Monday, September 25, 2006

Mark it off the list!

I only have two days before we leave for Venice. I was counting on nine! So I set out this morning with a list of things I needed to accomplish before Tuesday night. Actually only three but sometimes things take much longer than expected in Bucharest. After dropping Maria off at the gym at 8am I headed to the post office that is open early. I had two hours to run errands before picking up Maria and heading home to do school. I got postage for three postcards. Mark it off the list! As I was leaving I remembered that I could also pay our phone bill at the post office.

Now let me explain...normally I go to the actual phone company and pay the bill. I can remember doing this with my mom in the late 70s or early 80s. I turned around and started looking at the signs in the windows letting you know which line is for which function. I saw the Romtelecom sign and got in line. The man in front had out his bill so I was feeling confident. Then the cashier refused to do whatever it was he wanted. Oh no!! I was dreading the loud, "Nu". Which is no and I have waited patiently in line only to get this Romanian no with hands flung up as well! I looked at the lady behind me and pointed to my bill and asked, "aici?" which is "here?". She nodded, although her confidence was a little low for my liking!

When my turn came I stepped up boldly to the window and handed her my bill and the money. She started getting my change. Yahoo!!! I got my change, the bill, and my stamped receipt. Mark it off the list!

It was only 8:45am so I decided to attempt to get a haircut on the way back to the gym. I got to the beauty shop in about 5 minutes. Luckily I had a book with me I'm "pre-reading" for school so I leaned against a wall and read while keeping a wary eye on a stray dog that was keeping a wary eye on me!

About 9:10am I walked down the sidewalk and into the beauty shop. I asked for a haircut and made the universal scissor motion on my hair using my fingers. She said, "Da (yes)" then a long pause and in slow deliberate English "one hour - understand?" I said, "bine (good), I'll be back".

Maria actually got out about 10 minutes early. They were working on the roof and the noise was aggravating the coaches. So she changed and we headed back to the beauty shop. I sat down in the chair and hoped for the best. I explained what I wanted and the stylist nodded. She actually cut it like a normal beautician. (The last haircut took forever because the girl was young and I think she was intimidated by cutting the "American's" hair) It came out great! I walked to the counter to pay and she said "18 - I think that is right". I handed her a 50 Ron. She started making change and I realized she actually meant 8 ron! I paid her 10 which is around $4 USD. Mark it off the list!

We returned home in time to eat lunch and finish school before the European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships came on TV. Maria is watching now and she says she'll finish her independent math assignment when it's over.

Now laundry and packing and we're off again!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

This one's for you, Polly!

Evidently my most faithful reader, that I don’t "share blood" with, is wondering what we’re doing since I haven’t posted in a while. (Although with both of us being from the rural south, I probably do share blood with Polly!)

We have been back to life as usual, by Bucharest terms. Maria is going to gymnastics in the morning since there are fewer girls and she’s only there for two hours. Then we get our schoolwork finished before Daddy gets home from work. We both like the schedule except that the public transportation is crowded in the morning.

I brought back muffin tins, baking paper cups, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, pecans, gravy mixes, and marinades from our visit in the US this summer. The cupcake size baked goods bake evenly in my oven here. I brought the baking powder and soda because I never could get anything here to turn out right. I had lots of input from the Romanian friends we have about what replaces what in Romania, but I think you just have to stick with what you know! So far I have made banana nut muffins, peanut butter chip pecan cookies, carrot cake muffins, and homemade biscuits.

Steve has taken along a sample of these to Mimi, the co-worker who rides with him, and she sent us back a jar of natural honey. This would be the reason for the biscuits! The honey was great. Breakfast this morning was country ham (excellent here, thin sliced and salty), eggs, biscuits, and honey. Man I love breakfast!

We also took over some muffins to our next door neighbor as a "reason" to get to see her new puppies! Fun, fun. Hopefully, Maria will post about that soon.

Since we arrived in February, the variety of food has increased quite a bit. Here is an interesting list of things that we use here and not in the states, things that are here now and were not in February, and things we still miss:

Things we use here and not in the states:
Red pepper paste (excellent on sandwiches)
Garlic Sauce (Good on burgers, fries, and shaormas)
Pomegranate Juice

Things that are new to Bucharest:
Bar-be-que sauce
Uncle Ben’s sauces
Peanut Butter (widely available now)
Gatorade (in the sports bottles not the economy powder that Steve uses)

Things we still miss:
Brown Sugar (I brought back 4 lbs.)
Chocolate Chips
Peanut butter chips
Baking mixes (bisquick and pancake mix – although I am becoming quite skilled at home-made)
Gravy Mixes
Powdered Gatorade (This is a big chunk of our return weight in the suitcases)

Next week things should pick up again. Steve’s company is shutting down for three days while some foreign diplomats are in town. We have rescheduled our Venice, Italy trip to next week to take advantage of the three days off.

Then we’ll be home for a week before heading to Timi┼čoara for Steve’s half-marathon. We’re taking a train there; I’m so excited. My Romanian friends think I’m crazy for taking a train when we have a car. But I’ve had a car and a license since age 15; I’ve never traveled on a train before!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Party's Over

We absolutely despise the last night and morning of a cruise. It is so depressing to pack your bags and give out the tips for the week!

We tried to offset the let down this time by booking a tour of the aquarium and a cathedral in Barcelona on the morning we left the ship. It was a good idea.

The cathedral was beautiful and we even found a group of geese in the inner garden.

The aquarium was interesting as well.

We had around 6 hours in the airport before our flight but thankfully everything was on time and we were back in our Bucharest apartment by around 1am!

Mallorca, Spain

We started our day in Mallorca, small island off the coast of Spain, with a 6 mile hike up a mountain. It took us about 3 hours. The views were outstanding and the guide, Carlos, was great. He knew lots of history and information about the island.

After a quick lunch on the ship we jumped in a taxi and headed to a nearby beach. They actually had sand and it was situated in a cove that kept the waves to a minimum. Maria enjoyed a fantastic afternoon swimming in the ocean and building sandcastles.

Tomorrow we are headed back to Barcelona and the "real" world of work and school on Monday!

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Day at Sea

We all had a fun day at sea. We get a compass each night that details the activities and important information for the next day. We were all looking at it on Wednesday evening. Maria was reading the children’s version and decided that she wanted to try out the Adventure Ocean Children’s Club. We made a mask in the morning.

We went back at lunch to pick her up. Then we had lunch together and played at Adventure Beach. It’s a pool and small water slide set up just for kids.

Mid-afternoon Maria decided to go back and join the Adventure staff for the circus. The group of kids put on a small circus for us on the Promenade Deck, the street that runs through the middle of the ship.

Right before supper we went to see the ice show. It was great! They can do amazing things even at sea on a tiny rink.

Tonight was formal night so we all had to dress up in formal attire for supper.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Malta with the Mauneys

We arrived on the island of Malta today around 1pm. This was the gorgeous view of the harbor on our way into port. I must say we are all enjoying the balcony. I hope we haven’t ruined ourselves for the “cheap” cabins!

We are fortunate to have missionaries, Mike and Colleen, from our church in SC, assigned to Malta. They live about 10 minutes from the port so they picked us up and we had a private tour and a fantastic afternoon of fellowship!

After stopping to see their apartment and driving by their church we headed up to The Great Siege of Malta. This was used by the knights of St. John around 1000 years ago. The view from the look out was amazing! And yet again there were lots of columns.

We also stopped by a harbor to see the famous Maltese boats. They looked like a scene from a puzzle. They also had local artists in booths and I found a lace tablecloth, hand-made, for my dining room table. Steve was generous to buy me a “large” souvenir for the second day in a row! I promised I wouldn’t buy anything tomorrow…we’re at sea!

On our way to the Upper Barrakka gardens we went by the Palace of the Grand Masters where the House of Representatives, the Palace Armory, and the President’s office are housed. Steve commented on the lack of security. We were able to walk right past the door!

The gardens were beautiful and Colleen said that at night they light them up and they are even prettier!

It was a short afternoon but I would advise anyone from our home church to look into coming here for a visit to minister alongside Mike and Colleen and to enjoy the beautiful island of Malta. After all you can’t go wrong, even Paul enjoyed his stay here!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Naples and Capri

We spent this morning in the ruins of Pompeii. Outstanding! This is a town that was covered in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. They have excavated it and found whole bodies in place and bread still in the ovens. We were able to walk through the houses and down the streets.

On the drive back to the port we stopped at a cameo factory and watched while an artist was working on a cameo. They use local sea shells and carve down through three layers of color to create the art. Of course he fell in love with Maria and was showing her everything. I picked out a very pretty cameo ring. Thanks honey!

This afternoon was a different story. This was the plan: take a hydrofoil next to the pier to the Island of Capri. (I think ok public transportation a couple euros each) then once in Capri we wanted to find a local operator to hire a boat to take us to see the Blue Grotto, a cave with minerals that cast a blue light on everything. (when I read this I thought small boat for just us quick trip)

Here is what really happened: We find the hydrofoil company and purchase tickets, they were actually 38 euros total. That’s ok they’re probably round-trip…right?...WRONG!

Then we get to Capri and find a beautiful island – hope is still alive!

At the tour company we find out that tour actually lasts around two hours. Sadly we risk missing the all aboard if we attempt the trip to the Blue Grotto. So we wander the streets and drop 14 euros for ice cream.

After playing by the ocean, we catch the next hydrofoil back to Capri. For some reason the price is 40 euros for the return trip.

As we are entering the harbor Steve is looking out at the harbor with this puzzled look on his face. I ask him what’s wrong and he comments that he can’t see our ship. WHAT!?! Our boat is bigger that the buildings. As we are walking off the boat I pull out the two sets of cancelled tickets and sure enough there are at least two piers in Capri and we are on the wrong one!

So we are forced to take a taxi to our port and find the Voyager sitting grandly in the port waiting for us.

Since Maria and I both napped on the hydrofoil, Steve commented that he just dropped around $120 USD for a nap and three small ice creams. Talk about poor use of money!

Rome - A walk through history

I am in love with Rome! Most people who know me realize that I have a fascination with columns. So today everywhere I looked it was a column. I took right at 80 pictures. The tour we went on lasted 10 hours. It was a long day but we all agreed it was fantastic.

Our first stop was Trevi Fountain. The tradition is to toss in a coin to ensure you return to Rome. Maria tossed one in and I made her promise to bring me with her when she comes! There are sculptures features the Ancient gods of the Sea.

Then we walked to the Roman Forum. As we wandered aroung the ruins I was just amazed and the history we were walking through. We could see where the market was held, the courts and temples.

After the Forum we walked on to the Colosseum. Wow! It seemed surreal to be seeing it in person with my own eyes.

From the Colosseum we reboarded our bus and went to lunch at a nice hotel. After lunch we went to the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. This Basilica is the largest church in the world.

I think the pictures speak for themselves!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Villefranche, France

The show last night was great. There was an acrobatic duet from Russia and Italy that performed various moves of strength and flexibility. Next was a woman from Russia that did a routine with multiple hoops. Maria and I are convinced that she was a one time a rhythmic gymnast. The last act was a juggler from Switzerland. He was phenomenal! He juggled hat, balls and boxes. It was choreographed to the music. We voted and he was the best (although I tied him with the hoop lady).

We are dropping anchor in Villefranche this morning. This is the view from our balcony!

Another oddity…as Steve was coming in from getting another cup of coffee this morning he was speaking in Romanian. I looked up expecting to see our waitress but it was our room stewardess. She is Romanian as well. She asked Steve if he grew up in Romania before moving to the US. She was stunned that he has been in Romania for only 8 months. His Romanian is very good!

We took a tender, smaller boat, to the port. The first stop was a soap factory, La Savonnerie de Villefranche, where the lady showed us how they make the soap. Between her small English and the French Steve remembers from high school we got along fine. We also bought quite a bit of soap! It smelled great and is very natural.

Then we went into The Chapelle St. Pierre. I love the architecture in the churches in Europe.

As we were making our way back to the ship we wandered on the streets. Everywhere you looked there was a picture to be made. Here is a sampling of them.

Once on board again we headed up to the rock wall so Maria and Steve could climb. Maria went way up in the air. She actually attracted quite a few on-lookers. She looked so petite way up on that wall. Strangers were making her picture!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Boarding the Ship

We boarded our ship, Voyager of the Seas, right after lunch today. We got to our room and unpacked our carry-ons then set out to explore the ship.

Steve and Maria found the basketball court and shot some hoops and went back to the room to post to the blog and unpack the bags that had been delivered to the room.

Next we headed back out to get a snack since our “early” seating for dinner is at 7pm. As you can tell Maria and I had a small frozen yogurt and Steve had fried chicken and bread.

Of course for those that know us well you can probably guess our next stop…that’s right the library. With English books!!! Yahoo! We all checked out two to get us started for the week. Then Steve went to get us coffee, “because it’s free!”.

At 5:30pm we had the mandatory Muster Drill. Everyone on board has to put on their lifejackets and go to their assigned stations. They have gotten this down to clockwork on Royal Caribbean. We were gone from our stateroom for 30 minutes. Very fast!

Dinner was outstanding. We think that Royal Caribbean did some research because two of the gentlemen seated with us work with airplanes. One worked for Boeing and is a computer engineer and the other is retired and builds kit airplanes. All three of them had a great time talking. There is also an adorable 3 year old sitting at our table that was very well behaved despite coming all the way from NY yesterday. The other crazy thing was that our head waitress was from Romania. When Steve noticed the flag and country on her nametag he started talking to her in Romanian. The look on her face was priceless! I doubt she hears her heart language very often.

Tonight the show is an acrobatic gymnastic group and the promo poster also shows a girl doing hoop. So we’ll be going to a late show and hopefully sleeping a little later in the morning.