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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Still Alice

I finished Still Alice today. It's our April book club book and it's been on my Nook for a couple of years. My first attempt in reading it was just a short 3 months after the DadUnit passed away.  It was too soon.  I got as far as page 30 and had to put the book down. It was too real to me at the time and I wasn't ready to experience what dad had gone through.

As I start to write this blog, it's hard for me to pull together my thoughts and emotions about this book. My heart aches as I read it and can only wish I had read it BEFORE Dad was diagnosed. It might have given me some more insight into what he was experiencing. I wasn't his main caregiver and lived his daily struggles, frustrations and issues through mom's daily frustrations, struggles, and issues.  Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's is not for the ill hearted. It is not for sissy's.  You must have the back bone of steel and the patience of Job.  I watched mom struggle through the entire sordid experience of dad being diagnosed to the wretched disease killing him (though most Alzheimer patients don't actually die from the disease but some other reason).

Still Alice is about a well-educated, well respected Harvard professor. Her life is teaching and researching. In her early 50's she's diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer's.  The book is written from her perspective as this disease takes a hold of her and changes her to be a person she doesn't even recognize.

So many times while reading her experiences through the book I could relate it back to dad and what he may have gone through. The forgetting where you are, what day it is, why you're leaving, what word you're looking to use, etc.  But what hit me the hardest is how much I wish I had been more present with Dad and more accepting of this disease.  It goes without saying that when a person you love and adore comes down with Alzheimer's that person eventually becomes someone you don't recognize - as much as they may not recognize you.  It was frustrating for me to witness, and I never took a second, often enough anyhow, to think about how frustrating it was for him.

My heart ached for Alice and her family as they struggled to come to grips with this disease.  Some of the things her children say to her, I said to dad. Some of the "he's just being lazy and not wanting to remember" feelings I had. I remember there were times Mom and I would discuss whether he's "faking" it or was it just a good day. After reading this book I totally understand that there were good days and bad days and as much as I felt and saw the good days, so did dad.  

The parts that were hardest to read was how her husband, the caregiver, started to treat her. Caregivers, often, get the raw end of the deal. They become under appreciated by the Alzheimer's patient and take the brunt of all the "abuse" brought on by Alzheimer's.  I felt bad for John, her husband, and yet felt like I wanted to slap him sometimes because of his lack of understand or caring for Alice.  Because I now saw from Alice's eyes and how it made her feel.  I John's actions and the way he came to grip (or it could be argued not coming to grip) with Alice and this disease were spot on.  Those of us who have walked in his shoes, or the shoes of his daughters, understand all too well the need, or want rather, to not accept the diagnosis and just brush it under the rug and maybe it'll go away. Then one day the rug is gone and you have to deal with it. And somehow you find the strength, God knows where, and you do.

I don't think that I'm alone in the "not understanding what they're going through" bucket. How could we? We still have all our faculties. We still can form sentences, remember dates, remember people, etc. Still, I wish I had been more patient with him and at least "try" to understand.  I know there are times when I walk into the kitchen to get something and can't remember for the life of me what it was. I feel the mildest of frustration. If that was my daily life, I'd go mad.

Of course hindsight being what it is, I see now that a lot of my negative interaction with dad was fear speaking. I was just waiting for the day when would he stop recognizing me -it  played constantly in my mind - and I dreaded it and feared it. What then? Would he still be dad? Who would he be to me? Would I love him anymore? Or any less? I didn't have the answers then, and am not sure I have any answers now. I have a vivid memory of leaving Arizona one Christmas, hugging dad and thinking, my dad, the man who raised me, is no longer here. His shell is, but he had long since left the building.  

There's a part of the book where Alice gives  a speech to a bunch of doctors, not as a doctor who treats Alzheimer's but as a person who has it. It moved me. It made me understand even more what Dad experienced. Give it a read. If I could ask anything of you readers, if you encounter someone with dementia or Alzheimer's give them patience and love.

"We, in the early stages of Alzheimer's, are not yet utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended period of lucidity. Yet we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our former lives. We feel like we are neither here nor there, like some crazy Dr. Seuss character in a bizarre land. It's a very lonely and frustrating place to be.

"I no longer work at Harvard. I no longer read and write research articles or books. My reality is completely different from what it was not long ago. And it is distorted. The neural pathways I use to try to understand what you are saying, what I' am thinking, and what is happening around me are gummed up with amyloid.  I struggle to find the words I want to say and often hear myself saying the wrong ones. I can't confidently judge spatial distance, which means I drop things and fall down a lot and can get lost two blocks from my home. And my short term memory is hanging on by a couple of frayed threads.

"I'm losing my yesterdays. If you ask me what I did yesterday, what happened, what I saw and felt and heard, I'd be hard pressed to give you details. I might guess a few things correctly. I'm an excellent guesser. But I don't really know. I don't remember yesterday or the yesterday before that.

"And I have no control over which yesterday's I keep and which ones get deleted. This disease will not be bargained with. I can't offer it the names of the US presidents in exchange for the names of my children. I can't give it the names of the state capitals and keep the memories of my husband.

"I often fear tomorrow. What if I wake up and don't know who my husband is? What if I don't know where I am or recognize myself in the mirror? When will I no longer be me? Is the part of my brain that's responsible for my unique 'me-ness' vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins, and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer's? I believe it is.

"Being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is like being branded with a scarlet A. This is now who I am, someone with dementia. This was how I would, for a time, define myself and how others continue to define me. But I am not what I say or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that.

"I am still an active participant in society. My brain no longer works well, but I use my ears for unconditional listening, my shoulders for crying on, and my arms for hugging others with dementia. I am not someone dying. I am someone living with Alzheimer's. I want to do that as well as I possibly can.

"Please don't look at our scarlet A's and write us off.  Look us in the eye, talk directly to us. Don't panic or take it personally if we make mistakes, because we will. We will repeat ourselves, we will misplace things, and we will get lost. We will forget your name and what you said two minutes ago. We will also try our hardest to compensate for and overcome our cognitive losses.

"My yesterday's are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for reach day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I'll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I'll forget it some tomorrow doesn't mean that I didn't live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn't mean that today didn't matter. "

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Brain Hurts

Exactly 2 months to the day I left my last job, I started a new job.

I know how this goes. I've been down this road a number of times - life as a contract worker.  This time I can't find anything really different in the situation other than to say I now work in a building and a team that is 99% men.

Case in point, I used the Women's Restroom (no idea why I capitalized that) 4 times today at varying intervals and never ONCE saw another woman in it. 4 our of the 5 stalls still had the seats up from presumably the cleaning crew. 

Still, I got up and managed to get myself out the door and to the building by 10am.  That will not be my normal working time, its just what fit in the new boss' schedule. The sun was out today so I drove top down as I determined the best route to the new building.

I now work in a "studio" building at Hotel CaliforniaSoft. The "studio" buildings are reserved for Xbox development, windows phone dev, and other entertainment type development. They aren't buildings the project manager has ever been in. So Studio X is my new home and in traditional Hotel CalifoniaSoft manner the layout appears to be designed by blind monks in Italy. Nothing makes sense. There is  no straight hallway in this building. There appears to be little "cubby" areas where a few offices reside - you wouldn't know they were there unless hypothetically you got lost coming back from the rarely used Woman's bathroom.

My first meeting was with the new boss L and a new co-worker G. The new boss laid out what I would be doing and provided me a nicely typed out "itinerary" of this new role.  It's all very exciting and I sat in this hard director's chair trying to appear like I knew what he was talking about, all the while wishing I was back at home sitting on the couch watching "I almost Got Away with It."

Such is the first day in any new job. There's new people to meet, new locations, new information and new acronyms. Oh man how Hotel CaliforniaSoft love their acronyms. I already have 20 on my quickly growing glossary I started at 10am.

Then it was off, down the hall, around the corner, down another hall to my new office. Oddly enough my new office (officemate included) has a window. It's rare, very rare, for contractors to have a window office and yet we got lucky. I don't have the story as to why yet, but I'm sure I'll wiggle it out of the new officemate.

The new officemate is a 20 something guy who's relatively new to his job too - 3 months new.  He'll be one of my main stakeholders in this project and from what I can tell, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy working with him. He's bright, he appears to shower, he didn't smell and he pronounced my last name correctly.

I then spent the remainder of the day reading.  Oh boy did I read. Naturally, nothing really found a home in my brain so I'll be re-reading tomorrow.  Still I found by the end of the day I felt more confident about this job than I had about the last.

So what is it I'm doing?

I'll be creating a data map for this team showing where all the data they receive from subscribers lives, what's being collected, and what, if any, audits are done with this data. Sounds easy enough, and I suspect that I may be a bit naïve about how "easy" this will be. There are "studio" sites all over the globe from whom I'll be tracking down this information. In some case, not many, we have contacts at this locals. In most we do not. So if herding cats, and finding a needle in a haystack sounds fun to you - this could have been your job.

I suspect this job will end by June 30th. The talk today was that I should be able to complete this task for the Xbox side of the entertainment house by the end of the fiscal year. Which means I'm done. There was some discussion about, depending on how successful this is, continuing on and doing this for Windows Phone and a few other areas this team is responsible for. So there is a "small" chance it'll be extended - we shall see. In any event, I'm planning as if it will end June 30th.

The ingrates who live with me (aka the demons/kittens) didn't even bother to greet me at the door when I returned tonight. In fact, for a moment as I climbed the stairs to the living room I thought maybe they had 1) killed each other or 2) got locked into a room or something (don't laugh - Linus locked himself into the bathroom the other day). As I crested the stairs to the living room, there they both were, still blinking lazily (is that a word?) as if I interrupted their nap. Good for nothings. Here I was all worried that they'd miss me, and from what I can tell...they did not. There's always tomorrow I suppose. Assuming I can find my way to the new office and back from the Woman's Restroom again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Photography Anxiety

In preparation for my BIG ADVENTURE I've been looking at photos of each port of call, the bulk of them of Rome.  So many beautiful things to photograph - so little time.  

And there in lies the issue.

It starts with a small flutter in my tummy.  And gradually grows into an ache in the back of my neck.  My brain gets a bit fuzzy and the fear and worry start to set it.  

It's an odd feeling for me and has taken me some months to figure out what it is. I'm so concerned and worried that I'll miss a photo or opportunity of a photo that my mouth goes dry and I can barely think straight.  

What the hell is this?
It's photography anxiety. 
Don't go to google and look it up, it won't be there. I've tried. It's only been through countless hours of journaling (thanks to GlobeJotting) that I've discovered what this is.

I know that this trip is likely a trip of a lifetime (although I'd love to think that I'll back to Rome again and spend some time - I'm throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain again just in case) and I think that feeling of not being able to return has me all shades of anxious. What if I don't get that one perfect shot? What if I miss something? What if… what if… what if…

I'm about to bare my soul here so be gentle with me.
I've come to realize a large part of why I like to travel is because of photography. I don't think that's unique in any way, I think that's a large part way a lot of photographers travel.  For me, its not always about wanting to experience a new culture. It's not to see something new, necessarily. It's to take pictures. To try to get that perfect shot that you can bring home and show people and they can be all "wow, what a great shot!"

I don't mean that in an egotistical way - I don't think. I know that my photography confidence - at least some small part - is boosted by the approval of others.  I never, hardly ever, look at my photos and think, "Wow, that's a good shot." I can only think of a handful where that's the case.  I have also come to realize that I don't think I'm alone in this. To some extent any photographer is waiting for appraisal about their photos. A least a little.

Here's the thing I've figured out. Photography is subjective. VERY subjective.  Asking how to take the "perfect" photo is likely a common question we photographers ask. If we could just learn to take that "perfect" photo our life would be complete  (dramatic I know, but that's kinda the feeling I have at times. Don't ask. It's one more thing for me to deep dive into - my inner censor won't let me go too deep on that one just yet.)

Because what is considered a "good" picture or "perfect" photo is, as I said, subjective. What I think is great varies drastically from what you think. A photograph can be exposed, composed and presented to exact standards based on what photography dictates and yet it can still not be perfect.  We all perceive the world in different ways. What's "blue" to me may not be "blue" to another. And what I forget above all when I think about the "perfect" photo is all our past experiences and our emotions play a large role in how we perceive photography.  Our emotional triggers cause us to react differently to images.

This doesn't help me too much with my anxiety, but it does help me put some things into perspective. First and foremost I need to relax, take a deep breath and just enjoy my trip.  Be prepared with the knowledge that I am going to miss something. We have a limited amount of time in each place, so yah I'm going to miss something. It's entirely likely that I'll be concentrating on not missing something and I'll miss something. Did ya follow that?

Second, I need to not see the sights through the camera lens. I've got so many examples of this that it warrants its own blog…later. I need to take in the sights with my eyes and put them delicately into my soul so that I can remember this trip for as long as my memory will allow (which is why I'll be blogging). I need to experience this trip. Live it. Feel it.

Finally, I need to put away the ego and learn to take photos for me - just for me. I'm not interested in selling my photos so they don't need to be perfect for everyone. Then need to be perfect for me. Just me.

Now, take a deep breath. Pack your camera bag. And let's do this.