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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Laughter is always available

On this trip, there have been so many hysterical events. Today after days of whining, I got the car headed for a field of flowers. There was no turn out, and with three women in the backseat, Patti hopped out to let me out, next thing we knew, the car was speeding away. No problem. We will take photos of the field of yellow flowers with poppies sprinkled in. To get where we needed to be, we had to hop over a ditch with water. No problem, helping each other we manage it only to find more standing water where we have landed. Perfect.
We take a few shots, dogs from somewhere are going crazy barking at us, eventually the car returns, but not before our feet are covered in a muddy clay that once we are safely in the car, we discover it smells like a barnyard. Hmmm not the sweetest smell, but we don't have a long drive.

Normally at this time of year, the poppies and wild flowers are everywhere. Since they have had so much rain, the flowers are a little more sparse.

When we got home, hosed all the mud off our shoes, Patti announced, "we're going swimming" We had made a pact back at home, that regardless of weather, we were going in the pool.

Swim suits, check, sunglasses, check, flip flops, check. Fancy scarves to give that exotic feeling of Italian Riviera, check....now to make the plunge.

Not exactly synchronized swimming, and now our little secret will be yours. It was cloudy, cold, and the pool was NOT heated. Geesh. Patti did better than I did, we went numb pretty fast, and thirty seconds after getting out it started to rain.
We laughed, so proud of our crazy selves.  This goes down in the books with the ocean kayak trip where we capsized and became shark bait...oh the memories, and the laughter!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Week in Tuscany

I think when I last blogged, we were in Venice. The sky had opened up about the time we figured out the train station, and had made our way back into town from our hotel where we were spending the night. We managed to find the right train, didn't manage to validate our tickets, OOOPS!! And after about an hour the sky opened up and the rain came crashing down! Susie and I had left Wayne and Patti, and it wasn't long before Susie was buying an umbrella from a store. Enter the winds...umbrellas turning inside out, seeing people with plastic bags on their feet, and my camera is buried to try to save it. All I could do was laugh. It was so funny. The Oregon girls and all this rain, and here we were with umbrellas. A big no no in the land of Oregonians.
Note canals flowing over into the walkways. Yes, we were having fun!

We tried ducking into churches, stores, and wherever we thought we could escape for just a little bit. Finally we decided that it was time to get something warm, so a coffee break turned into lunch, which was wonderful. After lunch, we couldn't stand it anymore and decided to head back to the train station and head for the hotel. We passed poor Wayne who was waiting outside of church for his shopaholic wife. The church was closed, and there he stood in the pouring rain and cold. Being the kind friends we are, we burst out laughing, and left him there to wait for Patti.  After much confusion, we finally found our platform and were on the train headed for the hotel.
The next day the six ugly Americans crossed the street for the train station that would take us on our next adventure Tuscany. We were a mere 35 minutes early, and with ALL of our luggage, and stairs conquered we proceeded to wait. A train came on the tracks that were ours, but it was going in the wrong direction. We waited and waited. With ten minutes left, Gary went to check, and announced "it's ours" and off the crazy five went to meet up with him. On the train like a Chinese fire drill, some going left, some going right, and Patti and I staying put to see where we were supposed to be. Gary said left, Mark said right, and  We went in both directions..Oh it wasn't pretty, but we eventually found our seats, removing people from them, and getting dirty looks we settled in for our 3.5 hour ride. 
Arriving at Arezzo, the boys went to get the rental cars, and Wayne stayed with the women. We somehow managed to load all the luggage into two cars and headed off. We had barely made it out of town when both oil lights went on. Turn around, stopped at three gas stations, no oil, back to the car rental place, to be told, "it's perfect"  Ok here we go again. Crazy American's take three! 
We arrived at the villa about 35 minutes later and had the family waiting for us. Very warm, and wonderful people, and the villa couldn't be nicer. Thankfully it looks better in person than on the webpage. Usually it's the other way around.

We are loving the large table, great for group dinners and for playing games

The pool is so beautiful, but it isn't heated, and the weather has been nice, but not nice enough to get in. I thought we might, but haven't gotten up the courage yet.

WE had a chef come to the villa the other night, and he fixed the most amazing dinner. We ate until we thought we would pop! Wonderful appetizers, wine, rabbit, veal, and wild boar pasta that we all loved!
Then we had a guided wine tasting tour that was wonderful We are in the heart of the Chianti region, which is marked by the black rooster. Very prestigious, and they are the only people who can claim this, based on the area the grapes are grown in. WE tasted some we liked, and WE tasted some we loved! We saw so much of the area, and our guide Andre was wonderful..  Today we went out on our own, and had some fun exploring. We ended up on roads that I wasn't sure our cars would make, but we did.
All is well, and tomorrow we go to Florence on the train. Pray for the ugly American's that we can do it without being noticed too much.  :-)

 If we're not looking at acres of grapevines, it's olive trees, and red poppies. Usually at this time of year there are fields full of flowers, but this year due to all the rain, the flora are a bit behind. Boo hoo, guess I'll just have to come back on a warmer May day!
 Such charming streets we walked, I've taken thousands of photos. Hoping my computer can hold up until I get home.

An interesting coat of arms with the black rooster in it.

No big problems, everyone is still getting along...men are snoring is the answer I hear throughout the day. We will miss this place, for sure. Going to savor all the days we have left.  Ciao!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Sunday

Finally have some unlimited WiFi, so thought I should join the scavenger hunt. This week's hunt items are Vacation, food, sound, texture,anything,



Friday, May 24, 2013

Venice...city of romance

I have always loved the city of Venice. Getting lost on the maze of alleys, the plentiful brick, and stucco walls adorned with flower boxes. The canals, and the gondolas, all make it unique from any other town we have visited.
The weather was perfect. The sun was shining, fluffy white clouds were in the bluest of skies. We cruised in around eight am, and  stood on the deck watching the infamous St. Mark's square from the perfect vantage point. The Swiss alps were present in the distance, and it seemed as if this would be a perfect ending for our cruise.
After docking, we made our way off the ship to a shuttle boat that landed us not far from St. Marks. We took our time going over bridges, admiring the different artists that had painting for sale, looking in windows of shops that had Murano glass for sale, and admiring the different canals and bridges. St. Mark's square was more crowded than I remembered it being, and only when we got about halfway across did I understand why. Standing water was forcing people to follow the same trail across. Once we had cleared the square, we enjoyed the wandering until we stopped at a restaurant for a lunch break.
After lunch, no destination in mind, we meandered in and out of shops, taking hundreds of photos, each alley more perfect than the one before. The men tired quickly, and left us to return to the ship. Unfazed, Susie and I continued walking and ending up at dead ends, and eventually in a very quiet residential neighborhood. After several hours, we worked our way back to St. Mark's and caught the shuttle back to the ship.
We are spending the night in Venice tonight, and catching a train in the morning for Tuscany. More on our travels, as time allows. For now, here are just a few shots from the first part of Venice.

The bridge of sighs.


 Dodges Palace, so pretty with all the intricate trim.
The sky was like a giant watercolor.

This standing water had completely disappeared by the time we came back through here in the afternoon. Venice has had an unusually large amount of rain lately. Sadly, we got to experience that first hand today. We are not strangers to rain, being from Oregon, but the standing water was hard to avoid. I found myself just laughing as we tried dodging puddles unsuccessfully.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

So many places

We have been on a whirlwind tour. So many places, and no time to just kick back and relax. Today is a day at sea as we head for Venice. It's been 12 years since we last saw Venice. I'm excited to walk the winding alleys that are easy to get lost in, and discover new and wonderful corners. The canals and gondolas, the worn stone, all there perhaps the last time I will walk the streets Venice. I'm hoping to take lots of photos and get that one special one. When the cruise ends, we will spend the night and then catch a train for Tuscany. There we should have a slower pace and find time to smell the coffee.

It's hard to remember where we have been, and what we have seen. The days are full from the moment we get up, until we fall into bed at night. It's a nice kind of exhaustion, sunshine, new travels, and laughing with old friends. Still exhausting, but no complaints here.

Corfu was a Greek island we visited that was a place I would love to return to in the future. The Adriatic sea on one side, the Ionian sea on the other. The clearest water, shades of turquoise and blue were begging me to jump in. Sadly I did not. The many olive trees, Cyprus, grapes, and a sprinkling of lemon and orange trees made it an optical feast.

 We visited a monastery  in Corfu. The gardens were pristine, and once again the most magnificent views. We went inside the chapel and lit a candle for a Greek friend's sister who recently died.
Mark views the statue of Achilles pulling the arrow out of his tendon. I really must study Greek mythology when I get home!

The water is the most perfect! 
We visited a palace that belonged to Elizabeth,( Cici )from Vienna, Austria. I have been fascinated with her life since we first started visiting Vienna all those years ago. She was a beautiful Empress, with a tragic life. Many compared her life to Princess Diana of modern times.
After her son's death she visited Corfu and built a palace in his memory. It was beautiful. The grounds exquisite, and the views unbelievable. If only I could have been the only one sitting on her terrace with black and white marble enjoying the views. Sadly this was a very popular tourist stop.
Being on a large bus tour was the only option we had to really see the entire island. Driving through this small village I was thankful for an amazing bus driver who only had inches on each side of the bus. We could see places where less skilled drivers had been before us. Barely room for one care, let alone a large bus, our driver maneuvered in ways I didn't think were possible.
The old town of Corfu was charming. We didn't have much time to spend there. I would have loved to sit at one of the outdoor cafes and just people watch. Next time I tell myself. Mark did pick up a local treat. Kumquat liqueur. Thinking a small glass over ice might be nice some night when we are sitting in Tuscany.

We also visited Olympus the site of the very first Olympic games thousands of years ago. Now ruins, and only our imagination can help us visualize how it must have been. We know that only men could compete, and women were not allowed to watch. Men wore only olive oil on their skin to make them shine in the sunlight Naked as could be, they would compete for the glory of winning. Winners had statues erected in their honor, and they and their families were fed for the rest of their lives. I guess that was an ancient way of endorsements.

It is so amazing, that these were put up 1,000 years before Christ. We went to the original stadium, which is now just dirt, and you can see a small area on the side where the judges would sit. The Olympic torch is still lit from this location every four years as the torch travels around the world getting ready for the next Olympics. 

Yesterday we stopped in Dubrovnik, Croatia. We had visited here back in 2005 with Gary and Susie. All four of us were excited to show Wayne and Patti this charming city. We had such good memories from our time here. The walls were just as we left them, the streets still shining from the thousands of years of wear. The marble steps have curves in them from the wear of millions of feet going up and down them. We met up with friends who are traveling Europe and as luck would have it, they were in Dubrovnik on this day. We met at a restaurant a few blocks outside of the old city. Sitting on the terrace covered by a grape arbor, we enjoyed the gentle breeze, wonderful local white wine, and fresh fish. The leisurely hour and half lunch was just what the doctor ordered. Slowly we worked our way back to the old city, and took a few photos, and then said goodbye to one of our favorite towns as the cab returned us to the ship. We had a couple of hours to relax before dinner and now today we can go about the business of doing nothing. That sounds pretty good!

WiFi is so expensive on the ship. I try to use it sparingly as Mark needs to do some business from time to time. We all put Viber on our phones to be able to call home for free. The problem is the nine hour time difference, and we can't leave it on WiFi  and have missed several calls. By the time we are up and going, people at home are in bed. Hoping once we get to Tuscany, we will have better luck as the home we are staying in has WiFi. Fingers crossed we can connect with loved ones at home. Maybe in Venice we will find some WiFi and the times will match.
Until the next time, hope all the photos aren't too overwhelming.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Alive and well in Greece

Wow, it's go go go! From the time we get up, until we lay our weary heads on the pillows. We are alive and well, having a fabulous time, but could use some down time and some free wifi. They practically want your first born for the privilege of using WiFi on the ship.  We are eating more than we are walking off, that will change when we get to our next stop.

One member of the group is sick, hoping she feels better today. Two of our group cancelled their tour and stayed on the ship to rest up, but Mark and I pilgrims that we are kept on trucking!
Athens is a place we visited in July 2001 It was about 110 degrees, and I barely remember things, as I'm convinced my brain was boiling.

This trip was a cool (?) 85 degrees very unusual for their spring. Just our luck. We were sweating bullets but still made the climb up to the Acropolis, and took in all it's splendor and the panoramic views of Athens below. We had an older guide, a woman who is passionate about her culture and her heritage. I wish I'd taken notes. So much we learned, and I'm sure it will pop in and out of my head for years to come.

We visited the Acropolis museum that is only 3 years old. So modern, clean, and air condidtioned! Amazing relics are housed there and some of the floors are glass, so you can see ruins below. Very enjoyable hour and half in there.

We had lunch at an "ancinet" restuarant, and were served foods that were typical of ancient times. pottery cups, pitchers, plates, and only a spoon and knife. A young woman danced for us and it was a lovely way to unwind with choices of red or white wine from the pitchers. The food was fabulous and we were able to visit with two other couples who were touring. Our group was small, only 19 which made the day that much more enjoyable.

We are off to Olympia today. Forecast is for 80's but the weather feels cool and hazy.  I will post more photos when there is time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First Stop Naples

Our first stop in the cruise, was Naples, Italy.  We have been here before. In fact I have been here three times before. We felt like we had seen most of the important sights, and Naples being a tiny bit sketchy, didn't feel like venturing out on our own.

The only thing we hadn't seen was the Excavated ruins of Herculaneum.  This seaside town was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. We had visited Pompei, that was also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. It was a favorite thing we had done, and I had this sinking feeling that Herculaneum wouldn't compare.

I was wrong, the tour at Herculaneum was different, but very interesting, and had some unique aspects to the town. We were touring the remains of the homes, considered the Beverly Hills of the area in it's time. Some strange thing happened during the eruption, and the town was encased in gas, and somehow the wooden things were charred, but not burned to bits, so many second stories are still standing, steps, beams, etc. were all in place. Black, but in place.

Warning, this is a photo heavy post. I just couldn't decide.
The new town Of Herculaneum was built after WWII, I found it to be very charming as well. You can see it behind the lower original town. There is no way to unearth the remainder of the ancient city as they would have to displace people, and that won't happen.

Our guide was an archeologist, and had done digs at both this location and Pompei. Her enthusiasm was so delightful. Now on to the photos.

As you can see, the frescos are still bright and beautiful. The table that is still intact is amazing to me, and the mosaic floors are in great shape considering they are thousands of years old!

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