Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Don't rely on the Muse

A few days ago, I made a Facebook post about writing 4000+ words in just a few hours and made the off-hand comment that my Muse was with me. A former student wrote to say she hadn't seen her Muse in quite some time. We had a good conversation and I sincerely hope she can get her story moving again.

We writers are an independent lot. We write where we will, when we will, how we will. No one tells novelists what story they should write--it all comes out of our own imaginations. Yes, we get inspired by others' artworks,  music, even their stories. But our own creations are exactly that: our own creations to the point where writers compare themselves to God (don't believe me? Type "writer as god" into Google and you'll get 168 BILLION hits, give or take a few).

But there's a problem with being god-like: we don't have anyone else to blame when we can't be creative. "You're the god of your story! What do you mean, you don't know what happens next? Make it up!" We've all heard that well-meant advice from non-writers who don't understand the creative process. They don't understand that, sometimes, the ideas just aren't there.

Of course, sometimes writers don't understand that either.

And, because of our fierce independence, we don't realize that other writers have the same problem.

We've come up with ways to lay the blame, of course. Because, Heaven forbid it should be our fault. We'd lose our god-hood if we couldn't write, couldn't control the actions of our fictitious characters, characters who, in our minds, are real people. If it were our fault that we couldn't figure out what happened next or our fault that the words were clumsy and didn't say what we really meant--that would be a personal failure.

And no one likes to fail.

So we blame others. We say we have "writer's block" as if someone else built a wall between us and our imagination. Or we say the Muse has left us, as if our creativity lived outside us and had moved to someone else's house. We feel washed-up, weary, wrung out with worry--and sure that we never will write another word.

But writing is work. And all work is sometimes easy, sometimes hard. When I say hard, I'm not talking about all the procrastination tools we have to keep us from staring at that darn story that just won't move, I'm talking about the willpower to sit there and stare that page down and write something. Anything. You can cut it out later, but putting the butt in chair and forcing the fingers to type words isn't easy.

That's one way to get over the hump (another way of saying, "Not my fault. Someone put a speedbump in front of my creativity!"). Another is to walk away for a day or two. No longer! We set patterns in our lives, routines that keep us sane. Sitting down to write is part of a routine. Walk away from it for more than a few days and the routine is disrupted.

But that disruption can help. "Sharpen the saw" Steven Covey says. Go do something else and when you come back, you do so with a fresh mind. In that Facebook conversation, I suggested reading a book, doing crossword puzzles--keeping the mind engaged in some manner, but allowing the story to simmer on the back burner for a few days.

Both these methods work.

What doesn't work is throwing up your hands and saying, "My Muse has left me" and then doing nothing about it.

We are writers. We write. Period.

Play safe,

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Of Healing Legs and Scrapbooking

The pile in the right corner is my yet-to-do pile
Been home for a bit now. What with being laid up somewhat - the Aircast allows for some walking but at such a slow pace it takes a VERY long time to get anywhere - I've decided to get right to putting everything in the scrapbook I'd bought before I left.

Let's face it: I'm nothing if not organized. While we often use the need to straighten, file, tidy up as a procrastination tool, the reality is, we think better when the space around us has some semblance of order to it. To that end, I bought two scrapbooks before we left - big ones with lots and lots of pages. I'd learned from putting together the books from our Alaska trip. That was thirteen days and had two parts: land and sea. This trip to Italy and Ireland had the same two components: Italy by sea and Ireland by land. But the Alaska trip took three regular-sized two-inch notebooks and not everything fit even then.

So big scrapbooks for me this time. I bought some Italy and Irish stickers from Michael's (my daughter works there, so I've been supporting her!) and set up my to-go folders for the trip before we left.

That's our itinerary in the left pocket; maps are behind it
To-go folders? I tried this for Alaska and it worked so well, I did it again. Take a pocket folder with the three fold-down clasps in the middle. Put in as many acid-free plastic sleeves as you have days of vacation (and an extra for other stuff). I used a red folder for Italy and a green one for Ireland. Inside the pockets I put maps, embassy information taped to the pocket, a copy of our passports and our pre-purchased tickets and reservation numbers. I also slid a copy of our itinerary into each folder.

Then, as we had fun and explored and played, the folder for that country became our bible. Each day had it's own sleeve for receipts, handouts, ticket stubs - anything we collected along the way. By the end of the week, Italy's folder was stuffed full, all of it already sorted by day.

For scrapbooking, this means everything is already organized! I printed out the first three days worth of pictures and put them with their respective sleeves. Now I can just take a day at a time and it's all set to go. No muss, no fuss. I will never travel without those folders again.

Vesuvio - such a handsome dragon!
My leg is doing well, although it gets sore now and then (okay more now than then). Doc's got me on ibuprophen and it works well enough. I like that it doesn't make me groggy and I can still (mostly) think. Still wearing the Aircast; have an appointment this Wednesday to see if I can get it off and go to a brace or if I have to wear it a while longer. At least I don't have to use Vesuvio anymore.

Who is Vesuvio? My cane, of course! The one Steven bought me in Pompeii. He's been, quite literally, my walking stick, my right hand, my helper and hasn't left my side for the past two weeks. Only yesterday did I put him with the other canes we've collected over the years. Independence worked well and I'll let him live in the corner now.

At Michael's, my daughter is in charge of all the Scrap-ins and Crop Nights they hold. Not many people have attended of late but I go to every one of them. Why not? A chance to spread out on really big tables and spend time being (somewhat) creative? What's not to like? The store makes out, too, because I've always forgotten something or need one more page of this or one more sticker of that...I'm always running our of photo splits or glue sticks and always losing the acid free thin-line marker I like for writing on the pages. Today she's holding a 6-hr long Scrap-In - and I'll be there! Will post some pictures of what I do on Facebook at the end of the day. You'll see why, in this area at least, I'm only (somewhat) creative. :)

Play safe!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Day 11 - Back in this Hemisphere at least!

This is a continuation of our attempts to get home from Barcelona, a city I wish I had more time in. What I saw of it on our bus ride from seaport to airport looked fascinating!

So, a lovely trip home, pampered, treated like royalty...and then, the Toronto Pierson Airport.

I took this picture of the Vatican on our 1st day
in Rome but didn't have room for it in my
post for that day. Put it here because its one of
my favorites and I didn't have a pic for
this post. :)
If they’d allowed us to just leave the airport once we had a wheelchair, we’d have been through customs and out in less than an hour. But they were short-staffed and insisted we be accompanied by someone (I don’t know, maybe they were worried we’d steal their chair?) and it took over two hours to get from the plane to the curb where we needed to pick up the hotel shuttle. Two hours!!! Constant hurry up and wait. Only 2 women to move over twenty people from several different flights. We finally gave them the slip and maanged to snag a porter after going through customs. Steven pushed me, the porter took our bags and used a shortcut to get to the shuttle. Movement!

Didn’t have to wait long for the shuttle – off to the hotel to pick up the car! We made potty stops, longer for me because the women's restroom was further away (of course) than the men's room. Steven got directions to get from the hotel to the QEW – I can get us home once we’re on that. 

Of course, we drove out of the hotel parking lot and promptly turned north instead of south (just give me rights and lefts at night when the sun’s down!). Turned around and had no trouble navigating to the QEW.

Except we needed gas. Picked an exit that didn’t have an easy off-easy on, of course. Drove around the docks of Hamilton for a bit until we found a gas station. Got directions back to the QEW and headed home.

Decided to take the Queenstown/Lewisburg bridge, thinking the traffic would be easier than going through Niagara Falls on a Saturday night. Turns out to be a good decision. Got to US Customs and the agent asked all the normal questions. Then he asked if we had a good trip, just being conversational as he waited for our passports to clear. Steven told him I’d broken my leg and that got his attention. He loved hearing that I broke it on the volcano and chuckled at the line one of the passengers onboard the Emerald Princess gave us: “She heard a rumble and ran.” J

The ride home was hard in that we were both exhausted. Called the kids to let them know we were three hours from home, not in Dublin like we were supposed to be. I'll be honest, it was upsetting that first day, to know we had to come home because of a single misstep. We shed our tears, but we’d made a promise to each other when we started that we’d only look for the positive. No complaining about anything, no matter what.

And we kept to that. Took some attitude adjustment last Monday, but we both got there about the same time (okay, maybe Steven got there first, but don’t tell him I said that!). We had a grand time, if not the time we expected to have. Ireland will still be there after my leg heals and we’ll appreciate it all the more. We’re seasoned travelers now and we kept ourselves awake on the ride home last night talking about what we’d do differently and what we did right (trip insurance? YES! Thank goodness we’d bought that!).

We came home and crashed, having been up for 27 hours with only the naps on the plane to keep us going. Neither of us wanted caffeine – we wanted to sleep once home. It was after 2:00 AM Eastern by this point and we'd been up since 5:00 AM the day before - Barcelona time. 

But here we are, home, filled with pictures and memories, and plans to do it all over again. Why not? 

Adventure awaits!

Play safe,

Day 11 - Barcelona and home...in style!

I'm breaking this into two posts because, well, it's me, folks. Life is always an adventure and why have a simple plane ride home when you can have complications to make it interesting? So....

We had to be up at 5:00 this morning to be ready for disembarkation at 6:05. Since we’d sent the bags down the night before, we only had out carry-on bags.

Of course, before we left, we had one more task to complete. Because of the pressure changes at the altitudes we’d be reaching on the plane, I needed to have a blood thinner. And since it was so early in the morning and everyone was getting off the ship, the medical staff was busy with other matters. Steven stepped up and said, “I’ll be glad to poke my wife!” The shot is given in the belly and he didn’t even hurt me. I know he was nervous about it, but he did well. Only a tiny little bruise where he jabbed the needle. J

Easy time off and collected our bags with no trouble. We were in the “Silver 1” group for the airport and there was only one Silver 1 bus, so no confusion there. Xavi, a Princess Cruise liaison from Barcelona, rode the bus with us to make sure everyone got to the right gate once at the airport. And this is where the problems began.

The second night of the trip, Steven had gone down to complain about the automatic door that kept banging against our stateroom wall and asked if it could be fastened open. A man at the desk said yes. An hour later (now past midnight), Steven got dressed and went down to complain again. This time a young woman was at the desk and she was quite distressed to find out we’d had to made a second request. The matter was swiftly dealt with and the doors remained open for the rest of the trip.

On Thursday, when we got new flights home but had already been assigned the Silver 1 group, Steven went to the desk to ask if the flight change meant a different disembarking group. The same guy at the desk said no, nothing would change. Even after Steven asked him if he needed to see our new flight number, the guy said, “No. Flight numbers don’t matter. You’re good.”

Sculpture outside of Barcelona port - sunrise
Well, Saturday morning at the Barcelona airport we found out just how incompetent the front desk clerk is. Got to Terminal 1 with the rest of the Silver group only to discover we were supposed to be at Terminal 3 for our flight. This is where Xavi became our savior. Wish I'd taken a picture of him but I was so concerned with missing flights, I didn't. :(

Xavi took the others into the terminal and got them situated, then came back for us. We had to wait for a shuttle for Terminal 3. Good thing we had plenty of time. It was a little after seven in the morning and our flight didn’t leave until a quarter to noon. He stayed and rode the shuttle to Terminal 3 with us, not leaving until we were handed off to a wheelchair attendant in the proper terminal. I will be sending Princess an email pointing out the lazy employee and highlighting Xavi, you can be assured of that!

Wheelchair bound people are a class unto themselves, I’ve discovered. Many people tended to talk over my head to Steven as if I weren’t there. This was particularly true of customs agents in every country. Others give pitying looks, looks that say, “I’m glad that’s not me!” that they think I don’t see.  Some make polite conversation and ask me what I did (the Aircast is HUGE and you can’t not see it) – those people are fun because I get great reactions when I tell them I broke it coming down Mt. Vesuvius.

A few talk directly to me. My favorite was the ticket agent in Genoa for the tour bus we took. He not only talked to me, he stepped down off the curb so he’d be closer to my height. When we got back to the dock after our hike from the drop-off point, he made sure to come over to me and ask how the trip had been and if I’d enjoyed it. The narrow sidewalk was filled with those waiting for the next tour and, of course, the wheelchair takes up a bit of room. The road was busy and not safe so when, at the end of the conversation he asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” Steven asked him if he could clear a path on the sidewalk.

He jumped right to it, walking in front of me and saying, “Scuse, coming through. Scuse, please step aside” all the way through the crowd. He was a cutie and if I were 20 years old and unmarried, I’d have had fun and done some flirting with him.

Waiting in the Barcelona airport
But back to the trip home. Because of my foot, I have to fly business class or better in order to keep it elevated on the flights. Besides, I think I mentioned this cast is HUGE? It won’t fit in the legroom space allotted for coach. Silver lining! But it also means we couldn’t get a direct flight home. Out of Barcelona, back to Rome, THEN to Toronto.

Alitalia for the entire trip, this time. The short hop (an hour and a half), didn’t have a place to put my foot up, but I had plenty of room to stretch it out as needed. Wore the cast the entire flight, adjusting the air in it as the pressure in the cabin changed. No big deal. Landed, was last on the plane, was last off the plane. Our next flight left at 3:15 PM and wheelchair services kept assuring me we’d get to the gate on time.

You know those stereotypical scenes of three Italian men all talking at the same time, gesturing wildly and speaking at full volume as if to drown out the other speakers? Where it seems nothing is getting done and that the three of them will soon come to blows? Yeah. I sat there and watched it happen as three of them tried to get the several of us in wheelchairs to the appropriate gates on time. We sat for a long time and I was convinced we were going to miss our connection because they couldn’t get their act together.

Finally, at 3:10, a young man was assigned to us to take us to the gate. He knows he has to hurry and I swear, he drove me through that airport like he was driving in Rome. Watch out pedestrians! Steven had to hustle to keep up with him. Swerving right around an old man who stopped in the middle of the atrium, left around a loose child, threading the needle through an existing line – I held on and grinned all the way. Wheee!

Got to the gate and they hadn’t even started boarding yet. Whew. He left me there and Steven and I watched as they loaded the plane. Okay. We’re getting the routine now. We’re good. We wait.

But as we’re waiting, we realize, this gate is at ground level. There is no plane outside. They’re putting people on shuttles and taking them out to the plane where they have to walk up the stairs to board. It’s okay, I can manage the stairs, but it’s going to take me some time. There is another woman, however, also in a wheelchair, who is quite old and frail who cannot make the stairs.

Off on another adventure! After the last shuttle leaves, we’re loaded onto a mini-shuttle and taken out to the plane. I’m looking at the steps and thinking, “Okay, I can do this” but the driver goes around to the other side. There’s a lift there. You know, the kind that you see lifting the shipping containers? Just a big X when it’s all the way up? The kind that shakes and rattles and you hold your breath that it won’t collapse? Yeah, that kind.

So we ride up like it’s the gantry of a rocket ship and walk across the open space to the door of the plane (which the attendant had to knock on for them to open. Cracked Steven up that we were knocking on the door of the plane!). We go in, turn left, and enter first class.

The set-up for our 7-course dinner
Oh, my. I’m not sure I can ever go back to coach. Not for long flights (this one was 9 hrs, 50 min.). Not only do they feed us an entire seven course meal on real plates with real silverware, we were offered several different wines, limoncello, amaretto (which I had) and, for our lunch, a seven course meal. I kept the menu we were presented. By the time they got to dessert over an hour later, I was stuffed and waved it away. A vanilla cake of some sort.

And then the seats. They recline so you are almost prone. Like a bed. And you get a decent pillow and a down comforter. Yes, a down comforter – or microfiber that feels like down. The lights are turned down, the shades are pulled and you can sleep. Really sleep. I managed two sessions, one short and one of an hour and a half. Steven slept straight for nearly two hours. It was only 7:00 PM Rome time, but we’d gotten up early, had several adventures and eaten a 7-course meal, so it wasn’t hard to be tired.

And when you couldn’t sleep? A real set of headphones (not earbuds) and a decent high-def screen with a wide menu of choices. I particularly liked the outside camera for take-off and landing. Haven’t ever seen those from the pilot’s point of view before. A little unnerving to see the land coming up so quickly and the runway still so far away!

Hot towels at frequent intervals, a traveling bag of toiletries for both of us – yeah, I could get used to traveling like this. I took off my cast, put up my feet and allowed myself to be pampered. What a wonderful flight home!

Play safe - part two, the Toronto airport, coming soon.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Day 10 - Toulon, France

Friday, June 5, 2015 – Toulon, France

Or rather, not Toulon. The ship is docked on the opposite side of the harbor from the city. We can see it out off the balcony, but you have to take a boat shuttle to get to it.

We’re perverse, however. It costs 20 Euros to take the shuttle (each!), so we’ve decided to explore the little seaside town on THIS side of the bay, La Seyne Sur Mer. The old quarter is about a 20 minute WALK from the ship and Steven has insisted I get in my chariot and he will take me to France. I’ve told him I don’t want him to hurt himself trying that, but he’s insistent.

French cobbles aren't any bigger
than Italian ones!
He rolled me along an unpaved pathway that runs along the shoreline and I managed to keep most of my teeth. Had to get up a few times because there was no ramp down the curb, but this area of France is like most parts of America: ramps at the ends of sidewalks to cross the streets. And EVERYONE stops as soon as a pedestrian puts foot to crosswalk. Pedestrians have the right of way here and the drivers aren’t even upset about it! Steven used me as a traffic light several times and each time, sure enough, the cars all stopped to let us cross.

It’s not even 9:00 in the morning and the bars are all open. We stopped at one, thinking it was a café, but it was a bar. Found one called “Le Colbert” but didn’t stop to take a picture of it.

Interesting hot chocolate - and wonderful pastries!
We wandered toward what we thought was the city center but it went uphill and after a bit, we stopped and turned around. Pushing me up the hill wasn’t going to be nearly as hard as taking me down the hill. We’d seen a patisserie down by the docks and decided to go back there to have something to eat. Steven went inside to get pastries and I tried to translate the menu on the wall. I did all right and figured out most of it, even though my French is VERY rusty.

He brought back a croissant for me and a lemon/apricot something for himself, along with two cups of hot chocolate. It tasted like baking chocolate in water, but they’d given us packets of sugar as well. Added a packet and a half and it was quite good! The croissant was, of course, wonderful. Steven kept sighing over his pastry, so I think he liked it.

Cours Louis Blanc early morning

We’d passed a street right by the patisserie that looked interesting, so we decided to go along it for a bit. It was a pedestrian way, bisected by single-lane, one-way streets. Very narrow and very shady. We got to a plaza with a tree-lined boulevard filled with vendors selling every kind of fruit and vegetable you could imagine. Mostly locals out doing their shopping. We’d found the quintessential France we’d hoped to find.

Of course, we had to go shopping. Bought some things for the kids; I wanted to get a scarf for Kate and Jenn but they were made in China and I said no. Steven bought himself some strawberries and just about had an orgasm when he ate them back on the ship.

By then I was tired and my foot was starting to ache in the cast so we headed back down the street towards the port. We made our turn and there was another pastry shop. Steven parked me at the side of the street and went in. He came out with a box tied with ribbon and said, “That’s for later, on the ship.” My lap was quite full now!

No troubles getting back to the ship. We stopped for glasses of water on the Lido deck and opened the box. He’d gotten two chocolate éclairs (chocolate fillings as well as chocolate on top) and two other somethings that look wonderful. We ate the éclairs while we had our water, then he wheeled me back to the stateroom.

He caved and went to the Internet café onboard and paid for a few minutes of Internet to confirm with Linda (our travel agent) that everything is set for getting home. It is. We’ll disembark tomorrow VERY early (6:05 AM) and be taken to the airport. Once there, we’ll go through customs and get to our gate. Our plane takes off for Rome at 11:45 AM. We then have a short layover before boarding the plane from Rome to Toronto, landing in Toronto at 7:45 PM (their time). But it will be later for us and we’ll decide about going right home or getting a place to stay when we get there.

The doc here has ordered a shot of a blood thinner for me for the flights. Says it will help keep the swelling down. We have business class tickets, up front with recliners, so I can keep my foot elevated. That means I’ll be able to take the boot off and rest my foot during the flight. Thank goodness for small favors! Okay, it’s a big favor, but I’m still grateful for it.

Right now (12:30 PM) Steven’s gone back into Toulon to explore a little more. He said he didn’t know exactly what he’d do – I told him to eat more pastries! J It’s funny, I expect him to come home today looking as French this afternoon as he did Italian yesterday.

Later –

Fell asleep this afternoon. Took a good 45 minute nap. So did Steven, although for less time. He came back from the town with more pastries (told ya!) and I had some wonderful chocolate mousse cake as a mid-afternoon snack.

We packed our bags and now have them outside our door to be picked up. At this point we’re checking all three to make getting through the airport easier. I’d like to keep my red bag with me just because all the souveniers are inside, but we might have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Steven did some painting while here; those are packed in plastic bags and tucked inside his suitcase, again, crossing fingers they make it to Toronto.

Not much else to report. No dessert social tonight like on the Statendamm. Princess is nice, but we got spoiled with Holland America.

Going to be a long day tomorrow, so signing off now. Next stop – Barcelona!

Play safe and travel well!

Day 9 - Genoa and a wheelchair

Down to see the Doc first thing this morning. Filled out lots of insurance forms yesterday and Steven talked to Linda, our travel agent about what needs to be cancelled. Doc talked to Dr. Mark in Geneva and they’ve decided an Aircast is good to get me home. It’s a walking cast, sort of. Hurts to walk yet, but I took some ibuprophen and we’ll see what happens when it kicks in. Still need the cane to help take some of the weight off the foot.

Doesn’t change our plans to come home on Saturday. I want to see Ireland, but not this way. Would rather wait and see it later when I can walk unimpaired. Steven and I talked of the Stages of Grief over breakfast and realized we’d gone through most of them already. It isn’t always linear, so I still get a little emotional at times, but mostly? I’m good. I’m no longer angry at myself for being a klutz.

I mean, let’s put it in perspective. I didn’t break my leg tripping over a kitchen chair or because I stumbled in the garden. I broke my leg hiking on freaking Mount Vesuvius!!! I broke it while doing something fun, something wonderful. I broke it on an adventure.

tugboats in the Genoa harbor
Steven’s gone on a recon mission into Genoa, our port today. We’re docked at the Ponte Andrea Doria, which I hope is not a bad sign. If the roads/sidewalks are good, he’ll wheel me in so I can see at least a little more of the city than I can from the ship. But if they’re all cobbles like they were in Rome and much of Palermo, I’m staying put. No sense in rattling my teeth out, too.

12:30 pm

A building in Genoa - but you can see the efforts made to fix up
What a pleasant morning! Steven came back with a pamphlet for a bus tour that went around the city. About a 45 minute tour, it picked up right at the end of the dock and had a boot in which to store my wheelchair (yes, they use the English “boot” instead of the American “trunk”). So, I dressed (i.e. put my skirt on over my shorts) got in my chariot and away we went!

The tour was quite informative (and stuck to the route on the map!) and I took lots of pictures. It didn’t, however, drop us off at our dock, but at the entrance to the old city. No way was the wheelchair going to make those streets, so Steven wheeled me back to our dock – a distance of about a mile around the bay. There was one spot that had a hill going up and I got out and put that Aircast to good use. A handrail alongside helped and I climbed up the ramp myself. Was glad to sit again at the top, though.

Back on board we had pizza for lunch – I walked the 100 feet from our room to a table poolside and we met our nurse from the first day. She was thrilled to see me up with the Aircast and somewhat mobile. I say “somewhat” because a snail could beat me in a race right about now. I think we made the right decision in not going on to Ireland. Walking hurts some (4-5 on the pain scale; not excruciating, but not that pleasant, either) and we’d planned a LOT of walking in the Emerald Isle. Although we did have a nice poetry going: the Emerald Princess to the Emerald Isle. :)

This is a great example of tromp d'oil - that entire facade is painted!
Steven went back out in the afternoon and managed to get himself lost on purpose. He wanted to get off the main streets and see the “real” Genoa. And it isn’t hard to find your way back to the sea – just head down. In his explorations he managed to down two gelatos (melon and a deep, dark chocolate that was so dark it was almost black) and a cannoli. Ah, Italians do know how to make a good dessert!

He also spoke Italian most of the time. He didn’t have to say much, just speaking to shopkeepers, but he said he almost felt he could pass as a local. Not hard to believe. He’s tanned right up with our days here and with his hair short and all curly, he looks as Italian as the statues in the piazzas and the shopkeepers themselves. He feels at home here, and that makes me feel proud. He fits here.

I could fit here, too, but I’d always be the American. I’ve spoken some Italian with people and I’m pretty sure I have an American accent when I do. I have the sounds, I just don’t have the music.

But is okay – is an adventure!

 Play safe!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Day 8 - Livorno and Florence

If you haven't already read about the happenings on Mt. Vesuvius, I suggest you do so before reading this post. Otherwise, some of what's below won't make much sense.

The dock at Livorno from our stateroom balcony
I reached the acceptance stage this morning. Losing the Ireland part of the trip was the cause of some tears and I realized I was going through the seven stages of grief. I was in denial for most of yesterday, thinking we could still go, just slower. This morning I realized how ridiculous that was. Cried some, but have now let it go. I will go to Ireland, just not now.

Florence for Steven. I can’t go, obviously, but I was insistent on his going to see the Uffizi. An art gallery I would’ve gone through in an hour he now could spend the entire day visiting.

My day was relaxing. The ship held two emergency drills for the crew – one simulating a fire in a cabin on a deck below this one and the other a lifeboat drill where they actually lowered the lifeboats on the starboard side. We’re on portside, so I didn’t get to see it, but it was fun to listen to all the announcements as they went through each part of the drill. Later I asked Maria, our cabin maid, how it went and she said the part she was involved in went very smoothly. Good to know they’re on top of things!

When it was over, I called down for room service for my lunch; he said not all his crew was back from the drill yet, so it might be 25 minutes. It was only 20. When the waiter realized I had a cast on, he asked what happened and was quite sympathetic.

flowers from the crew!
I read a book I’d gotten from the library: Match Me if You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Chick lit. Not my ordinary fare, but hey, it took me away for the day. From my balcony I can see the port of Livorno and some of the old city but not much. I did see a tall ship entering the harbor this afternoon, though. That was very cool.

The same security officer from yesterday came up to take pictures of my shoes (my “slippers” as he keeps calling them – his English isn’t very good). And I had one other visitor: two representatives from Passenger Services stopped by and brought me a bouquet of flowers – three roses with baby’s breath – and a get well wish. I thought that was so sweet!

My candle at the Church of San Croce
Steven got back around 5:30. We both cried over the things he saw: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, the graves of both Galileo and Michelangelo (He lit a candle for me beside Galileo’s grave and one for his mom at the statue of Mary in the Church of San Croce). He also had three gelatos throughout the day and one very large pizza. I’d asked him to buy some specific items for the kids and he found them along with a Pinocchio ornament for our tree. Turns out Geppetto was from Florence!

He’s gone down now to see the doc and find out if she managed to talk with Dr. Mark. I’ve finally accepted that we’re going home from Barcelona. Ireland will have to wait a little longer.

Play safe - and walk carefully,

Day 7 - at sea

At sea.

I have, at long last, completed one of the items on my bucket list: I have been so far out to sea that I cannot see land in any direction.

It isn’t that I didn’t know what such a thing would look like. One only has to stand on the shore of Lake Ontario and look northward, then extrapolate from there. And I suppose, on our Alaska trip, we were at one point far enough out that land couldn’t be seen, but if we were, it happened at night and I didn’t see it, so it doesn’t count.

It’s more the vastness that I wanted to experience. To look out and not see any land is to see just how big the world really is. Even though this ship is huge, especially when viewed up close in port, out here it is nothing when compared to the sea.

And the blueness. No wonder sailors were thrilled to see green upon reaching land again. The sun is out today (as it has been every day – the weather has been spectacularly wonderful) which makes the sea a brilliant blue. Steven’s eyes take on this color sometimes. Perhaps I shall have to start calling them “Mediterranean Blue.”

This was an at-sea day, so not much going on. Because of my broken leg, I mostly stayed in the cabin with it up. Steven did go down for the art auction just to see how one is run. Four-thirty saw us at sickbay again to speak with the doctor. She’d lost the information Steven had given her about Dr. Mark so she tried a conference call to him while we were there. He was in surgery and then the connection was lost when she was speaking to the nurse. She tried several times to get it back to get an email address, but couldn’t establish a connection.

I had to give one of the ship’s security officers a report – no, he didn’t wear a red shirt. J I assured him I have no intention of suing the cruise line. Steven decided the ISIS terrorists are at fault. If they hadn’t attacked the Bardo in Tunis, we’d have stopped there and I never would’ve been on Mount Vesuvius to begin with!

AAA had arranged for a complimentary dinner in one of the swankier restaurants on the ship, so we ate at the Crown Grill. Our waiter was a very earnest young Indian who was quite competent and adorable. He’s probably not any older than Ben.

By the time we got back to the room, I was exhausted. Took two blue Tylenol and was out for the night.

Play safe,

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Addendum to Pompeii NSFW!


What I found most fascinating about this city is the fact that is WAS a city. A thriving place filled with everyday life. From the grooves in the stones from the wagon wheels (how hard must driving have been with THOSE in the street???), to the "fast food" places that lined a thoroughfare, Pompeii could be any one of a number of cities today (although today we call those grooves "potholes").

While the gymnasium and the his and her saunas intrigued me and the one restored villa amazed me for it's simplicity and beautiful murals, it was the house of the courtesans that tickled my fancy the most. The world's oldest profession fully recognized and totally not hidden, as sex wasn't something to be ashamed of. And, if I'm not mistaken, both men and women used the services of these houses.

But the part that made me giggle like a schoolgirl was the "menu" on the walls. Up above the alcoves used for sex are a set of frescoes depicting all sorts of interlocking sexual positions. A customer would come in, point to the position desired and the transaction was made.

(NOTE: These pictures were taken with our Samsung Note4 cameras. No flash was used as flash photography is forbidden; it will damage the frescoes).

I love it! How easy - and there could be no arguments since the customer made the choice ahead of time. So logical. Takes the passion out in one way, adds it in another. Calculating - you know what you're going to get. Passionate - a chance to try something new!

And this last picture - a phallic symbol no one disputes. It did not, however, advertise the house of courtesans, but was the universal symbol for an apothecary. Need some help performing in the above house? Come here and get your aphrodisiac! Of course, you could get all sorts of other medicines and ointments here as well, but the fact that they use a raised penis as the advertisement bemuses me. :)

Just had to share!

Play safe,

Day 6 - Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii

Naples today. We bought a shore excursion to hike to the top of Mount Vesuvius and then visit Pompeii. The volcano is visible from the city of Naples – in fact, it dominates the view. There is actually a second volcano next to it (named Somma), also active, that used to be the taller of the two. But it blew thousands of years ago and the ash from it made the more famous of the two volcanoes higher.

The drive up consists of a series of very sharp, very narrow hairpin turns. I lost count of how many, but there were a lot. The bus took us to 1000 feet below the rim and dropped us off. Because there’d been a lot of traffic getting out of Naples, we only had an hour and a half to go that 1000 feet and get back.

Looks like we'll fall off at the top!
(that's me in the purple - my husband always likes to get my good side!)
Sounds easy enough, yes? Remember those hairpin turns the bus took? Same philosophy regarding getting altitude here. Not straight up, but winding around and back and around again. The incline was about what it is coming from the stream up to the cabin back home. Sometimes not so steep, sometimes steeper.

Looking down into the mouth of the volcano - all quiet today, thank goodness!
It took me a long time to climb to the rim of the caldera, but I did it. We both did. The view from above is amazing but what struck me was how many people stand to lose everything they have when it blows again. Because it will. In fact, it’s overdue. I know there are evacuation plans and the expectation is there will be about a 20-day warning, but still. Why build where it will be destroyed? All along that mountain road are the ruins from the last eruption in 1946.

There is a valley the lava flowed along that year that is starting to come back to life. A gray lichen appears first – a lichen that only grows on Mount Vesuvius. As it goes through its life cycle, it builds up on the cooled lava and creates a thin layer of dirt that small flowers use. They die, add to the soil and larger flowers grow, then bushes and finally, trees. Right now the hillsides are covered with Jupiter’s Beard and Broom bushes, both in bloom.

Naples from the top of Mount Vesuvius
And then of course, what comes up must come down. The descent went faster than the ascent. Right up until the second-to-last hairpin turn. I was watching where I put my feet since the volcanic ash is like walking on black sand with the occasional pebble and rock thrown in for good measure.

You guessed it. I found one of the rocks. I went down fast and a nice gentleman on his way up lent me his hand as did Steven. My ankle hurt but I knew I hadn’t twisted it. Thought I’d pulled a muscle. Made it back to the bus (which was parked quite a ways down the road) and explained to Roberta, our tour guide, that I’d fallen.

She got me ice when we got to Pompeii while the others got their gelato or soft drink (Steven brought me a wonderful vanilla gelato with chocolate chips). He then went in search of a cane for me, paid an inordinate amount of money for it and I used it on our tour. The uneven streets made it a challenge and it hurt if I stepped wrong but I made it through. Several of the others on the bus called me a “trooper” for coming along.

Me, standing in an ancient theatre!
The ruins were covered under 20 feet of ash – its amazing the city was ever found. The murals on the walls are beautiful and must’ve been incredible when new. To stand in a actual Roman theatre (they have two) brought me back to my Intro to Theatre course. And here I stood, in the orchestra of one over 2500 years old walking on the very stones of actors who came before.

We ended with some of the plaster casts of those who died that awful day in 74 BCE. The first was of a dog, one who couldn’t run away because he’d been tied to a tree. The second was of a young boy, kneeling with his hands over his mouth and nose, the third was of a very young child who looked as though she’d been sleeping.

It was the boy who got me. I could see him in my mind, in his last moments as the ash fell, inching over his feet. His hands clasped over his nose, trying not to breathe in the powdery stuff. His cast moved me the most.

Back on the bus, back to the harbor. Found a pizza place and had Napolese pizza Margarita. It was wonderful.

And then on board and up to the room. I had an egg on the side of my foot that was quite large. Steven got me some ice and I iced it for 20 minutes. But having the shoe off allowed the swelling to increase and Steven got worried so he made me go down to sickbay. For good measure, the ship’s doctor made me get X-rays.

Yep. Issa broke. Not the ankle, but the lower part of the femur. In two places, no less.

They put my foot in a cast up to my knee. A partial cast, not hard in the front in case there is swelling.

This has put our whole trip into jeopardy. We’re going to do a conference call with Dr. Mark back in Geneva to see if I can go with this type of cast for the remainder of the vacation. I’m wheelchair bound in any case. We will see what we will see.

Play safe...and walk carefully!

Day 5 - Palermo, Sicily

Disembarked around 10:30 this morning and caught a trolley that purported to go around the city of Palermo and show an overview of the sites. About forty-five mintues long, it would drop  us back where we started. They provided a map with numbers and a key showing what each major point was.

Nearly every building on the side streets
has balconies!
Unfortunately, the driver apparently didn’t have the map. After the second spot on the map, he went his own way. The voice-over that played was in four languages, English being the last. But the speaker’s heavy Italian accent made it difficult to understand. A British man in the back complained (loudly) that there WAS no English explanation. I was so glad he was British and not American!

I gave up trying to follow along and just watched the city go by. It IS beautiful, in a very different way. Quite metropolitan, the traffic is almost as bad as Rome, but the mixture of old and new is more integrated. Towards the end of WWII, the Allies bombed the heck out of the port area and some buildings, seventy years later, are still not repaired. Nor are they monuments or museums to the past. They’re just there, the street-level floor still in use (mostly storefronts), but the top of the building in bombed-out ruins.

In fact, it came as a bit of surprise to me to realize that Italians did not fight on our side during that war. They were one of the Axis powers and under Fascist rule. I’m so used to thinking of Italy as a part of Steven’s heritage, it was a bit of a shock to see those bombed buildings and know we did that to them.

Steven’s great-grandparents walked these streets. This is a city of balconies and we saw a little girl on one of them, all by herself, stooping down with her arm through the spaces, waiting for a woman underneath to pass. When she did, the little girl opened her hand and a flower petal floated down. Steven and I both chuckled. Some things are universal.

I have to record the eerie/normal event. Eerie because it borders the supernatural, normal because – well, stuff like this has happened before. Often.

Before we left home, Steven went through a few of his old wallets, deciding on a thin canvas one that would easily slide into his moneybelt. He checked the slots and found them empty, so he filled them with his credit cards and put some paper money in the fold.

He uses this wallet in Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Rome. We’re in Rome, after having visited the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. Back at the hotel and he’s checking to see how much money he has left (it was an expensive day). He sees a side pocket he hadn’t noticed before and slides a finger in to see if there’s anything there.

There is.

A picture of his mother.

Like I said, supernatural for some, normal for us. Like finding wine in Alaska with Michele’s name on the label. Like all the pennies his mom used to find on his father’s gravestone. I have no doubt, Nina Ingandello Duprey is visiting Palermo, home of her grandparents, right along with us.

My zucchini something
Right now, I’m sitting in a sidewalk café, having just finished something I’ve never had before. At home I’d call it a pizza with zucchini on it, but here it had a different name that started with an “f”. But he said it fast and I didn’t catch the whole word. A pizza dough bottom with butter on top and thinly-sliced zucchini. Steven had the regular pizza, which had a very thick dough. Both are served in rectangles and cut into small pieces you eat with a fork.

Steven, having finished his meal, is now across the via, painting in the piazza. I took some pictures from here. The trees have beautiful purple blossoms on them but we’re not sure what they are. Steven thinks they might be Jacaranda trees, but we’ll have to see. Me? I’m still in the café, listening to the Italian being spoken around me and just watching all the people go by. It’s a Sunday, but there are tourists all over the place as well as natives. There is a large population of Indians here as well. They’re the ones selling all the selfie sticks and other junk.

The cafe where I sit while Steven
So far, no one has asked me to leave, although my lunch is obviously done and my Coke-a-Cola can is empty. I seem to remember something I read that said you are encouraged to linger…to not rush from the restaurant. I hope that’s true. I can’t see Steven from where I am, although I’m pretty sure I could find him if needed. How many painters would there be in a two-block piazza? Before we head back to the ship, I’ll take a picture of the two points of interest in this area.

Another point to note: There are police EVERYWHERE. Both Rome and Palermo have a heavy police/army presence. We’ve seen several military buildings and the Carabinieri are parked not fifty feet from me. And they carry machine guns. These are not guys to cross.

You know, now that I think on it. I’m in an Italian city all by myself. It’s very cool to sit here, typing away, not understanding but one word in a hundred spoken around me and know I can survive.

There is a typical Italian scene happening now. A car wants a spot right beside me, but another car is there already, blinkers on to show the driver won’t be long. The car that wants the spot is continually beeping its horn to get the person to hurry up. Turns out there is a driveway right next to the garage. Vendors were in front of it, so I didn’t notice until the car pulled up onto the sidewalk. I’d seen the two vendors move their stuff but didn’t realize the gate behind them led to a private parking area behind the buildings.

The park where Steven is painting; the
view from the cafe
I’ve decided I never want to drive in Italy. They’re nuts! Steven says there are no rules; there are, they’re just not adhered to quite as rigidly as they are in the States. If I DID drive, I’d want a Segway (we’ve seen several). It would be the most sane way to get around. I might learn to drive a Vespa – they’re pretty cool, too. But they dart in and out of traffic and I’d probably zig when I should zag and that would be the end of the Vespa (or me!).

Hmmm….all the two-person Vespas I’ve seen have the man in front and the woman behind. Although a lot of women solo on them as well.

A note about the dogs: There are several and not always on leashes. And yet, my dog-dar has gone off only once. So far they’re all well-behaved and don’t approach. Or if they do, it’s more out of friendly curiosity.

LOL Okay, so I’m sitting alone at this table and the place is getting busy. No one, however, has asked me to leave, although if I find a waiter again, I’ll get another Coke. Two very Italian women asked if they could share my table and we had a good conversation, sort of. They speak very little English and I have very little Italian. But we made friends and they now think I’m from New York City (EVERYONE thinks we’re from the city when we say we’re from New York). It’s okay. They think they met a cosmopolitan and I’m okay with that. Started a new story based on that incident. We’ll see if it goes anywhere.

Later, back on the ship.

Got back to the ship around 2:00 in the afternoon. Took pictures of the big cliff outside our veranda again – interesting lighting change from morning to afternoon.

Steven had quite the audience as he painted in the park. A few boys watched him from beginning to end and wanted him to paint in some cabo (horses). He drew a crowd, a few of whom asked him if he planned to sell it. He’s not happy with the painting, said he felt rushed. It’s pretty flat in perspective and I suspect he’ll do another version when we get home and he can take his time.

On our way back down the street (literally down – Palermo is not flat at all) to the dock we stopped because Steven wanted a gelato. I was still full from lunch and didn’t want anything until I saw the cannoli. Yum. I could only eat half, though, so it was a good thing I had my husband with me to finish it off. J

Play safe and happy travels!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day Four - Citaveccia and the Emerald Princess

The top of the building is covered in solar cells
We are now onboard the Emerald Princess. Steven’s out exploring the ship and I have my feet up on the balcony while typing this. We currently overlook the dock and I can see the hills of Italy in the distance – behind the gas and oil tanks that fuel Italy. There is a large, two story warehouse beside the dock and the roof is covered entirely with solar cells. Much nicer to look at than the huge oil tanks.

I have to say, we handled the jet lag really, really well. All the advice I’d read said to stay up until a normal bedtime the first day and the lag wouldn’t be bad. Good advice. I didn’t turn out the light last night until 10:00 pm (Rome time) – which meant I’d been up for about 48 hours with only the cat naps on the plane for rest. Steven fell asleep a little earlier, but we both slept well and were up by 7:30 this morning feeling normal and adjusted. Yeah, yeah. There’s a first time for everything. Felt odd to look at my computer clock (which didn’t update) and see that it was only 3:00 in the morning at home and everyone there was still sound asleep.

Breakfast at the hotel was a little different. Pastries as one would expect, but also cheeses (I had provolone. This is, after all, Italy) and some sliced meats. I didn’t go for the salami but chose the one with white spots. Figured I was being adventurous. Try New Things. That’s my motto for this trip. To that end, I got the juice marked “Anana” instead of the safer orange juice. It was a banana/pinapple blend that was quite good. And the spotted meat? Bologna.

We then left to do a short walking tour since we had two hours before the shuttle came to pick us up. Went around the corner to the Trevi fountain only to discover they are doing renovations on it. No coins in the fountain for us. We do want to come back, however, and have already decided a week will be just enough to see the Vatican. We’ll need a second week to see Rome as we’d like.

Temple ruins - Rome
Since we had the time, we decided to walk to a spot where we could see the Coliseum. The map was our friend this time and we didn’t get lost, even though some of the streets were VERY narrow. Turns out the area from which we thought we could see it was the beginning of the Roman Forum ruins. We glimped the Coliseum in the distance, but a closer visit will have to wait for next time.

We headed back to the hotel, retracing our steps as we went. Good thing we did. Our driver, who wasn’t supposed to pick us up until 11:00, was there at ten. It was now quarter after and the hotel had us leaving at 10:30. So a time snafu, but all worked well (this time!). We’d packed up before we’d left on our walk so all we needed to do was double check the room and bring down the luggage.

Another couple was already on board; they’re from California and took three days in Rome to handle the jet lag. I felt like a pro taking no time at all. Two other stops gathered in a gentleman originally from Scotland who now lives in Australia and a young couple we didn’t get to talk to as the only seats left were at the front of the van with the driver. Who looked like George Clooney’s stand in, by the way. Not much of a personality, but boy, he looked good!

The breakwall between us and the Mediterranean Sea
The trip out to Citavecchia (the port city that supplies Rome) took a little over an hour once everyone was onboard. Check-in went smoothly, although so far my little red bag hasn’t made it to the room. All the other luggage is here. We’ll keep a good thought that it’s on its way.

The ship is MUCH larger than the Statendamm (our Holland America ship for our Alaska trip) but our room is smaller. About the size of our hotel room in Rome, with the addition of a balcony (that is also smaller than the one on the Statendamm). Still, here I sit, my feet up and looking out at the hills in the distance. Not one complaint from me!

We ate a buffet-lunch – all dinners are included but drinks are not. Not even soft drinks. Same as last time. That’s fine. I mostly drink water nowadays anyway.

Oh! Speaking of water…on our way to the Vatican yesterday, we passed a spigot/fountain right in the middle of a small plaza. Amy Plowe told us Rome’s water is safe to drink, so we filled up our empty water bottle and drank Rome water the rest of the night. So far, so good! J

I can’t post this from the ship. You’d think, with the amount of money we’re paying to BE on this ship that the wifi would be free and automatic. It ain’t and I ain’t paying. They need to get with the times! Will post when we land in Palermo tomorrow. I’m sure I can find wifi on land.

There is a big, digital outdoor screen on the Lido deck (our deck) and the show movies at night. Tonight was the Imitation Game – Steven has seen it, but I haven’t. We went to the 10:00 showing. Excellent film!

Tomorrow – Palermo, Sicily! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Day Three - Roma!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the hotel room before heading out into the city. We had 3:00 pm tickets for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and it was nearly 2:00 by the time we got our clothes changed. The Vatican has strict dress codes and we planned for this.

The walk from our hotel was 2.8 km, according to Google. Should take us about 45 minutes, we figured. Got directions from the hotel clerk, walked out of the hotel and were lost within two blocks. Apparently the streets (vias) change names every other block, so the street you were just on isn’t called by that a block later, but your map doesn’t necessarily tell you of the name change.

Add to that the fact that the Romans don’t know what a right angle is. Not one single via in the old part of the city comes into another at a right angle. Obtuse, acute…yeah, they’ve got those covered! But right? Nah…why go 90 degrees when you could go 100?

The cobbles close up; the white
line separates the pedestrians from
the traffic. Yeah, right.
And then there are the slate cobbles that make up the street paving. Steven thinks they’re really old, I think they’re not. Just blocks of unmortared stone (I *think* it’s slate, but  they’re pretty thick) that are about 6 inches square and are worn down and uneven. And slippery. As in your shoes slide right off them like you’re skating down the street, pushing off from every step.

Suffice it to say, dress black flats are NOT the shoes to walk through Rome in. I purposely didn’t wear my comfortable sneakers because of the Vatican’s dress protocols. Had the roads been concrete, I think I would’ve been okay, but that slate…did I mention it was slippery? No blisters, but very, very sore feet. Steven’s pedometer says he walked 10 miles today. I’m good with that. It certainly felt like ten miles.

The Vatican Museum is filled with lots of cool stuff. Statues I’ve only seen pictures of staring down at you from their lofty heights, Roman mosaic floors that are thousands of years old – and we’re walking on them! Frescos by Raphael, tapestries from the 1600’s – wood carvings on the doors that are stunning.

But all this, of course, is just stuff you “get through” to “get to” the piece de resistance: the Sistine Chapel. While Michelangelo wasn’t the only one to paint frescos on the walls, his are the most famous. And the Vatican Museum curators aren’t stupid: you have to go through everything else first before you can get to what everyone wants to see. Because it was so late in the afternoon, we rushed and didn't even stop to take any pictures.

The Sistine Chapel is a holy space and security personnel are adamant: NO CAMERAS. Period. No flash, no still cameras, no movie cameras, regardless of size. Silence or quiet whispering is allowed, nothing full voice.

Once you are in, you are expected to just be. To rest in the Holy Spirit, as it were. We had audio guides and only used them to listen to the pieces o the Chapel. When done, since my feet hurt, I went over to the side and waited for space to open up on the bench that runs the circumference of the room. These are the same benches the Cardinals sit on when voting for a new pope! I don’t think my girl-cooties contaminated the bench, though.

Once seated, however, the room takes on a different feel. I sat back and just…looked. The colors, the themes…it’s a very peaceful place. You wouldn’t think it, to look at The Last Judgment on the entire back wall, but it is peaceful. Everyone gets what’s owed him or her, yes, but ultimately, the ceiling and the wall tell the story of man’s redemption. Of being saved by the coming of the Messiah.

We spent over half an hour there. I didn’t expect to be moved by it…after all, we’ve all seen the pictures. Over and over again. How many jokes have come out of Adam’s lazy finger just barely touching God’s?

And yet, to stand there, looking up at the original in the original setting…it all makes sense. It’s beautiful. The colors, the shadings, all the techniques amaze me, who has no talent with painting let alone fresco work. But it’s more than the technique and it’s more than the subject matter. It’s also the history, the stories of Michelangelo’s troubles in painting it that have been handed down, embellished and handed down again. It’s all the history of the Catholic church – both good and bad – rolled into one room.

And I stood it in today and yes, I cried, touched by the enormity of all it represented.

Play safe,