Saturday, October 22, 2011


Our latest travel adventure has been fun so far. On Oct. 12 our friend Flo Palumbo drove us to the San Diego airport. We were there way too early, considering it was merely a “puddle jumper” flight to LAX, but they had told us to be there 3 hours early because our flights were international. At LAX we had no problems getting our British Air flight to Heathrow, which arrived at 10AM on the 13th. Then we had a short wait before the flight to Rome. Arriving at about 4PM, it took a while to get our one checked bag and get to the train. Had to take one train to Trastavere Station, which took about 30 minutes, and then catch a different train to Civitavecchia, which took 1 ¼ hours. So it was dark by the time we arrived. It was also a fairly warm evening. On the train we met Nobi and Brooke, a couple from San Francisco who were taking our cruise and also staying at the Villa Susanna with us. We all walked to the hotel, which was about 5 blocks away. It was a very clean, no-frills place where we were warmly welcomed by Luigi, given a map, and suggestions for dinner places. We four had a very welcome red wine and pizza at a local restaurant and got better acquainted. The shellfish spaghetti others were eating smelled and looked wonderful, but when we tried to order it, they were out, darn it. Maybe we can get some on our next day there – the 26th.
Villa Susanna was a nice quiet place, with everything we needed and at a good price, considering this is Europe. The next morning we had cold pizza for breakfast and hauled our luggage into the main part of town where we caught the free shuttle bus to the ship. It was like coming home to board the Mariner of the Seas, since this is the ship we took Around the Horn in 2009, a 46 day cruise, and in January of this year we took all our kids onboard for the last Mexican Riviera cruise the Mariner did before moving back to Florida. We had a happy reunion with David and Diane Wilson in the Windjammer buffet over lunch, and fell right back into the usual routine of having Happy Hour drinks in the Diamond Plus lounge. As usual, we have been seeing people we have met on other cruises.
Our first port day was in Naples, where Elaine and I have been before. That time we walked through the city to the train station and went to the ruins at Pompeii, the city which was covered during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. This time we walked to the hydrofoil station and took a fast boat to the Isle of Capri. Thank goodness we weren't taking a regular boat because it was very windy and there were fairly high waves with whitecaps. Upon arriving on the island, we took the funicular to the town above the port area. There were tremendous views and the small town is full of boutique hotels and expensive stores. It was quite a charming place, and we enjoyed walking to the Gardens of Augustus. On the way we passed a place where there were old stills outside as part of the landscaping in front of a perfume factory and store. It is an industry that has been in effect here since the 1300's. The clifftop views from the gardens were incredible, as Capri has quite steep slopes. There is also a natural arch in a sea stack off another part of the coast, so we walked through another part of the town to see it. The fun of doing all these walks is to see the flowers, houses, streets, stores, restaurants, etc. on the way and see how the people here have lived for hundreds of years.
After 2 sea days, we arrived at Ashdod, Israel, which is the port nearest to Jerusalem. We had booked a tour through Guided Tours Israel so that we could explore in a smaller group than if we had done a shore excursion offered by Royal Caribbean. Our group had 16 and we were hauled around in a comfy Mercedes van by a very competent driver and an enthusiastic guide named Isaac. There was some trepidation about what might happen this day, because it was a holy day, and also the day when the big prisoner exchange was going to take place. Israel wanted one of their soldiers back, he had been kidnapped 5 years ago by the Palestinians, so in exchange, they released more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them terrorists. However, as we drove to Jerusalem, it became obvious that the holiday was working in our favor because traffic was lighter than usual. The streets are very narrow, hilly and winding and our driver was an expert at getting us to the sights.
Our first stop was at the Mount of Olives, where there are thousands of graves because the Jews believe that at the second coming, anyone buried there gets raised from the dead. A grave there today costs about a million dollars. Suddenly there was lots of gunfire, which our guide said signaled the successful prisoner exchange and everyone's joy that the Israeli soldier had been returned alive. We went to the very beautiful church towards the bottom of the hill with an ancient olive grove. Then we walked through the Zion Gate through the old city walls and into the heart of Jerusalem. Here we spent hours exploring the Jewish and Christian quarters, Church of Holy Sepulcher, the Via Dolorosa (the walk that Jesus did with the cross, so the stations of the cross are marked), tried a Jerusalem bagel, walked across some roofs for a good view back at the Dome of the Rock and Mount of Olives, and shuffled our way through the Shuk, or marketplace, full of small stalls and very much like the convoluted streets and bazaars called souks in Morocco, Turkey, and Syria. Then we went to the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, which was VERY crowded, due to the holy day. Our guide gave each of us a small piece of paper, told us to write a wish on it, and then we were supposed to roll it up and put it into a crack in the wall. The papers are eventually collected and buried in a holy place. There is a men's section of the wall and a women's section. The wall is supposed to be holy because it was part of the original temple.
After a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, we dropped off our guide and crossed into the Palestinian Territory to see Bethlehem and the church of the Nativity. Israeli citizens are not allowed in Palestine, so we had a different guide there. At the end of that, we were taken to a big shop which sold nice jewelry, and lots of religious items. Shopping is required for all tours in Palestine because their economy is so depressed. We didn't buy anything.
The next day we were in Haifa, which is in the north. It is a hilly city, like San Francisco. The world center for the Baha'i faith is there and the gardens and buildings which stretch all the way up to the highest street are the most incredible we have ever seen. The gentle Baha'i faith believes in the unity of all the major faiths, tolerance, peace and justice. The sounds like a great philosophy to us! From there we headed out of the city to see Nazareth and the Annunciation Church (largest in the Middle East), Capernaum, Tabgha, Sea of Galilee, a kibbutz, a baptismal site at the Jordan River, and the Mount of the Beatitudes. Going on this tour was the best way to see the countryside which is much greener than near Jerusalem, and where most agricultural pursuits are taking place. The Sea of Galilee was a lot bigger than we expected and towering over the eastern slope were the Golan Heights. We now have a better understanding of the topography and some of the difficulties the Israelis have been facing since 1948.
Yesterday we were in Rhodes, which is one of the most interesting walled cities we have ever been in. It is a Greek island, but only a few miles from Turkey. In its long history, it has been held by a wide variety of countries, (Italy, Turkey, Germany, Greece), and also the Knights of the Order of St. John, which have all contributed to its charm. So there is quite a variety of ruins, churches, mosques, minarets, etc. here, and wonderfully convoluted streets within the old city walls. Of course, shops, stalls, boutiques and restaurants have all taken over the best spots along the main walkways. There is a nice promenade along the waterfront, and we had a beautiful day to explore on our own, with David & Diane. We tried to follow a walking tour I had downloaded, but it was impossible so we just wandered around and got lost and it was delightful.
Today we were in Kusadasi, Turkey, which is about 10 miles from the ruins at Ephesus. We all had been there before, so we skipped the tours and wandered around the town on our own. It is mostly about shopping and the streets are clean and pedestrianized with nice shops and restaurants all over. We walked through the old part of the city where the buildings are distinctly dilapidated, the streets are dirtier, and clearly where the local people live. Most of the cities we have been walking around are infested with cats of every age and condition, probably because they can find food and shelter easier than dogs. One of the Turkish carpet sellers got us into his place and gave us a lesson about the different qualities, materials, and prices. David & Diane were interested in getting a carpet for their bedroom, so we looked in a couple of other places too. At the end of our excursion, they went back to the first guy to see if they could bargain for one that had caught their eye there.
Tomorrow we will dock in Piraeus, the port for Athens. There is some question as to whether we will be able to go into the city, because of all the strikes, protests, and outright rioting that have been taking place there, especially in Syntagma Square, one of the tourist areas. We would like to see the changing of the guard at the Parliament Building and also visit the Acropolis and the Plaka, since we have never been to Athens before. We are hoping that it will be calm tomorrow for our excursion.
Elaine has picked up a cold and is taking it easy this afternoon so that she will have some energy for tomorrow.
Internet minutes are costly on the ship and I haven't been taking my netbook off the ship to find WiFi places, so I have not included any pictures with this report. Once we have a chance to add pictures at a later date, I will share them with you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

10/11/11 It is sunny in San Diego as I am writing this in Darran & Marielle's apartment. We took the newlyweds to the airport yesterday morning and they are now in Puerto Rico, enjoying their honeymoon. I'm sure they needed some rest time after all the preparations for their wedding, which was so perfect and beautiful. The ceremony was at 5PM Saturday on the lawn of the Dana Hotel, overlooking Mission Bay. It was sunny and a comfy temperature. I didn't get very good pictures of the ceremony because we had to stay seated in the first row, but I will post a few of the ones we got before and after.
Here is a picture of the newlyweds with her parents, Ann & Bill Gomez, and Elaine and Mary (the Moms):

You can see how beautiful both Marielle and her dress were. Here is a picture of her with her sister, Meg, her matron of honor, holding onto her train:

Marielle's parents put up lots of bucks for this event and many of their family members and friends came from New York, which is where Marielle and Meg were raised. Here is a picture of Ann & Bill walking Marielle down the aisle:

Darran's best friend, Brian Lowe, and his wife Jen, have been such supportive friends for Marielle and Darran while they have lived here in San Diego. Brian has been the main force encouraging and helping Darran start his own construction company, which renovates commercial spaces. Brian was Darran's best man and Brian and Jen hosted a wonderful rehearsal dinner in their backyard on Friday night. It was a tropical BBQ, the food was delicious, and they had entertainers which did dances and music from many of the South Pacific islands. My pictures didn't turn out very good because it was dark, but here is a picture of Brian and Jen at the wedding:

When Darran was in junior high and high school in Roseville, his best friend was Kody Bush and he practically lived at the Bush house when he wasn't in ours. Both Kody and his brother Chase were groomsmen in the wedding and here we are with them:

Terri & Chuck Bush and their youngest son, Jesse, sat at our table at the wedding, which was a real treat for us after all these years of not seeing them:

Maybe you can tell from these pictures that the reception was held in a very beautifully decorated room at the Dana, with wonderful food, great service, and lots of dancing music. The party went on until nearly midnight. We all had ample opportunity to interact with people we hadn't seen for years, and also meet Marielle's family and friends from the East. Darran's Dad, Bob Clemo, hadn't seen his sister and her family for nearly 20 years. Here is a picture of him with his sister, Joyce, who came from Colorado:

For 4 days we were blessed by having all the rest of our kids, their partners, and families with us at the beach house we rented. Here are some pictures of them:
My daughter, Laura, with her fiancee, Dennis, and her girls, Michaela and Paige:

My son, Thomas, lives in San Francisco and drove down with my niece, Kathy, and her daughter Camille. His partner, Robert, couldn't attend due to a recent surgery, so here I am with Thomas:

Kathy is the only daughter of my sister Myrna, who passed away in 2005. Here she is with her daughter, Camille:

Elaine's daughter, Tarra, her husband, Alonzo, and their 3 girls, Ari, Alia, and Analy were such a big help at the condo, and also these girls enjoyed the beach so much, just watching them made us smile the whole time:

I'm sure there are other people I should mention or pictures I should include, but probably I have taken enough time already. Please forgive me if you are reading this and I left you out. Today we are rushing to get laundry done, pack, and do the last minute prep for our flight to Rome tomorrow. Luckily our RV friends, Flo Palumbo and Co Eisele are nearby in their RV and are going to join us for dinner tonight and then drive us to the airport tomorrow. Don't know when we will have a chance to post again, since we will be on a ship for 28 days starting on the 14th.
Watch this space for more travel tales and less family oriented reports....

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

10/4/11 This is our last night at Park Sierra, after a hectic couple of weeks of packing, socializing, and getting ready for our next batch of travels. Tomorrow we leave here, in our car, heading for San Diego. Elaine's son, Darran, will be getting married to the perfect woman for him, Marielle, on Saturday evening. Tomorrow afternoon and evening we will be staying with our long-time friends, Kathy Cleveland and Sally Wurts, at their condo in Poway, near San Diego. Thursday, we will drive to Pacific Beach, an area of San Diego where Darran lives, and where we have rented a large beach house located between Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. After we get the keys and do a bit of shopping to stock it with a bit of food for the hungry family, we will be enjoying the solitude while waiting for the kids and grandkids to arrive. Elaine's daughter, Tarra, her husband Alonzo, and their three daughters, Ari, Alia & Analy will probably arrive first. Late in the evening, my daughter Laura, her fiancee Dennis, and her 2 daughters, Paige and Michaela, will arrive. Friday, my son Thomas, will arrive with my niece Kathy, and her daughter Camille. So there will be 14 of us staying at the beach house. Luckily, it is really 2 condos hooked together, with 5 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, 2 living rooms, and 2 patio/decks w/ BBQ's. The beach is 2 blocks away and Mission Bay is just a few blocks in the other direction. The Dana Hotel, where the wedding will be, is also just a few blocks away.
Friday evening we will all attend the rehearsal dinner, at the home of Brian (the best man) and his wife, Jen. Saturday is a beach day and then at 5PM, the wedding. Sunday will be another free day to enjoy the beach house, then everyone leaves on Monday. Elaine and I will stay in Darran & Marielle's apartment for 2 days while they are on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, the 12th, friends will drive us to the airport, so we can catch our flight to Rome. On the 14th we will board the Royal Caribbean ship, the Mariner of the Sea, for a 12 day cruise to Turkey, Greece, and Israel. Our good cruise friends David & Diane Wilson will be with us. Then we 4 will stay on the ship for the next cruise, which is a 16 day transatlantic from Rome to Galveston. On that cruise we will be joined by at least 6 other cruise friends. We will be back in Galveston on Nov. 11.
Wile we have been here at Park Sierra, we have been having some fun social times. Our friends Flo & Co brought their friends Pearl and Cheryl with them, and were also joined by another rig of women: Ann, Susan & Anne, all from Superstition Mountain Resort in Apache Junction. We had them all over for Happy Hour one night and then they all brought dinner another night. Here is a picture of Pearl, Cheryl & Anne.

At the other end of the tables, our Park Sierra friends Glenda & Elleen were enjoying their time with Ann, Susan & Flo

Saturday was Susan's birthday, so we all went to the Queen's Inn Wine and Beer Garden in Oakhurst, and followed it up with dinner at the Sweetwater Steakhouse.

Both the wine and the food were excellent, although the service left a lot to be desired.
There were lots of food events with Park Sierra people too. Here we are having dinner at the clubhouse with Vicki & Jan, Brenda & Dave Niel, and Wally & Verna Baker.

There were also several excellent dinners at Dave & Brenda Neil's place, our across the street neighbors, because they had friends visiting. Happily, we were included because Brenda is a fabulous cook! Here is a picture of Elaine, Brenda, Judy Tillery, and our other neighbor, Jeanne Taylor, on the Neil's patio:

Our other neighbor, Carol Rodely, was taking care of her grandchildren for a few days, so they made cupcakes to share. Her she is with Camille, offering us some:

One of the first days we were back, we attended a very nice wine tasting and dinner at Birdstone Winery, because we are members of their wine club. They had live music, prizes, and as always, wonderfully delicious wine to go with the nice appetizers and dinner. We sat at a table with 6 people we did not know, and had a delightful evening with them:

Yesterday we had a Happy Hour here at our lot to welcome back our neighbor Jeanne, and also say goodbye to our friends before we leave again. About 20 people were here and we enjoyed having them very much. The weather had turned cool, so we had a fire in our pit which was toasty warm. Quite a change from just a few days ago when the temps were in the 90's!!! Here are our friends Gloria Taylor, Ken Kimpton, Elaine, Roy Jensen, and Rich Baumann. Of course other friends were around, probably at the food tables!

Please check in again after this weekend because I hope to have lots of wedding pictures posted!