21 August 2010

Book of Travels

We finally finished our photo book!!!  It's only taken us 2 months to get it done.  WOW!  Two weeks worth of sightseeing and photo-taking sure does take a long time to organize!!!

If you dare...take a peak at what will be coming in the mail in about 2 weeks:

Click here to view this photo book larger

12 August 2010

Get two beers and Jump!

If you watch Jimmy Fallon's late night show, you'd know what I was referring to in the title of this post.

Yes, that is what I've occupied my time with this summer...tv shows (a lot of them!).

On Tuesday night, he sang a song about the Jet Blue man...you know the famous STEVE SLATER they are all talking about.  If you don't watch the news...and don't pay attention to Hollywood gossip much, you may have to Google this one.

Basically, this guy has become a hero, overnight.  A hero for...what?  He was a flight attendant (did he get fired YET?), who got angry, yelled a few obscene things over the PA system, grabbed 2 beers, and exited out the emergency exit of the plane...after 28 years of working for the plane company.

My view of the situation...HILARIOUS!  Have you seen this Steve guy anyway?  U.G.L.Y.  I mean, I'm sure he'll get a free makeover out of this, and he'll have a reality show before you know it.  This guy is set for life...no more jobs for him.  He'll retire in riches, and I'll still be punching the clock, so to speak.

Anyway, back to Jimmy Fallon.  He sang a song called "Grab two beers and jump"...this was the 2nd song, that I could find on You Tube.  He did a different one on Tuesday, but can't find it anywhere.  See for yourself...it will crack you up!

Personally, my two favorite lines are:

"When people with ugly feet wear flip flops you gotta get two beers & jump"

& the best of all...

"When somebody tells you what happened on Jersey Shore you gotta get two beers & jump"

What is your favorite "annoyance"
...you can use one of Jimmy's line, or just make up your own!

EUROPE - Part 5


We sailed from Greece to Italy on a ferry.  Now, I know what you're thinking....a ferry?  Yes.  And it was more like a cruise liner, if you ask me.  The boat was HUGE, the room was nice (except for the itty bitty shower curtain w/ only 2 hooks), the air was cool on the top deck, the food was good (for cafeteria food, anyway...well, except for the price).  What more could you ask for?

Well, what is a "field trip" with a group of 45 without a little bit of misfortune?  Well...the next morning, we got a very strange wake up call!  At 8:30 am, I was woken by the captain making the announcement to "Abandon Ship".  Now, this was heard in THREE languages (Greek, Italian, & English). It was VERY loud. And, it was repeated three times that EVERY passenger needed to cooperate.  I ask Steven what we were supposed to do, and we had no clue!  We meet up w/ some other ladies from the trip, decide we should probably go to the top deck to jump overboard if necessary (isn't that what you'd think it meant to abandon ship???), and we met a man working on the ferry at the staircase.  We ask him where we were supposed to go for the emergency drill, and he said "you can go anywhere you want".  That was NOT helpful. at. all.  Needless to say, we went to the top deck only to see we were the only ones w/ crazy bed-hair, and our pjs on.  Everyone else was eating breakfast, reading books, and swimming in the pool as if nothing had happened.  The funniest part of it all came at breakfast, when we learned that 10 of our group had to stand in a corner with life jackets on for 30 minutes. They, too, were the ONLY ones mandated to do so.  People passed by left and right...and they tried to remove their jackets, and were yelled at quickly.  At least I didn't have to do that!!!  ha!

Pics from the ferry:

This is a view from the top deck:
This is a pic of the one meal we ate, before getting off in Italy.  It was pasta....so good!  You can see that Steven & I got the same dish. All together, for 2 pastas, 2 rolls, & 2 waters....it was $35.  Not so cheap.
This is a picture of one of the areas in the middle deck.  There were 3-4 of them. There was a snack bar at one end, tables in the middle, and in this particular room, there was also a mini stage where bands performed the night before.
AND...dun dun dun dun...

This is what we see as soon as we step off the ferry-
Welcome to ITALY!  It was definitely different from Greek architecture! 
I have to say, Italy was my favorite country we visited this summer.  The atmosphere seemed perfect. The people were very polite.  I no longer felt completely lost when it came to understanding the language.  Spanish & Italian are VERY similar, so it was easy to understand them & talk to them (even though occasionally we'd be conversing in two languages, really), and they understood English very well, too.

We stayed in a small town outside of Florence. It was a very nice hotel, and the food was excellent! The night life in this small resort town was nice.  We ventured out, and saw all sorts of people walking about, and dining on the patios. There were lots of expensive shops, so we could tell that this was "the place to be" in the summer time.

Here are a few pics of the little town we stayed in:

This was a cute little sign, to point the way to Florence (Firenze, in Italian):
I told you, we went out at night, so here are a few night shots (even got one of Steven in the rain):
And...the next morning, when the rain had stopped, this is the view from our hotel balcony:

So...the first day in Italy (on a Sunday), we went to Pisa.  Yes, we went to see the leaning tower! But there was SO MUCH more to see.  There is an entire plaza, and the tower is only part of the beauty of this place.  There is a baptistery (the largest in the world), a cemetery, and a huge cathedral. Of course, we got to visit all of these sites.  Normally, the cemetery is closed to visitors.  BUT, we visited on a Sunday, and couldn't really walk around the cathedral...we could only peek in the back of the church. So, they allowed us to go into the cemetery that day.

And just to warn you...pictures will never be able to do this place justice.  It is simply amazing!

This is the view of the square when we first arrived.  The sun was shining bright. You can see a bit of the baptistery (to the left of the photo), the cathedral in the middle (can't miss it), and the tower to the right, tucked in behind the church)

Okay, so I forgot to flip this pic (oops), but this is how it looked as we exited.  This is a beautiful pic...just turn your head sideways a bit to experience it (sorry, again!).
Here's the cemetery. There are coffins (real ones) to the right, and they were on the left as well.  The entire cemetery is a rectangle w/ a garden in the middle. And...did you notice the floor? Yes, people are buried underneath the walkway!  gross...we walked on dead people!  And on the walls are murals that are slowly being restored.
This is the baptistery. Like I said earlier, this is the largest in the world. We went inside and they have people come every hour to demonstrate the acoustics. It was amazing...they sang simple chords, and we stood in awe just listening.  You can see the cemetery in the background, and the church sits across the courtyard (to the right, in the pic).  This is a pic of what it looks like inside the baptistery, from the top. Towards the top, you can see the chair and pulpit (to the left) where the preacher stands, and where they make a sermon before/after the baptism.  The round structure toward the bottom is where you are baptized.  They still baptize today in here.  In the middle of the baptism font stands John the Baptist.
This is me, doing the silly pose that everyone does...holding up the tower. ENJOY!  Yes...it is heavy!  ha!
This is a shot of the tower, as we walked past it.  So beautiful. Sorry...it's turned the wrong way, again.  Yes, you can go inside it and climb to the top, for $20/person.  But, they only allow 30 people up, every 30 minutes.  That means you have to make it to the top and back down again in half an hour...and if you think about it, that is over 1,000 stairs to climb in 30 min.  NO...we did not decide to go in the tower.  Whew!
These were some of the vendors waiting to make a sell, outside of the square.
This is a pic of the vendor where we ate our lunch.  I ate a hot dog smothered in ketchup and mayo...GROSS!  Steven ate a chicken sandwich. The variety of beverages was amazing!
And last, but not least...us, about ready to leave one of the most fascinating places in Italy. Here, it was overcast for a bit. It sprinkled while we were there, but all in all...it was perfect for touring this plaza!!!
Up next....Florence

10 August 2010

EUROPE - Part 4

The FINAL Days


The Saronic Cruise was the last day we spent in Athens.  From there, we headed to Delphi to see the ancient ruins of Apollo & other Greek Gods & Goddesses.  On the way to Delphi, we passed through a the small town of Arachova...which only has one narrow street that runs through the middle of it.  It is the only way to get to Delphi, which is stuck in the middle of nowhere, really.  Our bus driver, Kris, was amazing at navigating through these small roads.  We only had one mishap, when he hit the awning of a local restaurant (oops!).  Take it from me...it was VERY scary when we came around the bend only to barely miss the side mirrors of an oncoming tour bus!  Yikes!  I'm so glad we made it through it safely!  See for yourself in these pics, taken from my seat in the tour bus:
Seeeeeee...I told you it was scary!!!!!

Anyway, we got to Delphi around 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon.  Again, it was over 100 degrees outside, and we weren't eating lunch until afterwards (can you imagine???).  So again, we were let loose to peruse through these ancient ruins by ourselves, and afterwards we'd meet our tour guide who would tell us about what we saw.  I have to admit...I made it only halfway up the mountain.  I had a migraine and was suffering from the extreme heat, so I decided to wait in the shade and I watched Steven climb to the top, to see the Olympic Stadium, until he disappeared for about 15 minutes.  He got a short video where he said if he ever went back, he was never climbing to the top again!  But just seeing the video makes you have goosebumps.  It is huge.  Such history lies in a place like this.  And to think places like this are still being discovered today.  To be able to walk among these ruins, and feel the spirit of the Greek Mythology was something I'll never forget.  It was so calm and serene.

Pic #1: This is the treasury of the Arthenians.  Interesting.
Pic #2: This is what is left of Apollo's temple.  I wish I could've seen it back in the old days!  It would've been so cool!
Pic #3: This is the view of Delphi, as we started hiking up the mountain.  Man...it was scorching outside, but the experience of climbing up these winding paths was amazing.  The history that you are witnessing, and the "spirit of Delphi" was indescribable.
Pic #4-5: This is the view of Delphi from above. How in the world the Athenians managed to build such a city o the sides of these steep mountains is beyond me.  However, I do know how they were so athletic...from walking up and down these stairs so much!!  ha ha ha
Pic #6-7: Steven & I, in front of the arena.  I only went up a little higher than this...then I went back down to the shade.  This arena was HUGE.
After exploring the ruins of Delphi, we went to an air-conditioned museum where they showcase various things they have found, things that belonged to the Athenians.  I'm sure Steven enjoyed every minute of his perusing through the museum. As for me, I laid flat on a bench with sweat and tears running down my cheek.  Little did I know, but my migraine would last for the next 2 hours.  It. was. TERRIBLE.

After Delphi, we headed to Meteora, which was one of my favorite places we ventured to.  I think it is because of the land formations.  I have NEVER seen such miraculous architecture in my life!  I mean, the buildings are such unique pieces of artwork, yes.  But to think that God made the land so perfect...it's almost like these monasteries were meant to be built here.  Now, we saw a LOT of catholic churches, but these monasteries fascinated me like I never imagined.  See for yourself:
(side note:  See the ropes coming through the windows of the above pic?  That's how they used to get food and water into the buildings, before there were roads built.  Interesting.)

Anyway, we actually visited 2 of the 5 monasteries which are still standing today. Originally, there were over 25 of these built, but over the years (from severe weather and deterioration) only 5 of them are still standing and are fully operational.  Visitors are allowed in, and it was really interesting to see their way of life, and to learn about the Greek Orthodox Church. One we visited was more monks, and the other for nuns. It wasn't until about 25 years ago that women were even allowed inside these monasteries.  And yes, all women (even the visitors had to wear skirts inside).  Here's proof: 

Pic #1: standing outside the 1st monastery, in my beautiful skirt. It was hot...at least men could wear knee-length shorts.
Pic #2: standing atop the same monastery. The view from here was stunning. 
 Pic #3: In the middle of each monastery, there is always an open courtyard. It was so nice and breezy here. Such a nice area.
All in all, it was a GREAT last 2 days in Greece, in Delphi & Meteora!

And, that about sums it up for Greece.  After the monasteries, we got on a ferry boat and traveled to Italy.  Oh yeah...there's a story there!
Because there was construction going on, on the road to Meteora, we had to take a 3 hour detour.  That put us behind. Then, we went to a store where they made their golden idols...the store was on fire. So, we took another detour. We get a call saying our ferry is leaving an hour earlier. We missed dinner, and had to have food delivered to us in a trash bag. When we got to the port to board the ferry, our border patrol boarded our bus and asked a bazillion questions, and some of us didn't have our story straight...can you imagine going through all of this (plus not even remembering what day we even arrived in Greece b/c of our flights being canceled and changed???).  Anyway, we made it...barely!  The ferry boat was quite an experience in itself...we'll save it for next time. :)

Stay tuned for Part 5....
¡Viva Italia!

08 August 2010

EUROPE - Part 3

The Saronic Gulf Cruise

The second day in Greece was a Cruise.  Thank goodness for that!  After the heat exhaustion we experienced from the day before, the hike up to the Parthenon, we needed to rest! So, we hopped on a cruise ship and headed out to see 3 of the Greek Isles:  Poros, Hydra, and Aegina.

1st Island: POROS
It took us about 1 1/2 hours to reach the first island of Poros.  During this time, we snacked, relaxes, rested, and watched a few dolphins jumping out of the water alongside our boat.  The island of Poros was really nice.  We had about 30 minutes there.  The small allies were neat, and the shops were very detailed.  Of course, you know something had to happen to one of MY students in this short time frame, right?  Yes, her and her mother got left behind.  They both saw the boat pulling away, and just stood there on the island.  Well, it was a simple $200 to take a water taxi for them to meet us on the next stop.  I guess they should've flagged us down, or looked at the watch a little sooner, eh?

Pic#1: This is what our cruise ship looked like.  See the Greek flag flying at the top?   
Pic #2: This is the island of Poros, as we were approaching it.  The water is so clear and beautiful!

Pic #3-4: These are a few snapshots of the allies & shops on the island of Poros.  So cute, yet so close together!

Pic#5: Of course, Steven would document the moment we were sailing away, when we notice we are missing two members of our crew:  (the daughter is the one in yellow shorts, and the mother in a pink top to our right...they had just stood in line to purchase some snacks at a small shop at the top of the stairs to the right of them...I hope it was worth it!)

2nd Island: Hydra
This was by far my favorite of the three islands!  We spent over and hour here, and the shopping was simply wonderful!  I bought Greek jewelry (necklance & bracelet) with a traditional design on it (the one that represents eternity, that keeps repeating itself) adorned with turquoise.  Together, Steven & I a beautiful globe - the water is onyx stone and each country is cut from a semi-precious stone like mother-of-pearl or lapis lazuli.

Pic #1: The island of Hydra, as we were approaching
Pic#2: I just can't get enough of the Greek houses...they are so...GREEK!  This pic was taken right before we got off the cruise
Pic #3: A few of the first shops we ran into on the island. If you look at the one that is on the left, that is the store where we bought our treasures.
Pic#4: No cars are allowed to drive on this island. So...what do they do for transportation?  Well...they either walk or go by donkey, of course!
Pic#5: Steven & I, just enjoying the Greek atmosphere.  Ahhhh...vacation is wonderful, isn't it?

3rd Island: Aegina
This island was for relaxation mainly.  We could swim in the Greek waters.  We stayed here for 2 1/2 hours.  We rented a small umbrella on the beach, ordered a few drinks (non-alcoholic, of course...it's a school trip!), and I sat on the beach watching Steven & some of my students swim.  Why didn't I swim?  I had a headache, and we were going to a Greek show that evening, and I we didn't have time to change...so I didn't want to get dirty.  :)

This island is also known for their pistachios.  You could buy them by the kilo, or in prepared bags.  We ended up buying a kilo (which was definitely NOT enough), and some Steven bought some interesting jars of pistachio makings--one is a cream, and the other is a honey mixture.  Don't ask me what you do with them...but they are currently still on the kitchen counter.  The pistachios...are mostly gone. I am trying to make them last as long as possible...but it is tempting seeing them open everyday on the counter top.

Pic#1: Steven swimming in the clear blue waters of Aegina.

Pic#2: The shops we passed on our way back to the cruise.  These were mainly pistachio vendors.

06 August 2010

EUROPE - Part 2

Our visit to the Parthenon

Okay, so I know it's been a while, but if you go back and read about our HORRIBLE flight situation from earlier, you'll remember that it took us 3 days to get to Athens, Greece.  My group was a group of 12.  I had already sent a group of 5 early that day, so I had prayed that they made it safely.

Now, Steven is MUCH better at words than I am.  So....in his own words (from his own diary...yes, that's right.  He was the official photographer & journalist for the trip.  What else do you expect?...I had to try and manage the whereabouts of a group of 45, with the majority of them being hormonal teenagers!!):

"Sometime in the early a.m., Tuesday June 15 - Greece. A very appropriate label right now. It not only describes the country we have just entered, but also the relative condition of our personal cleanliness. We are/feel/look/smell so gross right now, not even the livestock-bathing stall that is our hotel room shower can dissuade us from washing. The room is small and Spartan but the air conditioning works and the water runs, and we are content."

That's right.  We took NO PICTURES of this day.  We were smelly and just plain 'ol gross.  We arrived sometime around 2 a.m., and got up at 9 a.m. to see the Acropolis.  Well, let me just tell you that communication was NOT the best attribute of our tour director, Holda!  So...there my group is (all 12 of us), ready to leave by 10:30 a.m. (as directed to before heading off to bed the night before).  At 11:30 a.m., another member of our group (who got re-routed through London, and had landed at 5:30 a.m.) came down to get breakfast and informed us that we were now meeting at 12:30 in the afternoon.  Needless to say, we went back to bed for another hour.  Yes, this was only the beginning of a SUPER STRESSFUL DAY!

Again, in Steven's words:

"10:32 a.m., Tuesday June 15 - The Acropolis. The Parthenon. A symbolic cornerstone of civilization, and we have to hike there? In the hot Greek afternoon sun?" (I know he wrote 10:32, but we hiked to see the Parthenon at 2:00 in the afternoon, when it was well over 100 degrees outside.  You can't even BEGIN to imagine the number of headaches, achy stomachs, and complaining that was going on...not to mention that we had skipped lunch that day--don't forget, my group had eaten at 9 that morning, and hadn't eaten since).

"The darkness of flying in at night kept us from enjoying what surely would have been spectacular views of the ocean, Athens and mountains. Whereas Frankfurt was delightfully unfamiliar, Athens feels utterly alien. The language both spoken & written, is indecipherable. Yet our joy to be here, all together, and at last, is tangible.

That, my friends...was our first day in Greece.  EXTREMELY hot. EXTREMELY long. And EXTREMELY frustrating. Although the view, and the experience of walking around the Parthenon was breathtaking.

Pic 1: the view of the Parthenon from the bottom.  Yes, it was REALLY HOT.  We were all thinking "are you kidding me?  We have to walk up that thing now"  And all the kids were thinking, "do they have an elevator?"

Pic 2: As you can see, the only way up/down is to walk.  It is quite the hike, especially in the heat of the afternoon...but luckily our tour guide took us up bit by bit, and we got to sit and listen to her tell us about history in partial shade (which you can see....there is little to no shade).

Pic 3: We are so glad to have made it to the top!  :)

Pic 4: The view of Athens, from the Parthenon.

Pic 5: The Parthenon, in all it's majestic glory.  Amazing.
(you can see them doing small repairs to it on the left. They are trying to keep it in good condition.  The tour guide said they are ALWAYS restoring bits & pieces of it. You can see some of the columns have white patches in them...that is the part that is restored.  But by the time the crane finishes and makes a full circle...it is time to start all over again! ha!)