Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Traveling Backwards

Hello you few (oh so few for now) readers.  My blog has been down and I have been busy, not to mention technologically challenged.  I am attempting to put up my blog entries from my last trip along with those pictures.  What this means is that the blog date will really be a RE-blog date and not correspond at all with when the trip originally happened.  I hope you read, I hope you dance…okay, I’m hopeful.Wish me Luck. (if you can figure out how to.)

In February of 2004, I took my first trip to Italia. (picture above)  One week from today (July 24, 2010) my mom Meda, daughter Sarah and I will be strolling cobbled, carless lanes, sauntering over bridges and gliding through waterways of Venice Italy.  We will visit St. Marks Square where I hope to be covered in pigeons again and not pigeon poo.  (I am willing to risk it.)   Corn is bought from vendors in the square (piazza) and then the swarm happens.  I love those damn birds.  They miss me I am certain.   We will visit the Island of Morano and experience glass blowing.  They have a way of blowing glass like no other place on the entire planet.  It is a marriage of science and art.
Many other adventures will ensue in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and then back to Italy.  Some adventures will be perfect for the stage upon my return, some I will take straight to my therapist Phil, some will stay trapped in my denial filled  mind as family experiences are want to do.   Two weeks of fun, family squabbles, denial and hilarity.  You can read about our travels right here on this blog.   I will say hi to the pigeons for you.  Ciao!

Ionian Inspiration Cruise 2010

Ciao! First stop for Sarah and I today is Morano, Italy.  (Mom is catching up on beauty sleep since she has been to Venice before)  85 degrees and gorgeous. We take a water bus across the canal to catch the number 42 to the Island of Morano. As we wait for 42 there is a sudden change of plan.  As it happens Marcello (who is very Venetian) and his water taxi picked us up instead. The trip will take 20 minutes by water taxi instead of 45 by water bus. 60 Euro 1 way. Hefty fee but it is much faster because the taxi can go under the low bridges and goes directly to our destination. The bus must take the main canals and makes stops along the way. Just like home but on water.
The building where the Morano glass is manufactured was built in 1346. We are watching Aldo, master glass blower, who started at his craft at 13 years old. He is now 69.  It takes a minimum of 15 years to become a master. No schools for this. It is passed from father to son.
Shopping!!! No Pez dispenser for Susan yet, but something very special for Stella and a Morano glass bead bracelet for mom.
Riding the taxi back to San Marco Square with a family from Norway.  They said  tusen takk “thank you” for sharing the ride. Armondo is our water taxi driver back to San Marco from Morano. The pigeons of San Marco missed me as I knew they would but unlike last time when I was here in February and it was 20 degrees, they are very well fed by thousands of tourists. Next Realto Bridge and a revisit to a hotel we stayed at 6 years ago. Hotel Pensione Guerrato. Just as I remember but this time Greg is not with me. Sort of makes my eyes sting. One day and I miss him already. Enough gushing, back to blogging.

Now back on board ship we are heading to the “Muster Station” where we will go if the ship begins to  sink.  Dottie, the Cruise Director, tells us there are three elements to our life jacket that will aide “potential” rescuers. (I would have preferred it if she had said “for sure and absolutely coming to save you within 13.6 seconds”). Now we are proceeding to the life raft embarkation area. Everyone is “doing a grand job”. Of course we are. We are not currently sinking. If we sink, I’m throwing mom on my back and jumping for it. Did we learn nothing from Titanic???  If we are attacked by pirates, I will use her as a shield. She has lived a long productive life.
Now we are all on deck,  with drinks in hand waving good bye to Venice. Tomorrow Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Ciao!

Where does “hello” = “zdravo” and “thank you” = “hvala” and my personal favorite “molim vas jelovnik” = “may I have the menu please”. Dubrovnik, Croatia. New Dubrovnik is only 50 years old. Lots of tan buildings with red terra cotta roofs cover the Peninsula near the port. Souvenir shops and a few modern hotels.  Old walled Dubrovnik is 15 miles away so we took a tour bus. Very near the old city is an Island that looks like a nature reserve. It is totally green and from our distance looks pristine. As it turns out it is a nature reserve. It used to be inhabited by Benedictine Monks until they were driven off by the Venetians. Croatians have been in defense mode almost since their existence. Venetians, Russians, French, Venetians, Yugoslavians, Bosnians and did I mention Venetians?  I mention them several times because the tour guide mentioned them SEVERAL times.
Croatia claimed independence in 1991 from Yugoslavia and as you probably know, all hell broke loose. Literally. Ethnic cleansing is an extremely sterile term for the bloodshed, slaughter and devastation I saw in every eye today. They have lived through so many crimes and horrors that they are “leery” to say the least. It is sad because they depend on strangers (tourists and other countries) for their existence and are simultaneously distrustful and angry at strangers. Mara, who made hand-made gifts and sold them to us, was the only local smile we received. She was a delight and very talented. Most of the destruction of the war was further in land but for a country so small and an atrocity so big, you can be sure every single cell of every single person was affected and for generations to come. It is tangible. Old Dubrovnik is only 20 miles from Bosnia.  It is surrounded by a very wide (3 feet?) Stone and cement wall that is probably 4 stories high. Gun turrets all around to try to stop marauders. (Mostly Venetians in case you are wondering). There is a fountain as you enter the city behind the walls and is the focal point. This town boasts the oldest pharmacy in the world that is still open.  Everything is gray stone or cement. Nothing would burn if you could lob a burning spear or cannon ball over its wall.  Sea Salt was the major export before the war but as the tour guide said “now we produce nothing. Tourism is our industry”.  I am glad to move on to Montenegro tomorrow.  Sarah (24) said “It is strange to be in a place with medieval roots but whose independence is younger than I am.”

Montenegro claimed independence from Serbia in 2004. (Montenegro means “Black Mountain” because the pine trees are very dark.) The mountains are Limestone and Pine Trees. Not much soil.  This small country has 4 climates. Alpine (cold) and only two hours south, Tropical. (Hot and balmy) And blah blah blah in the middle. Sorry, I got caught up in looking out the bus window and daydreaming about food. But hey you don’t pay to read this. Google it. It was a totally peaceful transition to become their own country. Most everyone voted yes to independence and it was done. (If google proves me wrong blame Stefan our tour guide)In 1998 the people of this region started using German currency (Deutch Marks) because Serbian money was not widely used and the soon-to-be Montenegrins were planning their separation from Serbia. When Germany adopted the Euro, Montenegro started using the Euro as well. They hope to become a part of the EU in the next 4 to 5 years.
Before Yugoslavia blew apart and became what is now Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, etc. everyone spoke “Serbocroatian”. Everyone in the region speaks the same “slavic” language but there are slightly different dialects. The official language in Montenegro is now called   “Montenegrian”. Tourism is the main “economy”. Kotor, which is the port city is bustling with traffic and as in many european countries, crossing the street is an “extreme sport”. Out of Kotor and on the way to Perast, we pass Boka Bay.
The United Nations named  Boka Bay one of the top 25 coastal areas in the world and remarkably to this traveler the only one protected by the UN in the Mediterranean. It is protected for its beauty. Thank God it is way way UNDER built.  There is no beach in this Bay but there are beaches 10 minutes away according to Stefan.  Apparently the limestone cliffs do something to the saltwater which enhances mussel development and indeed, there are mussel farms here somewhere.
After the Bay we drive in the big bus on skinny, windy (that’s wEYEndy not windy like heavy breezes) roads to Perast. It is on the water and is about 1 mile long. I love it.  We catch a boat.  (Okay we don’t really “catch it”. It is actually a chartered tourist boat predetermined to meet our specific group at a specific time for a specific task, but “catching it” sounds so much more romantic and care free don’t you think?)  Anyway we “boat” over to the small man-made island “Our Lady of the Rock”. The church that takes up the, let’s say 1 acre island, was built in 1630. I am guestimating the size because I went to the bathroom. Just look at the picture. It is glorious, romantic and thought provoking.
Weddings are still held there. Before they could build the church they had to build the island. IT TOOK 200 YEARS to make the island. I’m not kidding. I mean that is generational commitment people. I wish we taught manners and kindness with the same dedication these people had to build an island. They built it by dredging rocks and by sinking ships filled with rocks. 200 years of moving rocks because there was a painting of Mary and Jesus found on a small rock on that spot. A fisherman brought it ashore and the next morning it was back out on the rock. BAM let’s build an Island and in, say 200 years we’ll build a church to go on it. We will name it “Our Lady of the Rock”. The original painting (see picture) is still hanging in the church and so is the silver (I don’t know what to call it) “covering” that was over it. (see picture)
Every single year since July 22, 1492 Perast citizens circle the island in boats and throw rocks overboard and sing anthems and hymns. Every single year since 1492. EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  These are the kind of people who know how to finish stuff.  They are very proud. Duh!  We “caught a boat” back to Perast and had fresh squeezed orange juice from the trees in the courtyard area of the cafe we were sitting in. By “fresh, I mean DANG fresh. Right now fresh. True story. We ate a “margarita” pizza which is pizza with fresh basil, tomato sauce and cheese.I learned a lot in Perast about commitment to a cause. Pick the right one, it might take you a year or two hundred to accomplish it.

We were about 30 minutes away from Sicily and it was 4:45 in the morning for me. 7:45 p.m. in Port Angeles, WA. After my “Our Lady of the Rock” experience (see previous blog) I was determined to get Montenegro’s blog posted in a timely manner.  Upstairs I went to try and find a signal for my Blackberry. I wanted to get the blog entry and pics to Greg before he went to bed so he could post it for me. The sunrise made the lack of sleep worth it.  You probably can’t tell from the pics from the Blackberry camera, but trust me it was magnifico. (I am using my Blackberry to type, take the pictures, and transmit)
Once we pulled into Sicily, Sarah tendered over to the island and docked at Naxos.  Sarah boarded a bus and went up to Mt. Etna. (I was surprised how flat it looks) it is way up there though. Google it.  It took her tour an hour to get to the cable cars (they call them “veniculars” or something like that). The veniculars take you to the crater made from the 2002 eruption. This eruption destroyed one of the little towns below. Sarah saw steam from the 2002 crater. It normally takes 10 years for the crater to cool even though it is sealed. Then she saw blue gas from one of the craters on the summit which indicates “explosivity”. Mariana has been a guide to Mt. Etna since 1976 and is VERY knowledgeable.
Mom and I tendered to Naxos and then took a taxi up to Taormina where we walked and shopped. It is the old town and it is lovely. Very few cars go through the entrance arch. Mostly foot traffic and vespas.  There was (is) a 3-legged lady on everything. She is the symbol of Sicily.  She is called “Trinacria” This is the Greek word for Sicily. See the picture of the wall hanging. She is supposedly shaped (outline) in the shape of Sicily. No disrespect, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. She really sort of grows on you though.  New subject:  I got a very cute top which I know is of the utmost importance to all of you. Mom bought me a new “Swatch” watch.  I love it.
Mom got a bit tired with the altitude and heat so we took a cab back down just in time for hotdogs and fries served by the pool. Sarah got back and she and I tendered back over and put our tootsies in the mediterranean water. Icy cold but felt great after the burning sand. And by burning, I mean satan himself hands out the beach towels.  We mailed a few “wish you were here postcards” and came back on board.   Since no real “tour” today for me, I have no real “knowledge” to share.  I hope the pictures help. It is a stunning place. Tomorrow is we dock in Sorrento on the Amalfi coast. We will tour Pompeii. We are extremely excited about this tour,  which frankly, is sorta sick since it is all about people who died because of the volcano eruption. Go figure.  More tomorrow. Thanks a lot for reading along.
PS:  Apparently Sicily is huge. I thought I knew where we were, but as is my way, such is not the case. We have been traveling 2 hours now and Sicily is still to our left.  We are approaching a skinny waterway between the tip of the boot of Italy and Sicily.  It’s called Messina Strait and 20 years ago 2 cruise ships collided here so it is mandatory to have a harbor pilot.  I have a very cool video of him getting off our ship while his speed boat and our cruise ship are both moving right along.  I wish I knew how to post it on here.  If I ever learn I will let you know.  It really is cool.  Dangerous, but cool.
PPS or PSS or whatever it is:  That is the active Volcano “Stromboli” behind me there on the ship’s deck.  I couldn’t sleep and went upstairs, what a site.  It is spewing (very regularly).  I can see it better than you can.  Not trying to be a smart alec there, just the facts.  Wish I had a high powered, send it strait to email/facebook camera.  I have to settle (as do you) for just my Blackberry.

Marcello (roll the r please) otherwise it sounds like marshmallow. He is our Neopolitan tour guide.  From Napoli (Naples). 45 "Italian" minutes to Pompeii. "Time is flexible in Italy. We don't like to stress".  "53 patron saints in Napels and our saints are better than Sorrento Saints". 
Lemoncello (pure alcohol, lemon skins and sugar) Lemons must be from Sorrento or it is not authentic. Our taste was yummy! (I have the recipe. Write me and I will send it to you. )
Lots of olives people. Oil! Mountains completely covered in olive trees.
We see Mt. Vesuvias now out the bus window.  This is the volcano that brought about the demise of  Pompeii. Locals call the mountains Milk Mountains because they are made of white Limestone. (Lactose)
Pompeii is the second largest archaeological site in the world. (170 acres) The largest is the 3 Pyramids of Giza.  We will see a Supermarket. Roman fresco. And bodies. 2000 years ago, when Mt. Vesuvius exploded, Pompeii was very modern for its time. We walked in through the "Porto Marina" gate of Pompeii. The "Sea Gate".  Mt. Vesuvius has erupted over 80 times which created more land and instead of the coast being right outside the Gate as it was 2000 years ago,  the water is now 3 miles away. 
Mt. Vesuvias is 8 miles away from Pompeii. The explosion was like that of 4000 atomic explosions happening all at once. Mt. Vesuvius is only 1/3 its original size since the blast 2000 years ago. "Experts" say Vesuvius is dormant. Marcello (don't forget to roll it even in your mind please) says dormant just means "waiting". Mt St. Helens was "dormant".  We go first to the Forum which means "Main Square" and then we visit what is left of the Basilica. The Basilica has large columns and a huge open floor plan. Trisa (my personal designer) would approve the design. Basilicas were  commercial "main city buildings" and not, as many people assume, churches.  When the Romans became Christians they changed the buildings into churches. 
The Romans created cement. The columns are Cement over brick. Why not marble like so many other things? Because it is more flexible than marble. Lots of volcanoes around this area means lots of earthquakes. Those Romans were pretty smart.
At the time of the explosion, the latest evidence shows there were 25,000 inhabitants, not 12,000 as previously thought and as sometimes still reported. 2000 died. Why only 2000?  When it exploded, EVERYONE had time to get out and DID. The 2000 who died came back after several hours, thinking it was safe, just BEFORE the pyrosomething  gases hit the city. 50 feet of small rocks and debris rained down on Pompeii. 50 feet from 8 miles away.  
The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in 1748 and the archaeological dig began.
Dancing fawn house.  One of the largest private residences in Pompeii is 7000 square meters big. I mean it is like a Safeway. Really big.  Huge rooms, mosaics tyle floors. Beautiful in a dusty, ashy, I bet this was really cool in its day" sorta way. 
There were 5 brothels or Lupinara in Pompeii.  Prostitutes or Lupus (she wolf) each had specialties. They only did one specialty and they did it extremely well. You went to (well not YOU) they went to the little window and ordered specifically what they wanted. There were signs pointing the way to the Lupinaras and that same sign on the building. See Penis picture.

There are huge flat stones crossing the streets in places. (think tall speed bumps with cut outs in three or four places). There was (is) so much cement and stone that there was (is) always flooding when it rained(s) even a little. These stones provide a way to cross the streets and not have to step in the water. (See picture).
There is so much more we could not see in our short 2 hours. If you go, bring a hat and umbrella. It is hot. Extremely hot, humid and very little shade.
I was surprised by the size (I thought it was just a quaint, humble little town instead of a modern, bustling commercial city.  I was also surprised that so few died (comparatively speaking) and how they died.  I also expected it to be solemn.  It was not solemn. (at least at this time of year). It was crowded with tourists, arguing tour guides vying for time and space for their groups.
Marcello was fantastic but I will go back with Greg and Sarah in the off season, armed with maps, lots of time and respect. 

We took a local bus from the ship to "between the McDonalds and the Basilica" where we caught the number 1 bus to the train station. Trenitalia. The 15 minutes bus ride was hot and standing room only. Lots of culture, smells and languages. We bought a round trip ticket to Pisa for 2 which cost 7 euros 20. Cheap!  We could have upgraded to first class for another couple of bucks but didn't. We waited at track number 3 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Well we did shop at the train station store. I bought 2 book lights, a proper map of Italy, some mentos and an electric adapter kit for my blackberry. US to EU). Anyway we got on the train and sat next to mother and son who seemed completely uninterested in us. Sarah asked me if Rome was the capital of Italy to which I responded "I think so". The handsome Italian 16 or 17 year old boy looked up from his Italian crossword puzzle and said "yes". Italian cross word puzzles. Go figure.
It took about 12 minutes on the train to get to Pisa. (Sarah's first ever train ride). If I were a tour guide, I am not, but if I were, I would recommend going to Pisa. Even if there were no tower (leaning or not).  Pisa is flat, which is nice, because if you like to walk, you can cover a lot of ground easily. The streets are clean and calm with very few cars. Plenty of cool side streets with character filled, centuries old buildings. We walked across a bridged that spanned the Arno River. It is filled with slow moving yellow greenish water from what we were told is dirt and chemicals. It is a long river coming all the way from Firenze (Florence).    It is a 25 minute walk from the train to our destination. Yes it took us an hour and a half because we shopped along the way AND stopped to have a piece of pizza in Pisa. (I got another cute top and Sarah found 2 cute tops so now she and I are 2 for 2 in the cute top department.)  When we finished our pizza, we turned the corner and saw the Piazza dei Miracoli. "Square of Miracles".   In the Square is the Leaning tower of Pisa, the Church of Santa Maria, a museum and thousands of people. The tower REALLY leans. Greg asked me if I went up in the tower. I said no, IT LEANS. You can go up if you want but my mama didn't raise no fool. 
Galileo was born in Pisa and there is a traveling exhibition that teaches you everything you want to know about him, dropping stuff and gravity. Unfortunately for us it was "traveling". 
It was fun to see people trying to position themselves to look like they were holding the tower up for pictures. Sarah and I did it too.  Three nuns were visiting and Sarah offered to take their picture for them with their cameras. They liked that and

"blessed" us. I really like that and will rely greatly on that on the flight home.  
It was 90 degrees so I gave a taxi driver 10 euro and asked him to take us to the train station.  We waited on track 9 for the train and headed back to Livorno. (Sarah's second train trip)
Overall a very fun albeit HOT day. Nice dinner on board the ship tonight. It is currently 1:50 in the afternoon for my friends in Port Angeles but it is 10:50 at night here for me on the Mediterranean Sea. I am going to bed. Thanks for reading. 
Tomorrow is Monte Carlo and St. Paul, France. 

We will take the "Middle Corniche Road" (Middle Cliff Road) to St. Paul de Vence.  (Not the High Corniche) About 1 hour to get there from Monaco.   St. Paul is between Nice (capital of the french Riviera and Cannes (famous film festival). 35,000 live in one square mile that is the principality of Monaco but only 5,000 are true residents of Monaco.  If you are a resident you are called "Monigusque". You can be true Monigusque by being born here or you can apply to Prince Albert and pay LARGE amounts of money to buy citizenship.  Locals are not allowed to game at the Grand Casino because the proceeds of the casinos replace their taxes and are meant to be paid by tourists only. To be clear citizens do not pay any type of tax. You can see why the ultra rich want to have their citizenship here (if they can afford the buy in).
Fun fact to know and tell:  Locals rent their balconies for 3,000 euro per person to strangers so they can enjoy the Grand prix race right over the track. And locals can make even more money. Locals call Monaco the Big Rock because it is built on a big rock. The way to know where Monaco ends and France begins is that if it is a building then it is Monaco. If it is vegetation, it is France. 
As we pass through the third of three Big (and several small) French Alps mountain tunnels (imagine an enormous piece of long PVC pipe going through three different sections of the Alps). We see the Mediterranean Sea (French Riviera in English but in French. Cote d'Azure) on left and French Alps on the right. Pretty Rough living if you ask me. Similar to Port Angeles from "Sea to Ski" but somehow amazingly different. The local French call the area the "Sea Alps".  You can buy a very small house on the cape of Nice for 1 million euros.  These tunnels are on the  A8 motorway and is the most expensive one built in France because it passes THROUGH the Alps.

Except for a few words, I will let the pictures of St. Paul speak for themselves. A medieval walled town is up on a hill in Southern France. The artist Henri Matisse loved St. Paul and it artsy feel, Mediterranean light for painting and beautiful women.  Marc Chagall is buried in St. Paul. Picasso also visited regularly from Antibe where he had a home.  The name St. Paul de Vence because there are so many towns named St. Paul that this way you know that this St. Paul is the one NEAR the bigger french city of Vence. Many artists create and sell their art here. There are only a very lucky few who actually live within the walls of St. Paul. I loved it. (Yes, Sarah and I got tops here. White Linen!).