Archive for the ‘Summer 2012 Travel’ Category

Day thirteen: Monday, September 3: Going home

September 5, 2012

We got up early as our friends Jonathan and Dave from San Diego had reserved a private van to take us to the airport as they also had a mid-day flight.  We arrived at the airport 45-minutes later which contrast sharply to the multi-hour, insanely crowded train odyssey we had last year at the end of our cruise.  We checked-in, did a little last minute souvenir shopping to spend our last Euros and boarded our flight to London’s Heathrow.  We connected smoothly to our flight to San Diego.  We arrived in San Diego tired, but fine, our luggage; however was delayed.  We had dinner at El Cuervo (we always crave Mexican food when we are traveling outside the U.S.), picked up some groceries and went to bed.  Our luggage arrived Wednesday mid-morning, so all is well.


Day twelve: Sunday, September 2: Palermo, Sicily

September 5, 2012

Today we began a little earlier as we were only in Palermo from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  We self-guided ourselves through the city with David from San Jose.  We took an hour-long walk from the port to the Catacombs of the Capuchin Friars, where more than 8,000 mummified bodies of monks, noblemen and citizens are dressed in their original 15th century clothes.  The most interesting is the body of Rosalia Lombardo, almost perfectly preserved though this baby girl died in 1920, at the tender age of two.  It was interesting that people were definitely physically smaller than they are today.  The church is still used today and Sunday services were in progress as we were departing.

We also saw the Teatro Massimo (the opera house), The Royal Palace Pretoria and the Piazza Pretoria.  Since it was Sunday morning, Palermo was very quiet as most were in church.  As the day went on we saw more people, but most shops and restaurants were closed and we were told ‘no Wi-Fi on Sundays.’  Palermo is not clean; we noticed trash, graffiti and periodic unclean smells.

Palermo alley

Palermo archway

Palermo church

Palermo intersection

Palermo street

Palermo Teatro Massimo, Opera house 1

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral 1

Palermo Cathedral arches

Palermo Cathedral art

Palermo Cathedral clock tower 1

Palermo Catacombs

Palermo Catacombs 1

Jared and Matt, Departing Palermo















Day eleven: Saturday, September 1: Valletta, Malta

September 5, 2012

Today we did a self-guided tour of the small Island nation of Malta.  Our first stop was St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which is an excellent example of Baroque architecture.  The church is ornately decorated and features haunting Caravaggio paintings.  Our next stop was the Casa Rocca Piccola, a 400-year-old estate that is still owned by the descendants of the original family.  The elegant home even features a WWII bomb shelter.  We then meandered around and did a little shopping, followed by lunch at a local restaurant featuring traditional Maltese cuisine.  Malta is a mix of British, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culture.  My lunch consisted of a platter of sun-dried tomatoes, ratatouille, hummus, olives, cheese, salad and bruschetta.  Malta is clean and beautiful.

The evening’s entertainment was Dixie Longate, a very funny drag queen who integrates a Tupperware demonstration as part of her comedy act, mostly used as props during her routine.

Malta port 3

Malta steps

Matt, Jared, Kevin and Bill, Malta

Jared, Matt, St. John’s

St. John’s altar

St. John’s altar close up

St. John’s altar, side view

St. John’s candles

St. John’s Cathedral

St. John’s Cathedral, Malta










St. John’s interior arches

St. John’s looking toward altar

St. John’s looking toward altar 2

Tomb, St. John’s

Casa Rocca Piccola ceiling

Casa Rocca Piccola china closet

Casa Rocca Piccola hand carved table

Casa Rocca Piccola hand carved table 1

Casa Rocca Piccola Murano chandelier

Casa Rocca Piccola Summer dining room

Casa Rocca Piccola Summer dining room close up

Casa Rocca Piccola, portable ‘fold out’ altar

Jared, Casa Rocca Piccola WWII bomb shelter













Day ten: Friday, August 31: Sea Day

September 5, 2012

Today we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast on the very back of the ship with a view of the gentle sea.  The Celebrity Equinox is the sister ship of the Silhouette, which was the ship we were on last year.  The ships are very beautiful and feature a lawn area, chilled martini bar, an indoor solarium pool with thick cushions on teak wood deck chairs and plenty of elegant places to sit.  The cabins are also very nice.

We sat by the pool and enjoyed the expanded brunch buffet in the main dining room for lunch.  The evening’s entertainment was Andy Bell from Erasure.  He gave a fantastic performance and his voice is as great as it was 30-years ago.  The evening dance party was 80’s.

Day nine: Thursday, August 30: Depart Istanbul

September 1, 2012

We decided to treat the second day in Istanbul as a ‘sea day’ and not do any touring.  We slept in and then I went to the Starbucks near the dock to ‘re-connect’ with the outside world.

As I set my backpack down, I overheard an exchange between an angry customer and the Starbucks cashier just after she paid for her coffee (one of several such exchanges during my visit).  Evidently the only way to aces the free Wi-Fi is to input a Turkish cell phone number into the Website and then a text message is sent which you then need to enter into the Website.  I then noticed a local woman helping a fellow tourist access the Internet this way.  She very graciously offered to help me as well.  I offered to buy her coffee, but she said ‘No, it was my pleasure; it was nice to meet you.’  I was so impressed with the woman’s kindness.  I wondered how many Americans would stop what they were doing and spend several minutes entering information into a Website, waiting for a text message, then entering in a code to help two strangers.

My Starbucks experience encapsulates my impression of the Turkish people.  Everywhere we went they offered us tea, even in the restaurant after we had paid the bill, we were offered tea as a way to welcome, or in this case, thank us.  Turkey is very clean, we didn’t notice any graffiti, trash or homeless people.  It also features good public transportation, including a light rail system that reminded us of the Portland light rail system.  Istanbul also includes dedicated bus lanes to move passengers through the heavily congested streets.

In the afternoon, as we sailed away from Istanbul we relaxed by the pool, chatting with friends.  That evening we met Ethan and Ralph for drinks at the Martini Bar.  We ordered the Martini flight which featured the bartender combining six martini shakers nested into each other.  He then slowly tipped them horizontally pouring them into six junior martini glasses from about 18 inches above the glasses not spilling a drop.  It was quite impressive.  The martinis were good.  We then had dinner with a large group of 12 friends from San Diego, Boston, Toronto and Milan.  Mattea from Milan toasted ‘to the cooperation of the countries’ which I thought was an appropriate toast for the day.

The evenings dance party theme was ‘Olympic Overload.’  Bill and Kevin dressed as horse jockeys.

Ethan, Jared, Matt and Ralph at Martini Bar

Bill and Kevin Olympic Overload Party

Day eight: Wednesday, August 29: Istanbul, Turkey

August 30, 2012

Today we took a self-guided tour of Istanbul with our friends Bill and Kevin.  We walked from the port over the Galata Bridge, along the banks of the Golden Horn, which is what separates Europe from Asia.  I noticed that women were more traditionally dressed and some wore burkahs.  We made our way to the Blue Mosque, which was built in 1609 and is still used as a mosque today.  The Blue Mosque is beautiful with high ceilings and stained glass windows.  We then took the short walk to the Hagia Sophia, which was built as a mosque in the sixth century.  The Hagia Sophia features well preserved mosaics and impressive marble decorations.  We stopped for lunch at a traditional Turkish restaurant that featured excellent Wi-Fi.  The first question I asked as we approached was ‘do you have Wi-Fi?’  After Wi-Fi was confirmed we then looked at the menu:)

After a nice lunch and the ability to re-connect and share with the outside world, we headed to the Grand Bazaar.  This incidentally is the real Grand Bazaar; the one I mentioned in my Kusadasi post is certainly a nice shopping area, but does not compare to the actual Grand Bazaar here in Istanbul.  The bazaar consists of over 4,000 shops selling everything from food to clothing, shoes, jewelry to toys and textiles.

We enjoyed a relaxing dinner in the Tuscan Grille, one of the ships specialty restaurants with Warren and Ed, who recently relocated to San Diego from the WashingtonD.C. area.  The view from the restaurant included the Galata Bridge which featured animated lights that changed colors.

Blue Mosque 1

Blue Mosque ceiling

Blue Mosque ceiling close up

Blue Mosque exterior 1

Blue Mosque stained glass close up

Blue Mosque stained glass windows

Istanbul Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia altar 2

Hagia Sophia angel

Hagia Sophia ceiling 1

Hagia Sophia dome from second floor

Hagia Sophia entrance

Hagia Sophia exterior

Hagia Sophia fresco 1

Hagia Sophia fresco 1 close up

Hagia Sophia looking toward altar from second floor

Hagia Sophia spires

Hagia Sophia waiting to pray area

Matt, Jared Hagia Sophia second floor

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar, interior

Grand Bazaar, interior 2

Istanbul 1

Istanbul 2

Istanbul 3


























Day seven: Tuesday, August 28: Kusadasi, Turkey

August 29, 2012

Bill, Kevin, Matt and I met our tour guide at the port at 7:30 a.m. and easily identified her as she had a sign with Kevin’s name on it.  She was young and very friendly.  We boarded our well air conditioned Mercedes Sprinter van and took the 30-minute scenic drive to Ephesus.  Our guide mentioned that while 97% of Turkey’s population is Muslim, the country is very modern and most are not deeply religious.  Women don’t typically wear long dresses and burkahs.  Our Muslim tour guide had dyed blond hair and wore short shorts and a tank top and looked every bit American or Western European.

The weather was very pleasant for most of our morning tour; it only began to get warm toward the end which made for a pleasant experience.  The ancient city of Ephesus had a population of about 250,000 and was an influential port.  We were impressed with the condition of the ruins, better than Pompeii.  The city featured a public bath house which visitors used before entering the city to prevent the spread of illnesses.  Slaves warmed the toilets by sitting on them before wealthy people used them.  Ephesus featured an indoor heating system that included heating water from a wood-burning fire boiler and moving the hot water through a series of pipes with holes in them for the steam to escape into the rooms.  The three-story library was the third largest of the ancient world with over 12,000 scrolls.  The large amphitheatre stadium seated 25,000 and was used for entertainment as well as religious speeches.  The city was destroyed by a combination of earth quakes, a change in the river that fed the port and wars.  It is only about 25% excavated.

We then went to Artemis which features a Mosque, Temple and Church representing the three major religions.

Our last tour stop was at a rug-making educational center.  The center is dedicated to educating people on how to hand-make rugs.  After a brief demonstration we enjoyed a delicious traditional Turkish lunch on a shaded patio.

We were dropped off at the Grand Bazaar where I found some really nice clothes and shoes for very good prices.

Ephesus Bath House

Ephesus Backgammon game

Ephesus Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns

Ephesus facade full view

Ephesus Hercules gate

Ephesus hot water pipe used to heat homes

Ephesus library 1

Kevin, Bill, Jared, Matt, Ephesus library

Ephesus library gates

Ephesus library statue

Ephesus main road

Ephesus medical center sign

Ephesus religious symbol 1

Ephesus ruins 1

Ephesus toilets

Ephesus winged goddess, Nike swoosh inspiration

Matt and Jared, small Ephesus theatre

Artemis Church, Mosque and Temple

Artemis Mosque

Artemis Temple

Artemis Temple column

Kusadasi rug making

Kusadasi hand made rug

Kusadasi hand made rug 1

Kusadasi hand made rug 2

























Day six: Monday, August 27: Santorini, Greece

August 29, 2012

Today we slept in and I went to the gym.  We met up with Ross and Josh (Boston) and Jeff and Victor (Toronto, Canada) and took the short cable car to the top of the caldera.  Santorini was formed from a volcano.  The quaint town of Santorini is filled with low-rise white stucco buildings built right into the cliffs.  We viewed people getting their feet exfoliated via live fish who eat off the dead skin.  After some souvenir shipping we were ready to go back to the ship as it was fairly warm.  The line for the cable car was very long so we decided to hike the ‘donkey poop trail’ down.  After the 20-minute smelly hike was over we took the tender back to the ship.  We cooled off in the pool and had martinis and dinner with Arlon and Drew and others from San Diego.  We went to bed early as the next morning we had a 7:30 a.m. tour.

Santorini, example of fish exfoliation

Jared, Santorini with cruise ship in background

Santorini 2

Santorini building built into the cliff

Santorini church clock tower up close

Santorini homes

Santorini pool

Jared, Santorini donkey poo trail

Santorini donkeys on trail








Day Five: Sunday, August 26: Mykonos, Greece

August 26, 2012

I got up around 8:30 a.m. and went to the gym.  We met Bill and Kevin for breakfast and then met for our tour of Ancient Delos.  The tour of ancient Delos was interesting.  Delos was a center of commerce and the island of the Gods, therefore people were taken to a neighboring island to be born or die.  The community began using money and written language around 150 BC.  Delos also became a wealthy trading center and even had a stock exchange where futures were traded.  Since the average life expectancy was 45 and many babies died at birth, celebrations were held where people were encouraged to meet and ultimately populate the small island.  The large penis statues signified fertility and were used as part of the celebrations.  Ultimately, outsiders became jealous of the wealthy parting island of Delos and burned down the village.  The island has been uninhabited for about 2,000 years and is now a museum and active archeological site.

In the evening we went into the town of Mykonos, did a little shopping in the charming stores and dined al fresco at Familia.

Matt and Jared, Family restaurant, Mykonos

Mykonos Square

Mykonos street

Matt and Jared, Mykonos Sunset

Delos columns 1

Delos community bath 1

Delos community road

Delos large containers

Delos lions

Delos main street

Delos mosaic close-up

Delos olive oil press

Delos penis ‘cock’ statue

Delos ruins 2

Delos table

Delos water container

Delos, wealthy wine trader central atrium

Mykonos Harbor 1

Jared and Matt, Mykonos boat to Delos

Kevin and Bill, Mykonos boat to Delos

Day Four: Saturday, August 25: At sea

August 26, 2012

We slept in since we danced until about 3:00 a.m. the night before with a one-hour time change.  After breakfast we enjoyed the indoor pool with Ralph and Ethan who we met on last year’s cruise.  I saw a glass blowing demonstration which was interesting.  The afternoon dog tag tea dance was fun.  We then met Bill and Kevin in the martini bar for pre-dinner drinks.  Matt and I went to the comedy show and then to bed as we were tired.