their power in a very short time. As we walked through the Doge's Place and the massive Grande Council's chambers, I could not help but think of tourists a thousand years from now trudging through the US Capitol building's House of Representative chambers and learning the history of what was America. We did hear the interesting story of Casanova, how he was imprisoned at the Doge’s Palace and his own detailed description of his escape. I’ll have to pick up his memoirs to get a real slice of 1st person history.

Earlier in the day we caught a Vaporetto to Murano. Back in the 11th century, for safety reasons the Venetians banished their glass makers to the neighboring island of Murano. Venice has a long history of glass making. In fact, if a tradesmen was caught sharing the secrets of glassmaking with an outsider, it was an offense that was punishable by a long stay in the jails inside the Doge’s palace. We took a tour of one of the furnaces and we were able to watch a glass master whip together a vase and a small horse in about 10 minutes.

Last night was a first formal night. We pulled out the tuxes and evening dress, but we really weren't in the "formal night" mood just yet. We were still dragging from the scorching Venetian days and travel. We have 2 more formal nights left so; we'll be sure and do the whole picture thing later in the cruise. We had a real treat for dinner. Our tablemates for the cruise are a 30ish couple from London, Jon and Tracy. Jon is actually the guest port lecturer on board with an academic background in history. He's been on Celebrity for the last 8 weeks through all of their Europe itineraries. We spent 3 hours at dinner and they just flew by. Even Alex and he swapped stories about WWII. I am so incredibly jealous of his job. He gets paid to live on the ship in a regular cabin (not a crew cabin) and his only responsiblities are to give 3 lectures on the sea days. I spent some time asking him how he came upon this job. He created a sample lecture and presentation on several ports of call, then he auditioned for an agent that books talent for cruise lines, spent a few years doing it on local British lines and then moved over to Celebrity. He doesn't have any special training, just a history degree and what he has taught himself. This seems pretty much like a dream job for me. I've got 6 years before Alex goes off to college.........hum..............!!!!!

This morning we arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Croatia is a newly formed and thriving democracy, one of the remnants of Yugoslavia. The weather was beautiful, a refreshing change from the 95+ of Venice. Dubrovnik was an independent medieval commune and eventually became a free republic. It reached its golden age around the 15th and 16th century. During that time they built a walled city which is still inhabited today. Dubrovnik is one of the few remaining examples of a medieval walled city. It's a total time warp, until you step inside a restaurant or a shop (which is modern). We spent the first 2 hours climbing to the top of the wall and walking the wall that encircles the city. Alex was in heaven exploring the fortifications, towers, hot pitch spouts and cannons. The views of the red tiled roofs from the top of the walls were stunning. The actual landscape reminds me of the California coast. As we sailed away this afternoon, I was looking back at the coast and you if you changed the buildings, made the water a bit more polluted, you could be staring at the Malibu hills. I hope the pictures do it justice.

You can hardly believe the just 16 years ago this city was being shelled by the Serbs from the land, air and the sea. The city was under siege for almost 2 years without water or electricity. Hard to imagine this was just 1991. We picked up DVD of actual footage from the war. Now on the DVD screen was mortar rounds landing and exploding on the same streets we had just walked on 2 hours earlier were. The same waters I am sailing through now, just off the coast, were filled with warships. I've never been this close to war before. 16 years isn't yesterday I know, but think about it, unless you have actually served in wartime, any battlefields you have been near were probably at least 40-50 years in the past and most likely 100 or more years in the past. It made the Normandy beaches seem like ancient history.

The have done an amazing job getting the city back to its original state. You can see the contrast from the wall, of the newly replaced roof tiles and the old roof tiles. Some of the damage is still evident in shell scars on the buildings, but this is a town that is rising.

Everyone was amazingly nice, the food was fantastic and their were hundreds of interesting shops, nooks and crannies to explore. This is a time and place I will learn more about when I return home.

Well it's time to get ready for dinner. Alex is having dinner with his new buddies in the Kid's program. Look like it's parent's night out. We have a sea day tomorrow and then on to Santorini.

Till then...I leave you with pictures from the Venice sail away and Dubrovnik.....go ahead Google Croatia and learn more about this slice of frozen history........... Love to all, Mickie

PS: Hey if you are reading this let me know...drop a quick comment!

Alex’s Venice Sail Away

Alex Dubrovnik

Venice Sail Away and Murano


Friday, May 25, 2007

Internet Connection at Last!

We are on the ship. I never thought I'd be so happy to watch CNN in my life. We travel 1/2 way around the world and have to fall asleep to Walker Texas Ranger in Italian.

I will miss the Italian infomercials! I hate to judge a whole country on their infomercials, but whew....pretty darn gullible! LOL

We're melting ! It's so hot! It's about 15 degrees hotter than we expected. Cooking in the 90's+. And you know how I love the heat! We'll hope for cooler weather as the cruise continues. It was supposed to be just 75 to 85 degrees.
I'm breathing now. All the luggage made it from Dallas to London to Venice and to our cabin. No need to try and find clothes. Good thing, as there isn't much to be found here. It's definitely a different world. All the clothes shopping is of the Rodeo Drive variety. Lot's of tiny specialty stores...they have not been Targetafied..try to find a supermarket, you have to shop at 10 different stores just to put a meal on the table. Also, nothing is open from 2 to 7PM. It appears to work for them.
Ok...let's catch you up.........
We waited at Gatwick after arrival for 4 hours. We ventured out of the BA club in search of some lunch. Let me just say the Gatwick is in desperate need of some kind of fast food. We waited too long to go eat and assuming that we could get it done in a hour...ehhh not so much. Just sit down restaurants or pre-made sandwiches. Alex was a trooper and said he'd wait till we got to Venice.
Short 2 1/2 hour flight to Venice was easy and stunning. We flew directly over Switzerland and the Swiss Alps. We tried to capture it through the plane window but we couldn't do it justice. We just had to sing, "the hills are alive with the sound of music...........

Everything couldn't have been easier!
We landed in Venice, a quick passport stamp, no questions and then watched each bag drop off 1 by 1. Our hotel shuttle was waiting and Alex and I went off to the hotel with a few bags. Dad had to stay behind with the remaining bags and catch a cab. (no we can't travel light! )
At the the hotel, we just tried to stay was 5:30PM and we were pretty hungry, but we had to wait till 7pm for things to open. After a nice dinner at the hotel we crashed at 9:30PM.
The next morning we were up bright and early, 5AM (hey in Italy I'm a morning person!) Gotta love the time change. We were out the door by 8 and off to Venice. I've got 2 sets of pictures from this section. One section is Alex's and the other is the set that I took. Enjoy.
We'll get photos of the ship and tomorrow's sail away. We leave for Croatia tomorrow.

Having a Ball, Wish You Were Here! Mickie

Alex’s Venice Pictures

Med Cruise 07 Start and Venice

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We've made it to Venice!

We are here accompanied by all of our bags! Happy Happy! Joy Joy! We don't have internet access, except in the lobby of the hotel. We'll catch you up on everything when we get on the ship Friday afternoon.
TaTa for now, Mickie

And damn this italian keyboard!

Breakfast with the Queen

Ok, we aren't actually eating with the Queen, but I'm guessing that we are eating breakfast closer to her than anyone who is reading this blog. Departure from DFW went off without a hitch. Due to the blessings of frequent flyer miles we were able to fly over to London in business class. The 9 hours goes by quickly when you can spend 2 of it eating dinner, then catch a movie, then recline the seat flat for 5 hours of decent plane sleep. We arrived in London at 7AM local time....which is like 1AM in Dallas. We were surprised to find out that we had to go back through security, even though we are just changing planes. We had to negotiate the "not as polite as they sound with their cheeky wee monkey accents" BAA (the British TSA) bag nazis. One bag per person.(nope that purse..that's a bag, no personal item here) now we have to cram everything into our one rollaboard each. Ahhh but here is the catch, that one bag has to fit in a sizer! lol!!! Quick strategy has Frederick distracting the Nazi by testing his bag in the sizer....(it just fits, with a bit of wiggling), whilst I slip on by behind him. just to get through the XRay Nazi. No loading up your tubs beforehand here. You walk up with your goodies and set up your tubs right at the entrance. Ah chit chat and a big smile....made it through here as well.

So we have 5 hours to wait till our flight to Venice. I keep sending out positive energy to the tarmac.....luggage make your way to the Venice plane!

One of the best perks of flying in Business Class is access to the BA lounge. At Gatwick it's quite spacious and comforting. As I type Alex is curled up in his Red Sox windbreaker, on a leather couch, half dozing off and half watching a WWII Battleground on his PSP. Frederick is out like a light on the chair next to me and I just got through catching up on the Red Sox post game show I TIVO'd while we were in the air. God bless the team who invented the Slingbox! Slingbox rules! Oh and yes Sox beat Spankees 7-3 ! Manny jacks a 3 run homer off of Mussina in the first and they never looked back. It's a another great day in Red Sox Nation.

I'll try and get some pics up as soon as I take some. All three of us having slept on a plane are not fit for visual blog consumption. Say your blessings that you are just reading this and not seeing us (or smelling us) right now.

Next Stop............Venice!

Love to all, Mickie

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Alex at the Pop Concert

Our little guy put on his 60's duds and did his best Davy Jones tribute at the his school's Pop Concert. Enjoy!

Before We Go Forward, A Quick View of the Past

As we scurry around to gather things to pack, finish up our loose ends at school and work, we thought we'd take a moment to look at our last Dorado European Vacation. Here's the link to shots from the last cruise we took in 2005. On Princess' Grand Princess we traveled from London to Southhampton, England to Brugge, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg/Berlin and Normandy.

London & Bruge, Belgium

Norway, Denmark,Germany,Netherlands, France

Europe Cruise, More Pictures II