Our day on a Greek island! 7/13/15

Judy always said she wanted to spend some time on a Greek island when she retired. Today is the day. We taxied over to the harbor and boarded a “Flying Dolphin” ferry. It has a hydrofoil that lifts the boat out of the water when it gets up to speed. It cuts the time to the island in half (about 45 minutes).


Our destination is Aegina. We had been asking around (concierge, taxi drivers, etc.) getting opinions on the best island to visit. There are 3 nearby islands, but Aegina seemed to be the only island with beaches with sand. We weren’t interested in crawling around on rocks, trying to get to the water, so Aegina is it.

We arrived, and began walking around, trying to figure out what to do. I had done some homework and knew the name of a couple of beaches. We found an empty taxi, gave the driver the name of one of the beaches, and off we went. It was a small beach, with chairs, and umbrellas, and a small café/restaurant nearby. The beach had sand and the water was great. We got to the beach around 8:30, and stayed until 3:00. The food was cheap, and the waiters were quick and helpful. We had a blast!


A line outside one of the banks on the island.


A beautiful morning!

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Later in the day, things began to pick up a little.

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Looking back into the hills from the beach restaurant.


The beach restaurant.


Looking out toward the beach


Waiting on the taxi, heading back to the harbor


Checking out the harbor area


Main Street Aegina


Pulling out of the harbor on the ferry.


Athens, off in the distance.

A taxi took us back to the harbor area in time to do some shopping, sample some Greek coffee and ice cream, before boarding our ferry back to Athens. It was a quick trip back to the ferry port, and there were lots of taxis available to get us back to the hotel. We packed for our flights back to the US, while watching the CNN reports on the status of the Greek financial crisis. We’re relieved to find out the country isn’t going to collapse tonight, and we should be able to fly out tomorrow. Whew! What a relief! We’re ready to get home.

To the top and the shops, 7/12/15

We met Brad & Glenda at breakfast before they headed out to the airport for the flight back to DFW.  They decided to catch the hotel shuttle to the airport at 9:30.  The flight isn’t until 1:00, but with all their problems coming over, they wanted to arrive early and try to get ahead of any trouble.  Glenda had read that the Toronto Airport was struggling with labor issues, and Air Canada had to cancel over 200 flights the day they were trying to get to Barcelona.

We found out when we got home that their hotel “shuttle to the airport” was really a shuttle for 5 minutes over to the nearby train station where they had to catch a train to the airport.  It took them a while to figure it out, but they made it to the airport, and their flights to Toronto and then DFW were problem free.

We really didn’t have much of a plan for the day.  I originally thought we would be on the Hop-On / Hop-Off Bus, but we saw so much of the city on the Segway tour, none of us were that interested in getting on a hot bus for the day.  One site I definitely wanted to visit was Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in Athens.  We took a taxi from the hotel, and were dropped at the funicular (train) at the base of the hill.  We climbed aboard, and made the ride to the top.  The views of the city were great.  It’s one big sea of white buildings spread out to the horizon.  We enjoyed some snacks in a café before coming back down and catching a taxi back to the hotel. 

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It’s been interesting being in Athens in the middle of the financial crisis.  There are lines of people at the ATM’s, and lots of protest signs posted around.  I’ve been talking to the taxi drivers about their opinions.  One of our drivers said today that nobody really believes what their political leaders are telling them, and that somewhere, someone is making a lot of money.

We relaxed in the hotel, enjoying the pool, waiting for the sun to settle a little before we went back out.  We wanted to explore some of the market areas and see what kind of things the Greeks were selling.  We took a taxi to Monistiraki Square where I chased down my “Athens” Starbucks mug and then began looking through all the shops.  Judy and Courtney both found shoes, and I was about to get a pair of leather sandals myself.  The sales staff said we’d get a discount for buying several pair, but when the “big boss” came over to check us out, there was no discount.  I handed him back the sandals and we walked out.  We got to experience some of the Greek anger and stubbornness as we left.  Judy eventually got her sandals, but the “big boss” experienced some of my stubbornness and lost a sale in the process.


Twirling a little fire

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We found a nice restaurant with outdoor seating where we could “people-watch” and eat “greek”.  We enjoyed the evening as it cooled before we headed back to hotel to prepare for our adventures tomorrow. 

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Athens and a “Night Tour” on a Segway, 7/11/15

It’s sad that the cruise has to end, but we have a full day ahead of us.  Since we’re spending tonight in Athens, we decided to take an excursion off the boat that toured us around, then dropped us off at our hotel.  The tour began with a drive around Athens.  We eventually made it to the Acropolis, which is a sight to behold.  The way the hill sits above the rest of the town with the Parthenon is breathtaking when we first see it.  As we discover during our stay here, wherever we are, the Acropolis always seems to be visible.

Video Link – Acropolis



The port of Pireas, docking for Athens.


One of the stadiums used for the Olympic Games in 2004


We take the tour up to the top.  It included a short climb.  They turned us loose for 45 minutes.  We scurried around through the crowds, trying to see everything, and take our pictures.  The views of the city are great.  Everywhere you look, there are sites with ancient ruins.  I can’t imagine trying to restore and maintain all of it, with the crowds all day in such close proximity.

Video – City View from the Acropolis



Near the top, about to enter the gates.

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The city of Athens runs out to the horizon.

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After our tour finishes, they dropped us at our hotel.  The rooms weren’t ready yet, so we ate lunch and killed a little time in the coffee shop area until we got our keys.  We unpacked with plans to meet up around 7:30pm for our trip to the Segway shop and our “Athens Night Tour”.


Looking out our hotel window at the Acropolis on a distant hill.

The Segway “Athens Night Tour”, was one of the highlights of our entire trip over the last 3 weeks.  We saw lots of beautifully lit ruins and watched the sun set from “Mars Hill”.  Our guide toured us through several large crowded market areas and city squares, and then to the 11:00 pm changing of the guard at the Parliament Building (guard changes every hour, 24/7).

Segway Video Segment



Making a trial run


Sunset from “Mars Hill”


Judy & Courtney watching the sunset

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Video – Parliament Guards changing (check out the crazy step.)


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We certainly got our money’s worth, as well.  The tour started at 8:00pm and it was nearly 11:20 when we got back to the office.  Everyone was hungry, so we found a nice café with outdoor tables nearby.  It was a great way to end our cruise, all of us together, enjoying a relaxing meal in Athens, with the Acropolis as a backdrop.

A day off, and Crete, 7/ 9-10 /15

THURSDAY, 7/9/15

REST, REST, REST! That’s what I’m craving. Slept late, had breakfast, then I began looking for places where I could RELAX! I found some nice places to sit, and watch the ocean go by, while catching up on a ton of writing. The blog writing isn’t so hard, but sorting through all the pictures, getting rid of the junk, and deciding which ones I want to use, takes the majority of the time. Some of the excursion days, we took over 250 pictures.


Sunset on our day off.

I’m going to miss all the activity when our “China Experience” ends next week, but I don’t think I’m going to miss all the writing. It sometimes feels like “homework”. I know that no one makes me do it, but it’s a project I started, and I want to see it to the “finish line”. The “finish line” is in sight.

FRIDAY, 7/10/15

Chania, Crete, is our port today. It’s actually a large island that’s a part of Greece. The excursion we decided to take was a half-day trip to the beach. We had a nice time, holding down some beach chairs, and enjoying an occasional dip in the cool waters of the Mediterranean.


The port of Souda, access point for Chania, Crete.




Walking around the ship before our morning on the beach.


This is a fountain play area, similar to the fountain play areas in lots of cities.


GRASS? Grass on a cruise ship, and a lot of it.


The beach area near Chania (pronounce “Hanya”).

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Crete in our rearview mirror.

Back at the ship, we began the process of packing for our departure from the ship tomorrow. If you’ve cruised before, you know the routine. We had to pack everything except a small carry-on for the things we might need tomorrow. I’m glad we’re not flying out tomorrow. It makes the packing a little easier.

Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii, 7/8/15

Four consecutive days of excursions is tough, especially in this heat. We woke up this morning in the Port of Salerno. I’m on an excursion touring sites on the Amalfi Coast (I couldn’t have told you what that was before today). Brad and Glenda decided to do a 5 ½ mile hike up and down Mt. Vesuvius, including a tour of Pompeii. They’re officially crazy! Judy and Courtney stayed on board to enjoy the ship all day. We’ve been so busy since we boarded Saturday, we haven’t seen much of the ship besides the eating spots and where we sleep. I’m looking forward to an “at sea” day tomorrow.


Looking back at the port of Salerno as we pull away on our ferry to Capri.


The Amalfi Coast, as we cruise by on our way to Capri

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My group disembarks from the ship, and boards a bus that takes us around the harbor to a smaller ferry for a short cruise to the island of Capri. After an hour cruise, we arrive in the port, going immediately to a funicular (steep train) that takes us to the town of Capri. We get a brief description of the island from our guide, and are led to a small garden with some wonderful panoramas. It’s a tiny island, but we’re told it’s very exclusive. Judging from the names on the shops on the streets, I would agree. Lots of very ritzy brands.


The Isle of Capri


Looking across the harbor as we sail in.


This is one of the “famous” views from the garden.


Another shot from the garden.


Looking down toward the city.


Along the harbor


Near the city square, up on the hill.


After our visit to Capri, we board another ferry to Sorrento, another beautiful little town. We get a tour of a shop specializing in making gorgeous inlaid wood table and boxes, and then have free time to tour the town before they take us to lunch.


Arriving in Sorrento


Looking across the Sorrento harbor area as we arrive.


The Sorrento city center.


The shop where they displayed the inlaid wood table designs. All these designs were hand cut and pieced together from various types of woods. There was some very detailed, intricate work involved.

Our meal is relaxing and filling with some tasty Italian food. Afterwards we board a bus to Pompeii, about an hour drive. The ruins are amazing. I was most surprised by the size of the city, and how well it’s been preserved (considering the manner of it’s demise). After our visit, we bus back to the ship for some rest and dinner, as the ship departs the port.


Looking back on Sorrento as we drive away.


Driving from Sorrento to Pompeii




Entering Pompeii


Vesuvius in the background


Looking across temple square. Vesuvius was a prominent view from the city. It’s still considered active, last having an eruption sometime in the 40’s.

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Looking back as we exit the city.


Looking down on the current city of Pompeii as we walk out of the ancient ruins.


HUGE lemons (almost the size of grapefruits), in one of the cafes near the entrance to the ruins


Some of the apartments as we drove back into the port area of Salerno.

Rome in a day, 7/7/15

ROME! I’m really excited about this excursion, but dreading the heat. We have another early departure, meeting our excursion at 7:20 am. After an hour and a half drive to the city center of Rome, we unload at the Coliseum.

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It’s an impressive site, especially when we get inside. The crowds are equally impressive. There are many long lines. Thankfully, we were able to move over to a “fastpass” lane for groups.

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After the Coliseum visit, we drove through town and saw some of the important sites, arriving at the Trevi Fountain. We made a short visit to the fountain, as it in the middle of a restoration project. We can see a lot of it, but there is no water.

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After the fountain visit, we did a little more sightseeing from the bus enroute to lunch. We had a nice lunch, building our energy for the visit to the Vatican.


We get off the bus and walked in to the Vatican Museum. It’s hot, but our tickets get in us quickly. I don’t know how the people standing in line, outside in the sun, can do it. There are many impressive statues and pieces of art, everywhere. We’ve been hearing a lot about Michelangelo, and there’s lots of his work on display here. The Vatican Museum tour ends in the Sistene Chapel. It’s as impressive as you’ve heard. What a masterpiece of concept and design!

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After the chapel, we went into the Basilica. We’ve seen some great cathedrals in the last week, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Milan Cathedral yesterday. They don’t match up to the sheer size and volume of design and art that is everywhere in this building. For me, the Sistene Chapel, and the Basilica make any hot, sweaty, uncomfortable moments, totally worth it to get to see these buildings.

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After the Basilica, we walked to our bus. I was dreading boarding, after the heat we suffered yesterday in Milan on our trip home. YEA!!! The A/C works pretty well. It took a while to cool off, but when it finally did, it was great! Back home, we showered, rested, had a great dinner, and began to prepare for Day 4 of our excursions.

Milan, 7/6/15

We woke up early this morning in Genoa, Italy. The excursion Courtney, Judy, and I scheduled is a visit to Milan, and meets at 7:20, so we have to get up and going really early. Brad and Glenda decided to do a half-day tour of Genoa, and it meets a little later in the day. It’s a two-hour bus ride, but we get a good view of the Italian countryside.


Early morning as we pull into Genoa.


Castle entry

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We arrive in Milan at a large castle in the old center of town. Our guide gives us the pocket history of Milan from the time of the Roman emperors, while we tour the castle grounds. Afterwards, we stroll toward the downtown area and the famous Cathedral of Milan. The weather forecast was for hot weather, and they didn’t miss the mark. It’s hot!!! We ultimately make it down the street learning more of the history. We walked by La Scala, and ended up in the square in front of the Milan Cathedral. I remembered this square and cathedral from my visit to Milan with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra in the summer of ’69.

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La Scala

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We get free time to visit the area, and eat lunch. By the time we sat down for lunch, we were beat. The heat was brutal. After a long rest we toured the cathedral. It was over eighty years in construction, and massive. I was impressed when I visited in ’69, and wasn’t let down this time. Wow! After we met the group back out on the square, we walked back to the castle where we met the bus for the drive home. The bus was hot when we climbed on, and never really cooled down. Judy used her fan most of the 2 hour trip home. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it was too hot for a bus to not have better A/C.


Milan City Square

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Back at the ship, we showered, ate dinner, and began to prepare for tomorrow’s excursion to Rome. They’ve been talking a lot about the heat, and today was just a “warm-up”……Bigger cathedral, and bigger heat!


Cannes, Nice, and Monaco, 7/5/15

Thankfully, the ship docks around 9:30, so our excursion doesn’t depart until 10:00am, allowing us to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We’re docked in the port of Cannes, France, site of the big movie festival. The dock isn’t large enough to handle our ship so we have to board smaller “tenders” to get to shore. Once on shore, we board a coach bus and start driving through town. Our guide shows us a few sites around town, mostly related to exclusive hotels and celebrity hotspots when the festival is in town. We also saw some huge yachts in the harbor.


One of the tenders, heading into the dock


Our ship, Equinox, anchored in the Port of Cannes

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We drove along the coast to Nice, another French Riviera town. There is some beautiful coastal scenery. After arriving around 11:15, we get a short walking tour through a market area and then they turn us loose for a couple of hours to wander, eat, shop, or whatever. We saw some big yachts in Cannes, but this harbor has some even larger yachts, and many, many more of them. Our group split up, with Judy and I doing a couple of short walks with brief stops at cafes for coffee, smoothies, and a sandwich. I intended to eat the sandwich on the bus, but it didn’t get that far. We had too much fun people-watching from our café seats, and my sandwich gradually disappeared. Courtney contributed to the Nice economy with a purchase of shoes, and Brad & Glenda walked the beach (it’s rocks, not sand?) and the streets, enjoying the sites.


Some of the coastal scenery


One of the rocky Nice beaches


Down the beach

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The next portion of our trip took us along the coast, arriving at the 2nd smallest sovereign country, the Principality of Monaco. Monaco is slightly over 2 square kilometers, and is divided into 4 districts/regions. Most everyone knows about the district of Monte Carlo, with it’s Grand Casino (didn’t get near it). Our bus dropped us off on “the Rock”, or Roche, where the palaces, and cathedrals are located. We thought there were large yachts in Nice, but the yachts in the Harbor of Monaco dwarfed the other boats we’ve seen. HUGE BOATS!!!! There is lots of “discretionary” income being spent in Monaco.


Palace of Monaco


Harbor of Monaco


Looking back up toward “The Rock”

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The views were breathtaking as we drove in, and from our vantage point up on the rock. We were turned loose on the town for almost 3 hours. We ate lunch, and then I went on a search for a Starbucks where I could pick up a mug to add to my collection. I felt a little stupid walking around Monaco, with all it’s beauty, traditions, and history, asking for directions to Starbucks, but how else was I going to get my mug?

We arrived back to the ship around 6:00, ready for a shower, and dinner. When they talk about the French Riviera or “the south of France”, I’ve heard many times the phrase, “sun-drenched”. It always sounds so relaxing and comforting. This time of year, however, it means “really hot”. There is a heat wave in effect, and today was our first taste of “sun-drenched”. Combined with the humidity, the sweat factor was really high today.

Boarding “Equinox”, and a birthday, 7/4/15

HAPPY BIRTHDAY COURTNEY! We spent the morning worrying about Brad and Glenda making it to Barcelona for the cruise. They arrived in Madrid from Dallas, but for some reason, they weren’t booked on the Iberia flight as they were told. After some wrangling, they were able to book a later flight that would arrive in time for the cruise (assuming there are no more surprises). They’re not sure where their luggage is, though.

We taxied over to the cruise port and boarded the ship. Around 1:30, Brad and Glenda texted they had landed and were in a taxi. Yea!!!! At 2:30, we all got together on the ship and had lunch, hashing over the details of their very interesting trip.


First view of the ship!


Security was thick!


From our cabin!  We were on that hill, at the fort yesterday, looking down. Check the pix from yesterday


A closer look


A look back at Barcelona from the ship


Sailing out of the harbor.


Our Barcelona hotel is in the group of buildings in the distance.

We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, enjoying and exploring the ship as we pulled away from Barcelona. Dinner was great, and they brought a small cake with a candle, and a waiter that sings. There was a nice rendition of “Happy Birthday” and many of the diners joined in.



After dinner, we confirmed our meeting plans for the excursion to Cannes and Nice tomorrow. After the exciting day and long flight Brad & Glenda had, I’m sure sleep will come really easy tonight.

A day of Gaudi viewing, 7/3/15

We have a less defined day. We couldn’t decide whether to start with the Picasso Museum or Parc Guell. We settled on Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi, the “modernism” architect. The park was actually a failed residential area. It was going to have about 60 homes, but only two were ultimately built. Gaudi’s vision is everywhere, even if the area wasn’t finished. After the residential plan collapsed the area was given to the city, and turned into a park.


One side of the entrance gates to the park. A guard house

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After the park, we were inspired to search out a few of Gaudi’s best known buildings in Barcelona. We took the train the center of the city, and walked the area around two of his outstanding designs. These were homes built with retail on the ground floor, a large flat for the owner on the 2nd floor, and a series of apartments above, so the owner could make a few extra bucks.


Casa Batllo, in downtown Barcelona. It’s a distinctive style.



The “Block of Discord”, three distinctive designs, next to each other, by three distinctive architects.


Casa Mila, built by guess who.


We had lunch in nice little café in the area before heading to the “Teleferic de Montjuic”, a cable car up to a castle/fort. The view of the city on one side, and the port on the other is fantastic. It’s a great way for us to finish our Barcelona visit. Tomorrow we board our Celebrity Cruise ship Equinox, for 7 days in the Mediterannean, ending in Athens. Athens? That should be interesting, in light of all the financial news these days.


Telefuric du Montjuic, the cable car to Castle Montjuic


That’s Tibidabo on the other side, where we were yesterday.



The port, where our cruise begins tomorrow.


One side note on our cruise.  As we went to bed we heard from Brad and Glenda that their Air Canada flight to Toronto and then to Barcelona was cancelled (something happened in Toronto).  Air Canada booked them onto an American Airlines flight to Madrid, and then an Iberia Airlines flight to Barcelona.  Here’s hoping that they, and their luggage all arrive, before the cruise departs.  Right now it looks like it might be ok.  We’ll have more info tomorrow, I’m sure.