number nineteen: greece day 8

This post was written on Friday, October 18th, 2013. This is the last of the posts that I actually wrote in Greece — I didn’t write about our last day in Athens. I’ll see if I can remember enough for a post!
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Today was the island of Rhodes. We did another excursion through the ship — “The Acropolis of Lindos”. We got off the ship and boarded a bus which took us along the coast of the island. About half way to the Acropolis we stopped at a ceramics factory and got a demonstration of both the making of the ceramics and the painting. It is a family run
business and the products were beautiful. I bought a small plate. Not sure what I’m going to use it for, but it’ll be a nice reminder of a good day.

After that we went on to the village of Lindos, where the Acropolis is. Yet another beautiful site. Acropolis means
high city in Greek, and the view from this one was 360 panoramic. You could see the coast of Turkey (20 km away), blue oceans, sandy beaches, and much of Rhodes. We walked up to the Acropolis from the town of Lindos, and it was nice to approach it that way instead of directly by bus.

We spent a bit of time in the village of Lindos looking around the shops, but I’m getting a bit shopped out. I did buy another fridge magnet (I already have one from Corfu) because it was the nicest one I’ve seen so far. Whenever I’m traveling I feel like I should by this for that person, and something else for someone else, and I worry that I’m not getting “enough”, but I’ve bought a fair bit on this trip (probably too much) and I’ve got something for the kids, something for Greg, a few things for me, and a couple of things for friends who bring me back things on their travels. So I think I’m doing okay!

When we were done in Lindos we boarded the bus again and went back to the city of Rhodes, where the ship was docked. We had about an hour or so until we were due back on the ship, so we first put our hands in the Mediterranean (first time this trip!) and then walked around Rhodes for a bit. It’s a walled city, and…what is another word for beautiful?! I keep repeating myself. But it was just that — beautiful.

Then it was back to the ship for some R and R in our room. I also watched another cooking show – fish tacos and a mediterranean orzo salad, both of which I’ll be making back home. Yummy!

Tonight is our last night on the ship. We disembark tomorrow morning at around 8 am in Athens, and we’ll be spending the day there. We have an 8 am flight out to Frankfurt the next day (Sunday), and then home via Vancouver. I’m a little sad it’s almost over but I’m very ready to see my family.

number eighteen: greece day 7

This post was written on Thursday, October 17th, 2013.
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Today was our one stop in Turkey, at the port of Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea (west side of Turkey). We did another ship excursion and visited Ephesus, a city built in the 10th century BC. And also one of the most preserved historic sites. We got lucky with the weather and it stopped raining for most of the time we were there, and the temperature was in the high teens. The week before had been super hot and people were apparently fainting, so I’m thankful.

The entrance we went in was impressive, but no more so than Olympia, but then it just kept getting better. They have been digging out this city for about 40 years and they figure they are only about 25% done, and what they’ve uncovered and restored is stunning. We saw the stadium (and sat in it!), the library, the latrine (!) and more.

After that we got back on the bus and returned to Kusadasi for a carpet-making demonstration. Turkish carpets can take months to finish. We saw some beautiful ones, and got to sample some Turkish beer (just as good as the Greek beer).

We spent a bit of time walking around the shops in Kusadasi but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Corfu and Oia. The shopkeepers were pushier here (similar to Mexico) and the merchandise lacked variety. I know we are in a very artificial setting (there are four cruise ships docked here today), and that other parts of Turkey would not be like this, but I was happy to just look around and not buy anything. Part of me felt that I didn’t deserve to buy myself anything from Turkey, as I saw such a tiny part of it (the same applies to Greece I guess, too, but it feels different for some reason). So I didn’t even get a fridge magnet. I’ll have to come back for it.

We are back on the ship and I’m going to have my first nap of the cruise. Then a run on the treadmill then dinner, followed by “Jamm the Piano Man” — more on him later.

number seventeen: greece day 6

This post was written on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013.
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Today we stopped at the island of Santorini, and here is where I saw my first taste of what I imagined Greece to be — white and sand coloured houses rising from the sea, with bright blue doors and bougainvillea blooming everywhere. I hate to admit that this image comes from Hollywood and I’ve now learned that not all of Greece looks like this, but my goodness is it beautiful.

Approaching the island was also beautiful — the area was a volcano, so all the islands have sheer cliffs with the houses built along the top — from far away it looks like snow.

This was our only tendered port, so we anchored along with three other ships and took a tender to shore. We didn’t book an excursion for today so we thought we’d have to wait for a while to get off the ship, but it was surprisingly quick. We arrived in the town of Fira, and because everything is built atop these volcanic cliffs, our next goal
was getting UP. There is a cable car, which I would have done even with my fear of heights, but none of us wanted to wait in line. There is also a zig zagging staircase up the cliff, but it’s a 900 m rise and we weren’t sure Mum would make it. More accurately, she probably would have made it, but that would have been it for the day.

There were also water taxis offered to the more historic town of Oia, and these included a bus ride back to Fira. We decided to do this, and it was a good choice. We had a 30 minute boat ride along the coast, a ride up the road to Oia, and we spent a couple of hours there before taking the bus back to Fira. Oia was breathtaking. I can’t do it
justice with words. All I kept thinking was that Greg would love to take pictures there. All the buildings are connected, and it’s just a maze of little alleyways and archways, with brightly coloured doors (mostly blue), and lots of flowers. Add to that some beautiful displays of pottery, scarves, silk and other goods and you’ve got one
of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever been in. I want to come back with Greg some day. (About now you’re probably wondering when the hell any pictures will be posted…)

After a snack of olives, olive oil and walnut bread at a cafe overlooking the water, we caught the bus back to Fira. There we decided to make the trek down the cliff on the staircase. Mostly because I was too chicken to take the cable car. Plus it was free. What we didn’t take into account were the donkeys. You can rent a donkey to get up or down the hill, and once the donkeys get moving they don’t really stop for anyone. And there are a lot of them. So you have to watch out for your feet! Not to mention the donkey shit. Mum was a trouper and made it down with her arthritic knees. It was a long way!

We got back on the ship in the mid afternoon and Jan and I had a snack and read for a bit on the deck. The weather has been spectacular, but some rain is moving in.

We had dinner and then Jan and I watched “White House Down”. So corny it was entertaining.

I really enjoyed today. I truly don’t have the words to describe how beautiful it was.

Purchases: Necklace for Mary Ann

number sixteen: greece day 5

This post was written on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013. And one day I’ll post pictures…
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Today’s port of call was the port of Katakalon peninsula, the “gateway to Olympia”. We did another excursion through the ship’s excursions, and this one was a bus tour to Olympia, the original site of the Olympics, and where they still light the torch each Olympics. The excursion included a guided walking tour of the actual archeological site, and then a stop at a local restaurant for some Greek appies and Greek dancing.

I was really looking forward to this one, to seeing Olympia (not so much looking forward to the Greek dancing). It was not what I expected…although I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. This was my first trip EVER to an ancient site. I guess one thing I wasn’t expecting was the amount of green space. The Greek have made a point of planting some of the same trees that would have been at the site in ancient times, and they now have a 200 year old grove of Cypress, maple and fur trees. I think I was expecting more concrete. But it was beautiful, and just so hard to fathom how old the structure is.

The guided tour was quite good, and as Mum pointed out, the crowds were fitting with how crowded it would have been during the actual Olympics — up to 45,000 people would come to watch (although we didn’t have nearly that big a crowd).

We spent about an hour at the site, and then left to go to the restaurant. This was a pleasant surprise. It was a beautiful building, with the most inviting pool I’ve ever seen (not part of our tour). We had a few snacks and watched the dancers. I wasn’t looking forward to this part because I thought it would be really hokey, but the dancers did a couple of numbers on their own and then started getting the audience involved (me and Mum included). It turned out to be a lot of fun.

After that it was back to the ship on the bus. We had a couple of hours before we had to leave, so Jan and I went shopping in the little town by the port while Mum went back to the ship to rest. I was able to easily spend another chunk of money. There are a lot of nice things here, and the prices are fairly reasonable. I should probably slow down a bit!

The shore excursions are expensive, but so far I’ve been really impressed with the tour guides. And both have been bus tours and I like how much country you see that way. But mostly it’s easy, which is what Jan wanted to have for Mum.

Jan and I did a run on the treadmill, we hung out on the deck as we left the dock, we’ve all showered and we’ll be heading to dinner soon.

I’m missing my family a lot…I got a texting package but the 10 hour time change makes it difficult to text much. Greg tells me everything is fine. I am definitely having a great time, but I really don’t like to be so far away from them. It’s easier when I’m off the ship and doing something so out of the ordinary as visiting Olympia.

The purchases for today were: Christmas ornaments, a silver bracelet for myself, t-shirts for the kids and Greg, and a hand-painted bowl (which I’ve ended up keeping).

number fifteen: greece day four

I’m a bit behind getting my Greece posts out…my last one had us on the ship on day three. Day four was our first port, the island of Corfu.

As I reflect back on this trip, I find that it’s difficult for me to put into words what I felt as I walked through the town of Corfu. This was my first real taste of Europe. I have been to Frankfurt airport several times now, but never out of the airport, and my brief time in Athens at the start of this trip doesn’t really count because I was jet-lagged and it was really just a stepping stone to the start of the trip. I know there’s a lot of diversity throughout Europe, but one constant is the history. Canada is such a young country comparatively, and it was such a novelty to be in a place with so much history. It was something I’ll never forget.

This post was written on Monday, October 14th, 2013 (with a few minor updates made tonight).
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Today we visited our first port, the island of Corfu. We got off the ship at about 10:00 (such a reasonable hour!) and joined our bus tour. The excursion we chose was a 2.5 hour bus tour of the island, followed by an optional stop in the town of Corfu. If you took this optional stop then getting back to the ship was your responsibility, about a half hour walk or 10 Euro taxi ride.

The bus tour was excellent. The tour guide was informative and a good storyteller. The drive went through inland Corfu and then up a steep, winding highway to a small summit (Malahat-like in altitude). The bus driver was also good and not aggressive at all, thank goodness for me because the road wasn’t really a highway at all. At one point we went through a small village and the road was barely wider than a laneway. The bus’ side view mirrors were literally inches from the buildings, and the switchbacks were the tightest I’ve ever seen. It was similar to some of the New Zealand driving that Greg and I did, except that the Greek roads were in better condition, and there were guardrails (albeit awfully low ones!).

Our first destination was a small resort called The Golden Fox, right at the summit. There was a stunning panoramic view of the Mediterranean and a few small shops. We stopped there for about 45 minutes, which gave us some time to soak in the view and do a bit of shopping. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices. I picked up a couple of scarves (for my future reference, it was the pink one I kept for myself and the one I gave K) and a bunch of olive oil soaps. The soap was also intended for gifts but so far I’ve given only one away! Anyone want some?

We got back in the bus and drove down the other side of the summit (the tour buses are only allowed to go one way on this route because the road is so narrow — there would be no place for two buses going opposite directions to pass). The drive truly was beautiful, including the portions without a sea view. Corfu is considered the greenest of the Greek islands, and it’s lushness was very inviting. There were plenty of olive, cypress and eucalyptus trees, making for a much different landscape than I’m used to.

The bus made a second stop in old town Corfu, which is where we had the option to get off and make our own way back to the ship. We chose this option, and spent a couple of hours wandering around Corfu. The town was also very beautiful. Cobblestone streets, lots of alleyways, and cafes galore. I tried Greek coffee, which is unfiltered and very grainy. As my sister said, it’s basically like eating coffee beans.

We wandering through the open air market, which mostly consisted of fish so it was a bit smelly, but Mum and Jan both picked up some yummy candied nuts, one bag of which we quickly devoured.

We did some more shopping, and (again for my reference), I picked up a small mirror for Amy, a baseball hat for Elliot, and a purple scarf for myself.

We got back to the ship after a hot walk, went for a quick swim and enjoyed a drink on the lido deck. We all had turkey for dinner, made in honour of Canadian Thanksgiving. It was yummy.

Tomorrow we are going to Olympia, on the Katakalon peninsula, part of mainland Greece.

number fourteen: hello-ha*

We interrupt our Greek series to bring you a post from the lovely island of Oahu. That’s right. I spent Canadian Thanksgiving in Greece and American Thanksgiving in Hawaii.

We arrived here Sunday afternoon and as usual for me when I travel, it’s taken me a few days to get into the groove. I’m a homebody and even when I’m in a place like this – relaxing, easy and not very foreign – I feel misplaced at first. But today was great. We headed out fairly early and went to the Dole Plantation. I read a few reviews online and there were a few great ones and a few terrible ones. The terrible ones all said “don’t go, it’s a tourist trap”. But Greg and I have long since learned we are just fine with most tourist trips, provided they offer some entertainment for us and our children. The plantation had both a train and a maze. Good enough for us!

The drive there was beautiful. We are staying on the northeast side of the island, and we drove around the northern tip and then south through lush, rolling hills with equally lush mountains in the background. I love how green this island is.

The plantation itself was also beautiful, and surprisingly not too crowded given that its a national holiday. The train ride was a bit hokey, but my expectations were met and the kids had fun. We gave them one of our cameras and I just looked at the pictures they took. Very entertaining.

The maze was lots of fun. We were in it for an hour and we found all the “special spots” we were supposed to find. It was named the world’s largest maze in the 2008 Guiness Book of World Records. Amy was “done” about 15 minutes before we were actually done, but she persevered. Albeit loudly. Between the train ride and the maze we all partook in the “world-famous” Dole whip. Greg and I questioned it’s famous-ness, as neither of us had heard of it. It was basically pineapple flavoured soft ice cream. But it was good, and refreshing.

We left in the early afternoon and headed back the way we came, looking for a place to have lunch. We settled on a shrimp truck (Hono) that looked fairly well attended (but not as busy as the one we passed first, which had at least one tour bus load of people eating at it). I had the garlic butter shrimp, Greg had the sweet and sour shrimp, and the kids split the butter shrimp. It was delicious. I just checked out the reviews online and we weren’t the only ones who thought so. It was the best shrimp I’ve ever had.

We got back to the condo a bit hot and sticky, so we suited up and headed down to the beach for a bit. The condo we are staying in isn’t the greatest inside, but it’s right on a beautiful beach, which has been awesome. It just makes it so easy to take the kids down for a quick dip. Greg and I also managed a short snorkel (our first of the trip) while Gramma stayed with the kids. Then it was on to the freezing cold pool, at the kids’ request.

We finished up the evening with a home-cooked dinner of fajitas, baths for the kids, and as I sit and write this I’m sipping a cider and listening to the waves hit the beach. Hello-ha, indeed.

*Amy’s version of aloha

number thirteen: greece day three

This post was written on Sunday, October 13th.
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Today started with a short workout in the ships gym with Jan. Can’t say it was enjoyable (I really don’t like working out in gyms) but a little exercise never hurts.

On a whim I booked a massage appointment for this morning. When we got on the ship they were giving out free chair massages and while I was getting one they showed me the special of the day — hot rock massage, foot massage and facial for $139. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do a “vacation spa treatment”, so I booked it. Now that I’ve done it I know not to do it again. It was nice, but not $139+built-in-tip nice.

I ate breakfast alone in the dining room because I needed to make the appointment, and I ordered French toast with maple syrup (the menu actually said “maple”. I should know by now that unless I’m in Canada, maple syrup means Aunt Jemima. I was a bit unimpressed.

After the massage we had a burger on the Lido deck and then I went off to a cooking demo. Yes, this is supposed to be a Greek cruise and I haven’t spoken about Greece much, but we are at sea today! The cooking demo was entertaining and I got to sample the creme brûlée. Yummy (much better than last night’s)!

For dinner we ate in the dining room again and I had a good tenderloin. The main courses have in general been great, but the appies and desserts have just been okay. I was disappointed with my tiramisu at dinner tonight.

Tomorrow is our first stop — the island of Corfu, which is in the Ionian Sea, part of the Mediterranean.

Missing the kids tonight.

number twelve: greece day two

This post was written on Saturday, October 12th.
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I slept very well and only woke up once when Mum turned on the light to read at 3:30 am, because she couldn’t sleep. A discussion between her and Jan ensued while I did my best to remain as close to sleep as I could. I was able to fall back asleep and slept solidly until 8.

We got up and went out to look for a coffee (tea for me of course) and a quick breakfast. There are pastries galore in Athens (well, within the three blocks we walked) and I had the most amazing apple Danish I’ve ever had. The experience of getting the coffee, tea and Danish reminded me of one of the reasons that Greg and I don’t travel — the language barrier. I feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable not being able to speak the local language. Not to mention ignorant. My sister is much more comfortable in the situation, but she’s had a lot more experience. Perhaps Greg and I will get out there and get the experience as well, but even it we don’t, there are plenty of English speaking places that I’d love to visit. It does bug me knowing that it holds me back, though.

After getting food and caffeine, we went back to our hotel room and packed up. We were due at the port at 1:00 to board the ship, and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. Turns out it was a good thing we did! We took public transit (the metro) down to Piraeus, which was very straightforward, but upon getting there we realized how huge the port is. There were at least six ferries, all humongous, and at least three cruise ships. We thankfully could see the Ryndham, our boat, but it was on the other side of the port. So we walked. A long way. In the heat. Trailing our suitcases. My poor 79-year-old mother! But we made it, and once there it took us all of five minutes to get on the ship. I was really surprised, as when Greg and I did our Mexican cruise it took FOREVER to get on the boat.

Once on, we found our room (bigger than we expected) and started exploring. The ship is much smaller than the Princess cruise Greg and I did, and older, but it’s got a very comfortable feeling. After our explorations we sat in the Lido Lounge and enjoyed a “fruity drink”, as my sister calls them. The drinks are surprisingly reasonably priced — about the same as I’d pay in a Victoria drinking establishment, and if my Fashionista is any indication, they are excellent.

We had dinner in the dining room, a very good roasted chicken with cornbread sausage stuffing (very Thanksgiving-y), and some adequate crème brûlée. But I’m a crème brûlée snob, so I know I have high expectations.

After dinner Jan and I got Mum settled (she was exhausted) and we went off to see the nightly movie – Man of Steel – which was surprisingly good. So odd to watch a Hollywood movie and then walk out of the theatre and remember that you are on a cruise ship sailing among the Greek Islands.

Tomorrow we spend the day at sea on our way to Corfu…good timing as it gives us a day to recover.

number eleven: greece day one (and a half!)

This is the first of my posts from my travels to Greece. This one was written on Friday, October 11th.
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I am not sure what my wifi access is going to be this trip, so I may end up posting these when I get home. I wasn’t sure how I was going to actually write the posts — there was no way I was bringing a laptop, and my iPad would be missed by the kids. I considered pen and paper and transcribing later, but I truly can’t write for that long, I’m too out of shape for it! So here I am, blogging on my phone, but using my wireless keyboard. Greg kind of chuckled at me when I decided to bring the keyboard, but so far so good.

So…getting here. Mum and I left Victoria at about 1:30 pm on Thursday. Our flight was delayed but we were only going to Vancouver and we had plenty of time there, so it wasn’t a concern. We left Vancouver at about 4:30 (again delayed) and headed for Frankfurt. This was our longest leg — just over 9 hours, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’ve done it before for my Saudi trips and it’s a long time to be on a plane. Especially when you don’t really enjoy flying.

But this time I had a good book (thank you salesperson at Chapters!). Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. It was light, it was funny, it was good and it totally made the day (night? whatever) go by quickly. I slept for about five hours of the trip (drug induced) and that helped as well. And I didn’t watch one minute of TV, which is totally unusual for me. Mum seemed to fair quite well too.

We arrived in Frankfurt if not refreshed, at least somewhat functional. Jan was planning on meeting us at our gate but texted me to let me know she couldn’t, due to the fact that we were in an entirely different terminal from her. But Mum and I figured out how to get to the right terminal, thanks to well-placed signs, and we found Jan wandering up the concourse. Easy peasy.

We had a bit of time before our next leg so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and a coffee/tea. Then on to Athens. This trip was just under three hours. I finished my book in the first half hour and then I slept for the rest of the flight. I was a bit surprised, but it was nice. I was even somewhat comfortable. I woke up early enough to watch our landing — always exciting for me when it’s in a new country.

We got our bags very quickly, found a cab and made our way to the hotel, which is in downtown Athens. This was the only negative of the trip for me — I feel very uncomfortable in a cab with a driver who doesn’t understand what I’m saying and who I don’t understand. My imagination goes crazy and I think about him driving us away to some
deserted area and murdering us. Even being there with my sister and mum didn’t help. But I warmed up to him a little bit as I realized he wasn’t a crazy killer, and he did point out a bunch of the sites for us as he drove. And we arrived safely (once he made a phone call to get someone to translate what Jan was saying).

We just went out for a light dinner — I wanted meat on a stick and I got it — and now we’re all in bed. I’ve drugged myself again in an effort to get on this timezone.

My first impressions of Athens are good. It’s a bit dirtier than I expected, but it was pretty darn cool seeing the Parthenon just smack dab in the middle of everything else. We just drove by — we’ll be taking a closer look after our cruise — but it was still pretty awesome. I haven’t done any research for this trip, and seeing Athens makes me now want to do some reading. If I could only find an internet connection…

Off to bed for me now.

number ten: greece

What follows is a series of posts I wrote during a recent trip to Greece with my mother and sister. This trip was born in February, when, during an Ottawa visit with my sister, she and I were sitting around the dinner table and she announced that she needed to ask me something. It was obviously (to her) a loaded question, and she was a bit anxious about it. She explained that she’d been thinking about taking Mum on a trip for a long time, and realized she’d better do it sooner rather than later, as Mum’s not getting any younger or any more mobile. Where do I come in? Well, she wanted me to join her…and not only that, she was going to foot a good portion of the bill. No destinations had been set yet, but Greece was thrown out there, as was the idea of a cruise, since it would be easy on my mother.

I immediately said yes. It was a no-brainer for me. My sister was concerned as traveling with family, especially elder family, can be stressful, but I didn’t hesitate. This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next few months the plan formed and we decided on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise in October, with five Greek ports and one Turkish port.

Read on to hear more about it…