Monday, October 31, 2011

Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel

Our last landfall was a tiny Portuguese island in the Azores. A pretty little island too. We had a gray foggy day and the beauty of the place came thru.

So while we did not see the crater with green lake and the blue lake we saw where they were--just too foggy to see the color. We tried to see the 7 tiny towns built into the craters of the island but alas--no views were available.

We saw some cows; horse carts carrying jugs of fresh milk; pretty little churches: clean tidy houses. A delightful little place I would like to return to in order to see it on a sunny day.

P.S. Our driver said it took about 2 hours to drive around the whole island. It's tiny.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Ah! Lisbon! What a treasure! I did not have big expectations for this port of call and I was stunned. What a pretty little city. We had beautiful weather too, and that always enhances a situation. (maybe if we had a warm sunny day in Firenze my opinion would be different of the city??)

The name Lisbon means pretty harbor in some ancient language (a descriptive name much like Hong Kong for "fragrant harbor" or Buenos Aires for "good air"). When said in Portuguese there is a slight lisp to the /s/ so it comes out as "Lish-boa" which is the city name on Google maps.

Lisbon sits at the Tajes River and the Atlantic ocean at Greenwich Mean Time, so it'd directly south of Jolly Ol' England. Like many port cities, it is cradled in hills, 7 to be exact (each with the name of a saint) so there is a grand view from the "top" of the city to the port below.

To get from one place to another in the old town you either walk a bunch of steps or ride the tiny electric tram. We road the tram for about an hour winding through ancient streets that were just as wide as the narrow trams. The cars for the tram system were all made in 1922 and they are lovingly maintained and used by everyone.

The narrow streets are lined with houses, San Francisco style, that are decorated with tiles. Lisbon can get quite hot and we were told the tile reflects heat. So instead of painted houses there are row after row of houses covered with 3x3 tiles on their facades. Sadly I was not able to take any pictures of these tiled houses as the little tram did not linger when it moved.

We learned more about Prince Henry the Navigator (the fifth son of the King--never destined to be king--so he studied the sea and made all sorts of wonderful discoveries). We stopped at the exact place where Vasco daGama set sail in 1488. There's a church there now to commemorate the event. As I walked along the promenade I thought of the excitement and fear of those early day adventurers as they headed out into the great unknown in their tiny caravelles. This was THE place from where "it" all started. How history would be different if deGama did not set sail?

We looked at the famous Belem Tower which was the fort for the city. We visited the Monument to the Portuguese Navigator. We saw the "Christ the King" statue (sister to Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero) and a Golden Gate Bridge (made by the same CA firm that made the one in SF). Maybe the city was wonderful because it was filled with familiar stuff? Whatever, it was an interesting and wonderful visit.

Then as we drove from Old town to New town was see a marvelous aqueduct that was built in the 1700s to bring water across all the mountains. It took our breath away!

As we wandered the streets I felt we were in San Francisco of another era. The trams are similar to cable cars; the narrow windy streets sometimes with stairways on the side; the beautiful vistas on a clear day; yet we are half a world away.

We had a short time here but I'd like to return to explore more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Florence aka Firenze

We went to Florence today. We saw what we needed to see without going into any museums. Museums are closed on Monday, so that was not an option. In fact, I planned to take tours when the museums were closed as I thought they would add more confusion to the already lengthy 10 hour shore excursion.

I don't know what I expected but I saw a big city with ancient buildings covered with grime. The narrow streets were clogged with too many cars. The streets while relatively clean were used and dark. We had a gray day and that made it all seem darker.

Aside from that we did see the Duomo, the famous doors on the Baptistry, the huge ornate cathedral, the statues of David and Perseus and Neptune, the Ponte Vecchia and Santa Croce Basilica (where a lot of famous people are laid to rest). All of this was interesting. I learned about these in Art History too many years and it was interesting to see the actual "things."

It was a long day--I saw some interesting things--but I'm afraid I had a Mykonos experience. What is "it" all about? I missed something I'm sure!

Firenze is a monument to the past. It seems to be hanging on to it's past but I don't know where it is going in the future? I'm sure there is more to Florence than I saw but I'm not that excited to return to find out what "it" is.


We visited Pisa for the second time yesterday. The Tuscan town is small, and famous for it's Leaning Tower in the Field of Miracles. The tower is dramatic in that it defies gravity by listing several degrees away from straight. It is a pretty little wedding cake monolith, but to me the star of the Field of Miracles is The Baptistry.

Back in the 12th century when the Baptistry, Church and Bell Tower were started, you needed to be a Catholic to gain entry to the Church and of course entry into Heaven. The Baptistry of any Church was designed to be the first step toward Heaven. It was supposed to MAGNIFICENT! The Baptistry in Pisa is magnificent. This little jewel still brings about shock and awe by it's majesty. To me, it has far more charm and beauty than the rest of the structures on the Field of Miracles.

The Bell Tower is famous because it leans. It has been leaning since it was 3 years old! Not only does the Bell Tower lean, so do the Church and Baptistry. The structures lean because the subsoil is sandy. If they had completed an environmental impact study in the 1200s they might have discovered the proposed structures were just not right for the territory.

It was good see the pretty little Baptistry again and marvel at one of the unsung wonders of the known world.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I have wanted to go to Pompeii since the 4th grade when I created a "volcano" for a class project. (I did not know at the time that "the volcano" was a pretty common class project.) Anyway I created the volcano, saved up my money in order to buy the chemical to make the explosion and on the day of class project presentations I had the curtains drawn and I put in the chemical and my paper mâché volcano exploded and I told the story of the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.

Yesterday I saw the remains of the real Vesuvius. We had seen Herculaneum a week earlier, so we were ready for the experience, but it was better than I expected.

Pompeii was a big city at the time of it's death. It had paved streets (with ruts made by ancient wagons). Under the streets was a sewer and water system. The houses had running water and most had a cistern that caught rainwater for uses other than drinking. Painted on walls of some of the houses were frescos and then wax was applied to the fresco to preserve the masterpiece. The color was still vibrant after being buried for over a thousand years.

The houses we saw were quite large with a vestibule, a small temple to pray to the gods (they were pagans), living area, bedrooms off the main living area, and an outdoor garden or peristyle where folks ate with rooms off the peristyle. These folks lived well.

We walked the cobbled main street and saw houses that had shops in front and living quarters either in the back or upstairs. Did you know there were 100 bars yet only 34 bakeries in Pompeii? We did not learn how many shops there were. We saw the "red light district" where the frescos described what happened in each room.

There was a forum, not as large as the Forum in Rome, but good size. In addition there was a gymnasium with an attached outdoor stadium that had a retractible cover (similar to that of the Coliseum in Rome) for sport, and an indoor auditorium for plays.

Pompeii was a city with religion, government, sport, culture, commerce...and in a heartbeat it was destroyed. We saw a few of those haunting plaster bodies. The plaster bodies fascinated me as a they held a different type of fascination...they told of the painful death of a person. With mouths open they were gasping for precious air, but the noxious gases from the explosion left the air poisonous. There was no escape.

Pompeii was an interesting experience. I'm still amazed we had a chance to see both of the cities that Vesuvius destroyed almost 2 millennia ago. Tomorrow we are in Florence for another type of culture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interesting Factoids about Venice

1. Venice is made up of 118 islands, but not one of those islands is named Venice. In reality it is an archipelago.
2. There are 150 canals and 400 bridges connecting the islands.
3. In the old days each island had it's own church so on Sundays the church bells ring and ring and ring.
4. The old Jewish quarter is on Judica Island, and it is said that the word ghetto was first used in Venice to indicate where the Jews lived.
5. The Doge's Palace is connected to the old Prison by the Bridge of Sighs.
6. The Bridge of Sighs was named by Lord Byron. Before that it was just the prison bridge.
7. The "sighs" are those heard by the prisoners as they were being led to prison.
8. There are no cars on most of the islands. There are also no roads. However, most families own small boats which they "park" in the canals near their houses.
9. St. Mark's Square (next to the Doge's Palace) was flooded 250 days last year as it is the lowest point in the city.
10. The Venetian Empire lasted about 400 years until it was brought down by Napoleon.
11. The name Venice comes from the Latin word "venir" meaning "come."

Venice, Again

We spent 2 1/2 days in day of good weather, the rest with rain! We braved to look at the city on the morning of our last day and we were rewarded with fog, rain, gray skies and cold! When you travel you get the weather you get, not necessarily the weather you want! The idea is to have fun no matter what.

To that end we went to the islands of Burano and Murano. They are known for lace and glass respectively!

We saw a lace "factory" (for lack of a better word) where the lace is made by hand in an elaborate process. On
display were some examples of their work and it was incredible. It's good to know there is a place for this type of craftsmanship in today's world!

Burano is also known for colorful homes. If you have been in Curacao or LaBoca in Buenos Aires, then you might have an idea what that means. As in those 2 locations the houses are brightly painted with color ranging from bright red to lurid lavender. It's a kick!

At Murano we saw a glass demonstration but I was not able to take pictures. By then the rain was coming down in buckets so I did not take any shots of the village either.

After we returned to the ship and dried off, we attended the sail-away. Our big ship sailed out of the Venice Lagoon giving us a view of the city. I've posted some pictures of that.

At last we left the many islands that make up the Venice Archipelago and headed for the Adriatic. It's strange-- we had never sailed in the Adriatic before, but we have been here twice this year!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


We are in Venice for the very first's something else. We did the typical tourist stuff and it was perfect.

We rode a water taxi to the Doge's Palace, toured the Palace and then St. Mark's Square. Next we took a gondola ride, and we ended our visit with a tour of the oldest Murano Glass factory in the city.

I was trying to keep my mouth closed at the Doge's Palace, but it was hard to do. I've read about the palace for years so I was just soaking it all in!

The gondola ride was great too. We had perfect weather on our watery street thru the smaller canals. The Grand Canal is big and busy, where the smaller canals are less frequented, have less traffic and no big boats are allowed.

Monday, October 17, 2011


The Greeks handle crises by striking...and they are striking today.

The ship is stopped at Katakolon, which is site of the first Olympics way, way back when. There's a nice old set of ruins to visit, including the place where the Olympic torch is lit...but no one can go, as the guides are on strike today!

Since the country needs money and since there are boatloads of tourists waiting to spend it...seems strange to be on strike! But then, I'm only a tourist!

In Split

Today we visited Split. We were here in May so I did not think we needed a tour (as we had a great tour then)--instead I gave a small tour of Diocletian's Palace! We did not visit all 3000 rooms of the 8 acre establishment, (see the picture of the 3D map) but we looked at the Church and Mausoleum, walked the narrowest street in Europe and then sat in a side walk cafe and looked at the people go by. It's always great fun to people watch. Tomorrow we start a 3 day stay in Venice!

Lovely Corfu

We are returning to some favorite places on this trip--and Corfu is one of those places. Corfu is a green Greek island unlike Mykonos or Santorini which makes it more friendly to look at. Then it has accessible beaches to enjoy--great views of the water--and a lovely old town with an arcaded (if that is a word) esplanade.

Today we walked around the old town, and soaked up some of the ambiance. Life is good. Next stop is Split.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Can You Read Greek?

I saw this sign today...I truly don't know exactly what it says, but I'm betting you can figure most of it out, if you take a bit of time. Give it a try?

In Mykonos

This is our second visit to the tiny Greek Island of Mykonos. The first time we came here we were not that impressed yet everyone told us it was "the highlight" of the stops we were making. We needed to have someone explain to us why it was the highlight.

We were told it was the starkness of the island that everyone likes. The contrasts between barren land and white washed homes.

Given that we had to see the island again to see if we could "get it." The island is dry, the beaches are tiny, the houses are white with either white or blue trim, the land is barren and bleak. I see the starkness...and the tiny churches and has a quiet beauty, but I'm afraid it is not the highlight of the trip! I'm glad we came back as it does offer some wonderful views of the Aegean Sea.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


We visited Herculaneum today. What a place! Granted, it's not anything like Monaco, but it is something else!

Herculaneum was an ordinary working class village in 79AD when on August 18 Vesuvius started to blow. The people in the village ran to the arcade by the sea for shelter. They left their homes because massive tremors were shaking the floors, walls, roofs, fountains and streets. The arcade was the safe place to be. After 18 hours of major rock and roll, the earth stopped quaking. The villagers waited awhile then went to inspect the damage--and that's when Vesuvius exploded sending a pyroclastic flow of molten lava and ash upon the village. The people in the arcade were trapped and as the ash and lava fell, a surge of water from the bay inundated the arcade and no one survived. I posted a picture of the arcade, which is no longer on the water, but on the edge of a swamp (the water is at least a mile away).

What is left of Herculaneum is a snapshot of one day in the life and death of a village. The amphora are lined up in a row on a "mom and pop" store. Urns are waiting to be filled with wine and honey. The baths are tiled with mosaics welcoming the next visitor .
The homes are modest, but there is a condominium. There is also one house with a cross and altar implying there were Christians living here in 79 AD. (Rome was not Christian at the time.)

The masonry is covered with plaster and painted with frescos. The rooms are rectangular with tall ceilings but low doorways (the average Citizen was about 5 feet tall). The columns are made to look like marble but they are just plaster. The roads were crowned to help with drainage, and you can see ruts made by wagons and chariots 2000 years ago. There is little decoration left on-site as it has been housed in a museum downtown.

The mosaics were wonderful. They reminded me of the Roman mosaics we have seen in Romania, Delphi, Ostia Antica, even Albania. The craftsmanship needed to make the intricate designs probably cannot be repeated today. I especially liked the fireplace that I posted below.

There is so much more to write about Herculaneum and neighboring Pompeii but I'll close with the fact that Vesuvius can blow again!

What is Wrong?

Take a look at the two pictures? Can you find the error?

Look carefully...remember that aft means "back of the ship" and forward means "front of the ship." Now look at the outline drawing of the ship in the middle of the first picture...where is the bow of the ship pointing? Is it correct? Now look at the outline drawing of the ship in the second picture. Is the bow pointing in the same direction?

The other DrC saw this today and we knew it was worth a picture. I wonder if Princess even knows an error was made? At least one of the signs is correct!


When it comes to pretty Greek Islands, Santorini has to be near the top of the list. It's a rocky outcrop in a blue, blue ocean. In 1600 BC (or there about) the outcrop (called Thera at the time) was a volcano that blew her top! The result was a huge caldera (now Santorini) and a 200 foot tsumani that wiped out the Minoan culture. In other words, it was one mighty explosion. It was so great that stuff from the blast has been found in Scandanavia!

Today the island is the remains of that event...a quiet caldera that is shaped like a crescent. Clinging atop that crescent are several villages with whitewashed houses, white and blue domed churches and spectacular views of the sea.

To get to the villages, you have to take a vehicle up the meandering road; ride of cable care, or walk up the wiggly donkey path. All 3 methods are fraught with problems. The road is just too wiggly for the faint of heart; the cable car is cursed with long lines; and the donkey path is filled with donkey poo. We have taken the road and the cable car, and I think the road is the least worst way to see the villages.

Over the millennia the island has been ravaged by earthquakes and tsunamis and it's easy to see the record of the past devastations that have happened to this place. As you look at the pictures, you can see its "rocky" history (please forgive my pun).

Given that, it's still a very pretty place. If you have a "bucket list" you might consider putting Santorini on it.