Monday, October 29, 2012

Venice, Day 3 – October 28, 2012

Venice, Day 3 – October 28, 2012

To paraphrase a famous quotation from a former President -- "Sunday, October 28, 2012, a date that will live in infamy."  The temperature was 45 degrees, the rain never stopped the entire day, and the wind blew at gale force, blowing the rain sideways.  It was one of the most miserable days I have ever spent.  I had planned to go out first thing, but the high tides had flooded the streets, making walking impossible.  It was very interesting to watch the water rise over the sidewalk outside the hotel and inside the hotel in the lobby. 

Despite the miserable conditions, I didn't want to waste an entire day in Venice, so I decided to get on the water bus (the vaporetto) and ride it for its entire route.  It is the local bus here, and it goes the entire length of the Grand Canal and takes several hours to complete its route.  The vaporetto has an inside cabin and an outside standing area that has a roof but no sides.  The windows of the inside cabin were fogged over so that I could not see out, much less take photos, so I decided to try to stand outside.  No one else was crazy enough to stand outside, so I was able to get into a corner for a little protection.  I rode all day and took lots of photos, but it was truly miserable.  At one point, I was thinking that only someone completely insane would stand out there. 

Several times a few other people stood outside for a few minutes between their stops, and I met a few people.  One elderly gentleman was a tour guide for some students, and he told me about some of the places we passed.  At another point, a couple stood outside, and we talked.  They were from Cairo, in Venice on vacation, and completely miserable and completely unprepared for the weather.  I told them about my visit to Egypt, and they told me about their visit to San Francisco, which they loved.  At the end, when they were leaving, I wished them a Happy Eid, and they smiled broadly that someone would know and give them good wishes. 

Last night, I went to see a performance of opera arias, and it was wonderful.  The performance was advertised in all the hotels, and I had passed the beautiful building where the performance was held, not far from my hotel.  So I thought, why not go.  It was well worth the effort.  The performers and the musicians were dressed in period dress from the 1800s, and the music was really wonderful, as well as the beautiful hall.  After the performance, I stopped into a litlte Italian restaurant just outside the hotel for a bite to eat.  As I was eating, I suddenly noticed that all of the workers in the restaurant (all men) were not speaking Italian, but Arabic.  The restaurant was an Italian restaurant run by Arabic immigrants.  I found that very amusing. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Venice, Day 2 – October 27, 2012

Venice, Day 2 – October 27, 2012

Transition day from the ship to the hotel.  Early breakfast upstairs in the Panorama Buffet; sat with Owen and Judith and said good-bye to several other couples as they left.  Finished up in the room and went to the lounge on the 10th deck to wait for my time to leave the ship. 

On leaving, talked with the Princess representative where the luggage was stored to ask him to help find the porters who would help take the luggage to the hotel.  He was very friendly and told me where to find the porters in a different building; he said that the porters would charge about 10 Euros per bag to take them to the hotel.  He also told me where to find the water taxi, which he said would cost about 150 Euros.  He then instructed the porter in the baggage room to take my bags to the place where the porters were available.  Everything he told me was wrong.  As always, customer service at Princess Cruise Lines was severely lacking.

The porter took my bags to the building where he said the porters were waiting, and he put my bags down outside the building.  However, there were no porters inside; because of the rainstorm, the waters were flooding the sidewalks in Venice at high tide, and porters could not take the baggage through the water.  I would have to take a water taxi to the hotel. 

Thinking that the water taxi would cost at least 150 Euros, I went to an ATM machine outside the building to get more cash.  A man wearing a polo-type shirt with horizontal green stripes like those worn by gondoliers was standing near the ATM machine, and I motioned that I would wait for him to use the machine first; however, he said that he was not waiting to use the machine and I should go ahead and use it.  I was suddenly uncomfortable with his presence, so I checked the machine to see if it had been altered in any way.  I could not detect any alteration of the machine, but I hid my hands as I punched my code numbers into the machine.  I got my cash and left, but I still felt uncomfortable.  I walked to the nearby water taxi booth and paid for the water taxi, which was not 150 Euros, but 80 Euros.  The attendant told me to look for water taxi number 7.  He also expressed surprise when I told him the name of the hotel where I would be staying; he said, “Ca’ Sagreda?  So many people today are going to that hotel!  

I then went back to the ATM machine and saw the man using the machine.  I noticed that he was typing into the machine numbers that were almost, but not exactly my numbers.  I then realized that he was listening to the sound of the beeps that people typed into the machine and then trying to match them.  I don’t know what he was using for a card or how his scam worked.  Later I checked my bank and saw that he had not been successful in withdrawing any cash from my account.  I immediately looked for a policeman, but finding none, I walked on to the water taxi stand.  As I walked toward the water taxi stand, I noticed an attendant, and I asked him where I could find a policeman.  I told him what had happened at the ATM machine, and he suddenly became alarmed.  He said that he had just used the machine, and he went immediately toward the machine to find the scammer.  I didn’t wait to see what happened, but I am hoping that he was able to have the man arrested and stopped.

Several ships were in port (as always), and the line at the water taxi stand was very long.  I found the attendant and showed him my receipt.  He told me to wait for Number 7 to arrive.  As I waited, I noticed that many numbers were called out, and many people were boarding the water taxis, however, the line was not moving.  It seemed that the people with numbers were waiting at the front of the line to hear their numbers as they were called.  So I went to stand near the front of the line, and sure enough, my number was called soon, and the attendant motioned for me to move forward to board the taxi.  It was a slow process, and precarious, as the boarding area was filled with water taxis trying to get to the pier to pick up their passengers.  My taxi eventually made his way to the pier, and I boarded, along with my luggage.  Then the taxi driver slowly backed out of the area, carefully avoiding bumping any other taxis, and we were off to the hotel.  The ride was slow but easy, and in 15 minutes, we were at the hotel.

Like all hotels in Venice, the hotel had a dock that led directly into the hotel, and the water taxi pulled up to the hotel’s dock.  When I got out of the water taxi onto the hotel dock, a hotel attendant met me wearing knee-high rubber boots, and as I made my way carefully toward the door of the hotel, I saw that the hotel lobby was filled with water about 4 or 5 inches deep.  I could see that people inside were wearing high rubber boots, and some guests were watching as I entered the hotel.  It was an amazing scene, and the hotel attendants said, “This is Venice,” as if this is the way it is in Venice.  The hotel attendant took my first bags by hand and waded through the water to put them in a dry place.  When he returned, he was pushing a luggage cart with high wheels, so the floor of the luggage cart was above the water line.  He then motioned for me to get on the luggage trolley, and two attendants pushed me through the high water to a dry place in the hotel lobby.  I was told that I would not be able to check into the hotel until 2:00 p.m., and that I could wait on the second floor of the hotel until the water subsided, in another one or two hours, when the tide went back out.  I could not go out into the streets, as they were flooded, too.  So I went upstairs to the second floor, got some coffee and did a crossword puzzle as I waited.  After an hour and one-half, I checked, and I was told that I could go outside; the water had receded enough from the streets that I would be able to walk.

I decided to walk in the direction of St. Marks Square, stopping all along to take photos.  The streets were crowded with tourists, and it was difficult to take photos, but I enjoyed the walk.  Not far from the hotel, I passed a beautiful building where music is performed, and I got tickets for Sunday to attend a performance of opera arias, and I’m looking forward to going.  When I arrived at St. Marks Square, it was still completely under water.  I took photos, and moved in the direction of the Salute church across the canal.  I asked an attendant at a gondolier station how to get across, and he pointed and told me that there was a bridge across.  This was a new wooden bridge, constructed since I was last in Venice, 12 years previously.  Before getting to the bridge, I stopped into an outdoor pizza restaurant for some pizza, and it was pleasant to watch the people walking in the rain, with their high rubber boots and umbrellas. 

I crossed the bridge, but decided not to go to Salute, but instead to return to the hotel.  I was tired from lack of sleep and contending with the bad weather.  I got back to the room at 4:00.  Later, around 7:00, I went out to a nearby sidewalk restaurant for dinner.  I got cheese lasagna, fried calamari, and a salad.  It was very good.  The time was 9:30; I changed my watch back to mark the end of Daylight Savings Time, and fell asleep immediately.  I woke up the following morning at 6:30, sleeping soundly for 10 hours.  I needed the sleep.

Venice, Day 1 – October 26, 2012

Venice, Day 1 – October 26, 2012

The ship arrived to heavy fog, preventing photos as the ship entered Venice, slowly moving past St. Marks Square, and then past domes and towers of churches poking through a sea of flat, red rooftops, sliced through with winding canals.  The scene was beautiful, and I felt sad that I could not get photos of it.  When the ship docked, I went down for breakfast, and then took off to walk the city.  From the dock, there is a “people mover” train that connects with the vaporettos of the Grand Canal.  I stopped to buy a three-day pass for the vaporettos, and then began my walk.  I meandered through the winding street that parallels the Grand Canal, thinking that I would like to find the hotel where I would be staying in Venice; I knew that it would be near the Rialto Bridge, which was about half way to St. Marks Square.  The first night in Venice was aboard the ship, and then I would move to the hotel the following morning.  As I walked along, I took photos of numerous picturesque scenes, and also stopped into several of the churches for photos.  Eventually, I spotted the hotel and went inside to introduce myself and make sure that all would be in order for check-in the following day, Saturday.  I also wanted to ask the best way to transfer my luggage to the hotel; I was told that porters would be available at the port terminal to cart the luggage to the hotel. 

After the hotel visit, I crossed the Grand Canal and stopped for lunch at a nice canal-side restaurant.  I ordered pizza, and then sat back to enjoy the scene.  At another table, I noticed a young couple with the woman wearing a hijab, and I overcame my shyness to wish them a Happy Eid, a day of celebration for Muslims.  They smiled and seemed happy that someone gave them good wishes.  As I sat waiting for my pizza, I noticed two young women taking photos of each other, and I went out to them and asked if they would like me to take a photo of them together.  They seemed happy and gave me their camera.  Unfortunately, the camera did not have a wide-angle lens, and the photo was too limited for the scene.  I then took three quick photos with my camera and showed all the photos to them.  They were astonished by the photos that I took with my camera, and they loved them.  I gave them my card with my email address, and offered to send the photos to them if they would send me their email address.  They said they were from Moscow. 

After lunch, I walked on for another hour, and then the rain began, so I decided to return to the ship to pack.  I got back about 4:00 p.m. and finished my packing in time for the last dinner of the cruise.  After saying good-bye to friends, I went back to the room to finish packing the laundry that had been returned, set my luggage outside the room, and almost instantly fell asleep.  I was suddenly very, very tired. 

Tomorrow I will find a porter to transfer my luggage to the hotel, and see whether the rain will prevent me from going out for a walk.  Perhaps I will walk in the rain, although I don’t want to get my camera wet, so photos may not be possible.  It is sad that rain is expected the entire time I am in Venice. 

Korcula, Croatia – October 25, 2012

Korcula, Croatia – October 25, 2012

Korcula (pronounced Korchula) is a two-hour town, and the ship was there only for the morning.  Korcula is a tiny town surrounded by an ancient wall.  The ship anchored in the bay, and passengers were tendered ashore.  The town is neatly laid out in a circular manner with the wall surrounding it; it is completely pedestrian town with a single “street” (perhaps 12-15 feet wide) bisecting it and other narrow lanes radiating out from the main street.  The town is filled with buildings that seem to date to the middle ages; it has two old churches, one of which is a large cathedral.  The only interesting photos were of the wall, the churches, and the narrow lanes radiating through the town.  The town also has souvenir shops and sidewalk restaurants.  I was able to walk through every lane in the town, as well as the lane circumventing the town in only two hours, stopping for photos.  Actually, the most interesting thing in the town was a large owl that had appeared overnight and perched on a balcony rail above the town museum all the time I was there.  It was not inclined to move, other than to rotate its head now and then. 

I was not sure why Princess decided to stop in Korcula rather than in Dubrovnik.  I had been to Dubrovnik in 2000, and it is a large, interesting and beautiful town nearby.  The ship sailed soon after noon, on its way to Venice.

Kotor, Montenegro – October 24, 2012

Kotor, Montenegro – October 24, 2012

When I woke up, I noticed the engines of the ship change, and I wondered if the ship had arrived at the port.  Instead, it had entered the long fjord leading from the Adriatic Sea to Kotor.  When I opened my balcony door and stepped out, I was shocked by the cold temperature, and I decided to put on my jacket before going out to take photos.  As the ship slowly made its way along the fjord, I noticed the deep green vegetation on the mountains on both sides of the fjord, and I noticed the nice homes all along the fjord.  I also noticed many photo opportunities, particularly beautiful reflections in the still water in the early morning.  After a few moments, I decided to go “up top” on the ship so that I could see the scenes and take photos on both sides of the ship.  The temperature was quite cold, and for a while, I was one of only half a dozen people (all men) up there taking photos; after a while, others joined.  For almost two hours the ship made its way up the fjord before finally arriving in the small harbor of Kotor.  All along the way, I took photos of one beautiful scene after another.  What a beautiful place it is.  I had not expected the long fjord, and I had not expected the scenic beauty.

I had decided to take a taxi to the nearby town of Budva, a historic town dating back 2,500 years.  I negotiated with taxi drivers, and found one who had a nice car (Mercedes) and would take me to Budva, wait for me, and bring me back to Kotor for 60 Euros.  I looked for some other people to join me and share the cost, but after waiting for a while, I took off alone.  The drive was very pleasant, with several stops along the way for photos at scenic overlooks, including one place where Madonna had performed, followed the next year by the Rolling Stones. 

Budva is a very upscale tourist resort town, much like Malta, with high-rise hotels, shopping malls, high-end stores, and the general feel of moneyed visitors.  I was told that most of the visitors to Budva are Russians.  I walked through the old walled town with its narrow streets, and then drove through the downtown area.  I was very surprised at the upscale nature and the beauty of the town.  After an hour or so, I returned to the taxi and we returned to Kotor.

Kotor is much smaller than Budva, and far less upscale economically.  The only thing of interest in Kotor is the old walled city, and that is magnificent and far larger than the one in Budva.  I spent the afternoon wandering around in the old town, taking many photos.  It seemed that great photos awaited around every corner.  What a beautiful place Kotor is.  I had no idea that Montenegro was as beautiful as it turned out to be.  At the end of the day, I went “up top” on the ship and took photos as the ship slowly sailed back out through the fjord to the open sea.  It seemed that half the ship was out marveling at the beautiful scenery. 

Corfu – October 23, 2012

Corfu – October 23, 2012

Although I had previously signed up for a ship tour, I had decided to go off on my own, and I canceled the tour.  I decided to go to the Achilleon Palace, and when I got off the ship, I found a taxi driver to take me there for a reasonable price.  He was pleasant, but he spent too much time in the taxi trying to persuade me to let him take me other places for more money.  Finally, I had to put an end to the sales talk firmly, and then the trip went well. 

 How different Corfu was from previous places on this trip – very green and lush with palm trees and other tropical vegetation.  The driver said that Corfu gets lots of rain, completely opposite of the Italian islands and Malta, which were all very arid.  Another difference in Corfu was the unkempt appearance of the island, with rough, poorly paved roads, unplanned, scattered, run-down buildings, and lots of litter, much like the appearance of a poor Caribbean island.  In the past, Corfu had been the playground of the rich, but no longer.  Now the rich go elsewhere, to much prettier places. 

The Achilleon Palace was the summer home of Sissy of Austria for eight years before she was assassinated.  It was very pretty, ornately decorated and elegant, sitting atop a hill overlooking the bay and Corfu town.  Getting up there must have been very difficult, but once there, it was beautiful.  I got audio phones for my tour of the palace, stayed there an hour and took photos.  On the way back to Corfu town, the taxi driver took me by an overlook to Mouse Island, a small island in the bay where young couples go to get married.  Then he dropped me off at the “top” end of Corfu town, from where I walked down toward the ship.

Old Corfu town is a warren of narrow alleyways, only a few feet wide, and lined with souvenir shops.  The town is completely paved with local stone, and it is very interesting and even pretty.  The town is much nicer than the surrounding areas.  As I walked along, I soon found that churches are everywhere.  So many small, orthodox churches, each ornately decorated.  Outdoor restaurants fill every open space.  The “old” fort sits at the “top” of the town, and the “new” fort sits at the bottom.   I wandered around the narrow alleyways, stopping into many of the churches for photos. 

Malta – October 21, 2012

Malta – October 21, 2012

Whenever a place has a Hop-on/Hop-off (HoHo) bus, it is usually better to take that bus rather than a ship tour or a taxi, and Malta had a Hop-on/Hop-off bus.  As I exited the ship, I saw the bus just outside the port area on the adjoining street.  However, the exit to the port area was through the Port Terminal building, which was a five minute walk.  So I walked five minutes to the Port Terminal and then five minutes back to the bus.  The HoHo bus had several routes, and I chose the route that covered the entire northern half of the island.  The ship was in Malta on a Sunday, and churches are closed on Sunday except for services, so the most important building in Malta was not available – the cathedral in Valletta; the only other place I wanted to see was the historic city of Mdina, the old capital of Malta.

As the bus began its route, I noticed that most of the buildings were three or four story buildings, with a bay window on the second floor.  It was odd to see long streets on which almost all of the buildings were the same, except that the bay windows were painted different colors.  It was very pretty.  The bus also passed a long viaduct, built in the middle ages to supply water to Valletta; Malta is very arid, and rainfall is insufficient to supply the island with water.  Part of the viaduct is still in operation; however, most of the water today is from six desalination plants. 

The historic town of Mdina is a walled town in the center of the island.  Today the town is a pretty tourist town, with its walls still intact, and its buildings still in good condition and in use.  The color of the buildings is “honey”-colored limestone, and many people believe that the name of Malta comes from the word “Melita” which means “honey”.  Few people live in Mdina and almost all of the streets are too narrow for cars.  Only one street is commercial, and it is a tourist street, filled with souvenir shops and other tourist attractions.  Mdina sits atop a hill, and its walls and massive red cathedral dome, which sits in the center of the town, can be seen from miles around.  The cathedral was closed, but I took photos of the outside.  At the end of the one street in Mdina, I took photos of the view of the surrounding area from the ramparts of the old town wall.

One building that was open was the former home of a wealthy citizen, the Palazzo Falson, the second oldest building in Mdina.  The house was purchased in 1927 by Captain Olof Gollcher, who was a researcher and artist and collector of objets d’art.  Fifteen rooms in the house contained his collections and his furniture, and it was interesting to visit.

After the stop in Mdina, the bus took a long route along the northern and northeastern part of the island, passing by a cathedral where a bomb was dropped in World War II, but did not explode, saving 300 people gathered inside the church.  The bus wound its way along the coast, passing numerous small bays, each one very highly developed with large modern hotels and high rise buildings, along with beautiful seaside streets filled with outdoor restaurants.  Each of the small bays was filled with yachts.  Tourism is a major part of the economy in Malta; Europeans visit Malta on vacations, and the island is developed to take care of them.  Malta is part of the European Union and a member of the British Commonwealth, and it is very prosperous. 

After the bus completed its route and made its way back to Valletta, I walked through the main street, which is a pedestrian street.  Almost all the stores were closed on Sunday, and the street was only sparsely populated with tourists.  Although it was pleasant to walk in the downtown area, it would have been more interesting if the stores had been open.  The main cathedral was also closed on Sunday.  After an hour, I walked back to the ship, a 45-minute walk. 

The ship was scheduled to leave Malta at 5:00 p.m., and all passengers were scheduled to be back on board no later than 4:30, leaving time for the ship to let go the lines and prepare to leave.  However, at 4:40, just as the gangway was being withdrawn, I noticed a man and woman outside the fence of the port, running toward the Port Terminal to return to the ship.  It was clear that they could not go all the way to the terminal building and then all the way back to the ship before departure.  Suddenly, they noticed a taxi, and they were able to get into the taxi, and the driver was able to enter the port area through a gate and deliver them to the gangway before it was withdrawn.  They almost missed the ship, and if they had, they would have had to fly to Corfu to return to the ship at the next port. 

I went upstairs to take photos as the ship sailed out of the harbor.  The sun was setting, and it was very pretty.

Taormina and Messina, Sicily – October 20, 2012

Taormina and Messina, Sicily – October 20, 2012

In the third century, A.D., the Greeks built a very large amphitheater high on a hill in Taormina, Sicily, and tourists have been coming to visit that amphitheater ever since.  In recent years, cruise ships anchor in the bay and hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers visit Taormina each year.  The town of Taormina is a single long street leading up to the amphitheater.  The town and the amphitheater are located high on the hill, and an elevator is used to take passengers from a parking garage up the long distance to street level of the town and amphitheater. 

The one street in the town is very pretty, with pretty buildings, several squares and several churches.  The street it lined with shops for tourists, and one of the most common items for sale is beautifully decorated pottery, which many tourists buy.  I took a half-day ship tour to Taormina, leaving  time to tour around in Messina in the afternoon.  The tour guide, Kate, was very pleasant, and guided the tour group along the street to the amphitheater, where she left the group to make its way back to the meeting point by 11:45 to return to the ship.  The day was very pleasant, and I spent the morning taking photos all along the way up to the amphitheater and back.  At the largest church, a funeral was underway, with a hearse parked outside the front door and many people standing outside to pay their respects to the family. 

At the end of the tour of Taormina, the bus returned to the ship with no problems, and after a brief break, I took off to catch the Hop-on/Hop-off bus to tour Messina, where I had never been.  However, as I made my way to the bus stop, I passed several people from the ship who told me that the bus had stopped running for the day.  I was disappointed, but decided to walk around in Messina and see what I could.  Soon, I saw other passengers from the ship who also had been to Taormina in the morning and were also wanting to take the Hop-on/Hop-off bus in the afternoon.  As we arrived at the great cathedral, we noticed a taxi van, and we asked him how much he would charge to take us on a tour of Messina.  We agreed on a price of 15 Euro each, and we were off.  He took us to all the places covered by the route of the Hop-on/Hop-off bus, and then took us back to the ship.  Since I still had two hours before the time required to return to the ship, I decided to go out again for a walk in the area near the ship.  The day was very nice, and the walk was very pleasant.  I stopped for a gelato, and took photos of interesting buildings before walking back to the ship.

As the time grew near for the ship to leave, I went out onto the balcony of my cabin to watch the ship let go of its lines and leave port.  I noticed that the gangway was still out, and security officer was watching as if waiting for a late tour to arrive.  However, after waiting 15 minutes past the time to leave, the gangway was withdrawn, the lines were let go, and the ship began to push off from the pier.  Then suddenly the ships engines stopped, and I noticed a young Asian couple running down the pier toward the ship.  A man on a motorcycle pulled up and a boat that appeared to be a harbor boat pulled up.  The couple ran and got on the boat, helped by the man on the motorcycle, and the small boat came out to the ship where the two passengers were helped aboard through the small door used by the pilot.  What a close call, and how nice it was of the captain to stop the ship and wait for them, although they probably were required to pay a fee for the late arrival back to the ship.

Isle of Capri – October 19, 2012

Isle of Capri – October 19, 2012

My goal was to visit the Blue Grotto and take photos of the blue waters, a place where I had never been.  Owen and Judith, friends from the ship, had also never been there, and we decided to go together.  Everything worked perfectly.  We met at breakfast and decided to leave the ship early.  That decision was very fortunate, as our timing was perfect.  We were able to get a tender from the ship quickly, as a ship tour was just leaving, and the tender had a few extra seats left.  When we got to shore, we quickly purchased ferry tickets to Capri Island, and the next ferry left in only five minutes; the next ferry was not for another hour.  When we got to Capri, we quickly found the place to purchase tickets on a small ferry to the Blue Grotto, and again, we had to wait only a few minutes.  Most important of all, the seas were very calm, so the Blue Grotto was open for visitors; it is closed to visitors if the sea is not calm.  Everything worked perfectly.

As the ferry left the dock, three small rowboats hooked their lines to the ferry to be towed to the Blue Grotto, evidently a common practice, and it was amusing to see the line of three row boats following along in a train to the grotto, which was about 15 minutes from the dock.  When the ferry arrived at the Blue Grotto, small groups of people were helped into the small rowboats; the three of us were helped into one of the boats, and we were instructed to lie back almost flat to enter the small opening into the grotto.  The boatman pulled the small boat into the grotto using a chain that was attached to the wall.  And then it was dark.

Inside the grotto, we heard other boats, and it appeared that about half dozen boats were inside the grotto at a time.  Some of the boatmen were singing “O Sole Mio”, and our boatman joined in as he slowly rowed us around in a circle inside the grotto.  At first the darkness was pretty overwhelming, but slowly our eyes adjusted to the dark.  Soon we could see that the cave was completely black, while the water was a light blue color that was amazingly luminescent.  The sensation was wonderful.  The water glowed bright blue.  What an amazing sight and sensation. 

Then my problems arose.  My camera would not fire in the darkness; it would not focus, and so it would not fire.  Sometimes I feel completely inept with my camera, and that was one of those times.  I quickly adjusted my camera to different settings (in the dark), and finally I was able to get a few shots; however, they were out of focus because of the slow shutter speed.  I wanted to shoot at a fast shutter speed in order to get photos that were in focus, but I was not able to make that happen.  So the only photos that I was able to capture are out of focus.  The color is correct, but the photos are out of focus. 

And then it was over.  The entire time inside the Blue Grotto was only two minutes.  The boats slowly make a circular path inside the grotto, and then they go out again as others enter.  The sensation was wonderful, but it was also very short.  Still, it was worth the effort.  I will never forget the luminescent color of the water inside the grotto.

Capri Island is large, and there are two towns on the island.  The island is tall on the two ends, and less tall in the middle, forming a notch.  The first town, Capri Town, is located in the notch, at a lower level than the second town, Anacapri.  After the ferry boat arrived to the dock, we took the funicular up to Capri Town, and walked the length of the one street in the town.  The street is narrow with souvenir shops along both sides.  When we got to the end of the street, we took a city bus up to the second town, Anacapri.  The bus ride up the mountain was along a very narrow switchback road along the edge of the mountain, with barely enough room for two vehicles to pass.  It was a harrowing ride, made more anxious by the fact that the bus was packed, with most passengers standing and almost falling down as the bus swayed and turned on each switchback curve.  When we reached Anacapri, we walked the length of the one street in the town.  Again, shops and sidewalk restaurants filled both sides of the street; however, many of the shops were upscale clothing shops rather than souvenir shops.  We walked the length of the street, looking at the few interesting buildings along the way, and then we walked back to the center, where the bus stopped. 

After getting a gelato, Owen and I walked in another direction to the end of the sidewalk, out to a spectacular overview of the harbor below.  The walk was beautiful, with elegant pottery and clothing shops lining the walkway, and evergreen trees forming a canopy above it.  The walkway led to a large mansion built by a very wealthy man a hundred years ago, and now open to the public (with an admission charge).  We did not enter the mansion; we only wanted to see the scenic overlook, and it was spectacular.

The bus ride back down the mountain was equally harrowing, but we arrived safely.  Then we took the funicular back down to the dock, where we found the place to catch the ferry back to Sorrento.  We had to wait for half an hour to catch the ferry back, so we found a shady bench.  Then when we went back to the dock to catch the ferry, we found that several tour groups had formed a long line, and we were at the end of the line.  We ended up getting less than desirable seats on the ferry.  The ferry ride was only about 30 minutes, and I decided to stand, giving my seat to a young Japanese girl who did not want to sit in the sun (my seat was in the shade, but faced a wall, rather than the sea).  Another seat soon opened up, as someone else decided to stand, so both of them were able to sit together.  Afterward, as we exited the ferry, both of them bowed to me for giving them my seat, which I thought was nice.

The weather was sunny and beautiful, and the day was perfect.  

Nice – Eze, October 17, 2012

Nice – Eze, October 17, 2012

Eze, France is a tiny village perched on a peak along the Mediterranean Sea just east of Nice.  Eze is now a tourist destination because of its quaintness and beauty as well as the stunning views of the sea.  The weather in Nice and Eze was partly cloudy in the morning, but overcast with misty rain in the afternoon.  Fortunately, the visit to Eze was in the morning.  The tour began as a visit to a perfume factory in the larger town of Eze, which I did not attend; the odor was overwhelming, and I would have had a headache very shortly.  Instead, I went for a walk, found an information office, and enjoyed the time walking.  After some time, I went inside the perfume factory, found the tour guide, and informed her that I was going ahead up the peak to Eze.  She said that she would lead the group up and meet me at the garden, which required a ticket.  I spent my time walking up the peak and taking photos of one picturesque site after another.  When the tour guide arrived, I entered the garden with the rest of the group.  The garden is located at the very top of the peak; it is a garden of cacti and other succulent plants, and it is very pretty.  However, the most important quality of the garden is that it offers stunning views of the surrounding area and the coastline.  I took lots of photos, and also I took lots of photos of other people using their cameras.  I continued taking photos along the way back down the peak.  Both going to Eze from Nice, and on the way back from Eze, the tour stopped at scenic overlooks to permit passengers to take photos.  The tour was a morning tour, and we were back at the ship by 12:30.  Because of the rain, I decided not to go for a walk in Nice in the afternoon.

Genoa – Cinque Terre, October 16, 2012

Genoa – Cinque Terre, October 16, 2012

The ship was supposed to anchor in the beautiful bay of Portofino; however, storms the night before made that impossible, requiring the ship to divert to Genoa instead.  Those same storms caused a change in the planned tour to the Cinque Terre, the five villages perched on cliffs along the Ligurian Coastline, which now form a national park in Italy.  The best way to see the villages is from the sea on a sightseeing boat or ferryboat.  However, boats were not permitted, so the tour was by bus and train, bus to the village of Manarola, then train to the village of Monterosso and bus back to the ship.  The villages have not all recovered from the devastating floods of a year ago, and the visit was planned for only two of the villages.  Unfortunately, the most important part of the visit was not possible – the view from the sea on a boat.  Both villages were quaint and picturesque, and I very much enjoyed visiting them and taking photos.  I also took many photos of other people, using their cameras.  In Monterosso, I stopped for pizza in a local pizzeria, where four local men who appeared to be laborers were having lunch.  I noticed that they drank a large pitcher of wine with their lunch.  Later, I saw the four men working, and I took a photo of them.  I found it interesting that they drank so much wine at lunch and then returned to work. 

The bus ride from Genoa was also interesting.  The topography of the land surrounding
Genoa is mountainous, with deep valleys between the mountains.  Separate villages or large towns lie in each of the gullies between the mountains.  Genoa proper stretches along the coastline and also far back into two of the valleys.  In the 1960s, Italy constructed a four-lane divided highway through the mountains and over the deep gullies from Genoa to Rome.  The highway is almost flat, passing through numerous tunnels cut through the mountains and over numerous very high bridges over the deep gullies between the mountains.  After each tunnel is a new deep gully, and new bridge, and a new town.  In the past, Genoa annexed these villages, which are now incorporated into the suburbs of Genoa. 

The bus ride also passed through Spezia, a port city that is a main port of the Italian navy.  As the bus passed through Spezia and then up the side of the mountain, it was interesting to see the large navy port with many navy vessels.  

Civitavecchia, October 15, 2012

Civitavecchia – October 15, 2012

The end of the Black Sea Cruise and transition day to the Mediterranean Cruise.  The Black Sea Cruise was very good; the Black Sea countries were very interesting.  Bulgaria is in the European Union, and their economy is far, far better than the economies of Romania and Ukraine.  Bulgaria is not in the greatest shape economically, but Romania and Ukraine are far, far behind.  Those countries are really struggling right now.  Under communism, everyone had a job, a small apartment, health care coverage, and a pension.  Now they have none of those things.  There are far too few jobs, far too few apartments, no health care coverage, and no pensions for old people, who are left to be supported by their children, and many of them are left begging on the street.  It is very sad that the people in those countries have lost so much in the transition.  Even in Bulgaria, people no longer have health care coverage or pensions, and the new apartment buildings are far worse than even the poor “communist apartment buildings”; in the recent earthquake, the old communist buildings were fine, but the new buildings suffered a lot of damage.   It seems that the government no longer has building codes to ensure building standards.  It was very interesting to visit these countries to see what it is like there now.

Athens and Istanbul are two of my favorite places in the world.  The narrow streets of Istanbul are a beehive of activity – so many people on the narrow streets that it is hard to take photos.  Athens is modern, but still interesting; Istanbul is modern in places, but in the old town, it is ancient, exotic and wonderful.  Santorini is a beautiful, picturesque place, and it has almost as many cruise ships as St. Thomas.  Santorini is an island of photos, all waiting to be snapped.   

The last port of the cruise was Naples.  The ship was supposed to dock in Sorrento, but the weather was stormy, and the ship was diverted to Naples instead.  That change was great for me; I love Naples.  In the morning, I went to Pompeii; I had not been there before, and I found it very interesting.  Pompeii was a city of 20,000 people in 79 A.D. when it was buried by the volcano.  In the afternoon, I went for a walk in the old part of the city of Naples.  For lunch, I wanted to find a sidewalk restaurant and have Naples pizza, the best in the world.  It was Sunday, and everyone in Naples seemed to be out for a walk; the pedestrian streets in the old city were filled with people enjoying a sunny Sunday stroll.  It was wonderful to sit in a sidewalk cafĂ©, eat Naples pizza and watch the people go by.  After lunch, I walked for hours on the narrow streets of old Naples – narrow streets with high- rise apartment buildings on both sides of the street, forming a canyon so dark in shadows that photos are difficult, streets so narrow that apartment balconies on opposite sides of the streets seem almost to touch, and almost every balcony with laundry hanging out to dry. 

Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, was the last day of the Black Sea Cruise, and the first day of the Mediterranean Cruise.  Almost all the passengers from the Black Sea Cruise departed in the morning, and new passengers came aboard in the afternoon.  Friends on the first cruise left, and new people arrived in the afternoon.  I will miss friends from the Black Sea Cruise, and I am unlikely to meet others I will enjoy as much.  Still, I will go to new places, and I will enjoy those new places. 
The first port on the Mediterranean Cruise was supposed to be Portofino, a beautiful village that I have previously visited.  However, the weather has been stormy for the past two days, and continues to be stormy, so the captain announced that the ship will not stop in Portofino, but will be diverted to Genoa.  The weather has been so bad, and the ship has been rocking so much that many passengers are sea-sick, so much so that two people got sick just before the entertainment began in the Cabaret Lounge.  I had planned to take the ship tour to the Cinque Terra, where I have wanted to visit for a long time; however, the best way to see the small villages of the Cinque Terre is from a sightseeing boat or ferryboat, and rough seas prevent visiting by boat.  Instead, the tour will be by bus and train to two of the five villages. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Naples and Pompeii – October 14, 2012


Santorini – October 12, 2012

Santorini – October 12, 2012

The day was beautiful – warm and sunny.  Having been to Santorini, and knowing that it is an island of only two interesting little “towns”, the most important thing for me was to take photos.  I wanted to start in Oia, the town on the northern end of the island, and then return to Fira, the town in the middle of the island, where the cable car transports tourists down to the sea where the tender boats dock.  Outside our ship, I saw four other cruise ships, and I realized that thousands of other passengers would be heading for the cable cars up the cliff, so I wanted an early start.  I was on the first tender boat at 8:00 a.m., and when the tender arrived at the port, I headed for the cable car; however, a salesperson hawked a speedboat trip to Oia with a bus ride back to Fira, and I decided to take that boat.  It was a great decision; the boat trip to Oia was beautiful, with opportunities to take photos from the sea. 

Santorini is one of the truly beautiful islands I have visited.  Both of the towns have narrow sidewalks – no more than a few people wide – that are lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.  With all the ships in port today, the sidewalks were packed with tourists.  Santorini is the recipient of huge amounts of tourist money; cruise ships are in port almost every day from spring to autumn, and that tourist money goes to Athens to help support an ailing economy.  Tourism is a big part of the Greek economy. 

At Oia, I walked for four hours, stopping often to take photos, and the photo opportunities were endless.  Only the photos can describe the beauty of the white houses and churches and the blue domes of the churches.  The scenes were beautiful, and I hope the photos reflect that beauty.  I took the 1:00 p.m. bus back to Fira and walked through that town for an hour.  Fira is not as picturesque as Oia, and I didn’t need as much time there to take photos.

About 2:00 p.m., I felt that I had walked through all of the photo opportunities in Oia and Fira, and I decided to return to the ship.  Then I was in for a stunning realization – the line for the cable car back down the caldera was about half a mile long; some people said they had waited for more than an hour in the line.  I decided to walk down.  I got a gelato and took off down the steps.  It turned out that the path down the caldera is the path that the donkeys use to transport tourists up the caldera.  This path is a cobblestone path that is quite slippery in places.  As a result of the donkeys, the path was cluttered with donkey waste, and the odor was powerful.  I took photos, but the photos cannot convey the powerful odor.  It was impossible to walk down without stepping in the waste at times.  The trip down the caldera took half an hour, and when I arrived at the bottom, I was perspiring heavily.  After a short wait, the tender arrived and transported the waiting passengers back to the ship.  It was good to be in Santorini again; the island is beautiful and I hope my photos capture some of that beauty.

Nessebar, Bulgaria – October 10, 2012

Nessebar, Bulgaria – October 10, 2012

The ship arrived in Nessebar at noon, and after the long delay in Yalta leaving the ship, it was important to be on the first tender leaving the ship in Nessebar.  I went to the third deck to be first in line for a tender, and the staff told me (and others who followed me) to go to the casino lounge to wait for a tender.  They said that the tour groups had first priority for the tenders.  We refused to leave, telling the staff that we had as much right to be on the first tender as tour groups.  A line formed on the third deck, waiting for the tender boarding process to begin, and we were admitted first to board the first tender. 

When we arrived on shore, our guide in Nessebar, Victoria, was waiting for us.  We agreed that we should do “out of town” touring first, and then come back to Nessebar for our walking tour, so that we would be near the ship when it was time to return to the ship.  We did not want to be far away from the ship and then have to worry about driving back in time for the last tender returning to the ship.  We walked a short distance where our driver was waiting for us, and off we went. 

As we began our drive, we noticed immediately how much better the economic situation was in Bulgaria than in Romania and Ukraine.  Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, and the economy in Bulgaria is much better than in neighboring countries.  We saw new cars, many of which were expensive cars; the roads were much better.  We saw supermarkets and other modern stores.  And we saw new buildings everywhere.  Although Victoria told us that many people were struggling financially, clearly the overall economy in Bulgaria is far better than that of its neighbors.

We drove first to Burgas, a town about half an hour south of Nessebar.  Burgas is a town of about 200,000; its economy is based on a large gasoline refining plant, a textile mill, and lots of tourism.  Although many “communist apartment buildings” were everywhere, and clearly where most people lived, they seemed to be in better condition than in Romania and Ukraine, and many new apartment buildings had also been constructed.  Victoria told us that the mayor of Burgas had done much to improve the economy of Burgas and the living conditions of the people in Burgas. 

We went for a walk in a wonderful pedestrian area that had just been opened.  It was filled with pedestrians, open shops and outdoor restaurants.  We noticed a large number of young women pushing baby carriages.  It was as if a baby boom was underway with all the young mothers and babies.  Perhaps the new pedestrian walkway was a good place for them to walk their babies.  Victoria told us that women who worked were permitted paid time off work from 45 days before a baby is born until the child’s second birthday.  We got gelato from a street vendor, and walked all the way to the shore, into a beautiful shoreline park that stretched along the shore for six kilometers. 

After our visit to Burgas, we returned to the van and went to Promorie.  We first visited a Thrachian tomb, dating from the third century.  The tomb was interesting, and I took photos.  We then visited the St. George Monastery; it was pretty small and rundown, but it was interesting to visit.  The feature of the monastery was a spring whose water was supposedly healing water.  We tasted the water just in case it did indeed have healing powers.  Just outside Promorie, we stopped at a salt processing operation, where salt water was spread in large flats to evaporate, leaving the salt to be collected.  Large piles of salt were waiting to be shipped out. 

We then returned to Nessebar for a walking tour of the UNESCO site.  Nessebar is a small island with only a few streets filled with souvenir shops among the ancient churches that make up the UNESCO site.  We visited numerous of the old churches, including the most highly developed ones, Christ the Pantocrator Church, St. John the Baptist Church, and St. Stefan Church.

We took the next to last tender back to the ship, saying goodbye to Victoria and thanking her for a wonderful day.  Victoria is a professional tour guide, and she was wonderful – extremely nice and considerate, and also extremely knowledgeable.  We appreciated her very much.

Yalta, Ukraine – October 9, 2012

Yalta, Ukraine – October 9, 2012

Yalta is set on green, wooded hillsides rising up from the sea.  The ship did not dock at the pier, but anchored in the bay outside Yalta; tenders were used to ferry passengers ashore.  Unfortunately, independent passengers were required to wait until ship tour groups were ready to go ashore, delaying our departure for an hour.  This delay resulted in missing the Alupka Palace.  Once we were finally ashore, I saw a tall, dark haired woman holding a sign with my name, and I identified myself and we were off.  She informed me that she was not the tour guide I had booked for the tour, but a colleague of hers – not Olesya, but Veronika.  It turned out that both Olesya and Veronika are teachers at the university, and they are tour guides when they have spare time.  Veronika holds a Ph.D. and teaches technical English at the university.  She was not a good tour guide; she had not planned the tour, but decided on sites as we went along.  She also did not know the history, but read from a book as we visited sites.  However, she was very nice and helpful.  Her driver was Andrew, who was a taxi driver and also had a van that we used on the tour.  Later, we learned the value of Andrew.  He was able to take us directly to the door of every place we stopped, even though vehicles were not permitted in some of the places.  At the first stop, the Massandra Palace, he drove up the mountain directly to the door of the palace, when no other vehicle was permitted to go up the driveway – perhaps a mile uphill.  We did not learn how he was able to get security to permit him such great access, but it was certainly helpful to us.

The Massandra Palace (Verontsov Palace) was very interesting because it was not a palace at all, but a very elegant summerhouse that was not large.  It was in a beautiful setting, and it was interesting to visit.  The palace was originally built by Verontsov, but later modified and completed by the Romanov family, and used by the family as a summerhouse.  Later, it was used by Stalin as a summerhouse.  Next we went to the Chekhov home, which was also small and in a beautiful setting.  Chekhov lived in this house the last six years of his life. 

We then visited the Livadia Palace, the site of the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met to decide the fate of Germany after the war.  It was very interesting to visit such a historical place.  After visiting Livadia Palace, we had lunch next door at the restaurant, with a beautiful view of the sea.  A group of five girls and a man dressed in Ukrainian folk costumes sang Ukrainian folk songs.  Following lunch, we decided that we did not have enough time to visit Alupka  Palace, so we visited the Crow’s Nest from a distance, and then St. Michael’s Church.  We arrived back at the port at 3:00 p.m., and the last tender to the ship was at 3:30.  Our timing was good.  If we had been able to get off the ship earlier, we would have been able to visit Alupka Palace, but we were not, and that was unfortunate. 

One amusing thing happened on the way to Livadia Palace.  The driver of our van was in the middle of a busy intersection when he rolled his window down (using his hand to push the window down), slowed the van, and stuck his hand out the window.  The driver of a white van coming to meet us from the opposite direction suddenly held out his hand holding some sunglasses, and handed the sunglasses to our driver.  It was a relay of sunglasses.  Evidently they had communicated previously that they would meet and exchange the sunglasses.  We all laughed at the exchange.  (Our driver did not speak English, so he was not able to explain what was happening.)

Veronika explained to us that the economic situation in Yalta was very bad.  She said that the economic situation in Yalta was much worse than under communism; many people have no jobs, and mostly people just sell things to each other, trying to eke out an existence.  Older people suffer especially because their pensions have been taken away and they have no money.  No one has health care coverage.  Housing is a severe problem as there are not enough apartments for the population, and young people often live with their parents in tiny apartments.  She was married with an eight year-old child, and they all lived with her mother in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.  Although she had a job as a university professor, her pay was so small that she had to be a tour guide to supplement her income.  

Odessa, Ukraine – October 8, 2012

Odessa, Ukraine – October 8, 2012

We met Olga, of Odessa Walks, on the dock, and we took off on our walking tour of Odessa, a historic and very interesting city.  I had found Olga on the Internet, and a group of 16 formed with her as our guide.  We walked through the historic part of the city, built under Catherine the Great and later Tsars, and viewed mansions built at that time by rich, influential Russians.  Olga talked constantly as we walked, telling us the history of different buildings and also the history of Odessa.  One cannot talk about this visit to Odessa without talking about Olga.  She was the most important person on the visit.  She was young and yet very experienced.  She had lived in the U.S. for six years, and then returned to Moscow, where she was from.  She had moved to Odessa only this year, and started her business, Odessa Walks.  She was by far the most interesting and knowledgeable tour guide I have ever experienced.  She took the group to see many of the important streets and buildings, and she never stopped talking (in a very pleasant way) about the history of Odessa and the history and architecture of the buildings. 

The most impressive building on the tour was the Opera house.  Olga had somehow been able to get us into the building for a tour despite it being closed, and no other person from the ship was permitted into the building.  The building had only recently been restored, and it was incredibly beautiful. 

Odessa’s history is Russian, and until communism fell, the language of the people was Russian.  However, as part of Ukraine, a decision had been made that Ukraine would be the official language, and many people struggled to learn the new language.  Many children had difficulty talking with parents and grandparents.  This problem existed throughout all of eastern Ukraine, and a great political fight continued as people in Eastern Ukraine wanted Russian to be their official language; however, political power in Ukraine lay in the West until recently, when finally, the Parliament had enacted legislation giving the eastern Ukraine provinces the right to have Russian as the official language. 

Olga took us to lunch at a very nice restaurant, and then in the afternoon, she took us on a driving tour of the city.  Odessa is a city of over one million people, and it has many interesting sites.  Olga returned us to the ship on time, perfectly timing her tour to arrive at the port just at the appointed time.  As the ship sailed away, we noticed that Odessa stretches for miles along the coast. 

Olga, of Odessa Walks

My TripAdvisor comments about Olga

Olga was the highlight of our entire Black Sea cruise. Tour guides give facts; Olga tells stories. Olga's love of Odessa comes through as she leads you through the history of the city, not just showing buildings, streets and parks, but telling the stories behind them. Olga has a gentle manner; she is genuinely friendly and helpful. She begins helping and teaching on first contact, and she follows up later with a further summary of the tour. Olga was the only tour guide who was able to get people into the beautiful Opera House, and that alone is worth the price of the tour. The tour was all day, and Olga arranged for us to have lunch at the Sophie Cafe, the number one rated restaurant in Odessa on Tripadvisor. You remember people and places not because of what they say or what they do, but for the way they make you feel. You never forget the wonderful feelings you have with Olga. Olga is the best tour guide I have ever had anywhere in the world.

Bucharest, Romania – October 7, 2012

Bucharest, Romania – October 7, 2012

The day was long – a three and one-half hour drive from the port in Constanta to the capital city of Bucharest, and another three and one-half hour drive back to the port after the visit.  However, the visit to Bucharest was worth the long drives.  The first stop was at the national cathedral.  In Romania, the church is Romanian Orthodox.  The churches are different from Catholic cathedrals, which are often huge, beautiful structures with cavernous naves filled with rows of pews.  In contrast, Orthodox churches are tiny structures with no seats, and they are filled completely with lavish decorations, much of which is covered with gold leaf.  Services often last three hours, and worshipers stand or kneel during services.  Our visit was on a Sunday, and the Sunday service was in progress.  Long before we arrived at the church, we heard the singing of the sermon by the priests.  When we arrived at the church, we saw that the priests alternated singing parts of the service, and their voices were incredible.  The entire service is sung.  The small church was packed, with worshipers kneeling or standing so close to each other that they were touching.  Every inch of the church was packed.  I felt very moved by the experience of the visit to the church.

A marathon was being run in Bucharest the day of our visit, and the bus had great difficulty moving around, as many of the most important central streets were closed.  We next visited the Parliament building, winding our way through the streets until finally stopping in front of the JW Marriott Hotel, half a mile in back of the Parliament building.  We walked around the building and then took a tour through the building with a tour guide who worked at the building (like the tour guides who work at the U.S. Capitol building).  The building is large, but it does not seem much larger than the U.S. Capitol, and it is not overly ornate, certainly no more ornate than the U.S. Capitol.  Yet, it is widely criticized for being too big and too ornate.  I thought it was a pretty ordinary government building; however, I was very pleased to visit it.

The tour next went to lunch at a tourist place where five bus loads of 50 passengers each were seated at round tables and given lunch of salad and chicken with potatoes, then a strange sweet cheese dessert that was very tough to cut and eat.  I did not eat much of the dessert. 

After lunch the tour went to an outdoor museum in which antique farmhouses from all around the country had been carefully moved and restored.  These old farmhouses were quite interesting, and the setting was very pretty, with the houses placed around a lake. 

The bus then took a drive around Bucharest, with the guide telling us about the different areas and some of the old mansions in Bucharest.  During the communist era, all property was seized; however, after the fall of communism in 1990, property is being returned to rightful owners if they can be found.  Thus, some of the mansions had been renovated, while others sat in disrepair while owners were still being located.

The bus also drove through “Revolution Square” where more than 1000 students were killed the day that Ciaocescu fell.  We were shown the place where he and his wife gave their last speeches, trying to convince the crowd to let them remain in power, and then flying away on a helicopter, only to be captured and returned to Bucharest to stand trial and be executed on December 25, 1990. 

Our guide, Ana-Cristina, was a high school English teacher who was a tour guide on weekends.  She had grown up under communism, and she spent a lot of time on the bus talking about life under the communist regime, and life since then.  Life was very, very hard under the communists, and even harder since then.  Under the communists, everyone had a (low-paying) job, and everyone had a small apartment.  Now, everyone must compete for a job, and unemployment is very high.  And even tiny apartments are now so expensive that many people have no place to live.  She called the gray apartment buildings “communist apartment buildings”, and they were everywhere, rising 10-15 stories high.  The apartments were given to residents when communism fell, but few new apartments had been built since then, so many young adults had to continue to live in tiny apartments with parents, even after they got married.  Almost no renovations had been done to the buildings because the residents had no money to renovate them.  Romania is struggling economically, and people are struggling with life after communism.

Istanbul – October 5-6, 2012

Istanbul – October 5-6, 2012

Istanbul is a city of 15 million, and we spent our time only in the old, historical city.  A vast modern city of skyscrapers thrives outside the old city, and one day we will visit that modern city as well.  This trip, we filled our two days walking in the old city, with its ancient mosques and bazaars.  The old city of Istanbul is home to 

Athens – September 28-October 3, 2012

Athens – September 28-October 3, 2012

Good-bye Athens!  After four wonderful days, yesterday I made my way to the ship to begin a Black Sea cruise.  I loved being in Athens. The hotel where I was staying was located on the main square of the city (Syntagma Square), just across from the Parliament building.  I was very pleased with the hotel, and with the location.  It was perfect for walking and seeing the sights.  The hotel was very elegant and very quiet, with the best bed I have ever had in a hotel.  Each morning, I had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, looking out at the Acropolis, and I went there for dinner one time as well.  It is an amazing sight and a wonderful way to start the day each day.  I usually stopped for gelato for lunch or an afternoon snack, and I went to dinner at one of the wonderful sidewalk restaurants.  The Acropolis is incredible morning or night, and it is the center of everything.  Athens is a white city, and looking out from the rooftop of the hotel, one sees white – all the buildings and houses are white, perhaps to reflect the sun, or perhaps because of the type of building materials that were available. 

Athens is a wonderful place.  It is an ancient place, having existed thousands of years BC.  Many structures still exist that are 5,000 years old, and it is interesting to come upon ancient structures when out walking.  Because it is such an old city, it is filled with narrow streets, barely wide enough for a tiny car to pass.  The narrow streets are lined with tiny shops, usually selling only one type of item, such as pots and pans, or dishes, or in the tourist areas, souvenirs.  Many shops sell just jackets, or just lingerie.  Athens is a city of about 4 million people, with suburban towns adding another million or so.  So it is roughly the size of Washington, DC.  In Washington, there are many areas where I have never been, and there are areas in Athens where I could not go.  I remained in the "downtown" area, and I walked around all of it.  I usually walked all day, exploring.  Many of the streets have been turned into pedestrian streets, with only delivery trucks allowed on the streets.  

The center of the city is a very high hill, and on top, the Parthenon.  That hill, and the construction of the temple to the god, Athena, was the reason for the beginning of the city in the first place.  The Parthenon was intact for thousands of years until the mid 1800's when it was destroyed in a war with the Turks.  Part of the structure is still intact, and some of it has been reconstructed over the years.  Being on this very high hill in the center of the city, it is incredibly impressive -- the most impressive sight I have seen anywhere in the world.  I have taken a lot of photos, and I posted a few photos on my Flickr site:

Because the price of gasoline is so high, all cars are tiny, and thousands of people ride motorbikes rather than owing cars.  There are few places for people to park their cars or bikes, so they park them anywhere they will fit.  There are no parking spaces like we have in America on the narrow streets.  Despite the narrow streets and cars and bikes parked everywhere, the city is very orderly.  People wait at traffic lights, and move about in an orderly manner. 

The city is filled with sidewalk restaurants.  The weather is very dry, and it is cool enough in the evenings for people to sit outside, so sidewalk restaurants are everywhere.  I stopped in a sidewalk restaurant each evening for dinner, where I enjoyed the ambiance and the Greek food.  We cannot have sidewalk restaurants in Washington because of the weather, and I don't know any place in America that has sidewalk restaurants like they have in the Mediterranean.  The weather in Athens is very hot in the direct sun, but in the shade it is not hot.  Most of the narrow streets are shaded by the buildings, so they are cool enough for walking. 
My last day in Athens, I came upon my first demonstration.  Demonstrations are common in front of the Parliament building, and there were some very large ones before I arrived.  The demonstration I came upon was small (a few thousand people) and very orderly.  I don't know what they were demonstrating about (the signs were in Greek, of course).  Because of the demonstrations, police are everywhere, usually two on a motorbike.  There are thousands of them everywhere.

Sailing out of the port of Athens last night was beautiful, with white houses stretched for miles along the coast, and up the sides of hills.