Friday, October 30, 2009

Whitewash and windmills

Travel Diary Day 8
Friday, October 30

Mykonos. One of the most inviting spots in Greece, this small island in the Cyclades group is the spot where Hercules slew the giants in Greek mythology. It's a place of breathtaking beauty, whitewashed stucco buildings clinging to stark hills, and churches with rounded domes, all trimmed in bright blue or dark red.

We anchored in the harbor and took tenders to Mykonos Town. The village is a maze of very narrow, winding stone streets, so narrow that we thought they were only for pedestrians. Until the van came barreling around a corner. I swear, I don't know how it was able to navigate those streets without scraping against the stucco walls.

There were four old windmills on a bluff overlooking the harbor, and we can certainly see why they were there. The wind was so strong it actually pushed us along up the hill. And in spite of the sunshine it was quite chilly, jacket weather for sure.

We wandered the streets and browsed in the many tiny shops. All the shopkeepers spoke English, so purchasing souvenirs wasn't a problem. And then we sat in a harbor-side cafe and enjoyed baklava and cappuccino.

The island is reputed to be a hot night spot, at least during the summer season, and we laughed at the t-shirt that read, "Good boys go to heaven. Bad boys go to Mykonos." Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any bad boys around.

Too bad.

Guess Dave's stuck with me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not just for lunch anymore

Travel Diary Day 7
Thursday, October 29

Stromboli! Yum! But it's not only food. Did you know Stromboli is an active volcano off the southwestern coast of Italy? The top was covered in clouds, so we couldn't tell if there was any smoke, but we got a good look at it from the ship while eating breakfast this morning.

First breakfast, that is. I fear we're turning into Hobbits, because this morning Dave and Molly and I had second breakfast. If hair starts growing from our feet I'm going to get really worried. And we sat at a big table with other people and actually socialized. You oughta be proud of me, Noel!

Later in the morning the whole family did a 1-mile "Wishes at Sea" walk to support Make-A-Wish Foundation. We all got t-shirts, as you can see from my picture of the day, though Betsy and I opted to keep our Phillies support showing while we walked. We were passing through the Strait of Messina at the time, between Sicily and the toe of Italy's boot, so behind us is Calabria, Italy. How cool is that?

Our dinner was at the ship's Mystery Theater, and we had fun trying to figure out whodunit in "The Curse of the Dark Star Diamond." The girls said the first half was lame, but then they gave us lots of wine so the second half was very entertaining.

We ended the evening singing karaoke, badly. But, hey, we'll never see any of these people again, right?

Right!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All roads lead to...

Travel Diary Day 6
Wednesday, October 28

Ahh, Rome, the eternal city. An amazing place, full of history. We spent the whole day on an excursion, tossing coins in the Trevi Fountain, walking through the ruins and climbing the steep steps to the top of the Colosseum. The Roman ruins aren't just a sight that you go and see. Rather, they're part of the city, new and old mingled together in harmony. The beauty and engineering of these ancient wonders, many 2,000 years old and more, are a marvel.

After lunch with wine AND champagne, we crossed the Tiber to Vatican City to view the Pieta and other masterful works of art in St. Peter's Basilica. Even though I'm not Roman Catholic, the wonders of St. Peter's were moving and touched my heart.

And the weather couldn't have been better.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing...

GO, PHILLIES!


Tuesday cruiseday

Travel Diary Day 5
Tuesday, October 27

What a beautiful day! Sunshine and relaxation. Even though I was still a little pouty because we should have been in Florence, I ended up kind of glad we could take it easy.

And shopping! We got a $300 credit for the missed day of the cruise, and I've already spent it. Got a new digital camera in one of the ship's shops, a Canon Elph like my old one, but what an upgrade... ten megapixels! And it cost less than the old one did three years ago.

Tried to work off some of the delicious food by walking a mile around the walking track on the top deck and then we watched the sun set in glorious color over the sea. And we ended the evening with a formal dinner. Aren't we pretty?

Good day.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome aboard!

Travel Diary Day 4
Monday, October 26

We made it! We're now on the Brilliance of the Seas. Yay! And our "junior suite" is awesome! King bed, couch, chair, a huge walk-in closet and a full bath with a tub. And a nice big balcony with a chaise and two chairs.

The girls have a smaller room on the same deck. They're at the stern of the ship and their balcony is HUGE. We're all very happy with our accomodations.

We saw a show before dinner, Tenors Unlimited. Three guys, one American, two Brits, with voices like you wouldn't believe. They sang in Italian, Spanish, French and English. Very entertaining.

And the food... well, if you've ever been on a cruise, you know. Our dinner time is nine p.m., a bit late for us, but we have a terrific table, right beside a big window. Of course it was dark when we had dinner. But I'm sure some evenings there will be lights and sights.

Just an aside... today's my mom's birthday. 93. Happy birthday, Mom!

Anyway, we've left Barcelona and are on our way to Italy.

All right!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

F*cked by Mother Nature

Travel Diary Day 3
Sunday, October 25

Boarding of our cruise ship was to begin at 1:00 p.m. with sailing scheduled for 7:00 p.m. We arrived at the port at about 2:00 and the Royal Caribbean rep handed us a letter and pointed us to the end of a very long queue. We lined up with the other passengers and read the letter:

"Dear Brilliance of the Seas Guest,

"We are writing to provide you with important information regading a one-day delay in the departure of your cruise. While returning to Barcelona, Brilliance of the Seas encountered two weather systems with strong winds and high seas, which significantly slowed its sailing speed. Unfortunately, because of this the ship will arrive in Barcelona much later...

"Our boarding process has been delayed and will now begin Monday... Regrettably, because of the delayed departure, and the time and speed needed, the ship will be unable to make your first two ports of call--Nice (Villefranche) and Florence/Pisa (Livorno)..."

Need I say more?

The cruise line is, of course, paying for our hotel room tonight and giving us a credit to cover what we need to spend for meals. And the excursions we already booked and paid for will be credited to our account.

And the hotel we're in has free wifi... in the lobby, but at least I'm online for a few minutes.

But damn. I really wanted to see Florence.

Maybe next year. . .

Two bottles of wine later...

Travel Diary Day 2 continued
Saturday, October 24

Our dinner was awesome!

We asked the hotel clerk for a restaurant recommendation, somewhere close and he told us to go down two blocks to something-or-other Julia.

It was closed.

So we kept going and found ourselves on one of the main drags with a whole bunch of other people. There was a place... Cerveseria Catalana. It was already crowded and we were fairly early for dinner in Spain, about 7:30 p.m. But we said we'd wait and ordered a bottle of Spanish sauvignon blanc at the bar and an appetizer to share.

What a wonderful dinner! We had all kinds of tapas and flautas, appetizers and little bits of this and that. Eggplant, salmon, prawns, a "Greek" salad consisting of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, mini-baguette sandwiches, and a date-and egglplant concoction that was simply amazing. And a second bottle of wine.

We ended with "American" coffee for Dave, still more like espresso than what we think of as coffee, and three desserts to share.

I'm feeling a lot better.

Red eyes, blue skies

Travel Diary Day 2
Saturday, October 24

I learned a valuable lesson right at the beginning of this vacation. Never begin two weeks away with an overnight flight.

We arrived in Barcelona at nine in the morning, exhausted, none of us having been able to sleep more than a few minutes on the overnight flight. And of course we couldn't get into our hotel until one.

So fortified with coffee and other caffeinated beverages of choice we left our bags with the hotel clerk and set off to explore the city. We walked about 8 blocks to get to the Barcelona Bus Turistic: "Get to know Barcelona like nobody else." For 21 euros, which is quite a bit more in dollars, you can ride all day on three different routes that take you to many of the major attractions. You can get off and explore, and then get back on and ride to the next stop, or stay on for the entire day. The best part is that they give you headphones and you can plug in at your seat and hear about what you're seeing in eight different languages. We chose the union jack picture and got our travelogue in Brit-accented English.

The bus is a double-decker with an open top, and the weather was perfect for riding in the sunshine and seeing the lovely balconied buildings and palm tree, with the Pyrenees rising in the background. Of course it seemed that everyone else agreed. It took a half hour of standing in line to finally get on the bus. And then we got off at the first stop to marvel at Sagrada Familia, a church that has been under construction for hundreds of years and is still a wonderful work in progress.

Once we got back on the bus, we managed to get upper-deck seats and all dozed through the remaining almost two hours of the circuit. Then we dragged ourselves back to the hotel and collapsed into bed at mid-afternoon.

But what a lovely city Barcelona is. Next time I'm here I hope I'm awake.

They f*ck you at the limo service

Travel Diary Day 1
Friday, October 23

Our big vacation almost got off to a really bad start thanks to the limo service Molly booked to take us from her townhouse to Newark Liberty airport to catch our flight to Europe. Molly specifically told the service that there would be four people and four large bags.

They sent a mid-size sedan.

Even after ten minutes of shifting and piecing the luggage together like a puzzle, it wouldn't fit in the trunk. So we piled ourselves and our bags into Betsy's small SUV, Molly and I squashed into the backseat with the last suitcase.

Not only that, but experts that they are, the limo service allowed 45 minutes to get us to the airport two hours before our international flight.

It was rush hour.

So we crawled. Panic attack city.

And we had to park the car in the long-term parking lot and run to get the bus to the terminal. Still panicking.

We were required to check in no later than one hour before our flight. And of course the kiosk wouldn't read Betsy's passport, so we had to wait for the attendant to come over.

The Continental agent was a good-looking guy with a French accent. When we expressed a little of the anxiety we'd been feeling he glanced at the clock and said with a sexy grin, "Eh, ten whole minutes. No problem."

Once we were checked in, security was a breeze and we even had time to go to the bathroom before they started boarding our flight.

But we made it. Whew.

Sure hope the car's there when we get back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Remember when?

Why is it that I'm so compelled to take pictures of everything? I carry a small digital camera in my bag, and whatever happens I'm ready to record it for posterity.

I kid myself that I have to have the camera with me for the newsletter pictures for my church and my woman's club. Because you can't do a decent newsletter without pictures, and you can't count on anyone else to take them. Thus camera always on me, spare battery, too.

But that's not the real reason I take so many pictures.

The fact is, I suffer from CRS disease. You know, can't remember shit? So I take pictures of everything that happens to help me remember. I'm so obsessed with recording my life that I even snap shots in the car. While I'm driving.

My memory is terrible, and I'm not that old. Really. If I'm this bad now, what's it going to be like when I'm 80?

According to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), aging seems to cause the loss of neurotransmitters in the brain. This makes it harder to retain new matter. But once learned, older people retain as well as younger ones.

The AARP also says that forgetting may be almost as important as remembering, because "retaining every single bit of information you've been exposed to throughout your life would be catastrophic. For this reason, our brains sort out what will and what won't become long-term memories."

So my conclusion is that my CRS disease is just the result of a selective brain. Sounds more impressive than impairment of memory function, doesn't it? And I've got all my pictures to remind me of where I've been and what I've done.

So why did I take that picture from the car yesterday?

I forget...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Last boring bathroom update

Just a little fun example of what fifty dollars will buy you...

video

I had my first bath last night, and it was heavenly. I played with the controls, high bubbles, low bubbles and waves. Oh, and just fyi, the bubbler air is heated so as not to cool off the water. Sighing with appreciation for smart tub designers.

So it's finished, except for putting up the towel bar and finding a new soap dish and toothbrush holder. Oh yeah, and a wastebasket.

Thank you for your kind attention, gentle r
eader. There will be no more boring bathroom posts.

I promise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sink sank sunk

For all my peeps who are eagerly anticipating my first bath in the new tub (all three of you), today's the day!

If I didn't have so much to do, I'd be in there right now. But I've got errands, and shopping, and choir practice, so my bubbling will have to wait.

But just so you aren't too disappointed, here's a picture taken while I was standing in the tub. It's our new vanity and medicine chest and light, a lovely cherry finish with a sink top that matches the tub surround. Note the 8"-center faucets, an example of how everything old is new again.

Still waiting for the crown molding that goes on top of the light bar, but all in all, it looks pretty good.

So the tub is still unchristened, but the sink and toilet are in use. And tonight, ahhh, tonight...

I can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Surrounded

The plumbers spent all day Friday working on our bathroom. I was thrilled, thinking I'd finally get to use my new tub. When they finished for the day, the picture on the left is what we had. The tub surround had to be propped in place until the adhesive dried.

I pouted all weekend while Dave was busy touching up paint and putting on floor molding.

Today the plumber came back and... voila!


The new tub is surrounded!

But still pouting... They put the soapdish in, duct tape holding it in place, and caulked all around everything. And they told me not to use the tub for at least 24 hours, 48 would be better.

I've been waiting forever, it seems like, to get this new bathtub. And still no bath for me.

Forty-eight more hours...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The place to be... NOT!

Be careful what you wear ... and how you do your hair.
Or you might end up on
peopleofwalmart.com with a funny headline and funnier caption, both insulting.

For example, the picture on the left: Long Lost Brothers ... Is it just me, or do mullets look 10x better with camo? These two are like the Mario and Luigi of Walmart. --Texas and California

We never used to go to Walmart because the nearest one was a good half hour away, on busy roads. But in the past year or so they've opened two new Super Walmarts, one ten minutes from our house and one fifteen. And who can resist Super Walmart? Everything you need, groceries and all, at bargain prices. In this economy it's the place to shop.

I never used to worry about what I had on. Or pay attention to the other shoppers. But now every time I go to Walmart I have to stop and think about it.

I don't want to end up on peopleofwalmart.com.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Three cheers for the MVC

I remember the bad old days of bureaucracy in New Jersey. In order to renew your driver's license or register a car, you had to take a half day off from work and stand in line, shoulder-to-shoulder with other sweating, stinking riffraff at the Motor Vehicle Commission, all muttering and grousing, bonding in shared annoyance at the endless waiting. And God forbid you forgot to take a book or newspaper with you to read while you waited.

Maybe some of you from other states or other countries have the same problem. We can all band together in our disdain for government employees, the ones who don't give a crap about our time, who are just putting in the hours, counting the minutes until quitting time, collecting their paycheck and to hell with serving the public.

I just renewed my driver's license, and may I tell you, MVC, you're not getting older, you're getting better! It was, literally, 30 minutes from home to MVC and back home again, new license in hand, smile on my face.

Of course it helps that NJ built a new, modern facility five minutes from my house. And it helps that I knew about the multiple proof-of-identity requirements so had my passport, social security card and a credit card already in hand. And it helps that I waited until the mid-afternoon lull to go.

But really, NJ civil servants have come a long way, baby. They couldn't have been nicer or more efficient. And they even let me keep my four-years-younger, ten-pounds-lighter picture! Go, MVC!

All in all, a trip to the MVC has changed from an afternoon of hell to a few minutes of, well, not exactly pleasure, but certainly no pain.

Thanks, MVC. Thanks, New Jersey.

Now if only they could take those ten pounds off me for real...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Floored

The tile guy finished today, and the bathroom floor looks awesome!

Do you know how many millions of different kinds of floor tiles there are? Our guy sent us to a tile store, and there must have been a thousand different tiles there, plus all the optional borders and different sizes.

Lucky for me the whole store was tiled with different tiles and different patterns in room-sized sections. The pattern I liked is called "pinwheel," using 12- and 6-inch tiles. And the other lucky thing was we had a sample of the tub surround from the plumbing supplier, so I could make sure the colors were complementary.

Anyway, after agonies of indecision I finally made up my mind, and then yesterday the tile guy said, do you want straight or diagonal?

How the hell do I know?

I opted for diagonal, since that seems to be the trend, and there you have it. Anyway, it's all done and I just love the result.


What a relief.