Friday, May 28, 2010

I'm Being Punished

I can't think of what I might have done to deserve this, but our furnace went nuts yesterday, and started indiscriminately pumping out heat. John has since figured out that it's not actually the furnace. It's the heat pump, which is the thing that changes from heat to air conditioning. That means that every time the thermostat tells it the house is too hot, it switches to cold air. Since it's not working, it just pumps out hot air.

It's 95° in the house. I've had about eight cold showers, and if anyone comes over, I'll have to either run and hide, or run and put clothes on. I think of anything over 80° as a punishment. (What did I do this time?) Obviously, he tried to fix it himself first. Then it occurred to him that he'd better call for help and found himself on the receiving end of Memorial Day weekend messages. Perhaps someone can call us back Tuesday. Oh, wait. I have physical therapy at the crack of dawn on Tuesday. No one will be here to answer the phone.

I don't think I'll be doing a slide show tonight. I think I'll go take another cold shower and stretch out under the ceiling fan again. It's a good excuse to take off this hot air cast. (Please, God. Don't let the power go out. I really need the fans right now...)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Climbing the Walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Benjamin probably said it best. "We would never have chosen Dubrovnik, Croatia, except that it was on the ship's tour schedule. Missing it would have been a real loss." Or something like that. I took far more photos there than anywhere else. It was astoundingly beautiful, and the clouds that day were phenomenal. If I had painted them in, I would be getting complaints that they were too beautiful to be real. My slide show is longer than usual, but I cut it down twice already, and I'm not going to slice away any more photos.

John and I kept smiling at each other that day. It was hotter than it had been, but there was a bit of a breeze to keep us comfortable. I was enjoying the beauty of the day, the orange roofs and small alleys we could see as we looked down from the walls that surround the town. Of course, we had to climb long flights of stairs up to the walls first, but once up there, we had long stretches that were fairly straight. We looked down on yards with hanging laundry, flowers, churches, musicians, and (of course) lots of tourists.

We passed canon and craftsmen, including a man in costume making coins the old fashioned way: with a huge hammer from blanks in a very old machine that contained the reverse artwork that would be pounded into the blank with two or three strikes of the mallet. John collects that type of coin, as well as the souvenir pennies from various interesting spots we (or the kids) visit, so we had him make one for us.

This is one spot that I didn't buy a single post card. If you take a look at the photo above, I think you can get a pretty clear idea why I didn't. With digital cameras, it's easy to see what you're getting. I knew I had post cards in my camera already if I needed them. All I needed to do was print them out. Another thing I appreciated about Croatia was their music. It's another good reason for having a long slide show. I got to use two songs.

Again, the statuary and buildings were beautiful and attention to detail is amazing. It was obvious that "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," as the saying goes. History, once again, was all around us. This is another one of those spots that we were getting to taste, when a full meal would have gone down really easily—maybe a week of full meals...

As we left Croatia to tender back to the ship, I realized that we would be leaving the cruise the next day, back in Venice. Our vacation, and the time with Ben and Ruth, Ashley and Kate was coming to an end. But what a way to finish it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Evening at Mykonos, Greece

The same day we left Santorini, we enjoyed short naps, had a light meal, and then caught the tender boats about 5:30 p.m. to Mykonos. We were still in Greece for this one more stop. It was delightful.

Still very light out, we were able to get some great photos of the ship in the harbor, the city as we approached, and the people wandering the small tourist shops along the waterfront. Then we disembarked and joined the throng. It was the slowest paced spot along our itinerary, and had a sweetness to it as night fell.

Most of the time we stuck together, walking and exploring, going into small churches and shops, chatting and just enjoying the evening together. As evening fell, however, we eventually split up. John and I wandered into a music store, finding some Greek music (you've been listening to it if you've been watching the slide shows) and a few presents for Ruth and the grandkids. I spent some time saying "thou shalt not covet" over lyres and lutes and Greek instruments I'd never seen before. It was a great stop.

We returned to the harbor and took the tender back to the ship just as full dark was falling. I loved the windmills along the shore, and the way the cruise ships looked resting out at sea. Still, I was aware that we had the next day at sea, then one stop at Dubrovnik, Croatia, followed by our return to Venice the following day. Our cruise was winding down. Reliving it by putting together the slide shows and blogs has been pure pleasure. Thanks for sharing these memories with me. Here is our Mykonos, as we saw it on May 5, 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Santorini, Greece Was Unforgetable

If you have ever been to Santorini, Greece, you'll never see a photograph of the place without immediately knowing where it was taken. The place is just that striking. From a distance, I was amazed to see snow-capped mountains in the distance. As the ship pulled into the harbor, I realized that the snow on the mountains was, in actuality, white-washed buildings—not snow at all.

We arrived at the gathering station on board the ship early to take the tender boat ashore. Ben, Ruth and the girls, John and I all boarded the small boat and then a bus to travel along winding roads up to Oia Village.

We wandered and had a great time until it was time to get back on the bus and go to Thera or Fira, depending on who is spelling it, Greek or America, and had another fine time there, seeing so many beautiful sites I was instantly in love with Greece. I'm really happy with this slide show. I hope you don't think it's too long. (And I love the music!) The funny little man you'll see with John in one of the photos wanted me to take his photo with the "big man" and then, after I took the picture, he wanted me to give him money. I pretended not to understand him.

I think Benjamin and Ruth and I were passing the cameras back and forth quite a bit that day, taking photos of each other so that we'd all have pictures of each other on all the cameras with the beautiful scenery. The one above is one of my favorites, since it commemorates Kate learning to scream. She never did it for long, and seemed really proud of herself, even though it never got her anything. Still, I guess she was expressing herself. Ruth never screamed back, either. Neither did Ben, come to think of it. Grandma and Grandpa tried to hide their grins. I hope we succeeded. We really didn't want to encourage her, but it sure was funny.

I've never seen anything like Santorini. I didn't even think to wonder, while we were there, if they have earthquakes there or not. I found out that in 1956 they had a major earthquake along with a volcanic eruption (great combination) that caused such devastation that many of the villages on Santorini Island were deserted. Now, thanks to the tourism and wine industries, the island is once again prosperous.

I was so amazed at the beauty of this place, and how it all managed to cling to the cliffs like this. We stopped for photos so many times that I got a lot of rest stops, which made it a fairly easy day for me. At least that's how I remember it now. Still, by the end of the day, there was no way I was walking down all the steps like Ruth and Ben did. We stood in line and waited for the cable car. Now, that was a trip...

...but we made it safely. The people in the car with us really laughed when the car swayed wildly at first when we got in, and I made the sign of the cross in reaction, though. Couldn't hurt.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Walking on Air Casts

As I read over my travel blogs, it's obvious that I'm fairly obsessed with the number of stairs I needed to climb to get to the places we saw. Was it all worth it? Oh, definitely. That's what my podiatrist asked me, too, before fitting me for the air cast yesterday, and admitting to me that he would have been right beside me, making the same decision. Some things are worth the pain, he agreed, and consoled me that I didn't do any permanent damage to my foot. I didn't do it any favors, though.

Anyone with plantar fasciitis knows that you're told to "take it easy," and I didn't do that. I did my exercises, took the anti-inflammatories while they lasted, and kept going. Now I'll be in the cast for a minimum of three weeks. The good thing about this contraption is that it comes off at night and for showers. The bad thing is that it makes my right leg longer than my left, so my left hip and back, already in pain and inflamed from the arthritis, is going to take a beating.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, let me recommend the benefits of therapeutic massage. I had my second session a couple of hours after being fitted for the boot. My hour turned into 75 minutes, and I've pretty much decided that there are people who will do that for you in heaven. You just won't be in pain when in starts. My hip still hurts, but my back barely does. I'm getting used to walking with the air cast, and it's awkward, but but manageable.

Hopefully, in three weeks when the good doctor next examines my foot, he'll be telling me I don't need another one to three weeks with it. That is a possibility I'm aware of, but using the power of positive thinking to reject.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Standing on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece

After reaching the top of the steps and winding our way through the crowd, I spent about a half hour taking photographs of the ruins, being totally overwhelmed by the experience, when I noticed a little group of people coming out of a small building. I recognized them immediately. They were from our tour group, and had been the ones who had decided they couldn't manage the steps. They had opted to take the elevator. They were just arriving. I knew I had made the right decision, even with the plantar fasciitis and back problems, to take the stairs. I had done it because I didn't want to miss anything. Some things are worth the pain I know will come, and some are not. I knew this would be. I just didn't know it would also be that much faster.

460 B. C. That kept running through my mind as we climbed the many, many steps of the Acropolis once we were off the bus from the Athens, Greece ship terminal to the ruins. I remembered the wonderful nun who had taught ancient history to my third grade class. She made it come alive for me. I remembered coming home and telling my mother that the Sister was reading to us from some books called "The Idiot and The Oddity," and not understanding why Mama laughed until she cried. Okay, so I loved the stories but got some words messed up even then. And I kept telling myself to keep climbing, that at least I didn't have to carry a child on my back like Ruth and Benjamin did.

These buildings have been standing for almost 2500 years. That seems almost impossible. As I walked along, the preservation efforts are obviously determined and ongoing. Even with the crowd that was there that day, every effort was made, as is obvious in my slide show, to allow everyone to get some photos unobstructed by the masses. It was a well coordinated effort.

Again, I have to say that this was not a place I ever imagined I'd actually ever get to see in person. Like the Taj Majal or The Highlands of Scotland, the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Barrier Reef, I dream big but expect my travels to be done from the passenger seat of a car in my own country. (I've been to all 50 States.)

So if you're sitting at home thinking that you'll never see a remote part of the world, remember that dreams come true. You never know when some unexpected blessing might pull you out of your normal daily life and give you a taste of the exotic. To Ruth and Ben, who made this possible for John and me, and to Kate and Ashley, who showered us with as much love as Grandparents could ever believe in receiving—thank you all so much.

We knew we were lucky to have seen Athens and the Acropolis at all on this trip. The day we were originally slated to arrive, the next day, there was a political rally scheduled, and our ship was re-routed. No one would have been able to get to the ruins that day. Costa Cruise lines did a great job for us. We had no problems at all.

My slideshow begins with the bus ride from the ship, where our tour guide entertained us with stories of Greece and its history. Some of the photos of John and me together were taken by Ben. He probably took five photos for every one I took. Thanks for sharing, Ben. You do good work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Exploring Corfu, Greece

If you've seen the James Bond movie "For Your Eyes Only," then you've seen the island of Corfu, Greece. That's where it was filmed. It's a lush green, set among the crystal blue Mediterranean waters that are so clear you can see the bottom of the cove.

Our morning started, as my slideshow does, waking up before dawn and taking my camera on deck to take photos of the sunrise. Then I trotted down a level and walked to the stern of the ship as it got lighter. Enjoying my first cup of (definitely not American) coffee, I waited for the sun to glisten off the wake of the ship and finally captured the beautiful colors left by the path our ship, the Costa Victoria, as it cut through the sea. I could easily get mesmerized watching that.

Ben took a photo of John and me at the temple on the hill we climbed. I thought I'd put it here, as if there were no stairs at all, but we did have to do some climbing to get there. Still, it was an easier day than most for us. Ben climbed higher than any of the rest of us. In fact, he did it twice. At one point, while we were still all together, there was a tunnel. He reset his fancy camera, a digital SLR, for the lower light levels, and forgot to reset it to the regular light when he left the tunnel. Then he proceeded to climb up to the top of an additional hill that none of the rest of us had the energy to climb.

When he came down and realized what had happened, he asked whether or not he should go back up and retake his photos. I said that if he didn't, he'd probably regret it forever. I know I'm still sorry that I couldn't retake all the photos I took on our Alaskan cruise in 1991. It was in the pre-digital days, and I paid over $200 to process my film only to find out it was all very gray, low-contrast. I was so disappointed... Off he went with Ashley in the backpack, and it didn't take him all that long, it seemed to me. He's young and strong.

The stairs we climbed were enough for me that day. We really had an easy day, though, since we had taken a shuttle bus from the port to the city center, and then walked over to some archeological ruins and decided to pay the small fee to explore them. I was surprised how few people took advantage of that, especially once we got inside. Of course there was climbing involved inside, but not nearly as much as on other days, especially since we didn't go up all the way to the top like Ben did.

The area we saw was phenomenal, though, and we knew the next day would be arduous, since it was to be Athens on the new schedule. Originally we were slated to see Athens on Wednesday, but the cruise line had found out that there was a scheduled labor protest on that day, so they re-routed the ship and had us arriving a day early. I was determined to make it up to the Acropolis under my own steam, so having a slower day on Corfu was great.

And yet we saw and enjoyed so much! I hope the tree gives perspective to the massive size of these buildings. If you think we didn't do any climbing, realize that I'm taking the photo looking down on it, and we did start at the bottom. But by now you'd probably prefer to just see the slide show, and if you need more information, there's Wikipedia, or you can ask questions in the comment area and I'll come back and answer them. I don't want to write a book here. (Not yet, anyway!)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My First Blog Award

While we were on vacation abroad, I was honored (and more than surprised) to receive my first award for my blog. It is called a Sweet Blog Award, and was given to me by Patricia Stoltey, a published author from here in Colorado.

I noticed some new people visiting my blog and leaving good comments, and then got an email from Patricia herself, telling me of the award. Of course I had to go back into Patricia's blog to find it. What a treat!

It made me feel especially good after getting one remark in an email this morning from an unnamed acquaintance stating that she would never blog because "Writing a blog would imply that I think I have something important to say." Hoping she was just kidding me, I said it made me wonder if she thought I should stop writing. She wrote back and said we'd discuss it later, that it was time for her breakfast. Okay.

Thanks, Patricia. I'll just bookmark this award and look at it on mornings like this one.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ancona, Italy from the Costa Victoria

Maybe if I do a blog every other day, I can relate this magnificent trip of ours without overwhelming anyone—including me. I'm still very tired, and find myself wanting to be asleep at strange times, and wanting to be awake in the middle of the night. I'm slowly getting back to normal, though, and I pray I'll be able to stay awake during church tomorrow. Tonight I want to recount the many steps we climbed in Ancona, Italy. It was our first port after boarding the Costa Victoria, the cruise ship that was to be our home for the next week.

What a grand home it was. John and I were on the twelfth floor, one of the few cabins up there, and one of only a couple of small cabins nestled among the suites. Ben and Ruth were tucked into an outside cabin with Kate and Ashley on the eighth floor. We were on opposite sides and ends of the ship as well, so it was somewhat of a hike to get to each others' cabins, but once we learned the layout of the ship it was no problem.

Some of the photos show the many steps we climbed to get to the top of Ancona. Yes, I climbed them all. That has, along with all the climbing we did in the other cities, I'm sure, contributed to the flare up of the plantar fasciitis I'm being treated for, but some things you know are going to hurt before you do them, and you weigh the merit. Will this be worth it? Yes or no. Then you decide whether or not to go for it. I have no regrets. My memories outweigh all the pain and recuperation I'm needing, even if my physical therapist might be a little frustrated with me.

As we pulled into port, I took a few photos of the city coming into view, and realized it was built more like San Francisco, with the waterfront leading up to the interesting things on the hills. Here, however, the stairways were stone steps leading straight up, and the railings were often intermittent. Ben and Ruth led the way, with John looking very strong behind them while I brought up the rear—determined and relentless, I suppose, with plenty of stops to take pictures.

It was a wonderful day, and I guess I wasn't altogether sure I'd make it all the way to the top at one point. There was a beautiful church at the top, and incredible panoramas of the village below, with the cruise ship sitting at anchor in the harbor. It was a little overcast, but the weather was mild. If it had been hot, I'm sure I would have given out. I don't do heat gracefully, and I consider anything over 79° as punishment. ("What have I done this time, God?")

I remember suggesting to Ashley at one point that she walk and I ride in her back pack, and she thought that was pretty funny. She told me I was too big. Those kids were great. The one way Kate would usually be willing to hold my hand, for example, when she really wanted to run on ahead, was if I told her, "Don't lose Grandma!" Then she'd run back and grab my hand. They were so much fun!

So here's my slide show of Ancona. It was a great day, but they all were.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Venice, Part One, Before the Cruise

I wasn't really prepared for Venice. I had some pre-conceived notions about the bridges and waterways, but it was very different from what I'd pictured. It's hard, I think, for an American to really grasp the age of these buildings and streets. In fact, the streets are little more than cobbled alleys, and most of them could hardly be called streets here. Ben chose a hotel for us really close to the Piazza San Marco, which is pictured above, the heart of the city in many ways. A city of this size, over 270,000 people, with no cars is also inconceivable to us, even when we're expecting it. You walk for a couple of hours, and then realize that you have to get back the same way. We do spoil ourselves, driving everywhere.

So I'll start with a little advice. If you're beyond your prime (as it's rumored that John and I are) and not in the best shape of your life, and you want to see as much as possible, don't go with a senior citizen group. Go with someone young and healthy who loves you and wants you to have fun and really see the sights. Someone who cares enough to be patient when your body starts to hurt and you lag behind, or when you get so excited about what you're seeing that you simply stop and stare and they're blocks ahead, but still remember to stop and look behind for you, and then wait for you to catch up. You'll end up exhausted, but very happy. John and I certainly did.

It was almost like being children in a sense. Ben made all the plans and arrangements. We didn't have many decisions to make. We were certainly given choices, and we made those as necessary, but otherwise we just had to follow Ben and Ruth, who carried the girls in packs where they could talk to them. The girls were up high where they could see what was going on and ask questions about what they were seeing, or relate what they wanted. It was a different story from the multitude of children I saw plugged in to "rubber mothers," what I've always called pacifiers. They were being pushed around in strollers, totally separate from the parents who pretty much ignored the crying much of the time—at least it seemed that way to me. Our granddaughters did seem to be the happiest kids around.

One of the things I most wanted to do in Venice, and didn't expect to accomplish, was getting to Murano Island, since it's quite a distance. The private water taxis are very expensive, and I knew that it would take a big chunk of our time and money for all of us to go that distance on the public boat. The lines are outrageous. The first morning in Venice we were stopped by a gentleman who spoke beautiful English. He explained that he worked for the city department on the Island of Murano and they were sending people there that morning in private water taxis if we'd be interested in having a tour of the Glass Masters' Factory. (Dreams come true.) He promised they'd return us the same way. We all said yes, and he walked us to the dock, paid for the taxi and off we went. It was just the six of us in the most beautiful little cabin cruiser. I'd love to get John a boat like that. Wow.

I bought a few gifts, and Ben bought Ruth a stunning bracelet for Mother's Day and managed to keep it a secret from her with my help. The whole experience was amazing. In fact, when we got out of the taxi, there were huge lines from the public ferries waiting to go in. A gentleman met us at the water taxi, took us in by a private door, and gave us a private tour. He took us through everything. We were even able to ask questions and take photos. On our way out we saw the room where we'd had our private tour crowded with about 50 people, all jammed together watching the masters work. It was different from the treatment we had received. I'm just not sure why. Then the tour guide took us to the dock, paid the taxi driver to return us to Venice, and off we went. All together, I guess we were gone about three or four hours.

We climbed steps, toured cathedrals and bell towers, looked down over the city and just enjoyed each other for two days. We even had a wonderful gondola ride through the side canals. I had no idea they were so easy to tip over. (No, we didn't quite manage that, but I sure thought we were going to!) We ate pizza and pasta until it was coming out of our ears, and the last night we hiked half way across Venice to find the only MacDonalds in Venice. Ben was "pizza'd out." Then we packed up on May 1st and went to the cruise ship for the next stage of our adventure. In fact, just getting to the ship was an experience. I found out how far Ben can throw a duffel bag.

The best part of being on this trip was doing it with people we loved. Being with Ben and Ruth, Ashley and Kate was amazing. I see the kind of parents they are, and I feel so fortunate that our grandchildren are getting the love and attention they do. They're smart kids, and good kids, but like all children—well, if you let them, they could take over the world. Their corner of it, anyway. Any child can turn into a tyrant if you let them. Ben & Ruth are so united in love that the kids can't play them against each other. I could go on, and someday I might do a blog on what I saw that impressed me so much.

I asked Ruth one day, which seemed especially long, if she ever felt like screaming. She's so patient. There's no question of her saying, "Because I said so" just to end a discussion with a 3-year old. She looked at me and said, "Sure." But she doesn't. She's probably the most gracious woman of any age I've ever met. (Good job, Ben.)

So I'll close Venice by saying thank you to both of them for being so welcoming to us, and so patient with our less agile bodies (especially mine). We know you could have covered more ground without us. Here's my slide show, if the photos weren't enough for you...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Home Again, The First Day

I'll go into detail later, but right now I only have the energy to deal with today. It seems like we got almost nothing done, but I know that's not true. We returned many phone calls and emails. We went to the post office to mail a couple of packages and pick up our mail.

The worst part about picking up three weeks worth of mail is that you have to sort it out when you get home. I actually did that right away. It didn't take much more than an hour. There are some checks to write, but that can wait for tomorrow.

We did some of the marketing—enough to eat for a couple of days, anyway. I wasn't up to a marathon shopping session after the long plane trip yesterday. We were pretty much a food-free zone when we got home, though, so the trip to the store was a necessity. We put gas in the car as long as we were out, and then headed home for some major unpacking. (No, it's not done yet. Neither is the laundry.)

Tonight I had an evening physical therapy session, so we went out to dinner on our way. It made for a very early dinner, but gave John the opportunity of going straight to bed when we got home. I'm jealous, but I know that if I go to bed at 8:30, I'll be awake again by about 3 a.m. Such is life.

My goals for tomorrow include downloading the camera and selecting photos for the first slide show; one load of laundry; one nap; finish unpacking; get the other packages ready to mail... oops. I think I've already over-goaled myself. Maybe that should be for the next two days. Well, we'll see what we shall see.

At least I have all this lovely snow to look at. I get enough Summer in its own season. I'm enjoying Winter's last fling. I thought we had missed it while abroad.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

International Mother's Day

Oh, this is going to be short—

We woke up this fine Mother's Day in Venice, Italy. It was 4:00 a.m. What a wonderful morning it was for a race across a couple of canal bridges pulling suitcases to the bus stop. Now actually, I pulled a little one while Ben and John did most of the work and Ruth managed the girls. I did a little shepherding, but not much. At quarter to five, which is when we left the Hotel, little ones prefer their mamas.

We took the bus to the airport, and flew back to Amsterdam for the final two days of our incredible trip. I'm just overwhelmed at how wonderful every single day has been. We've loved the places we've seen, and traveling with these special family members made each place more special.

I promised myself I'd never be the kind of grandmother who boasted that her grandchildren were the nicest, the cutest, or the smartest. I've just spent nearly three weeks with them. I'm not boasting. I can't help how they turned out. The credit goes to their fine parents.

You'll get a real blog by Wednesday night, with photos… They'll come in stages, of course, or you'd never watch a slide show with 2000 photos on it!