Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On to Kusadasi and Ephesus

We entered the Turkish port at Kusadasi on a beautiful, mild, sunny morning and prepped for our shore excursion to the ruins at Ephesus.  The weather has been great this week, but it's always right on the brink of being too cold.  I didn't pack quite right for this trip, but I'm working the layered look, which is actually a good thing when the sunny and shady spots can jump from hot to cool in moments.
Our big bus, jammed to the brim with almost 50 people, made its first stop near Ephesus to see the house of the Virgin Mary.  This is apparently a very spirtual site as you can see by the sponsored signage and the compact marketplace jammed with intense and aggressive souvenir mongers.
I drew a little picture of one of the market stalls...in spite of the cognitive dissonance between a serene, sacred space and the commercialization, the colors and shapes were lovely.  Pashmina scarves, some real but mostly fake, are a big deal in every market stall.  This little drawing will get more watercolors at some point.  I had to catch the bus.
Here's just one example of a marketplace near Ephesus.  
And some luscious local pomegranates.  
This eyeball motif is found everywhere as it's designed to ward off evil spirits.  There are tons of beads that have the pattern, but I loved this lamp that was hanging in one of the little coffee shops where we stopped.
After our stop at the Virgin's House, we took a short bus ride with our guide, Tan (which sounds like "Tom" when it's pronounced) to the ruins at Ephesus.  What an amazing excavation!  Tan was a great guide and was able to fill us in on details about the market place, library and why some things look the way they do.  Of course, I can't remember anything very interesting to share here, but that's why the Google exists!

I made a couple of stops to do some sketches on pieces of A4-sized watercolor paper.  I took an online travel sketching class (okay, I signed up for it and only watched one lesson...haaaaa) so I was trying to follow his example and just do gestural sketching to catch the flavor of the scene.  For me, it's more about helping to plant the memory of the time and place than actually make a piece of work.
We saw this winged beauty: the Goddess Nike.  In just a few days, she is going to be put into a more climate-controlled environment out of public view for several years, so we were lucky to see her in person!

Enjoying the sun amidst the ruins (while not paying attention to our guide who was talking to us through little transmitter ear pieces.)

Tan reported that there are 265 cats living amidst the Ephesian ruins.  They were lounging in all sorts of places and seemed wonderfully content.  Since I'm a full-fledged cat lady, it was nice to see their sweet faces.  Plus, it was even nicer to hear that they are all cared for by the caretakers of the site.  The number is exact because that's how many were recently fixed and treated by veterinarians.

There's a ton of gorgeous texture and patina that will be wonderfully inspiring for future collage and painting work...at least I can see it in my imagination.
After following Tan for a while, he let us go wander for about thirty minutes to explore the Celsus Library, built in 117 AD.  Isn't that just crazy?  
I used that time for a little pen and paper action.  Perspective and line...it's hard!  haaaaaa  I find it a little amusing that I can look up at something and see a line, concentrate on the direction, and then when my pen puts it down it doesn't match.  Eventually, I hope it will be a little closer from seeing to ink, but it's going to take some practice.
We all got back on the bus and left those ruins to visit some more at the Basilica of St. John.  I was more excited about the cats than the tour guide by this point in the day.
The final adventure of the day was a presentation at a rug shop in the market area that was allegedly to tell us about how the UNESCO project helps women in the hills get skills and make these fantastic rugs.  It was really just a great display of rugs for sale.  I'm a huge fan of Turkish rugs, but didn't need to see quite this many after a long day wandering around.  We had a little bit of time to shop and went to a few stores just to see the local flavor, but I am not a fan of the aggressive shopkeepers or the smoking in such small quarters, so we didn't stay out there for long.  
We were very happy to be back on the ship--safe and sound with our little friend to greet us in our stateroom!
The room was crazy small, but we made it work.  The spittle of water out of the bathroom faucet was terribly frustrating when it came to brushing teeth and washing faces.  But, for a week of adventure, we lived with it.  Next up...Greece!

Art at Sea

Day three was an "at sea" day, so we spent time wandering around the ship.  I woke up with a massive headache (because the late dinner the previous night was yummy...and the wine must have made it even better!)  In spite of the throbbing in my brain, I enjoyed a delicious hot stone massage at the spa.  The vibrating sensation from the boat is a little bit strange, so it takes some acclimatization.  Laying there in on the table trying to get my senses all relaxed felt different because it was like laying in a little baby's vibrating sleeper seat.  The table I'm sitting at right now in the solarium writing this is vibrating like that.  It's not necessarily unpleasant, but I'd prefer not to be quite so bouncy.

Anyway, the massage was nice...complete with Enya's Sail Away playing in the background.  Made me laugh.  I moved onto a pedicure and was tucked in a little corner of the salon with a lovely view of the Greek islands we were passing by.  Pulled out my book and pencils for a little work while enjoying a little toe pampering.  My feet were delighted to be out of boots!  I got some Cobb Hill boots especially for this trip and they have been fantastic.  Would highly recommend them.
I took a screenshot from my phone to show exactly where we were while I was sitting there.  So neat to be out in the middle of all that blue.

Inspired by that blue all around us, I did a quick little mermaid while having coffee.  I slept for a few hours and then got a beer...headache finally went away.  I used my new Epic Pen that Jane recommends.  One of my new art buds from Paris, Kristina, who is also a champion art supply hoarder/collector, had an extra pen and let me have it.  Thank you!!  A funny story on these pens...Jane is a professional artist and her endorsement of supplies means they are generally going to be amazing.  So, she adores these carbon ink fountain pens--Epic Pens--and talks about them frequently in lessons and social media.  We had a great laugh when she told us about a hashtag gone awry on a tweet she put out a while ago:  "Can't wait for the weekend! #epicpenisawesome"  See it?   haaaaaaaaa


B and I got a little dressed up for dinner.  Okay, she got dressed up wonderfully and I put on something less wrinked than usual.  haaaaa  We tried out the Asian restaurant, Ikumi, and had a wonderful dinner.  Our server, Johnlee, took great care of us.  

This sushi roll was the biggest one I've seen in person and I got through most of it.  
As I enjoyed every delectable sodium-drenched bite, I could only image the eye bags that lovely salt would cause in the morning!  I wasn't disappointed.  I'll spare you the pic of that prettiness!


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Port o' Call: Dubrovnik

Our first excursion into the "wild" of international cruise travel was in Croatia.  We landed at Dubrovnik, a wonderfully picturesque port, on Sunday morning.
As we sailed into port, B and I got up on the 11th deck to see the land as we approached and got a few pictures.  Since this was our first "land" stop, it was really amazing.

We signed up for the "dune buggy" excursion and it was an awesome day!  Started out after we got off the ship with a tiny van--about 20 people loaded into it--winding its way up the narrow roads to the top of a mountain.  We grew up in Pennsylvania, which has plenty of winding roads up and down ridges, but this was a new kind of winding road.  B was by the window, so she got the full experience of just how close we were to the edge.  No matter what, though, our driver was some kind of hero and we got all the way to the top.  From that vantage point we could see the entire old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We had to take shifts among our group for the buggies, so we got a chance to have a quick little lunch.  I did some sketching and was even able to get out the paints to try to capture some of the moment.
Watercolors and beef carpaccio. With that view, anything is a perfect combination.  We only had about seven minutes to eat, though, so we wolfed down as much as we could and then headed up to meet the buggy folks.


Helmets and hairnets on...we were ready to roll!  It was like a bunch of awesome auto shop dudes got together and made these carts out of leftover parts.  I love me some auto shop dudes, but this was a little scary!  haaaaaaa
The group that went before us came back splattered with mud, so we were a little bit worried about how this whole thing was going to go.  B drove first.
It was a nice trail, but very much a four-wheeling adventure kind of road.  We bounced and jostled and laughed and it was awesome!
We stopped along the trail and explored this setting...a defensive position of the Croatian forces from the early '90s.  There were markers for four fighters who died there during a Bosnian attack. Very surreal to know that I have friends who flew in or supported that conflict in all sorts of ways.  I was actually stationed at Wright-Patterson during the Dayton talks.
Aside from standing in the middle of what was once a modern-day battleground, the view of the islands and of our cruise ship was fanstastic.

We only had three buggies (plus the leader) in our group, and two of them actually broke down during our hour-long ride. Nice odds!  haaaaaa  Our battery died, eventually, but we quickly got a replacement and made it back to our starting point for another crazy bus ride back to the port and onto the boat.
Along the road, as the sun was setting on our day, I got this quick pic from the bus of a bridge that now connects the new city of Dubrovnik with places to the north without a more roundabout drive.
As we got back on the boat, I laughed at this sign...just struck me as funny since we all seem to be out of our heads in large, international crowds.  haaaaaa


Monday, October 26, 2015

All Aboard in Venice

Time for the next phase of this odyssey!  I took a quick (and super-early) flight from Paris on Saturday morning to Venice, Italy where I joined my bff, Brandee!  Just a few months ago when this trip was still a bunch of crazy ideas swarming around in my head, I called her up and posed the question about joining me on a Mediterranean cruise.  Luckily, her answer was an enthusiastic "yes!"  B and I have been friends for a rather long time, when you consider we've been buds since kindergarten.  We lived about three houses away from each other on Juliana Street for many, many years and then did a couple of years of college together before I wandered off on my Air Force path. We don't get to see each other nearly enough, so jamming ourselves into a tiny cabin for a week is apparently the right way to keep our connection lively!  haaaaaaa
The early flight over to Italy allowed for some amazing views of the sun rising over the Alps.  I think this was Switzerland (according to the crew's announcements).

B and I somehow managed to schedule flights that arrived in Venice within minutes--and they actually did.  We found each other amidst the luggage carousels with our extraordinarily heavy suitcases.  We then managed to manipulate and manhandle the bags out to the waterbus station to catch the Alilaguna bus over to the cruise ship terminal.  Since we had a few hours til boarding, the two-hour ride around the isles of Venice seemed like a reasonable option.
Plus, it was a gorgeous sunny day so we got to see a different view of the city skyline.
The boat's windows were filthy, so there's a bit of a natural filter on all our pics, but with all the bus's stops, we got up close to several ports.  
Then, we finally got to the terminal and got the unique opportunity to manipulate heavy-ass luggage up a bouncing platform and up onto the walkway to the actual port.  It was like a bad carnival game but we both came out winners with only mild bruising and soreness.
We made it through the check-in process and got ourselves on-board this behemoth of a vessel, the Splendour of the Seas.  Just a day before the cruise, there was an email notification from Royal Caribbean that there was a possibility of a delay due to some routine maintenance at the port.  For whatever reason that prompted me to go to the Google and look up "Splendour of the Seas." Lo' and behold, there was an engine fire on the ship just a day prior.  Nice.  There haven't been any issues and there's no smell of smoke in here anywhere that we've wandered, so I think we're good to go.  They had a great emergency muster prior to leaving port, so I'm actually pretty impressed with their emergency communication plan (says the officer in me.)

We departed from Venice that evening and the upper decks were jammed with people enjoying the view and taking pictures...including me.  Italian music in the background and a cool breeze blowing as we took off.  It was lovely.


Since we aren't experienced cruisers (this is a first for both of us), we didn't realize the whole meal situation needed to be dealt with early.  Alas, we don't have our dinner seating until 8:30 p.m.  Since this is right about the time I want to go to bed, it is going to be interesting.  The first night, B was just took crushed from the flight and needed a nappity-nap and that ended up lasting through the evening. So, I ventured out to dinner in the big dining room on my own.  Fancy Table 54 is our assignment and, apparently, all the other guests assigned that table went off to somewhere else, too, since I sat there alone!  haaaaaaa  Nice.  I probably could've moved over to another table and joined some other folks, but a) I don't know the cruise etiquette for taking someone else's chair...what if they show up late?  and b) the waiters took extra special care of me and I had my food and wine well before all the other tables.  It gave me a chance to just relax and unwind and reflect on the awesome that is my life.

All while I enjoyed this awesome piece of horseradish-crusted salmon, of course.

Cruise Day 1 in the books.  Docking in Croatia on Day 2!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Au Revoir!

Can't believe it's over!  The week absolutely flew by.  I know I'm still off continuing my vacation...actually sitting here on the ninth deck of the Splendour of the Seas sailing towards Croatia as I write this...but Paris was all that I wanted and more.  I was stationed at Aviano Air Base from 2001 to 2004 and did lots of traveling, but also had lots of frustration with the culture clashes and the language barriers.  I had a bit of that on my mind when planning this European adventure, but am delighted at the lack of issues I had this week.  Somehow, the many lessons that Madam Bowman, my high school French teacher, planted in my brain created a more stable foundation for both my actual ability to read signs and menus as well as my perceived confidence in just figuring things out!  It probably helps that I'm a little bit older and wiser.  haaaaaaa  Heck, I'm flipping retired!  That's so crazy and awesome.  I wake up thankful for new, fun opportunities everyday.
I spent my last day in Paris just touring--well, there was a little shopping since I needed a new piece of luggage to manage everything.  I teamed up with my new friend from Australia, Sam, and we ventured out to several sights and got ourselves on one of those big open-topped tour buses.  So fun!

We started our day at l'Arc de Triomphe in the center of the Place de l'Etoile.  Such an iconic structure and a symbol of honour, it was an indescribable feeling to be there beneath it.  The traffic that flows around it was absolutely crazy and it was interesting to see folks just going about their days, nearly crushing one another with no semblance of lanes while this monument stands proudly and calm.


Sam saw people up at the top of the momument and just looked at me with a "what do you say" kind of look.  I'm not a big fan of heights, but figured it's something we just had to do.  So, we ended up in a nice short line, paid our fee, and started up 284 steps.  I really needed a toilette, and wasn't sure I'd be able to spend much more than a minute up there before wandering back down to find one, but, to my amazement, about two-thirds of the way up, there's an exhibit space with shop and some nice WCs.  Whew.

Every step was worthwhile to see this breathtaking view.  I immediately got tears in my eyes, and not from the chilly breeze blowing.  Just so amazing.
Although my fear of heights kept me from spending too much time near the edge, I still managed to get a couple of great pics.
Got a little panoramic action going...just love it.
As we rode the bus along and around their various routes, I declared that I would never drive a car in this city.  Too crazy.  But, although traffic was a constant, I still enjoyed seeing various corners and buildings and skylines and wrought iron accents that I hope will all find their way into my work...
We jumped off the bus at the Trocadero to get a closer look at the Eiffel Tower from below it.  I broke out my Hipstamatic app on the phone and started playing a bit to really highlight the perspective.



Back on the bus, we passed the Church of the Dome, which we recognized from earlier in the week...more fun with filters on the camera.


We also drove across the Pont du Neuf on our roundabout route to Notre Dame, where we got off to get some lunch, shop the booksellers along the riverbank, and take some photos of the cathedral.


We just picked the bistro right on the corner with a view of the cathedral and the river...it was tourist-focused and postively delicious!  I had a stewy, yummy beef bourguignon that was perfect to warm up since it got a little chilly riding up on top of the bus.



Here's just one of the many pics I took at Notre Dame.  This one is from across the Seine.

Needed a little sweet snack after lunch, so had one of these giant chocolate meringues.  Perfectly sticky and yummy.

Spent the evening in a not-so-dramatic way doing some laundry at a little coin-operated place down the street and then had Thai food at a place just across the way.  The fact that we were able to figure out how to get the machine to work--and even get some soap in it, was a true victory!  So, it ended up being a suitable way for me to finish off the week.  After jamming everything into my two suitcases (up from one at the start of the trip) I was ready for my 0400 wakeup the next day.  And, then on to new adventures...like now I need to get ready to go on a dune buggy ride in Dubrovnik!  haaaaaaaa

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Charleston, SC, United States
I'm a retiree/artist/student who makes things. It's a nice kind of lifestyle!

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