Monday, July 30, 2007

Is this the que?

**For those that don't know: the word que is the British word for line. I personally LOVE the sound of it. Doesn't it just sound better to "stand in the que" than to "stand in the line"?**

On the return flight to Romania I think we finally, successfully handled the Romanian way of queing, without losing our minds. It has bothered me since arriving, that the "queing manual" hasn't been translated into Romanian. You know the manual I'm talking about ... the stand in the line don't pass or cut and be courteous to those around you ... that manual?

It started in the que for the shuttle bus in Venice. This French couple broke in front of about 100 people. After standing there for over an hour we finally got our luggage on the bus in the undercarriage compartment. We then moved to the line to actually get on the bus and sit down. Well the French couple broke in front of me and Maria, with their 150lbs of baggage, and started onto the bus. At this point Stephen John had lost his patience (this would be about the third time I have witnessed this in 17 years of knowing him) and "helped" the gentleman back down the steps and pointed out that his luggage was already on the bus and now his wife and daughter would be getting on the bus too. The Frenchman tried again to board ahead of us and I thought Steve was going to really lose it, but when he helped the guy down the steps again (this time a little more forcefully) the Frenchman decided he really didn't want to take on Steve and he let Maria and I board the bus ahead of them.

We got to the airport and to the gate no problem. We knew what to expect when returning to Romania with a plane load of Romanians. This is the gate at the airport:

No we aren't boarding...this is what happens when someone in uniform approaches the gate. The Romanians stand and crowd the gate. And they stand there until boarding starts and then they jockey for position. This would be a "line" in Romania. Now get this - we are only getting on a bus that WAITS in the broiling sun for ALL the passengers. Even the last three who sat and watched the hoopla and made pictures...yes that would be the Jutton family. We were some of the last on the bus and squeezed in right at the doors. So that made us one of the FIRST on the plane.

This whole process is repeated on landing. As soon as the wheels hit the ground you can hear seat belts clicking as they unbuckle. Then when the plane stops moving, they stand and crowd the aisle. Then they literally crawl over the slower people to get to guessed it...bus. Then they stand there and wait for the last passengers - again that would be us.

It was so much less stressful this time since we just waited until the end every time. I have finally gotten over the assumption that those behind me in line will stay put and be patient and that those in front of me trust me to do the same!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cruise Finale

Our final day was at sea. We took advantage of a lazy day. Maria went to Adventure Ocean some. She and Steve built a boat together at one of the activities. Steve and I attended a cooking seminar.

At dinner last night Maria slipped and told the waiter that my birthday was coming so they brought out a cake and sang to me.

We docked in Venice on the 28th and are staying in the farmhouse again. Tomorrow we will return to Bucharest. Maria and I only have 39 days left in Romania before returning home for good!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Corfu, Greece – Day 7

We had the morning on the ship. We “slept in” until 6:45am and then helped opened the breakfast at 7am! After breakfast we attempted to climb the rock wall and play a round of mini-golf but they were closed due to high wind. The wind was so strong that Maria literally couldn’t stand still on deck.

We returned to our room and read for an hour or so and Maria decided to play board games in Adventure Ocean. We picked her up around 11:30am and headed to a quick lunch before docking around 1pm.

We took a shuttle bus into the town of Corfu. Once there we wandered the streets and saw the old and new forts as well as the churches.

We also had Maria’s name made into a silver necklace with the spelling in Greek. I also purchased a small bottle of olive oil that I will use and then save the bottle for decoration. After an ice cream we boarded the shuttle bus back to the pier.

We had time for a quick swim before dinner. The pool wasn’t crowded at all with most of the other passengers still on land. We don’t sail until 8pm so I think many passengers will eat a late dinner tonight or even eat in Corfu.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Santorini, Greece – Day 6

Spectacular Santorini -- scene of one of the world's most violent volcanic eruptions around 1450 B.C. -- is arguably the most scenically dramatic of all the Greek Islands. Best views are from the cliffs bordering the caldera, which was formed when the centre of the island basically collapsed in onto itself. It's worth remembering that the bay surrounding Santorini is actually the world's largest volcanic crater, created 3,500 years ago by a massive eruption of the Thera volcano (which is still active!). I was amazed to see how much this area has changed just in the very recent history.

We did a ship excursion where we were picked up from the ship and taken by boat to Erina Cove. From there we hiked up the path of volcanic sand and lava fragments to the summit of the crater. Along the way we saw steam and sulfur coming from the side of a crater and lots of black rock from the last eruption.

After hiking down we boarded the boat again and set sail for the thermal springs of Palea Kameni. We anchored and were allowed to swim about 50 meters to the thermal springs. The water was only around 70 degrees when we jumped in but it felt great after the hot hike!

We did a little souvenir shopping on the pier before taking the tender (small boat) back to our cruise ship. After lunch, and a short nap for the adults, we started getting dressed for the final formal night on board.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ephesus, Turkey (Kusadasi) – Day 5

The primary appeal to Turkey's Kusadasi is its proximity to the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, the best preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean. Just 30 years ago Kusadasi was a sleepy, traditional Turkish seaside village, dependent for its living on fish, farming and honey production. Since then, though, the double-edged sword of mass tourism has brought wealth (its main street sidewalks are now finished in marble!) and, with that, mass commercialization. Thronged with traffic and lined with ever more expensive carpet and jewelry shops, you can still find pockets of old-style Turkey amidst the narrow, winding streets of its old town, which house vibrant markets and traditional Turkish baths, and offer a chance to bargain for Oriental carpets.

A trip to Ephesus; it's the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Virgin Mary is believed to have visited here between 37 and 45 A.D., and the fabulous Temple of Cybele at Artemis -- which Alexander the Great visited during its construction in 334 B.C. -- was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Located just eight miles from Kusadasi, Ephesus at one time was the most important commercial center in the region. The city was built on the river Cayster -- a strategic trade route to Anatolia. The ruins range from a theater and library to private terrace houses with magnificent mosaics and frescoes.

We took a ship excursion to Ancient Ephesus. After a short bus ride from Kusadasi to Ephesus we began our tour. We were able to see the Odeon, the Fountain of Trajan, the five terraces of the apartment houses, the steam baths of Scholastika, the temple of Hadrian and the impressive library of Celsius. The library was adorned with columns and statues.

The last highlight of our walk through the ruins was the Grand Theater, where Paul preached. It is the largest theater in antiquity with a capacity of 24,000 seats. It was amazing to stand there and imagine the Word of God going out from the mouth of Paul to a stadium full of eager listeners. I would have loved to have heard him today.

After leaving the ruins we headed back to town and to a famous rug making gallery. They gave us an excellent lesson in rug making and purchasing. We even had a sample of Turkish hot apple tea and a pastry. We enjoyed the display very much. It was mind boggling to see these rugs that are hand made and to hear the time and labor required. The top rug we were shown took three women, three years to make. Prices weren’t mentioned but I’m fairly sure that it was out of our price range!

We had lunch on the boat, rested in the room, and then Maria decided to head to Adventure Ocean in time for the ice cream party this afternoon.

With our visit to Turkey today we marked off continent number 5! The only continents we haven’t set foot in are Australia and Antarctica. Maria still needs to get to South America but that’s much closer to home!

At dinner tonight the wait staff serenaded us with the Italian love song, “O Solo Mio”. This is a cruise tradition on Royal Caribbean and maybe other boats as well. We laughed and cheered and hooted and clapped. It was lots of fun to see them being goofy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Iraklion , Crete – Day 4

According to mythology, Crete, Greece is the mythical land of King Minos. It is where the Minoan civilization started, one of the most important civilizations of the world. They built palaces and established a naval empire in the Mediterranean. This great civilization was stopped by the huge waves caused by the eruption of the volcano of Santorini, Greece in 1450 BC and by the invasion of the Achaeans and the Dorians.

From there Crete has been handed over to the Arabs, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. Around 1900 they were declared an autonomous state and, in 1913, were united with the newly built independent Greek State.

We had scheduled an easy day at a nearby resort to enjoy their beach and hotel facilities. We drove for around 30 minutes from the port along the North Coast of Crete and saw row upon row of olive trees as well as figs. The area seems to be very rocky and dusty.

We arrived at the Creta Maris Hotel and Resort and claimed two chairs under an umbrella overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The water was clear and around 80 degrees. The sun was bright and warm in a clear blue sky. The tour guide gave us each a voucher for a soda and we were on our own.

Steve and Maria headed to the water to swim and I “held down” our beach chairs. After about 45 minutes they came in to rest in the shade for a few minutes and we shared soda #1. We saved the glass bottle since it was written in Greek. It will eventually make its way to SC and the top of my kitchen cabinets. I just love free souvenirs!

Then Maria decided she needed to find a rock for Grandmother June so they took off again. The beach was small stones in various shades of brown. They were very hot so flip-flops were a must.

In another 45 minutes they returned, rocks in hand. We split soda #2 and a banana and two rolls I had brought from breakfast.

They had about 30 more minutes until we needed to change for the ride back to the port so they made for the water again. After a quick change we shared soda #3 and made our way to our tour bus.

We arrived back in time for a late lunch and then headed to the room to rest and shower for supper.

After his shower, Steve announced that he had burnt his belly. I think my sunscreen is a little old and the Mediterranean sun was VERY hot today. Maria is a little pink too. Oddly enough I didn’t get hardly any sun! That umbrella was awesome.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday – At sea

Maria spent the morning and late afternoon at the Adventure Ocean club enjoying the activities. There are quite a few English speaking children on board. She seemed to be having a great time each time we arrived to pick her up. She has even spoken to several of the children at other times on the ship when we would see them again.

She was with us for lunch. After lunch, she and Stephen tried out the rock climbing wall. They both did well but thought this wall was harder than the one last year.

Tonight was formal night and Maria looked beautiful in her Chinese dress that our friends Sue and Joe brought back from China.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Day 2

We started our day with breakfast and watching as we approached Croatia. We arrived around 9am and began the tenders around 10am.

Dubrovnik is a bit like Venice without the canals. It has that same aura of ancient, tiny "streets" filled with life rather than cars, but it's laid out on a much smaller scale. One of the major distinctions of Dubrovnik is that the medieval-era city is a walled city -- completely encircled. The atmosphere is lighter here, perhaps as much due to its gorgeous setting -- on the shores of the Caribbean-blue Adriatic -- as for the sand colored stone of its buildings. Dubrovnik is still being restored; the city was seriously damaged as a result of shelling that occurred during the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian war in 1991 - 1992.

We took the ship excursion to “walk the wall” of the city. The stone walls that completely encircle the city -- as much as 81 ft. high and 1.5 miles around -- have stairs at two points. The views were breathtaking; we could see forever over the Adriatic, the over-the-terra cotta rooftop town, and even peek into the backyards of some of the private homes and apartments that line the edges of the walled city. We started at the entrance to the walled city -- the Pile Gate. We were also able to visit the Fort of St. John Maritime Museum.

Dubrovnik was so beautiful with the terra cotta tile roofs. Walking the wall was extremely hot but worth the effort. After returning to the boat we had a light lunch and headed to the pool before it was too crowded. We swam and enjoyed the water in the shade for about an hour before going to the room to shower for supper.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday - Day 1 of Cruise

The picture above is the Venice Resort where we stayed before leaving for the cruise. It was lovely. We spent all day Thursday hanging out here since Maria was feeling a little yucky. On Friday morning after breakfast we took the public bus down to the pier and had no problem finding our way to the boat.
We boarded the boat at 11am. It was very quick and smooth since we were one of the first families to arrive. After eating lunch on board we changed into swimsuits and spent the afternoon enjoying the pool and sunshine. Thankfully the pool water was much warmer than the cruise we went on last year. Hopefully the ocean water will be warmer too!

By 4pm we had all the luggage in the room and everything unpacked and put away.

4:30pm was the Muster Drill and then supper at 6:30pm

A good start to the week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Breaking the Law!

We found out on Tuesday that the airport personnel in Venice were going on strike the next day...the day we were scheduled to Venice.

Not good!

So we spent the next 24 hours watching the flights take off and land...or be cancelled. Steve googled the driving directions to Italy. And praying...lots of praying.

The flights were looking good and we headed to the airport around 7pm. We checked in and tried to check all 4 of our bags. Since we were flying on a low cost airline, we could check 45 kg of luggage. We were slightly over. We could either pay a surcharge or carry one on the plane. I grabbed the smallest bag to carry on and we took off for the security line.

I put the bag, my pocketbook, and Maria's backpack on the belt and walked through the metal detector. The scanner had her hand on my bag and asked if it was mine. I nodded and she said, "you have a scissors in here?". She had this odd look on her face. I thought a moment and then it hit me. Yes I did! I was planning on checking that bag so I had put the scissors in there. Then she said, "and lots of liquids". Then it really hit me...ALL... and I mean ALL our toiletries were in that bag.

The picture says it all....

I think the only "contraband" I didn't have in there was a lighter!

Here is the complete list of illegal items I tried to carry on the airplane:

Facial Cleanser
Bath get
6 inch Scissors

The scanners must have thought that we've been living under a rock for the past year!

Needless to say, Steve went back and paid to check that bag. So we're in Venice now and will board the cruise ship tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

We're Ba-ack!

Maria and I arrived in Bucharest on Sunday afternoon. By bedtime we had everything unpacked and the house dusted.

Sleep is still being interrupted from about midnight until 3am. Typical, but aggravating to say the least.

We spent yesterday cleaning, grocery shopping, lesson planning, and trying not to nap during the daytime!

We leave at 11:30pm for Venice tomorrow. Our cruise to Greece departs on Friday. Hopefully our sleeping patterns won't be too off by then.

I'll try to post from Italy before we head out.