Monday, July 30, 2007

Lost Bag Found!!

I can't believe it! Our lost bag - that contained a majority of the gifts we bought while on our cruise - was found! We received the following message this morning from American Airlines:

Bag Tag Number(s): DCA SN 424221 and DCA SN 424222 have arrived and have been scheduled for pickup by the delivery service on Jul 28 at 01:22 PM local time. It will be delivered to the address you provided within approximately 6 hours* of pickup time.

Now, we'll have to see if everything is still in the bag! I'll let you know!

At The Beach




On Monday, a day before my dreaded root canal, I met my Dad at my sister Claudine's house to drop off the girls. I was worried that if I was on painkillers that I wouldn't be able to properly care for Josie and that Maddie would be left to fend for herself. Mom & Dad were gracious enough to help out and take the girls to their place at the beach while I had my dental work done.

The dental work went fine, but it was a very long appointment. Two and a half hours of having your mouth open! YuK. Anyway, I did take the painkillers once I was finished on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning I only had a dull ache in my jaw so I decided to switch to Motrin. Thursday, I drove down to my parents place to get the girls. As luck would have it, my older sister, Sue was visiting Mom & Dad. I got to see my nephews for the first time since February! And yes, they both seemed to have grown another few inches since then!

Josie loves Zack & Liam. Maddie was thankful to have the company of both the boys given that they all enjoy boogie boarding and being in the ocean. On Friday, long time friends of Mom & Dad's - Pete and Donna - treated the kids to miniature golf and then Pop treated them to a few hours at Thunder Lagoon, the local waterpark. Needless to say, all the kids were happy and loved every minute they spent at their Grandparents house.

Maddie went home with Aunt Sue, Zack and Liam to spend a few days in Philadelphia. Josie & I drove home after dinner on Saturday and made the drive in record time. 3 hours - door to door!!! Excellent ride! Anyway, we're home now. Eating our shore tomatoes and sweet corn. I'll pick up Maddie in Philly on Thursday and I'll get to see Aunt Sue's new house! Enjoy the beach photos!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Finally, A Pigtail!



I've been waiting 1 year, 5 months and 2 days to get Josie's hair into a pigtail! Athough the overall effect is that of a Pebbles Ponytail, I'm going to take what I can get and finally use the bows I've waited so long to use!! Perhaps this will finally stop folks from asking me if she's a boy!



Friday, July 20, 2007

Trip Update and Back Home

Naples & Home 7/20/07 11:42 AM


Above is the link for the slideshow for some of the photos we took in Naples, our last stop on the cruise.

The lousy intermet connection on board our ship was the talk of the town, or at least the talk of those who had shelled out 33 – 50 cents a minute to check email or post a message on their blogs. It took me 28 minutes to cut and paste an entry on this blog last week. Frustrating, at the least.

Anyway, what was more frustrating was learning on Saturday evening that our trip to Athens on Sunday would be marred due to a strike. The Acropolis was closed due to a strike by the guards and ticket takers at this historic site. Can you imagine coming all the way to Athens and not being able to see the Acropolis?!?!

We took the metro from the port town of Piraeus into Athens. Instead of stopping at the Acropolis station we stopped at the one closest to the ancient Agora. We walked through this amazing site and up the winding paths to the base of the Acropolis. We visited the Church of the Metamorphosis, which is next to the Theater of Dionysus. We continued through the neighborhood surrounding the base of the Acropolis and onto the Acropoli Metro stop, which contains some of the statues and other artifacts found at the Acropolis site. The metro stop is a small museum in and of itself. We headed back to the ship a lot earlier than we intended, but happy that we did get to see a few of the sights.

In addition to the disappointment of missing the Acropolis, I continued my ‘vacation injury’ tradition with not one, but two significant medical events. While visiting the Pyramids, I had the misfortune of tripping over one of the deteriorating concrete pathways/platforms. I smashed my 4th toe (the one next to the pinky toe) on my left foot. The amount of blood generated by this mishap was impressive, but nothing compared to lovely bluish black color said toe turned the next morning. There was no time to focus on the pain, however, because that same morning I awoke with the right side of my face swollen – from below my eye socket to my jaw line. It seems I chipped a tooth earlier in the week and had an abscess form. The pain was unbearable. The ships doctor was able to prescribe 500mg of amoxicillin three times a day and Tylenol 3 – also three times a day. I have sent out only one email during this cruise and it was to my dear friend, Marty, asking her to make me an emergency dentist appointment the day after our return. ‘Snaps’ for Marty for getting me an 11AM appointment on Friday morning.

All of this did not dampen my enthusiasm for our last port call in Naples. James took Leah & Maddie down to Pompeii via the local train. Josie and I toured the Castle in the harbour. I'm sorry that I don't have the exact names of the places and works of art - they are still tucked away in one of our suitcases.
Today's post...
The trip home was trying and not without its drama - but we all arrived in one piece - tired and happy to see our dogs and our own beds for the first time in 3 weeks. We did arrive a bit lighter - our biggest suitcase never made it out of Rome from what we can tell. Of course, it was the suitcase that contained most of our gifts. We are hoping it is located today. It was well marked with luggage tags, etc. So, we'll be hoping for a good outcome on that.

I have spent most of this morning getting laundry done and unpacking. I am also re-packing Leah's suitcase as she will return to Michigan tomorrow morning. I did get to see my dentist this morning too. Seems I have a cracked tooth that will require a root canal and crown. That joyous event is scheduled for Tuesday morning. Say a prayer for me - I hate pain and told my dentist that I donated the majority of my pain tolerance during childbirth. Make sure the drugs are strong or just knock me out... It's the recovery that is the most painful anyway, so who am I kidding? Next week is not going to be a good one.

We had a fabulous time and I'm so grateful for my husband's hard work that made it possible. We won't be taking any big vacations for another couple of years, so this one was really special.

I'm still working on uploading all the photos from our port calls, I should have that done in the next day or two so stop back to check them out!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Egypt

We’re at sea again, having completed our one-day visit to Egypt. What a day it was! Our convoy of tour buses left the port of Alexandria at 8AM yesterday with a military and police escort. We had an armed guard on our bus – who escorted our group to every site – making sure the vendors didn’t get too aggressive with anyone. It was his misfortune to have a group that included 4 beautiful teenaged girls He was, literally, holding back groups of young men from the girls.

James and I seriously entertained the offer of 2 million camels for Madeleine. She was excited and quite proud to get the high bid, until we told her she would have to live in Egypt while we got to spend the money (camels fetch about $10, 000 each) Leah’s parents will be proud to learn that we turned down the 1 million camel offer on their behalf. Leah was also quite taken aback to learn that she received the lower bid because she is brunette. Apparently, true blondes are a valuable commodity. Given that both offers were likely an invitation to white slavery, I’m glad that we are able to laugh about them rather than being in the position to have to seriously consider them.

The guard on our bus asked me if all three of the girls were my daughters. I explained that Leah was a friend of Maddie’s but that we considered her one of our family – so only two of the girls were actually mine. He then asked, “What’s the matter with your husband? Is he a weak man?” Why no sons?” I laughed. I told him it took a far stronger man to raise a daughter – just look at the mayhem our Maddie & Leah had caused that afternoon! He laughed and agreed – he has a 6 –year- old daughter who he said had made him “her slave”. I think that’s the Egyptian equivalent of having Dad wrapped around your finger!

Our visits to Cairo, Giza, Memphis & Saakkara were just amazing. There was limited time, but during the 1.5-hour bus ride from Alexandria to Giza our guide, Sherri, gave us an incredible history lesson. I found some of the facts she presented just amazing. I had no idea that 2/3 of the Egyptian workforce was dependant on tourism. After 9/11 Egypt took a huge hit economically. Tourism to the region basically stopped dead. It forced the unemployment rate from 5% up to 18%!

Anyway, seeing the Pyramids was one of those “chills down your spine” moments. There was little time to take it all in. Then again, seeing the sphinx with the pyramids behind it was awesome. It played out like a dream – until a toothless guy riding a camel makes the poor animal bow down in front of you saying “Take a picture, Take a picture!” Then, of course, you are supposed to take a picture and pay him.

We visited the step pyramid in Saakkara and then the museum of Memphis – which had original treasures from what was once the most beautiful capital city in the world. Our last stop was at the Papyrus Institute, to see how paper was made from these abundant reeds. This was one day where shopping was not the first thing discussed but it was the last. We had 15 minutes to take a look around and then hop back on the bus and make the return drive to the ship. James was happy about that! We did manage to get great gifts for the nieces & nephews.

We saw rampant poverty in Egypt. However, every person we came into contact with was kind, helpful and friendly. People would wave from cars on the highways and from the streets. It was also very, very, dirty. Again, I don’t know if I was being judgmental – certainly you can’t expect to see spacious lawns and tree lined streets in the middle of the desert.

The seas are rough today as we head to Athens. Looks like a day of entertaining Josie indoors – the wind is really kickin’! 3 foot swells on the pool!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cyprus

Entry written on Thursday - not able to be posted until 10:38PM Friday (Egypt Time)


It’s 7:30 AM here at sea. Yesterday, we visited Cyprus and today we are cruising toward Alexandria, Egypt. A day at sea used to be quite enjoyable for us – laying in the sun by the pool, attending lectures or playing bingo. With Josie, these things are impossible – she is such an inquisitive and active girl… we spend our days answering her questions and trying to meet her demands. She loves being at the pool and knows most of the kids her age that swim in the shallow end.

Cyprus was very interesting. It is a very unique island with beautiful beaches, an arid interior toward the North and East and beautiful, lush forests on the Western edge. Of course, this island has been separated since 1974. The Turks rule North Cyprus and the Greeks rule the Southern portion. The island is at peace though.

Our intent was to rent a car and tour the island. Hertz quoted a reasonable rate on the Internet for a 1-day rental in Cyprus. But, when we arrived we found that they do not permit one-day rentals…Huh?

We ended up hiring a taxi for a 3-hour tour. (beginning to sound familiar?!) I had done a bit of research and knew that we wanted to visit a few monasteries, a beach and some lace producing villages. Our driver, Nick, seemed amazed that I knew what highways I wanted to take and exactly what villages to visit.

Turns out that first ‘monastery’ we visited was actually what we in the States would call a ‘convent’. It was inhabited by nuns covered head to toe in black with nary a monk in sight. We visited the ornately decorated chapel, bought a jar of their ‘monastery-produced’ orange marmalade and we were on our way to the next village.

We visited the village of Leftkara, famous for making lace from a design drawn by Leonardo Di Vinci when he visited the island The workmanship is amazing – it takes 6-8 women nearly 6 months to complete a standard sized tablecloth. The prices reflect this labor- intensive effort. The first tablecloth I was shown was exquisite – I asked, “How much? The answer? “1,400. I didn’t even bother to ask what currency she was quoting.

We continued to look around and I did find a set of silver embroidered wine glasses – hard to explain, but I will post a photo of them once I reach a destination with decent bandwidth. I have never seen anything like them. As any friend of mine will tell you, I am NOT a collector. I don’t have knick-knacks. But, these glasses were such things of beauty that even James said, “Get them”.

We left that village and headed for the coast – Nick had recommended a seaside fish restaurant for lunch where the girls could also go for a swim. Nick and Mario (the owner of the restaurant) are old buddies and both promised us a meal that would never be forgotten. A half hour later, our table was crowded with salad, olives, bread, tsaski sauce, grilled fish, fried calamari and a few more things I didn’t know the name of - but tasted great! Nick joined us for our meal and everyone left the table full and happy.

Josie was getting a bit cranky so we decided to head back to town. Nick had been our guide for about 5 hours and quoted us a fair price for the day. Nick’s quote had been in EUROS. It was not until we were headed home that we realized our purchases in Leftkara had been in CYPRIOT POUNDS. We are not careless people, especially when it comes to money. But I believe we were screwed. No matter how well you negotiate, (and we’ve gotten pretty good at it) there’s no getting around the fact that the Cypriot pound costs roughly $2. So, if your receipt says 100 pounds , your credit card statement will say $200. We had the euros down cold but were totally ignorant of the lousy exchange rate in Cyprus. This made Cyprus our most expensive stop. We’re pretty sure that we won’t have any big purchases during our remaining stops, so we’ll be hyper-vigilant from here on in.

We’re all very excited to be going to Egypt tomorrow. It’s the highlight of our trip The internet service on board is terrible. They seem to have serious bandwidth issues. There are lots of complaints. As an example: last night when I posted my blog entry – I had composed it off line on Word, copied and just pasted the entry onto the Blogger template for New Posts. It took a total of 28 minutes to do so – at the cost of 33 cents per minute.
Yikes!!

I’ll try to get some photos up soon, but I’m not confident that I’ll have the connection to do so. I’ll update once we leave Egypt!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kusadasi, Turkey & Rhodes, Greece

Good Morning Everyone,
It’s just about 7:45 and our ship is approaching the island of Cyprus. Since leaving Rhodes yesterday we’ve noticed that there is an increased Naval presence in the waters around us. We have also seen a number of military helicopters, which is a first. I guess the fact that Cyprus’ closest neighbors are Lebanon and Israel makes that not such a surprise.

Our visit to Kusadasi was really enjoyable. The best news is that we escaped the island without buying a rug. That didn’t prevent me from admiring the absolute beauty of the offerings. I found myself on the floor of quite a few stores, feeling the nap of the carpets and seeing the way they catch the light. Just beautiful. If only I didn’t have to worry about putting two daughters through college…

Last time we were here, I really admired the decorated plates and bowls made in Turkey. I was determined to find a few to ship home. I ended up walking away with a large bowl and three large plates. I spent under 100 euros so I was pleased with my bargaining skills. James, Josie and I took only a half day in port. I headed back to spend time at the pool with Josie. With the temperatures reaching close to 100 degrees today, I know I would not be taking Josie to the outdoor historic sites.

The following is an excerpt from James’ daily email to friends and family that describe his side of our visit…

And I have to admit that both Michele and mine bargaining skills have become much better because we once shopped for carpets at Turkey. Oddly enough, the shopkeepers treat you with a much highly level of respect once they realize that you know how to play this game. The key is make sure that everybody goes away happy – you get want you want at what you consider to be a fair price, the shopkeeper move merchandise and what he considers to be a fair margin, and you both get to tell stories.

The one thing you DON’T need is a teenage daughter who claims that she “can’t live” without something. Fortunately, I recovered from that negotiation by asking if the storekeeper had teenage daughters (he does) and said, “Maybe it is good for her to NOT have this item so she realizes the value of money”. The storekeeper immediately lowered the price.

Maddie, Leah, and I took a side trip to Mary’s House, where she spent her last days, as well as the ruins of the Roman city of Ephesus.

At the top of a hill in a Turkish National Forest, I expected Mary’s House to be a rather solemn place. Whether or not one is Christian, the fact that scholars and historians have confirmed that there was a “Mary” and this WAS here final place of residence have some significance. Even the Koran mentioned Mary in a few places.

Well, the huge banner at the entrance, courtesy of the cruise lines, that welcomed us to Mary’s house put a little bit of a damper on the rightful solemnest of the this location. Frankly, it’s not must to see – a small, two room stone structure that is now a shrine. But the beauty of the forest and the outstanding view was worth the visit.

The last time I was at Ephesus, I remarked how sad it was for Western Europe, especially the Brits, to sack the ancient cities for their treasures and leave what they considered to be worthless behind. I still share that opinion. Several areas where we had access two years ago where now cordoned off because of additional damage from tourist.


Our visit to Rhodes, Greece was an unexpected delight – we knew little of the island and its history. In the weeks preceding the cruise I try to catch up on my reading, finding the best historic sites to visit. This time I was a bit lax in this area of preparation, so I only had a few pages of an Eyewitness Guide book (these are the BEST guide books –ever!)

As usual, the older girls are sleeping beauties while James, Josie and I are up with the dawn. So, we headed out to explore the town. Wow, how beautiful. We strolled the streets of the ancient walled city and made our way up to the castle of the Grand Masters – the home of the Knights of St. John. I knew the older girls would be sorry if they slept through the experience of being in Rhodes, so we returned to the ship around 11:30 and did the swap – this time James stayed on the ship with Josie while I took Leah & Maddie out to explore.

We took a tour through the castle and I have to say it is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I have ever seen. The mosaics on the floors dated to 206 BC! ‘Awesome’ doesn’t begin to describe the things we saw. Included with the tour was an exhibit of the Antiquities of Rhodes. This island was ruled by Italians, French, Turkish and Greeks in it’s long history. Each left it’s mark. The architecture alone left me stunned – mosques, chapels and clock towers of different ages have all survived earthquakes and conquering armies.

Of course, being out and about with teenagers dictates that we did some shopping. I was able to get two handmade tablecloths for our fully extended dining room table, which are nearly impossible to find at home. I also picked up a linen table centerpiece for my sister Sue’s new house. It’s a square shape with hand- embroidered tomatoes and vines, that I’m hoping will match some part of her new d├ęcor. Still looking for the special items for Kim & Claudine – so don’t worry girls, you are on our list!!

WE will be renting a car and exploring Cyprus today, we want to visit a few monasteries and maybe even find a beautiful beach to have a swim. They drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road here in Cyprus – so please say a prayer that James doesn’t kill us all!!!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Mykonos

Mykonos 7/9/07 5:40 AM

Uploading photos is challenging here on board. I'll try to keep adding photos to the albums as time permits!


Good Morning from Kusadasi, Turkey! Right now the computer is telling me that it’s 10:30PM Sunday on the East Coast. Here, I’m watching the sunrise from the pool deck and it’s 5:30 Monday morning. James and Josie were both snoring when I slipped out of the cabin. We don’t expect to see Maddie and Leah for a few more hours – they’ve made a nice group of friends here on board and have been hanging out late at the Teen Lounge.

Yesterday, our ship arrived in Mykonos around 1 in the afternoon. We were in no hurry to get on shore – the ship was tendered in the harbour and the boats going ashore were taking forever. It was really windy and the seas were rough. James is still complaining that I insisted on bringing the jogging stroller (strollerzilla) but it has been invaluable – allowing Josie to recline and nap while we made our way through the winding alleys of Mykonos Town. In addition, an umbrella stroller would have been useless on the cobblestone streets of Rome and the other ancient ports we’re scheduled to visit.

We had a great visit to Mykonos. Picture the beautiful white washed buildings up against a sparkling Aegean Sea. It’s a postcard come to life. The people are just so friendly – Josie was hugged, kissed and given candy by nearly every Greek Grandmom on the island! We had visited here 2 years ago so I was familiar with the basic layout of town . Maddie and Leah were looking for unique clothing items and jewelry – those items that they were SURE none of their friends would have when they returned home. I took this as a good sign that both girls are embracing independent thought and personal expression. Josie seems to be growing before our eyes – insisting on accompanying the girls and I into the various shops and making sure to say ‘thank you’ to each shopkeeper as we leave. I picked up two beautifully embroidered cotton blouses for Josie. Maddie and Leah got matching shirts – very beautiful on each of them – in different colors. Leah chose a smoky gray color ,which complimented her eyes and Maddie went for the ‘can miss me’ Pink. That was the extent of our purchases, I’m proud to say.

The last tender was not due back to the ship until 10:30PM, so we planned to have dinner in town. We found a lovely Taverna tucked away in a courtyard by a white-washed church. During dinner we were visited by a local celebrity – the island’s mascot – a HUGE pink pelican. It stood at least a half a foot taller than our Josie . The pelican was a show in and of itself. Walking into the restaurant , into the kitchen and waiting to be fed a whole fish by the chef. The kids just loved it.

After dinner, we wandered around town a bit more. I found an awesome linen shop with most beautiful items. I was looking for an embroidered tablecloth to fit our fully extended dining room table- to no avail. But the craftsmanship was amazing and I enjoyed just looking. We visited a few of the small churches that seem to materialize in the most unusual places. They are so tiny and so ornately decorated – just beautiful.

Our nighttime activities are limited, given Josie’s bedtime. We’ve been turning in relatively early and watching back episodes of ‘The Closer’ that James downloaded from iTunes. We’re not the hard-partying types anyway. Maddie and Leah have been checking in at the intervals that we require and observing the mandated curfew for those under 18 (midnight).

That’s about it for yesterday. Today we will visit Ephesus and the House of Mary – the home where she is said to have lived and died once her son was crucified. The streets of Ephesus are said to have been traveled by Anthony and Cleopatra. The ancient theater is said to be the spot where the Apostle Paul addressed the Ephesians (I think it was Paul). Anyway, it’s an amazing place. It’s going to be 96 degrees here today, so our visits will no doubt be somewhat quick.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Safe at Sea

Rome 7/7/07 9:57 AM

We're having connection issues so I can only post a few photos at a time!

Hello everyone. We’re out to sea, having arrived on board the Legend of the Seas at 4PM on Friday. Of course, it wouldn’t be vacation if there weren’t some sort of delay. Our train departed Termini Station in Rome about an hour late. We had reserved a First Class compartment and found that while spacious, the term ‘air conditioned’ is still a relative term in Europe.

Our stay in Rome was idyllic and we are now looking forward to our first port of call – Mykonos. There are a lot of Europeans on this particular cruise – more than we saw on our last. There is also a huge Brazilian group – numbering in the hundreds. There are so many Brazilians, in fact, that all ship announcements are made in English and Portuguese!

Once we checked into our cabins yesterday we made our way up to the 9th deck to scope out the pool. The mentioning of the large group of Brazilians is not incidental, given that the first sight that greeted us on the pool deck was a large number of elderly, balding men with large bellies dressed in very small Speedo bathing suits. Yuk, Yuk and double Yuk!

I’m happy being here on board, knowing that I have at least another 24 hours before having to worry about misplacing a kid or being temped by pricey wares on shore.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Flightus Interruptus & Rome

Hello from Rome! We arrived, after many delays, about 5PM Tuesday. We have been busy sightseeing and trying to get some decent sleep...

Our apartment here in Rome is just beautiful. Its in the older section of Rome, just a few alleyways from the Piazza Navona. Its also a 10 minute walk from Vatican City and right on the bus lines. The apartment is perfect in every way except for the fact that our bedroom windows open to one of the small side streets used by scooters & minicars during the rush hour. In addition, this alleyway houses about 4 restaurants with sidewalk cafes. We had a bit of excitement last night when Maddie discovered that there was an American TV star eating at the restaurant behind our apartment. The gentleman who plays Warrick on CSI (the original)is in town filming. He and a few friends were having dinner & drinks. Maddie & Leah ran out with their cameras - he was kind enough to sign a napkin for them and pose with them for photos.

On Wednesday, we started out with a visit to St. Peters and then on to Castile Sant Angelo. From there we crossed the river and visited the Trevi Fountain, the Parthenon, then on to the Colleseum. We arrived home at 6:30PM with our feet on fire and knees aching. Josie was still raring to go - we grabbed a quick pasta dinner at one of the cafes behind our apartment and then settled in for some sleep.

I have taken over 200 photos so far - but I wont be able to post them until we are on board the ship. (Im in an internet cafe right now and cant seem to find a few characters on the keyboard!)

Today, we got a late start and we visited the Spanish Steps, the Piazza de Popola (?) and then spent the rest of the day walking the grounds of the Villa Borghese. The weather has been perfect for sightseeing - in the mid 80s with a nice breeze.

We will leave Rome at noon tomorrow to take the train to Civitavecchia - the port about an hour train ride from here - to board the Legend of the Seas. I am looking forward to having a swim and being off my feet for a day before we hit Mykonos on Sunday. Josie has been great, seems like shes doing okay with the jet lag.

Ill post a photo slide show tomorrow so you can see just how beautiful Rome is - until then... Hope you all had a wonderful 4th of July!!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

We're On Our Way!



Tomorrow morning we leave for our Med cruise. We'll be staying in Rome for 3 days prior to sailing. Here's our itinerary:

Depart Rome 5:00PM July 6 (Friday)
Saturday, July 7 - At Sea
Sunday, July 8: Mykonos, Greece
Monday, July 9:Kusadasi, Turkey
Tuesday, July 10: Rhodes, Greece
Wednesday, July 11: Limassol, Cyprus
Thursday, July 12: At Sea
Friday July 13: Alexandria, Egypt (tour to Cairo)
Saturday, July 14, At Sea
Sunday, July 15: Athens, Greece
Monday, July 16: At Sea
Tuesday, July 17: Naples, Italy
Wednesday, July 18: Rome Depart ship at 10:00AM

We'll be updating this site whenever we can get to the internet. Please leave comments if you can, we'd love to hear from you while we're gone!