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Our Twenty Fifth Anniversary Cruise 2018

Twenty five years ago I met the love of my life and in March of 1993, we married. It was a tumultuous time due to the death of both of my parents within days of each other and just before the date we had set. Because of this, we scrapped a big wedding and had no honeymoon. Now that we have reached the silver anniversary of our marriage, we decided to go big and do a twelve day cruise on the Adriatic. Once again, we cruised on Holland America and sailed on the Oosterdam, our second time on this ship. Years ago on our first cruise we signed up for a Holland America VISA card and get points on everything we spend. After years of using the card, we had enough that one of us almost cruised for free!!!! That helped the trip budget immensely! As you can probably imagine, both of us were very excited as neither had been to any of these locales we were about to see. Debbie has been to other parts of Europe, but this hoedunk from New Mexico hadn’t.

The trip began with a very early pick up and a flight to Philadelphia with a changeover to Venice. It was a looooooooonnnnnnng flight. Neither of us slept at all. As a matter of fact, the first day we were up almost thirty hours. A transfer from the airport to the ship and we were off. The only sights of Venice were from the ship deck as we past. It looked nice, but that’s all I can say! I snapped pictures that you can peruse in the online album. Our first port of call was Split, Croatia and thus began my witnessing histories way longer than our young country! We had no excursion planned and just walked the city on our own. Had lunch in a cool restaurant with great wine, cheese, prosciutto. Markets and shops were everywhere and there was definitely a good vibe in the city. You could see the influence of many different occupations over the centuries in the architecture. The next stop was also in Croatia at Dubrovnik! What a beautiful city!!!! Took a bus to the south in wine country to a family winery that had been in the same family for generations. They started in a 300-year-old house where the original family had 11 members living in it and was very small bungalow. The wine was fantastic and of course we bought some. They also made grappa which they offered as we arrived. Wow what a kick!!! Then we headed north to a family whom produced some of the best olive oil we had ever tasted. Saw how they did it in old ways with a horse drawn olive crushing wheel and had a great lunch that was almost totally grown from the garden and produced locally. Then we headed to the old town of Dubrovnik within the walls of the original city built in the 12th century and protected from the Phoenicians from the sea and the Ottomans from land. If you are a watcher of the TV show Game of Thrones, which I am not, some of the scenes were filmed in Dubrovnik! What a great start to the trip!

Then it was on to Albania. Our stop was in the port of Saranda. During the travels, we saw many abandoned buildings of former economic endeavors. In the early 90’s, communism left the country and many of these economies left with it. Albania is at the bottom when it comes to economies of Europe. Took a 4×4 excursion (ours was really just an BMW) on a drive through the city and countryside exploring the agricultural and mountains of the country. Our driver Emilio was a nice guy out of work and struggling to survive. We first stopped at Lekursei Castle used for defense in the early stages of the country’s history. It was a cloudy and cool day and hazy which made taking photos hard. We then headed to Blue Eye Spring National Park which held a spring called the blue eye. It was amazingly beautiful to see, a spring coming from within the earth to form a river. The waters in the middle of the blue eye were a dark blue and the surrounding areas were of a turquoise and green shades. The water was as pure as you could find, and you could have drunk right from it. We then headed down the hillside to a place for wine and lunch. This is a newer destination for cruise lines partnering with the country to try to stimulate it’s tourism economy.

Emilio our driver

The adventures are just beginning as we next head to the port of Katakolon, Greece, the gateway to the ancient site of Olympia. We didn’t spend a lot of time here as we immediately headed on our tour to Olympia, but when we returned, we walked about before going back onboard. It was a very nice seaside town that reminded me of my time in SoCal. This was the most fascinating tour so far as we took a tour bus to the ancient site of Olympia where the Olympic Games began. To walk among the ruins of practice fields, temples, bath houses, track and fields that were thousands of years old where athletes of Greece and Sparta trained for the games was awesome. We learned a lot of the history of Greece and the Games and discovered that the flame of the Olympic Games is still lit there before each of the Summer/Winter Games. While the tour was good, we felt hurried and didn’t get to explore much of the site. We were told before going back to the bus that we had 20 or so minutes to ourselves, so Debbie and I walked among some of the back areas we didn’t get to see. We returned to the parking lot well within the time we were supposed to and what did we find…..no bus! We waited around and looked around yet nothing. Luckily we weren’t the only couple in this predicament as another pair were in a tizzy looking for the bus too. Finally a different guide came of her bus and asked us which bus we were looking for and shook her head as we told her. Apparently we didn’t hear from our guide that the bus would be found in a lower parking lot than where we got dropped off…..ooops! we were taken to our bus which was waiting for us and as we boarded there was stink eye galore direct toward us! Then headed to the Mercouri Estate Winery, one of the oldest, five generations so far, in Greece and toured the winery and had a great lunch with their wines, local cheeses, meats, and veggies. After some wine and camaraderie around the picnic table, we were no longer the black sheep of the bus.

Next stop was Chania, Greece – on the Island of Crete. Oh my, this place was beautiful!! We did not have any shore excursions booked for this port of call and just decided to do it on our own. We took a shuttle into town and just walked around Chania by map and explored. It was the most vibrant city we had been to! There were shops, cafes, small hotels, and people everywhere. We absolutely loved it there! We spent all day walking the city exploring. Walked to old waterfront seeing old ancient Venetian and Byzantine buildings and walls, walked through a bustling open farmers market and saw some of the best-looking fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and other items we have ever seen. We also went to the old Municipal Market of Chania. It was an indoor market in the heart of the city and there was everything imaginable for sale there. One shop had liquors and spirits that had “tester bottles” and small cups you could pour samples and taste for yourself. Yipeeeeeee! Sat at an outdoor café for a lunch that was, by our standards, very inexpensive and wonderful. It was a very fun day on our own.

Let’s sample some liquor!

Mykonos and Delos, another great adventure in Greece! Took a long excursion into Mykonos with a small spitfire of a woman who was an excellent tour guide. The first thing you notice when arriving in Mykonos is every building is white. Just like Chania, the streets were very narrow, and buildings were crammed together. It was also clean as a whistle, but very quiet as it was early Sunday morning. We did walk by a church having mass and hearing the chant of the priests and parishioners as we passed by was a bit unnerving as some in the group looked in open windows and doors and snapped photos. To me seemed a bit sacrilegious to be doing that. After we toured the town of Mykonos, we got on a sea bus, a large ferry type boat, and went out to the ancient ruins of Delos. It is supposedly the birthplace of the mythical god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. It was amazingly huge and at one point almost 30,000 ancient Greeks lived there. As large as the excavated portion of the city was, it still only represented 1/7th of the original city. We were in awe exploring rooms, pillars, theaters, ancient cisterns used for drinking water for the city that were thousands of years old. There were ruins scattered throughout the hillside and we learned this ancient city was once the main shipping port for the area and then it was pillaged twice by ancient invaders. Since the city was always thought by the planners to be a safe location, no defensive fortifications were built. After the second invasion, the governing body in Mykonos decided not to invest further monies into the town and slowly trade diminished and people left the island and the site was soon abandoned and left to ruin as it is now. The island is uninhabited except for a few caretakers and I can imagine it might be a spooky place at night! Off to Malta!

Our next port of call was the island of Malta and it’s capital Valletta! Another gorgeous city full of history and wonderful architecture. We took another tour of the city and the three gates to the city. Nowadays there are actually five! We learned of the history of Malta being under the control of the Order of the Knights of St John and seeing all the cathedrals, hospitals, forts, and palaces there. There is actually a Buckingham Palace in Valletta where Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh lived before her accession to the throne. There are close ties between England and Malta. This was going to be an overnight stay for the ship so we didn’t have to board anytime soon so we explored on our own for the rest of the afternoon walking the whole perimeter of the town! We meandered our way to the The Phoenicia Hotel and had some adult beverages and later had dinner in a restaurant where I ordered…..ummmm…..calamari! It was not like the small rings we are used to here but long tubes and tentacles. I ate it anyway and Debbie was amazed! We finally headed back to the ship exhausted.

Kind of looked like this but bigger tubes!

It was a very short trip to our next stop, the island of Gozo. This was a very short visit. We took a public transit bus to the city of Victoria. Like many other cities in Europe, the streets were narrow, never just straight, and always crowded with traffic. These bus drivers over here are very skilled and patient to be able to navigate all these obstacles and crowds. Being a bus driver myself, I was very impressed. We saw what we could of Victoria, had a coffee and went back to the ship. Can I say something about the coffee here…….strong, very good, and all you need is a little! I will keep the next stop within this same paragraph as they were both quick and kind of a blur and a lot of time was spent in a bus going from point A to B. Point A being the city of Palermo on the island of Sicily. And point B being the resort town of Cefalu. Most of what we saw of Palermo was from the seat of a bus on the way to Cefalu. It was a very busy city, lots of grinding traffic, hustle, construction, and tons of mega apartment complexes.It was a very busy working city it seemed. On the other hand, Cefalu was beautiful and an obvious tourist draw. The tiny streets were filled with shops of all kinds and it had nice beaches at it’s seaside. Once again it seemed our time was limited, one of the disadvantages of some of these organized excursions, but really the only way to get a feel of regions of the world you have never been to. One thing we did decide to do, is find a place to get an authentic panini for me and a slice of pizza for Debbie and we were both in heaven when we did. Once we were back in Palermo we had a bit of time to do a short walk before heading back to the ship. We decided to continue our gastric indulgences on some fine Italian pastries. It was well worth the calories. Then it was on to our final stop before being in Rome for disembarking and heading for home, Napoli. We would soon enjoy our most favorite tour of the cruise!!!!

Yummy!!!!

Two things we learned from our wonderfully crazy last tour guide lady who called herself “Da Mama”, Naples is in Florida and Napoli is in Italy. Also, Rome should be referred to as Roma! In that case I shall refer to our next port of call as Napoli of which we saw very little of. From the ship we just saw the port and then it was on a bus to the ruins of Pompeii! On the way, we could see the base of Mount Vesuvius, but the top half was enshrouded by clouds damn! So the mountain erupted in 79AD and is still an active volcano that could erupt again at anytime, yet there was development everywhere around the base of the mountain, hmmmmm! I was also surprised when we arrived at the entrance to Pompeii at the theme park feel of the area. I suppose because it being one of the most visited site in southern Italy. The ruins of the city were vast at around 170 acres. It was estimated that 20,000 people lived in Pompeii at the time of the eruption and approximately 2000 were killed. We saw only a small part of it, but it was absolutely amazing! You could see the ruts of the chariots that roamed the streets in the stones. We could see the ancient Roman inclination for luxuries for the well to do in their highly sophisticated thermal baths and theaters and lavishly decorated homes. It was a fascinated look at life that existed thousands of years ago and we could have spent hours there but had to move on to the next destination. We headed down the Amalfi Coast of Italy to the town of Sorrento. OMG this place was beautiful! Perched on cliffs high above the Bay of Naples it had stunning views, brightly colored buildings, clean, vibrant, and we loved it! We walked around and had a lunch with everyone in the tour then got on what the call jet boats and went to the Island of Capri! We thought Sorrento was beautiful, but this place was even more stunning! It was an absolute paradise. There is a tram that takes you up top to a chic, gorgeous, town that you can tell was loaded with money and is a famous destination for the rich and famous as we witnessed some of the barbies strutting around. The tiny streets were full of high end shops and restaurants and dotted with fancy hotels. We put this place in or bucket list for a future trip destination if we could possible afford a hotel room. These last two stops turned out to be our favorite places……imagine that. Then it was a long jet boat ride back to the terminal and after saying good bye to “Da Momma” and an end to a ten hour day, we boarded the ship and it was on to Roma to end our journey!

Nothing was seen of Roma except the landscape from the cruise terminal to the airport. The airport itself was a miserable cluster fuck of humanity and we were lucky we had hours before our flight left to clear all the security and passport checkpoints. Our first flight took us to London for a quick change and then home to our boy Cordell who we missed so much! A few final thoughts before I close this novella, things were not that expensive over there, lots of Europeans still smoke, litter is a problem in many parts of the places we visited, and most people we met wherever do not like Trump! And that, my friends concludes this installment of life here at the estate, until next time!

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