"I am a woman in process. I'm just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience,and learn from it.
Life is never dull." ~ Oprah

Monday, January 31, 2011

TURKEY - Izmir & Istanbul


Visas are not required to enter the country.  Instead, we were given “landing cards” good for the date of arrival.  I spent three days in Turkey - I received one card each day.

At a glance, Turkey is almost the size of Texas, it’s split into seven regions and became it’s own republic in 1923, which is when they began speaking Turkish instead of Arabic.  The native lands of the Turks was in Central Asia, specifically Mongolia.  Since they were nomads they traveled around until they eventually settled in this area.  The land where Turkey resides has been considered pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic.  Today’s majority is Islamic (98% Muslim), but there is no “state religion” and all are welcome/accepted. Turkey is the only Muslim country that has separation of church and state.  Other majority religions are Jewish and Christian - they all come to service and pray in the same place(s) which is called a mosque.  There are mosques scattered in everywhere; it reminds me of the Bible-belts of Texas.  I’m sure you’ll understand once you see the pictures.  April and May are said to be the best time to visit the country.

Turkey economy is made up of 60% Industry and 40% Agriculture.  Textiles and exportation are the most important industry; olives, cotton, figs, grapes, and “citrus” (pomegranate, strawberries, cherries) are the most important in agriculture.  Turkey has more olive trees than Greece, but the quality of olives isn’t as high since the trees aren’t as mature.  The tour guide claims the best time to eat olives is for breakfast that would typically be bread, olive oil, thyme, tomato, egg, and feta.

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira.  1 Lira currently = 1.6 US dollars / 2 Lira = 1 Euro
Cost of living is comparable to the US, I think.  A new teacher, just out of the university, will make about $1500/month.  And rent for a small flat is about $700, but it would have no appliances here. 

There is a 72% tax on fuel because it is imported, which makes it 3,37 per liter (about $8.00/gal).  The tax on vehicle purchase is 84% (23% on cell phones).  Basic car models cost 18 to 20 thousand in US dollars, deluxe/luxury models are about 78000 Euro!

Ambulances primarily run Code-2 (lights, no sirens).  “Polis” stations are frequent and guards carry machine guns. 

Many American eating establishments can be found, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Little Cesar’s Pizza, and McDonald’s.  Not my taste, but they may be yours....

There are 852 universities in Turkey.  Only the top 800 students are accepted into them each year (per region or country, I am unsure).  Here in Turkey, tour guides are required to get a 4-year degree, then are certified by the Office of Tourism and Trade after passing the exam.  They all speak English and are very knowledgeable!

Izmir, Turkey - FRIDAY, January 28th, 2011 

My day began about 8am and the excursion to Pergamon and Asclepion began around 0915.  I was assigned to Bus 8 that day, which happened to be one of my least favorite groups of people....although the tour guide was my favorite.  I’ll try to capture what I learned and made notes of, and because it’s been three days since then, this is going to be more of a challenge for me  ;-)  but I enjoy it.

Izmir has a population of approximately 4 million.

Pergamon is the acropolis of Izmir and it sits about 60-90 minutes outside the port city.  I saw a shepherd with his flock and wind turbines in the countryside while on the journey.  We rode a cable car to the top.  It’s a beautiful place made up of so many layers of civilizations, like everywhere in this part of the world, and the views were most incredible!  Like other places Athena ventured, she planted an olive tree here as well. 

There was a market area at the entryway of the site where they would yell out “Cheaper than Wal-Mart, better quality than Target.”  I had to laugh!  I purchased a few items here and come to find out, I did indeed get the best deals in Turkey.  I got myself a scarf for 5 Euro because it was SOOOOOO cold; should have gotten more at this price.

I had to go back through my pictures to give myself a memory boost.  What joy and intensity I feel having the opportunity to have been in these places - it brings tears to my eyes...

It began to sprinkle rain as we headed down the hill and through the village to Asclepion, an ancient healing center where exclusive and wealthy patients were treated with herbal remedies, water from the springs, exercise, and opium (prescribed at the time for sleep and rest).  One might have been instructed to have a mud bath, then run seven laps around the angora (somewhat like a marketplace) then to go to the sleeping rooms for the afternoon.  Interesting place that was thriving for over 800 years (400 BC to 400 AC).  I would have enjoyed being a there when it was open.  I believe it was known as the Velvet Castle of Alexander the Great...

As we left there, the rain started really coming down and the wind whipped.  We drove down the road a few minutes, then stopped at the local carpet weavers.  There we saw women performing the art of making, received a brief explanation of the process, then had a presentation of carpets.  Here, we had Turkish tea and a snack.  There were hundreds of carpets in all sizes, material, cost and design.  They were made of wool, cotton, and silk and/or any combination of.  The men laid out many of them for us to see and feel.  It was fun to see them flip the carpets and make them fly   :)

The drive back to port was a little less comfortable and the people were grouchier than before.  When we were walking back to the ship from the terminal area, it was like a monsoon.  People’s umbrellas were turning inside out, everyone was drenched, and at one point, I think I was lifted off my feet for a moment.

After getting back on the ship, the announcement was made that our time in Egypt was being cancelled due to the danger and crisis occurring there now.  I was disappointed, but glad that the choice had been made. I headed straight for the Thermal Suite and relaxed for a good 90 minutes.  I read The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho while lying on the heated mosaic loungers, took a couple dips in the jacuzzi and let the bubbles take away any tension that I had.  Let me just say that I felt happier than anyone I saw at dinner at Alizar.  My meal was great (again) and I even tried escargot for the first time.  It was alright, surprisingly enough.  I don’t know if I would eat them again simply due to the fact that I am unaware of the ethical side of escargot, but I felt it was a good time to try something new-to-me.  I don’t eat much during the day, partly because I’m not extremely hungry, partly because I know I will eat a 4 or 5 course meal at dinner!  The appetizers have been fantastic - everything from Chilled Black Cherry Soup to Asparagus with Scallops (there is nothing vegan here, I’m lucky to get vegetarian choices that aren’t bread).  After I completed my meal, I headed to the Excursions desk to inquire.  They had everything all set up for us!  Although these things rarely happen, they were prepared and I appreciated their efforts.  I enjoyed Turkey much more than anticipated and look forward to experiencing more of it. 

Istanbul, Turkey:  Day 6 of the Cruise, January 29th.  We arrived in port at 1300 and my excursion “St. Sophia and Bosphorus cruise” began.

First, I must tell you a bit about Istanbul.  It’s 9000 years old, known as the “New York City of Turkey” and is populated by 14-15 million people making it the largest city in the country. Half of the city is in Europe, the other half is in Asia - like Lake Tahoe!  It’s only distinguished for tourists, the locals feel there is no difference and no, Asians do not occupy the Asian side.  The European side is primarily business/retail; the Asian side is mostly residential since it’s newer and 40% cheaper.  On this side of the city, it’s more green, there are more houses instead of flats (apartments), and only 5 million.  There are 3 suspension bridges that cross the Bosphorus to the other side; the lighted one was built in 1973.  Remember though, both sides make up the entire city. Istanbul is only 22 miles from the Black Sea, which is very rough and windy.  The Bosphorus is the only water passage from Russian to the Mediterranean Sea, so treaties have been in place for hundreds of years.

There are 36 political parties, 4.2 million cars and 2,800 mosques in the city - 600 of which are ancient originals that have been restored.  Plus, the Orient Express used to travel through Istanbul until 1977.

My first stop was Hagia Sophia, an "Eighth" wonder of the world.  All mosques are modeled after this one.  “Sophia” was not a person, rather it refers to Divine or Holy Wisdom. It was the first building with a central dome and was the largest enclosed building known for a period of 1,000 years.  All areas of worship faced East in ancient times, but when Christianity was fully accepted as a religion in the late 4th century AD, the churches and temples were no longer built facing East.

During the Ottoman Empire, no depiction of idols - human or animal - were allowed inside holy places.  For this reason, much of the art and decoration inside St. Sophia were covered in plaster.  Just last year, the face of one of the angels was uncovered! Also during the rule of this empire, minarets were added to mosques.  They are the towers that call people to prayer 5 times a day and can be seen for miles since they are sometimes taller than the dome of the mosque. 

Also inside St. Sophia there is a section for Muslims to pray to Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), two large marble jars called Mermer Kups would store water for washing prior to prayer, and a section on the floor made of marble circles where the coronation of Roman Emperors would take place - they called it the “Center of the World.”  The red marble pillars we made of imported marble from Egypt.  Upon exiting, two wooden doors covered in bronze can be seen.  They were brought here from the birthplace of the Christian, St. Paul.

Next up!  The Grand Bazar.  This place has approximately 4-6 thousand shops and we’re told that if you stopped at each one for only two minutes, it would take you 15 days to make it thorough the entire place.  Also, if you’ve seen the first 20 - you’ve seen everything because it’s all the same stuff.  Now, you never want to go “inside” a shop or ask for a lower price (haggle, etc) unless you intend to buy!  For one, you’ll get caught in there for no less than 30 minutes and secondly, it’s impolite.  Now - I’m not one who enjoys haggling because I know how it feels to be asked to lower my price.  But here, it’s part of the purchasing process.  Still, I didn’t do much of it and actually, the shop owner ended up offering me a lower price on a cashmere stole/wrap I was admiring.  He dropped 30 Lira off the price and I took it.  I can buy something nice for myself - right?

Our tour then took off to meet take the Bosophorus cruise on the ferry boat - *Barbara, if you are reading this, I dedicated this ride for you & Brittany in lieu of the camel ride to the pyramids I missed.*

Love to Brittany!
We started in the area of water called the Golden Horn, named for it’s shape, which separates the old city from the rest.  So there are actually 3 parts of the city and it’s quite confusing for a new comer attempting to get oriented!  Anyway, it takes the old ferries 25 minutes to cross to the Asian side and only 8 minutes for the newest ones to cross.  The ferry we rode on was for passengers, not vehicles, and had tables, benches,  bathrooms, and a cafe.  Since I hadn’t tried the Apple Tea yet, a Canadian couple I’d been chatting with bought me one.  It was warm and sweet  =)  The boat ride took about an hour since we returned to where we got on.  The sun set and we were able to enjoy the light show on the main suspension bridge.  A private company created it for the city a few years ago and the lights are solar powered. 

The final stop on this tour was to a local jewelry store for a brief presentation and snacks; they love to try to sell expensive items to tourists!  The building was originally a ladies prison, the first and oldest one in the world.

Okay...back to the port terminal to catch my next excursion, “Turkish Night,” where I experienced traditional Turkish food and entertainment.  I had a chance to see four different belly dancers and other folk dance groups from the different regions. Since I had the best seat in the house, I was pulled up on stage twice as part of their audience participation.  I had an absolutely wonderful time!!!
Watch videos of the dancers in my YouTube gallery

The restaurant was on the European side, in the non-Muslim section.  This area was the  original location for embassies when Istanbul was the capital prior to 1923.  The capital is now located in Ankara.  The non-Muslim section has most of the pubs (since Muslims don’t drink alcohol), less strict rules, and contains a larger cross-section of cultures.  In all of Istanbul, homelessness is almost obsolete.  Apparently, it’s extremely rare to see a street person and it was estimated that there are probably only about 1,000 of them.  It’s said that Turkish people take care of their own.

Back in my cabin at midnight Saturday...up at 0730 on Sunday.  Not a great night for rest  :(  I was a little too exhausted to sleep well.

Istanbul, Turkey - DAY 7, January 30th, 2011
.  My excursion began at 0815 for 10 hours, the “Best of Istanbul.”

Blue Mosque - a gorgeous place of worship, known for the blue and green tiles that decorate the inside.  To honor ritual, one must take off shoes before entering and ladies should cover their heads with scarf/headdress, while men should wear long pants.  I would have liked to have experienced a time of prayer, but it still gave me chills and filled me with a sense of awe. The Blue Mosque is the only on with six minarets, the others have up to four.

Blue Mosque
St. Sophia (again for me) - I enjoyed it all a second time and learned new things from today’s tour guide.  One of those facts was that Friday noon prayer is the most important one of the week, much like the Christian Sunday mornings, they last about 45 minutes because a reading takes place.  The calls to prayer that occur five times a day from the minarets change since the go with the position of the sun, so when they say “noon” it simply means the 2nd or 3rd prayer of the day (I can’t remember which one).  Many people do not go to the mosque for prayer because it’s not required, prayer can be done anywhere!

Topkapi Palace - OH!  The artifacts were astounding and massive.  No pictures or recording devices are allowed in the Palace and guards are everywhere.  Rightly so, as there are objects of incalculable value everywhere.  Numerous precious stones...emeralds, diamonds, and pearls so large they would take up the entire palm of my hand.  The rubies were also countless, although they were all of small proportion.  There was a gold cradle decorated with emeralds and pink tourmaline.  There were swords and military adornment and thrones and serving ware.  So many amazing things to see, I almost purchased a book so I could capture some of the essence of the Treasury section.  WoW!

This particular area is known as The Hippodrome.  It contains all of these fabulous places!  For lunch, we went to one of the streets that’s just off the square between the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia.  Just as we stopped walking to organize ourselves, I turned about and before me was the Pudding Shop. I really never dreamed I would find it!  And since it was serendipity, that is exactly where I ate a fantastic meal and had my first taste of Turkish coffee.  And of course I had to try the famous pudding!  I chose vanilla and found it to be very tasty.  It was a different consistency than I’ve known, but I liked it.  =)

Now that our bellies were full, we went to walk it all off at The Archeology Museum.  Another place you wouldn’t want to miss!  And we even were able to see some Egyptian artifacts, which I commented on to a ship mate.  A man standing nearby said, “Oh, you must be from the cruise ship that had to divert...?”  Weird, I thought to myself, how in the world did he know that from what I said.  Later that night, I read my e-mail from the prior day where my friend Kim had informed me that our ship had been in the News.  Funny how things happen.

The Spice Market was last on our daily agenda and was a great place.  I enjoyed it more than the Grand Bazar because it wasn’t so overwhelming and the shop keepers weren’t nearly as intruding or aggressive as I strolled by.  It’s also on a much smaller scale, so only about 100 shops, I think.  The sample of Turkish Delight I had was truly delightful!  After taking a few quick peeks around and a small purchase, I headed to our meeting place to rest my legs and people-watch on the square outside.

The language here is difficult, so the excursions made it much easier to enjoy the city.  Few people from the Cruise took part in the tours and/or explored Istanbul, which I thought sad.  The majority stayed on the ship for two days, or may have gone out once for a few hours.  I’m so glad I had the experiences I did - I loved Turkey!

TODAY: DAY 8 at Sea - January 31st, 2011
I’ve enjoyed relaxing today!  This morning there was no yoga scheduled since we would have been in Egypt, so I stayed in be a bit longer and had a late-for-me breakfast about 0830.  I wrote this entry from the Atrium, while it was still quite this morning, and at different times of the day from the Thermal Suite or my stateroom.  I had a Spa appointment at Noon for a pedicure that was heaven, especially after four long days of walking around exploring the local areas. About 1530, we began traveling through the Dardanelles, a strait which runs between Europe and Turkey, and passed Gallipoli about 1545. Approximately 1730, the ship passed where the ancient city of Troy is known to have been, but I missed seeing it since I was meeting with my “friends.” Dinner was much better than last night and the atmosphere in the Alizar is so pleasant, I don’t really want to go anywhere else.  I also saw tonight’s Spotlight Show called “Duo Platchkov.”  The couple once performed in the famed Great Moscow State Circus.  Their acts included juggling, acrobatics, and balancing (on a moving ship).  It was a packed house, much laughing, and fun for everyone  =)

Right now, it’s 2141 and the ship is located at 38 57.71 N / 25 11.64 E with a Heading of 201.1 - the temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit with 62% humidity; it’s getting warmer!
Tonight we change our clocks back by one hour.  Tomorrow is another day at sea because there are another 601.7 nautical miles to go before the next port.  We are set to arrive in Valletta, Malta at 0900, Wednesday, February 2nd.

See ya later, gator!  LOVE YOU!
(pictures eventually)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

ATHENS, etc.

It’s DAY 6 of my cruise, Saturday, January 29th.  The ships position as of 0818 is 40 40.11 N / 27 28.06 E and have traveled 1654 nautical miles from Barcelona.  The time we were supposed to have in Cairo and Alexander, Egypt has been canceled due to the riots and killings.  Instead, we are going to Istanbul, Turkey.  We are in the Marmara Sea. The seas in this part seem to be at the top end of “moderate.”  I awoke around 3am to a loud banging noise, which I realized was the painting on the wall - it’s hung on a hinge, so there was no taking it down.  The rocking and noise eventually subsided and I was able to fall back to sleep.  It’s 39 degrees F and the humidity is 84% this morning, so I have dressed in more layers than yesterday and wearing my rain coat on today’s excursion. 

This morning at 0900 I enjoyed  a 30 minute neck and shoulder/back massage.  Ahhhh, so many years of accumulated tension slowly being released.  My massage therapist said that these are the roughest seas she has felt in a long time.  They feel choppy and there are more white caps than I’ve seen before, but nothing scary - thank goodness.  And still no sea sickness.  YaY!

Now, as I take refuge in the Thermal Spa until lunch time, where shall I start to catch you up on everything...?  Forgive me if I don't remember everything correctly, as I jotted down what was told to me by the tour guide.

Athens, Greece - THURSDAY:  The day began about 0900 for me...bran muffin...meditation...the outside deck...then to the Stardust Theatre at 1030 to get organized for the daily excursion(s).  Mine was called “Athens and Scenic Coast” and I went to the Acropolis and Sounion - Temple of Poseidon.  The day was lovely and the air was brisk.  Temperature was anywhere from 10 - 16 degrees Celsius.

To give you a little info about Greece, there are approximately 2000 islands, 900 of those are inhabited and most of them are accessed by ferry from the port of Piraeus, which has been a port for 2500 years, although Phaleron is said to be the oldest Greek port.  There is no “industry” in Greece; they are economically driven by exportation, tourism, and agriculture.  Driving would be considered dangerous from an American point of view.  There are no “lanes” and parking is scarce, bumper-to-bumper, literally.  Fuel prices are 1,37 per liter.  Multiply that by 4 to make a gallon, then add the dollar conversion.  Yikes!

There are about 3-5 million in Athens, alone.  Eleven million in Greece.  Tours are given in English despite the numerous languages represented on the ship by 2000 guests and 1000 employees.  Orange trees grown all over the city along the roads and in parks.  Oranges need the cold weather to become sweet, so the Greeks are grateful for the weather and hope it dips down a little more for their citrus crops.

We passed the Peace and Friendship Olympic Stadium and the City Center as we headed to our first stop - The Acropolis.  It was the 1st settlement of Athens and nestled on the “highest point of the city.”  Also considered the Sacred Hill of Athens, it’s the Sanctuary of Athena, daughter of Zeus and born out of his head, she became the goddess of wisdom and war.  She is known for giving the Olive Tree (economy) to this part of the world. 

There is an amphitheater on the south slope of the Acropolis where they still perform ballet and music.  It’s suppose to have the best sound....

On one of the two hilltops adjacent to the Acropolis, there is a fort that a ruler built during the Roman invasion.   He had cannons fire at the Acropolis and Parthenon, which is why there is no roof today.  The attack created collapse and destruction.

Female statues with wings signify VICTORY.  The wings of Athena were removed sometime after their victory, so she would “stay there” - Victory would always be theirs.  Athena’s temple has been receiving some restoration for the last five years; the scaffolding was just removed one month ago. 

“The Gate” of the Acropolis, at the top of the stairs, has had some restoration done as well.  Until about two years ago, it had no top - only the pillars were there.  Today, you may notice in my pictures, they have used new marble pieces to create it.  The new marble will eventually weather and look like the original work. 

In the center of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, considered to be the “Masterpiece of the Greeks.”  There are no straight lines, everything curves to create optical refinement/illusion.  It’s typical Doric temple made with columns that have ends like a dish.  There are some Ionic columns scattered - they have spiral tops.  All Greek temples face east, so they may receive the greatest benefit from the sun upon sunrise.  Unfortunately, Lord Elgin took all of the decoration from the Parthenon for his personal, private collection.  In doing so, the work crews that he hired knew nothing about excavation and damaged the majority of it.  What is left of it today, can be found in London’s British Museum.

The Erechtheion was initially a pagan, mythologic temple.  The ladies guarding it are referred to as the “Caryatids.”  Next to the temple, there is an olive tree.  Legend has it that this is the original tree planted by Athena, herself.  

On the other adjacent hill, the 2nd highest in Athens, there is a beautiful structure that can be seen for miles.  There is a myth that says one day when Athena was upset, she threw a bolder that created this hill.  Great stuff!     =)

We had a bit of free time to wander the site, then went to the Metropolitan Hotel for lunch.  It was fabulous!!!  Feta and Tomato salad with Greek Olive oil, roasted veggies, and Baklava.  YUM!  So, So good.

Then we were off for a 90 min costal ride to visit the Archeological Site of Sounio - Temple of Poseidon (448-440 BC).  The countryside was beautiful and green, not to mention the ocean views.  I saw a rainbow that out an extra little smile in my heart and there was a sweet Grouse singing for us at the top.

The site is interesting and it’s easy to see why this location was chosen - it was the perfect observatory and was patrolled for King Aegean 24 hours a day.  It was a location for politics and the entrance to Athens from the Aegean Sea (named for the King).

Legends say that the King had to pay “blood tax” to the King of Crete.  This meant he had to send humans from his kingdom to Crete so the Monitor Beast could be fed.  Theseus, son of King Aegean, insisted that he sail to Crete and kill the Monitor so no more lives had to be spared.  The king was very frightened and did not want to loose his son, so he told him to fly only black sails until the battle was won.  If the ship returned with black sails, he would know his son was dead - if it returned with white ones, he’d know his son was alive.  Well, Theseus ended up winning the battle with the Monitor, but forgot to have the sails changed to white because he was celebrating the victory.  The king saw the ship from across the sea...it still had black sails...he was distraught!  With the thought of loosing his son, he threw himself into the sea.  :(

I was exhausted when the day was done.  I had dinner, a Dark Chocolate Orange Bavarian Cream dessert, then went to my room to relax for the rest of the night.

SO - I’ve caught you up a bit...I shall have lunch in the Grand Pacific; Roasted Eggplant with pita bread and a Vegetable Black Bean Burger that was fantastic.  =)  Today, I’ve been complimented four times (by the staff) on my dreads and also asked, by an elderly British man “Are you Jamaican?”  Ha Ha!  I should have told him “Yes!”

I’ll post again ASAP.  It's almost 1300 (1pm) - I’m off to Istanbul!  In the meantime, you can look at more pictures: Athens, Greece

Friday, January 28, 2011


Change is the only thing that is constant

I wanted to check in with you - let you know that fortunately and unfortunately, I won't be making it to Egypt.  And that means no camel ride to the pyramids  :( 

What else does that mean...a two-day adventure in Istanbul starting at 0900!  I really enjoyed Izmir today, despite the cold and monsoon rain.   I will write more about everything when I have another day at sea which will be on Monday.  Boy!  Will I have a lot to tell you about  =)

Athens was lovely, too!  I'd like to return to Greece to visit Delphi....

Anyway, I am alive and in no danger.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Tuesday:  I awoke to my wake up call at 0615 in order to make breakfast and meet for my excursion at 0730.  Once going through the mass exit process, I jumped on my assigned bus, found a seat, and we headed to Rome from the port in Civitavecchia.  The drive was about an hour and half - a nice way to enjoy the countryside.  The guide was pleasant, and gave interesting information on the area. 

walls of Vatican City
As we arrived in Rome, we tested our tour listening devices, then hopped off the bus at the Vatican. The Vatican is considered a city, by itself, and is surrounded by stone walls.  We walked on the outside of those walls until we reached one of the entrances.  The Vatican is made up of many different museums, only which we toured through about 5 of them, I think.  I saw SO many extraordinary things - everything from stone sculptures, to wall-size tapestries.  My favorite part of the whole tour was the Sistine Chapel.  It was immensely powerful sitting on the antique wooden bench, where thousands had sat before me, and look up and around me to see such ancient and lovely art.  It’s all painted, yet every piece had such depth!  I felt such emotion being in that atmosphere for that short period of time, and honor to have the opportunity to be there.  Unfortunately, no one is allowed to take pictures or video; complete silence is also instructed, although people were whispering to each other, so the more people, the more whispering, the louder it got.  The sound vibrations are known to damage the art, so the guards would “shhhhhh” the crowd and/or say “silence.”  They are serious and frequently escort people out for picture taking or loud chatting.

St. Peter’s Basilica is intense!  A very spiritual place even if I don’t consider myself Catholic and/or Christian.  So much look at - all according to tradition.  When you look at the pictures, be sure to notice the size of the people in relation to the size of everything around them.  Fascinating!  Not to mention, St. Peter’s square, which is incredible from every vantage point.

St. Peter's Basilica from the Square
St. Peter's Basilica

Lunch was next on the list.  And for that we got back on the bus for a short drive to the restaurant.  We were served Ziti pasta, salad, potatoes, and teramisu (my absolute favorite dessert).  I sat with two men traveling together from Panama City.  One of them spoke English; both of them were very kind and enjoyable. 

On to the Colosseum!  How crazy it was to be standing face to face with those walls.  I wish I would have been able to take a tour of the inside, but one of the pitfalls of taking an excursion is staying on “the schedule” and we only had 25-30 minutes to walk around the area.  I went all the way around, peeked inside, and kept thinking to myself “I’m walking where the Legends have walked, I’m here where the legends took place.”  What a deep sense of amazement....There are no doubts in my mind that I want to come back to Italy and venture out more! 

Arch of Constantine

strawberry gelato!  YUM  ;)

I think I took a little nap on the way back to the port.  I’ve been taking short naps whenever possible - nothing over 30 minutes, but I keep wishing for a 2 or 3 hour one.

After getting back on board, I went straight to the Thermal Suite for an hour.  The jacuzzi treated me very well after walking and being on a bus all day.  Dinner was at Alizar restaurant and early in my 4-course meal, I was invited to join the family of the couple whom I want to go to Delphi on Thursday.  They were all very nice and it was a lot of fun getting to know them over dinner!

Stromboli Island

Wednesday:  We had to set our clocks forward last night, so now I’m 8 hours ahead CST.  This morning I got up at 8:15 so I could make it out to the Starboard side to see Stromboli Island where one of the three active volcanoes in Italy was visible.  It’s strange to think that it’s “active” because there is a village at the bottom, on the coast.  I wonder how it is to live there and what the danger poses the locals.

I headed to yoga at 9am; I would have rather stayed in bed this morning!  At 10am I had a manicure, where luckily, I was able to enjoy passing through the Strait of Messina and seeing Sicily out the window.  The manicure was wonderful and included a hand/arm stone massage with both fire and ice oils, plus a paraffin treatment that was luxurious.  Of course, I wanted it to last longer  =)


From 1pm to 3pm I attended an Art Auction.  They had pieces from Picasso, Rembrandt, and other “master” (or near-master) artists.  It was interesting to see what people would bid on and for what prices.  I got 8 tickets into the raffle and won TWICE.  There were 10 prizes given, both of mine happened to be certificates for a “large format work of art - choose from 7.”  Maybe I can get a set, of some sort.

After dinner I want to go to the Funk-a-delic 70’s disco tonight at 2230, but I’m not feelin’ it right now  :(

It’s DAY 3 of my cruise and  I’m pretty exhausted, people are starting to get on my nerves.  I know a good, long, night’s rest will do wonders for me!  I have worked on relaxing some in the Thermal Suite and am about to get into the steam room and therapy whirlpool. It’s 1825 and the ship’s position is 37 10.72 N / 18 40.16 E - we are going 21.8  knots at a heading of 104 degrees.  The sea conditions have generally been mild, but there have been occasions where it became evident that the sea was rougher - especially when the  extra hangers in my closet are swinging into each other.

Come to find out, I won’t be going to Delphi.  I would have had to cancel the excursion I booked by 1030 yesterday morning - BEFORE I met the sweet elderly couple who offered to let me tag along with them and their granddaughter.  Oh Well!  Maybe I’ll come back to Greece one day, too.  Dinner tonight was very nice.  I shared a table with four other ladies; two were from Texas and the other two (I’d met earlier in the cruise) are from eastern Canada.  We had a fun chat about all kinds of things & I hope to meet up with the Canadian ladies for our Egyptian adventure   =)  

We’ll arrive in Piraeus at 1030 in the morning. Athens, Greece....here I come!!!

*hugs & love*

See my Pictures of Rome - click HERE
The Barcelona and Norwegian Jade albums are also updated - so check them out, too.

*** if you don't see any new albums/pics, just know that satellite internet is slow - please check back***

Monday, January 24, 2011

MONDAY on the ship

My wake up call came at 07:00, as scheduled.  I wanted to sleep longer, but yoga awaited me, so I struggled to make the move.  I was pleased that I did - my body felt better almost immediately!  The instructor was one of the gym guys with a Russian dialect.  The movement of the ship made for an all new kind of challenge  =)  It was a small class made up of four other American ladies, one was a first timer.  We all decided on the 5-class deal when it was time to hand our key-card over.  See, key-cards are like your onboard credit card - you pay up at the end, but you don’t have to carry around cash other forms of payment while on the ship...while it makes things easy, they know what they are doing to enable you to spend more! 

The Yin/Yang Spa’s private Thermal Suite is where my money has been BEST spent so far!  Like a gift from the Universe to help me practice the art of relaxing.  I spent a little while there between yoga and my acupuncture consultation (tongue and pulse reading).
Crystal, the sweet Chinese woman, told me that I’m overworked and have accumulated years of stress.  WoW!  she’s good.  She also told me that I make a good healer, the indications are rare to see.  Both of these indicate to me that my move away from emergency medical and into the healing arts are worthwhile.  She also knew, almost instantly from her pulse check, that I hadn’t eaten breakfast...so when I left there, I headed to fill my belly at the Garden Cafe (far from a garden, more like a buffet).  There, I met a very nice couple who kindly allowed me to sit at their table.  We chatted about some of our travels and exchanged tips for various places.  They strongly suggested I go to New Zealand because it was “backpacker-friendly.”  Mind you, I am not traveling in true backpacker form, but to others it looks like it because I am traveling alone and with a backpack.  ;)  But I am more than willing to go to New Zealand if that’s where my path leads.  It’s been on my list for years anyway.

I attended the lecture on acupuncture in the Medusa Lounge where I learned some points to help keep me from needing reading glasses, a technique to prevent dementia, one to help with seasickness, and another to assist with acclimating the body to all temperatures.  The only thing I had a hard time banking on was the “1st Aid” part where she showed what to do in case of stroke, unconsciousness, and “cardiac arrest” (assuming she actually meant heart attack).  But I do give some credit, because while I believe wholeheartedly in preventative medicine, she made it clear that Eastern medicine does not replace Western (emergency) medicine, they simply compliment each other. 

Here on the ship, hygiene and cleanliness are a top priority!  I’m definitely okay with this, but the applications of hand sanitizer to-and-from anywhere, is getting old.  At the restaurants, the staff has to spray your hands as you enter.  I guess the general population doesn’t wash their hands enough. 

Some personal tid-bits for you: the staff have complimented me on my dreads way more than any of the passengers, an American passenger spoke Spanish to me, and asked if I also had a dragon tattoo, and I’ve been told I looked like a musician.  It’s been interesting!  I was initially wearing SeaBands - those things that fight off travel sickness in a natural way...last time I cruised (10 yrs. ago) I had pretty awful vertigo.  I didn’t experience nausea, but the dizziness was distracting.  Well, I took  off the SeaBands last night while I slept and only put them on this morning for a short while.  I haven’t had them on for hours and think I’m okay.  The movement isn’t so bad; actually, it’s kind of soothing.  I haven’t even needed the Ginger chews I brought...Yippee!

The ship position is 41 16.60 N, 006 49.67 E and the temperature in in the 40’s.  Good thing I’m back in the Thermal Suite!  It’s 12:24pm (05:39 am CST) and it’s nice having a place to sit without having to scour for seating or get some peace and quiet (other than being in my room).  Seriously, it’s totally worth the $150 I spent for 12 days of heaven, rather than the $145 I considered spending on a 50-minute Pro Collagen Marine Facial or the $195 on the 75-minute Herbal Thai Poultice massage.  

The 2:30pm Port & Shopping presentation was interesting, but I didn’t really learn anything.  In fact, I bailed at 3pm because it was centered around the purchase of high cost items.  I forget sometimes that I am not one of the cookie-cutter kind. 

I was hungry, so I went to the Blue Lagoon on my floor and near my stateroom.  There I had some very good vegetable lasagna who’s primary ingredient was portabello mushrooms and zucchini.  The portions are a size that are perfect for me!  They fill me up and even though there is not much vegetarian cuisine to choose from, my tummy has been fully satisfied.  The food is included...unless of course you go to the majority of restaurants who charge a “cover charge” of $10 - $25.  I don’t know what I think about that yet and/or if it’s worth it.  Water (in a glass), tea, and coffee are all included, but branch out for a cappuccino and it’ll cost ya $2.88 since it’s made at the bar.  It’s a very good thing I don’t drink alcohol! The bottled water and Pellegrino in my room are $5.25 each.  You can see how charges can add up if you let them!

I met with my “friends” at 5pm; acupuncture is at 7pm.  During the session, my skin, shoulders, knees, and muscular neck tension will be treated.  I have no doubt that I’ll feel better and more capable of relaxing the duration of the voyage.

The spotlight show tonight at 9:30pm is SHOUT!  It should be entertaining for me because it’s a 60’s music spectacular performed by six females with striking voices. 

I’m going to hit the hay right after the show.  Rome in the morning.  OMG!  I cannot wait  :-}

Okay, now that i’ve started thinking in BLOG format, I am going to say good night.  LOVE YOU!

P.S.  I’m having problems uploading pics since I am on satellite internet....so if you Wanna see pictures?  Go HERE and ENJOY!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I’m onboard the Norwegian Jade!

After cruising the La Rambla this morning in Barcelona, I picked up my stored bags from the hostel and headed to cruise terminal.  Funny thing was, it was a much longer walk than indicated - but I kept my eye on the prize!!! It was interesting to look around at all the people in the terminal because I was unable to differentiate the Americans.  I suppose it might be because of the diversity we have in the USA and/or the human race is the human race...we are all One.

I got all checked in after a little wait in the terminal, got through the doors and went to my room to get settled.  Much to my surprise, my room is AWESOME!  Much nicer than the I had on the cruise I took to Nassau about 10 years ago (wow, has it been that long?)

Once I got over a bit of the excitement, got unpacked, and organized, I sat down and reviewed all the written info that was provided.  I got an idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to get familiar with...then headed out my door to familiarize myself with the ship.  First, I headed to the fitness center to find yoga classes.  There are 8 available and I’ll be at every one!  There are also meetings and meditation available in The Chapel, which I will be taking part in.  Oh yes - one of the best things I’ve done for myself EVER was to purchase one of the forty “Exotic Thermal Suite” passes!  What this means for me is that I have unlimited access to the Spa’s private chambers where there are heated lounge chairs, indoor jacuzzi tubs, a Thalasso Therapy pool, steam and dry sauna rooms, and a Japanese plunge pool.  EXCITING!  I plan on being here every day for two hours after yoga  =)  And maybe again in the evenings.

Tonight, I enjoyed the show in the Stardust Theatre.  It was called Duo Acrobatique and was in Cirque du Soleil form.  In fact, the couple of 15 years used to perform together for Cirque du Soleil.  The hour long performance was enjoyable and beautiful!

After the show I stopped by the Alizar Dining Room for dinner.  I chose a Cesar salad, cheese tortellini, and vanilla bean souffle.  Yummy! 

I’ve got my schedule for tomorrow and am ready for a good night’s sleep in that king size bed  ;)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I love Barcelona!!!

Today was a great day!  I’m glad I rested up...I climbed to the top of the city (almost) at Parc Guell, my favorite place so far!  There were many trails, stairs to climb, people to see - in the “keep Austin weird” way, music to listen to, and views to be seen.

To get to the park from the bus stop, a hill must be taken, one much like in San Francisco or Sayulita  :)  But the park is worth it, in a Gaudi way.  Which reminds me - I think I’ve discovered where the American term “gaudy” comes from, although we use it in a more derogatory way.  Gaudi’s style is very colorful and ornate, with a lot of texture, which makes it enchanting.  While I was at the park, I met a number of young, American ladies whom I traded picture-taking with.  One of the girls was taking a picture of her friend and said something like “show ‘em what you’ve got.”  I giggled out loud and she realized I was American, too.  She said, “Oh!  I’m not used to anyone understanding me....I’m a bit embarrassed.”  We exchanged some English and Spanish phrases, some smiles, then went on our way.

My MOM even let me know she's with me in Spirit  :)

When I visited the Hospital de Sant Pau, it was closed to the public for tours because of major renovations.

This seems to be a common theme around the city since it’s the low-season.  That’s okay by me - just imagining the insides from the fantastic architecture on the outside, leaves my imagination wild.  The Sangrada Familia was way too packed for me to venture into...the entry lines were longer than I have ever seen, anywhere.
the line to make entry isn't completely shown here...

It’s extremely rare for anyone to live in a “house,” seems to be exclusive to the wealthy.  I did see more houses on the west side, closer to the hills, but even there the majority were multi-story “flats.”  Most of the city is made up of, what I’ve heard called “mulit-purpose” buildings where all the businesses are on the 1st level and living spaces (apartments) are from there up.  We’ve seen quite a few of these being built in Austin during the last few years....here, they’ve been around for a long time.  AND they recycle everything! and have receptacles in every block.
these are dumpster-size recycling bins

recycle glass

recycle plastic

recycle paper

As I walk through the city, I notice the streets are quite clean, I see many types of people, gaze upon skateboarders and graffiti, hear numerous languages spoken, enjoy the many parks and artistic flair.  There is always something beautiful to see!   I have a feeling it’s easy to get lost between the tall buildings and the hustle n’ bustle, where locals loose the ability to appreciate what is around them, as we all do sometimes. Shopping is abundant here in the port city of Barcelona, like other large cities I suppose.  Prices are written with commas instead of decimals, like this:  8,95 instead of $8.95 which takes a little getting used to.  I never got a chance to exchange more money into Euro yesterday, and the banks are closed on weekends (of course).  But I’ve been lucky that most places take credit/debit cards.  The only catch is that I am actually paying 3% more, courtesy of the bank(s) back home.  I’ll just use my cash when I return on February 3rd - no problem!  I used the majority of my leftover cash to purchase some hand lotion from tallerAMAPOLA since I am resembling a lizard now....

I’m writing from the CatBar where I’m eating hummus, bread, and salad with cafe to warm my bones from the cold outside.  It’s been pretty cold today, the air is brisk and I am extremely glad that I put on my thermal under wear this morning!  Not to mention the crazy static.  I am grateful there is no rain, except for a few sprinkles this afternoon while I was on the top deck of the bus.  The CatBar's small menu is completely vegan; I am very pleased with my meal and really happy that I found the quaint little place in what felt like an alley, but is actually considered a street.

Most of the places to eat advertise their menu with enlarged pictures of each meal.  I find these unappetizing! and can’t make myself eat at any of them.  Food isn’t something I’ve really been eager for.  Well,  my clock says it’s 6:23pm so I’ll be headed back to the bus stop shortly to move closer to my hostel in the darkness of night.  My 30 Euro for a 2-day pass onto the Barcelona City Tours bus has been well worth it.

I walked around for a little while down by the port and up the La Rambla a tiny bit...finally saw an ambulancia running code-3 while walking to my hostel.  I’m just happy it’s not frequent.  Here are what they look like while in station...

The Hostel BCN Port is very convenient for me and I plan to make my reservations to return my last three nights.  They are safety oriented, too.  When guests leave, they ask that you leave your room key-card for accountability sake.  The glass doors at the front must be activated by the receptionist before they open, there are automatic lights and cameras in the hallways, plus a safe in the room that can be programmed by each individual guest.  I’ve felt safe here.

NOW...it’s 9:05pm and time for a nice hot shower to wash my head and dreads, plus a little yoga in my room will do me some good!  Tomorrow it’s La Rambla after breakfast.  Then I’ll be boarding the cruise ship between Noon and 5pm.  I’m excited.  HA!

Good night  =)

p.s. Wanna see more pics?  Try this...Sharing SPAIN