Author Archive

Chobe National Park (2nd day)

March 5th, 2015 2 comments

First – College Guy turns 24 today. I’m never sure if he wants well wishes from the rest of the world but I am more than happy to pass them on. Right now he is the only one in California since his sisters are in Chicago, N Y C and Barcelona. We are obviously in Botswana

Today’s adventure started out the gate at 0630 and ran till 1500+ followed by diner and entertainment tonight under the stars.

This morning seemed to be mostly birds till we headed toward the river. Crocodiles were sunning themselves and a lone hippo lay ½ buried in tall marsh grass next to the water.

Then there was the slight matter of impalas everywhere. Today we saw herds of females as well as the herds of young males. Zebras move like their equine cousins and rather briskly at that. I missed the snake sighting but had to laugh at the banded mongoose.

We saw both monkeys and baboons. The monkeys, as it turns out are faster at snatching food from picnic tables than humans are defending their daily bread.

The lion was looking majestic. She was looking like cat in the sun. The giraffes continue to amaze me but perhaps the most impressive sight were the herds of elephants (40+ in one and over 20 in the other ) heading for a long afternoon drink.

The first herd

The first herd

The end of the rainy season is approaching so mating season for some species is under way. Let’s just leave it with more variety of species male dangles than I really needed to see and the permanent vision burned in my brain of male lions being faster than a teenage boy.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Chobe National Park (1st day)

March 4th, 2015 No comments

Did I mention we are staying at Baobab Camp? Booked through OAT, the actual operating organization is wilderness ( based in South Africa, traded on the London stock exchange and with a German major stockholder. Go figure.

Anyway, Both the camp & Chobe are located on the Botswana/Namibia border. Breakfast was early and we were loaded and ready to safari by 0630.

What we saw: Impala, elephants, giraffe, kudu, water bucks. Oh, and lions.

Then there were the birds: fisher eagle, plover, doves, ibis, cranes, rollers, Guinea hens, datil, jicama, kestrel, talway eagle, euro fuller, ama falcon, heron, hornbills.

I have pictures but no bandwidth at present to upload them so sorry to make you wait.

The guides are great, food excellent and my mosquito repellent is working!

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Transiting Victoria Falls

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

Part 1 – Don’t do the following: toss your sunblock in your suitcase. Bring it with, of course double wrapped in plastic when not using a hard sided suitcase. If you just happen to be using a new bag provided by your travel service you might just find out that the dye used on the interior liner is blue and soluble in sunscreen. That color did absolutely nothing for his white shirts or new tan trousers.

Then there was the panic to catch the bus to the airport. Turned out that 0830 was depart time, not arrival time of the tour coordinators. In spite of all of this, made the airport and the flight easy-peasy

Our flight was fine. And then we arrived in Zambia where immigration was slow (but still better than IAD). In the bus with a short stop at the hotel in Victoria Falls to drop off excess luggage.

Photos obviously to follow. But we are staying in a tent camp in Botswana tonight. Some electricity….. I’ll just vote for mosquito netting.

We have power 24/7. What I don’t have is a round three triangle large pin plug. Mosquito netting. Check
But elephants, giraffes, antelope, boar, baboons on the way

Categories: Travel Tags:

Johannesburg, South Africa

March 2nd, 2015 No comments

It is an overnight flight from Frankfurt. Probably the only thing that helped me survive is that I don’t have to deal with another 9 hours of time zone changes (that and using miles to upgrade …..). And no children within hearing.

We landed to sunshine pretty much on time at JNB=Tambo International Airport. Immigration was a breeze and our luggage was easy to spot on the carousel. Not seeing either our names or a rep from the travel company we caught the hotel’s shuttle. Even though it was well before noon, they cleaned our room early.

And this is when it got interesting. At least from an observational point of view. The front desk had a box of reservations for the tour company and it appeared that we were the first to check in. Since it appeared to be nap time, who cared? We had made our own flight arrangements (frequent flyer miles all the way) rather than get routed through Heathrow on British Airways.

Mid-afternoon we made the acquaintance of Carol from Santa Cruz; booked on pre-tour to Kruger. Her BA flight out of London had been delayed/cancelled last night. The re routing onto South African Airways had worked for her but not her luggage. About every 30-45 minutes we checked to see if anyone else had shown. The answer was always no. About 1830 the light finally went on in my head.

Free Wifi. Why didn’t I look at the airport arrivals? Huh. All flights from Europe land before noon, most before 0900. And there on the 0600-0900 list was BA 55. Wasn’t that her original flight? Yes. Do you know it is landing at 2200 tonight rather than 0715? (Brain flash. That must have been the London flight listed in baggage claim as delayed till 2145. )

We didn’t see any point in staying up to see if we were right but it certainly is logical. Seven others from Carol’s pre-tour extension and 10 from ours. All missing and presumed delayed at Heathrow. Arriving here -GMT+2 – about 24 hours after their original scheduled London departure. They are going to be really exhausted.

But I have high hopes for Carol’s duffle being on that flight.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Going on Safari

March 1st, 2015 12 comments

Here is what is planned:

Day 1 – Mar 1, 2015 Departing Germany – LH 572
Day 2 – Mar 2, 2015 Arrive Johannesburg, South Africa
Day 3 – Mar 3, 2015 Fly from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls •
Transfer to Chobe National Park
Day 4 – Mar 4, 2015 Wildlife viewing at Chobe National Park
Day 5 – Mar 5, 2015 Explore Chobe National Park
Day 6 – Mar 6, 2015 Fly to Okavango Delta via Kasane
Day 7 – Mar 7, 2015 Explore Okavango Delta • Moremi area
Day 8 – Mar 8, 2015 Explore Okavango Delta
Day 9 – Mar 9, 2015 Fly to Kasane • Transfer to Kafue, Zambia
Day 10 – Mar 10, 2015 Explore Kafue National Park
Day 11 – Mar 11, 2015 Explore Kafue National Park
Day 12 – Mar 12, 2015 Kafue National Park • Transfer to Hwange, Zimbabwe
Day 13 – Mar 13, 2015 Wildlife-viewing in Hwange National
Day 14 – Mar 14, 2015 A Day in the Life of a Hwange Community
Day 15 – Mar 15, 2015 Transfer to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Day 16 – Mar 16, 2015 Explore Victoria Falls
Day 17 – Mar 17, 2015 Fly to Johannesburg.

(please ignore the detour to Cape Town – not on our pre or post tour plans)

the route

the route

from here we split forces. George has to return to Switzerland, Germany and the US. I am going on to Uganda till 4 April.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Flying East

February 23rd, 2015 1 comment

Flying East, it doesn’t take long to pass into darkness even when take off is as early as 1500 in the afternoon. I’m on Lufthansa in seat 11B. The plane is an A380 which means upstairs.

The food is excellent and elegantly served.

My iPad and phone start with a complete charge. Turning down the opportunity to pay thieves rates for WiFi I elect an audiobook instead. Noting that it is now 0332 in the morning (Frankfurt time) I should consider sleep. It is about that time that a parent from down stairs is insisting that the cabin attendants open the emergency kit for some medication. It turns out to be a teething child. Unhappy and a disruption to the surrounding passengers but hardly an emergency.

This parent was not a teenager: in fact I was having an interesting time deciding if she was the mom or grandmother (having been an older mom, I am sure that more than one person mentally asked themselves this question). This completely begs the question of why you would travel unprepared. It isn’t that hard to bring liquid pain reliever, teething meds or comfort chews for that age. The cabin attendants obviously have seen worse: one bottle for a 12 hours, no diapers, extra change of clothing. All of us had flown when our children were young. We all traveled with at least 24 hours of supplies. Heading to locations with bad weather? More. We had to settle for apple quarters as something to gum. I headed back to me seat hoping she had enough sense not to let him choke if he managed to bite off a small chunk.

Seeing clouds followed by snow and sleet on landing did not exactly thrill me. I traded sunshine and lovely weather for this? Perhaps George has a point about winter weather in the East Bay. Not that I am going to admit it in public.

To top off my travels, my first bag which was primarily luggage coming back to Germany arrived promptly off the belt. My second did not arrive. Baggage tracking informed us (the lonely three passengers left) that the band had hit a snag and they were fixing it. Wait, our bags would arrive.


Meanwhile, George had driven to the airport and is waiting for me. My phone is dead and there are no visible outlets for charging anywhere. I am offered the desk phone.

But his number is in my phone…..

Categories: home, Travel Tags:

Heading home

February 22nd, 2015 No comments

hanging out in the United Lounge. This one in particular rates low. The only worse United lounge so far in my experience is Chicago as far as crowded and offering almost nothing for decent food and beverage. I drank the coffee and attempted to eat a banana.

Guess that the expectations for United customer service are low. In contrast, the Hertz rental in Berkeley is outstanding. They are willing to take cars early, late and give me a ride to the BART. Or pick one up if traveling to pick up a car.

The Lufthansa counter was quick and baggage drop off was a breeze. Packing was a bit more complicated (not made easier by having to evict Shana’s cat from the bags multiple times. Some how I didn’t think he would really enjoy such a ride.

I don’t land till almost noon tomorrow – 9 hours to be whacked again.

Categories: home, Travel Tags:

Quiet Saturday

February 21st, 2015 No comments

Doodling around. It wasn’t a day for accomplishing a whole lot.

Except for two loads of laundry, one meeting, grocery shopping, taking pictures of about seven knitting projects and making the bed.

Yes, and we can’t forget the nap.

Categories: Travel Tags:

No stitches for me

February 20th, 2015 4 comments

in a rare attack of common sense, I stayed in Berkeley today. I didn’t get in the car. I didn’t drive to Santa Clara. And I most certainly did not go to Stitches West.

I thought about it. Even had planned it. But when Alison became ill (my excuse for going so that we could spend a day together) I decided to honestly re-evaluate.

Do I need more yarn? No
Do I need more toys? No.
Are there other ways I could just as easily obtain said yarn and toys. Of course.

Can I possibly use up what I already have in this life plus, oh lets just ball park it at 30-40 years?


So I didn’t go.

It certainly didn’t have anything to do with a migraine or everything I need to accomplish prior to flying home on Sunday.

Categories: Fiber Tags:

Muir Woods

February 18th, 2015 No comments

Drive up 580. Cross the Richmond Bridge (past the refineries that were voted closed by the city council last night due to safety reasons). South on 101, out California #1 and through switchbacks, double backs and really hairy hair pins just in time to get one of the few remaining parking slots at Muir Woods National Monument.

After a stop at Muir Beach, Bluebird Yarns (Sausalito) and the North Face Outlet we returned back to the house.

You have the photos of the best part.

Categories: Friends, home, yarn Tags:

Golden Gate

February 17th, 2015 No comments

Last night the Captain announced that we would pass under the Golden Gate Bridge about 0600 this morning. I had set my alarm to be up and out with the camera. It is a good thing that I happened to look up from the book I was reading and saw some lights passing above the ship.


it was 0550.

Categories: Travel Tags:


February 15th, 2015 No comments

I am @ sea not checking either blog or email as you read this. Photos are obviously an issue when posting remotely.

Other than Crystal (see interesting experience June 2013) I haven’t cruised on a ship that offered tea daily as a matter of routine. Celebrity holds one as a reward for their frequent cruisers once per voyage.

I take that back. Perhaps P&O did on the Artemis Norway trip Noah and I took in June 2010. I don’t think I would have paid attention. But then, I was living and working in the UK which did not lead to a fondness for all things English. Voyages of Discovery was fall 2009. Since George & I seemed to be so much younger than everyone else, I am not sure I would have voluntarily and deliberately submitted to more meals. Boring, well prepared and served food. Did I mention extremely boring.

Anyway – Princess offers tea from 1530-1615. Gloved waitstaff circulate with trays of small sandwiches; offerings of sweets, breads and biscuits. Real scones are on offer with jam (whip cream not clotted cream) and the tea is poured from silver pots into sturdy mugs.

It is actually quite lovely, not that I really need anything more to eat ….

Categories: Travel Tags:

Puerto Vallarta

February 13th, 2015 No comments

Ok, try two since I managed to wipe the first completely. Go figure. Fingers faster than the brain on the phone I guess.

Today’s stop is Puerto Vallarta, much loved by crew for the easy access to both Walmart and large grocery store visible from the ship and less than 400 meters outside the port. Not a commercial port off the end of the earth either but set up to dock reasonable size cruise ships within access to all one needed.

I am guessing that Cortes/similar were responsible for what was a small fishing village on Mexico’s west coast since 1525. “Discovered” in the 1960s, tourism has helped grow the town to its current 1/4 million. Facing the Bay of Banderas (doubt any connection to Antonio) it stretches along the shore and snuggles into the mountain range just to the east.

I imagine there are more than a few time shares here to fill the tall shiny buildings with their glass and balconies. Much more appealing to me are the adobe style homes in warm colors adorned with red tile roofs easily visible from here.

Obviously the area is safe to walk and enjoy. The absence of Señor Frogs with speakers and drunks a welcome relief.

Perhaps I should have signed up for a snorkeling trip in an effort to use my OBC but there were clouds in the sky. Gee, that sounds stupid when I think of it. Let me plead cold water temps instead.

There are three sea days after this. So far I have completed two cowls and am contemplating either shawl or hat.

We dock on the 17th and it is back to the world. Or Muir Woods.

Categories: Travel Tags:

La Paz

February 12th, 2015 No comments

La Paz is old; ancient by North American European standards. Founded by Cortes a bit past 500 years ago, it lies on the eastern shore of the Baja Peninsula. The easiest connection is by ferry from the main land with the remaining 10% of goods arriving via long haul truck from the US.

So it should not surprise anyone to discover there is one primarily commercial port. At a distance of ~10 miles it certainly is not the worst shuttle bus distance I have had to ride (Newark & Brisbane come to mind just for sheer irritation and lack of public transport).

Since 40% of the local economy derives its income from tourism I was surprised at the free shuttle bus service to town. (Narration was provided by one of the local university students. Marine biology apparently is the major ). Not that I didn’t use it but surprised that the cruise line didn’t take the opportunity to cage a few more $ from the passengers.

Cynical much am I?

One of the oldest buildings is the cathedral (1535). Resembling more the missions scattered along the California coast, it is a simple non-pretentious building from the outside. The building materials are stone, block, and red brick with large amounts of mortar in some areas. Eschewing my usual ban on other people’s religious institutions I even wandered as far as the entry.

The inside is plastered walls with beautifully carved figures in several wall locations along with wooden pews and the obligate stained glass windows.

There is a center square with bandstand, benches, landscaping and well tended flowers. The shops around the square are mostly single to two story buildings. Cafes, tourist shops and local businesses compete with a Starbucks packed with passengers desperate for their 30 minutes of wifi.

I didn’t stay in town all that long. Our stop today was only from 0800-1330 and I am just not willing to brave the water temperatures.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Loreto Mexico

February 11th, 2015 No comments

I would like to say that I fully saw this lovely, quaint town. That I went snorkling and hiking. That I enjoyed the sunshine, mild breeze and beautiful waters.

But I didn’t.

It is a tender port that prides itself on limiting the commercial and staying individual it meant for me that there limited choices for working this morning. Probably I should just feel lucky that my board call this morning fell on a port day.

out there - but I'm in here...

out there – but I’m in here…

The independent local hotel has wifi – free for those sitting around and drinking coffee. Day pass which gets you pool and food access just didn’t see worth it since it is the same network (I think). Everything worked well till about 45 minutes before I had to be on line when the lobby filled up and everything ground down to a halt. Skype doesn’t work if you don’t have bandwidth.

But, as it turns out – data over my phone will work for dialing in on Skype. Go figure. Now my only question is going to be – how long is my 3Euros going to last…..

(and if something changes – I will add it ….)

Categories: Travel Tags:


February 10th, 2015 1 comment

And sea lions and cormorants (oh my)

First up. The Eldest has a birthday today. For those who didn’t know / didn’t remember – she relocated to the Bay Area in August and started a Masters Program at USF. On top of overseeing the house renovations and working. (More than proud parent here )

Meanwhile, Carmen signed us up for whale watching this morning. Cabo is a tender port so it was off early to board the zodiacs. This is absolutely the right time of year to see whales here. Some are hanging out; others passing through on migration.

First – the rocks –

The humpbacks were on display today. Pods of 4-5. Singles doing there own thing and a couple of males putting on a multiple breach display of their manly prowess.

And then the whales –

In case you didn’t get the size of the humpback

whale breaching near a good size boat ....

whale breaching near a good size boat ….

Categories: Travel Tags:

All Cruise lines are not the same

February 9th, 2015 2 comments

Ok. I will admit to having sailed on more than a few cruise lines. Also have sailed in various classes of cabins. As a result I have to keep reminding myself that I am not on _______ whatever.

Princess- food has been good. They automatically put a note in the daily bulletin about knitters group every sea day (I don’t have to either organize or inform). They have a serious amount of lounge space for the number of passengers, multiple pools (including enclosed area), a manned internet area and more non-pay eating venues.

The cabins are the smallest if any cruise line I have been on. You don’t even get a seating area in the cabin till you are at the mini-suite level (which are about the same size as the midrange balconies on Royal, NCL, Costa, MSC ). They certainly are not comparable to Royals Junior Suites. They don’t have a suites lounge, or dedicated concierge. Similar to Celebrity, the loyalty club ambassador doubles as a concierge for the Elite members. Otherwise you just ask
The front desk. The dedicated dining area is only for breakfast and not early enough on port days.

There are more than enough
Bars. There are always enough bars. For those who are not familiar with Captains Circle (loyalty club) nights/cruises do combine with P&O. Levels are reached by number of cruises (regardless of length) or number of nights (which count singly regardless of cabin class. The way to progress would be to stack 3-5 day cruises in a suite (counts double for number of cruises but not for bed nights)

Now that I have you completely confused (grin). I wouldn’t hesitate to take Princess again, in spite of having to haul life jackets to the muster drill. Especially for a last minute cheap deal out of SF. The passengers are an interesting, nice mix. It would not be my preference over Royal or NCL. Partly based on loyalty club status and partly on familiarity. I would take them over Celebrity ( I just don’t like plastic shiny hotel lobbies) and definitely over Costa (Atlantica is a great ship) or MSC

That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

Categories: Travel Tags:

First Sea Day

February 8th, 2015 No comments

I survived. Not the finding the pier; that was easy. Getting on board ship equally so (minus the hanging out in the terminal and mandatory people watching).
Rather I am speaking of Cruise Critic. I am mostly used to cruise lines where the line organizes the Meet & Mingle for you. Not Princess.

So there I am, the idiot who started the Roll Call thread and sort of having put it together ahead of time. Princess doesn’t put out refreshments. Always aware of income, they did have a bartender manning the counter invade someone needed alcohol. At 1100.
It wen ok. At least half the group introduced themselves. We discussed the couple of planned activities and ended with a gift exchange.

Just about the time we were winding down the hotel director stopped by. And introduced himself. It was more about him than I wanted to know, but it filled time and he was pretty funny Tho I don’t think it was on purpose.

In the afternoon we held a cabin crawl. New concept to a lot of Princess Cruisers. Stopped at seven cabins walking in a large group ending at our cabin. Several stayed to chat a while and the Toronto couple provided the wine.

Line comparison and other thoughts over the rest of the sea days.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Trying a new route/cruise line

February 7th, 2015 8 comments

This is my standard going away post. The ship is the Star Princess. I haven’t tried Princess before but she leaves from San Francisco which couldn’t have been easier.
star princess
This is the route



And this is what we have planned.

Sat Feb 7 San Francisco, CA 4:00pm
Sun Feb 8 At Sea
Mon Feb 9 At Sea
Tue Feb 10 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 8:00am 5:00pm
Wed Feb 11 Loreto, Mexico 8:00am 6:00pm
Thu Feb 12 La Paz, Mexico 7:00am 2:00pm
Fri Feb 13 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Noon 8:00pm
Sat Feb 14 At Sea
Sun Feb 15 At Sea
Mon Feb 16 At Sea
Tue Feb 17 San Francisco, CA 7:00am

I am dragging along Carmen on this trip since we didn’t get to cruise this past fall and I decided that she needed time out. No, not a time out, time out and away from snow, rain, work and family obligations….

For whatever stupid reason, I wound up in charge of the Meeting & Greet Cruise Critic Group. Princess, unlike Royal/Celebrity/others – doesn’t organize for you or run on-line registration….

Ah well – at least new food and experiences!



Categories: Travel Tags:

Lost Cat

February 2nd, 2015 8 comments

One of the often ignored challenges of home renovations is tat of keeping pets safe. Cats locked in a room tend to cry and howl until hoarse, making themselves and everyone within ear shot totally and completely miserable. Cats not imprisoned may flee the premise when workmen fail, in spite of repeated instruction, to shut all doors all the time.

And so it was that the Eldest and I returned from running errands to find College Guy outside calling for the cat.



Now admittedly, I can understand to a certain extent about doors and windows. These are the floor guys and they are sealing the upstairs floors. Ventilation is important. Hence opening doors and windows. I can also understand why the escape artist managed to get away.

Like any cat a la Heinlein – there just has to be a Door into Summer. Given the balmy weather currently gracing Berkeley, that door may not lead to anything better. Mousier? Jucier or Catnippier maybe – but the weather has been gracious to those who are relieved to not be braving New York City or Chicago’s snow heaps.

So anytime a door to the OUT opens, Onyx feels as a true representative of the jungle cat kingdom that he is personally responsible for checking it out.

It might have been amusing at some point. But as darkness fell, the two offspring making wider and wider neighborhood circles calling for him there was no entertainment value. Instead I had two adults ready for meltdowns both of whom had a myriad of other things to tend.

Posters were printed and put up by the time it was full dark.

This story does have a good ending. About five hours into his absence I heard an answer outside to one of the kids calling. A quite disgusted answer. Onyx was really angry. All those people in HIS house. Not leaving so that he could come back with dignity and not being called like an errant child. Disturbing his peace and naps.

From here on in, we are ignoring the pleas and crys. He stays locked up while workmen are here.

Categories: home Tags:

Long Standing Communities

January 26th, 2015 No comments

1) Weirds: Apparently the new must have item for the well appointed tourist is the selfie-stick. We were approached by not one or two vendors of same along our route to the Coliseum yesterday but literally dozens of hucksters all with variations of the same. Unlike some of the other tourist gear- it seems that anyone not with one in their hand was fair game.
There I am, with my Canon 5D Mark III. It is not a small camera. Obviously I am not taking pictures with my phone. They STILL try to sell me one. After saying NO in several different languages I quit saying anything at all. When approached, as his mouth opens I just raise my camera and an eyebrow or two, then shake my head. They back off. Not completely stupid…

After stoping at the Pantheon (which I kept mispronouncing, adding an “r’ or so and ignoring the response of “not here, that is Athens” and in any case doesn’t have anything more to do with gods/goddesses since being taken over by the Catholics ?14? Centuries ago…) George and I walked toward the old Jewish Ghetto area. Clearly labeled (mostly by all the Restaurants with various versions of Kosher, Ghetto etc in their names). As it turns out, once the restrictions on where Jews could live were lifted, most moved out. Today, given the location in the city, only the extremely poor who couldn’t afford to leave and the very wealthy who can afford to move back are in the area.

The main Synagogue is here along with an extremely well presented museum. Current estimates (most likely formed from the rolls of those who have paid membership in the Jewish Community of Rome) is that the population is ~ 13,500 about 4,000 are from Libya. The community itself is one of the oldest of the diaspora and dates back more than two thousand years. The history is long and complicated depending on the Romans/Christians/governments/Popes/Crusades/etc of the time. For example: 1492 when the Inquisition hit Spain, Jews fled and were welcomed in Rome where the Spanish origin Pope….

None of it makes sense, but then issues of prejudice, persecution and fear never do. The community survived WWII in spite of the Nazis taking over the Italian government in Sept 1943 although not without serious deportations and deaths in concentration camps. Like everywhere else, there were heroes and villains. The main synagogue is still here (minhaq is Italian and old). There are also numerous other synagogues so you can find the liturgy of your interest (Sephardic, Libyan, Askenazik, plus others). Most are still constructed along orthodox lines with separate women’s sections.

We headed toward the river and walked along it. Since we were so close we detoured to St Peters Square and the Basilica. I looked in the shops (rosaries, books, icons, statues, paintings…). The Church is not dumb – any tourist can pay for the privilege avoiding the 2-3 hour line for the cheaper Basilica entrance. So not my thing, we returned to the river, crossed back to our side and headed back to the hotel (20,601 according to the FitBit).

I now need to get logged in for my flight tomorrow. It is a long way to San Francisco via Zurich…

Categories: Travel Tags:

Behind the Walls

January 25th, 2015 No comments

Everywhere in Rome you look there are walls. Not the simple house walls that are familiar to most Americans. Here there are freestanding, surrounding and/or part of a still existing edifice. Some are found meters below the current street level in ongoing archeological excavations. Others are simply part of a house; which house might be hard to determine, but part of a house.

Perhaps the most famous walls are those forming the Coliseum where it is not just the iconic outer walls but the warren that existed below the floor, now visible to those visiting this particular historical site. Given the number of people posing everywhere with their cameras and selfie-sticks, I don’t think the fate of gladiators, lions or early Christians ever crossed their minds.

Again today we walked (17,557 according to my supposedly reliable FitBit), Wandering down this road and that, detouring around a bit of free standing wall, I had to wonder at the centuries that passed since someone (probably slaves) had started its construction.

For most of the day the weight of the city seemed to increase as we walked from one century into the next, then back across millennium in modern clothing and sturdy shoes so unlike the sandals and fabrics of years gone by. We missed the persecutions and Black Plague in our journeys but were captured by pasta…..

Walls and edifice photos to follow when I have decent internet.

Oh, and in follow up for the snerts and snickers: There really couldn’t have been much there if a fig leaf no bigger than the palm of my hand could cover everything. OTOH, if you “know” you are a god it probably wouldn’t have matter since snickering would never have been allowed….

Categories: Travel Tags:

Two for one & a bonus of Pantheon

January 24th, 2015 No comments

If you are easily offended by comments on Italian/religious art please stop reading right now and hit the as the rest of this post has absolutely nothing to do with tolerance or political correctness.


After leaving the ship early via walk off and sharing a cab to the train station (20€/taxi & 10€/2 on the train) Salli and I took the 0640 to Rome Termini. Since George walked over from the hotel I was once again able to prove that I actually have a husband.

The Rome planning I left to George which might explain my present total and complete amazement. We first wandered over to the Palais Borghese which is now devoted to art. I could not imagine that there were actually that many fat baby paintings much less male religios figures with and without spikes/thorns/clothing/other people …. Oh yes. And to balance it we had the whole (or major part) of the Roman pantheon engaged in various activities with rape and flogging well represented.

Then there are those paintings and statues with and without fig leaves. I will end this section with the question: is a man without a penis still a god?

Moving on, the next stop was the modern art museum. Again, like the Istanbul Modern, some was fabulous and other paintings I just didn’t get. If some one had labeled them as middle school art projects I would not have known the difference.

FYI, Trevi Fountain is currently under renovation. There is a complete set up of elevated walk ways which had the horde shuffling along Zombie like in single file to take their pictures of scaffolding, plastic sheeting and the occasional visible extremity.

I was Museumed out for the day. Plenty of marble buildings with curlicues, Roman Numeral dates. There are enough religious statues and crosses to give me a complex.

We wandered around for s few hours more before heading back to the hotel. My FitBit is saying 19,725 steps.

That should be enough.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Oh, drat. Its raining in Naples

January 23rd, 2015 No comments

Within the thoughts and plans I had for Naples today not even once did I consider the factor of rain. I failed to read the bulletin last night which quietly mentioned a “chance of rain” along with 11*C. Perhaps it was optimism? Or maybe the absence of rain until yesterday? In any case, even with damp blowing in from the balcony and the pool deck empty I never seriously considered the implications for today.

Somehow I don’t think riding along in the top of the HOHO is going to be all that comfortable. Interesting, yes in terms of seeing my endurance for being a duck. But not for enjoying the coast or taking pictures of the country side. Those going up to Pompeii should have an “interesting” experience.

Did I mention my failure to pack an umbrella? Not that we don’t have a good dozen strewn across two continents. But to pack one? First trip in about 10 that I have failed to pack this particular essential and obviously the one time it counts.

George should be landing in Frankfurt about this time. His love message from me will consist of the umbrella question with an offer to visit the terminal shop here in Naples which just happens to feature a wide variety from the purely functional to the cheerful and ridiculous.

(Reply – no, he doesn’t have one either. But I don’t know what I was thinking. He will be in Rome by this afternoon and without umbrella. I don’t get there till tomorrow. Oh well, one can’t have too much protection can one?)

Being brave, I attempting the HOHO. Made it the first 30 minutes on the Blue line before the cold and the spitting bit of rain drove me downstairs on the bus in time to claim the last seat. Those that waited longer both got soaked and had to stand.

Since it was an hour to the next bus on the Red Line (around the city) I elected to find the coffee shop, decent speed WiFi and dry out…. Will give me the whole afternoon in the cabin to resort, pack again and contemplate the morning..

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No, wait! not tomorrow

January 22nd, 2015 No comments

I don’t depart the ship tomorrow, it is the day after. Having a port stop on the last day of the cruise is more than a little bit disconcerting for me. We are in Naples again tomorrow and I am planning on getting off, taking the HopOnHopOff for a leisurely if not smooth ride down the coast. This means I have to pack today after 19 days in the same cabin. Getting everything out is easy. Attempting the jigsaw puzzle that clothing, shoes and birthday presents is something else. I pack fairly light but still have a number of things that never saw light unless a drawer opened. Clothing not worn, yarn still in wrappers with the ball band in place

I finished a couple of hats and a cowl but nowhere near what I had planned. Might have something to do with reading a couple dozen books rather than listening to audiobooks. Might be due to the lack of a craft group. In any case, I gave both yarn and needles untouched which will still need a ride home.

One of the other cruisers and I have decided to split a cab to the train station in the morning. No, wait. On Saturday morning. Just because I am packed does NOT mean we disembark in the morning. But you can tell I am confused.

It has been about three times today that I have made the same error.

But as long as I am not standing at the elevator tomorrow morning luggage in hand I should be fine.

Not tomorrow, Saturday. Right?

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Also in Istanbul

January 21st, 2015 No comments

Today we are at sea (as well as tomorrow) as we sail to our last port stop in Naples.

Rather than head back to the old city again I elected to hike up the hills on this side in a effort to find the tower and perhaps take a leisurely stroll down the main shopping street. Three km of pedestrian zone? No? Well part of it at least.

It turned out to be fairly easy. Straight up the hill from the Tophane tram stop. Past the very friendly chocolate lab and sunning cats. Avoiding the garbage trucks on their pickup rounds and the occasional taxi flying down the hill oblivious yo the uphill spikes set across the road at reguksr intervals. Street so narrow there is barely room for a pedestrian on the sidewalk to either side of s passing vehicle.

Suddenly, there I am facing a street busy with antique appearing trams, service vehicles and bustling shoppers. Turning away from the harbor I start to stroll.

Once again chestnuts are on offer at practically ever corner. The other food vendor carts start to multiply as the morning slips toward noon. There are sales everywhere with prices clearly posted; often less than those in the Bazaar. Since haggling leaves me cold, I find this more comfortable.

I pass the Greek Consulate with its meters high picture of sailing vessels on the wall while music pours from a nearby bookstore at deafening levels. All the usual suspects of international store chains are here: Gap, Diesel, Medianart, BK, the non-Scottish restaurant, LaCosta, Swatch….what you don’t see are carpet shops or leather goods. If that it what you want, I think everyone – local and tourist alike – heads to the Grand Bazaar area.

I turned at the monument and flowersrket to head back down the hill. You can find just about anything to eat from honey soaked baclava through kebabs, kebabs, smørbrot to elegant sit down meals with wine. Alcohol is freely and plentifully available. Remember what I said about a modern, secular country? I passed the catholic church set back behind iron gates. The short sturdy women of indeterminate age only distinguishable from their Muslim counterparts by how they wear their head scarves.

I finished the afternoon at the Istanbul Modern. Normally Art museums are just not my thing perhaps due to an over exposure in 1972 while backpacking in Europe. I take it all back. It was more than worth the time. Presenting modern art from the end of the Califats through today the exhibits were intelligently presented. Providing enough background to understand both the artist and social context. Obviously I hadn’t been aware of how integrated the Turkish artists had been in the Paris Art Scene at the turn of the last century. Nor how many women were involved and respected during that time. Government grants provided subsidies for study abroad to the best. It is notable that all the ties appear to be to the West.

Some of it I like, some absolutely not with a fair amount of I just don’t get it sprinkled between.

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Cruising the Bosporus

January 20th, 2015 No comments

At night the Bosporus is a dark ribbon winding between two brightly lit shores. The cruise terminal is near the Galata Bridge (well around a kilometer or so which qualifies as near) and about 30 km short of the Black Sea. In a rare attack of common sense last evening I elected to spend some of my otherwise less than useful OBC on an cruise of the Bosporus.

I won’t give you literary or lyrical prose a la Alice Hoffman. It was cold, windy and brilliant. Our bus took us from ship side across the bridge to the dock on the peninsula. As an aside, we are on the European, not Asian, side of the city where over 65% of the 15 million people live and work. An additional more than two million commute to European side via ferry, two bridges, subway. There is s second subway tunnel under construction along with a planned four lane car tunnel. Personally I don’t think it is going to make a difference in the sane traffic since either more residents of the Asian side will attempt to drive to work or more will move to that side to take advantage of newer housing and less crowded living conditions. London has the right idea: tax driving to the point where only public transport is affordable. Bicycles aren’t an option, not with these hills

Where was I?

Ah yes, freezing my face off on the river with a couple of guides and two bus loads of my very best friends. We sailed first up the European side of the river past brightly lit palaces built by Sultan 3? (depending on the palace – 32, 36 or other. When the Sultans reign stretched about 600 years give or take a few decades it is for school children and historians to know. The Republic was established ~ 1933 so at least one positive political occurrence that decade. All the expensive and name hotels are located along with the main shopping areas on this side of the city. There are mosques a plenty most built in what was referred to as the Ottoman Style. We passed an Armenian Orthodox Church. There are several Christian churches serving most of the 20k who live in Turkey (Ankara area as the Capital for most of them). There are 21 synagogues serving the 18k of 20k who make Istanbul their home.

We traveled north toward the Black Sea past the houses of the wealthy packed like tenements along the shore. We passed a huge fort which is now used for open air concerts. Turning around past the bridges we could see the lights of humanity stretching off into the distance. We cruised back along the Asian side which is obviously less dense in population before crossing back to the dock on the old city side of the river.

It wasn’t till I was on the bus that I could unclamp my fingers from the camera. Having both hat and hood, I blame my shivers on the wind. Even so, I’d do it again in a heart beat. Should I make it back to Istanbul I would like to cruise all the way to the Black Sea again.

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Istanbul – a city of shopkeepers?

January 19th, 2015 No comments

They line the bridge on both sides of the Bosporus avoiding only the center section where the fries run. Men of mostly older ages with poles, reels, bait pails and styrofoam chest starting full of ice when they arrive to preserve the hoped for catch It is up to the pedestrians to avoid the casting just as it personal responsibility not to stand in the center of the sidewalk interfering with the flow of hurrying people. The cars are topside as well while the tram runs in the middle shaking the bridge as it crosses. There are restaurants on the lower level complete with waitstaff aggressively accosting everyone walking past while extolling the virtues of their freshly caught fish.

At this time of day it seems to be mostly men on the street with the air reeking from their unfiltered cigarettes. After heading up hill toward the Grand Bazaar there are more and more couples and women. The young are strolling; infected with smart phoneitis and oblivious to their surroundings. Cats and carts with roasted chestnuts. Mosques, schools and shops; the old is intermixed with the new featuring marble, glass and Burger King.

It’s a nice hike. I am sort of following the tram tracks. I pass Haga Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Archeological Museum, the Mosaic Museum. The sidewalks become more crowded as it gets later. Inside the Grand Bazaar I wend my way through alley after shop. All the merchants are shilling their goods. Avoiding eye contact and if forced to answer I am using a polite but firm no thanks in German. The method seems to work as many of them start scrambling for the right pitch.

But I don’t need souvenirs, carpets, mosaics, purses, bags, shirts, jackets, leather goods and certainly not antiques. There are head scarves and shawls everywhere. There are not that many women here with head coverings. A few who do are dressed traditionally, but there are a lot of bright colors and cheerful patterns worn by young women in jeans and motorcycle boots. Did I mention the ubiquitous leather jacket? In normal colors plus Russian decorated with fur and glitz?

I hiked back to the ship in afterwork traffic just ahead of the falling dark. Feeling pretty good about the 10 km hike out, back and around I was no pleased to find my FitBit had once again lost its charge in less than two days.

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Kusadasi, Turkey

January 18th, 2015 No comments

or “I didn’t go to Ephasus again”

There is the smell of fish in the air as I leave the ship this morning so it should be no surprise to see the fishermen lined up along the sidewalk along the harbor. As I walk toward the fort the air is crisp and cool. My answer to why the fort seems to be in good shape is easily answered as I get nearer. Relatively modern in construction, there is a barrier across the road while a flag flies high overhead. Yes, 20th century and in use, probably as government or military. As I continue up the coast road I revise my age estimate. A few holes in the outer walls has thinking WWII.

Seeing the lovely modern houses and villas and resort hotels just over the rise reminds me of how modern Turkey can be and why (as my phone reminded me this morning when it asked me to chose a new Auslandsdataplan ) I keep forgetting it is not part of the EU. One of the traditional jokes around NATO was the we should consider ourselves a success simply from keeping Greece & Turkey from war. Now, looking at the respective financial states of the two countries it seems obvious that fear and prejudice on the part of the EU is rather stupid in the financial sense. Just like we should not judge Mexico (in the US) based on drugs, bus boys, or Tijuana so should we not judge Turkey on religion, putzfraus or sanitation workers.

Walking back down the hill I decided to walk out to the fort anyway. And as it turns out, revise completely my earlier thoughts. The base of one tower is obviously centuries old. The building itself is closed for renovations. I was not wrong about the bullet holes although it might be more proper to think of them as machine gun spray given their distribution in the foundation rocks.

The secret to exploring the main part of town is to walk briskly and avoid eye contact. I have strongly considered buying a blue tooth ear piece and striding along babbling in pig Latin with it turned off just to get some peace. Kasadasi resembles St Maarten only with mosaics imbedded in the sidewalk. Skin colors vary but the pitch is the same: jewelry furs leather goods fashion coffee. Separate the tourist from their €/£\¥\$. And as it turns out, the Jade is the only ship through this month. That does make the merchants more than willing to bargain; taking the price below that which I remember from Istanbul two years where the market is rich with European tourists. What is even better is that many jewelry and watch shops have “genuine fake” right in their advertising script painted on the marquee.

Interesting sidebar: NCL has changed their OBC policy. Non cash from the cruise line itself can’t be used for the daily service charge. It can be used for “extra tips” and all the usual on board stuff. All of which means the concierge, the butler and the Sushi restaurant are going to get lucky!

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January 17th, 2015 No comments

Rather then fight traffic and lose an hour each way, I elected to stay local today. Pireaus is a city. Bustling with business, chandlers, and people. It is an interesting combination of old and new. A lot of money has gone into upgrades in the last few years. Sidewalks, large glass-steel-marble buildings most of which unfortunately have empty eyed shop space looking for tenants. We docked at Terminal B which is about 1 km around the central harbor from downtown. I passed beautiful Greek Orthodox churches on the way along with parks, luggage and watch shops.

While making pass along a side street i stumbled upon two needlework shops with a side line in worsted weight bright acrylic yarns. But their threads, beads and notions were top of the line. In the same area it was a combination of old and new. Narrow shops with goods displayed in front, like shops clustered. Herbs, spices, dishes, hardware, cookware. There was a small shop for it overseen by bored young family member, middle aged aggressive family or smiling toothless elder. I wandered through a couple of amazing toy stores. Given the amount of child costume “stuff ” the equivalent of Fasching/Mardi Gras must exist inside the Greek Orthodox as well. Jumbo was amazing; four flours starting with toys and costumes through paper products, part supply, household goods & cleaning product ending with gardening. No catnip seeds. I looked.

This is really Greece. Not remote villages catering to tourist and putting on dance shows but the kind of city where people live and work. Older men sitting in cafes with their coffee and cigarettes, fish markets, stores for the necessities of life and business. Young people riding their motorcycles and mopeds helmetless through the street while everyone jaywalks. Not the high end Harley, BMW crew in full leathers and helmets mind you irrespective of country on their license plates. Apparently money does connect to brains in some cases. Along the harbor and across from all the ferries are the port agents, travel agents. Ferry offices and ticket sales interspersed with cafes and the inevitable “men’s” clubs.

If I was going to spend a day here and didn’t want tired feet at the end I would take the HoHo Bus. Two loops each over an hour and extremely inexpensive.

Oh, and in case you forgot yours, there is a young man selling towels outside the train station.

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January 16th, 2015 No comments

16 January 2015 – katakolon, Greece

A small town as such locations in Greece go. The sidewalks appear to be new in the last several years complete with textured insets for the visually impaired. The main section next to the dock is heavily weighted to souvenirs and cafes with a few clothing shops interspersed. The gauntlet of independent tour operators, taxi drivers and sales personal is extremely polite as such crowds go. They have signs but are not in your face as is common in the Caribbean.

There are two small museums in town: one on musical instruments, the other claims ownership of over 300 early inventions as Greek. Guess that South America, China and the mid-east aren’t important…. Almost as much fun as the class of ~30 school children (best guess as they never stopped moving long enough to be sure of an accurate count) who had invaded just before I arrived at the door. For 2€ it was a reasonable bargain although the translations were a bit interesting.

I wandered the town which is small and seems mostly a stepping off place for the port and home to a motley collection of smaller fishing vessels. Hugh season is April-Sept with only 1-2 ships/month off season which may explain why the welcome mat was out at 0800. This maybe Greece, but not being open for the tourists is lost money. I finally found an ATM. Taking a hike about 1km out of town I found a hole in the wall local Mercado. They had a few items I wanted; later finding the shiny new shop in town with most of the same products at 20% higher. Also Prominently featured here as well as in many other local shops are olive oil products. Oil to wood to soap and a variety of cosmetics in between.

I enjoyed the day of no pressure, a walk along the sea wall and even the mailing off of a few postcards. Note to self, it’s ok to get the self stick stamps even if they feature Rudolph. The Greeks don’t place a decent amount of glue on their regular stamps. I am more concerned with them falling off than with some crime unit identifying me from saliva. After all, I signed all the cards…..

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