Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brrr...we're home!

Wow. It's good to be home. No...actually, it's fabulous! After 20+ hours of flying from Athens to Anchorage, I thought to myself, "Why is it so complicated for the airline industry to provide decent seats with enough legroom and amenities, considering how much we pay for a ticket. Is it really so tough?" Let me just say that profiling is not just for terrorists and the airline industry seems to do it well. Case in point: Yesterday, (I think it was yesterday anyway - I'm still confused as to time and day) I carefully packed my suitcases in such a way that the weight was distributed properly and breakable items were in my carry-on. I even weighed the carry-on to ensure that it was not too heavy. Yes, there's a 40lb. weight limit for carry-ons. All was good. We got to Athen's airport, checked in our luggage, and proceeded to board the aircraft. In a long line of passengers, I was singled out because my carry-on "looked" too heavy. Now was rolling, I wasn't lugging it anywhere, and it "looked" too heavy? The pompous airline steward singled me and my distinctive red luggage out. I explained to him that I had weighed it, it was well within the limits and it had the very fragile items in it and I didn't want to check it. No go. He told me it was too heavy and really, "what would you do if it fell out and hit someone on the head?" Uh, pardon me, but that's not my problem - is it? If it was going to hit anyone, it would be me, as I would have been seated directly beneath it. The guy never weighed it beyond a cursory lifting. When I continued to question him, he threatend me with denied boarding. Jerk. Needless to say, I fumed all the way to Minneapolis. We were to collect our luggage and proceed through Customs upon arrival. When I exited the aircraft, this same airline steward had the audacity to "reassure" me that all would be well. My annoyance level went up a few degrees at this - he should have just left well enough alone. I turned back to him and said, "Sir. How can you honestly say that? Have you seen how the luggage is handled? There are breakable items in there. How can you guarantee that nothing will be broken?" His reply was something to the effect that KLM/NW would take care of it if it was broken. Right. We all know how that works. I asked him if KLM/NW would go to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey and track down the stall that I bought the Turkish tea set at and replace it, or if they'd go to the one Starbuck's in Cyprus that sells souvenir mugs and replace that. Oh man...did he really think that those items could be so easily replaced? I got a grunt in response. Someone needs some Customer Service Training.

Home looks good. I don't care if it's 19* and no still looks good. I was happy to walk down to baggage claim and see my sister in law waiting for me. She and my brother and "Miss Pink" my niece picked me up at the airport and took me home. Thankfully, my home was still standing. According to the fam, there was a windstorm that took out their chokecherry tree, some siding and a panel of my fence. The neighbor's fence is completely gone. Also, while I was gone, the neighbor's car caught on fire and flames, smoke and firetrucks where everywhere! Thanks to good friends that alerted my family to check on the house, all is well.

If anyone's in Cyprus...could you get me a mug from Starbuck's to replace my broken one?

Monday, October 27, 2008

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Or, so they say. For my vacation, this is true. I've packed my bags one final time, have laid out clothes for tomorrow morning's departure and lined up the taxis to take us to Athen's International Airport. The past few days here have been wonderful and filled with plenty to do. Our hotel (the Attalos), is located just a stone's throw from the Acropolis. All around us are monuments to this, relics to that and treasures hidden just steps from the main path, or in some cases - IN the main path. There is no real street plan to downtown Athens and the tiny, twisty pathways are the only way for all sorts of means of conveyance to go about their business. We've seen more Smart Cars in one square block of Athens then we've seen the entire trip. Scooters, Mopeds and motorcycles seem to dominate. In fact, this morning, while waiting outside our hotel for the tour bus, a motorcycle ridden by a business man came directly out of the hardware store right next to me. Don't ask me how he got the bike through the store - a person could barely fit - but there he was.

We've enjoyed the gastronomical offerings here - mostly eating the inexpensive gyros or souvlaki. Basically, they're the same with grilled meat, tomatoes, french fries ("chips") and onions with a tzaziki sauce all piled onto a pita flatbread and folded up to eat in hand. Add a Coca-Cola light to it and it's a regular meal for less than 5 Euros. Gelato and bakeries abound, so it's a very good thing we've been walking everywhere!

Our first day here, Saturday, we checked into the hotel, dumped our luggage and then headed out to explore. We encountered the markets, the Ermou (main shopping drag) and all sorts of other fun things such as the parliament buildings (we watched the changing of the guard), the town hall, the library and so on...all with cameras clicking and mouths hanging open at the antiquity mixed with the modern. We slept well that night, inspite of the incredibly lumpy beds!

Sunday morning found us on a walk to the Acropolis. It was quite the journey up twisting, cobbled streets, but the view that we were rewarded with, was incredible! Upon our return towards the hotel, we toured (and shopped) our way through the Plaka. This is the main tourist shopping district with reasonable prices and most anything you could imagine to be had - including the last Greece Starbuck's City Mug in the city! We encountered folks from the ship on more than one occasion and swapped stories. It was another late night, and again - in spite of the noise of the streets and the lumps in the bed - we slept.

Today, we got up early for a tour to Corinth. For some time now, I've wanted to create a journey of sorts that followed the steps of the Apostle Paul. We saw a bit of his travels in Cyprus, and yesterday on the Acropolis, we saw the Areopagus where he addressed the Athenians. Today, however, was much more powerful for me and yet one more thing taken out of my basket. We saw the Ancient City of Corinth, with the Bema that Paul used to address the Corinthians. Tonight, when we got back from lunch, I began to read again in Acts - following Paul's journey. I'm still amazed I'm here and while I don't know that I'd care to come back to Athens for any length of time, I'd love to see more of Greece, including Delphi, more of Corinth and other places.

We head home in just a few short hours, so pictures will be added shortly - I promise!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Debarkation Day it is, Saturday morning in beautiful Athens, Greece. We are docked at port with EIGHT other large cruise ships. In fact, right next to us is the Grand Princess. She's a beautiful ship, but admittedly, I'm rather partial to our beloved ms Rotterdam. :-) The debarkation process seems to be going smoothly and we're burning up left over internet minutes. I'll be going outside shortly to take some final pictures, but aside from that, I'm ready to move on. I had a relaxing time in the hot tub last night and a fairly calm moment or two or 30 of packing. Needless to say, before the flight home, I'll most definitely have to repack!

Last night, the Compadres gathered around a couple tables on the Lido deck by the pool to go over final plans. We also shared our favorite moment. Honestly - I don't know that I can pick one. Each day held something fantastic and personal for me. Depending upon the reason, any day could have been my highlight. I loved the time spent getting to know Ashley and Kadar and growing closer to the rest.

It's almost time for our "Pink Debarkation 2" tag to be called, so until next time...sweet dreams.

The Journey's End

First, let me send a "shout out" to my brother Dan for his accomplishments with MS Certifications! Way to go, Brother!

Today is our last day at sea, and for all essential purposes, the last day of our cruise. Tomorrow morning ends the constant pampering, the Diet Coke placed at my seat at dinner time before I ask, and the cheerful "Good Morning, Brenda!" from Agung, the Lido dining steward. Our time aboard the ms Rotterdam has been fantastic. All our needs were met - sometimes before we even knew what we needed! The Events Staff were wonderful and are new-found friends. I can't say enough about the generosity of the staff on board in their smiles, greetings and assistance.

Today, Kadar and I had a special treat - we were invited to have a Bridge Tour. These are essentially non-existent since 9/11 for security reasons, but the Captain was kind enough to grant us one. As Kadar joins the Coast Guard very soon, and I work for Holland America, it was a very special treat, indeed. It was fascinating! Although Captain Krombeen was not on the Bridge, 2nd Officer Kevin was and he did an outstanding job of sharing hisk nowledge.

Today I traded in my DDollars for some goodies after participating in one final Sports of Call event. We ate dinner at 5:30 and we were treated to a fantastical, fun dining experience called the Master Chef's Dinner. Theatrical flair, great food and laughter all around made it a memorable event to be sure. We sat around afterwards and discussed plans for Athens and ordering pictures. There will be a few to be purchased, but I'm thankful for the ones on my camera!

I have yet to pack, so I'll sign off for now, but once again - thanks for reading, commenting and wishing you the adventure of a lifetime!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dreams Really Do Come True

Today, I stood in front of possibly the greatest ancient wonder of the world and cried. Yes, full-on, tears streaming down my face, cried. I couldn't believe that I could be so emotional about a life-long dream of visiting the Pyramids of Giza coming true. I won't write a lot here, because when I get back home, the pictures I'll add will be more telling. I will share a bit though. There's something to be said about seeing something for yourself to fully comprehend what you've read. And so it is true about Egypt. It's an amazingly eclectic mix of people, but they do have one thing in common for sure: Laws of the Road are non-existent! We boarded the bus at 7am this morning and one of the first things our lovely guide, Heba told us was to not worry about the driving, that our driver knew what he was doing and to just sit back and relax and not to look. These people drive three, four or five wide in a two-lane road. They switch back and forth, darting in and out and the tiny vehicles play "chicken" with the big ones just for fun as near as I can tell! Nothing like doing 90KM/hour and then suddenly slam on the brakes in a 47pax motor coach. Yikes! Donkey carts, camels, semi trucks and cars all share the same road, nearly on top of each other. Pedestrians are no better; darting in and out of the traffic where they please. Seriously - it's insanity on wheels. Oh, wait - it get's better. At night, they add to the fun by not using headlights. No kidding. Running lights are good enough for them until they want you to move. Then, the headlights flash and the horn goes on. I think I aged 10 years on the one drive today. LOL!

We visited the Pyramid of Sakkarah - the famed Step Pyramid; the Pyramids of Giza; the Sphinx and a palace for lunch. The low-light of the trip was a trip down into the tomb. I actually started having a panic attack and thought that I may spend my last moments sucking whatever little oxygen was available into my lungs before dying in the tomb. Uh, yeah - not for those that have breathing issues or claustrophobic or like cool air.

I'll sign off now, but will post more tomorrow as it is our last day at sea before returning to Athens on Saturday.

Thanks for reading, and here's to fewer "I wish I would have done's" in my basket.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sit Down, Kick Back and Settle In...

I've got a lot to share today! We were out on tour all day yesterday and today, so I apologize for the delay in updating.

Yesterday morning was met with much anticipation as we docked in Haifa, Israel. Now, as most of you know, Israel is near and dear to my heart and I've made life-friends there - both of people that live there and people that I've traveled with there.

The plan, because we had friends there, was to do our own private tour and not a Holland America (HAL) one. We just wanted the freedom to do our own thing and not be at the mercy of 45 other people on the same coach. Several months ago, I contacted Louie, our beloved friend and guide in Israel. He and I talked about what folks in the group wanted to do and what the best way to execute that would be. He agreed to meet us in Haifa and do a personal tour. Unfortunately, he was not able to meet us at the last minute, and instead, sent a good friend of the Dajani family to meet us. Danny was a great guide! We got off the ship bright and early and waited for Danny to meet us. And we waited. And we waited some more. By this time all other groups had been met and I was starting to get nervous. I talked to a few of the other guides there and learned that the Port of Haifa was causing some problems for them to get onto the apron of the dock. So...I immediately started praying that whatever issues were there would be resolved. In a moment, I see a man racing to the apron in a security vehicle. He hops out, displays a paper with my name on it and all is well. Sort of. He rode back with the security vehicle and we walked down to meet him at the gate.

We'd not been to Haifa before and as he said, "there's nothing of interest here". So...away to Jerusalem we went. I must say...Anchorage drivers have a reputation of being a little lead-footed and reckless. They've got nothing on Danny! Several times, we were driving on two lanes at once, nearly running over people...all at 100KM/hr! about getting people to pray! We arrived and did a whirlwind tour with a viewpoint into Bethlehem. We could not get our passports from the ship in time to enable us to actually go into Bethlehem, but we did get several viewpoints. We went to the Garden Tomb - one of my most favorite spots. We went to the Old City, saw a few of the Stations of the Cross. We ate lunch at Geo's and then went to Dajani's store. We were welcomed with open arms, fresh drinks, baklava and lots of smiles. It's so wonderful to meet friends after a year. They asked about my uncle, they asked about Doc Crowder, and asked about my family. :-) I found the bracelet I was looking for to complete my blue opal set and Liz found an original design of Louie's dad in a Jerusalem Cross. Unfortunately, Rachel - I wasn't able to find an olive wood cutting board! We walked the top of the old city walls and then went to the City of David, Gethsemane, the Western Wall, Mt. Scopus, Mt. Moriah, Mt. of Olives and the promenade that over looks the Old City. We also went to the Upper Room. We accomplished about three days of touring in 9 hours! After leaving Jerusalem, we drove through the West Bank, through the checkpoints and prayed for safety. No "fireworks" were seen, so all is well, Mom! We did see a lot of police presence due to the Festival of the Torah, but that made for easy traffic and good time back. We arrived in plenty of time to board the ship before sailing! We look forward to returning some day - Next Year in Jerusalem! One highlight for all of us was a phone call from Louie to us at the store. Frank, one of the uncles, handed me the phone and said, "It's for you!" What a pleasant surprise to talk to Louie and hear his voice. We've made yet another new friend in Danny and count ourselves blessed.

Today, we were off the ship a little after 6am (Yes, I actually rolled out of bed at 4:30, got ready, ate breakfast and was relatively awake by the time we debarked). We had a fantastic tour to Nicosia (nick-o-see-ah), the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is the last divided capital in the world and we were able to go to the Green Line - the military zone between North and South Nicosia. North Nicosia is occupied by the Turks and has been for the past 35 years. Only in the past 5 years has there been a checkpoint that allows intermittent passage between the two been available. What an amazing island! As the third largest in the Mediterranean, it has a lively population and a plethora of antiquities. It's absolutely amazing. We saw some of the best-preserved artifacts to date, including full-size statues, earthenware, and Roman glass pieces. We also visited St. John's Cathedral - the best example of painted church that I've seen. The depiction of hell is amazing: it's a fire-breathing dragon, but in his fire is depicted all types of people from the farmer to the church leader. It's a clear indication that no one is exempt from hell without the saving grace of Jesus.

We had a fabulous lunch in Nicosia - a traditional Cypriot feast with wonderful pork sausages, aubergines, mushrooms, and yes, wine. Wine is not my thing at all, but there was lots of Diet Coke! We were late back to the ship as it was a full day tour, but as it was a HAL tour, the ship waited for us. We ran on, went to earn some more Dollars, and then got ready for our Formal Night. Lobster, steak, and all the shrimp cocktail you could eat - I was in heaven! They also did a really fantastic presentation of Baked Alaska. All the chefs did a parade, each holding a Baked Alaska with a sparkler lit coming out of it. The lights were down low, so it was really neat to watch!

We interrupt this message to tell you that a genie just walked by me. Yep...complete with a hat and little pointy shoes. Not sure what that was all about, but funny.

The ship is rolling and pitching unlike anything we've experienced to date. In fact, we were in the pool earlier and it was like a tremendous wave pool! I've not been brave enough to go out on deck and look over, but I'm sure we'll hear about it in the morning from others. Folks in their formal wear are all looking a little intoxicated - whether they are or not - just because it's difficult to walk straight.

Tomorrow is the much-anticipated stop in Alexandria (Cairo), Egypt. We will be gone until late tomorrow night, but we're looking forward to it.

Oh, and about that basket thing...It's not so bad going out of my comfort zone to meet new people. :-) Maybe more about that later, but as I have to be up in a few short hours, I'll sign off for now.

Pleasant dreams and good friendships to all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lessons Out of the Basket

Today was another day at sea, and an absolutely beautiful one at that! As is usual and customary on sea days, there are a number of activities to participate in. The first one, was Salsa dancing! Aye Carumba!!! There was a large group of people in the class and our instructor (one of the dancers for the cast on board) was fantastic. He was knowledgeable, patient and encouraging. I've decided that this is a great workout - it smelled like a sweatshop when we were done, so I'm guessing we all burned some calories. :-) Next, it was on to Backward Basketball Toss. The concept is easy - turn around and shoot the basketball over your head behind you to the basket. The execution however - not so easy. Of course, in practice I shot one that was nothing but net. Not so once we were playing for Dollars.

One thing that Holland America implemented a few years ago was the Culinary Arts Theater. Now, I'm no chef, nor would I want to be one as a career. However, I do like to dabble in it, but not enough to actually take a class. Until today. Kadar and I had signed up to take a class from the chef in the Pinnacle Grill - Chef Das. We made filet mignon chops with a tomato salsa, mushroom risotto and a duet of bruschetta. Then - we got to eat it! It was absolutly fabulous and while I was intimidated to be cooking with obviously skilled chefs, it was a fantastic time. We got the recipes and the aprons to bring home - what a hoot!

We lounged around today and did various activities until meeting for dinner at six. After dinner we went to the game show that they do nightly. Last night, Liz and Larry won in the Newlywed Game. Tonight, it was Nowhere Near A Millionaire. Each person got a raffle ticket and they drew out of a bucket to pick the contestant. Who should win, but one of our Compadres - Judy! She did a great job (with a little help) and came away with a boatload of prizes (pardon the pun). Great fun! Suffice it to say, our little group of Compadres is becoming well known around the ship and with the staff. Hopefully, that's a good thing. :-) All around today, we seemed to be stepping out of our comfort zones in order to take another note out of our proverbial baskets.

Tomorrow we meet our friend, Louie Dajani, in Israel. We're praying that we are able to visit Bethlehem, but we're not entirely sure about that. Please pray for our safety and our expedient return.

Until next time, Shalom!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More About the People You Travel With...

I forgot to mention this one yesterday, but when we went to see the Madara Rider, we lined up to use the bathrooms. As is usual and customary, around the world, the women's bathroom has the same number of stalls as the men's. Well...the women's line was backed up and all the men on our tour had seemingly done what they needed to do, so some of us women used the men's. All was well and good until I came out of the stall and went to wash my hands...right next to a man using the urinal!!! Oh boy...I don't think I've ever done a 360* as quickly as I did then - forgoing the handwashing. Thankfully, I had wet wipes in my pack!

The moral of the story is: Wait in the Ladies Line and if you absolutely must use the Men's Line...make sure you have Wet Wipes. :-)

p.s. The guy didn't seem to make anything of it - I think he's from Europe...

When You Really Want to Get to Know Someone...

Encourage their participation in the Newlywed Game! That's right - right here on the ms Rotterdam, we learned more about our friends Liz and Larry than any of us thought possible. I had to come right out and blog this because I was laughing so hard!!! Liz and Larry were stellar contestants and they took home the prize! Can I just say, that I'll probably never look at a can of Dr. Pepper the same way again. LOL!

Today was an amazing day - our second at sea. I woke up this morning ready to go with my schedule of events all planned out and ready to earn my Dam Dollars. Most of us went from event to event collecting as we went. Although, I'm sad to report that my whale Spanky didn't fare so well in the whale races. I went to the dance class that Susan, our Cruise Director teaches and while I didn't have a partner (Kadar was still sleeping, the bum!), I did get to practice. My Evil Twin is trying to coerce me into going to the Black and White Ball with the officers tonight to try out my new-found skills. We'll see if I can last that long!

Today is a day of celebrating Dutch traditions. As you may or may not know, the Holland America ships are flagged in The Netherlands. This morning, they served Dutch Pea Soup out on the decks while there was commentary about the Dardanelles, the Strait of Marmara, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. Tonight, we will be able to experience the Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza - all chocolate - all the time. Yum! For this, I will stay up late.

It was formal night tonight, so once again, we're dressed to the nines in velvet and sparkles. I'm sure there is an entire psychology of cruisers and their clothing options. Suffice it to say, there is one guest in particular that wears the most outrageous clothes. Imagine something from a strip hall meets Gucci. What do you get? A very expensive feather boa in red feathers with a matching hair piece. We laugh at this, but someone is probably laughing just as hard at me. I did have the pleasure of having my picture taken with the Captain tonight. Poor man - he's so nice looking and then to have to have his picture taken with all the women...LOL!

Tomorrow is another day at sea and we'll be formally dressed again. Lobster is on the menu and more fun and games to follow.

Hope this finds you well, and if I might make a suggestion: If you're married, plan your answers in advance lest you find yourself on stage doing the Newlywed Game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The People are the Fabric

It's been said that to really begin to know a country, you have to step away from it's glitz and glamour and meet the people. Today, that is exactly what we did. We are in Varna, Bulgaria as I write this, waiting to pull out of the port and head back through the Dardanelles and head to Israel.

This morning, we were up early and off the ship to our tour of Madara and the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Madara Rider. Basically, this is a carving of a horse and rider with a dog at its heels with inscriptions of battle victories - on a mountain side. Kid you not, it's way up there! It's a beautiful setting - much like the state of Oregon with lots of trees, hills and rain (the first we've encountered). I hiked up over 300 stairs to get to the top and took several pictures. Then, took another trail and wound up at the fortress and then the caves. Amazing! On the way down, I encountered an elderly couple. Actually, I think it may have been an elderly man and his adult daughter as she appeared quite a bit younger. At any rate, the stone path was slippery with leaves and he was using a cane. She was holding on to his arm. They were stepping down the 300 stairs at the top and he lost strength in his legs. As I was right there, I basically caught him before he hit the ground. I helped them down a few more stairs before they headed down the gentler path towards the caves. I moved on and didn't give much thought to it - until I saw them again. It was evident that the man was losing whatever energy he had as it was quite the little hike. I chatted with them for a few steps and then asked if I could assist. They were grateful for it and all was well until we hit the last set of steps. The gentleman's legs completely gave out! Thankfully, another man (younger and much stronger than I) came to help. The three of us got him seated and rested. He must have fallen earlier as we noticed blood at his feet. Further investigation showed a large gash that was bleeding profusely. This poor man! He was such a trooper, though. They sat for a moment while I went to their coach and asked the driver to move up to the steps from where he was queued quite a ways back - Go Gray Line training!!! - and between the young man on one side, the woman on the other and me holding up the rear - literally (I had hold of his belt loops), we got him situated on the coach. Whew! He was in good spirits, though, and that made it all the easier!

After that, I got on my coach and we headed to the village of Madara. Here, we visited a family in their home complete with accordian music, all the barnyard animals that live "in" the home and a huge spread of meat, cheese, sweets and a few unidentifiable items. It was great fun and the woman of the house showed us how she made a traditional Bulgarian dish - pastry, sheep's cheese, eggs and yogurt. Fabulous! We sat in their courtyard, hanging heavy with grapes ready for harvest, as well as beautiful flowers. It was lovely to say the least and I'm anxious to be able to share the pictures. This was the highlight of my day - maybe even the entire trip thus far!

We're sailing out of port right now, and I think back to the beautiful, risilient people of the Slavic nations we've visited. I remember their smiles, their generosity, their gorgeous lacework and am amazed and humbled at how they have survived the string of occupations, dictatorships and regimes and yet still continue.

I'm proud to be an American and promise to remember the freedoms I have and those that have provided them...

How Evil Pervades...

Yesterday, we were in Costanta (coh-STANZ-uh), Romania. Yes, this is the place were the Count Vlad of Transylvania resided, but more recently, Ceacescu(sp?) had his iron grip on the country. We had an "interesting" little tour yesterday that amounted to a walk to the beach, a drive up and down the main boulevard and a tour to the Roman a museum. After our trips to Israel, these ruins were not nearly as fantastic and we were charged for any photos we took - provided they saw us taking them...

The most interesting part of the tour for me, was talking with the tour guide. She was probably only 25 years old, but when we asked her about life under Ceaucescu's regime, the Romanian people were not allowed to have television, cell phones, internet, etc. They were told through propoganda that Romania was the largest, most beautiful country in the world. They were not allowed to own property, nor were they allowed to buy freely. Essentially, they were allowed to buy bread, possibly some animals (actually, I think she meant that they weren't owned, but "leased") for milk, etc.

Now, not quite 20 years since the revolution, we were able to see monuments, "beautiful" buildings and even a McDonald's at the local "mall". Funny thing about McDonald's here - a chocolate shake by American standards is nowhere to be found. However - for those of you that remember the deep fried fruit pies of McD's past...they can be found here! And yes - they are just as fabulous as I remember. :-) Most places in Romania will accept the Romania Lei or Euros. US Dollars are not accepted, generally - even at Mickey D's.

Again, I thank God for America. I know that you at home are in the midst of the mudslinging campaigns, but honestly - I'll do well to remember the freedoms we have the next time I start to complain.

Speaking of campaigning - we've not been following what's been going on at home, but I'm absolutely amazed at how many people from all over the world, literally, absolutely love Sarah! We say we're from Alaska and immediately, she is the topic of conversation.

Thank you for your comments - I do enjoy reading them! Rachel - how big do you want the board? We'll be meeting Louie and the rest of the Dajani family at their store, so I will probably ship it...

Thanking God for America and our freedoms...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sevastopol, Ukraine...

I know, I know...two posts in one day! A mother's "guilt" does wonders. LOL. Actually, it's really that I have a little time to kill before the big Bingo game tonight, so thought I'd tell you a little bit about Sevastopol as well as shipboard life.

Liz, Larry and I had a later tour today than the rest of the group and I, for one, was thankful for the respite. I had failed to set my watch back an hour, so I was up an hour earlier than usual and found myself with time on my hands to enjoy the arrival into port, and a few games. Every day on board, the Event Staff plans events that guests can go to and earn "Dam Dollars". Please note the spelling on these. It refers to the "dam" at the end of the name of each of the Holland America ships and not the lake of eternal fire as some might assume. At the end of the cruise, if you have a minimum of 15 Dam Dollars, you can purchase something with them. Today...I reached the 15 dollar mark and can now continue on. I went up on deck with Liz in anticipation of the Opposite Hand Ring Toss...only then to discover I had not set my watch back. :-) Liz and Larry left me for the laundry room and when it was finally time to play the game, I scored 8 bucks! Cool. The weather was warm and absolutely beautiful as the ship traversed the harbor into Sevastopol. Our original plan was to tender two miles out and then take the little lifeboats/tenders into port. However, our Captain Rik Krombeen negotiated with the port authorities to allow us to dock at the NAVY DOCK! How cool is that?!? It was amazing being on board as the Captain maneuvered the ship so precisely to pull the ship into the harbor and dock, bow out from the pier. Shortly before we docked, it was time for another "Sports of Call" - this time on the Shuffleboard court. I've found a new game to love. DJ Matt took pity on me and was to be my partner on the court...all so I could earn more Dam Dollars. It was fun to chat with him on a personal level - he's from Maryland and is 2 months into his 5 month contract on board. It's fun to talk to someone who loves working for the company as much as I do.

Sevastopol: What a difference - like night and day - in comparison to the experience in Russia yesterday. From the very beginning with the immigration officials who were smiling and laughing while stamping our passports, to the friendliness of the policemen on shore, the difference was marked. Evidence of Russia's control over the Ukrainian people and region is strong, as is a unique sentimentality of the Ukrainian people for Communist Russia's leaders - namely Stalin. They (those that have an affinity for the dictator) revere him with statues, flowers and even in their discussion of him as a loving "father" to Russia and the Ukraine. Admittedly, I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around that concept.

Today, while some went to the Crimean Riviera and Yalta, the Dotsons and I opted for the Battles of Balaklava - the site of a hidden submarine base. There is a ton of WWII and Crimean War history here, of course, and as I'm not a history fanatic, I have a hard time assimiliting it all, but it was extremely interesting. As was mentioned before, I am a fan of the Cold War era movies (Red October, etc) and to actually be in a "super-secret submarine base, complete with nuclear bomb blast safe doors and escape routes, was really intriguing.

As you may remember from my post a couple days ago about stepping out of my comfort zone, it also applies to food. Now, with the quest for Dam Dollars today, I did not each lunch before stepping off board. On the tour, we were provided with a refreshment stop where they furnished coffee, tea and/or orange juice. The three of us Compadres thought it'd be nice to share a snack, so we ordered shrimp (what else?) and fries. When the shrimp came, it was fried - but not in a batter, just in a pan with olive oil. Oh...and one more thing - the shrimp (tiger prawns, actually) were served with their heads on. Something to note: I'm not SUPER adventurous when it comes to food. I am certainly not found of beheading something at my table right before I eat it. However, I thought of my proverbial basket and decided to dive in. Once I got past those beady little eyes looking at me, I ripped their little heads off and ate the shrimp. Hmmmm...Tasty. :-)

Tomorrow will find us in Constanta, Romania. Until then, please...pass the shrimp. :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thank God for America...

Good morning blog readers! First, let me say thank you to those that have posted comments - it's encouraging for me as the writer to read what you have to say! Second, let me apologize for the delay in writing posts. As Mom mentioned - there is so much activity that I fall exhausted into bed every night - usually around 9pm! LOL! There has been some difficulty connecting online as well.

Cha-Cha dance class was hilarious and a blast! I couldn't believe how much fun we had. Chantel, my Evil Twin, has taken pictures to share, as has Liz. Oy...

Tuesday night was our first Formal Night and it was lovely. We got a group picture as well as individuals - hopefully we'll purchase a few good ones to bring home and eventually post. :-)

Yesterday we went to Russia. After you read this, perhaps you'll understand why I titled this the way I did. We had a leisurely breakfast in the Lido as usual and then gathered as a group to go ashore. The immigration officials that boarded from Russia were very stern, no smiles and stereotypical of all the Cold War movies. We tendered across the harbor and stepped up onto the pier. We walked a short distance to the waiting motor coach and our tour guide, Marinka. Along the way, we noticed several people dressed entirely in black. Standing. Watching. Following us with their eyes. We were told we could not go anywhere without an escort. Who would want to? When we boarded the motor coach, Judy commented to me that it felt like we had just walked the Gauntlet. For an American with so many freedoms, this was creepy!!!

Our tour took us to the northernmost tea plantation in the world - in Sochi, Russia. We sat high in the hills on a steep hillside and learned through an intrepeter, about the tea grown here - it's black (as is all tea), and the smell was fragrant. We then ventured to a beautifully-made lodge where we were served tea from a traditional Russian Samovar, ate wonderful bread with jams and spreads and all the hazelnuts we could crack. We were entertained with live music from performers in traditional dress. In fact, it appears that Larry is now betrothed...ask Liz how she feels about that! LOL!

We returned to the pier and said good by to our tour guide. I should note that in all the hiking around, she was wearing stilleto heels that could poke a hole in the toughest canvas they were so sharp.

Remember, we were told that we could not purchase Rubles or get them in change as they are a restricted currency. Never one to be daunted by such a small challenge, I finally convinced a street vendor to sell me some. The whole exchange was very clandestine-feeling in that she fervently looked both ways and then seruptitiously gave me some. Next, Liz, Larry and I wandered off - taboo without an escort, but we were up for the adventure - to McDonald's! We went, ordered a Coca-Cola Light and after drinking half of it and parting with 33 of my precious rubles, tossed it as it was mostly water and no ice!

We got back on board in time to freshen up, eat dinner and go our separate ways - me to do laundry and the others to do who knows what.

Today, wer're headed into Sevastopol, Ukraine. Here, currency is not such an issue and we'll have plenty of resources.

I must sign off now, but look for another update as soon as I can!

Monday, October 13, 2008

When I am Old...

I read an admonition once, that went something like this: "If you don't want to find yourself at 90 years old, sitting in a rocking chair with a blanket at your feet and a basket full of 'I wish I had done this...', then step out of your comfort zone and do it. And so it goes. Today, we spent the morning and early afternoon in Istanbul. Yesterday, we found ourselves negotiating with some taxi drivers to get us to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. I've wanted to visit the Hagia Sophia for some time now, as it is considered one of the architectural wonders of the world. It's easy to see why. With the 4th largest dome in the history of the world, it's a marvel to behold. No less so is the Blue Mosque. Amazing. It boggles the mind to see history in living color. It's a shame in some ways that our society no longer places value in what I would consider timeless, beautiful architecture. As with yesterday, today we did not have a planned tour and decided to wing it. This is a city of 14-16 MILLION people depending upon who you ask. My thought: At that many people, what's a couple million? We met for breakfast in the fabulous, but casual Lido cafe and then proceeded to disembark. We hailed a shuttle for a few lira - headed to the Grand Bazaar. There's not much I like better than haggling over a good find. Be sure that I did! Turkish hospitality is legendary and for good reason. Tea is offered everywhere regardless of whether you buy a famed rug. The rugs are gorgeous, and probably well worth the money - even if it is what I consider a sizeable sum. We toured around the city in a double decker bus and we really got a feel for how large this city is. Situated on two continents (Asia and Europe), the diversity of it's people is amazing.

So, back to my point about doing things that are out of your comfort was a little unnerving to go to a foreign port without a real plan - but I'm thankful we did. We went our various ways at one point, but we each deemed what we had chosen to be wonderful! No regrets here. :-)

We enjoyed a FABULOUS meal at the Pinnacle Grill - Holland America's alternate restaurant onboard. It was a gift from our travel agent, and we enjoyed it immensely. How can melt-in-your-mouth sterling filet mignon with asparagus, mushrooms and an amazing mustard sauce be bad, I ask you? Better yet, the dessert and even the dessert appetizers (yes - really!) were phenomenal. I can't say enough about this luxurious alternative to the traditional dining. Although, I certainly wouldn't complain about that, either!

Tomorrow is our first day at sea and our first official formal night. I'm going WAY out of my comfort zone and making good on my promise to provide a few laughs with my turn at the ballroom dancing lessons. I'm sure that medics will be standing by...

After that, I intend to visit the art auction and procure some additional Tarkay pieces or maybe even another Kraznyinsky. In the afternoon, it's onto the Shuffleboard tournament, then to flower arranging and somewhere in between all that, I'll be scouring the ship for usable items for our Ship Building Contest (did I say "Out of My Comfort Zone" yet?). Tomorrow night we'll dine formally and will end the evening with who knows what?

The next day- which I think is actually Wednesday, will find us in Sochi, Russia. Who would have imagined?

By the way...what's in your basket when you're 90?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's What Day and I'm Where?

I think it's actually Sunday, but I can't really be sure. Somehow, in the two + days of air travel and the short night in Athens, and all the activities that ensue when embarking...I've lost track of time.

I will have to say, that I really don't have any horror stories to share about our flight here. We left on time, our luggage was checked straight through and we arrived without incident. Easy-peasy.

Arrival into Minneapolis/St. Paul was nothing major. We promptly found a Starbucks and a McDonalds and then settled in for our flight to Amsterdam. We opted not to try and hit the Mall of America as we didn't feel we would have enough time. Probably best.

We arrived into Amsterdam and I have to say, the flight, while long as nice as international flights in coach are. Our stay in Amsterdam was fun - once we got started. :-) I had been led to believe by reading and other's personal experience, that the canal rides were just "right outside" the airport. Well...not exactly true. What is right outside the airport is the train station. But, getting any reasonable information is difficult at best. With a last-minute dash to get all eight of us on board, we boarded the commuter train to Amsterdam Centraal. From here, we just walked outside and then realized..."wait - this doesn't look familiar at all!" Turns out, we'd come out of the train station on the opposite side of where we should have been. Thankfully, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and we eventually found the Gray Line canal tour. Oh, it was beautiful, restful, sunny, and just what this traveller needed to unwind a bit. A few in our group walked to the Anne Franke house and other spots. I was perfectly content to sit in a boat and relax. One thing I should mention for those traveling to Amsterdam: If you want to leave the airport and stow your sure to stow them AFTER you go through customs. Otherwise, you'll have to remember your original concourse and search for the correct lockers after entering through customs. Then, you'll have to exit and enter customs again when you make it the the correct concourse. Trust me - I know this from experience!

We left Amsterdam at 8:30pm or so and headed to Athens. We arrived a few minutes early and my stomach started doing a tango in fear that we would not meet our luggage. Or that only some of us would get it. Amazingly enough - all our luggage arrived in good condition and we headed out in hopes to meet our ride. Dimitris, an Inchcape Agent that works with Holland America, met us right outside the customs area with a sign that said "Carlson Party". I felt so official! We were escorted to our hotel in Piraeus several miles away in a Mercedes Benz "sprinter". Very comfortable an d we were blessed beyond measure by the kindness of our driver and Dimitris to pick us up at 1AM on a ship day! They arranged a late check-out for us at the hotel and reminded us to be ready to go at 12noon when they would return to pick us up.

Our hotel room at the Triton was small and the bathroom even smaller - if that was possible. But, it was clean and the beds were comfortable. We got up in the morning and ate breakfast (which was included) and then wander out for a look around. It was a typical working-class European neighborhood with fish/meat/vegetable markets, banks, churches and the very large port just across the way.

Dimitris and the driver were early to pick us up and we drove to the Pier where were were to embark. I was glad we had a ride, or it would have been a bit of a hike with our luggage in tow. When we arrived, were were once again greeted by our new-found friends from Inchcape and the embarkation went well. I was even able to chat a bit with the Holland Port Agent, Cathy Cox, whom I had not seen since my tenure in Seattle. It was a nice surprise! We took lots of pictures of the ship in port, then got on, ate and headed to our staterooms.

I'll have to post more later, but suffice it to say, we have Istanbul in our sights an lots of activities to do onboard still. So, until next time - sweet dreams of far away lands.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Miracles for Today

What started out looking like a disaster...has miraculously been contained in tidy Ziploc(r) bags into one checked bag and one carry-on...both with room to spare! It's less than 10 hours now until we leave and the family has been called, the house cleaned and the details left for those taking care of my house and home.

Every time I pack, with each successive time finding me packing less and less, I'm reminded of my first trip overseas. I went on a young adult missions trip to Barcelona in 1993. It had been a tough year, particularly with my beloved Grandfather passing away shortly before I was to leave. But, even with all the family trips, I never learned how to pack. In fact, I probably didn't really learn until I became a travel agent 12 years ago. Even now, each trip finds me learning a new technique to roll, pack or stuff to lighten the load. My, how far I've come! That first trip found me schlepping two VERY LARGE Pullman suitcases that I had received as a high school graduation gift several years before. They were packed to overflowing! Oh, AND a large matching carry-on. That was back in the day when airlines didn't regulate much and the thought of paying for an extra bag, or even one over 50 lbs was absolutely unheard of. Everyone seemed to understand that when you went overseas you needed everything but the kitchen sink. Incidentally, only one of my suitcases weighed less than 50 lbs...the other was 73! Who knows how heavy the carry-on was? Today, I managed to pack one Denier-nylon-extra-tough-with-rotating-wheels-and-retractable-handle-suitcase-in-easy-to-spot-red to check that is probably pushing the 50lb limit, and one matching carry-on. Need me to take anything for you? No problem...I've got room.
Well, at least until I hit the souvenir stands...

One More Day... clean, to pack, to winterize, to obsess about travel plans and yet, here I am writing. I actually got a lot done today. Work was busy with lots of little piddly things to wrap up. I left feeling confident that all would be well and no one would miss me. Well...I hope they miss me a little. After work, I got to hold the newest member of the Mobley family and goodness, is he ever cute!

I got home and left again to go pick up the T-shirts. The MCA youth group did an outstanding job on these and I've decided to post a pix of what they look like. Now taking orders...

(And yes...I still have packing to do and sleep needs to fit in there somewhere).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Joy of New Life!

It's official! Baby boy Mobley arrived this morning to the delight of his loving parents! I'm so excited to see this little bundle of joy, promises and everything good in the world by the hands of the Creator - I can hardly contain myself! The miracle of life is so incredible, that it actually leaves me speechless. Doesn't it you?

It's two days and counting until we leave and the snow is falling and actually sticking. The better part of wisdom finds me taking tomorrow off after all so I can be a relaxed, prepared, carefree traveler. Besides - I need to go visit my new "nephew"!

Finding joy in all things good...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tick, Tock...Tick, Tock...

Three days and counting. It's times like this, when I have a multitude of things to get done, that I can appreciate the cities that never sleep. Anchorage is not so. I have critical things to accomplish, and yet, I don't feel like I'll be able to get them done on my lunch breaks. Now is when I long for stores open 24hrs, Round-The-Clock tire services and anything else that only large cities have to make my life and schedule easier. Whose, but my own, brainiac idea was it to work up to the day we leave? Ugh!!!

One more example of something to get done before I leave: After a discussion with my boss, where I proudly said "Oh, no...I never change my tires out - who needs studs?", I went home and realized that I really should at least rotate my tires. Better yet, I should put new ones on. I still don't think I need studs, but...maybe I should. Suddenly, I'm reminded of the scripture in Proverbs that says, "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall".

This morning's traffic seemed to bear that thought out - it was icy, a little snowy and it took me exactly one hour and 4 minutes to get to work. A journey that normally lasts all of 18 minutes. It's funny how one or two degrees can make all the difference in driving conditions.

One highlight to my weekend is that I am about to be an "Auntie" again. Well...sort of an adopted Auntie. My very pregnant friend, whom I cherish deeply, called to say that it wouldn't be long until their little bundle announced his/herself into the world. Way to go! I talked to the baby a couple weeks ago and told him/her that I really wanted the momentous occasion to commence before my departure. I'm so glad he/she is being so obedient! :-) I love you already, Baby Mobley!

I contacted the port agent in Istanbul and confirmed some of what we knew...that it's too far to walk from the pier to the sights we wanted to visit on Sunday...and now, it may be too late in the day for us to connect with the Gray Line tour we had hoped to on Sunday. The port agent recommended a taxi driver from the pier. Guess we'll check that option out after I contact the Shore Excursion manager onboard.

Snow tires, Ice Melt and Baby Gifts galore!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time to Get Out of Dodge...

It's Sunday. It's FOUR days until departure. It's snowing. Yes. White, fluffy, beautiful flakes of precipitation. It's DEFINITELY time to get out of Dodge. :-) I spent most of yesterday not thinking about the Compadre's Cruise at all. Instead, I hung out with three of my nieces, played Wii, and slept. I came home on Friday early and went straight to sleep. I think I'm just a little more "concerned" about things than I thought and it was wearing on me. I feel much better now. :-)

I find it interesting that as an employee of a wonderful cruise line, with access to all kinds of information, that I can't figure out where the ship actually docks in Istanbul in relation to prime sightseeing locales. We want to visit Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on Sunday as they are closed on Monday, but we don't arrive until 3pm. Istanbul is so large, that it's entirely possible that we won't be able to see it on our own in time - any one have recommendations? Oy...I guess we may be doing a Holland tour after all... Maybe when I talk to someone from the home office tomorrow, I will feel better about the situation.

Today was a lovely service at church and I feel much better about how things are working out. It's a short blog post today as I'm at a Compadre's house.

Until tomorrow...

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Second Career?

I love my job. I really do. Even when there are multiple "opportunities for excellence" coming my way at once, I still love my job. I work with a great set of people - each one unique, bringing a cornucopia of talents to the table. I work for a great company, too. By and large, I like the work values they ascribe to and I appreciate their emphasis on enriching the family and other's lives. However, last night, I contemplated a career change. Briefly, but still the thought was there. I want to be (drum roll, please) a...

Personal Shopper!

Yep. Really, when you think about it, it's like playing with Barbies as a grown up. Remember picking out Barbie's perfect outfit for her day out with Ken? And what about Ken? It didn't matter what you put on him, the guy just looked good. The advantage as a grown up, is as a Personal Shopper - you help people match, look good AND spend THEIR money. Does it get any better than that? I think not. :-)

Last night found me at Value Village with a couple of the Compadres - shopping for their formal attire. Did you know that the leisure suit can be found in an array of colors? My favorite was a madras plaid in green and red, lined in gold. Bummer - Kadar wasn't going for it, but I thought "'s a cruise - live a little!" The better part of wisdom won out and we did find a treasure in a navy blue sporty suit coat. Sharp! Even better when the green tag items were half off. A little digging and a few good sales at Land's End/Sears and Wal-Mart provided a new Formal Attire wardrobe for the youngest male Compadre.

It's funny...I can go all year and buy a couple of new items of clothing. OK, probably more than a couple, but outside of special occasions, they all work for work and play. So why is it that I feel the need to shop when I'm going on a cruise? I'm not doing anything any different really. I still go to bed and wear pajamas (although, my fear of having to leave my stateroom in the middle of the night for some bizarro reason spurs me to ensure my pj's are new and hole-free); I'll still get up and take a shower and dress to go outside (something about being on a vacation makes me think capris are THE fashion choice that will catapult me onto the cover of Vogue); and while I don't normally parade around in a swimsuit, I will put aside all qualms and take the plunge into the deep end of the pool (after all - I'll probably never see most of these people again and as long as I can wrest the video camera and zoom lens from my Compadres, I'm safe). The one exception to all of this is the formal attire. We have 4 formal nights on board and each night requires something a little different. Well, at least for me. I've allocated 1/2 of my single suitcase to formal wear. I hope it's enough...

Tonight is our last meeting before heading for the airport. Oh, our meetings are not the typical round table-agenda-gavel-type of meetings. Ours usually involve copious amounts of snack food, good travel books and Wii. We plan our steps, discuss any lingering questions, hand out information and then we play games - eating snacks along the way. After all, we need to condition ourselves for the mounds of food and buffets on board - we'd hate to waddle away without doing our share. Maybe tonight we'll review how to pack for all our new clothes and the Formal Attire. I better check the labels for Spandex...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Business of Preparations

After a crazy little experience with the hotel in Athens, I'm happy to say that we have a place to rest our weary heads and to freshen up upon arrival into Athens. All together now - say it with me..."Whew!" I'm sure the collective guest registry on board is thankful that we'll be able to shower and change before boarding the ms Rotterdam as much as we are. No one wants to cruise with stinky people. :-)

Why is it that whenever you go on a trip, every little thing that has been put off to do, or accomplish, suddenly comes to the forefront and MUST be done before departure? Really, is it that important if it's been sitting for the past 6 months, unattended, to complete it before I leave for three weeks? Not likely, but somehow, I feel the need to "git 'r done". Last night is a case in point. The clothes that I've been meaning to donate for the better part of a year now finally got sorted out of my closet. Lest you think it was any easy task...think again. Three very large storage containers later and I can say that I think it's finally all sorted. Now, just to get them downstairs and to Value Village for donation - that will be the true test!

Another project that's been on the "to do" list for a long time is painting a little tiny section of the wall where it meets the ceiling. I mean, seriously - one episode of CSI:Miami and it'd be done...if I'd only start. Maybe tonight...

Back to the real preparations of the trip: A few months ago, the youth group began to develop a source of income for their various projects. Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea for youth groups to do this. Not only does it ease the burden a bit off the general fund, but more importantly, it teaches a skill set as well as valuable life skills of teamwork, management and in this particular case - creativity. The youth group at Muldoon Community Assembly is in the Silk Screening business. What a cool idea! Anyway, one of our Compadres came up with the idea that our little travel group should get T-shirts printed. It would be fun to be identified as a group, but also provide some income as well as critical multi-color process skills for the youth group. Last night, I saw the results of their hard work - and I'm impressed! These kids, with their leadership, have done a great job! We may tweak the color a tad, but other than that the printing process is ready to go. I'm excited to be able to proudly wear the design, but even more so that I can say our youth group did it! Anyone need some custom shirts printed? I know a great little print shop...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And so the countdown begins...

It's only 8 days until The Compadre's Cruise of 2008 commences. There's a lot of excitement, nervousness and anticipation as the last few details are being worked out. Actually, I think a lot of the anxiety might stem from what and how to pack! :-) Perhaps I should provide a little background as to how this whole adventure has come about...

One night, while enjoying the company of friends and playing games, we decided to take a trip. My friends and I wanted to go back to the Middle East as our love for Israel continues to grow from our previous trips. While it didn't seem prudent at the time to just tour Israel, we decided upon a Holland America cruise. The itinerary was fantastic - the first time Holland has presented it, in fact. We're embarking on a 14 day cruise of the Mediterranean and the Black Seas - "Black Sea & Egyptian Explorer"! I've always wanted to go to Egypt. Last year, we tried and got as close as the Israeli-Egyptian border, but our taxi driver was adamant that we not go in and by the looks of the guards at the was probably a wise decision.

Our itinerary is great. We start from Athens, Greece and continue to Istanbul for two days, overnighting on the ship. From there, we go into the Black Sea and visit Sochi, Russia. Then, it's off to Sevastopol, Ukraine; Constanta, Romania; Varna, Bulgaria: Haifa, Israel; Limassol, Cyprus and finally, Alexandria, Egypt before returning to Athens.

The planning and preparation for this adventure has gone really well. In fact, maybe a little too well. It seems that there is rarely a trip planned (by anyone) of any magnitude that there isn't a little hiccup that has to be calmed, or a wrinkle to be smoothed. I had commented earlier that I couldn't believe how we hadn't encountered one with only 10 days to go. That is...until yesterday morning. The hotel that we had planned to stay at upon arrival into Athens prior to the cruise - cancelled. Yep. Cancelled. Granted, it wasn't the end of the world, but holy cow - none of us really wanted to spend the day of arrival at the airport. We get in at 12:50 in the morning and the ship doesn't sail until 5pm. That's a really long time checking out the local airport. Seriously. So, what's a girl to do?

I let my fingers do the walking and after looking extensively, finally found a hotel that offered triple rooms. Oh, and one that didn't break the bank. We'd all like to have a few coins to spend on the trip - and not all at once before we even set sail! Oh, I should mention that there is some sort of National celebration that is going on in Greece that created a shortage of inexpensive hotel rooms. It's going to work out - of that, I am certain!

It's my intention to chronicle the adventure as we go, so keep checking back and please, feel free to leave comments!