Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Of all of the Italian towns we've ever visited, which do you think is the prettiest, I asked Bill as we were riding the bus home from Taormina, Sicily. Hard to say, he answered.

And it is hard to say. I love the way Montepulciano looks as you approach the town that sits haphazardly on the side of a Tuscan hill. Assisi's pink buildings fill you with a spiritual peace and serenity. And Vernazza – one of the towns in the Cinque Terre – just, well, takes your breath away.

But today we visited Taormina, which is a village in Sicily, not far from where the ship docked in Messina. And it just reminded me that there are many faces of Italy, and all of them are beautiful.
Our day in this beautiful Sicilian seaside village culminated our Mediterranean cruise. It couldn't have been a nicer port of call, or a nicer day.

At the last minute, we decided to take a tour bus to Taormina. The port town of Messina has been destroyed several times in its history – by earthquakes, tsunamis, and, most recently, World War II bombings. It has been rebuilt, but isn't particularly pretty or historic. However, Taormina is only about 35 miles away from the port. We elected to take a bus because, frankly, at this stage of our trip, it is nice to have someone else take care of getting us where we wanted to go. We could have walked to the train station from the ship, taken a short train ride to Taormina, and caught a cable car up to the town, but for a minimal cost, a bus would drop us off at the town gate. We chose the tour that simply got us to the town and back and allowed us to explore on our own.

Taormina is up on a hill that overlooks the Mediterranean. Taormina (and I presume all of Sicily) is warm and tropical, so there are beautiful flowers and tropical foliage such as palm trees all around. Taormina is a popular spot for tourists, so we got off the beaten path as soon as possible. We only had three hours to spend in Taormina. While others might want to shop, Bill and I wanted to eat Italian food and drink Italian wine.

We found a restaurant that had an outdoor patio that overlooked the sea. We ordered pizzas and a liter of Sicilian wine. We ordered in our rudimentary Italian, which seemed to throw the waiter a bit, since I'm sure he's used to Americans who don't speak any Italian (plus I know our Italian is horrible). After a bit, he came back to us and said, “I just wanted to make sure. Did you say a liter or a half liter of wine?” I'm afraid, Sir, we said a liter. We had three hours to kill, after all. Bill ordered a pizza with anchovies, capers, and olives. I ordered a pizza with hot pepper flakes, zucchini, and mussels. They were both very tasty. The house wine was one of our favorites – Nero D'Avola.

There was a table nearby of young Americans, and I overheard them tell the waiter that they had visited this same restaurant a number of years ago and it was their favorite restaurant in all of Italy. One of the girls specifically mentioned that she copied the salad and serves it to her friends back in the United States. When they got the salad, they commenced to ooh and ah. Curious by nature (as you know, it gets me in trouble), I went over and introduced myself and asked them what was so special about the salad. They all laughed and said there was really nothing particularly unique about the salad, but they just loved this restaurant and the salad just tasted so good to them. I told them that I knew just how they felt because there was a pastry in a Tuscan town called Certaldo that I have never been able to forget or recreate. It's funny how food can contribute to such good memories.

We got a notice night before last that there is a norovirus on the ship. Norovirus is a fancy word for stomach flu. While it's not a particularly serious illness, when an outbreak hits a cruise ship, it's very bad news. We are all in close quarters, and the illness can spread like wildfire. So we have noticed a significant increase in cleaning, and the staff is really encouraging everyone to wash their hands and use antibacterial lotion. Bill and I are being very careful, because getting sick in Rome, or being sick while flying back to Denver, would stink. Norovirus is one of a cruise ship's biggest nightmares.

We have one more day at sea, and then we will be in Rome. I may not have another chance to blog until we reach home since I don't know the status of internet access. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Navigator of the Seas

Monday was a day at sea, as we make our way from Alexandria to Messina, Italy. Last night we turned our clocks BACK, thereby regaining the hour we lost last week, and making us eight hours ahead of our friends and family in Denver.

We had a very quiet day. The only thing we did out of the ordinary was attend the final ice show. We had not yet seen the show on either of the cruises, and actually just sort of decided to attend at the last minute. We were very glad we did. The ice dancers are quite good, particularly if you consider they are on a very small ice rink and the rink rocks back and forth as the ship moves. The show involved lots of lifting and plenty of spinning. I told Bill that I didn't see any of the female ice dancers in the buffet line at lunch!

Tonight was the final formal night. We nearly decided not to go, but it was also the final (say it all together) LOBSTER NIGHT. So we drug out our dressy clothes one last time, and then put them put them away for good.

Today I'm going to tell you just a bit about our ship, including our stateroom that we have called home for the past 27 or so days.

We are on Deck 8, probably about midship. We overlook the Royal Promenade. We have occasionally, on these two cruises, talked about the benefits of a balcony stateroom. We think next time we might consider it. We would definitely want a balcony on a 7-day Caribbean cruise. One of the benefits of this room, especially on a long cruise, is that we can access WiFi in our cabin (because we overlook the Royal Promenade, which has access to WiFi). Balcony rooms don't have access to WiFi. Of course, WiFi is so expensive that we treat it like a box of good chocolates – a little bit at a time.

We have managed to live in this small space for nearly a month without killing each other. While fairly small, it's set up quite efficiently. There is enough room for a king-sized bed (that has a curved end so that you can walk around it) and a small sitting area.

And speaking of small spaces, consider the shower. Bill describes it as showering in a phone booth. As you can see from the picture, there is not much room. Shaving my legs involves more flexibility than the ice dancers! We have often said (and quite seriously, I might add) that we don't see how some of the people we have seen on this ship fit into the shower. Can you say sponge baths?

There is plenty of art displayed on this ship, which is apparently not true of all cruise ships. Furthermore, they change the art frequently. In fact, it is changed so frequently that it becomes confusing. At first, Bill and I would say, is that the same picture that was hanging over the stairway when we went down to dinner? We realized early on that we couldn't use the artwork as landmarks to know where we were at any given time, as the art is constantly changing.

When you enter the elevators, the day of the week is on the floor. This might sound funny, but you really do lose sense of time on a cruise ship. There have been many times on these two cruises when Bill has asked me, “What day of the week is it?” and I have had to answer, “I don't know; I haven't been in the elevator yet.” You think I'm kidding.

We have had the same stateroom attendant for the entire time we have been on the ship. He comes in every morning and cleans our room and changes our sheets and towels. He comes in again in the evening and turns down the bed. What am I going to do when I get home and have to make my own bed?

Michael, our room attendant, is from Costa Rica, and he is amused when Bill tries to speak to him in Spanish. The other day he asked Bill where he is learning his Spanish. I'm sure he was thinking, if you are paying for lessons, get your money back. I'm also certain he thinks we are hillbillies because we wash out our underwear and hang them in the bathroom. But he is always very friendly. Today I asked him which way to turn to get down to Studio B. He laughed when I told him that after all this time, I still didn't know how to get places. “Maybe you'll know by time you leave the ship,” he said.

Unfortunately, this is the sad truth: after nearly 27 days on this ship, I still don't know where things are. I have trained myself to know which direction to turn as I come out of the room for the important things: our morning coffee which Bill or I bring up daily from the Royal Promenade, the dining room where we eat our evening meal, and the Windjammer (which is the big buffet on Deck 11). But as for such things as the Metropolitan Theater or Studio B where many of the programs are held (and houses the ice rink), I have to look at a map each and every time. I still don't know what's in the front of the ship and what's in the back. So, Michael, I don't think I'll know by time I leave the ship.

I keep talking about the Royal Promenade. The Promenade is on Deck 5, and it is like Main Street on this floating city. There are a number of bars and stores, and, of course, the Royal Promenade Cafe. This cafe always has coffee and hot water for tea and is the social center of the ship. There are pastries in the morning, scones and sweet breads in the afternoon, and little sandwiches from about 10 a.m. on. And always cookies. The Royal Promenade is where you head if at 3 o'clock in the morning you crave some sort of sandwich or goodie. Time for true confessions: The last thing Bill and I do every night before we come up to our room is stop at the Royal Promenade Cafe and get a cookie.

No cookies before bed when we get back home.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Egyptian Butchers and Disco Balls

Our cruise ship stayed docked two nights in Alexandria. I don't think spending two nights in a port is a particularly common practice. But virtually everyone on this ship (and I assume any ship that stops in Alexandria) wants to visit Cairo. It's three hours each way, plus the time it takes to visit the Giza/Cairo sites. We didn't get back last night until 9:30. So the solution is to spend two days in this port.

Some people took tours of Alexandria today. We chose not to do so. Instead, we slept in a bit, and relaxed this morning. After lunch, we walked over the bridge, through the gate, and into the city of Alexandria. Oh my.

I consider Bill and myself to be fairly competent travelers. We have visited big cities throughout Europe and the United States, and have always remained nonplussed. I was simply not prepared for my visit into Alexandria. It was a very quick visit.

It was easy to get off the ship. We had no trouble with the Egyptian police. We walked with ease past the line of persistent vendors. And we enjoyed the walk over the bridge to the port exit.
But then – we were in Alexandria! It started immediately. We were surrounded by Egyptians wanting to take us on tours, wanting us to ride in their taxi, wanting us to buy their goods. They were in our face. They wouldn't listen to no. They surrounded us. They touched us. We kept walking and saying no, thank you. I finally looked at one man and literally shouted “NO” at him. He finally gave up.

Once outside the port gate, we had to walk across a traffic circle. We went near where an Egyptian policeman was directing traffic. Now, that's a laugh. We watched him raise his hand to stop traffic, and stepped out into the street. Cars kept coming. That really didn't astound us. That happened in Italy as well. The difference is, in Italy, the cars won't hit you. They may be assertive, but if a pedestrian is in the street, they will stop before they hit you. I nearly got hit by a car, because the driver had absolutely no intention of stopping, despite the policeman's raised hand. I jumped back and saved myself from being hit.

Once we were across the street, we began to walk down a city block, past stores. The city, at least the part of the city near the port, is filthy. It is, without a doubt, the dirtiest city I have ever seen. Even the store windows were dirty. The shops are very tiny, and it seems like what they sell is mostly used goods. But it looks like they have never cleaned their windows or swept their floors.

Much to my horror, I saw a man selling meat out on the street. He had fresh meat set out on a table. There was no refrigeration and no cover over the meat. It just sat out in the hot air, while the man sat on the ground, carving more meat on a towel lying on the sidewalk.

Bill and I got to the end of the block, turned around, and headed back to the ship.

Now, we only saw this small area of the city. There is undoubtedly a part of Alexandria that is not filthy, and where people are not selling rancid meat on the street. You can see from this picture that some of the city is very picturesque. Not the part that we visited, unfortunately.
We lucked out when we got back to the traffic circle. A bus was blocking the street, so we were able to cross easily.

Tonight, alas, was once again Disco Night on the Navigator of the Seas. Gosh, it seems like I just finished listening to YMCA underneath a twirling disco ball. But it is a new cruise, and apparently every cruise features disco night. Woe betide anyone who is doing a back-to-back cruise on the same ship and doesn't like disco music.

The difference this time was the audience. On the first cruise, it was largely Americans who can't get enough of the Village People and the BeeGees. There's something about I Feel Like Dancing that just gets Americans of any age clapping their hands and smiling.

But this cruise, as I have mentioned before, is largely Europeans and Asians, with some Americans. So poor Paul-the-Cruise-Director really had a hard time getting the audience into the 70s mood. Well, I take that back. There was a large group of middle-aged Asians (from an Asian country, not American) who were dancing along. Unfortunately not with much rhythm. But they enjoyed singing “that's the way (uh huh uh huh) I like it (uh huh uh huh). However, it was comical to look out into the crowd and see the somber Europeans watching without even a semblance of a smile.

But, to be fair, I must admit that when YMCA came on, it got most people into the mood. The Asians were trying to form the letters with their hands, but apparently don't know the American alphabet. Oh well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

There's No Denial – We Saw da Nile

I think that there will be many times in the rest of my life when I will stop what I'm doing and just think to myself, “I can't believe I saw the pyramids.” It's really quite beyond imagination.

It was a very long day. The ship docked in Alexandria, and Cairo is a three-hour bus ride from Alexandria. (And I will have plenty more to say about the bus drive later.) We were on the road shortly after 8 (after having our passports checked several times and watching the bus driver and our guide deal with the port security guards). It took awhile to get out of Alexandria, as it is a very large city. It was Saturday, and fairly early in the morning, but the (admittedly minuscule) part of the city we saw as we drove out of town looked busy, dirty, and old.

I guess we must have been driving on one of the main highways. It will be difficult for me to describe what we saw as we left Alexandria, heading toward Cairo. First of all, there were people along the side of the road – many, many people (mostly men, but some women). I'm not sure if they were waiting for a bus or if they were hitchhiking, or if that's how they spent their day. Some of the men were in regular western-style clothing, and some wore long robes – brown or white.

We saw many men and children driving little carts along the side of the road being pulled by donkeys. Please understand, these weren't some kind of quaint tourist attraction; these were actual people, clearly very poor, whose mode of travel was by donkey cart. Some actually sat astride the donkey.

We drove by small trucks, all badly beaten up, hauling a variety of farm vegetables and livestock. These trucks often also had people sitting in the back of the truck, alongside the vegetables or the livestock. They were sitting on the side of the truck, with their feet hanging over the edge. Remember, this is on a highway.

Some of the trucks hauled only people, men and women. The trucks were completely full of these farm workers. It was very hot, though not as hot as it would be in June or July I'm sure. Many of the women were completely covered with their robes and head coverings.
As we drove, I tried to imagine how these people who were clearly so, so poor, saw western tourists. Our wealth must be beyond their comprehension. At one point I leaned over to Bill and said, “This could be 500 years ago.”

As we rode the three hours to Cairo, our tour guide, Nevine, gave us history, sociology, and geography lessons. Nevine, a 30-something woman who spoke perfect English, told us she had never left Alexandria (except for these tours), and had been schooled by Franciscans. She clearly learned strict discipline from the nuns because the first words out of her mouth were, “For the next three hours, you are NOT allowed to sleep. I will be telling you about Egypt, and I will be asking questions to make sure you're listening.”

And she was serious. If someone would appear to be nodding off, she would walk back to them and wake them up. She really did ask us questions to make sure we were listening. I think she felt that most of us would never have the opportunity to be back to Egypt and we should make sure we learn about her country, about which she was obviously proud.

I won't go into the history and geography lesson, but it was interesting for me to hear that she believed that the Africans didn't particularly accept them as being African (though Egypt is on the African continent) and the Arabian countries didn't particularly accept them either. “We are just Egyptian,” she said. Nevine was earning an advanced degree in Egyptology, and she really knew her stuff. We couldn't have had a better guide, even if she was strict.

She wore a scarf that completely covered her head, and told us girls began covering their heads when they were around 11 years old. Women only show their faces and their hands. Otherwise they are covered with a color that won't draw any attention. She was unmarried, and told us that until one marries – whether male or female – one lives with one's parents. And after marriage, couples generally live close to the parents of the woman so that the maternal grandmother can help care for the children. Nevine told us most Egyptian women work outside the home.

Our first stop was the pyramids. When you first see them, they simply take your breath away. They are absolutely magnificent. And as you get closer, it is astounding to think they were built by human hands, and that the pyramids are simply burial tombs (though it seems inappropriate to have the words simply and pyramids in the same sentence).

All around the pyramids, there is commerce in action – camel rides, vendors, people wanting to take your picture for a fee. Nevine had advised us how to handle it all, and we really didn't have any problems. It's true you must say no over and over again, but I never felt in danger.

The camels are colorful and smelly. Not only are they being offered for tourists to ride, but security guards ride them as well. By the way, when I use the words “security guard,” you mustn't picture an overweight man with his name embroidered on a shirt, armed with only a billy club. We're talking AK-47s. No smiling. Eyes always watching. No making friendly chit-chat with tourists. Tourism is serious business in Egypt. They work very hard to keep it safe.

After spending a bit of time at the pyramids, we next visited the Sphinx. Everyone has seen pictures of this extraordinary Wonder of the Ancient World. In reality, it is beyond description. So I won't try to describe it. I am blessed to have seen it.

We stopped quickly at a store where they showed us how they make paper out of papyrus, and then drove over the Nile River into Cairo (the pyramids are actually in Giza). Wow. The Nile River. Me. This girl from Columbus, Nebraska, is driving over the Nile River.
Our lunch, disappointedly, was at the Hard Rock Cafe. They provided us with a buffet of typical Egyptian food that was really not very good. Personally, I would have preferred stopping at a local place where they make good typical Egyptian food, or eating a hamburger at Hard Rock.

The Hard Rock, however, sits right on the Nile, and we were able to do something wonderful following lunch. We were able to ride a felucca on the Nile River. A felucca is a sailboat that they have used since ancient times. It was very fun to watch our sailor manage the boat as we sailed on the Nile. I can't say that often enough. I sailed in a boat on the Nile River.

Following that experience, we stopped at the Cairo Egyptian Museum which, as you can imagine, holds a tremendous amount of Egyptian artifacts. For example, it has all of the items they found in King Tut's burial chamber. No photos allowed.

It was 6:30 by time we left the museum to head back to the ship. The sun set sometime around 7:45. It was a beautiful sunset.

Now I must tell you about our bus ride.

To begin with, I must apologize. I have spent entirely too much time telling you how bad the drivers are in Italy. Italian drivers go fast, and they don't consider stoplights mandatory. Nevertheless, there is a semblance of order to their highways. They drive on the right, pass on the left, and then get back in the right lane.

Now, I want you to imagine a three lane highway, but imagine that there are no dividing lines. Try to think about how people would drive if they didn't have lanes. Picture I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins with no lanes or order. You are beginning, perhaps, to get a picture of what driving in Egypt is like.

Now, for the most part, the highway have lane dividing lines. But they simply don't matter. Drivers drive with no order. They pass on any side. They disregard the lanes completely. At times, there might be four cars across. And as you are picturing this, remember those donkey carts on the side of the road, and the people milling beside the highway. By the way, those milling people are likely, at any point, to run across the highway, darting between cars. This is, remember, a highway, not a city street.

I mentioned that I watched the sun set. As the sky darkened, Bill pointed out that cars were not turning on their lights. As it grew darker and darker, a few turned on running lights, but many still drove with no lights at all. And when the sun had completely set and the sky was absolutely dark, the somber fact hit us – probably 20 to 30 percent of the cars were operating with no lights whatsoever.

Nothing had changed. Cars were still passing each other any which way. There were still donkey carts on the side of the road. People were standing beside the highway and many were still darting across the now-dark road between cars. It was one of the most amazing things we have ever seen. Perhaps it was our own fault because we chose to sit in the very front of the bus where we had a totally unobstructed view of the chaos. Bill, who rarely gets unnerved about travel-related oddities, was completely shocked, and said so. It occurred to us that, even in the prime of our lives, we would have been unable to drive in Egypt.

My day in Cairo is one I will never forget.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Paul's Real Letter to Ephesians

If I had been St. Paul writing my letter to the Ephesians, I would have started it by saying, “Dear Brothers and Sisters, good luck keeping those souvenir shop vendors from trying to sell you Roman coins and fake Rolex watches.”

Seriously, Folks. These guys don't know the meaning of the word no. And we haven't even been to Egypt yet where the street vendors are supposed to be worse.

But what a great day we had overall. Through a website called (which connects cruisers to others on their same cruise and allows them to share ideas, etc), Bill had gotten us on a private tour of Ephesus. There were 25 of us, and the person putting together the cruise had gotten us a very knowledgeable tour guide (he actually had been an archaeologist and was retired from that career). We got started very early – meeting at 7:30 and on the road by 8.

Our first stop was at the home believed to be where the apostle John and the Virgin Mary had lived after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Remember in John's gospel, Jesus handed over his mother to the care of his beloved friend John (Mother, behold your son; John, behold your mother). Tradition holds that John and Mary went to Ephesus. When things became a bit too hairy and unsafe, they moved to a house in the hills above Ephesus. It is believed that Mary's human life ended in Ephesus (Catholics believe she was assumed body and soul into heaven). John eventually died a natural death in Ephesus, and is buried near there.

Most of the structure that sits at the site is not original, although the foundation is from the original house. The home is very small, and where the kitchen would have been is an altar with a bronze statue of Mary. The tour moves people in a line through the home and out the other side, where there is a picture of the Blessed Mother with all of the citations from the Koran written below (and there are many references to Mary in the Koran).

After the tour, you pass by the first of very many souvenir shops that we will see throughout the day. Bill had predicted that it would be “Mary's House and Gift Shop,” but in fact, it should have been “Mary's House, Gift Shop, Snack Bar, and Internet Cafe.” But at least the souvenir hawkers didn't bug us much there. And the bathrooms were clean and had the trifecta (toilet seats, toilet paper, and soap!). My single purchase was a scarf in case we went into a mosque (which we didn't). The vendor told me it was cashmere but since it was only 5 Euros, I'm thinking perhaps he wasn't telling me the truth.

Following the visit to the house of Mary, we went to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. It was fascinating to see where people lived thousands of years BC. The city had, at one time, been home for 240,000 (not including slaves), and they were surprisingly advanced, with steam heat and rudimentary indoor plumbing. We saw their shopping area, examples of where they lived, a magnificent library, the public latrines (to which the rich people sent their slaves to warm up prior to their own visit), and the Grand Theater where the Ephesians watched gladiators, plays, and heard St. Paul make his case for Christianity. The theater held 24,000.

After seeing Ephesus, we ran into our first commercial event. Our next stop was to a Turkish carpet store. Our guess is that tour guides in Turkey get paid by store owners for bringing a busload of captive American tourists to see their presentation and get the sales pitch. Should anyone purchase a rug, they probably get a cut.

I must say it was interesting to see the women weaving the rugs by hand. The craftsmanship was amazing. The carpets were absolutely gorgeous with vivid colors, but quite expensive. I know that you can work out fabulous deals, but it was still above my price range. I have a house in Mesa to pay for! But let me tell you, it was not because the salesman didn't try. Usually if you don't make eye contact with a sales clerk, you're safe. Not in Turkey. Here was the best deal that one of our fellow tourists was offered: He lives in Canada and his wife isn't with him. The salesman said if he would put a $500 deposit on the carpet, the salesman would fly with him to Canada, bringing the carpet with him. If his wife didn't like the carpet, he would give him the deposit back. The traveler didn't accept the offer. We did get a beverage out of it. (Let me just tell you that there is a reason you don't hear a lot about Turkish wine. Still, it was fun to taste it.)

Following the visit to the carpet store, we saw the Church of St. John. The church is actually in ruins as well, but we were able to see the place where John is buried. And we were able to get a good idea of what the church looked like in its day.

After that visit, we were taken to Commercial Opportunity #2 – a leather store. The leather they make is gorgeous. It seriously feels like silk. We saw a fashion show, and were given another Turkish beverage – apple tea. That stop was actually fairly lucrative for our tour guide as several of the people purchased leather coats. I'm sure they got good deals. We tried to simply look at some of the jackets, but a salesman followed us around so closely that it gave me the creeps.

By this time it was 4 o'clock, and we were all very tired. So our tour guide took us back to the ship, with a quick stop to see the location of the temple of the Goddess Artemis (which was the goddess that St. Paul worked so hard to get people to give up for Christianity). In its day, the temple had apparently been enormous. All that is left is one column.

This was the stop that produced the most aggressive shop vendors. They stand in your way. They touch you. They ask you again and again if you want to buy this genuine ancient artifact for a euro. They accept American dollars. They accept Euros. I think they might have accepted Monopoly money. You have to just keep walking. But one store did advertise “Genuine Fake Watches.” Perhaps this was the only truthful vendor.

I was disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to try some local Turkish food. I would rather have tried falafel and foregone the leather and carpet stores. Sigh.

Tomorrow is a sea day, and we are both very glad. Everyone on the ship seemed tired tonight at dinner.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greek Island Day

Our ship was scheduled to arrive at the Greek Island of Rhodes at 10 o'clock this morning. So I set a wake-up call for 8:30. I quietly dressed and went to the gym early, leaving Bill to sleep a bit longer. Much to my surprise, the vista out of the windows of the gym was magnificent! Our ship had docked early, and I was looking at the prettiest of towns jutting up from the Mediterranean Ocean.

It was a sight for sore eyes after the confusion and noise of yesterday in Athens. The island really does sparkle in the sunlight, and the skies were as blue as the Greek flag. It was one of the prettiest things I've ever seen in my travels to Europe.

After my exercise, Bill and I did our few errands and were off the ship by 10:30. Unlike yesterday, Rhodes City is just a very short walk from where the ships dock, so it was easy to get on and off the ship. No need for us to take a tour bus, or anything else, to get us where we wanted to go. There were a few people taking tours, but most everyone was doing what we were doing – walking to the old town center to shop and enjoy the tavernas.

We did what we like doing most – we quickly got off the beaten path so that we could see the back streets of the old town. We had an early lunch at a cafe that was tucked away from the more commercial area of town. Then we wandered and looked at the locals, the flowers, the churches and the mosques.

Bill hates shopping more than any other human being I know. I kept telling him that the ship was so close that he could go back and I could shop at my leisure. At first he said no, that he would prefer to stay with me. But I would go into a store, he would quickly get bored. We finally went into a wine store where he bought a couple of very nice cigars. At last, I was able to convince him to go back to the ship.

Finally! I was free from that person who ardently hates shopping. I was in a lovely Greek town that was full of things to buy and vendors eager, if not frantic, to sell me things. So I picked out a few things in the first shop I went into, with help from a friendly Greek sales clerk. I get to the counter to pay and suddenly I remember that I had absolutely NO MONEY. I had given all of my money and my credit cards to Bill to carry when we were in Naples, and he had never given them back. I seriously thought the sales clerk was going to weep.

I walked back to the ship and still had a couple of hours to spare before we had to be back on board. I gathered my money and my credit cards and was back shopping in no time.
We had a full table again tonight at dinner, and it was fun to hear about everyone's shopping adventures. One couple, who come from Toronto and are on their first cruise, actually bought a carpet that they are having sent to their home in Canada. No one could compete with that.
Everyone is excited for their next couple of port stops. One of our table mates said that seeing the pyramids was on his “bucket list.” The couple from Canada plan on riding camels when in Egypt. I can't say that is particularly on MY bucket list.

We meet up with the people taking our tour into Ephesus very early tomorrow, so we are having a early turn-in. We did see a very beautiful sunset from the deck this evening.

It Was All Greek to Me

Well, the Greeks sure caused a lot of consternation on a cruise ship or two because of their uncertain economic and political conditions.

In the end, after standing in a line for over an hour yesterday morning, Bill and I got on a short afternoon bus tour that allowed us to see some of the major sights in Athens. It was the only thing available, and that was only because many people just got too nervous or ticked off to go into the city and turned in their tickets.

The port where the ship docks is way too far from Athens to walk, and if, when, and who was striking was never made clear (through no fault of Royal Caribbean; I don't think anyone knew). We had been told that the metro stations and city buses would be running before 11 and after 5, but I was just too nervous to believe that. It had all been too fluid throughout the past few days. And if they weren't striking, they were demonstrating. At one point during our tour, they told us we would not be able to drive through the modern Athens City Center because it was closed (I assume due to demonstrations). About 10 minutes later, our tour guide received a phone call telling her that we were able to drive through the center of Athens. Drive fast before it changes again.

Having said all of that, it was a most interesting afternoon. Athens is where the large majority of Greeks live. It is pretty in a big-city sort of way. The buildings crawl up the side of the hill and the Parthenon sits like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae – you can see it from very far away.

We drove to an area called the Plaka, which is the historical city center. It includes several streets that house shops and tavernas offering typical Greek food (well, typical for tourists at any rate). They freed us from the bus, and we had an hour-and-a-half to wander around a bit. While others shopped, Bill and I found a taverna and ordered gyros (what else?) and some white Greek house wine. It was good, and we enjoyed watching the people shop around us.

I'm pretty sure that the street on which the taverna was located was supposed to be a pedestrian street, but at one point, a UPS truck that literally took up the entire street (people were diving to the sidewalks) slowly drove down the street, with its sides touching the sidewalks because the street was so narrow. But, it was no wonder. The traffic around the city was absolutely crazy. I'm not sure if it is always that bad or if it was nuttier because of the political situation that day. I suspect the former. The UPS truck driver was likely looking for a quicker way to his destination. But, as can be expected in big cities, several others (including the inevitable scooters) followed suit. So the wacky parade went on for some time. We just sipped our wine and watched in wonder.

The entertainment last night was a comedian who was, unfortunately, not very funny. His material was very old. He was making jokes about Prince Charles leaving Princess Di for a homlier woman. Seriously? Didn't that happen a couple of decades ago? But the funny thing was that there was a couple sitting behind us who was apparently from Spain or Mexico. He spoke and understood English, but she didn't. So he was interpreting the bits for her. So Mr. Comedian would make his joke and then there would be the translation behind us. Furthermore, the man sitting to my left apparently couldn't hear well, so after each joke he would ask his wife, “What?” and she would repeat the joke loudly in his ear. It was a very surreal experience.

Our next stop is Rhodes, which is a lovely Greek Island. I anticipate less drama.