Hot! Hot! Hot!…108F, 42.2C… Hardly suitable for a long trek!…A year ago..Security guard with something in his back pocket…

This bloom appeared to be a future flower. Upon close inspection Tom determined it wasn’t a flower but a leaf growing to maturity.

Yesterday,  another trip to the ATM was necessary to gather enough cash to pay the four person staff of Dar Aicha the second half of the tips as we prepare to leave in two days. With local ATMs kicking out a maximum of MAD 2000, US $245.11 per customer more than one trip was required. We had MAD 2000 on hand from a trip a few days ago.

As we prepare to leave we make a special effort to ensure that we don’t have leftover dirhams making careful calculations important. We had yet to pay for five dinners prepared by Madame Zahra, including today and tomorrow, bottled water, tips and transportation to the airport.

To accommodate all of these expenses, we needed a total of MAD 5300, US $649.54, leaving us enough for tips for the porters at the Marrakech Airport.

This area was to my left as we dined at Le Jardin. The open courtyard with many birds flying about required we sit at a table with an umbrella to avoid getting bird poop on us or in our food.

Of course, with the crowded souks we’ve always planned to have dinner and get cash on the same outing, although the restaurants and ATMs are not located in the same vicinity. This was especially the case yesterday when we were well aware of the hot weather.

Adding the fact that I continue to wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants and socks, venturing outdoors in hot weather can be challenging. We decided to head out at 4:00 pm when I was suddenly feeling a need to eat when we hadn’t had a morsel since dinner the previous night.

The tasteful displays in Le Jardin are appealing.

As we walked outdoors, the heat gripped us. It felt as if we walked into an oven.Thoughts flashed through my mind of the day we spent in Abu Dhabi a year ago this month while I was dreadfully ill and we’d visited the White Mosque. 

Entering the mosque required us to don appropriate clothing; for me, a heavy silky black abaya and for Tom a cool white thobe. The long walk that day from the parking lot to the mosque was the most scorching experience of either of our lives.

Yesterday’s walk was much further than the walk in Abu Dhabi but the temperature matched that day’s unbearable heat. It was 108F, 42.2C! With low humidity in the desert, the heat was slightly more bearable than humid heat would have been at such temperatures.

Another pretty self display in Le Jardin, where we’ve dined on many occasions while in Marrakech.
Had we been able to stay within the confines of the souks, the long walk wouldn’t have been as unbearable.  But, the closed ATM was still not working leaving us with no option but to walk toward the entrance of the Medina where the other ATM was located, part of which requires a fairly long distance walking in the direct sunlight.

I don’t recall ever going for an hour long round trip walk, much of which was in the sun, wearing heavy fully covering clothing when it was 108F, 42.2C. I’m sure some of you may have done so when it was necessary under certain conditions. I commend you. Tom was wearing shorts and a lightweight cotton short sleeve shirt.  It was brutal.

A shelf was lined with various olives, a popular food item in Morocco.

Once we arrive near the further ATM, Tom left me sitting across the road on a short stone wall under a bit of shade. During the five minutes he was gone, a vendor pestered me nonstop trying to entice me into buying a straw hat. Saying “no” didn’t send him on his way. Not wanting to be rude I ignored him. 

Tom returned, shooing him away as we commenced the long walk ahead of us to the restaurant. We trudged along. Upon entering Le Jardin for our final visit, there was no server or hostess in sight.We needed water and we needed it fast. There is no AC in any of the restaurants in the souk and although not as hot as in the sun, it was very warm.

The heat in this sunny area of the Medina was a scorcher and has been so for the past few days as summer approaches.

Finally, we spotted a server who scrambled to quickly bring our large bottle of “still” water. We both ordered filet Mignon this time specifying that I wanted the “monsieur’s” size, not the women’s usual “petite” size. Plus, we explained that each time we’d ordered steaks in their restaurant they were overcooked. 

This time, we also stressed to the broken-English-speaking server that my steak was to be bloody rare and Tom’s pink at medium rare. We were thrilled when our mutually large steaks arrived 10 minutes later, cooked to perfection.

We can’t imagine that tourists would visit during the peak of summer, due to the heat.

With our bellies full, we felt more prepared to tackle the return walk which based on our current location, only required a short distance directly in the heat of the sun. Returning by 6:30 pm, we were happy to be back in the riad in the salon sitting next to the fan with an icy mug of iced tea at our side.

A short time later, my two sisters and niece together for a visit, called on Skype. Much to my delight, Skype was finally able to connect with a stronger signal for a fabulous chat. The signal was poor the previous night making it impossible to speak to my son and his family for more than a few minutes when they repeatedly tried calling to wish me Happy Mother’s Day.

This is the peculiar small door at Le Jardin. We had to not only duck our heads when entering or exiting but also step over a raised threshold. When exiting its imperative to check for speeding motorbikes and bicycles.

Two days and counting until we leave Morocco. Most of my clothing is folded on the bed in my “dressing room” ready to be placed into the Space Bags after our last load of laundry is completed.  

Tomorrow, we’ll post our total expenses for the two and a half months that we’ve spent in Marrakech, Morocco.  Stop back for the tally!

Photo from one year ago, May 13, 2013:

Not our photo. Tomorrow we’ll share our amazing photos of Petra, the Lost City in Aqaba, Jordan. A person standing in the doorway of the Monastery at Petra, Jordan, shows the enormity of the ancient building’s entrance. Carved into the sandstone hill by the Nabataeans in the second century A.D., this towering structure, called El-Deir, may have been used as a church or monastery by later societies, but likely began as a temple. We did not post a story that day since we were attending classes on the history of the Lost City.

A rewarding final game drive in Kruger National Park…Tomorrow, we’ll share the most romantic bush braai ever…Photos and more photos…

Yesterday, while waiting outside the African Reunion House for our ride to the Crocodile Bridge Gate for the upcoming game drive and bush braai, we spotted this Golden Orb Spider and her web which is gold in the sunlight. The colors in the background are the designs painted on the outside of the house.  Moments after taking this photo, Tom accidentally walked into the web, taking over half of it down. I was sorry for the spider but couldn’t help but laugh as he was flailing his arms to get the web off of him. Today, she’s still hanging onto her web, although, it’s considerably smaller. 

Error correction from yesterday’s post:  With the assistance of local friends, the photo I referred to as a Duiker was actually a Bushbuck. In addition, we’ve added the names of all the bird photos in the post, three of which we didn’t know. Thanks to Lynne and Mick once again!  Please check yesterday’s post which has since been amended, by scrolling down on today’s post if you’re curious about the bird names.

Spotting wildlife, such as this wildebeest in Kruger National Park is different from the Masai Mara where we could literally drive across the bush to get up close and personal. Kruger is a combination of paved and dirt roads. Off-road driving is forbidden often preventing closeup photos unless the animals are close to or on the road. Many visitors to Kruger are able to see the Big Five close to the road at times. We did the best we could from afar. But, we were having so much fun, we weren’t disappointed. 

We’ve decided that “safari luck” presents itself in many ways. It no longer revolves around seeing the Big Five on a game drive. For us, it extends to many areas of our lives:  a good time, safe travels, avoiding snakes and other poisonous creatures, meeting new people negotiating a good price on a future vacation home, or simply having a fulfilling day.

These two hippos popped up their heads as we drove across the bridge.

It may sound as if I’m rationalizing the fact that we didn’t see any lions on last night’s game drive. Perhaps I am. But, we had a great time beginning with the moment the driver picked us up at 3:30 pm for the drive to Crocodile Gate, the entrance to Kruger National Park, when we rode along with a delightful couple from Australia, Tiffany, and John, with whom we spent most of the evening.

This baby impala was no more than a few weeks old. It was alone, lost from its mother. We watched for quite a while, hoping the mom would return, only to be saddened when she didn’t. Hopefully, another mom would adopt her which often occurs.
This baby impala, only a few weeks old, starting approaching our vehicle and Excellent shooed her off, to avoid her learning that the road was safe.

Returning home close to midnight, we were shocked at how late it was after never asking Tom the time, indicating a fabulous experience was in process. As they say, “time flies when you’re having fun.” And fun, we had. That was “safari luck.”

From a considerable distance, we spotted this Goliath Heron.

A total of eight guests loaded into the game vehicle once we arrived in the park, all the rest of whom were residents of Marloth Park who definitely know how to have a good time. 

This muddy cape buffalo watched us approach.

Annoyed by our presence, he and a few other Retired Generals moseyed on down the road, taking their time.

Endless comments and laughter ensued in the vehicle during the three and a half hours of the drive. Our guide and driver, Excellent (yep, that’s his name) was not only informative but very entertaining. At times, we were all singing “oldies.

This giraffe’s cheeks were filled with vegetation she’d gathered from the treetops. What appears to be horns at the top of a giraffe’s head is called ossicones which are hairy at the ends in the female and bald at the ends in the male. The males use the ossicones in fighting during the mating season, which wears off the hairs.

Nope, we didn’t see lions or leopards, two of the Big Five. But, we did see three of the Big 5: rhinos (at too far of a distance for photos), elephants, and cape buffaloes, as shown in the photos here today. We were content with that. 

 Often birds sit atop high bare branches on the lookout for food.
Later, we’ll post the names of these birds after doing some research. 
 Although we enjoy taking photos of birds, we seldom know what they are which is frustrating. Our guide Excellent, pointed out many varieties. We’ve found it difficult to remember the names of each of the birds to match with our photos. Many bird enthusiasts keep paper and pen handy.

At around 7:30, we drove into the bush braai area for the one-day-late-due-to-rain romantic Valentine’s Day Bush Braai, hosted by Louise and Danie, an event we’ll always remember. 

As the sun began to set, we spotted these elephants and a baby.
In many areas in Kruger National Park, many of the trees have been taken down by the elephants. However, they leave the Marula tree intact since it bears fruit that they eat. In South Africa, a popular after-dinner liqueur is Amarula (the letter a is added to the beginning of the word to connote the liqueur, not the fruit) which was served last after the romantic bush braai. Laden with sugar, once again, I had to pass on this drink. Tom thoroughly enjoyed both of ours.

Tomorrow, we’ll post photos of what we’d imagine being the most extraordinary bush braai ever held in South Africa; the food, the décor, the guests, and the experience of being surrounded by lions, hippos, elephants and more, while “‘Lucky,” a military guard with a rifle and spotlight, continually scanned the perimeter to ensure our safety.

The vultures, checking for dinner at the end of the day.

A safe evening in the dark with wild animals all around us in itself is “safari luck” which surely we experienced on this special day!

This was only the beginning as the sun began to set giving all of us the opportunity to take photos of the most amazing sunset that we’ve seen in our almost three months in South Africa, all of which we’ll share tomorrow along with photos of the romantic bush braai. Amazing!

Less than 2 days and counting…A little fear…A lot of excitement…

Everything I own, except six pairs of shoes in a smaller bag, to be sucked into the Space bags.
A pile of clothes I’m offering to Lisa, owner of the house.  If they don’t fit or she doesn’t want them, perhaps she’ll give them to someone else.  It no longer bothers me to get rid of my stuff.  Bye, stuff!

A flutter of excitement began to waft over me this morning, as I ran from room to room, gathering, sorting, and planning. We’re on the move. In less than two days we’ll be out the door on three travel days to Africa, in itself a daunting task.

As a young girl I dreamed of Africa and now as a grown woman in my “golden years” I finally have the opportunity to fulfill that dream. Yes, it is wrought with some degree of fear. It’s all a part of the excitement.

Without a doubt, the flies will be chasing me longing for a morsel of my flesh, the mosquitos will be dining on our blood and, a wide array of dangerous and not-so-dangerous insects at times will run past our feet or across the bed at night. I read somewhere to pull down the sheets at night to inspect the bottom sheet for crawling things before climbing into bed. I’ve done that every night here in Tuscany.

The heat will be unbearable (we’ll be in Africa during their spring and summer), especially with no air conditioning, the dripping humidity, and rampant storms at times unpredictable.

We have no delusions. We go with our eyes wide open. In reality, living in the bug-infested, hot, humid mountains of Tuscany without air conditioning, without screens, and without overhead fans in the midst of summer was good practice. Adapting with modifications. Coins hanging in plastic bags over doorways. A floor fan. Keeping doors closed when a flying thing is buzzing inside. We figured it out.

For now, our thoughts center around safely arriving at our new home in Diani Beach, Kenya, where the hardships may or may not be considerably less than when three months later we head to Marloth Park, Kruger Park, South Africa, far from civilization, among the wildlife we so much anticipate.

We’re no worse for the wear. In our old lives, we turned on the AC in late May, never turning it off until September.  We rationalized it as hay fever prevention, mosquito reduction, and better for health, to be comfortable, to be cool.   

Little did we realize how willing, we both were for a change! Sure, we whined, mostly here to our readers, but less to one another, determined to maintain an air of acceptance and contentment between us. It’s worked.

In only a few days, we’ll have a four-hour layover between flights in Istanbul, Turkey, next door to Syria. Watching the news by the hour, we’re hopeful, if there is US involvement, it will wait until we safely reach our new home in Kenya. 

A few days ago, when Tom mentioned that our flight path from Istanbul will be in the flight path of military planes and missiles, making their way to intervene, I immediately brought up Google Maps to see the proximity to Istanbul, cringing at the result.

It was only three months ago that we were concerned about going out and about in Istanbul, ending up safely taking an excursion to Ephesus to see the ruins.  And now, once again we feel a bit of angst heading onto a four-hour layover and subsequent six-hour flight that passes through Turkey, so close to the war zone.

Trying to put such thoughts out of our minds is not possible. It helps to keep us on our toes, staying observant for possible risks, holding close our belongings, hanging close together, checking most of our bags. Once we’re settled, we’ll be at ease.

The packing continues, bit by bit.  My piles of clothing are neatly arranged, the vitamins packed out of sight, and nothing that would raise inquiry is in our carry on bags. Tom will pack today. Learning lessons from past experiences, we travel lighter, with no items drawing any attention to us in any way.  How we’ve learned! 

Thanks to Lisa and Luca, a very special couple, who’ve worked so hard to ensure our stay in their 300-year-old stone house a memorable experience who both focused on making our comfort and convenience their utmost concern.

Sunday morning, September 1st,  we’ll leave early for the half-day drive to Venice.  Once we arrive, we’ll post our arrival and any photos we’ve managed to take along the way. 

Monday morning, September 2nd, we’ll board the plane for the first of three flights to Kenya, arriving at 3:00 am on Tuesday. You won’t hear from us again, other than Sunday from Venice, until after we’re settled at our new home, late in the day on Tuesday. Most likely we’ll try to sleep for a few hours upon arrival. 

The time difference from Kenya to Minnesota, USA is eight hours, to Los Angeles, ten hours, to Boston, seven hours. 

Thus, we’ll be back on Sunday, in your inbox, or available by our link before midday.  See you then!

P.S.  Tom watched the Viking game this morning at 7:00 am. Now, the commercials are back in with the black screen during the time slot. The last box of the prescriptions did not arrive and we’ll notify the online pharmacy later today. We were able to keep the rental car for the duration. Santina is here as I write this, for the last time. It will be sad to say goodbye to this lovely woman. We agreed upon a generous, well-deserved tip.  Grazie, Santina!

On high alert…Traveler’s warnings…What’s our plan?…In 30 days, off to Kenya…

A kindly reader of our blog posted a comment that we received overnight, inquiring as to our concern over traveling to Kenya with the recent embassy and consulate closings in countries all over the weekend. For the full article, please click here.

Yes, we’re concerned. How could we not be? It’s this level of concern that prompts us to do all we can to ensure our safety to the best of our ability. There are always unknowns.

Looking up stats on various countries worldwide, we see that Belize had a higher homicide rate per capita than Kenya. After spending almost three months living in Belize, aware of the risks, we never let our guard down, never taking our safety for granted.

Such will be the case when living in Kenya for a few days short of three months from September 3, 2013, to November 30, 2013, when we depart for South Africa. We’ll be exercising extreme caution, none of which is a guaranty of our safety but reduces the risks.

Having registered for the Smart Traveler Program at the US Department of State we’ll be receiving any warnings via email that may require us to leave Kenya or later South Africa if the tension in our area escalates.

A few portions of our travel plans to Kenya give rise to added concern; our arrival at the Mombasa Airport in the middle of the night and, the subsequent over one hour ride to our vacation rental in the middle of the night.  Most crime occurs in the dark in these high-risk areas.  Yes, we’ll be nervous until firmly ensconced in our new location. 

Have we considered changing our plans?  Yes, we have. But we’ll continue to carefully watch the world news, reports from the State Department, online posts and comments. Should these next few weeks bring rise to added concerns in the areas we plan to travel with warnings from the State Department to cancel travel plans, we’ll do so. 

We realize that doing so will cost us around $6000 from loss of paid-in-advance rent and non-refundable airfare. This is a big loss to incur but our safety supersedes money, doesn’t it?

What plans do we have in place to ensure our safety, the reader inquired?  Here are what we have thus far:

1.  Destination contact:  We’ve established a plan with my sister that we will notify her by email when we depart any area and immediately when we arrive, having provided her with the address, contact person’s name, phone, and email plus travel arrangement information for our destination. If she doesn’t hear from us within 12 hours of our estimated arrival time, she is to begin the process of finding out what’s happened to us, contacting the embassy, state department, etc.  (if we have airport delays we will contact her as they occur).
2.  No rental car. We’ve been made well aware that driving in Kenya can be risky, even in the tourist area we’ll be living. Once arriving, we’ll make arrangements with a driver for weekly trips for shopping, daytime dining out and any touring.
3.  Deciding on safari trips based on safety in a specific area, airports, etc.  The property owner suggested we wait until we arrive to decide on safaris as he will assist us in making arrangements with people he knows and trusts.
4.  News updates: With no TV at the property (as we have here in Italy with a few English speaking news stations:  BBC, France 24, and CNBC, we’ll be watching news updates on our computers on a daily basis.
5.  No venturing out after dark. Period. 
6.  No wearing of jewelry, watches, any items that may attract attention. 
7.  Dressing “down” when out during the day, jeans, shorts, tee shirts, no clothing that attracts attention.
8.  Keeping money and documents secure at all times. We carry very little cash, mostly using credit cards.
9.  Staying together at all times when out and about.
10. Never, ever, loosening our guidelines for what appears to be “special circumstances.” Neither of us is naïve.  It is unlikely that we’d fall prey to some “scammer” attempting to divert our attention. Keep walking, don’t make eye contact, be guarded with confidence and astuteness.

There is nothing anyone can do to be exempt from danger. Where we lived in Minnesota it was only a 30-minute drive to an area where one wouldn’t dare get out of their car at night, let alone during the day.  Tom’s mother’s home in a less desirable area in North Minneapolis had bullet holes in it when it was finally taken by the city by eminent domain. 

Over the years, while she still lived in the house, he and the family worried that she could fall prey to drive-by shootings occurring all over the neighborhood. Luckily, she got out in time, living to be a healthy 98 years old. 

There are risks wherever one may be at any given moment; a movie theatre in Colorado, a train in France, or running a marathon in Boston, MA.  We can only hope and pray for safety, exercising caution to the best of our ability while allowing ourselves the privilege of reveling in every moment of our world travels

Ephesus Turkey ruins, history, and a very odd touch of modern day…What?…A fashion show!…

Here we are, in front of more historic ruins, Ephesus.  This photo is rather similar to the photo of us in front of Petra in Aqaba, Jordan.
Note:  Today, our ship was scheduled to arrive in Piraeus, Greece with many tours scheduled to go to Athens. We had decided to travel on our own while there.  Last night during dinner, the captain announced that we werenot going to Greece after all. Apparently, as of yesterday, there was a massive strike in Greece resulting in a standstill of all public transportation and services including all port facilities. 
The view from our balcony as we entered the city of Izmir, Turkey.

Many passengers, bound and determined to see the Acropolis and other ruins are sorely disappointed. We chalk it up to all a part of the adventure, especially when tomorrow morning, we’ll be in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the historic walled city. Dubrovnik was not a part of the planned Ports of Call.

Time for cattle herding time to Ephesus. Moo.
Actually, we’re enthused for the opportunity to see Croatia after hearing so much about it from many passengers on our previous cruises, as a favored stop.
At sea today, we have no option but to use the ship’s WiFi to post the many photos today from our visit to Ephesus yesterday. 
Tom reminded me these are called “containers” not “cartons” as I erroneously referred to them.

Fact about Ephesus:

·    Ephesus is considered one of the greatest outdoor museums in Turkey.

Ephesus is the most well preserved classical city of the eastern Mediterranean, allowing visitors to soak in the atmosphere of Roman times.
Ephesus was once a seaport is now six miles from the sea.
The ancient city continues to be restored in a manner of fitting pieces of a massive puzzle in place.  It could take hundreds of years to complete it.
The Celsius Library in its day was the third largest library in the world with a capacity of 12,000 scrolls.  The facade of the library has two stories, but the interior has three stories due to its origi
The toilets in Ephesus were arranged side by side (photos below) with no privacy.  The toilet stones were heated by the slaves for their masters in the winter.
The Grand Theatre in Ephesus had a seating capacity of 24,000, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
There is an underground passage to the brothel on Marbel Street in Ephesus.
The  first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary is in Ephesus.  The 3rd Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus was held at the Church of the Virgin Mary and is known as one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse.  Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life in Turkey, in a small cottage near Ephesus, visited by Pope Paul, the 6th and Pope Jean-Paul
St. Paul, the Apostle gave lectures in the Tyrannus Hall and the synagogue in Ephesus for two years in his third missionary journey.
Seven Christians who fled Ephesus are believed to have slept in a cave nearby for 200 years.
Cleopatra spent her honeymoon with Antonius in Ephesus in the winter of the year 188. 
Izmir is an older city with its buildings less modern than other major cities we’ve seen.
The hillside on the drive to Ephesus could have been any hillside in any part of the world with no defining Turkish markers.
The vendors were ready for us as our bus pulled into the Ephesus parking area.

Our safety in Izmir, Turkey was of utmost concern. Apparently, Norwegian Cruise lines felt the same way, instructing all tour vehicles to avoid the dangerous areas of the city as they made their way to various points of interest, most of which was the one-hour bus ride to the ancient city of Ephesus.

Once on the road, we felt safe except for the few minutes when we departed that our
bus driver couldn’t find his way out the parking lots at the port.  

The old rickety bus bounced along on the hour drive, stopping once for a pit stop at a shopping area where overly zealous vendors watched our eyes for interest in any of their wares.  We kept our sunglasses on as we waited in the line to use the facilities in an effort to avoid eye contact, which we were warned was a dead giveaway. 
Ephesus required a two-hour walk on extremely uneven stones, slippery chunks of granite
and marble and a mixture of odd-shaped rocks and surfaces.  Tourists everywhere added to the difficulty of the walk, some tripping, some falling and many lagging behind our well
informed but difficult to understand tour guide, Nadia.
As our long walk began with a series of similar ruins.
Never miss a photo op at the ruins.

Wearing two-way radios on strings around our necks with an earpiece, we were able to adjust the volume as we walked through the area, losing the connection if we were too far ahead or behind.  Tom and I preferred to work our way through the crowds and stay ahead most of the time, although we didn’t miss anything.

Ornate rock.

Having seen Petra in Aqaba, Jordan, in May, our expectations were high. Had we not seen Petra, we would have been enthralled with Ephesus. Interesting? Yes. Profoundly so?  Not as much.

No more than 20 minutes into the tour, we both acknowledged that touring in a bus-sized group was not our thing. In the future, we decided that we are willing to pay more to either tour in a
small group of six or less, with our own guide or on our own. This “group thing” is not for us,
missing so much of the personal experience in the process.

Varying stones were used to avoid a slippery surface. 
The ridges on the marble were etched to reduce the slippery aspect to provide traction for the iron wheels on the chario
The original medical insignia.
Another well-preserved work.
Perhaps, the craftsmen spent their lifetime creating these works.
Its hard to imagine the lives of the citizens during this era.
This piece was one of the most appealing having survived for centuries.
Decorative archway.
Decorative pillars and structures.
Ornate design.
The crowd was so thick at times it was hard to walk.
It was hard to believe how many people were there.
Some ornate design remains.
Check out this handiwork!
Its amazing this is still here!
Work yet to be completed.
The trough at the toilets.
Yes, these are toilets but with not much privacy!
The Celsius Library.
The crowds.
More ruins to be restored.
More work yet to be completed.


It was hard to find a good spot for our photo.
Feeling well again, the long walk was easy.
It was difficult to take photos without including other unknown tourists.
Lots of people.
The Celsius Library bears some resemblance to the Treasury in Petra.  But it is not nearly as magnificent.
At the Celsius Library.
It could be centuries before they piece together these stones.
In a way, we’re becoming a little bored with ruins, having seen so many in our travels.
More impressive ruins.
What was the purpose of these narrow spaces?
It will take many years to complete the piecing together of the ruins.
This is the road Cleopatra traveled while on her honeymoon in 188.
 Steps from the Great Theatre to the road below.
These original roads led to the Great Theatre.
Another view of the Great Theatre.
The Great Theatre view.
 The Great Theatre.
Oddly, as we began the bus ride back to the ship, we stopped at a local leather purveyor, expecting a primitive factory with workers pounding away on leather products. Instead, we were herded into a newer fancy pillared Greek styled building to a darkened room to be seated in
comfy theatre seats surrounding a t-shaped stage. 
The tree lined walk back to the bus.
Alas, a grouping of professional good looking, well-dressed models began parading the neon
lighted “catwalk” in what proved to be a contemporary fashion show, as one would see in Paris or Milan, all wearing expensive leather jackets, fur coats, and other leather goods.  

We were given a checklist on which to mark our numbered items of interest. Loud popular music blared in the background as the models, both female and male pranced down the runway, one after another, to quickly change backstage to yet another enticing outfit. 
Models prancing the runway in leather jackets.

How ironic.  Here we were, our brains wrapped around a classic Roman lifestyle from over 2000 years ago only minutes ago to a pop fashion show.  After the show, two large wooden doors opened to a huge showroom where the leather goods were displayed in a manner one would expect in an exclusive store.

There was no way out!  All 40 of us were trapped in this showroom while the owner tried to convince us, extolling the quality of their handmade laser leather products, to purchase their expensive products many upwards of US $1200.

How odd, that we were sitting there!  We just left a historical site and now we’re at a mandatory fashion show.  We’ll surely be writing the cruise line about this!

We couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. The captive audience listened while Tom and I sought the most available exit to hurriedly make our way out the door, relieved to be outside at
last. I must admit I enjoyed the fashion show so out of place in our historical day, but the trip inside the showroom made me want to scream.

Passengers were brought onto the stage “to perform.” Not us!

With no practical way in which to avoid the crowds in these historic spots, at least in the future, we can go at our own pace.  In Turkey, with the dangers surrounding the rioting, it seemed to make sense to travel in a large group. Returning back to the ship by 5:45, we were anxious to shower and head to dinner in the Windows Dining Room.

The leather showroom where we were herded to make purchased. Not one passenger on our bus made a purchase.

We dined with a fabulous couple last night, Deanna and Wally, having the time of our lives, finally clearing out the dining room after 10:00 pm. Tonight, we’ll meet up with them again for yet another expected evening of incessant laughter and endless storytelling.  What a social cruise this has been for us!

The sky began to cloud over on our return to the ship.

After a long and event-filled day, we languished in our cabin, blissfully tired and pleased with another great day. 

Older buildings lined the highway.
For the first time on this entire cruise, now on our 10th day, we had rough seas last night as winds howled in the 55-60 MPH range, the ship rolling to and fro. Now, as more experienced cruisers, especially after the 50 foot waves on the Norwegian Epic in late April, we gave it little
thought to allow the rocking to lull us to sleep.
It began to rain shortly before we arrive at the pier to board yet another shuttle to get us closer to the ship.
Today, a sea day on our way to Croatia, we look forward to our last few days on the Norwegian Spirit and then of course, in three days, beginning our half-day drive to our future home in Tuscany for the summer.  Ah, life is good.

Izmir, Turkey excursion today…Off to see Ephesus…Rioting in the area…

For news on Izmir, Turkey, please click here.

Last evening, as our ship the Norwegian Spirit, pulled away from the pier in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkey’s interesting architecture.

At 11:30 am this morning, Turkey time,  which is eight hours later than the US Midwest, ten hours later than the West Coast, our ship will dock in Izmir.

Feeling a bit concerned about visiting Istanbul, Turkey we stayed behind yesterday planning to visit Izmir, Turkey today on a prepaid excursion, feeling an organized excursion would be safer than wandering around on our own.
We took these photos facing the sun as it set yesterday in Istanbul.
Our new friends, Nicole and Gerry had called yesterday, asking if Nicole could join Tom and I since Gerry sprained his ankle and won’t be able to go on the tour to Ephesus after all. Of course, we’d love for Nicole to join us. We planned to meet at the designated meeting area at 11:45 this morning. 
The excursion is scheduled to depart around 12:15 pm, returning to the ship at 5:30 pm. 
A haze obstructed the view as the sun was setting, a combination of heat and pollution, a result of the big city along the sea.

Last night, after attending yet another Latitudes members cocktail party in the Galaxy of the Stars venue at 7:00 pm, later dining in Windows Dining Room, another wonderful evening was behind us. Dining alone for a change we chattered on about our experiences thus far and our dreams for the future, albeit some of which is uncertain which much to our surprise, is fine with us.

The spires of the many mosques dotted the skyline in Istanbul.
Returning to our cabin around 10:00 pm, typical for us since we awaken quite early, we found these two items on the bed:
This adorable frog was sitting on our bed last night when we returned from dinner, made from one of our beach towels and a few washcloths!
This letter was on our bed last night when we returned from dinner.

Feeling committed to our non-refundable tickets and our plan to meet up with Nicole for the excursion, we decided to forge ahead. When in the future with so much “world” left to see when would we ever return to Turkey?

Most likely we’ll be safe. Wouldn’t it be great if our Uzi welding, security guard, Mohammad from Egypt, was riding on our bus and following us around! 
Ironically, there I was writing yesterday, providing all the reasons to avoid risk and here we are today, walking right into it.  So off we go today, camera in hand, ready to shoot what we hope will be better photos of our expedition as we explore the ancient city of Ephesus.

It’s a one hour drive each way to Ephesus, where we’ll spend approximately three hours.  I’m hoping it’s as exciting as Petra minus the difficult three-hour walk uphill half of the way.  In any case, if we prove to be safe, I’ll crawl through mud to return without incident (and take photos of that as well).

We’ll be back tomorrow with our story, hopefully safe and sound and grateful for yet another enriching experience as we continue on in our worldwide adventures.

Ancient buildings at every juncture.
Goodbye Istanbul.  May your citizens (and visitors) be safe from harm.

Istanbul, Turkey…Story and photos…

Mosques and churches are abundant in Istanbul.
What a view of Istanbul!
The contrast between old and new is breathtaking in Istanbul.

It was not an easy decision, deciding not to visit Istanbul, Turkey today. Tomorrow, while our ship will have docked in Izmir, Turkey we are going on an excursion to Ephesus, not returning until late in the day, posting the story and photos on Thursday. 

As our ship overlooks this magnificent city, it is quite tempting, to simply walk off the ship and venture out on our own.  From the information provided to us by the excursion desk, it’s about a 30 minutes vigorous walk through the city to arrive at the mosques, the Grand Bazaar, the Underground Cistern, and many other renowned historical sites of interest.
We were able to zoom in on many historic sites from the deck of the ship.
Google Maps
Taksim Square wherein lies the political unrest in Istanbul, Turkey, is across the bridge from the Blue Mosque.  The far-left point of the blue line is the Port of Istanbul.  The end point of the blue line toward the right is the Blue Mosque and an area of most of the tourist attractions, a little too close for comfort by our commitment to safety.

Staying behind is not based on fear as much as on practicality and logical thinking. Most likely, if we did go out, we’d be safe. The odds are in our favor.
Honestly, it’s more my being cautious than Tom. 

Looming in my mind is all the bus bombings and terrorist attacks that have occurred whereby tourists have been killed, injured, and captured. In many ways, Turkey is safer than in many other countries.  But, in our own US, who would have thought the Boston Marathon would be a high-risk area, on that particular horrifying day?

When we planned this year’s long adventure, we made a commitment to each other: we will protect ourselves from the “things we do know” since we have no control over “the things we don’t know.”

Today, Istanbul falls into the category of “things we do know.” Thus, we stay behind, perhaps viewed as overly cautious and “chicken” by some and sensible by others.  Whichever the case, we’ve made peace with our decision.

Here again, old and new intertwined in Istanbul, Turkey.

We reminded ourselves that only four weeks ago, we traveled the Middle East, visiting many high-risk areas, reveling in the adventure of it all, grateful for the experience.  We’re not pushing our luck to see yet more mosques, shopping areas and historical buildings, however magnificent they may be.

We find this French style of architecture not only in parts of the US, but in other cities throughout the world.

We remind ourselves of our personal travel objectives: to focus our time, money, and energy experiencing amazing wildlife, vegetation, natural wonders. And most of all, living in and learning the culture of people all over the world.  This makes us happy.  Historical buildings?  Nice to see, but not as life-changing for us as it may be for others.

This simple church spire adds to the Istanbul skyline.

The Panama Canal, Petra, and Mykonos tell us a story that fills our hearts and minds with awe and joy.  Wearing the burka and thobe in Abu Dhabi visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque gave us a gift of cultural differences that will remain with us forever. 

Mingling with the Mayan people, eating their food from their shops and markets in Belize was so meaningful to us.  Tom getting a haircut from a Creole barber while sitting under a tree on a plastic chair atop cement blocks was a delightful experience for us both. 
Also, on our trip to the Monkey River in Belize, seeing the howler monkeys, the manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, the unusual birds and vegetation, the likes of which we’d never seen before, left us reeling with pure pleasure.  And, the lunch at Alice’s Restaurant will be etched in our minds forever, as Alice and her family ran circles around us to serve us their perfect version of local lunch.

Who’s to say what “trips one’s trigger?”  Luckily, both of us have similar expectations.  Five days from today, we’ll plant our feet in Italy for the summer, living for two and half months in a non-English speaking area, learning their ways of daily life, eating their locally grown foods, attending their summer festivities, enjoying their rolling hillside all the while and making friends along the way.

The Port of Istanbul, where we sit today, a 20-minute walk from the unrest in Taksim Square.

Yes, we are doing what we want, when we want, what feels safe to us while enriching our lives daily to the world around us. It’s not perfect.  It never will be.  But for us, this, our friends, is as good as it gets.

Scary news in Egypt and Istanbul…Preparations to leave Dubai…

This morning when we both logged in to our computers, we each had received emails and Facebook entries about a warning from US Department of State about travelers intending on visiting the Pyramids.

Please click on this link for the news story about Egypt. Please click on this link for the news story on Istanbul, Turkey.

Thankfully, Egypt is behind us now with no plans to return. As for Istanbul, our upcoming cruise beginning next Tuesday, June 4th has listed Istanbul as a port of call along the way. 

With many cruise passengers raving as to how much they loved visiting Istanbul we’ve been excited for a day trip on our own, hiring our own driver rather than going on an excursion. We shall see how this rolls out.

With the cruise industry on pins and needles with the many recent incidences, we doubt they’ll risk any lives, stopping at this port if there is danger to their passengers and ship. Of course, regardless of their decision we will exercise the utmost caution, deciding not to get off the ship if the unrest has continued.

People have asked us if we are able to get news. We are. We watch the English speaking news each day, especially noting the news for areas we’re yet to visit.

As we wind down our last two nights in Dubai, finally feeling better, the laundry and packing begins today.  Yesterday afternoon, we made our final trip to the grocery store for breakfast and dinner food for these last two days spending US $54. 

Of our total 13 nights in Dubai our total grocery bill was $245, eating two meals a day, nuts and veggie snacks.  Our dining out bill was $89 for the three  breakfasts at the Tamani Hotel. 

We’d budgeted $800 for groceries and dining out during this period. Had we not been sick, we’d probably would have gone out to dinner a few times. We’ll roll the $466 credit into this next cruise, as we realized we hadn’t budgeted enough for the stops at many ports of call. 

Plus, on this upcoming cruise on the Norwegian Spirit, there is an automatic $24 per day charge added daily to our bill for tips. Some of our previous cruises had included the tips in the purchase price. We pay it one way or another with no objection on our part. The hard working staff on cruises are paid very little and dependent upon the tips to send money home to their families.

We’ve noticed dozens of people in line at the customer service desk on most of our cruises to have the tips removed from their bill if they’re dissatisfied with the service. 

We wondered if so many passengers had bad service when overall service was excellent on most of our seven cruises or, are passengers feeling they shouldn’t have to pay tips? Our philosophy is simple: if one can afford to go on a cruise, tipping is a part of the experience. 

We’ve tipped the bartenders as we order drinks, finding themselves “loading” Tom’s cocktails more generously when they know a tip is imminent and we tip cabin attendants the day before disembarking. We aren’t unique in doing so. This is common practice. 

So, off I go to the bedroom to make the piles of my clothing to be “sucked” with our portable vacuum into the Space Bags. In a determined effort to be rid of two duffel bags, I’ve made a pile of clothing I’ll say goodbye to, some I’ll miss, others I won’t. 

At this point, Tom doesn’t have to dispose of anything unless, of course, he wants to give me a little of his space. Ha!

Security loaded on the ship while out to sea…Gulf of Aden, here we come…

Tonight we enter the Gulf of Aden.

Yesterday morning as we were reminded of yet another time change to be effective at 11:30 am, our Captain Fleming announced that a boat would be coming to ship around 4:00 PM to drop off “security equipment” for our upcoming remaining three days through the Gulf of Aden.

Tom was determined to see this event occur as was I.  Watching the clock throughout the day, we were pleased when the Captain’s voice sounded over the loudspeaker as he explained that the boat would be arriving soon and the ship would be slowed down accordingly.

It’s helpful for worried passengers to be alerted to such events.  Captain Fleming has been conscientious about making such announcements in an effort to diminish fear and its resulting rumors.  For us, we wanted to see this firsthand in order to take photos. 

Our view at the bow of the ship as the “security boat: approached.

Unsure which side of the ship the “security boat” would deliver the “security equipment” we headed for the bow of the ship where there is row of viewing windows to the bridge. If we watched the officers in the command area, we’d be able to see which direction they were looking through their binoculars.

Peering into the bridge, we had a clear view of the blue radar screens, noting three objects, one on the port side forward, and two on the starboard side forward.  Wondering which would be the delivering boat, we waited patiently while Tom, using his trusty Swarovski binoculars kept a lookout.

Around 3:30 PM, we saw the delivery boat approaching our ship approaching dead ahead, to finally veer to the port side.  We were on the move!  We wanted to get as close as possible and yet not so close that we couldn’t get a good shot.

Each of us had a camera, old and new, in our hands.  Much to my frustration and unbeknown to me, one of the settings on the new camera we had changed in error, preventing me from getting any good shots.  Luckily, Tom had the old camera and was able to take the photos we’ve posted today.

As crew members hung onto the “security boat,” two uniformed soldiers got on board our ship, each carrying two large black cases as shown in the photos. Captain Fleming had referred to these black rectangular boxes as “security supplies.”  Duh?

When asking an officer about the contents of these black boxes, it was obvious to us that his response was rehearsed, “Oh, those are night goggles, binoculars and such.”  Why wouldn’t a large ship such as ours, Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas, keep night goggles on board along with all their other such equipment?  Why were two soldiers dropped off?  To use night goggles?  Hardly.

The “security boat” as he approached our ship.

We’re assuming that the ship staff, in an attempt to avoid fear and panic, have been instructed to report the contents of the black cases contained “security equipment.”  We understand their reasons to lie to us and in essence, respect it. 

After a hysterical time at dinner last night at a table for eight with non-stop laughing, we meandered back to our cabin, smiles on our faces from yet another enjoyable evening at a “shared” table.  One couple was from Australia, another from England and a third from Florida, whom we’ve made plans to meet up with again tonight.

When we returned to our cabin around 10:30 pm, our room darkened as instructed, drapes tightly pulled, we settled into bed.  Minutes after dosing off, I awakened to a sensation of a bright light filtering through the crack in the drapes.

As the boat took off, after unloading the two security personnel and the black boxes.
Awakening Tom, he bolted out of bed, running to the window to peek out. Seeing the light, he cautiously opened the balcony door only to discover that the cabin next to us had not followed security protocol by having their drapes wide open and lights turned on.

What’s with people?  It was a simple requirement, easy to follow, affecting the safety of everyone on board.  It’s the same mentality of guests who become ill while cruising and don’t bother to stay in their cabins during the infectious period, infecting everything they touch resulting in the illness of many others.

This morning at 8:00 am, after our good night’s sleep, Captain Fleming’s voice once again blared on the loudspeakers, thanking us all for our cooperation, reporting a safe uneventful night. 

After the boat departed, we found our way to an observation deck and shot this photo of the pool area, as it thinned out in the late afternoon.  (This shot was taken after I figured out the incorrect setting on the new camera.  Bear with us, as we learn to each use it properly).

Hopefully, expectantly and most likely, we’ll hear such announcements each morning as we continue on our journey to Dubai, to arrive next Tuesday.

We’ll keep you updated as we continue on and on, and on.

Barcelona, Part 1…Security scare!!!..OMG!!!…

Please stop back tomorrow for the remaining photos of our visit to Barcelona including our visit to Segrada Familia.

The Port of Barcelona.

Before we describe our visit to the bustling historic city of Barcelona, Spain, let’s get the scary story out of the way. Thus, this is the end of the story described in the beginning.

The bridge over the bay by the pier.
On this back-to-back cruise, we were given priority sticky badges to wear when we return to the ship, to avoid the lines with new passengers boarding. On our last back-to-back on Carnival, this process was literally seamless, taking only minutes to board as we were graciously pushed through the lines.
The long dock we observed from the Garden Café early this morning.

As a precaution today, Tom wore two pairs of pants. The inside pair was cargo shorts with multiple pockets closing with Velcro. Over those shorts, he wore a pair of jogging pants with an elastic waistband. 

An animated “headless” man, hoping money will be tossed into his container.

The purpose of the abundant attire was to protect those items from pickpockets for which we have been well-warned by many travelers. It would have required the pickpockets taking Tom’s pants off to get to the stuff. 

An artist’s rendition of the colors of Barcelona.

Ironically, as we departed the ship we noticed most passengers carrying backpacks, purses, wallets with straps and various other bags and containers, all fodder for pickpockets. Barcelona has a reputation for a high risk of being pick pocketed, in many cases rather aggressively. We were prepared. No such incident occurred.

A vendor shop along the boulevard attracting tourists.

Returning as back-to-back passengers, Norwegian Epic’s process was cumbersome and annoying. Returning from Barcelona after the hectic rush of traffic, zillions of tourists in a mad frenzy to see the myriad sites, we were anxious to get back on the ship.

At the entry point, we were steered into a lengthy line with hundreds of passengers of all ages, rolling their carry on luggage and talking while paying little attention to the movement of the line. 

Tom is not the most patient person on the planet, easily annoyed by lines.  Hopefully, as our travels continue, he’ll become more patient. He’s trying. In no time at all, he gets over it and the grumbling ceases. I tend to ignore his fussing. 

This afternoon, around 2:00 pm when we returned to the ship, his patience was wearing thin as 30 minutes or more crawled by as we waited in the long line. Finally, we reached the security checkpoint.

I was a little anxious as we approached security, since while in Barcelona, we stopped at a “Pharmacia” to purchase more contact lens solution. I’d already gone through the small $12.50 bottle we’d purchased on the Carnival Liberty. The Epic’s little shop doesn’t carry contact lens solution. Quite odd, actually.

Security checkpoints do not allow bringing any obvious liquids aboard the ships as prohibited when flying. Along a shelf, I noticed numerous partially used bottles of various liquids, soda, water, iced tea and lemonade. 

Oh, oh. Were they going to confiscate my contact lens solution? (When we originally boarded the Epic on April 20th, we learned this lesson when we had to forfeit our liter bottle filled with Crystal Lite Ice Tea).

As we approached the security area during the mad rush, we decided to share a white plastic bin with the items from our pockets: the camera, one RFID passport holder containing both of our passports, Tom’s plastic pocket comb, my metal tube of  lipstick, a holder for our cabin key cards, a small amount of Euros we’d purchased when we got off the ship and Tom’s jacket. That’s all we had on us.

Pushing the items through the scanner we each walked through the metal detector, one by one, without incident. As we reached the end of the table,  preparing to grab our stuff as our white plastic bin came through, suddenly a bevy of Spanish security guards surrounded us. 

A breath caught in my throat. Tom and I glanced at each other, panic in our eyes. What was wrong? The seated security guard pointed to an item on his scanner, shouting, “What is this?”

Tom and I both crooked our necks to see an item on the screen neither of us recognized. I suggested it was my camera, my heart beating in my throat. Tom was baffled. Obvious confusion was in his eyes. 

The guards surrounding us started taking the items out of the bin, one by one, to discover a closed 4″ BLACK HANDLED BUCK KNIFE!!!!

This was the type of knife in our bin, but with a 4-4.5 inch blade.

Shocked, I looked at Tom wondering if he had brought such a knife, dismissing it instantly, knowing he’d never be so foolish. At exactly the same moment we both protested, panic in our voices,”This is not ours.” It wasn’t ours. 

Someone had placed the knife in our white plastic bin! How were we going to get out of this pickle? Were we going to jail? Oh, good grief! Were they trying to get us to pay some exorbitant fine? Why? Why? Why, had this happened?

We both protested loudly, desperately trying to communicate with the Spanish speaking guards. We kept saying, over and again, “No, no, no.  This is not our knife! We have no knife with us! We are returning passengers to the ship. Take the knife! It is not ours!!!”

The guard talked in muffled tones among themselves. The seated guard looks up at us and says, “Go, go, go.  Not your knife!”

Baffled by the experience, hearts still pounding, we couldn’t walk away quickly enough. As we raced through the walkways toward the ship, we barely spoke, still reeling over the incident.

How did that knife get there? Tom suspects that it was a standard test put upon the security guards by the upper echelon to see if the guards would, in fact, “catch” the knife on their scanner as it came through. I’m not so sure. I suspect that another passenger realizing they had the knife on them, wanting to avoid being arrested, tossed it into our bin.

We’ll never know.  Lesson learned? One of us holds onto the bin as it goes into the scanner while the other waits on the other side for it to come through.  Anyone have any suggestions? Please, do tell.

My contact lens solution went through without incident.