Thursday, December 20, 2007

World's Worst Blogger

I am officially “The World’s Worst Blogger”. This is my new title. Why? Because I don’t post regularly, because I forget to post at all, because I’m busy doing lots of other things that seem more important than blogging, because I do 15 other things before I get around to writing, because I’m constantly writing in my head but rarely writing on the paper, because I’d rather go play golf than blog, because I’d rather READ blogs than write in MY blog, etc. etc. etc.

However, our family blogs have become a really great way for us to keep in touch with one another, to keep track of the day to day mundane stuff that all our lives are made up of, to follow the big events and share the joys, to understand our loved ones and their inner feelings better. I must know about Sarah’s curls and Jenn’s new daughter and Jan’s dependence on her husband and her TV viewing habits. I’ve come to know my sister-in-law better by reading her blog and I’ve had strangers become virtual friends through this phenomenon of writing about our lives online. Therefore, blogging is an important component of my life, and so here I am, back again. Sorry I’ve been gone. I’ve actually missed you. Don’t ask me why I’ve been doing 100 other things besides blogging…..I have no rational answer. Just enjoy me because I’m here now.

We’ve been home from our BIG trip for 2 weeks now. The regular routines of our everyday life have returned. The jet lag has been conquered and I now sleep at night and stay up during the day. For a while our time schedules were truly screwed up. I was so incommunicado that my friends were worried about me. All I did was sleep for several days. They actually CALLED as opposed to sending an email, since, in this highly unusual situation, I wasn’t answering my email. How very computer dependent my life has become. I email everyone. A phone call now seems a bit out of the norm. The 9 hours difference in our time and European time made a very large impact on us. But now things seem to be back to normal and this is good.

Soon, life will tilt again for I’m packing again. Heading home to see my Mom. At least this time though, I’ll stay in the country and the time difference is only 3 hours. I’ll leave next week, after Christmas with my family. I’m anxious to go. Anxious to hug my Mom and see her and once again know that she is safe and sound. But I’m not looking forward to traveling again so soon. But such is life. I need to see Mom more frequently now. Since losing Dad, I find myself worrying way too much about the possibility of losing her. That is the natural order of things. But I can’t imagine having no living parents. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had a grandmother living and loving me until I was in my 50’s. I had both parents until I was in my 60’s. Now, I have just my Mom. I need to touch base with her frequently. That’s just the way it is.

I stopped blogging during our trip due to connection issues at the end of our ship days and then due to electrical problems while we were in Portugal. We KNEW the electrical voltage was different and we had all the right equipment with us to make the necessary conversions and power up our laptops, but somehow nothing worked right. We got new electrical stuff from the hotel, bought some stuff at the Portugese version of a Wal-Mart Superstore and still nothing worked right. We finally gave up and just waited until we got home to power up both laptops and return to our computer oriented world.

When I stopped writing on vacation, we had just left Malaga and were sailing towards Cadiz, Spain. The port of Cadiz is about 60 miles from the Spanish city of Seville and that’s where we were heading. We had booked a full day of touring and were planning to tour and shop and see the sights. Definitely a day to run and see and do until you drop. And we did.

We boarded a “motor coach” (why can’t they just say it’s a bus?) and, along with 58 other ship’s passengers, we headed for Seville. I had the window seat and my overriding impression of the Spanish countryside, the thought that kept echoing through my head, was “this place looks like home”. And indeed it does. Spain looks like California. Lots of shades of brown, some green, the gently rolling countryside, the stucco houses, the red tile roofs…..I felt like I was home. No wonder The Spouse loves Spain so well. Of all the countries we visited, so far, Spain is easily my favorite. Of course, there are many more countries to see and explore in future trips. But, for now, Spain is a favorite. We will, sometime in the future, fly to Barcelona and vacation there. The Spouse has always wanted to do this. Now I see why. We’ll go in the years to come.

I took California history in college and I can now see clearly why, a few hundred years ago, Spain immediately seized on the west coast, what is now modern day California and Mexico, and made it their own. They saw home when they looked at our countryside. The trail of missions in our state going from the Mexican border all the way to Oregon, are replicas of the churches and chapels that we saw in Spain. We went to a castle where the ceramic tile work, the flowery wrought iron designs, and the building styles have all been replicated in downtown Los Angeles. You want to see a piece of Spain? Go to Olvera Street in L.A. Yes, it’s Mexican, but it’s also Spain. Our buildings, our architecture, our homes, our churches, our countryside……we are the American version of Spain.

We went to the biggest church in Spain, one that is surrounded by no less than 45 chapels. We saw, again, tile work, the grave of Christopher Columbus, sculptures and statuary and stained glass windows that would make you hold your breath in awe. This was truly a magnificent place to behold. I’ll post some pictures below to give you a brief feel for what I’m describing.

We spent time in a large garden that represented some of the most beautiful plant life that Spain has to offer. Because of the time of year, not a lot was in bloom, but some was. Typical of Spain. Typical of California. Beautiful flowers in the middle of winter. There I had my first glimpse of a huge rubber tree. Unusual looking to say the least.

Our ship’s timing put us in Spain on a Sunday. For purposes of shopping this was an unfortunate thing. For purposes of sightseeing, it didn’t really matter. We walked the streets of Seville, watched the Spainards sitting in street side cafes sipping their espresso, did some window shopping and returned to the ship only to end up doing a bit of shopping right on the dock beside the ship. There are always some enterprising individuals who will find a way to sell no matter what.

I learned a lot of interesting things on our European adventure. I will share some of these interesting facts with you as I get back to writing on a regular basis.


1. They don’t have Diet Coke. They have Coca Cola Light. They serve it very cold out of the fridge. No ice. Most places don’t even have ice. If you ask for ice, if you get it, you get 3 cubes, maybe.

2. I can find out where the bathroom is in 5 different languages.

3. In Portugal, the government rigidly controls the gold trade. All items of gold are 19.2 karats of gold at a minimum. They scoff at our American 14k and think it is very low grade gold indeed.

4. Our American dollar is looked down on. The merchants don’t want it. They want Euros. Much more valuable. (you shouldn’t allow merchants to do your conversions anyway, but the very fact of our devalued dollar certainly makes me angry at the political powers in our country (Bush) that have allowed this to happen.)

5. Europeans, as a whole, are a much smaller people, physically speaking, than us super sized, overweight Americans. Chairs, beds, taxis, doorways, toilet seats, etc. etc. I realize I’m no lightweight, but even the average size 12-14 American woman would have some issues with the size of many common European commodities.

6. We bought no tee-shirts or sweatshirts or clothing in Europe. This is highly unusual. Need I say why?

7. Why in the hell do Europeans have square toilet seats? The corners poke the hell out of the back of fat American legs. Refer back to #5. Maybe that’s the answer. Also, why are so many toilets so low to the ground? These fat, arthritic, American knees just don’t bend that well. It was a big problem for me. Not that I’m fixated on toilets, but I never imagined there were so many ways to flush one. A button in the center of the tank, a box on the wall, a hanging chain, a spot on the floor, but never, at anytime, did I see what I considered to be a “normal” handle on the left or right side of the tank that would cause the toilet to flush. Clearly, the flushing of toilets has evolved somewhat differently on the different continents.

8. Europeans walk everywhere. I know you’ve heard this one before as it’s a common statement. However, it wasn’t really brought home to me until I was there. I mean they walk EVERYWHERE. They walk to work. They walk to the store. They walk to an appointment. We get in our cars to go a block. They do not.

9. I’ve never seen so many small and super small and micro sized cars in all of my life. I didn’t know cars could be made that small. The biggest vehicle I saw on the streets would fit in the backseat of one of our SUVs. We ARE gas guzzlers. But I must confess, I’m American to the bone. I love my big car with all its roominess. As intrigued as I am with cars that are the size of my Lazy Boy recliner, the idea of being in one of those things in a freeway crash, means I will never own one. We’re talking lizard versus dinosaur. I prefer to ride the dinosaur.

10. Lastly, for this go round, the people of Europe are much more energy conscious than we are. The car size thing above makes that obvious, but, also, our hotel rooms electrical system didn’t work until we turned it on (which I think had a lot to do with the computer problems), the water was ice cold until we consciously turned on the heater and made it hot, the thermostat was rigidly controlled and we did not have a lot of control over our room temperature. In restaurants, restroom lights have motion sensors. Nobody in there? No light. Definitely no hot water. Funny side note: I was in a closet sized restroom with the motion sensor light. As I sat quietly on the throne, the light went out. No motion, no light. I waved my arms wildly. The light went back on. More sitting. Light out. Wave arms. Light on. It actually would have been hilarious as a TV skit. I didn’t want to sit in a strange “water closet” in the dark.

Enough for this time. Here’s a few pictures until next we meet.


Remember the street drummers in Malaga? See here. This is a picture of them.



The courtyard at the castle



Some glorious tile work


More exceptional ceramics


The castle


In the courtyard


At the church, the original handcarved wooden doors are still there.


In the garden of the church. Oranges on the trees in November. It really is so like California.


And the flowers


The church from a distance. Note the huge size.


A rubber tree


On the Streets of Seville


Inside the church


Somehow this says shades of "The DaVinci Code"....not sure why.


Carrying Christopher Columbus to his grave

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Meme

I'm catching up on my blog reading....at least trying to. I read numerous blogs and I've missed 3 weeks worth. I may never catch up. Anyway, my sister's blog has a meme and she tagged us all, so why not? I just finished creating a final exam and am currently resting so I'll meme my little heart out..............

FOODOLOGY

Q. What is your salad dressing choice? A. Balsamic vinegarette with garlic

Q. What is your favorite Fast Food Restaurant? A. Wendys

Q. What is your favorite sit down restaurant? A. Famous Daves BBQ

Q. On average, what size tip do you leave at a restaurant? A. 15% usually

Q. What food could you eat for two weeks and not get sick of? A. Chocolate

Q. What is your favorite type of gum? A. Dentyne


TECHNOLOGY

Q. What is your wallpaper on your computer? A. Varies - either beach scenes or my dogs.

Q. How many televisions are in your house? A. 5



BIOLOGY
Q. What’s your best feature? A. My hair

Q. Have you ever had anything removed from your body? A. appendix


Q. Which of your five senses do you think is keenest? A. Hearing


Q. When was the last time you had a cavity? A. A couple years


Q. What is the heaviest thing you’ve lifted? A. A very large dog


Q. Have you ever been knocked unconscious? A. No, but I've fainted and so was unconscious.



BULLSHITOLOGY

Q. If it were possible would you want to know the day you are going to die? A. Absolutely not. Would anyone??


Q. Is love for real? A. Of course


Q. If you would change your first name what would you change it to? A. Carole


Q. What colour do you think looks best on you? A. Bright colors like red, orange, royal blue, etc.


Q. Have you ever swallowed a non-food item by mistake? A. Yes. Bugs, part of a crown.


Q. Have you ever saved someone’s life? A. No


Q. Has someone ever saved yours? A. No



DAREOLOGY

Q. Would you walk naked for a half a mile down a public street for $100,000? A. Yes


Q. Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100? A. Silly question. Of course.


Q. Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000? A. No!

Q. Would you never blog again for $50,000.00? A. Yes.


Q. Would you pose nude in a magazine for $250,000.00? A. Yes


Q. Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1,000? A. No


Q. Would you, without fear of punishment take a human life for $1,000,000.00? A. Never.


Q. Would you give up watching television for a year for $25,000.00? A. Yes, as long as there is a qualifier that I can use my DVD player and computer for entertainment purposes.


Q. Give up myspace for $30,000.00? A. Absolutely. Never use it!



DUMBOLOGY
Q. What is in your left pocket? A. A beautiful sterling silver pill box with a hunting dog/retriever carved into the silver. Got it in Portugal on this trip.


Q. Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie? A. Haven't seen it.


Q. Do you have hardwood floors or carpet in your house? A. Carpets and tile.


Q. Do you sit or stand in the shower? A. Stand normally. Have been known to sit on bad knee days.


Q. Could you live with roommates? A. Of course. We do have a roommate.


Q. How many pairs of flip-flops do you own? A. Depends on your definition. I have a lot of slides, sandals and clogs that are backless.


Q. Last time you had a run-in with the cops? A. Uh...never?


Q. What do you want to be when you grow up? A. I am grown up and enjoying it.



LASTOLOGY

Q. Last friend you talked to? A. Wendy. She called to see if we were home yet.

Q. Last person you called? A. Lane Bryant credit department. They are annoying me greatly with their stupidity.


RANDOMOLOGY

Q. First place you went this morning? A. To the bank. Unbelievably we came home from vacation with money. Put it back in the bank.

Q. What can you not wait to do? A. Nothing at the moment. I'm still recovering from my last big adventure.

Q. What’s the last movie you saw? A. Can't remember. It must have been thrilling.

Q. Are you a friendly person? A. Yes. But shy.

Picture Time!!

I have not blogged for the last few days as I had connection problems in my last days on the ship and then we had electrical problems in Portugal. Dead computers, malfunctioning converters and the wrong voltage do not a blog writer make.

Anyway, we are now safely back at home in California. I will write more about the other places we visited and will, over time, post lots of pictures for you to see. Here's the first batch with location notations. More writing and pictures to come when Finals Week is not demanding all my time.

The Spouse in Seville, Spain. We were on tour and these are the grounds of a palace we visited.

The view from the lift as I climbed the hillside in Santorini, Greece.
Me on the Greek Isle of Santorini. We had just been dropped off at the dock. Our ship is in the background.

The island of Santorini, Greece. A view from the deck of the ship.

The fort looking over the harbor in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The "Amazing Race" players were there in Dubrovnik last night. It was very strange to see them in the very places we had just been.

The Spouse inside the walled Old City of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik - one of the sights to be seen as we wandered the streets. An ancient church that had been there for many centuries.
Also, inside the walled city of Dubrovnik.
One of the narrow alleys between the buildings in Dubrovnik.
In the square as we entered the city of Dubrovnik. This gentleman was selling a little good luck charm tourist thingy. We resisted.
Our first sight of Dubrovnik from the ship. The gorgeous bridge is a relatively new addition to their landscape.
In Venice, Italy. Need I say more?

Me sitting in the square resting. Venice, Italy.
The front of the church in St. Mark's Square. Venice, Italy.

St. Mark's Square. Beside the Basilica. Venice, Italy. (note all the pigeons)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Euro Journals - 8

I find it hard to believe that some people can be so irresponsible as to miss the ship’s sailing time. We have just pulled up anchor and are gliding out of the harbor at Malaga, Spain. As the ship pulled away from the dock, a car came tearing down the embarcadero, lights flashing and horn blaring……but it was too late we were already underway.

As we watched, the automobile passengers leaped out of the car wildly waving their arms and we could hear faint yelling as we pulled further and further away. As the irresponsible passengers slowly became little “ants” in the distance, we saw them hire a boat, then leap onto it. The speedy little motor boat pulled up to the side of the big passenger liner as we left the harbor, and the two errants made a nerve wracking leap in order to board the ship. They made it, albeit by the very skin of their teeth.

I don’t think of myself as all that conservative and rule abiding, however, I can assure you that there has never been a time that I have ever even been close to missing a sailing time. We sailed at 6 PM. By 4:30 we were in our cabin and enjoying an afternoon nap. I just can’t imagine pushing a serious deadline that close……..

As I mentioned, we have spent the day in Malaga, Spain and what a charming city this is. It is a large, beautiful, modern city with clean streets, pleasant citizens, an impossibly large number of stores and a long and fascinating history. In truth, we saw very little of this place and that, of course, is the problem with cruise travel. You only get the tiniest taste of the culture and civilization at a particular port and then you are off and running again. This is both a good and bad thing and I’m not coming down on either side of that issue. We just love cruising.

As we walked the streets today, a large and loud group of drummers paraded through those same packed streets. There were mobs of people, since there were 3 cruise ships in port, plus it is Saturday afternoon and the locals were out in force. The drummers were all dressed in red and beating on all different sized drums. The rhythm of their drumming reverberated through the streets and we found that the loud, pounding, beat entered our head and we soon found ourselves almost skipping along to the unbelievably loud noise. The sound was hypnotic in it’s rhythm.

We stopped at a tapas bar and had snacks and drinks as we rested from our walking. Tapas is a small snack and having a taste of this and a bite of that is the way they eat in this part of the world. Fresh baked bread with a dab of this on it or a crispy cracker with a dab of that on it, etc. etc. It was interesting. One of The Spouse’s snacks turned out to be raw salmon and she was not happy. She is not a sushi girl at all.

The told us before we left the ship that everything would close up at 2:30 PM for siesta and then reopen at 5 PM. We thought they were probably exaggerating when they said “everything”, however, at 2:30 PM the doors to the shops slammed shut, the wire cage fronts slid down over the glass display windows and every shop closed up tight. Then all the Spaniards went home and took a nap. It was a strange concept to us overworked Americans. Many of the food establishments stayed open but our shopping was done for the day. An interesting custom………….

The Spouse and I are both half-sick as we try to fight off colds. We went to a drugstore in town and through pantomime we managed to purchase some cough medicine and throat lozenges. When I saw the “Vicks” brand name on the package, I knew we were on the right track even though all the words on the box were in Spanish. Good old Vicks. It’s the universal symbol of a cold, stuffy noise or bad cough.

We didn’t buy much at this port, just one Christmas present. Instead, we walked the streets, admiring the city and its people, and just soaked up some of the ambiance of Spain. It seems to be a warm, gracious and friendly country. Tomorrow we are going to Seville and we’ll be on an all day tour. We expect to see and learn quite a bit more about this country than we did today. I’ll tell you about the tour after it happens. It should be interesting.

As a follow-up note, every person we’ve talked to about their day in Tunis has said that they should have stayed on the ship. They have universally felt the stop was a bad choice. They were hassled and pushed by overly aggressive vendors who would not take no for an answer. The women were “touched” constantly and they all hated it and everybody we talked with wishes they had followed our lead. It does appear that we made a wise decision when we opted not to go ashore at that port. A couple of our tablemates felt they had extraordinarily good food for lunch, however, that was the only positive note we heard about Tunisia. Even the ship’s workers, who are an exceedingly international, adventure seeking, group of young people, all felt that they did not want to go back there. They simply didn’t feel safe and they saw nothing to buy or to eat that made it worth the risk of visiting. The African continent, with its large and varied population, just doesn’t seem overly popular with cruise ship passengers. At least not on this ship.

Many people, including The Spouse, were severely disappointed when the ship’s itinerary changed and the planned stop at Morocco was cancelled. However, when the Captain was asked why, his reply was very simple. “It’s not safe.” Cruise ship passengers are being mugged and threatened and treated badly and we will not take people who travel with us to any port we don’t think is safe. I believe Tunis will soon be added to their list of undesirable ports.

Well, that’s it for today. Time to get cleaned up and dressed and ready for the evening’s activities. More to come.

To be continued…………………