Friday, June 26, 2009

Thinking inside the box

Yesterday Wanda and I went to see Chicago at the NAC. We bought our tickets on the weekend, and ended up sitting in one of the boxes. The biggest disadvantage of the seats was that they were balcony box seats, and one of us (me) has a bit of trouble with heights. It was OK when the show was on, but not so enjoyable when there was nothing to concentrate on.

Generally, though, I liked the seats - there were only 6 seats in the box (and 4 were empty), so we didn't have people walking over us. We also were some of the first people out of the theatre, and thus out of the parking garage.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This place has gone to the birds

You may recall that last year a robin built her nest above my back porch light. There were baby birds there when my niece came to visit (which was very exciting). However, a couple of weeks later there was a tragedy, which I discovered when I went outside and found dead baby birds on my back step. I dealt with it as I normally do these things - I ignored it and an hour later the dead birds were gone.

This spring, I paid close attention to make sure that there was no nest in the same place (so as to avoid last year's tragedy).

Then I went on vacation.

I thought I'd checked when I got back and there was no nest there. However, that was a week ago, and yesterday I went outside and heard an odd noise from above my head. That's right, there's a nest, with two baby birds who apparently think the door opening means they're going to get some food.

There was also a mama robin glaring at me from across the yard.

I just hope we can avoid the dead birds on the back step this year.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The last post about my vacation

I survived four days at work this week. On Wednesday, I came home, fell asleep for a couple of hours, got up, ate, and then went back to sleep until 6 a.m. The worst of the jet lag is over now, and I actually woke up at a normal time today. I'm still tired, but that's not unusual.

I've gone back and added a few pictures to my previous posts (and replied to comments - I read the comments when I was on the trip, but I didn't reply).

Here are a few pictures from our day in Rome at the end of the trip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wrap up

I got home around 8 last night. Of course, I’m awake ridiculously early today. Luckily I’m off work until tomorrow, so I can spend today doing such things as grocery shopping and laundry.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

My sister and I were on the same flight from Rome to Toronto, then different flights to our respective cities. Back when we booked the tickets, we made sure that we were sitting beside each other.

Naturally, Air Canada moved her. My seat was unchanged, but I was sitting in an aisle seat beside a stranger.

When we dropped off our bags, I asked if they had seats beside each other. They didn’t, but I managed to change so that I was in a window seat. We were in the same aisle, but on opposite sides of the plane. The woman at the counter suggested that we check at the gate to see if they could seat us together.

We went to the lounge in Rome (which was pretty pathetic), then went to the gate and asked if they could seat us together. They didn’t have any seats, so my plan was to ask the person beside me if they’d switch seats with Camille. Worst case, they’d say no.

However, just before boarding, the guy at the desk waved us over. He had two seats together in the middle part of the plane – did we want them? We took them, and then boarded in the priority boarding lane.

I was sitting in the middle of three seats. We were in the row just in front of the bathrooms, so no one was directly behind us. Once everyone was on the plane, it was apparent that no one would be sitting in the third seat. I decided to move over to the aisle seat after take-off. However, just before take-off, the flight attendant found a suitcase that the man on the other side of the aisle had placed behind the seat. She put it in the space under the seat in front of the empty seat. Now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to move over, as leg room was pretty scarce with the bag under the seat.

Anyway, after about ½ an hour, the man whose bag was under the seat asked if he could move over there, as there was air hitting him in his other seat. He lasted about ½ an hour, then moved back to his seat.

Five minutes later another woman asked if she could sit there. She lasted about an hour.

As soon as she left, I moved over there, just to stop the musical chairs game. It was a little ridiculous – it’s not like it was next to an empty seat.

The flight was 9.5 hours. Somehow I had it in my mind that it was an 8 hour flight, so I found it long. Luckily, I’d bought a book in Rome that lasted 3 or 4 hours, so I wasn’t too crazy bored for the first little while.

Once we landed in Toronto, we cleared customs and then went to clear security at the connections gate. I walked to the normal security line, showed them my boarding pass, and immediately got redirected to the “priority” security line – which was a little silly, since the regular line was hardly packed.

It’s kind of funny how being considered a frequent flier affects the behaviour of people in the airports.

We went to the lounge and grabbed some food before my flight. Finally, it was time for the short 1-hour flight to Ottawa & home.

Overall, it was a good vacation.

I’m glad we had a cabin with a window. It was a bit odd being on an American cruise ship – the pros were that the currency on board was US dollars (not Euros) and everyone spoke English. The downside was that the food wasn’t as interesting or good as on Costa, and it felt less foreign overall.

I took around 700 pictures. I have uploaded 20 or so to facebook, but haven’t done so here yet (basically due to laziness). If I know you (either in person or via the internet) & you’re on facebook, send me an e-mail or friend request & you can see them there. I will probably upload them here as well eventually, but I’m still pretty jet-lagged and I go back to work tomorrow, so I’m not sure when.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Catching up

(Edited to correct the location. Why do I confuse Rhodes and Corfu? They are nothing alike. Also, to add the tendering info.)

Two days ago we were in Corfu. We tendered in Corfu, which means the ship was at anchor in the sea, and we took small boats in to the pier. We took the shuttle in to town, then walked back. It was very, very hot. Corfu seemed less unique than the other Greek towns we were in, but luckily it was our last stop and we were pretty much toured out by then.

It was really hot. (Did I mention that already?) Anyway, when I got back to the ship, I went swimming. Well, not so much swimming as walking in the pool. It was very nice and refreshing.

Yesterday was our last day on the ship. We spent the day at sea, and didn't do much.

Today we had to get up early, as we left the ship at 7:15. We took an excursion to Rome, and toured the Vatican museums and St. Peter's. We spend most of our time in the museums in (or talking about) the Sistine Chapel, which I found disappointing because there are many other parts of the museums I find more impressive.

After our excursion, we got our bags from the bus (instead of taking the bus to the main train station) and walked to our hotel. It isn't far, but it was more than far enough. We spent a few minutes in the room, than walked back to St. Peter's to take a city tour.

There was some kind of demonstration going on in the middle of the city, so one tour was ending early. Another wasn't going to many stops. The third one was skipping only one stop, so we got on and rode the whole tour, then stayed on the bus until we got back to the Trevi fountain stop. We saw the fountain, then stopped and had pizza. After that, we walked to the Spanish steps, then took the subway back to the hotel.

We're now in the hotel, and have no plans to leave tonight. Tomorrow morning my sister & I have to get on the shuttle (at 9 a.m.) to go to the airport. I arrive home around 7:30 tomorrow night, so it will be another long day.

I'm definitely ready to go home, though.

(The pictures are from Corfu, Athens, Egypt, Ephasus, and Mykanos.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Turns out you need more than one day to see all of Egypt


Today we were in Egypt. The boat arrived in Alexandria at 7 a.m., and left at 10 p.m. We had to meet our tour at 7:30.

Once we got on the bus, we had a 2.5 hour drive in to Giza and the pyramids. As we got in to Giza, we could see the three pyramids on the horizon. We were warned that merchants would follow us around trying to sell us stuff, and that the best way to deal with it was to ignore them entirely. We were also warned that if you went for a camel ride, there was one price to get on the camel and another, larger price to get off.

There were many merchants and people with camels at the pyramids. Oddly, the pyramids seem larger from a distance than they do close up – although walking around one of them would take a while. There are 9 pyramids at Giza – the great pyramid, two other large pyramids, and 6 small (“baby”) pyramids.

After a while there, we went to get a panoramic view of all three major pyramids. We then went to the other side to see the sphinx. By the time we finished there, it was around 12:30 and time for lunch. We had lunch at a hotel very close to the pyramids.

After lunch, we went to Memphis, the first capital of Egypt. We went to an open air museum and saw a huge statue of King Ramses II. We had 40 minutes for that stop, but due to the heat and how tired everyone was, we were all back on the bus in 30 minutes.

Next it was off to the Step Pyramid of King Zoser. We went in to some of the tombs around the pyramids. They are covered with hieroglyphics, and look like something out of a book. We could see more pyramids (the Red Pyramid, and one that is oblong) in the distance.

Finally, we went back to Giza for a stop at a papyrus institute, to see how papyrus is made. The stem of the papyrus plant is a triangle. They cut it to the proper size and take off the green outer coating. Next, they beat it with a mallet to flatten it, then use a rolling pin to flatten it more. This makes it pliable instead of brittle. The next stage involves soaking it for 6 days (for a light colour) or 12 days (for a darker colour). After it has soaked for the right amount of time, they then take the strips and put them horizontally and vertically (kind of like weaving, although I don’t think they actually weave them) until they get the proper size of papyrus. They put this in a press, and keep it there for 6 days. When it comes of the press, the different strips have fused together and it’s ready to use.

We also went next door to a bazaar, and picked up our kartooshes that we had pre-ordered. A kartoosh is a pendant with a name (or word) in hieroglyphs. I got a silver one with my name in gold hieroglyphs.

Finally, it was time for the 2.5 hour long trip back to Alexandria. When we got back, we went for supper and managed not to fall asleep. Immediately after supper, though, we went back to the room, since we were all exhausted.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Since we arrived on the ship, we've been playing some of the trivia games. One of our favourites is "Name that tune". They had done several different types of songs. Today was movie trivia, and we won! Actually, it was a tie, and we won the tie breaker. One person from each team does the tie breaker. The movie the song was from was The Mask of Zorro. The other team got "Zorro" and "Mask", but couldn't put them together properly, so we won. It was pretty funny (although it felt a bit like cheating).

Greece, Turkey, and Porpoises

Friday (con’t)

At dinner on Friday night, I spotted something in the water. At first we thought it was dolphins, but it was too small. We now think it was porpoises.

I’m not sure if it was the same ones or not, but later in the evening we saw more porpoises jumping in and out of the water. It was pretty cool.


Today we were in Rhodes. We started with a walking tour of the walled old city. Rhodes is where the Knights of St. John were for many years. (After they left here, they went to Malta. I was in Malta on the last cruise I did, and I remember them being mentioned there.)

Since we started our tour at 8, the shops weren’t open yet and the streets were quite quiet. We started in the Jewish section of the city. There were over 3000 Jews in the city when the Germans took over during WWII. Those that survived largely left Rhodes, and now the Jewish population on the island is 35 people in 4 families. We saw the square of Jewish Martyrs, and then our tour took us to the Hospital of the Knights. It is now a museum. We saw the patients’ room, as well as several other rooms such as the dining room. The museum houses several statues and tombstones that have been found in and around Rhodes.

After that, we went to the restored Palace of the Grand Masters. It is where the leader of the Knights lived. It suffered a lot of damage during one of the occupations of Rhodes (I think it was the Turkish occupation). The Italians restored it as a summer home for their king in the 1940s. The king never made it over here, though, due to WWII. While the Italians were restoring it, they moved several mosaic floors from other places, including the island of Cos. I cannot imagine moving a mosaic tile floor. I suspect that would be very difficult.

Our tour was supposed to last 3.5 hours. Luckily, it only lasted 2 hours. I was definitely ready for it to come to an end. We stopped in a restaurant and had some beverages. They came in boot-shaped glasses. It was good to have a break.

After that, we wandered down one of the main shopping streets. We took our time and bought a few souvenirs. Eventually, we were back at the ship. We boarded, and had a lazy afternoon.


Today we are in Turkey. We docked in Kusadasi, and took a tour to Ephesus. Two thousand years ago, Ephesus had 200,000 inhabitants and was a major seaport. (Anyone familiar with the bible has heard of the letters to the Ephesians. This is where they lived, and St. Paul preached here and was buried here.) Today it is a few miles inland. Ephesus has been rebuilt 5 times – on 5 different sites – and we visited the third location. It is all in ruins, obviously. We saw the marble road that lead to the temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). We also saw many of the ruins, as well as the terrace houses. The city was quite large, and apparently only 15% of it has been excavated so far.

Ephesus was really interesting, and there was lots to see.

Today was quite hot, and we spent around 3 hours at Ephesus. After that, we went to the archeological museum. Our guide walked it through it and showed us some of the items found in Ephesus. After about 45 minutes, he looked around and said “You all look exhausted. Let’s go for lunch.”

We had a Roman lunch – we all had to put on Roman garments, and the waiters were dressed as Romans as well. The lunch had a set menu. We had a chick pea salad, a green salad, some dried fruit, some beef stew, some lamb stew, some skewers of meat with noodles. For dessert, we had something billed as fig and walnut cake, but it was basically a fig with walnuts and other ingredients in it – it wasn’t what we typically thing of as cake.

After lunch, we went next door to the rug making workshop. We saw a rug making demo. It was really amazing. After that, they served apple tea and showed us many carpets. The apple tea was very, very good. The rugs were incredible, but outside of my price range.

Finally, we ended up back in Kusadasi. I did a bit of shopping. The shops were more Western style, and it wasn’t possible to haggle much. When I was in Tunisia a few years ago, I really enjoyed haggling, so I was a little disappointed.

After that, it was back to the ship for an hour or so of relaxing before supper


Today we’re at sea. We went to a lecture on the various Greece and Egyptian sphinx figures. We also went to a port & shopping guide presentation on our two remaining stops – Alexandria/Cairo and Corfu. Later this afternoon we will be going to an enrichment lecture on King Tut.


Friday, June 5, 2009

It's all Greek to me


Today we were in Mykanos. We didn’t have an excursion booked, so we got off the ship around 10:15 and took the shuttle in to town. It’s very beautiful – white houses on the hill, and small, winding roads designed to confuse pirates. These days, they mostly confuse tourists.

Yesterday and today were the first days I've spent somewhere where I can't read the signs. I don't speak Italian (much), but I know a few words, and it's close enough to French and English that I can usually figure things out. Same with Spanish. Greek uses a whole different alphabet, and I'm not used to that. Tourist places usually also have English signs, but it's different not being able to figure out what anything says.

We walked around and looked in some of the shops. After a while, we stopped for a snack and drink, as we’re trying to make more of a point of drinking enough water. We stopped at the Oasis Garden restaurant. It was beautiful – outdoor tables covered by leaves, with flowers and a palm tree in the middle. After that, we continued wandering over to see the windmills and the pelican. I didn’t realize how big pelicans are – I’ve never seen one that close before.

After we’d been in town for a couple of hours, we were ready to head back to the ship. I wanted to stop at a couple of shops we’d seen earlier, and Anita and Camille didn’t, so they headed back to the ship ahead of me. I found the shops without a problem, made my purchases, and then went back to the shuttle. I was the last one who made it on to that bus, so I rode back to the ship in the tour guide seat (beside the driver) on the bus. I got back to the ship about 5 minutes after the others.

Since it was only about 1 when I got back, we had lots of time this afternoon. We went for lunch, then I grabbed a book and went up on deck to lie in one of the lounge chairs and read. I was close to falling asleep, but didn’t quite get there. Now I’m sleepy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sea day & Athens


Today we spent the day at sea. To my surprise, there wasn’t a lot of free time. We got up late, then went to a port and shopping presentation. We aren’t particularly interested in shopping, but we did get some good port information for Mykanos and Turkey.

After that, we had lunch, then went to a presentation on the 7 wonders of the ancient world. I hadn’t realized that the location of some of the wonders was known and that fragments had been found – I thought that the only remaining one was the pyramids, and that the others were totally lost. Also, the theories on what the hanging gardens of Babylon looked like are nothing like I assumed.

We played mini-golf in the afternoon, then got ready for the formal dinner. After dinner, we rushed off to talk with the port guide about some questions we had, then went to the Captain’s welcome aboard reception. After that, we went to the show (an Elton John impersonator), then it was time to go to sleep in preparation for Athens in the morning.


We got up this morning and got on the tour to Athens. The weather was beautiful – sunny and hot, but pleasantly so. The first place we went was the Acropolis and Parthenon. We walked up to the Acropolis. It was crowded – a lot of other tour groups were there at the same time. It was very impressive. They are restoring it right now, but they have been restoring it since 1992, so it’s not like we came on a bad day.

We looked around the Parthenon and the Erechtherion temple (which is also at the top of the Acropolis). We had 45 minutes of free time to take pictures, and with the crowds we needed every minute. After that we went off to a souvenir shop for 20 minutes, then we did a bit of a city tour. We saw the stadium used for the first modern Olympics, as well as the remains of the temple of Zeus. We then headed to the Plaka, which is a historical part of Athens filled with a bunch of shops.

We had lunch, then started looking through the shops. Much to our surprise, all of us bought rugs. We also bought a bunch of cotton clothes – Anita bought some shirts and I bought a dress.

By that time, it was getting late in the afternoon, so we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the ship.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The first two days


Well, we met up with Anita only an hour later than anticipated. The hotel we're staying at isn't easy to find, and it has two locations, so there was some minor confusion. However, she hadn't left the airport until after we had planned to meet, so it wasn't too bad.

Monday we got up and went to the restaurant for the breakfast that was included with our room. It was a croissant and coffee or tea, and was quite good. We then decided to look around the area for a while before heading back to our room. We wandered a few blocks away, and it started pouring. We waited in a store for 5 or 10 minutes, then dedcided to run for it.

We got soaked. Once we got back to the room, I had to open up my suitcase to dig out a dry shirt.

After we got organized again and checked out, we got a taxi to the hotel where we needed to catch the shuttle. Luckily, it was only 10 euros. We got to the other hotel and checked in with the shuttle around 11, and were given a departure time of 12:30. That was perfect, as it gave us time to get some lunch in the bar.

At 12:30, we got on the shuttle and went off to the cruise ship. The shuttle wasn't full, so we had lots of room to stretch out. We arrived at the ship and checked in.

I went on a cruise 4 years ago, and this was much more enjoyable. That time we got off the plane and went directly to the cruise. We were exhausted and jet lagged. This time we had a day to adjust first.

We did a little looking around the ship, then we had our lifeboat drill. After that, we went off to supper. We had to wait a while to get in, but finally got to sit down to eat.

The last cruise I did was an Italian cruise line. This one is American. So far, there are pros and cons to both. The food was better on the other cruise, but this one is far more organized, and more people speak English. It feels far less foreign.


Today we were in Naples. We got up late and had breakfast, then walked into town. We were off of the ship and heading towards the town when it started to rain. Naturally, people selling umbrellas appeared out of nowhere. It didn't rain long, and we walked around for a while. It was some sort of holiday, so we came across the tail end of some sort of parade or military demonstration.

We didn't stay out long, as we needed to have lunch and get ready for our afternoon excursion.

In the afternoon, we went to Pompeii. I had been there before - I was robbed there last time I was in Italy - but this time we were on an official tour. Our tour guide gave us each a walkie-talkie thiing, and so we could listen to her explanation whether or not we could actually see her.

Like the Vatican, it's hard to understand the sheer size of Pompeii if you haven't been there. It's big. Whole-city-buried-by-a-volcano big.

Naturally, it rained a few times over the course of the tour.

We have been told that it's likely the weather will improve. I hope so. Cold & rainy weather is something i can get in Ottawa.