Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Naples, Italy

Wow what a day. We were off the ship the ENTIRE day. In fact, all aboard time was 5:30pm tonight and our bus dropped us off at 5:37.  Long day, but fun.  

We started our day early … well early for vacation… and departed at 8am. Our first order of business was to drive the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Stunning doesn’t even explain just how beautiful this coast line is. Houses barely hanging on the cliff. Lemon orchards clutched to the side of the hills. The turquoise blue of the Mediterranean ocean as it’s back drop. Just beautiful.  

The road was another nail biter. Narrow lanes with a drop off on the right side of the bus. Lucky me was on the right side (best side for photos) and let me tell you, while not catholic I did feel a need a few times to raise a little prayer to every Saint I could think of. Those bus drivers really are worth the weight in gold. To not only send our bus careening over the side, but missing all the on-coming traffic, all the houses and buildings on the road, and somehow maintaining a good spirit. Amazing. Truly amazing.  

The Amalfi Coast is 37 miles long with 1090 curves in it. No lie. I felt every …. Single…. One …  

We spent about an hour in the town of Amalfi and got to walk around. Today it was only Mike, Bev and I on this tour so we had less chickens to herd in a small town full of tourist.  Our first order of business was to get gelato.  I have been successful in my goal of gelato every day. I think I might have missed one day, but made up for it the next day by having it twice. Seems only fair.  

The town had shops of ceramic and misc other touristy stuff. The Amalfi region is known for their lemons – and boy were there lemons everywhere. Some lemons were larger than my head…no lie. I got photos to prove it – which I’ll eventually post when I get to a place where Internet doesn’t cost so much and is fast again.  

After our time in Amalfi, we stopped just outside Salerno and had lunch in this beautiful hotel that was, like so many others, hanging on the cliff. The food was just ok – nothing exciting. I was rather sad that lunch was included because I wanted to get a pizza in Naples. Oh well. Next time.  

With our bellies full (kinda) we were off to Pompeii.  One of our class trips in the spring of 1987 we stopped in Pompeii.  I remember it very different back then. Not as many people, and certainly not the marketing craziness that was outside the sight.  Vendors everywhere selling whatever they can to get your money.   

Our tour guide today, Manuela, was outstanding. She talked the entire time. Funny too. She was constantly making little funny jokes while we were in the bus on the coast. She had a running commentary with regards to the other drivers and some pedestrians on the narrow roads.  My favorite expression from her was how she spoke about going to the bathroom. She told this store about how pee used to be a commodity in ancient times because it was used as a bleach. I, personally, think she was full of something other than pee. Still it was amusing.  Her story went on to explain that pee is essentially ammonia. Which it is. So then every time we had a toilet stop she would tell us it was our opportunity to give our ammonia deposit. It was quite funny, but I guess you had to be there.

Anyhow, Pompeii was destroyed in 79BC by Mount Vesuvius. Its 20,000 inhabitants were all killed and the city was buried in ash.  So many of the ruins are still standing, but you do have to use your imagination to understand what they were.   

My favorite part of the tour was the walk down the “red light” district of Pompeii. They had 26 brothels. One brothel remained quite intact and above the doors to the rooms there are frescos depicting what “flavor” or “position” you’d like. I kid you not. Then just outside the brothel area were symbols in the stone of the male organ pointing the way to the brothels. Why I found this part of the tour so amusing is beyond me.  

We spent about 2 hours in Pompeii walking on VERY uneven stone roads and when we finally got back to the bus, I was done. Tired. Pooped. Ready to sleep.  

Tonight we’re packing. Our cruise is coming to an end and now we have to go back to reality. Secretly, I’m ready to be home.  I always say it’s nice to go on vacation, but it’s nicer to come home. 

Final count of photos will be posted in the next couple of days. I didn’t take nearly as many as I thought I might.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Palermo, Sicily

Greetings from Palermo, Sicily. Home of the mafia and the Godfather. Ok, so I’m not 100% sure about the mafia, but it sounds about right. I found myself saying, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." all day.

I heart this city. It’s dirty, and grimy, and graffiti everywhere, but there was something about it that just felt very Italian. Of course the MASSIVE scoop of gelato I had today might have something to do with it.  

We took another excursion today. The bulk of it was driving around Palermo in which our guide spouted of some amazing history. I wish she would have gone more into WWII history, but I get the feeling they aren’t as interested in it as I am.  

Our first stop this morning was at the Cappucini Catacombs. I had done some research on the catacombs prior to leaving so I knew what to expect. It was one of the stops on this cruise I was most excited and interested in – especially photography wise. Turned out we couldn’t take photos. In fact, there was no way I could even sneak a photo because it was so quite down there.  

Anyhow, the Cappucini friars started this back in the 1700’s some time. Where the wealthiest were embalmed – ish and then put out for display for lack of a better way to explain it. Buried in the best clothing, and really well persevered. It was morbidly fascinating.  I’ll tell you more about it when I post the postcards I had to buy instead of photos. It really was quite interesting. Mom wasn’t thrilled to be down there – but Bev and I found it just fascinating. I kept saying to her, “I see dead people.” She just rolled her eyes at me and kept walking on. 

After that we stopped at two Oratorios. I’m not really sure how to explain them other than they aren’t churches and men who were artists, or men of influence during the time gathered to discuss things. I’m dying to get home and look up what it really is all about, but suffice it to say, our tour guide eluded to “families” meeting here…as in you can’t come in unless your father before you was a member. Almost mafia like.  

The first one we visited was the Oratorio of Santa Cita.  I forget the artist’s name, but Oh…My…goodness. He depicted the rosary prayers in these beautiful stucco (yes stucco) carvings. It was all white with a few little accents of gold every now and then. The artist had these little frames, if you will, in which he showed a story of the rosary. For example, one frame showed the crucifixion of Christ and another showed the ascension. There were twelve in total I think. He also included some historical depictions too. There was a battle at one point where the Catholic Church was fighting the Moor’s and the artist had a frame showing the battle. Really fascinating, and beautiful work. 

From there we walked to a second Oratorio – whose name I completely forget. It was more subdued. A bit darker inside, more paintings and less stucco carvings. It was beautiful in its own way, but not, in my opinion, as beautiful as the other. 

We finished our walking tour in a little piazza where we were given some free time to have a cappuccino or something to eat. We planted ourselves at a table at a café and ordered cappuccinos all around. I spotted the gelato stand and decided it was time for a gelato. I asked for one scoop of some flavor that looked good (it had chocolate and amaretto in it I later found out) in a cup/cone thingy they had. The scoop, turned out, was as big as my head.  But man, that gelato was so darn good. I am sure I’m going to dream about it tonight. Either that or the dead people I saw in the catacombs. 

Tomorrow is our last day on the cruise. We hit Naples tomorrow. My excursion will be Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I’m sooooo excited to go to Pompeii. Bev, Mike and I are the only three going on this excursion and I think we’re all equally excited about it. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cagliari, Sardinia

Today we were in Cagliari, Sardinia. I learned three very important things today.

1.       Cag-Lee-Are-EEE is not how you pronounce it. It’s more like saying the word Calgary.

2.       That the Pope can decide what country you belong to.

3.       You can get too much Nutella.

So on the bus bright and early this morning and the tour guide, who was exceptional, kept saying this weird word. I could tell it was in reference to where we were and what we were seeing, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what the word was. Then about 30 minutes in I realized she was saying the correct pronunciation for Cagliari. More like Cah-yar-lee, than Cag-Lee-Are-ee, which was how I was pronouncing it.  

They speak two languages here; Italian and Sardinian. And two are VERY different. She gave us examples of words like Yes in Italian is Si. Yes in Sardinian is eeya.  

Cagliari on a whole was rather boring. It’s Easter Sunday so EVERYTHNG was closed. We couldn’t go into the cathedral because of church services, and all the shops and restaurants, well most of them, were closed.  

The history of this island was interesting to me. They were conquered so many times it really isn’t funny. Makes for an interesting history, but man, who knew one place could be “owned” by so many different countries and people in a relatively short time.  

At one point the Sardinians won their independence from Spain, I think, and a year later the Pope decided Sardinia belonged to Italy and Corsica to France.  So Italy sent the Savoy family here to “rule”.  I had no idea the Pope could do that.  

Anyhow, we walked through their old town and like many of the places here most of it was destroyed in WWII.  In fact, the American’s bombed Sardinia as a decoy at one point.  

After walking through old town it started to rain – well sprinkle really. Lots of pansies on this tour. “oh it’s raining.” Haha…that ain’t rain.  Anyhow, after walking through old town we headed down the hill to meet the bus. We had about 30 minutes of free time and oddly enough we found ourselves in a bar that served food, coffee, beer, wine, and gelato. Who knew?  

I first had a cup of Baci candy gelato. OMG it was delicious. And since I didn’t have gelato yesterday, I felt I deserved another cup. So I got a cup of Nutella gelato. Now in the past the Nutella gelato is “flavored” with Nutella. This was, and I’m not kidding, straight frozen Nutella. It was so rich and thick and a bit too much for this girl. I ate about three quarters and had to stop. STRAIGHT Nutella….I will admit I was in heaven, but I had to stop.  

Back on the boat we had a couple of hours before dinner. Mom napped, I worked on cleaning up my photos. We had reservations tonight for Tappinyaki – the Japanese BenniHanah type restaurant. It was delicious and entertaining and well worth the extra money. We’re getting tired of the food. 

On a side note, I had an odd thought this morning. Well, odder than normal.  I was thinking that while on the one and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, on the other hand I’m ready to be home. This cruise when we signed up for it and it having only one sea day made me happy. Now, having been sprinting since we stepped foot in Rome, I rethinking how happy I was. I could have used another sea day.  

Tomorrow we’re in Palermo Sicily. It should be fun and I’m looking forward to seeing the city.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Palma, Majorca

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the unexpected stop on our itinerary. Originally Tunisia was our port of call, but the Tunisian government decided they wouldn’t allow anyone with an Israeli passport to step foot on their land. So, Norwegian said, well then we’ll go someplace else.  

Enter Majorca. 

I didn’t have much time to do research on this little island in the Mediterranean, so I didn’t know really what to expect.  I think I’m glad it happened that way. Then I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised at this sleepy little island.  

Majorca doesn’t really have any industry here. They do export olive oil that is supposed to be some of the best in the world. So far every port has had “the best olive oil in the world”, so who knows. The island is covered in almond, olive, orange and lemon trees – well once you’re outside the major city of Palma.  

Our excursion today was a train ride to two little villages in the mountains, Soller (pronounced so-yer) and Valldemossa (pronounced vah-yey-de-mo-sah). The train was an old fashion electric train whose seats were not made for fat American’s. It was a beautiful train ride through the countryside. Groves of trees everywhere you looked. I can only imagine what this looked like when these trees were blooming.  

The train ride did take us through a couple of tunnels through the mountain. The tour guide warned us saying there were about 10 tunnels. There were 13 and she failed to mention the on that took us almost 8 minutes to get through. Me no likey tunnels.  

Once on the other side though, we were greeted with a spectacular view of the town of Soller in the valley below.   

The train stopped in Soller and we were given about 20 minutes to wander the streets, maybe shop, maybe buy some coffee, maybe pee, whatever we wanted.  So mom and I found a little coffee shop and we had a cappuccino. I didn’t, sadly, get to finish my cappuccino. I waited too long to use the restroom and the line for the women’s was too long (funny how they have the same issue we do). The men’s room, however, was vacant, so I figured why not. My first problem was the toilet had not seat. So in order to hover without falling on my face, I grabbed onto the sink that was right in front of me.  As I was doing my business I was plunged into pitch black. The light went out.  

“Oh god,” was all I could think. Luckily I knew where the toilet paper was, but still I waved my hands thinking it was a motion detector.  But alas, it wasn’t just a light switch that after a certain amount of time it turns off. I guess that’ll teach me to use the men’s bathroom.  

By the time I made it out, it was time to meet the tour guide. She then walked us through the very narrow, very quaint, very charming streets of Soller to catch the coach at the top of a hill.  

From Soller we drove on a TEENY TINY, two lane, small car only type mountain road. Cliff on one side, and no room on the other. We met, on a regular basis, other tour buses coming down the mountain. How these drivers do it is beyond me. At one point, I swear to god there was maybe 3 inches between the tour bus coming down the hill and our bus.  The twisty, turny, road might have had some beautiful scenery but I was too busy watching us narrowly miss other cars and busses.  

Arriving in Valldemossa the tour guide offered us two options. We could either go with her to the monastery, or we could shop. I opted to go to the monastery – I mean, I could shop any time.  We started up this very small, and I mean very small hill, and mom opted to stay behind and shop and have lunch. She just didn’t want to do a big hill again. At the time she made that decision we didn’t know it was a small hill that turned to the left and then leveled out. Our past experience had been one small hill turns into a big hill.  Instead mom stayed in town, did some shopping and had lunch. I asked her to bring me a ham and cheese sammy and Fanta for the ride home.  

On to the monastery.  I didn’t get the full story on the history as I was too busy taking photos.  Go figure. The big thing I did get was that Chopin spent time here and wrote much of his music. His original player piano is here as are many of his original scores.  The gardens he worked in were just beautiful, apparently tended to by the monks.  

Once done with the monastery we had about 30 minutes to roam around. I stepped right outside the monastery and as if God himself was pointing the way there was a gelato store. So off I went for a scoop of coffee gelato.  

We met back up at the bus and mom had kept her word and got me a ham and cheese sandwich that was oooohhh soooo good.  And a Fanta. I swear when I get home I’m going to want a Fanta and I’ll be disappointed because it won’t taste nearly as good as they do here.  

Tomorrow is a sea day. Yay! It sounds funny to say that, but when we signed up for this cruise I was excited that we only had one sea day. Now I find I was wishing for more. Six ports in six days is a lot without a break in between. They are all starting to feel like one big port. As mom said today (even thought I don’t agree), the cathedrals are all starting to look the same. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Espana La Mejor

Today we spent a lovely, and sunshiny day in Valencia Spain. Famous for a few things: oranges, lemons and Ernest Hemmingway…apparently.  

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this stop as it was the one stop I did the least amount of research on. There wasn’t much to discover about Valencia that I could tell. And now after a day here I can understand why. It’s a small-ish city (well third largest in Spain but it feels small) and somewhat unassuming. They have quite a history but nothing overly interesting about their history.  

We took the “Explore Valencia” excursion today. The tour started by driving down their beautiful public beach – the name I forget – it was a wide, sandy beach that looked very inviting to go and sit on the sand. From there we drove through the streets and our guide pointed out some of the more important historic buildings.  

I think the most interesting thing – historically – is that they had a major river running through the city, but it caused problems with flooding so they moved it. How they moved it I have no idea the guide didn’t really say. But now this river bed is a beautiful park that runs the length of the city limits.

Our next stop was an area designed to promote science and culture. The unique and futuristic designs of the buildings I found fascinating and could have easily spent another hour there with my camera.  The City of Arts & Science houses a museum of the sciences, a “hemispheric” dome that is their Imax – it looks like an eye ball sticking out of the water, and lastly their opera house.  He rattled off some famous opera singer who performs there on a regular basis.  

Leaving that stop we took off to the historical center of Valencia. This is where the tour got very interesting to me. The guide dropped us off for some free time in the Central Market. This market dad would have loved. In fact, we never would have gotten him out of there. It had all sorts of meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, spices, anything you could imagine. And it was massive.  We had only 30 minutes there and somehow I needed to taste freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice, go pee, buy some olives, and buy some Spanish ham AND take photos in 30 minutes.

I managed. 

But let me tell you about that freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice…oh my goodness. Probably the best orange juice I’ve had in a long time. When the guy came over to ask mom and I if we needed help, I literally, jumped into Spanish speaking mode. Mom looked at me kinda surprised, and me too for that matter. We got our orange juice and walked away and I said to mom, “I’m not sure where that Spanish came from but it just came out.” Turns out all those years of school and something did stick.  

After the orange juice, I asked the guy where the bathrooms were. He pointed and said, let me give you a receipt. Apparently you had to buy something in the market to use their bathrooms. So down stairs we go with our receipt to a gal sitting in front of the bathrooms that have turn styles. No lie. She handed both mom and I a token and pointed. We put our token in, the light turn greened, a little bell rang, I pushed through and I was in the ladies bathroom. Very odd to me, but interesting.  

Back upstairs we found a meat shop selling Spanish ham and salami’s. The owner let us taste some of the ham and I was hooked. We bought two packs of it to bring back to the ship for happy hour.   

Then we found the olives. They were giving samples too. I think mom and I ate one of all of them. Sooo good.  We bought two types and it was all I could do to NOT eat them on the bus on the way home. They, along with the ham, were a big success at happy hour tonight.  

Do you know about happy hour? Have I explained it?  

Happy hour started many cruises ago with Mom, Dad, Jack and Suzi.  They decided that every night they’d bring their drinks and any snacks to one of their rooms and they’d have happy hour before dinner.  It’s a great tradition really. Everyone gets together and talks about what they did all day, eat a little appetizers (or whatever we scavenged from the buffet upstairs), drink a little wine, and just enjoy the moment.  

So after the olives purchase it was time to meet back up with our guide. Jorge was our guide today and he was a charming Spanish man who could whistle but could not play any instruments…or so he told us.  

We walked the historical center and went through the Silk Exchange (La Lonja) building where business was done in Valencia for years until they recently moved to a more modern building. But the gothic style of this building was breathtaking. The ceilings were carved wood and were stunning. One ceiling was carved wood with gold enlay in it…it was beautiful. Jorge did tell us it wasn’t the original ceiling in that part of the building. Apparently the ceiling was in a historic landmark that the government decided to destroy and was going to burn down. Some activists got together and saved the ceiling and moved it to the Silk Exchange building to preserve it. Thank heavens they did. It was beautiful. 

We walked through several squares today and eventually we found ourselves in a “round square”. When Jorge said we had one more square to see (they were all starting to look the same) I was somewhat surprised to see this square was round.  This “square” was for textiles and had several Spanish women sitting around in circles doing needle work with silk. Some were making laces, some doing pictures on material, but all of it was beautiful and the craftsmanship was unbelievable.  

We left the round square for the cathedral in Valencia. This cathedral – from what I could understand – was “owned” by many different religious groups at one time or another. So there were parts of this cathedral that were jewish, part built by the moors and part built by the Christians. The outside certainly looked like it was a combination of cultures. I didn’t venture inside – first because it cost 5EU and second because we were hungry and we had about 30 minutes of free time.  

Mom and I found a little café, plopped ourselves down and ordered ham and cheese sandwiches. I ordered a Fanta and mom ordered Sangria.  My Fanta was a normal size Fanta, but mom’s sangria was huge. She slurped that thing down so quickly I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to have to carry her to the bus. The ham and cheese sandwiches were made with Spanish ham, thick cut and cured. It was, in my opinion, delicious, but almost like jerky. The cheese and bread though…wow…such a good combination. I wish there was a way to really share the flavors in this blog.

We finished up early today and were back on the ship by 1pm. We both were thankful for some down time. I certainly don’t want to complain about all the places we’re seeing, but it does feel like we’re in a sprint.  We’ve hit 3 countries in 4 days.

I’m sad to report that I did not get my gelato today. We saw some, but I was too full from the ham sandwich to even consider eating it. And they didn’t have Nutella as a flavor. Maybe tomorrow.

Tonight we branched off and had dinner at one of the specialty restaurants on the ship. They cost a little extra, but it’s worth it to me. The food starts to all taste the same by this time of the cruise. So tonight we chose to do the Brazilian steak house. I think I must have had at least 14 oz of meat tonight. I didn’t bother with any of the sides or a salad before. I wanted to save myself for the meat. I think we had 10 different types of meat: Chicken breasts wrapped in bacon, chicken thighs marinated in lime, Spanish chorizo, Linguisa sausage, lamb legs, filet mignon, garlic marinated beef, sirloin, pork ribs, beef ribs, and finally grilled pineapple. And then they asked if we wanted dessert. Ugh. But the meats were so flavorful and delicious if I wasn’t so full I’d still be eating. That Spanish chorizo in particular was my favorite. Not spicy, but full of flavor.

Tomorrow we’re in Majorca Spain. A small island off the coast of Spain.  Dad had wanted to me to go to school in Majorca when we were choosing which boarding school to attend.  I think he wanted me to go there just for the olives, wine and all around Spanish culture. We shall see what Majorca has to offer us tomorrow.

And then we have a blessed day at sea.  A day of rest if you will. All our excursions have left by 8am so far, which means up and to breakfast by 7am.

Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Me Gusta Mucho Barcelona!

Oh Barcelona! Where have you been all my life? This cosmopolitan metropolis has found itself ranked numero uno in my book. I can’t even begin to explain why, other than the city almost felt like it was alive. Its people the heartbeat, its churches are the soul, and its food…OMG…the food.

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city (Madrid being the largest) and is the capital of their region Catalunya. I discovered that both Spanish and Catalan are spoken here when I attempted to understand the words on street signs and maps. I was out of my league for sure. But the tour guide pointed out that they are Catalonians first, Spaniard’s second.

Barcelona had a lot more history than I thought. Columbus was from here, the Roman’s were here and the gothic medieval period played a significant role here. Antonio Gaudi and Pablo Picasso walked the streets here and left their mark all over the city.

We started the day, again, super early.  Next time I cruise I’m going to check all the start times for the excursions. I’m tired of getting up at 6:30 on vacation. Our tour today was called the Best of Barcelona, and it was exactly that. We had a fantastic tour guide, Carmen, who not only knew a lot of history, but had a sense of humor and kept track of all us chickens.

Our first stop was the Antonio Gaudi’s masterpiece La Sagrada Familia church. Oh…My…God. I’ve never in all my life seen anything like it. At first glance, you’re kinda taken back. Not sure what to think. I likened it to looking upon the face of the elephant man. At first you’re a little repulsed, then you’re curious, then you realize it’s a face of someone who needs a little love.  The façade of this church is a little like that to me. There is so much going on on the outside of the church that you find yourself a bit overwhelmed.  

We entered the church on what’s called the nativity side – the walls show the birth of Jesus…in a way only Gaudi could. There were lizards as gargoyles, turtles holding up enormous columns, and birds everywhere. Without a photo it’s hard to even explain what this church is like. It was stunning on the outside, but once we entered … I had no words.  

The inside was designed by Gaudi to depict a forest.  The stain glass windows throughout the church cast a beautiful, multi-colored glow onto the columns that are the “trees” – its magical inside. I had to sit for a moment and take it all in. I found myself wanting to snap every possible photo I could, but there was just too much to witness. I sat and just felt the church (I’m turning into my middle brother apparently).  Then I slowly walked around and found some magnificent corners of this church to shoot.  

From the church, I was sure there wasn’t anything that could top that, but then we found ourselves in the Gothic Quarter.  This maze of alley ways and very small streets was a throwback to mid-evil times. Our tour guide stopped us first at the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even get the name of it. All our group (Mom, Suzi, Jack, Mike & Bev) were hungry and wanted lunch instead of finishing the walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. The Gothic Quarter was one of the MANY reasons I wanted to see Barcelona! I left them and trudged on (BTW I had over 14,000 steps today…my feet are tired).  

Carmen gave us so much history of the quarter that I couldn’t retain any of it. We saw old Roman columns that were preserved in a building, we walked through alley ways that, no lie, were maybe 3 feet across (if I eat any more I won’t fit down these alley ways). She showed us an old church that was bombed ruing the Spanish civil war in which they left the shell marks on the church so they’ll never forget what they fought for. She showed us where the old roman chariots used to come down the alleys and turn the corner too wide and take bits out of buildings. All of it was just amazing. But my favorite were the bridges in the quarter. I didn’t get 100% why, but they ultimately built bridges that would go from building to building. Gothic walk ways if you will.  It had something to do with all the muck and unpleasant things in the street but I don’t remember what exactly.   

I eventually caught up with the rest of the group who were just finishing their lunch. I had a couple of bites of Mom’s paella, and a Fanta (BTW I’m addicted to FANTA here for some reason. That cold orange drink when it’s been so hot has hit the spot. I know I’ll want Fanta back in the states and it won’t taste nearly as good…it never does). Then I left them again, and went about my way trying to do some real photography. 

I stopped in a gift shop and bought myself a gift, a pin for Blueberry, and some post cards. Then on the way out I noticed this little sandwich shop that had ham and cheese on a baguette. Yes! I finally got my ham and cheese sandwich. I was proud of myself for ordering in Spanish only to find out when he responded I had no idea what he was talking about…and he realized I had no idea and switched back to English.

Stepping out of the shop I looked up and spied a Starbucks. Yes, I admit it, I went in. I knew Mike and Bev would be in there, so I had to go check it out. Sure enough, they were there. We spent a few minutes there and then walked back to where we were meeting our bus.

The second half of the tour was to visit this re-created Spanish village. Essentially a tourist trap, but an interesting one. Inside this village they had all the areas of Spain represented. For example, Catalan – which is where we are now – has a different style of houses, different foods, etc than they do in Aragon. So each “section” was a representation of the living environment, and shops of what they are known for. Mom and I bought some balsamic vinegar that is like syrup and some olive oil. Then I broke down and bought some saffron. I couldn’t resist.

Then it was back on the boat. We’re exhausted and if I didn’t have the excursion ticket I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what country we’re in. It’s all worth it though, I can sleep when I’m home.

Tomorrow we’re in Valencia. I see more paella in my future.  Oh, and I am still on target with my gelato a day goal.  The Spanish village had some gelato – it wasn’t nearly as good as Italy’s but it was still gelato.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Marseille & Aix en Provence France

Well, today didn’t go quite like I had planned. I knew the odds of all the days going as I had them figured out was low. Still, even without going as planned it was a good day.  

We ported today in a little-ish town called Toulon France. It was a huge naval port for WWII and got mostly destroyed in WWII. They sank all their own navy ships in Toulon so the German’s couldn’t take possession of them.  I forget that WWII affected folks over here a bit more than us in the US.  

We didn’t do anything in Toulon but instead headed straight for Marseille. Marseille is a bigger city than I expected. It sits on the Mediterranean and has some very picturesque parts of the city.  Marseille is France’s oldest city having been founded in 600BC and still has some of its charm. The guide books characterized it as “gritty”. We didn’t see enough of the actual city to say one way or another.  

We had a pretty bad tour guide today so we didn’t get a lot of information.  Which is sad to me, because I love the history that associated to these cities.  

We drove along a coastal highway called John F. Kennedy highway and had a beautiful view of the blue Mediterranean. The Chateau d’If is also located here. It’s where the Count of Monte Cristo was sent to prison…if you read that book. It was one of my favorites from high school so seeing it was an interesting historical nugget to me.

In Marseille the main thing we were here to see is the Notre Dame de la Garde. It’s this HUGE basilica sitting on top of the highest point in Marseille. Quietly watching over the city and its residents.  The tour guide told us it was built up there to protect the city and that citizens walk up to give thanks and pray for the city on a regular basis. Did I mention it was on a HUGE hill? We had to climb 176 stairs to get to the basilica from where the bus dropped us off. It was a lot of huffing and puffing, but I made it. And it was worth every step. The basilica was just beautiful inside. Gold mosaics covered the ceiling and the dome behind the altar. They are so detailed that you almost don’t realize they are mosaics. And the gold makes them so vibrant and just breathtaking. (I can’t wait to share the photos with you). The basilica is a Neo-romanesque-Byzantine built in the 1850’s (not that old by European standards). There’s a towering Mary and baby Jesus done in gold that tops the high spire of the basilica…and by massive I mean that baby Jesus’ hand is 42 inches around and the statue weighs 900 tons (which is about how much I’m going to weigh if I keep eating gelato). I’ve seen a lot of basilicas in my time and this one rivals them all.

From Marseille we drove to Aix en Provence. I had envisioned this town as a little, quaint village in Provence. It’s not. It’s got a huge university there which brings in thousands of students. Its real claim to fame, and that which our tour guide spoke at great length about, is that Paul Cezanne was born here and painted here. Did you know he wasn’t famous until his last 2 years of life? AND, according to the tour guide (I’m starting to wonder if tour guides are like the Internet and you’re never really sure what to believe) his paintings are among the most expensive in the world.

Anyhow, Aix en Provence Old Town was something else though. Charming is one word that comes to mind. Totally European feeling and looking is another. The soft, pastel colors on all the buildings with a bright color on the shutters. So beautiful. My goal for Aix en Provence was to eat a ham and cheese on baguette, see the Cours Maribeau (a beautiful tree lined road) and take photos of their huge open air market (which was conveniently on Cours Maribeau). Neither of those things happened.

We took too long finding a place for lunch (Trying to get 8 people to decide on lunch in a location they know is hard. Try getting 8 people to decide in a place they know nothing about). I wasn’t happy with our pick for lunch so ordered a salad in hopes of finding my ham and cheese at another street snack cart. I was on a mission.

After lunch we wandered to where the open market was, only to find it was tearing down. Apparently they close at 2pm for lunch. Argh.

On top of missing that, they had pruned all the sycamore trees that lined Cours Maribeau. So instead of a stunning, tree lined European street market, I got pruned trees and no market. AND no ham and cheese.

Brother M was getting tired of my talking about this sandwich I think, so while the others went in search of a battery for the fit bit that would eventually get lost, we hiked back up into the town a bit in search for the sandwich. I gave in finally and opted for another gelato instead of the sandwich we couldn’t find. When I wasn’t ready for the damn sandwich it was everywhere. Now that I wanted it, it was nowhere.

We got our gelato and sat on a small ledge to eat it. As I was sitting there Brother M pointed to a little street vendor across from where we were sitting…he had the sandwiches. Dammit! I was now committed to the gelato and knew there’d be no way to get that sandwich down before we got back to the boat (we found out they don’t let you take food back on the boat yesterday when we tried to bring our left over pizzas back with us).

So both towns were fun to see, I don’t feel a pressing need to go back and see them. They each had their own uniqueness about them, and I can say I’ve been there.

Tomorrow though…tomorrow is the day I’ve been waiting for. And I can already tell you the taste I’m going to have tomorrow isn’t going to be enough for this city…and I’m glad I’ll be going back next year…. BARCELONA!

Monday, April 14, 2014


Today we are in Monaco. We opted to not do an excursion in this port because of how easy it is to get around Monaco…or so we thought.

Mom, Suzi, Mike and I got off the ship at about 10am. We tendered to the dock and then walked to find a bus stop from there. There isn’t a lot of signage, and what was there we couldn’t understand. It was all in French…We found one bus stop, asked a bus driver, who pointed us up the hill to another bus stop. We asked that driver, who pointed us up the hill to yet another. By this time I’m thinking we should just climb the hill. But alas we found the right stop and the right bus. For 5EU we bought a 24 hour pass and off we went. First stop, the Palace.
Monaco, in general, is a beautiful country. The soft colors of the buildings are a perfect complement to the blue sea below.  Stunning and clean are the two things that came to mind. Monaco, they say, is extremely safe. The saying is you can win a million at the casino and walk to the bus station without a problem. It’s separated into a few “sections” Monaco-Ville (Old Town), Monte Carlo, and La Condamine. Old town and Monte Carlo are the two areas we spent most the day in.
Monaco is, of course, most famous to us for James Bond and Grace Kelly.  Both would have fit in well here. The rich would feel very at home. Just looking at the size of the yachts in the harbor would tell you this is a playground for the wealthy.
So we got off the bus in Old Town and walked to the Palace from there. On the way to the palace strolling through the little alley streets of old town we found the main cathedral – aptly named The Cathedral of Monaco, and it’s where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married and buried.
The cathedral, like so many we’ve seen, is just beautiful. This one was somber and elegant at the same time. The dome above the altar had a beautiful gold mosaic that brightened up the place.
Further down the alley street we found the palace. We got there just in time to see the changing of the guard. Not nearly as grandiose as England’s, but interesting all the same.  We walked around the Palace Square a bit just taking in the beauty. Did I mention how clean this city is?
By the time we finished in the Palace Square, we were getting hungry. We’d seen many restaurants and bars on our way up the hill, so we figured we’d stop and have lunch. Oddly enough the ONE we picked had more of an Italian flare to it and so we all had pizzas. I was really hoping for a ham and cheese sandwich, but not so lucky today.
From the palace we needed to get back to the bus station to take the bus to the Casino. I really had no idea where it was, but Mike and I figured out on the map about where we thought we should have gotten off the bus. We took the hard way to get there though. Up a HUGE hill, then up about 5 flights of stairs to find ourselves on the backside of the Opera House. Again, we walked the wrong way and went too far PAST the casino before I finally asked. We turned around and walked back the way we came. Zigged instead of zagged and found the casino.  I didn’t go in because they wouldn’t let me bring in the camera and I didn’t want to check it in, though hind sight being what it is, I probably could have and it would have been just fine.
Outside the casino were a bunch of very fancy cars. From Ferrari's to Aston Martin's to a mustang! Yes I saw a convertible mustang here. I knew Sparky was all class.
Tomorrow we’re in Toulon France and will be vising Marseille and Aix en Provence.  We’re pooped, our feet hurt, but by God we’re having a blast.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Florence and Pisa - We'll get to Rome later

I know I owe you three days worth of blogging from Rome. And I'll get to it. I wanted to get back on schedule to blog after each day on the cruise, so Rome will have to wait.

I won't be posting photos in these blogs because the Inter Web is slow on the cruise ship.  It'll be worth the wait...I promise.

Ah Florence…I do love this city. I wish we had longer than three hours here, but alas, that’s all we get. Our tour left early this morning – well early in cruise terms – at 8am. We were on a bus and headed to Pisa and Florence. The weather was iffy – humid and may have some rain.  But who cares? It’s vacation.

Our first stop was Pisa. The drive there through the Tuscan country side was nothing less than breathtaking. Rolling hills of green and the occasional hill top village with their terra cotta colored houses perched high on the hill. Such a beautiful sight.

We arrived at Pisa by 10 am and there weren’t too many tour groups there yet. Which is why we went there first. An hour later when we were leaving the place was swarming with tourists. All trying to get that perfect shot of them holding up the tower.

Our guide gave us some brief history about the tower on the way to Pisa, so once there we were left to roam freely. I left Mom with Bev and Michael and took off with my camera. I had a few shots in mind and wanted to get them before too many folks got in the way. The lighting was perfect in my opinion for shooting photos, still morning light that was soft and not harsh like a lot of the lighting was in Rome. Not that I am complaining about the sunshine in Rome…it’s just not best for photos.

I walked down the path way between the Babistry and the cathedral and just took in Pisa. I like to think about how long these buildings have been standing and just how many people have seen or walked through them. It’s staggering when you really think about it.

I continued my walk around the back side of the cathedral and as you round the corner you’re greeted by a view of the leaning tower. It’s just fascinating to me to see it. Standing there, or leaning there, like it’s drank one too many glasses of Chianti. Our guide told us that once the third floor was finished they noticed the tower was sinking.  Instead of continuing to build they decided to ask England for some assistance via one of their top architectures.  The final three floors look slightly different than the first three as they were built in such a way to help slow the sinking of the tower. It only slightly worked and the tower continued to sink.  Then in the 90’s they did some other renovations to help slow the process and it’s believed the tower should stand for another 300 years. We shall see.

As I stood taking photos of the tower I glanced to my left and giggled a little at all these people trying to get that “shot” of them holding up the tower. The one that made me laugh the most was a woman lying on the ground with her feet in the air, and the tower right between her crotch. Who thinks to do that? I took a photo of all the people trying to hold the tower up, only you can’t tell that’s what they’re doing. Instead they just look like a bunch of mimes.

On the other side of the tower, off the main road was a store that had Fotographia on one awning and Gelato on the other. Now that’s my kind of store! I felt 10:30 wasn’t too early to have gelato, so I had my first cup there. Walking just a bit more I found the rest of the fam taking a break at a little store where our guide was passing out free bottles of water.

Then we were off to Florence. I have some special memories of Florence when we were there in 1987. The first one being us driving in circles around this block looking for our hotel. We had the address, we were on the right street, but for the life of us we couldn’t find the hotel. Finally mom got out and decided to walk the street. She, for whatever reason, looked up and saw the sign for our hotel on the second floor. Who knew?

In Florence we were treated to a lunch arranged by the guide at a local restaurant where he SWORE had the best lasagna in town. The restaurant was called Casa Toscana, and for 13EU we got some of the best food we’ve had on our trip so far. Mom had the cabonara that was OUT….OF…THIS…WORLD. It reminded me of the cabonara Chefy at Tasis used to make.

After lunch we took off to see the Duomo, the clock tower building with a replica of David in front of it, Ponte Vecchio and Santa Croce church. Walking in the direction we “thought” was the clock tower building we got a little lost. We found a building that looked liked it but it didn’t seem quite right. So I shot a few photos and off we went for the Duomo. We found the Duomo with relative ease – it, like most cathedrals in Italy, was massive. Multi colored marble was used in the construction and it was just stunning. The line was too long to get inside, and we were running out of time to see the rest of the sites.

We left in search of Ponte Vecchio – which was the only bridge in Florence NOT destroyed in WWII and is a merchant bridge with stores that hang off the sides of the bridge. Interesting concept. As we were walking to find it we stumbled, quite literally, onto the clock tower piazza. Piazza Vecchio. The rain was still coming down so I shot a couple of photos and that was that.

We walked along the Arno River to get back to the Santa Croce church which was our meeting place for the guide. The Piazza was busy in the morning with a race that had finished, and jammed pack with church goers – being that today is Palm Sunday.

Mom and I found a little café and had a cappuccino to warm us up a bit. Though Italian cappuccinos, or coffee in general, isn’t nearly as hot as we American’s like it. I opted to have my second cup of gelato at this café too. What? This is me sticking to my goal of two cups of gelato each day in Italy. A girl has to have goals!

We walked back to meet up with the rest of the tour and off we went to return to the ship.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to take as many photos in Florence as I had wanted, but the Pisa one’s turned out so well that I think I’ll be ok. Funny how your best laid plans often get tossed aside where weather is concerned.

Tomorrow – Monaco!

Monday, April 07, 2014

It's the Final Countdown (go ahead sing...I'll wait)

Well, here we are. One day before the BIG WRASPIR FAMILY EUROPEAN VACATION!
did it get here so fast? And sadly in a short time I'll be writing, "how did it go by so fast?"

I have started the final countdown clock, which usually starts with the airline check-in - cuz then it's 24 hours before departure.

I think I'm all ready.

Detailed packing list printed and pen in hand - Check
All important paperwork printed and near a suitcase - Check
Cat sitters - Check
The MomUnit - Check
Photo contest going on FB - Check

Now, the anxiety sets in. Feel it? I sure do. The sweaty palms, the sweaty forehead, the nervous stomach, the "oh my god what am I doing?" feeling, all present and accounted for. Granted the sweaty palms and forehead could be a hot flash, but I doubt it.

What am I anxious about you ask? Oh, well get a cup of coffee and come back. I'll wait.

Oh Hi, welcome back.

There are so many things I'm anxious about these days, but I'll keep the list to just those associated to this trip. 

The first is my expectations of the trip.  For those of you who know me well know I'm a planner. And boy do I plan.  In fact, being unemployed for 2 months prior to this trip may have helped this little anxiety along...I got to plan a lot.

In all that planning, or because of it I should say, I develop a certain level of expectations of the trip.  I have a list of what I want to see, a list of what photos I want to take, I have a list in my head of the # of times I want to stop and each gelato, or stop and eat in general, etc. You see where I'm going with this. 

I get anxious about the "what if the trip doesn't go as I planned?" element here.  Now, I can be a flexible person...and I do try very hard to be in these types of situations. But, I still worry that I won't get to go/do/see everything on my list. Which is ridiculous to think about considering I have limited time everywhere.  And I guess admittedly this worry is mostly about Rome.  I've been on cruises before, I understand you're limited in so many ways and I'm oddly ok with that.

But Rome...we only have 2.5 days in Rome. How can I possibly get all the photos I want/need? How can I get to all the amazing historical sites I must see? How can I eat gelato 3 times a day? And the list goes on...and on... and on...

I do have a small game plan on how to be flexible in Rome. I am aware this time of my over zealous, if  not necessary, planning abilities. I've been down this road before.  This time, though, I think I have a map and I think I have the tools necessary to keep my mind in the experience. I've heard this thing called "go with the flow" and I'd like to try it.

Oh who am I kidding...I can't go with any flow...unless it's a planned flow, then I'm good.

Besides the anxiety of my perfect plan being screwed up, I have, like many I'm sure, an anxiety of traveling in a foreign place.  Knowing full well that not only have I been learning Italian, and that most Italians speak English we should be fine...still I worry that we may get lost, we may get mugged, we may get taken advantage of, etc.  Then a good friend reminded me that if any of those things happen...think of the blog stories I'll have.

So those are the biggies. I'm not going to type out my last one because I worry that if I put it out there in the universe, somehow it'll make it happen. Let's just say, the missing flight from Malaysia has had me all shades of concerned. Not a good color for me.

Be sure to check in on a regular basis. I'm going to try to keep the blog updated daily...which shouldn't be a problem cuz we all know who I like to blog...and show off my photos.

Which reminds me, if you want to get in on the photo challenge just leave a comment. I'm promising a special prize for the person who guesses - as close as possible - to the number of photos I take on this 15 day adventure.  All photos, including the bad ones will be counted for this game.


Friday, April 04, 2014

A Monster Calls

Courtesy of B&N
On Nov 29, 2013 I lost my brother. It wasn't part of my life plan. It wasn't supposed to happen…ever. When he told us in the summer he had been diagnosed with cancer but it was survivable, I believed him. I needed to believe him. I knew my life would be forever changed if he left us.  The magnitude of impact he had on my life is overwhelming, and this was while he was living. What type of magnitude would it be when he was gone?

I didn't want to accept it. I couldn't. Accepting it would mean letting the cancer win.  When he did finally go I sat in his hospital room, stunned, barely able to think, reminding myself to just breathe. I couldn't look at him. I stared, instead, at his feet. His toes. I just stared. Someone was saying something, I could hear the noise, but couldn't listen. Someone was praying and I was angry. How dare they ask God for help now? Isn't it too late? I had to leave the room.

As I walked back out to the waiting room, I almost started giggling. I guess we weren't "waiting" any longer. It would be a grieving room. Then another thought came to my mind, it's a thought that came to me shortly after my dad passed away too. I was embarrassed to have thought it at the time, and now I think it gave me some type of relief. I was glad the "waiting" was over. I was done. I was tired of this.

This book, A Monster Calls, is about a 10 year old boy whose mother is dying, presumably of cancer. The boy starts having a nightmare during his mom's treatments. The nightmare, he thinks, develops a tree monster who comes to visit him. The Yew Tree Monster (YTM from now on) seems scary and appears to be there to cause trouble. Connor isn't sure what to make of the tree at first and thinks he's dreaming. The YTM tells him he has three stories to tell him and then Connor will tell him the 4th story.

The stories are, of course, learning experiences for Connor, but he doesn't quite get what he's supposed to learn. You get an idea that he might, but he's not ready to. As the story progresses you see him slowly, like a snail, coming to grips to his reality. 

The final story is one he must tell. He must tell the truth. His truth is he's tired of his mom being sick. His nightmare is of him not being able to hold on to his mother as she is drug off a cliff by a monster.  The YTM helps Connor understand his truth is okay to say out loud. It's ok to be angry that his mom is dying and it's ok to say he wasn't ready for her to leave. 

Connor's truth was that he was tired of the whole cancer thing. He just wanted it to be over. I hadn't had words for my feelings as I sat in the not so waiting room after BigBro died. I knew I felt relieved, but couldn't understand why.  I wonder now if Connor's truth was my own truth.

some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”  

"Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”  

“I wish I had a hundred years, she said, very quietly. A hundred years I could give to you.” His mother said to him.

"If you speak the truth, the monster whispered in his ear, you will be able to face whatever comes.”  

“Conor held tightly onto his mother.
And by doing so, he could finally let her go.”

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Facebook...Friend? Or Foe?

I admit it. I'm a Facebook junky. I'm often on FB, reading it, posting, replying to posts etc.  I find FB to be useful on so many levels. Some folks would argue that it's making our society more distant than closer. I would disagree. I've learned a lot about close friends and have been drawn closer to distant friends because of FB. I love seeing what's going on in everyone's lives.  Knowing full well that what is put on FB is just a glimpse into their reality. 

Let's face it, Facebook is a powerful, time sucking, informative tool. Its very nature puts it in the good versus bad category for so many reasons.  I often wonder if FB was around in the Roman times, if one post could start a war. And in this very recent time, one post could make or break a friendship. 

I've lost friends because of FB posts or comments. And I usually discount the "friendship" as a mere acquaintance and have generally been "ok" with the defriending.  It can pull you closer to people and give you the opportunity to be more understanding. And it can create a toxic atmosphere for arguments, misunderstandings and differing of opinions. It's the latter that is prompting this blog entry.  Let me just say full and clear, I made a mistake. I made an inappropriate post. I admitted it, I apologized and took the post down. 

We all live in the technology world and are relatively familiar with the "once it's out there, it's out there." mentality. And truthfully I'm not 100% sure just how "private" FB is even when you set it to private. Privacy to me often can be an illusion. I work in privacy for heaven's sake, I know that even in the best of situations, "privacy" is only skin deep.  Those of us in the older generation we understand that once you post something, it's out there and that we should be very careful what we post. 

My profile is private. Only friends can see my posts - according to FB privacy statement that is. If you aren't an approved friend, you can't see my timeline, my photos or my posts…supposedly. I often think of this as a mute button on a phone. Just because you push mute doesn't mean the mute is actually working and should therefore refrain from slamming the person on the phone. I've been burned by FB in the past by a company who searched for me FB posts, and uncovered another person with my same name. They assumed it was me (even though this other person lived in a different state far, far away from Redmond) and opted to not pursue me any further. So I get it. I understand what FB can do to you. 

Here's the situation. First, let me say again, I was wrong. I admitted I was wrong and removed my post immediately. Sometimes we have to be reminded about FB and all its super powers. Sometimes what you post, as private as it may be, can be forwarded on outside your friends and therefore makes it very NOT private. See, there's that false security with privacy.  The post I made was forwarded to a friend who wasn't on FB this particular day.  My post was related to a potential job and I was pointing out how frustrated I was in how long the hiring process was taking. I didn't specifically say who the company was, but it was inferred.  In my world of contracting, I've gotten accustomed to the hiring process being a fast-paced, adventure.  That's not the case in the outside world, apparently.  And something I'm having to come to grips with. 

This post in question - forwarded to another friend - offended and hurt her. She's knew what I was referencing and had a right to legitimately feel offended and hurt. She contacted me right away and went about expressing her offense and hurt.  I was well and thoroughly put in my place.  Her point was she couldn't understand how I'd put something like that out there when I supposedly wanted a job from this company.  Again, I admitted I was wrong, apologized and took the post down. She was right, of course, and her not so gentle reminder slapped me hard. I felt like a 16 YO being scolded by her mother. 

I was taken aback by her offense and a bit unsure how to even address this. I hadn't anticipated her, or anyone, to be so hurt and offended by what I considered an innocent post. But because it had specifically been forwarded to her, from some unnamed person (BTW, this unnamed person has to be a friend of mine and that's something I'm dealing with. See #8 below), she was wound up about it. I was almost offended by her offense. Still, I totally recognized and respected where she was coming from. I told her I understood what she was saying, apologized again, and reminded her that I had taken the post down again.  I tried to explain where I was coming from and how it wasn't meant as a negative comment at all - it was simply a comment. But there was no swaying her, so I had to stop trying. She was already far past pissed, I could tell, and so I figured me continuing to apologize again and again wasn't going to do a thing. 

Here's what I've learned from this experience:

  1. You are never too old to be scolded.
  2. Admit when you’re wrong. It usually clears the air.
  3. Check your privacy settings on FB. FB is a powerful tool and what you put out there should be private.
  4. I was in the wrong, there's no denying that. I'm okay with that. I'm ok with it being pointed out to me. Sometimes we need reminders.
  5. While FB is a powerful tool, it is just FB.  I sometimes think we (myself included) take it a bit too seriously.  I've been offended by posts made by other people. DAILY I'm offended by political posts from some friends. I move on. I don't read them. I don't reply to them. I try to refrain as best I can because FB is no place for a political discussion or an argument of any type. In my opinion anyhow. If you have an issue with something I've said, or I have an issue with something someone else said, communicate with them directly. It'll clear things up some much faster.
  6. Even if someone isn't on FB, they can and will find out what you've said. So that whole "privacy" thing - yah, not real.
  7. Being tattled on still happens when you're in your 40's.
  8. There are levels of friendship. I'm clearly on a lower level of friendship with whomever "tattled" on me than they are with the person they told. For some reason, this really bothered me. I need to do some inner soul searching to find out why this bothered me so much. I feel betrayed for some reason.
  9. Blogs aren't private either.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Culture Shock - not to be confused with Culture Club

I used to think a week was 7 days. Now, as time flashes forward at a rate I care not to discuss (even though inadvertently I just did), I'm convinced a week is somehow less than 7 days, 168 hours....and I'm too lazy to get out the calculator to figure out seconds.

Anyhow, in exactly one week I'll be on a plane to Rome. Starting a travel adventure I've been planning since March of last year.

As you've undoubtedly noticed I have some mixed feelings about this trip.  I don't doubt for one minute that I'll get tired at some point and annoyed with people and tired and annoyed. It's just how travel goes.  There's a condition called Culture Shock that happens when you travel to unknown areas. And Culture Shock (not sure if it should be capital or not, but I'm making it so...) can add a whole new set of emotions to travel.

I've traveled before. I know this routine. I know, seemingly, what to expect. And yet, every time I travel I do experience some culture shock.  I've been to Rome - granted 28 years ago - which doesn't seem right and makes me question whether a year still have 365 days in it (see paragraph one). I remember well the culture shock I experienced the first time I stepped foot in Saudi Arabia.

And I suspect there was some culture shock I experienced when going to TASIS for the first time.

I anticipate my first step off the plane in Rome, a relatively unfamiliar place for me, will make me feel a bit off balance. Everything familiar will be left behind the moment I step on that plane in Chicago.  The language I spoke fluently, the roads, the customs, the mannerisms, etc. All the subcultures that I kept neatly in my back pocket will no longer apply. A new set of "rules", "customs", and "mannerisms" await me.

I have years of traveling under my belt. I used to be adventurous and now I feel a bit too "closed in" to really get the experience I want from Rome, and the other ports. But mostly Rome. I am wired with anxiety and I really needed to get a grip on it before my time in Rome passes.
I've heard culture shock compared to Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz. She basically arrives in munchkin town and has suddenly realized she ain't in Kansas anymore.  The little people around her look different, talk different, and have different customs. She has to rely on the "locals" to help guide her to where she needs to go....down the Yellow Brick Road. She doesn't know what's down that road, but trusts that the locals mean her no harm. Along the way she meets some "other" locals and eventually she begins to have a new understanding of herself and her life at home.  To get "home" she must deal with talking lions, men made of straw, lions and witches. 

Not all that different from visiting a new country when you stop to think about it.
I read this recently about culture shock, "Our first steps into an unfamiliar place can jar us emotionally like a plunge into an icy lake shocks us physically. We don't know where we're going. We might feel vulnerable, or fatigue from the journey, or frustrated by a language barrier. These things all glob together into what I commonly call "culture shock."

Dead on. I think culture shock becomes part of the experience. It becomes, almost, the reason for the experience.  It has a negative connotation to it, but does it have to be negative? I don't think so. I think that this "plunge into an icy lake" could be what this girl needs to get herself back a little.

Travel amplifies some emotions. There's no doubt about that. Which emotions are going to rear their ugly head has yet to be seen. But like Dorothy, I'd like to take the opportunity to interact with these locals, learn from them, experience Rome (and the other ports) through them. And whether I come to the surface sputtering water from the icy lake, I will have experienced being in that lake.