Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year 2016

     Well, it is pretty obvious that we didn’t manage to get a Christmas letter out this year, so this one will have to suffice.  Until last Saturday, the 19th, we were cruising in Florida, so by the time we flew back, took a train back to Park Sierra, and got our RV ready to travel, we were lucky to arrive here in San Diego in time to celebrate Christmas with Darran, Marielle, Evie, and Marielle’s family.  It has been a wonderful Christmas, and we will stay for a few more days and then head for Yuma, AZ to spend some time with RV friends.
     2015 has been another year full of travel for us, mostly cruising.  We had driven our RV to Florida in August, 2014 and done a number of cruises from there, including several long ones to Europe.  So in January, we were still in Florida, doing some Caribbean cruises.  In late January, we started driving cross country, to Texas, to join our long-time friends, David & Diane Wilson for several cruises out of Galveston.  It was a scary trip, since the weather had turned cold and we had to stop continuously to scrape ice off our windshield.  After those cruises, we drove back to Park Sierra to prepare for our next adventures.
     On March 28 we flew to Sydney, Australia to board the Radiance for a South Pacific cruise.  It was lovely, with great weather, so we did some snorkeling and swimming.  When it ended, we spent 5 days in an Airbnb apartment in Sydney, exploring the city and also the Blue Mountains with Ron & Jenny Neate, some Aussie friends.  On April 17 we boarded the Rhapsody of the Seas for 4 consecutive cruises:  Sydney to Singapore, then to Dubai, then to Istanbul, and then a Mediterranean cruise to the Greek isles and Turkey and back to Istanbul.  We visited many new and interesting ports, including visits with friends Pam & Barry Finn in Brisbane, Darwin, saw the Komodo dragons in Indonesia, explored Sri Lanka, 4 ports in India, went to 2 ports in Oman, then north through the Suez Canal, another 2 days in Israel, and many great stops in the Greek islands, such as Mykonos and Santorini, where we had never been before.  The big event on this ship was making Pinnacle, the highest status on Royal Caribbean.  It was so much fun being onboard for so long with many of our long term cruise friends - we became the 4:30 Drinking Club in the lounge they provided for us.
     Returning to California in mid-June, we dealt with some medical visits and rental issues, and then drove our RV to Star Valley, Wyoming where friends Ken & Carolyn Kimpton, and Dave & Brenda Neil have RV lots.  On the way we stopped in Sparks, NV to have a nice visit with my daughter, Laura, and her husband, Dennis in their new home. We rented an RV lot at Star Valley for a month and enjoyed some cool summer weather, and explored the area with our friends.  After leaving there, we drove to Oregon to spend some time at the lakefront property of Mike & Marilyn Harrison.  Great times with them have been happening for years, both there and also RVing with them in many places.  They allowed us to leave our RV on their property while we did a 2 week cruise from Vancouver up to Alaska and back in August.  On the way north, we had a delightful visit with Terry & Vicky Webb in Brier, and my granddaughter Paige & her partner, Allison, in Seattle.  In Sept. we spent about a month on our lot at Park Sierra, getting ready for our next travel adventure.
     On October 13 we took AmTrak to San Francisco, had dinner with my son Thomas and his partner, Robert, in the city, and stayed overnight at an airport hotel.  The next day we had breakfast with Elaine’s daughter, Tarra, who works at the airport for Virgin America, and then we flew to Quebec City.  For 4 days we had a delightful visit with long time friends, Gaetane and Sylvain who live there, including a special dinner with their 3 grown children and partners - they were ages 3 and 9 when we first met them in Mexico!  Then we boarded the Serenade for a relocation cruise through the St. Lawrence seaway, through the Maritime provinces, along the Atlantic coast, ending in Ft. Lauderdale.  We stayed on the ship for 21 more days, exploring the southern Caribbean islands, and again reconnecting with many friends.  Thanksgiving week we left the ship and enjoyed an outstanding visit with Randy & Vicki Sheppard and family in the Palm Beach area, finishing the week with Joe & Carla Calwell at their lovely new home in Vero Beach.  Our cruise mania found us doing 2 more Caribbean cruises from Tampa, which ended Dec. 19.  We enjoyed the warm weather in Florida and the Caribbean and have missed it since returning to California!
     In a few days we will head for Yuma, and a stay with Ron & Carol Leonard.  We haven’t attended the big Boomer RV gathering in Quartzite the last 2 weeks in January for several years, so that will be on our agenda.  We are hoping many of our long-time RV friends will be there to join the fun.  After that, we are unplanned for a while.  The next long trip will be a cruise from Florida to Barcelona on the Brilliance on April 26, then 4 cruises on the Ovation, going through the Suez Canal, to Dubai, then Singapore, and ending in Beijing.  I am excited about the 17 day land trip we have planned in China, because it will include the panda sanctuary in Chengdu, 3 days in Tibet, and a 3 day cruise on the Yangtze River, ending in Shanghai in July.
     We have been blessed with good health, and continue to work on keeping in shape to prolong that blessing.  Our children and grandchildren are all doing well, and we have had nice visits with all of them this year.  Of course, we are getting older, and so is our “stuff”, such as our car and RV, so perhaps some major decisions will have to be made sometime soon.  In the meantime, we will continue to travel as much as we can.  Visiting family and friends has been the most wonderful part of our travels, and we thank everyone who has either hosted us or shared a social experience with us this year.  We hope to have many more of these visits in 2016.  We hope that 2016 is a wonderful year for all of you, and that you will continue to keep in touch and tell us all about it. 

Sending hugs,  Mary & Elaine

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Florida Staycation

The Serenade cruises (35 days total), have ended, and we are now staying in Palm Beach Gardens, FL at the home of 2 cruise friends, Randy and Vicki Sheppard.  They have a beautiful home, in a very nice area, and we are making maximum use of their infrastructure.  Having done 4 loads of laundry, and ironed a few things, we are ready to repack after our stay here ends.  They have fast internet, and we are catching up on communications and such.  Vicki is helping me learn how to use my MacBook Air, and I have been playing around with the photo program.  I am not sufficiently expert enough to do an entire blog post on our cruises yet, so that will have to wait.  But I will try to attach a few pictures here about our visit with them.
     Here is Elaine, Randy, and Vicki at the lunch which Randy prepared for us yesterday when we arrived:

Today we all went for a long walk along the beach in Jupiter, and stopped at the pier to have someone take our picture together.  You can see that it is windy:

Tonight we are going to a restaurant on the water for dinner.  Thursday we will be having Thanksgiving dinner with Vicki's family.  Friday morning Elaine and I will drive our rental car about an hour north, to Vero Beach, for a 3 day stay with our RV friends, Joe and Carla Calwell.  Then we will drive to Tampa to turn the car in and board the Vision of the Seas for 2 more Caribbean cruises, ending December 19.

We hope all of you are doing well, and we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Serenade of the Seas Cruise

Today is the start of the second cruise we are doing on the Serenade of the Seas.  We left from Ft. Lauderdale a few hours ago, heading for the Southern Caribbean.  Our next port will be in Aruba.  I had plans to write a blog post today about our first Serenade cruise, which was from Quebec City, October 19 to Ft. Lauderdale, but too many things were going on and I didn't have time.  Also, I got a new computer, a MacBook Air, and I am still learning how to handle photos, and haven't yet learned about transferring them from camera and cell phone.  So please be patient, and as soon as possible, I will share our travel adventures with you.  It is also a challenge to post anything because the internet connectivity on the ship is very iffy.
We are both well, having fun times with friends on board with us, and looking forward to more fun times in the Caribbean (warmer temps - hooray!!)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Still At Park Sierra

Hello Blog Readers,
     I haven't been posting to this blog because we have not been traveling, which in our minds means "boring".  We have been trying to do some RV fixes, and we managed to get the bathroom painted.  Since there is always the threat of fire here, we are also about 2/3 done with going through the contents of our shed and cleaning out some stuff.  And as of about 20 minutes ago, we are both mostly packed for our upcoming travels.  There are always social events going on here at Park Sierra, so we go to some of those, and some of our good friends and neighbors have entertained us as well.  The weather has been fairly good, with some days in the low 90's, and some days in the 80's.  Good weather for walking and exercising, since we are on our usual quest to drop a few pounds in between cruises.  
     Next Tuesday we will take Amtrak to Richmond, then BART to the SFO airport, and the hotel shuttle to our hotel.  That evening we will take BART in to San Francisco to have dinner with my son, Thomas, and his partner, Robert.  Wednesday we will have breakfast at the airport, with Elaine's daughter, Tarra, when she gets off her shift at Virgin America.  Then we fly to Quebec City.  We will be staying with some friends who live near there.  We met them on our very first camping trip to Mexico in 1994, and we have been friends ever since.  No doubt I will be posting some pictures in the next blog post because they will be showing us around, and we also will stay for a few days at their chalet on the St. Lawrence River.  On Oct. 19 we board the Serenade of the Seas, which will sail to Ft. Lauderdale, going around the maritime provinces, and New England, so we hope for some Fall color leaf peeping.  Then Elaine and I are staying on board for 2 more Caribbean cruises.  These trips are hard to pack for because we will have cool weather in the north and warm weather in the Caribbean.  We have not been to many of the ports, so these should be fun cruises.
     We are both well and are hoping that all of you are also doing fine.  Please feel free to contact us with an update once in a  while - we love that.  I will write more later after we have had some interesting adventures to share and we have some pictures.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Oregon, Washington, and Alaska Cruises

In my last post, Aug. 13, I indicated that we had been staying with Mike & Marilyn Harrison for a week, and having a grand time.  They always allow us to park in their driveway and we enjoy Happy Hours with them, joint meals, and daily walks at the nearby wildlife refuge.  Here is a picture of Marilyn and Elaine on one of the walks:
One of the other delights of staying with them is that they have rhubarb growing in their yard and they don't eat it (unless we make a rhubarb crisp), so Elaine cut it and we had a nice dessert with them.
After a week with them, we left our RV there and drove our car up to Seattle, where we stayed with Vicky and Terry Webb in their large home in Brier.  They are RV friends, and they left in their 5th wheel for a few days after we arrived, but we did have some time with them before and after their camping trip.  This is their picture:
They are always a lot of fun, as you can tell by their big smiles.  Another reason we went to Seattle for a few days was to have a visit with my oldest granddaughter, Paige, and her fiancee, Allison.  They live in Ballard, which is an area of Seattle near the locks.  Sunday, we went for a day hike with them at a local park, which is where this picture was taken:
After the hike, we went to Snohomish, a quaint little nearby town, where we had a nice lunch and visited some antique stores.  It was a fun day with the girls.  The fun continued the next day, when we brought some food over to their house, and Paige cooked dinner for all of us.  She is a good cook!!  They are renting a little house, which is long and narrow, so it is called a "shotgun" house.
The last time we were here, they were in a different place, so it was fun to see it.  Plus we got to see all their pets:  a cat, a dog, some fish, and a bearded dragon lizard!  It is very tame and loves to be held.  It is on Allison's shoulder in this picture:
The girls are very thrifty and also talented, so they managed to acquire some free pallets and make some backyard furniture with it:
Paige also made a bookcase out of the pallets.  Such a clever girl!!
     Another visit we enjoyed was driving our car to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, then driving across the Olympic Peninsula to Port Angeles, where Elaine's sister Penny had recently purchased a home.  Prior to this she was a long time resident of Tucson.  This is a picture of Penny & Elaine (they are the 2 youngest of 6 sisters):
And this is the cute little house she purchased:
Her furniture hadn't even arrived yet!!  The house is located in an older part of town, so it is not that far from the waterfront and the port.  By just walking down to the end of her street, and down a wooden walkway, we were just 3 or 4 blocks from the waterfront.  We went to the Downrigger Restaurant, where we had a really delicious lunch out on the deck overlooking the water.  It was to celebrate Penny's birthday, and her new home.
One reason she wanted to move here was because her daughter, Suzanne, with her husband, Tom and their 2 children live right across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Victoria, Canada.  Penny can easily walk to the ferry in Port Angeles, take it across, and then walk to their home there.  While we were having lunch, the ferry arrived and here is a picture of it at the dock:
The next day we managed to connect with a school friend of Elaine's who lives in Edmonds.  They have been friends since kindergarten in Illinois!!  Her name is Linda Lightfoot, and here is a picture of her with her partner, Greta, in front of their RV, which they use for camping trips.  Linda is the one next to Elaine.  We had a nice dinner at Anthony's, on the waterfront in Edmonds, and took a walk along the shore because it was an unseasonably warm day, and hardly anyone has air conditioning.
Then we drove up to Vancouver, Canada in our car and stayed overnight at the Travelodge in Richmond.  They have a stay and cruise package, so we could stay one night and then leave our car there for 14 days at no charge.  The next day we took the shuttle to Canada Place, where we boarded the Radiance of the Sea.  There was a nice view across the bay to north Vancouver:
We were delighted to see a cruise friend, Linda Taylor, when we went up to the Concierge lounge.
Since we were cruising up to Alaska and back, we were visiting the same ports twice.  The way things worked out, we managed to have at least one night day in each port.  It was sunny in Ketchikan the second time we were there, so I was able to take this picture from the ship:
We also walked through town and up to Creek Street, which was the street running along the creek, famous at the red light district during the Klondike gold rush days. 
One of the houses, which is now a "museum", is Dolly's House, and was a well known house of ill repute.  Today it has this sign on the side of it:
We walked all the way up the side of the creek to some stairs running up the steep side of the hill which took us to the Cape Fox Lodge at the top.
Right in front of the lodge there is a circle of totem poles, carved by the local Tlingit tribe, which are somewhat different than other totem poles in the area.
Inside the lodge, there are museum quality displays of aboriginal artifacts from a number of different tribes, and good photographs with explanations about the lifestyles.  There is no charge for this and it is a fun place to visit.  On the way back to the ship, we looked in some of the stores (lots of sales because of the end of the season), and Elaine found a new friend too:
The next port was Icy Strait Point, near the town of Hoonah.  It was somewhat overcast the first time we were there.  We walked into town and had this nice view of the ship:
We like to walk into town because it is a 4 mile round trip, and there is a carving center in town which is carving totem poles and a carved front for the tribal house to be installed in Glacier Bay National Park in 2016.  You can go in and see the carvings in progress for no charge, and they are excellent:
On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the newly opened Icy Strait Brewing Company, which is located in a small renovated property right on the water.  We had 2 samples and then shared a full beer out on the back deck, where there were sightings of whales right off shore:
The next port was Juneau, where the sun was shining and it was a glorious day. 
Juneau is kind of in a bowl, so there were towering green mountains with waterfalls easily seen from the ship.  We walked through the town and caught the local bus to the Alaskan Brewing Company.
They used to offer a chance to sample 6 of their beers; now it is 3 - but it is still free.  Getting there on the bus costs $2 but you have to have exact change.  We did a little exploring of the town when we got back near the ship.  The second week we were in Juneau, it was pouring down rain, so we stayed on the ship.
    The next port was Skagway, where we had nice weather again.  We have been there many times, including spending a week there when we were in Alaska in our RV for a whole summer, so we decided to do a hike.  We went out to Yakutania Point, an easy 2 mile hike from the ship.  Here is Elaine, out at the point, with the ship behind her:
There were great views from the ship as we sailed out of this port:
After Skagway, we stopped to see the Hubbard Glacier, but it was a very overcast day and the views were terrible.  The next day we sailed into Seward, where most people were supposed to get off the ship and a new batch of people would board.  However, it was so windy that the port was closed.  They kept giving updates on when we might be able to dock, but it took until 1 PM for that to happen.  Of course, people were still using their rooms, so the attendants couldn't get started on cleaning everything up for the next people.  The cruise director and staff did a great job of quickly setting up some things like entertainment, trivia contests, etc. to keep people occupied.  Once we docked, Elaine and I took the shuttle into town just to get off the ship for a while.  But it was so windy and cold that we didn't last long out there, and took the shuttle back.  The last passenger didn't get off the ship until 4PM!!!!  Of course, they couldn't start boarding the new people for a while either.  The ships dinner seatings were all screwed up, as was the evening entertainment.  We were supposed to leave at 8PM but when we went to bed at 10:30PM, we were still in port.
     The next day we sailed into the bay where the Hubbard Glacier reaches the water.  This time it was a nice day and we got very close to the glacier, and had nice views:
This was Aug. 29, which was my 71st birthday.  Robert Taggert, the Hotel Director, and Beth Van Zant, the Human Resources Director, took us out for dinner at Izumi, the Japanese restaurant on the ship.  Debbie, the Loyalty ambassador,and 2 of Beth's friends from Dallas also joined us.
They also arranged for a beautiful and delicious cake:

Another treat on this cruise was the company of Vance and Andrea Guerena, a couple we cruised with for 44 days on the Rhapsody from Sydney to Istanbul this Spring.
Additionally, we met many nice people in the lounges who will no doubt be with us on future cruises.
Because we were one of 10 Pinnacles on the first cruise, and 8 on the second one, Robert Taggert had everyone attend a special cocktail party in his quarters each week.  He has a very nice set of rooms located right next to the Captain's quarters on deck 9 in the front of the ship, under the bridge. 
I didn't get any very good pictures, but this gives you an idea of the size of his living room!!!
     At the end of the cruise, we easily got off the ship, caught the shuttle to the hotel, retrieved our car, and drove back to Seattle to stay one more day with Vicky & Terry.  That evening we took them out to dinner at the Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant, as a thank you for their hospitality.  Had a delicious dinner and we would recommend this restaurant highly.
The next day, Saturday, we had a last breakfast with Paige and Allison in Ballard. It was great to see them and sad to say goodbye.
Our drive back to our RV was horrific.  It was Labor Day weekend and we kept hitting backups on I-5.  We finally arrived 10 hours later - a drive which should have taken 6.  The next day we left and headed for Sacramento, where we are now parked on Carol & Ron's Leonard's property.  We are having a nice visit with them, and last night we had Linda Taylor over for dinner.  It was a nice reunion.  Tomorrow we head for the Bay Area, to visit Elaine's daughter Tarra, my brother John, and check on the Collinwood House.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fourth Rhapsody Cruise June 1-June 12 Turkey & Greece

Hi Blog Readers,
     We have been visiting Mike and Marilyn Harrison at their lakefront home (Agency Lake) in Chiloquin, OR ever since last Sunday.  Thankfully, we had an uneventful drive over from Thayne, WY where we had been for a month.  It was great to see them, and we have been enjoying walks, Happy Hours and dinners with them every day.  The weather has been sunny and warm here but a few of the days we have been having very hazy air from all the fires burning in northern CA and some in OR too.  We have been trying to pack for our upcoming trip to Seattle and the 2 Alaska cruises from Vancouver (Aug. 21).  Here is apicture of Mike and Marilyn:

     The following is about the 4th (and last) Rhapsody cruise we did between June 1 and 12.  It was round trip from Istanbul, and all the ports were in Turkey and Greece.  It was a very different cruise from the other 3 we had just finished, because most of the cruise friends left the ship on June 1 and flew home.  Still on board with us were Tom and Sandy Wills:
And Ernie and Diane Wilson:
Mark and Norah Lemon were with us too but I can't find the picture of them.  We all managed to have an enjoyable time in the lounge again, but it was much quieter!!
     The first port was Kusadasi, Turkey, where we have been several times before.  It is the port where most people take a shore excursion to Ephesus.  We explored that ancient city (which is now a ruin) on a land tour in 2006 and thought it was very interesting.  Kusadasi is also a good place to do some shopping, but we find the sellers to be rather aggressive, and the last time we enjoyed a walk along the waterfront much more, so we did that again.  Right off the side of the ship in a causeway out to a small island with a fort on it, and we have done that in the past also:
The ship docks right near the main part of town, and there is a very nice terminal area with restaurants and shops too:
Along the waterfront, there are outdoor restaurants, but mostly it is a nice walking area and this is one of the unique sculptures:
On June 4 we docked at Bodrum, Turkey.  Since we had never been here before, we were looking forward to seeing it.  There was a great view across the bay from our ship to the main attraction of this town, the Castle of St. Peter:
It was not a very long distance to get there from the ship, so we decided to walk.  We are glad that we did because the walk was right along the waterfront, where there were very nice outdoor restaurants, nice hotels and guesthouses, and beautiful beaches.  These are some of the restaurants:
And these are the seating areas right across the sidewalk and along the beach.

Many Germans and other Europeans come here for holidays.  Everything was very clean, well organized, and fairly inexpensive.  Also, this is a good place to come to experience a boat trip in a gullet (local boat) on the Turquoise Coast, which is what the waterways along this area are called.  It is just beautiful.  We spent several days on one of these in 2006 and enjoyed it very much.

     As we got further into the town, the streets became busier and were lined with stores and shops selling every type of goods for tourists.  The Castle of St. Peter is the main attraction for the tourists. This tall monument was built by the Knights of St. John between 1402 and 1437. The castle has got beautiful gardens and a spectacular view.
The Underwater Archeology Museum is the most fascinating attraction of the museums in Bodrum, and it is located in the Castle of St. Peter.  The Museum displays objects recovered from the sea along with illustrations of the methods and equipment used by the underwater archeologists.  As we walked in to the castle there was a long wall with displays of amphorae, which were ancient clay storage jars having an oval body, usually tapering to a point at the base, with a pair of handles extending from immediately below the lip to the shoulder: used chiefly for oil, wine, water, etc.
In the inner courtyard, there is a chapel and minaret.  The chapel was the first completed structure, probably in 1406.  In 1522 when the Ottoman Turks conquered the area, they changed the chapel to a mosque and built a minaret.
The construction of the three-storied English tower was finished in 1413. One door opens to the north, to the inner part of the castle, while the other leads to the western rampart. One could only access this tower via a drawbridge.
From the ramparts, there were great views over the town and the entire area:
The underwater archeology museum is housed in various parts of the castle.  It is the biggest underwater archeology museum in the world and the only one in Turkey. Most of the artifacts consist of those raised during underwater excavations (since 1960) and those brought up by sponge divers.  There were many specially constructed exhibits showing treasures such as these old coins:
And some exhibits which were constructions of what the ships probably looked like:
Even though the castle is very old, and has been through many incarnations, such as being turned into a military base in 1824 and a prison in 1895, there are a few original mosaic floors still in existence:
There were other attractions in Bodrum which would have been interesting, such as remnants of the ancient city of Halicarnassus, and a large Roman amphitheater, but we were out of time and energy so we left them for our next visit.
     The next day, June 5, we docked in Rhodes, Greece.  We have been there before and enjoyed it very much.  There is a huge walled city, with many ruins and museums, shops, and other attractions.  It is very easy to walk into the walled city from the port.  This is one of the views from our ship:
This view shows a lot of the walled city and a couple of the old windmills:
Walking into town, after going through the old gates, there are the ruins of an old church:
Many of the old buildings have living quarters on top and shops for tourists below:
We stopped at the tourist info office and learned that there was a free day at the local museums.  So we went to the archeological museum:
The Archaeological Museum of Rhodes is housed in the medieval building of the Hospital of the Knights, from the period of the Crusades. The building was begun in 1440 and completed in 1489.  There are many interesting collections there, but we wanted to get up to the main event, the Palace of the Grand Masters.  This is the street leading up to it, and it has clearly been restored, but also shows what it was like in midevail times:
It had to be rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1841.  In 1523 it was overrun by the Ottoman Turks, and all the churches were converted to mosques, and other buildings had eastern influences.  The palace of the grand masters was turned into a penitentiary while the hospital was turned into a soldier's camp.  This is the front of the Palace of the Grand Masters today:
Once again we were able to visit this site with no fees - hooray!  This is the inner courtyard:
It is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece.  The site was previously a citadel of the Knights Hospitallar that functioned as a palace, headquarters and fortress from 1309 to 1523.  There were interesting displays inside of the way people lived then.
     Later we walked through the town and headed out through a different gate, where we saw this mosque and minaret:
There are also many great shops in Rhodes, including some stunning leather works places:
The other local handiwork goods which interested us were olivewood goods, but we didn't get any pictures this time.
     The next day we were back in Santorini.  Once again our ship anchored off the area where the tenders could get us ashore, but this time we were the only ship:
Because we had just been here on the last cruise, we knew what we wanted to do this time - take a public bus to Oia, the village which is located about 45 minutes away by bus from Fira, the main town of Santorini.  We had done some research and found out where the public bus station was, and that the cost was about 2.2 Euro, instead of about $50 on a ship's tour.  So we walked to the bus station and were able to catch the bus almost immediately.  It was quite an adventure getting there because the roads are narrow and twisty and every time there was an approaching car, it was like playing "chicken" with it.  Once we got to Oia, it was easy to find our way around because it was so small.  One of the first sights was the local church, which was typically Greek, with whitewashed walls and a blue domed roof:
Here is a picture of Elaine with the houses of the village behind her:
You can see that the cliffs are pretty steep to get down to the water.  There is a small harbor in this town where it is possible to catch a boat back to Fira, rather than going by road:
This is another view in the town, looking down to the water with the blue dome of another church in the picture:
Many of the buildings along the main walkway had been converted to shops to sell goods to the tourists:
This is a view of Oia where you can see that the houses are appearing to be "stacked" on one another, when in actuality, they are built into the cliffs.  They call these troglodyte houses because they are like caves:
Here is a closeup of one that is in construction:
They are very eco-friendly because they are warm in winter and cool in summer.  Here is a picture of the inside of one:
When we got back to Fira, on the bus, we stopped in to a recommended restaurant for a gyro and a beer and ran into Norah  and Mark Lemon, who were already there:
Our next port was Piraeus again, which is the port for Athens. We had just been there a few days before, and we have been there a number of times, so we skipped going out this time.  The next day we stopped in Mykonos, an island we had never visited before.  Our ship got the only place to dock, but the bad part of that was that we were not near the actual town.  The ship tried to sell people a shuttle bus ticket for $15, but we knew that we could get a shuttle boat over for 2 Euro, so we did that.  The water was a bit rough in the harbor of the town when we arrived:
Right near where our boat let us off was the local fish market:
As usual, walking down the streets was a shopping opportunity, but the shops were charming and even the streets were unique:
This was a tempting pottery shop:
Most places were both a shop and a house, with the living quarters on the upper floors:
And there were plenty of outdoor restaurants because everyone loves to eat and drink outside, even if it is right in front of a church:

Right along the waterfront is a row of houses supposedly built by the sea faring captain's who sailed from here:
Across from these houses is the row of windmills, which is one of the most complete arrays in the Greek islands.  Most of them were built by the Venetians in the 16th century, but construction continued into the early 20th century. They were primarily used to mill wheat.  They were an important source of income for the inhabitants. Their use gradually declined until they ceased production in the middle of the 20th century.  Now they are an important tourist attraction.
The next day we were in Chania, Crete.  The port is Souda, which is quite a distance from the town and tourist attractions but there is a city bus which picks people up right at the port for 2 Euro and it drops you off right at the main city market.
Walking through the market is interesting and fun and it puts you right on some small pedestrian streets behind it with stalls on them for good shopping, on the way to the Venetian waterfront.  We passed this rather impressive church:
The Venetian Waterfront is called that because it was built by the Ventians when they had control of this place and it maintains all of its charm.  There are many restaurants with outside seating, almost all display their prices and specials on boards in front, and we were surprised at how reasonable they were.  Perhaps it was because of the recent Greek difficulties with the Euro.
Across from the restaurants you have a view of the Venetian lighthouse:
There was a sea day before our ship returned to Istanbul, so that was the evening when the Pinnacle members enjoyed a very nice dinner at the Chef's Table.  Usually the Chef's Table costs $70 per person because it is gourmet food paired with special wines and only 16 people can be accommodated.  The Rhapsody had arranged for a different special dining experience for the Pinnacles on all 4 of our cruises, and this was the best!!!
The next day we arrived in Istanbul again, and docked in the same place as before.  Because we were going to be here overnight, we had all day to explore the city again. Once again, we had a great view of the Blue Mosque:

We walked down to the spice market:
They are so excellent at arranging all the spices for sale:
Of course, they have other goodies to tempt people too:
The surprising thing is that all of the Muslim countries are supposed to be so conservative, yet you see displays of goods for sale such as this:
In so many ways, the city seems very progressive.  This is a picture of one of the trams.  They have quite an extensive network of trams and they are reasonably priced:
Across the Galata Bridge, near the fish market, we found a nice little restaurant with some tables located right on the banks of the Golden Horn where we stopped for some fried calamari and a local beer:
The next day we had an early flight so we arranged for a car service to pick us up at the port and deliver us to the airport.  For 25 Euro, the Effendi Car Service was at the port by 6:30AM to pick us up in a very comfy van which could have accommodated at least 4 more people.  We recommend them.  We flew back to San Francisco and had a nice family reunion with all our kids in Fremont, CA.
We hope you have enjoyed traveling with us on these cruises.