Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birth of a Notion

You can look at this one of two ways:

Either I am becoming a complete geek.

Or I am using my retirement to get "with it" - adapting to the 21st Century by embracing new media.

OK, I know the answer is A. But I am so impressed with my newfound techie skills that I am beginning to think I should be called Don 2.1.

About six weeks ago I had my first Facebook chat buddy - Megan - while I was in the US. Now Sandy and I regularly type to one another. Although I still don't understand why people don't just use Skype.

And now (fanfare, please) I have made my first web site. I did it so we could share more of the pictures from our trip, and the first part I have put up is of our US road trip. If anyone wants to check it out here's the link to what I am calling Across the Great Divide.

Anyhow, I spent way too much time putting the site together, so a short post today and a promise that there will be BIG NEWS next time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's Up, Doc?

My doctor fired me. And she didn't even tell me.

Because I have diabetes, I go to my endocrinologist every four months where he takes a half a gallon of blood to send to the lab, tickles my feet to see if I can feel it and curses as he looks around for the XXL sleeve that goes with the blood pressure machine. For the last several years, all signs are good.

The blood, bp and cholesterol all come in the normal range and he usually tells me to just keep doing what I am doing and not start eating cheese and drinking a lot. I don't tell him I never stopped eating cheese and drinking a lot.

While I was waiting to see him, the office manager asked me if I had a new GP. Nope, I told her - same doctor I have had for 15 years.

That's odd, I was told. Her office called and said to stop sending your reports because you were no longer her patient.

Wow. I've been dumped. And she didn't even bother to let me know, but relied on some other doctor's staff to give me the news.

It was so odd to hear she didn't want me to be her patient any more. Sure, I haven't been to see her for a couple of years, but then again I haven't been sick for a couple of years. I hadn't realized that your doctor gets to dump you if you aren't sickly. I mean, if my car doesn't break down for a year I don't expect my mechanic to dump me. And I really was surprised that I had to find out from someone else.

But I need to be honest. My reaction was exactly as if I was being dumped by a girlfriend (or as happened too often with me, a wife). My first thought was "How can you dump me?" and then it was "Why are you dumping me?" and it ended with "You're going to wish you hadn't dumped me."

I even started feeling for myself the way you do when you get dumped. My endocrinologist - a man - seemed to sympathize with my confusion. "You would have gone to her if you got the flu, wouldn't you?" he asked. "Sure," I said. But then I forlornly added, "Well, I guess not anymore. She doesn't want to be my doctor." He nodded. If we'd been in a bar, he would have bought me a drink.

My mind has already moved through the predictable stages. Is she seeing other sick people rather than me? Wasn't I sick enough for her? Was she bored with my illnesses? Should I have sent flowers on the anniversary of my initial consultation?

But then I reached the inevitable stage where I thought: I will show her. I'll get really sick this year, and she will be soooo sorry that she's not the one taking care of me anymore. Some other GP is going to be prescribing for this guy from now on.

I don't know why this preoccupied me so much today, but it did.

Oh, maybe I should tell you that the GP who dumped me is named Linda.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cute As a Pumpkin

Lily has lost her two front teeth and appears to have ended up in a spot of bother trying to get a new pair.

Matt took that picture when they were at the museum today before they came over to see us. After 10 weeks, I was definitely ready for a major Lily fix.

My first impression was that she has grown about a foot since we last saw her in July. My second was that it is incredible to me that a little girl can lose her two front teeth and still qualify as the most beautiful girl in the world.

She's now three months past her seventh birthday, and yet most of the rituals we have established when she comes over are the same ones we've been doing since she was 2. Dinner is Kraft macaroni and cheese, apple sauce and chocolate milk. (She is now happy to consider other dishes, but only if they are in addition to mac-n-cheese and apple sauce.)

I suspect that in her mind this is what she eats at Armagh and Bampy's, just the way Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving and anything else just wouldn't seem right. Or maybe it's just that she absolutely loves Kraft mac-n-cheese and we are the only chance she has to eat it

She also has this great territory marker. Within the first hour of coming here, she goes into her bedroom, closes the door and takes out every toy, doll and whatnot and spreads them on the floor. I realize it's her unconscious way of saying "This is my turf and don't forget it" and I guess we should be grateful her instincts haven't led her to spray the room like a cat.

Another of our staple rituals comes at Halloween, when Lily comes over here and trick-or-treats with some of her friend using our house as Snickers Central. Today Linda asked her what she was going to dress as this year and Lily said a witch, but she really wanted to be a pumpkin. She was thinking back to the pumpkin costume she had when she was many years younger, which actually is a hand-me-down, having first seen the light of day with Jordan. (That's when Dave called her, as I recall, "the cutest thing you've ever seen in your life." Unlike me with Lily, Dave is definitely biased about Jordan.)

Lily has now well and truly grown beyond the pumpkin suit, and I thought I would try to get her to change her mind. "Lily," I said, "a pumpkin costume is cute, but it's not very practical. It's big and round and you can't even sit down when you're wearing it."

She got up from her chair and came over to me. She patted my belly and said, "You're big and round and you're sitting down!"

Ten weeks away. I seem to have forgotten that you don't try to con Lily.

Anyhow, lots of hugs and kisses and several hours with the most beautiful girl in the world. Yep. It's good to be home. Ain't nothing better than a Lily fix. And I'm not biased.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Communication Skills

It's so good to be back in town and reconnecting with friends and the family here in Oz.

There's this odd legacy thing in my head that somehow thinks that phoning people is related to distance. This makes no sense, of course. I use Skype and can call other Skype users for free, and it costs only cents to make a call to someone's regular phone. Yet I don't call people when I am overseas and then spend the first week back calling up my friends to see how they're doing.

It's odd, really, since it would sound so much more impressive to say, "Hi. I'm sitting in the harbor of Sarande, Albania, and was thinking about you so I thought I would call." But, no. I wait till I am home to say, "Hi, I'm back. How ya doing?"

And let me be honest. A tiny part of me is hoping that after 10 weeks away, when I call my friends up at least a few of them are going to say, "Tell me about your trip" or, in the case of my friends who really need more happening in their lives, "Can I come over and look at your photos while you tell me about your trip?"

But instead I keep hearing, "I've been reading your blog and I know you've had a great trip, so tell me - are you jet lagged?" No one I've called cares about hearing all the little things we've done since they have already read about it. (Except for one friend I spoke with this week. He doesn't care about what we've done, either, but he doesn't read my blog. I'm pretty sure he doesn't read it because he doesn't care all that much about all the little things that happen to me.)

That's not a judgment about my friend, by the way. I really do understand that you might not wake up every morning wondering what happened to Don yesterday. Unless you're my mother, but she doesn't count in this discussion. It's more about the fact that I am so surprised at how much all of us share with one another nowadays.

Every day I check out Facebook to see what is happening to my friends. I know that Sandy went to Rio Tomatlan Friday night, that Megan is overdoing the exercise at rehab, that Jeff drank a bit much at the Rutgers game and that Davy has become a Powerpoint expert (I have given him a goal to which he can aspire!). I know Heidi found a big leaf in her toilet, that Glen had the kids for the weekend and that Hannah spilled the baby's bottle on herself.

Is it too much information? Actually, it's not - and it's not even close. It takes seconds to read, and if I wasn't interested I wouldn't have added them as Facebook friends. I enjoy knowing what's going on in the lives of my family and friends.

No, I really am happy to know about the little things going on in my friends' lives. The only negative about it all? Well, despite the fact that they write about some of the most minute parts of their lives, I have noticed that none of them seem to have written that they read my blog. Hmmm.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Worries, Mate

All my life I have put off till tomorrow everything I possibly could. But in preparing for our long trip, LK and I actually did some things right.

I went to the Greenwich Newsagency and paid the total amount owing. I then asked them to cancel all deliveries until I told them to restart them because I was not going to be home. No worries, he said.

On the same day I called up Ageless Gardens, the people who mow our lawn and tend to the garden. I told them I wanted them to continue to do the lawn while we were away, but that I wouldn't receive any of their bills. Could they instead e-mail them to me so I could pay online from overseas. No worries, they said, and they took my e-mail details promising to send them to me.

LK also talked with Boulter and Partners, the accountants who handle her company's taxes and filings. She explained that she needed to pay any taxes due before we left on the 17th of July. No worries, she was told. Everything is well in hand and nothing would come due before we returned.

We went through a pile of mail last night and this morning.

We are sixty days past due for part of our Greenwich Newsagency bill, since they continued delivering them throughout our holiday.

We are getting overdue notices from Ageless Gardens. The notices are pink, designed I am sure to let the postman know we're deadbeats and not because they thought they thought it would be nicer for us if the third notice were on colored paper.

And, of course, LK now owes several hundred dollars in penalties for not paying the taxes due in late July.

In this blog I don't normally give names when I write about somebody stuffing up. But this morning, I just thought to myself, "No worries, mate."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home Sandy Home

We finally got home after nearly 10 weeks away but not without a delay. The record sandstorm in Sydney prevented us from landing as scheduled, so we had to re-route to Melbourne to get more fuel. After about an hour's wait, we were cleared to leave, getting into Sydney 3 1/2 hours late.

We had a great little episode in Melbourne. The pilot had refueled and had everyone stay on board so we could leave as soon as he had clearance to get into Sydney, which was backed up with all the morning's flight. The crew was doing their best at improvising what to do with such an unexpected addition to their work day when we all heard the engines rev as they do before takeoff.

Oops. Looks like the captain forgot to tell the crew we were actually getting ready to go airborne again. One attendant chased down a little girl who was screaming that she didn't want to sit down. A couple of others seemed to be running up and down the aisles to make sure the seat belts were on and the doors secure. And, as we were already rumbling down the runway one very brave soul ran to shut an overhead bin door that had popped open. He didn't even have time to get back to the crew seats but grabbed an empty passenger spot just before the wheels left the ground.

Well, it turned what had been a fairly boring hour's wait into quite an exciting minute, proving that an action-packed ending can make up for lots of dull preamble.

We missed the spectacular views of the dust storm, but once home we saw what it had done. A thin - and sometimes thick - layer of sand covered almost everything outside. Inside, Caroline had left us a spotless house and a great casserole of Syrian chicken. Nothing to do inside the house and a yummy meal. She's a star.

We're both winding down tonight and can only hope that we sleep through and end up more or less on Sydney time. Vacation's over. Tomorrow there's stuff to be done.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 67: Closing the Circle

One night in Bangkok, and the world's your oyster.
The bars are temples, but the pearls ain't free.
from Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice

Well, we are only going to spend 10 hours in Bangkok, and our flight leaves at midnight so I don't think I will get in any trouble here today.

It's a terrible layover, but even back in the first week of April when we bought our tickets, the flight leaving 3 hours earlier was booked full. It takes so long to get into and out of Bangkok - and then you are never sure if the cab is going to take you where you want to go - that we had decided to tough it out at the airport. Not that tough, really, since the Thai Air lounge is one of the best we've been in. And to confirm our decision to stay here, right now the clouds have burst and it looks pretty much like a monsoon outside.

And just to make it a bit nicer, Thai Air offers passengers in the lounge a free massage while they're waiting. Which really contrasts with the customer service we've been getting from Lufthansa on this trip.

Lufthansa seems to have abandoned its heritage and can't seem to do the simple things right. We have been on three legs of this trip with them. On two legs, they couldn't quite figure out how to give us boarding passes where we would be sitting next to one another. And on last night's long leg, despite our booking more than 5 months ago, they put us together but in the back row seats next to the kitchen.

Which meant that when we were looking to doze off at midnight after leaving Frankfurt, we had roughly as much noise as a factory just behind our seats. And besides the clatter of all the dinner trays, the crew seemed to be having a good old time, laughing heartily for at least the first hour I was trying to sleep and showing typical Prussian compassion for tired old guys.

It all sounds a bit petty, I guess, but I do get cranky when I want my zzz's.

Anyhow, the circle is complete tomorrow. Due to arrive in Sydney at noon - assuming the forecast of gale force winds doesn't make the plane change plans.

Both of us are feeling a sense of unreality that we will be home tomorrow after being gone so long. LK has started putting together a list of things we need to do. And she's thinking a party would be a good idea to catch up with everyone.

But first, this night in Bangkok.

Day 66: Homeward Bound

Back online at last, as we sit at the Venice Airport waiting to fly home. Absolutely amazing to think that last night was our last sleeping on the road. Two more sleeps in airplanes and then what LK calls the best bed in the world. (I still think it's way too high.)

I tried to keep a diary of our five days in Venice, and this is it. A bit long, but us retired folks have time on our hands.


Had to leave the ship early and knew our room wouldn't be ready for several hours. That's all right. We took the water taxi to the hotel, stored our luggage and headed out. Is there a better city to walk around for a few hours than Venice?

Well, today the answer would be just about any city in the world with the possible exception of those in Albania. Venice is in the middle of a massive day-long rain. The canals are slopping onto the pavement at high tide; St Mark's is flooded in places, and the skies are rumbling with the sort of thunder that makes you want to rush to confession and try to wipe away 40 years of being a bad boy.

We went for our walk, anyway.

We were assuming we'd find a place to sit down and have some coffee, but even coffee shops open up kind of late around here. After about 20 minutes, we finally wandered up to the Rialto Bridge and found a place where we took a table under the awning to sit. By then we were both pretty wet, and feeling tired from getting up earlier than we have in weeks. I was also starting to get a bit chilly.

Linda - ever the observant one - explained that was because I was wearing shorts and a light jacket while everyone else was bundled up because it was really cold and raining hard. C'mon, I argued. There must be other people in shorts. After about an hour, LK and I had spotted three other guys wearing shorts among the thousands who walked past us at one of Venice's busiest places. Those three guys looked cold, too.

We had decided it was better to kill some more time at the coffee bar and wait for the rain to subside. I ordered a second double expresso, and made believe it was making me feel warmer. LK stretched out her American coffee with hot milk by sipping slowly as she read the tourist guide. She noticed that many of the hotels had little red heart symbols before their name. Her initial thought was that Venice is for lovers, and these hotels must have some romantic packages available. Until she read the fine print, explaining that hotels with red hearts are those with defibrillators.

Which is actually helpful information, because after two double expressos, I didn't care if the typhoon was ever going to abate. Had to move.

By the time we got to the hotel again, my jacket was soaked through. My calves, knees and the bottom of my thighs were really chilly. And our room still wasn't ready. We sat in the lobby for a further 90 minutes, dozing off once in a while as we warmed up and in general making the lobby look like a refugee camp for old guys in shorts. And once we got to the room we did what we have done pretty much since we got to Europe. We took a nap.

By nighttime, the storm clouds had cleared. We went to dinner. I didn't take any chances. I wore pants.


LK suggested we could go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, one of Venice's most important museums specializing in modern art. The weather was brilliant and the sun was shining.

"Which water bus do we get on?" I asked after buying our 3-day passes. Maybe this one, LK said, but does it matter? It's a beautiful day and there are worse things than riding up and down the canal.

So we jumped on this water bus (kind of a passenger ferry that makes lots of stops like a bus). After about four or five stops, I suggested we were nowhere near the museum. LK agreed. We got off at the next stop and took a return water bus to our starting point.

This time Linda asked at the ticket window which one to take. Jumped on the Numero Uno, and relied on our memories of last year, positive we would see the Peggy Guggenheim Museum as the water bus approached. We had not counted on scaffolding covering the front of the building. Six stops after the museum stop, we realized we had missed it and got off. Got on the return water bus and knew now which stop to get off at.

Only problem, for some reason or the other, the water bus approached the stop, the driver blew his horn, lots of angry yelling, and eventually he took off without docking and went to the next stop. Which was the first stop where we had started our journey. Twice.

I need to explain that in hindsight we now know that the museum stop is the first stop from where we boarded the water bus. One stop.

We took two water buses well past it. Took two others back to Point A.

After 1 1/2 hours of riding the (very crowded) water buses, I suggested we should forget the museum and buy ourselves a beer. LK agreed, although she maintains now that it was her suggestion. Anyhow, after a beer she said, "You know. It would have cost us 12 euros a piece to see the damned Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and I can't stand the crap they have on exhibit there."

She then added, "I think I would rather shop today."

We set off on our new mission, and she didn't miss a stop.


Another beautiful day, bright sun shining and temperatures warm but not stifling. We decided to take the water bus cross the Grand Canal and wander around over there, since we had never really explored that part of the city. It was a wise choice. Nowhere near as many people as mob the area between St Marks and Rialto, and quite a bit more shade.

We popped into a church, looked in on several shops and, arriving at the entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim museum, made it official that we were not going to visit it. We weren't too concerned about where we went or wandered because we could always find the Grand Canal and jump on a water bus to get back if we got tired. Well, that's what we thought, but of course after an hour or so, we had wandered into an area and had no idea which way led to the water buses.

I trusted my instincts about where to go and eventually remembered why I had bought a GPS for this holiday. But the good news is that when you're on an island and have a map in your pocket, you eventually figure out where you are and where you need to go. For us, it was the church of St Rocco. (And honestly, I never even knew there was a St Rocco, but he is now very high on my favorite list.)

When we saw that church we were able to locate ourselves on the map and figure out where to go next, but we were pretty thirsty and a little hungry so we stopped at a sidewalk cafe to have a pizza, a green salad and a beer. It was only when we were drinking the beer that I realized this was a Chinese restaurant, but to be honest the pizza was OK. The salad was a little odd, with kernels of canned corn in it, but it just felt good to sit in the shade for an hour and get some liquid down our throats.

Having figured out how to get back to the main island, I now guided us to the Rialto Bridge. (It wasn't hard. By now we were close enough that every corner had a sign pointing out where to go to get to the bridge.) And as we crossed the bridge, I discovered that LK has more faith in me than common sense would dictate. God love her, but when I said that I thought we could go a different route back to the hotel and avoid the crowds, she said OK and followed me.

Even when we ended up in a cul-de-sac courtyard, she didn't suggest we might fare better with the crowds. And I again trusted my instincts about which direction to go.

This time my instincts led us into a section of Venice that was quite remarkable. In a two- or three-block area, we encountered perhaps no more than 7 or 8 tourists. And every single one of them was looking at their map, trying to figure out where they were. Which, by now, I was too.

We finally crossed one of those little bridges and LK saw a map in a storefront that said "You Are Here" in four languages. At last, I was able to figure out where we were. And we weren't all that far off the mark, even if I can't take much credit for that. I figured out the way back to the hotel, made only two mistakes - both of which I corrected within a block - and made it back.

Tired. Hot. Very thirsty. And the longest walk I think either of us has taken in many years. That's OK. We slept well that night.


Our legs ache. Our feet ache. This week we have walked much more than we are used to doing.

LK suggests a day of culture (which is to say, less walking) - the Venice Biennale international art exhibition. A leisurely stroll around the gardens, stopping at the various country's choices.

I don't know art, but I know what I like. After today I have decided that most of the artists here probably don't know art, either, and they certainly don't know what I like. Most of what we saw was like looking at the final show of a high school art class - pretty cool ideas (if you're 17 and haven't read very many things in your life) and a brave decision to use revolutionary technique (because, frankly, it is waaaay too hard to master genuine technique).

I liked the Spain exhibition, wanted to torch the Belgian. And in the main hall, I saw so much inane and poorly done stuff that I looked around for the hidden cameras to see if they were trying to film people who were stupid enough to ooh and aah at this crap for Candid Camera.

Which led me to the exhibits of my two home countries. The United States of America chose a 69-year-old artist who thought it was way cool to have a room-sized mobile of rubber-cast heads hanging off the various rods. In another room, he had 15 rubber pairs of hands on podiums. And he had a video loop continually running showing hands being washed in a grungy sink.

Spare me, Lord. The US of A decided this claptrap was the best they could present to the world to show the current state of play for their art world.

So let's skip on to Australia. Their hall was a little difficult to find since it was kind of behind most of the other halls. I don't think that is an artistic statement, but more of a comment on what crappy negotiators the Aussies were. Anyhow, doesn't matter. When we got there, I felt great pride in seeing that ours was the only art exhibit with a car parked outside. And it was a Mad Max 3 kind of car, with fuel drums in the back. Cool. We already had the USA beat, even if inside was crap.

Once in there, we saw that our contribution to this year's Biennale was mostly a bunch of videos. I especially liked the five TV sets showing people spinning around (a woman on stilts dressed like Marilyn Monroe, a guy on a skateboard, a street dancer spinning on his back, a guy twirling a roadblock thingy, and a guy spinning on a utility pole). At least they were all spinning in the same direction.

But the main part of the exhibit was a large room showing a wall-sized video of road kill. Trucks roar by, and eventually a Mad Max look-alike shows up on his motorcycle, stops and picks up the dead roo, caresses it and shows it the kind of love that - quite frankly - most roadkill never sees even before it becomes roadkill. I don't know what the artist was trying to convey, but I for one could not stop thinking of how bad that kangaroo corpse must have smelled sitting there in the desert while the camera crew set up and waited for trucks to pass by.

After the scene with the kangaroo, the film cut to another scene with what I think was a very dead dingo on the roadside. Once again Make-believe Mad Max stopped to check it out, and gently swatted away the flies gathered on the roadkill. I figured I got the point, and suggested to LK that it might be a good time to go. Good thing I did. When we read the literature later, it turns out the piece was called "Apology to Roadkill: I - VI". Don't think I could have handled four more scenes of roadkill belatedly feeling their love.

We left Biennale after watching that video. Went directly to a fantastic restaurant, and had a wonderful rest of the afternoon eating sardines and stuffed artichokes, followed by jet black risotto made with cuttlefish, which is in season right now. We washed it down with a gorgeous pinot grigio and followed the meal with cheese with truffles and a gorgonzola slice and a glass of red.

Now, that is art.


Sunday is a day of rest, so we rested. Took a walk up to the Rialto to check out the fish market, which is supposed to be quite interesting. Only it's not open on Sunday. To compensate for her disappointment, LK bought a necklace. It's made from Murano glass beads, and it's quite pretty. And it doesn't come in a Tiffany blue box, so it's a lot less than certain other necklaces I am aware of.

Oh, and we bought another suitcase because, despite LK's assurance that we have not bought anything much since getting to Europe, our possessions seem to require more space. Maybe my clothes are getting fat in sympathy with me?

It was noon when we brought the new bag back to drop it off in our room, and we decided that the walk had made us thirsty. So we went back out and walked a couple of blocks to sit in a narrow, shaded street to drink a beer and watch people walk by. Then we decided to go to the outdoor cafe across from our hotel entrance and share a pizza, have another beer and watch more people walk by.

Sunday may be a day of rest, but there were thousands of people bustling about today because five different cruise ships are in port. And believe me, some of these people had to be seen to be believed. It was much more fun to watch them than, say, seeing the rest of the Biennale.

This is the last night of our trip, and we celebrated it by going to the rooftop terrace on the hotel and having dinner while we watched the crowds down below and the boats on the Grand Canal. After dinner, we felt committed to watching a little TV to get rid of the last bits of our booze.

Getting tired of CNN and BBC as the only English-language TV stations, we decided to try watching an Italian-language show. I am happy to report that Funniest Home Videos works in any language because, quite frankly, a guy getting hit in the privates is funny no matter how he says ouch.

We are getting ready to fly to Frankfurt to connect to Bangkok, where we pick up our Sydney flight. And on the 23rd our wonderful trip comes to an end.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 62:

Hi to all

We are in Venice today, but our room does not have Internet access and the hotel PC will not let me cut and paste my post.

May find a hotspot tomorrow and try. Otherwise, blog resumes on the 21st

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Days

This lovely couple - Norma and Red Kennedy - have been married 62 years today. (Or, if you will, more than half a million hours).

They are largely responsible for making me the way I am, but on their anniversary I think we should all forgive them for that.

And seriously, they taught me most everything I know that really matters. I think the biggest lesson is quite simple: It doesn't get much better than to be with someone you truly love.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Day 60: Don and Linda Go to Church

Yesterday we roamed the streets of Ravenna, on the eastern coast of Italy. Ravenna is a very lovely place and justifiably famous for its mosaics.

I was feeling lazy yesterday, and there were rain clouds forming overhead. Linda had the good sense to nag me into doing the full-on tourist bit, and the four hours we spent there were really quite nice. We even got back on the ship about 20 minutes before the downpour started.

Most of the tourist places are churches, and we saw some lovely ones. For some reason, LK keeps calling the cherub pictured at the top of this "Little Angel Baby Donny". I don't see any resemblance myself, but she insists the hairline matches.

When I am on a reasonable Internet connection, I will upload some of the pictures to Shutterfly, and I think you will like them. Not sure if it will be obvious, but almost everything that looks like a painting is in fact a mosaic.

They are quite remarkable when you see them in person - glistening and reflecting light, and I hope a little of that comes across in the pictures.

One spot we visited is the tomb of Dante. Apparently the poet's bones have had a very active history, as the pope tried to bring them back to Rome and the Ravennans (Ravens?) tried to hide them. Then they were misplaced for a couple of centuries, and finally located a century or two ago. Even in the middle of WWII, they got moved around from one place to another. I am not altogether sure, but with my limited translation skills I believe we were looking at where he USED to be buried not where his bones actually are.

Next to that tomb was a church run by the order of Friars Minor Conventual. Those were the Franciscans who were the first to decide I was not meant to be a man of God when they kicked me out of their seminary. Their church sucked compared to all the rest.

The most beautiful church we saw was the Basilica de St. Vitale. Its architecture is fantastic, and it has beautiful mosaics - even the floors are tiled in rich colors. It also houses the famous statue of Little Angel Baby Donny ("Angelo Bambino Donni").

Throughout the walkabout I couldn't help but think how times have changed. The craftsmanship and the time dedicated to building and decorating these churches is so seldom seen today. Hundreds of years ago, the artists and craftsmen did things few would do today.

I guess that was most evident at the final church we visited, the Basilica de S. Apollinaire Nuovo. (I believe that translates as the Basilica of Saint Apollo Creed.) If ever there were a picture the Church would not be likely to hang today, I think this one must be high on its list.

Anyhow - Venice tomorrow. Probably will miss a day's posting. Have fun. We will.

Day 59: Kennedys in Splitsville; Streak Nearly Ends

Yep, we were in Splitsville yesterday. Well, technically it's only called Split, and it is a beautiful port city in Croatia.

The city is dominated by a massive palace and grounds built by Roman Emperor Diocletian in the beginning of the 4th Century to be his retirement home.

I am more than a little worried because LK was taking measurements and mumbling something about our retirement home in Tasmania needing an upgrade before we moved there.

Much of the palace remains in extremely good shape, and it is the heart of Split's Old Town. Shops and stands fill its squares and passages - except for a few very narrow ones.

And in the back of the palace is an amazing statue of Gregory of Nin, a Croatian religious leader of the 10th Century. As he glowers down at them, tourists rub Gregory's big toe for luck, leaving it bright and shiny. This is either superstitious, gross or oddly arousing depending upon your particular makeup.

During our wanders, we even came across an amazing a capella group doing some beautiful harmonies in one of the castle towers. I think of them as the Croatian Mens Choir.

Unfortunately, they wanted more for their CD than I have spent on any Bruce Springsteen album, so no sale, guys.

After our walk around Split, we spent a quiet Sunday afternoon on the ship - except for the Wii bowling tournament which we had to have. LK, bowling as Elvis, beat me, bowling as Michael Jackson.

And then late last night news from home. We got an e-mail from Caroline, who has been incredible by house-sitting for us for such a long trip.

It appears that our cat, Streak, managed to get in yet another losing fight and had to go to the vet. What had started as a minor cut became infected and required a simple procedure to clean it up.

Streak is one of those animals that really should be called "Lucky" if you recall the old joke (or know our friend Shirley).

Streak has been hit by a car and had some of her claws ripped out. Some animal gave her a deep bite on her right leg requiring stitches which are still there because I forgot to bring her back to the vet. She got in another fight and had her retina scratched, requiring them to transplant a dog's retina. (I know what you're thinking. Honestly, I didn't even think to find out what it would cost before I OKd it.).

And now Caroline took her in to have this simple procedure done - well, I will let Caroline's e-mail do the telling:

They said they would have to put her under a light anaesthetic and drain the wound. They did that but they made a mistake with regulating the pressure in her lungs during the operation and they leaked air into her body. They repaired the leak and stabilised her but needed to keep her in intensive care for 48 hours with constant monitoring to check oxygen absorption levels etc. . . .

I went up this afternoon (Sunday) to check on her again and she is looking great - up walking around and back to normal, I am picking her up tomorrow. The major thing is she needs to stay inside for two weeks without getting too excited (so for 6 days when you get back) just to make sure that the lungs form thick scar tissue around the wound and the stiches heel perfectly.

So again, it is all good, Streak is absolutely fine, in fact the last two days have been a bit like a spa for her. They have kept her on full nutrient drips, extra hydration, booster etc etc.

Caroline is such a sweetheart. She didn't tell us about Streak's problems until they were over because she didn't want us to worry. Actually, given how much I've spent on the cat already, it would be Streak who should be worrying about whether I am willing to shell any more out.

Anyhow, Caroline is also a great negotiator and the vet's bill is going to be for just the bit we would have had to pay if they hadn't screwed up. I know that's how it should be, but we all know that isn't how it usually is. At least when I am involved.

I do feel really bad for poor Caroline. She has done so many favors for us, and has really had to go massively out of her way during our trip. But what really makes me feel bad is that about 9 months before I retired, she organized a business trip for me and I had to work much harder than I wanted to that week. I think I complained way too much about that to her, because this is what she also wrote in her e-mail:

I hope you understand why I didn't tell you when it was happening.
To be honest I just couldn't believe it - it took Don long enough to get over your hideous Perth trip scheduled by me - thought there may be no coming back from your cat dying on my watch.

After all this, Caroline, it is official. I will never again blame you for scheduling too many meetings on my Perth trip. And on behalf of LK, Streak and myself, may I commend you for your kindness to animals and retired people.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 58: Countries Beginning with A

Yesterday the ship docked in Sarande, Albania.

Sarande looked pretty much as I expected it would - featureless apartment blocks, a handful of building shells that had obviously been abandoned in mid-build. Even the ship's literature about the port warned that there wasn't much to see and virtually nothing you would want to buy. I thought it would be more interesting to wash underwear and socks.

It's a shame, because a couple we were talking to last night managed to land in town just in time to watch a good old-fashioned fist fight at 10 in the morning. They described the experience of walking through the neighborhood near the dock as "pretty scary". But they had good pizza and a beer for much less than you would pay anywhere else.

And the beach was pretty. But I already knew that because you can see it from the ship without walking through the neighborhood.

So in the end we each had our own reward. They had a genuine travel experience. I have clean underpants.


I know that a day or two ago I had a good old-fashioned whine about the English who as a nation seem to have developed a cultural skill at stepping in front of people.

But I've decided that's not half as annoying as that breed of American who thinks that because you're in the same universe as they are that you give a rat's ass about what they think. And it seems that an unusually high percentage of the Americans on cruise ships fall into this category.

Every night this trip LK and I have looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Bloody Americans!" in memory of that great scene in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life". It's the dinner party where everyone dies of food poisoning and the Grim Reaper comes to collect them. He gets so fed up with the American nattering on that he points his finger at him and says, "Shut up, you American! You Americans, all you do is talk, and talk, and say "let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say." Well, you're dead now, so shut up!"

I just want to say that much of the time these people are bothering us, they aren't even talking to us. They seem to have their volume control set permanently between the settiings of "Annoy Those Nearby" and "Talk to Someone in Another County". And even that might be OK if what they said wasn't so inane most of the time. But the country that invented 24-hour news channels, talkback radio and Oprah Winfrey seems to have developed the art of making sure that none of us have to suffer the torture of silence or, just as bad, hear our own conversations without raising our voices so the people across the room hear us, as well.

Let me tell you something to make it clear.

Last night we went to a special wine-and-food-pairing dinner. While waiting for the whole group to gather, several of us sat around in the ship's library drinking a glass of champagne. There were two couples from New York traveling together. They're the ones who had the cheap pizza and beer in Albania. We know because they told us, and then told the next couple that arrived. Oh, and the next one after that.

They also told us all about the other wonderful places they have seen this trip (as if none of the rest of us were along for the ride), about the wonderful bartender who gives them such special attention on Deck 10, about the vodka whose name they couldn't remember but it doesn't matter because the wonderful bartender remembered it the next day for them, about the waiter in the dining room who looks like Tiger Woods and whose picture they took and how happy he was and would they email it to him, and ...

Well, you get the idea. All of this in about 10 minutes. Bloody Americans.

Before she seated us, the cellar master - a determinedly cheery Romanian - had us all introduce ourselves and say where we were from. All of us already knew, of course, that the four were from New York because they had told us. None of the rest of us had actually said anything about ourselves, so we were surprised to discover that there were two Australian couples from Adelaide in the group.

At the seating, there were two tables of four and a chef's table set up for 12. We sat across from the Aussies at the larger table and genuinely enjoyed their conversation. Well, except for when it got a little awkward at one point when one of the Aussie women, assuming Linda and I were experts on all things American, leaned across the table and asked, "Are the Jews in America conservatives?"

Fortunately, the New York contingent was sitting at one of the small tables, but I had a hunch there were people at our table much better qualified to answer that question than I was. Nevertheless, I tried for the best politically correct, non-offensive reply I could think of after four glasses of wine. "Well, traditionally the Jewish bloc of voters has leaned toward the liberal side," I answered in my best professorial tones hoping that would be the end of this line of discussion.

Until her husband said, "But the Jews always have so much money. You'd think they would be conservatives."

Some of you who know me well will be surprised to learn that there are times when I shut up, hoping LK will step in and help out with the conversation. But of course, 4 bottles of wine wouldn't have been enough to get her to jump in on this one, so I finally had to do my best waffling about "Well, of course, it's been 20 years since we lived there, and blah blah don't know that much about it blah blah and anyway generalizations are seldom right blah blah."

Fortunately, a new wine was being introduced and nothing is quite so able to get the attention of an Aussie as a new drop to drink. By the time all that was settled, LK proved pretty adept at starting another line of discussion. I think she asked them if they had heard what a bargain pizzas and beer were in Albania.

One of the nice things about dual citizenship is that I can either think of myself as an Australian or an American, depending on which seems the better option at the time. By the end of last night's dinner as we left Albania, I wasn't sure which I would choose. But as we were getting up to leave, my new Aussie mate made up my mind for me.

Despite 3 1/2 hours of food and and at least 8 or 9 glasses of wine, he looked at the Romanian running the show and said to her, "Hey. We haven't got good value yet. How about another glass of wine?"

Oi. Oi. Oi

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day 57: Bridge Lessons

The single most exciting thing about Itea was leaving it.

That's not a joke, although it's not far from the truth. Itea turned out to be a very ordinary town with little to see or do. We could have taken a taxi about 15 miles to Delphi. There are some ruins and temple steps remaining there, but the Oracle checked out centuries ago. All the reports LK had read said the Delphi ruins weren't very interesting. Skipping it suited me since I am just about "ruined-out", having seen lots of broken columns and headless statues in lots of places. I would never have been a good archaeology student because after seeing so many, about the only ruins that are interesting to me now are the ones that are mostly all there (like the Coliseum in Rome) or creepy (like the people trapped in the lava in Pompeii).

We did walk around Itea for a while until we realized there really wasn't any reason to do so. The town did have one odd feature. At least every fifth store was a pharmacy. I don't think I have ever seen so many drug stores in such a small area. It made me free associate with Wrangell, Alaska. When we were there last year, there were more bars than stores. I guess if Wrangell is full of drunks (and apparently it is), Itea must be full of hypochondriacs. At least it's a Greek word.

The departure was interesting because our ship had to go under the bridge connecting Corinth to Pelopennesus. At its center the bridge is only a couple of meters higher than the ship's highest tower, making it a genuine photo op for all of us. LK was doing stills. I was making a movie.

We prepared well. With half an hour to go, I went to the Pool Bar and got us drinks while she went to the room and got the cameras. We climbed to the sun deck at the top of the ship and staked out a spot very near the center to get our shots. LK had the sense to realize that, if the ship's tower was going to hit the bridge, it would crash backward so we got in front of it. It was only as we neared the bridge that it occurred to her it might be the bridge that would tumble down, in which case we'd have great footage of being crushed if they ever found our camera. In any event, the captain knew what he was doing and we cleared the bridge with at least a yard or two to spare.

That's not to say that our photos and videos went as planned. Despite having staked out our position about 30 minutes ahead of time, it was probably inevitable that some clueless Poms would wait until the last second and then get right in front of us. ("Poms", for my American friends, are what most Aussies call English people. The term is not a nice term, but it will never go out of fashion so long as there are Poms like the idiots we encountered last night.) The first time one of them got in front of me, he did so by climbing onto the deck lounge where my drinks and camera case were, and then standing on its arms, completely blocking my view of the bridge.

For some strange reason, he was wearing a pin-striped suit (strange because this is a casual dress code ship at all times). So I took it to mean that he was the sort of Pom who went to a boys' boarding school. That, and the fact that he seemed to think I would prefer to look at his butt from a foot away rather than the bridge. If I was right, I figured him for the kind of person who responded well to bullying. So I just snapped at him. "Hey, you're blocking my view. Move it!" And he did.

But his actions, of course, only served to signal to other Poms that the space in front of me was in dispute, a mini-Falklands, if you will. By tradition that means more troops must be sent in, and with pluck and determination one more colony will fly the flag and soon this place, too, will celebrate the Queen's Birthday. What I mean, of course, is that after the pinstripe idiot moved, two other clueless Poms stepped in front of me and blocked my view.

Only this pair were of that semi-bovine sub-class of the English best known for blank stares and wrinkled foreheads. These were the public-school kids who go on to become the troops that would hold the territory in the face of attacks, commands, insults and abuse. Surprisingly, it wasn't me abusing them, but if LK said "gormless pommies" once, she said it at least ten times. And loudly. And OK, I was abusing them, too. But mostly in a calm voice as I narrated my video, which had gone from being the watching-the-passing-under-the-bridge video to the watching-the-backs-of-the-heads-of-two-gormless-poms video. Perhaps I used a few objectionable words myself. And not once did they even act as if they heard us.

Frankly, since we didn't end up hitting the bridge, I think there's much more dramatic tension in the video I did take. There's the bridge looming up at us; there's the sudden appearance of the two bad guys; there's the repeated chanting of "gormless poms" from our heroine. Unfortunately, it ends rather blandly as we all just walk away once we clear the bridge.

Even so, it will eventually go up on YouTube. But with the ship's cheapest Internet rate at 42 cents a minute (that's more than $25 an hour), there's no way this video gets uploaded until we're back home.

Oh, and today we're in Sarande, Albania. Never thought I'd visit Albania. I will be quite surprised if I ever do again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 56: All at Sea

Yesterday was spent at sea as we moved from Bodrum to Itea, Greece. The satellite connecting us to the Internet was patchy and kept cutting out, so I couldn't upload a post. It didn't matter. Days at sea are very relaxing, but primarily because almost nothing happens.

We read books, ate lunch and dinner, played some cards in the casino and went to bed. One interesting thing happened in the casino. The guy next to me at the blackjack table asked for a card, even though he was holding an 18. The dealer tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted. He got a 10. I asked the casino manager if he had seen this before, and he told me this guy was the first person in the history of the casino to actually total 28 in blackjack - which I guess is its own distinction, even if he lost his bet.

One of the strange things about this trip is that the ship is an exact replica of the one we were on in October, only it is owned by a different cruise line - Azamara, this time, and Oceania last October. Both companies bought them from a line that went out of business, so it's understandable that almost everything is exactly the same - even down to most of the furniture and little things like the "Do Not Disturb" signs.

However, if 99% of the ship is the same, it's the 1% that causes problems. Just when you expect something to be in a certain place, suddenly it's not there and you get kind of a Twilight Zone feeling that you've somehow wandered into a parallel universe.

Our friends Jaki and Robert were with us almost every night in the October cruise at the Happy Hour in the bar where they had set aside a smoking section. In fact, if you go back to my blogs at the time, you will see a picture of them with about 8 gin and tonics as they loaded up on the 2-for-1 drinks before the Happy Hour ended. We, of course, were ordering just as many at our table, but he who controls the camera controls what's in the picture.

The smoking section is in exactly the same place on this ship, but this is a picture of the people who were there at 5:30 the other night. Creepy. I almost sounded an alert to look out for the smokers having early drinks, until I realized that even LK was walking past since she no longer smokes.

Today we are in Itea, which from the ship looks like any other seaport town. It is cooler (mid-70s) and overcast as that weather system that has done so much damage in Istanbul works its way around to our location. We will probably just have a wander around to stretch our legs and check out the town.

More later.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 54: Rooked at the Castle, But Toasted in the End

How beautiful is that to wake up to! I walked out on to our balcony just about daybreak, and this is what I saw. Bodrum is an ancient city, and its harbor is among the most peaceful and beautiful I have seen. There aren't a lot of tourist-y things to see here, but the clear blue sea is obviously a major draw and hundreds of beach umbrellas and lounges for rent seem to stretch the length of the shore.

This was once home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the massive and apparently magnificent crypt of King Mausolus - which gave us the word "mausoleum". The tomb survived for more than 1,500 years until an earthquake destroyed it two years after Columbus stumbled upon America. Even in collapse the tomb lives on because its rock and marbles were used by the Crusaders to build the Castle of St Peter the Liberator, a fort which overlooks the harbor today.

Which brings us to today's tale. We were up early and ready to explore the island before the day got too hot. Linda is usually the better organized of us two. OK, is almost always the better organized. But today was an off day. She steered us wrong as we searched to find the gangway to go ashore, but anyone could make that mistake.

Once ashore, the way to the castle was an easy wander along the waterfront. Before long, that led us into the jumble of shops and restaurants that grow up everywhere tourists gather. I had forgotten to check if we had any Turkish lira before we left the room, and when we saw an ATM and a local currency exchange, I suggested to LK that we should get some local money.

Don't bother, she said. We've got euros and US dollars, and everybody takes them.

Everybody, it turns out, except the government-run department that wanted liras if we wanted to get into the castle and explore it. In fact, they felt so strongly about this that they even had a sign that said not to bother asking.

By now, we had walked about an hour, and it was starting to get fairly hot and the sole place we had spotted where we could get liras was about 20 minutes back. Off we went.

But after only about 100 yards, LK saw a sign with the map of the area on it. There was a bank just on the other side of the castle. So we backtracked and started to walk around the castle. Unfortunately, while a bank may indeed have been behind the castle, there was no street going there. We headed back to the ATM again, only now it was even that much further.

"I'm walking behind you," Linda said. When I asked why, she said that she had been wrong twice and wasn't taking the lead anymore. I told her not to be silly, knowing full well that if she had made a mistake it would be mean-spirited of me to rub her nose in it. Of course, she also knows full well that I can be very mean-spirited when it comes to things like this.

Anyhow, it was about 25 minutes back to the currency exchange. Which meant it was about 25 minutes back to the castle before we did our walkabout. It was getting very hot now. My shirt was soaked and my hat was growing white rings around the visor. And we were getting tired.

"Of course, there's no reason we have to go back to the castle," LK said. "It's just a big castle and it has a collection of underwater archaeology finds. It's not going to be a big deal to miss it." Which sounded like someone who had quickly debated the pros (seeing the inside of the castle) and the cons (having to walk all the way back to the ship while dragging Don) and quickly chose the affirmative side.

So that is why my picture with the castle is taken from outside and across the water, because without lira I was turned away like the barbarians at the gate. And by the time I had liras in my pocket, I was too tired to want to go back.

But something really good came out of this. I needed to drink something cold, so we walked into an open-air cafe next to the water and sat down in the shade to drink iced tea. LK scanned the menu and excitedly pointed to the item you can see in the picture here.

That's right, this Turkish cafe is selling Half Bread Toast, which must surely be the Mediterranean equivalent of my invention of "one-side soft toast" (tm). I am validated. A trend has been started. The world is learning the joy of soft-on-one-side-crisp-on-the-other toast.

Had we brought local money to the castle the first time, we almost surely would not have discovered this. And of course, had I checked to see if we brought any in the first place, I would have already had it with me before we left the ship. But then I would be writing about silly old underwater archaeological finds rather than important findings, such as Half Bread Toast.

Day 53: Red for Luck

Well, it turns out that we weren't quite the wusses we had thought we were yesterday when we decided not to go ashore. The captain came on the loudspeaker as we left port early last night to tell us that the team on the bridge had to work harder to keep the ship steady while at port than he could recall. For the first time in seven years, he said, they had had to drop a second anchor. Apparently we're dealing with a couple of days of gale-force winds, and he has just come on tonight to tell us they are going to take a different course on our way to Bodrum Turkey in an effort to stay clear of the rough seas. The good news for me is that I have something other than last night's drinks to blame for how out-of-sorts I've felt today.

I got quite lucky last night. First, we had a fantastic dinner at the steakhouse on board. LK thought a bottle of barolo would be perfect with our veal chops, but there was none on the wine list. We asked the sommelier and she managed to produce one jiffy quick. It was very nice - and to my relief, it wasn't even all that pricey when we got the wine bill at the end of the meal.

We had a nice chat with the sommelier and have ended up signed up for a wine-and-food pairing she is doing in a couple of nights. That should be fun. Linda even got to tell her that she was a very popular celebrity on Cruise Critic, with lots of people singing her praises online. She seemed very surprised and obviously happy to learn it. I told her I'd bet anything that the powers-that-be in the cruise line probably got briefed on all that Internet commentary,and was surprised they didn't share it with her. I asked if she they might not share this stuff for fear she might want to bargain harder next contract. The look on her face made me think I may have hit the mark.

The restaurant was on Deck 10, our room is on 8. Yet miraculously we ended up at the casino again, which is on Deck 5. I think it was because I didn't want my friends John the Casino Manager and Jinn the Dealer to be jealous because I had made a new friend in the restaurant.

Anyhow, I got very lucky, Not so much playing cards, although I did come out a little ahead there.

But the casino was having a lucky draw last night, and I had a couple of tickets, plus a few LK had collected. First they drew a number, and the person wasn't there. Second number drawn, and I looked at my tickets. Unfortunately, my arm wasn't long enough to read the numbers, but it kind of looked like I had the winner. Just couldn't tell if a 3 from an 8 or a 1 from a 7. I had to ask Jinn, the blackjack dealer, to read it for me. It was worth the embarrassment, because it was the right ticket.

But that didn't guarantee any cash. I then had to pick red or black and hope the roulette wheel would spin me a win. I dealt with that pressure the way I learned in business. I delegated, and asked Jinn to choose for me. Her pick was easy - red is the lucky color in China. Red, I said, and they spun the wheel.

They were taking pictures and video, obviously hoping for some "See how exciting our casino is!" footage. Only, I am from Vermont and the only way you could tell if I was excited would be if I tapped my foot very fast. The guy with the microphone even got a laugh from the room by noting that he seemed more excited than I was. It's pretty obvious I will never get called to the stage for The Price Is Right.

In the end, I gave him a break. When I won the $500, I smiled and gave him a thumbs-up.

Bodrum tomorrow.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 52: In Which I Rationalize Lying Around and Doing Nothing

Very choppy seas today. We are anchored off of Mykonos, and the only way to go ashore is by tender. Those are boats that were named after how your butt feels after you ride in them. And watching those little boats go through the big waves today makes it look like they’re an adventure ride at Disneyland.

LK is addicted to the Cruise Critic chat rooms, so she has a pretty good idea of what to expect at our destinations. Most people who have gone ashore at this very small Greek island have felt there wasn’t much to see. Looking at the tenders bobbing up and down on their way to shore, and recognizing the strong chance that at least some of our fellow passengers might end up leaving breakfast on LK’s new Keds, we decided to stay on board.

Not an adventurous start to the tour, to be sure, but a pool day is never going to strike LK as a missed opportunity. I don’t do pool, of course, since most of my fair-skinned body meets the standard definition of “where the sun don’t shine.” Hmm, not sure that was the best way to phrase that . . .

Anyhow, I read the ship’s literature about Mykonos, and I have to admit it did not look there was going to be a lot of stuff I cared about. Its one compelling feature seems to be that the good citizens deliberately built their streets so people would get lost. Apparently this worked well centuries ago when pirate attacks were a problem. It seems a bit counterproductive today, though, when tourism is their major business.

Had we visited, the highlights would have been a church, a folk museum with a collection of knitwear, an archaeological museum with carvings and gravestones, and a library with 6,000 books in it. Hmmm, not sure why those Cruise Critic folks were so unimpressed.

The one notable thing about Mykonos is its famous round-shaped windmills, but they are not currently in operation. Which means that something that had only 20 out of 100 on the interesting-to-see meter has fallen to 5 or 6.

Doesn't matter. The ship is nice and spending a day on it is not all that shabby. In less than 24 hours, I’ve learned they make excellent martinis and only adequate Bloody Marys. And I’m making lots of friends. Last night I made friends with John from Canada, who is the casino manager, and Jinn from China, who made it a fun night by dealing me lots of winning hands and then sympathized as she took them all back from me.

Tonight I may try to make friends with people who don't want me to give them money.

Oh and a big PS --- With all the travel and time zones and the craziness of getting aboard yesterday, I almost failed to properly recognize a most important date - Jason’s birthday. His first as a Kennedy and a (legally) married man. Happy Birthday, Jay. We both send our love, and your mother says to be careful.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 51: Greek Treats

We're checking out of the hotel and getting on board our cruise ship today, so a quick post.

I am over my jet lag, but poor LK is sleeping at all the wrong times and trying to find things to do at 4am. I think the ship will be perfect for her because a good afternoon lie-down is almost a given, anyhow.

Last night we went to a very good restaurant called Agroteka. It is not on the tourist routes, and the woman at the front desk correctly figured out that we would enjoy a restaurant that the locals loved. We had extremely generous starters of grilled octopus and homemade sausages with lemon-roasted potatoes. (Actually, the real starter was a free shot of booze - not sure what it is - but how can I not like a restaurant that starts you out with shooters on the house!)

Main course was roast pork with three-cheese sauce (nowhere near as good as the starters) and grilled lamb chops, all of it washed down with a very different sort of organic rose from the Pelopennese region. LK even tried dessert, which was a milk pie which was definitely not like mother used to make since she'd never heard of it in her life. It was OK but nothing to ask for the recipe.

So this morning, I reminded her that she had told the restaurateur in Cambridge that his was the second best restaurant of our trip. (I believe she thought winning silver would please him. It did not appear to.)

This morning I asked her where last night's restaurant rated. She said in the top 5 of the trip, but that it did not threaten our No 1, which was Rio Tomatlan in Canandaigua. I see on Facebook that Sandy and Dave went back there last night. We would have been jealous if Agroteka hadn't been so good. And in Greece.

Anyhow, if it sounds like about all we did here was sleep at odd hours, have a brief wander around and eat, you would be about right. That sure seems like good preparation for the cruise that starts in a few hours.

PS Not sure about connections and rates aboard the ship, so the blog may be a little irregular for the next ten days. But I will try to get something up as much as possible.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 50: Asleep in Athens

Boy, did jet lag get us this time!

We both arrived in Athens yesterday super tired. We'd slept on both legs of the flight, but only a little bit each time. The flight from Boston to Munich is 6 1/2 hours, and we probably only got about 3 hours there. Then we dozed off and on on the 2 hour flight here. So we arrived needing sleep yet our body clocks were still set to US East Coast time, meaning it was time to get up even though we were tired. Well, that's jet lag.

This is Athens, where the street cafes are still serving well past midnight, so we decide to catch a nap and hit the town later. Typical of jet lag, we slept like the dead, woke feeling even more tired and had to force ourselves to shower and get out of the room.

Won't tell you how terrible the service was at the cafe the hotel recommended. Well, yes I will. They took our order fairly quickly, brought it very slowly, never took a second drink order, we had to ask for the rest of the order, they asked where we were sitting. And to that question I told them we were at the other table, since there were only two tables at the time.

Back to the room around midnight, had an amber alert and before she can drink it, LK announces she's tired and going to bed. I followed half an hour later, and we both slept til 4:30. Wide awake, we discussed what to do at that hour and decided lying in bed reading was as good as anything. We woke up again at 9:30.

Now by this time we have slept many more hours than either of us usually does, but it doesn't help. We drag ourselves out of bed, catch the last half hour of the hotel's complimentary breakfast and walk the two blocks to the Antiquities Museum at the base of the Parthenon.

No, that's not accurate. We shuffled there, both of us complaining that we were still sooooo tired. Anyhow, we checked out this beautiful museum.

It's full of all sorts of things that are 3 - 5,000 years old. The very first thing you see are these vases from 3,500 BC. There are hundreds of them.

They look great, the designs are still bright and there's only a slight bit of damage on just a few of them.

I can't help but think that the Greeks have held on to these for centuries, while our cleaning lady has managed to destroy several of ours in just a few years.

There is a statue of Dionysos from the Parthenon pediment (it's the one at the top of this post) with a sign explaining that he was the god of vegetation, wine, intoxication and ecstatic dancing. It also added that he was the Greek's favorite god, but I think we would have guessed that anyhow.

The statue looked as fit and buff as if he just walked out of the gym, assuming guys with no feet or hands worked out. Given his reputation for drinking too much, I figured the lesson to be learned from his physique is that either I should just eat vegetables, or dance ecstatically after I get drunk. Or maybe both. I may give it a try when we get home. If I lose weight, I can get rich publishing "Lose Weight the Dionysian Way". Maybe Larry King will interview me.

Anyhow, the fatigue from the jet lag killed our inclination to check out every last exhibit in the museum and we left after a wander around the top floors. Inspired by Dionysos, we ended up at a streetside cafe for a beer and peanuts. The temperatures are up in the 90s and I was thirsty. The waitress asked if we wanted a small or large beer, and I laughed. It turns out the large beer is more or less a small keg with handles. After finishing that, we are now back in the room.

We're both a bit weary and thinking of another lie-down. I don't know if it's jet lag anymore. It could be the heat. It certainly could be the beer. But either way, I think the ecstatic dancing is going to be put on hold. LK fell asleep while I was writing this.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 48 1/2: A Shaggy Don Story

Nothing like saying good-bye, tears, hug-hug, kiss-kiss and out the door. And then you pop your head back in about twenty minutes later because you remembered one more thing you wanted to say. Inevitably your friends are either naked, laughing uproariously at some joke they've made up about you or have brought out the good grog now that you're not around to drink it all in one setting. No, we all know you can't have a big farewell and then just pop back in.

So, after my long hast la vista this morning, the only appropriate thing to do is stay off the air for a couple of days as promised. But of course, you're reading this so you know I am not going to do that.

Besides, they're burying Michael tonight, and I can't stop singing his hit, "Never Can Say Good-bye".

I am back posting because something happened to me today between signing off in the hotel room and boarding the plane to Europe and I am using the time in the lounge to tell you about it.

For about two weeks now LK has been STRONGLY suggesting that I get my hair cut and my moustache trimmed. I told her they may have grown a little long but there was no reason to call me shaggy. I even pointed out that some might call me trendy as there were several guys around whose hair and mo looked a lot like mine. LK argued that homeless people don't count as grooming trendsetters.

Anyhow, you can see my picture up above and judge for yourselves. The fact that this picture was taken 12 days ago should in no way make you assume that my sideburns had grown even bushier and my moustache even more straggly. Even if they did.

Today we had a lovely lunch in Norwood with our friend Marion who worked at my old company and was my favorite person there. After lunch, LK and I decided to drive around and see Norwood, where we lived when we worked in Boston. Once we remembered how to get to our old place, the trip lasted another five minutes and there wasn't much to do.

Until I drove past a barber shop in Norwood. We've got time before we have to go to the airport, I said to LK. Do you really think I look so bad I should get my haircut here?

I am lousy at calling her bluff, as you probably have guessed. She said yes.

So I wandered into a barber shop that had probably debated recently whether they really needed to get rid of that big jar of combs in alcohol. When I got in the chair Robert the barber asked what I wanted. I can now report that his definition of tidying up is not the same as mine.

At the salon where I usually go, Andrea generally starts out with a two finger scissor-clipping sort of action. A few strands eventually float down and then she moves to the other side. Robert started with a big electrical razor and just started mowing the weeds above my ears. It wasn't a No 1 cut, but I knew parts of my scalp were going to feel breezes they haven't known in years.

Robert actually ended up using four different electrical trimmers and seven-or-eight different blade settings, which are respectively three and six-or-seven more than Andrea usually uses. I had visions of some Edward Scissorhands-style sitting on my head. I was hoping for a peacock.

Robert eventually pulled three sets of scissors from a sterilizing box that had a picture of Rocky Marciano on it. That's Rocky Marciano as in the boxer who was champion in the early 1950's. And I am not making any of this up, by the way.

Robert got another trimmer and attacked my eyebrows, my nose hairs, the hair inside my ears. I checked quickly to make sure my pants were zipped.

Robert trimmed my moustache. He did such a thorough job that Linda - who didn't notice when I shave it off two years ago - noticed how much he had shaved it.

And for the first time in at least 20 years, I had shaving cream put on my sideburns and the back of my neck, a straight razor stropped and shaving me, and real after-shave lotion slapped on me.

When it came time to pay, I wondered how much all this extra barbering stuff was going to cost. Andrea charges $55, so I wasn't really shocked when he said $60. Although Robert seemed shocked when I gave him $60.

"I said 16," he said very slowly as you might to a slow-learning child. I took back two of the 20s and told him thanks for a great haircut.

I think it has completely changed my looks, and will affect how people see me. But I will leave it to you decide. And by the way, this time I really am getting on the plane.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 48: Hasta la Vista, Baby

No, I didn't accidentally push 2 for Espanol. I just thought it is a fitting headline to end our US Road Trip by having an American living in Australia quote the Spanish line made famous by the Austrian-born governor of California.

In any language, it is time to say "See you later". We've driven from the proverbial sea to shining sea and are flying out of the US later this evening. We arrived three weeks after Michael Jackson died, and they still won't bury Michael until later tonight. I suspect the ratings are better in September than July or August.

We have logged 4,810 miles (7,741 km) in 48 days across 19 states. We stayed in 14 hotels, mooched off of numerous family and friends, listened to more than 100 hours of oldies on satellite radio (and still no Patti Page!). We've recorded 137 amber alerts, tried martinis in 11 different states and learned tequila looks like but doesn't taste like vodka.

We've eaten at McDonald's twice and chosen not to ever eat at McDonald's again twice. We discovered that even Applebee's has a Happy Hour when we're around and that Chili's $20 meal deal gives you more food than the Applebee $20 meal deal. But the one at Chili's definitely has longer-term consequences. Much longer.

We have developed a whole dictionary of phrases that will make us laugh - even if no one around us knows why. So if you ever see either of us in a bad mood, please cheer us up by saying one of the following:
  • moose and squirrel
  • amber alert
  • I'll give you 20
  • thank you, Christian
  • I didn't ask
And we have seen so many people we care so much about. So good-bye for this time to Robert, Jaki, Cathy, Steve, Beth, Marne, Jo, Phyllis, Peg, Sandy, Dave, Jordan, Chris, Ben, Red, Norma, Bob, Deb, Brenda, Frenchie, Jean, Walt, Terry, Jeff, Kelly, Mark, Christian (1 and 2), Zoey, and David.

And while today marks the end of our American road trip, we aren't done yet. A certain love of my life looked around our standard room in the Cambridge Hampton Inn Tuesday night and wistfully recalled our pre-retirement days of expense account stays at 5-star hotels across the river. "I'm ready for a little luxury," she said.

OK. Next post from Athens and then a cruise of the Adriatic.

In the meantime, amber alert.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 47: If the Shoe Fits . . .

In these shoes?

I don't think so.

Kirsty MacColl


After a 4 1/2-hour drive that stretched out to 6+ hours with traffic jams, we rewarded ourselves in Cambridge last night by going for a nice dinner at the East Coast Grill, which had rave reviews that were well earned if our meals were anything to go by.

With only a day and half left in the US it was probably inevitable that we would review our trip, but we did do it in the way that only LK and I can do. No mention of the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone. No reminiscences about friends and family. No, as nearly always happens at this stage of the trip we talked about why the luggage was so heavy and why we had to pay extra to ship boxes home.

Linda insisted it wasn't her shopping. "I hardly bought anything," she said - which is a fairly remarkable thing to tell me given that I was with her about 90% of the time she was shopping. I don't often challenge my darling, but that second martini at the restaurant made me reckless.

I decided to challenge on an area where I had some first-hand knowledge, given that I had been with her one day in Rutland when she purchased five pairs of shoes in the space of a two hours.

"What about your footwear?" I asked.

She took my question quite seriously and thought for a second before asking me a question that I believe only Linda could ask. "Do I include the flip-flops?"

Because, you see, it appears that she only bought the flip-flops because they were cute and they do not to her way of thinking actually belong in the collection she thinks of as her footwear.

OK, I agreed, leave out the flip-flops.

In that case, she said, six pairs of shoes - a pair of London Soles she got in Caifornia, three keds, the water-walking shoes and the dock shoes she got in Rutland.

What about your other dock-siders and slip-ons? I asked. Oh, well, she pointed out. Those had been ordered online months and months ago and couldn't be counted in this trip's haul.

So, I asked, after digesting that bit of logic, how many shoes did you pack to bring on this trip?

"Well," she said after a moment's tally, "I brought two pairs of London Soles and one pair that looks like London Soles but isn't. And I bought three pairs of flip-flops."

But should we count flip-flops? I asked, remembering the earlier conversation.

Stupid me. It seems the flip-flops she bought on this trip are nothing like the flip-flops she packed in Sydney. Those three packed pairs are leather and more up-scale so they actually qualify to be part of the official footwear collection.

Which led me to the ultimate question about the official footwear collection: How many pairs of footwear do you own? If you count everything including boots, clogs, sneakers, flip-flops and whatever else goes on your feet, just how many shoes do you own?

LK had to take a moment to think. Then she asked, "What's 47 and 39?"

I told her it was 86, and she thought for about 2 seconds more. "OK," she said, "it's about 215 pairs."

There are moments in some of these conversations with LK when I know that continuing will only make me crazy. So, yes, I could have asked why she was adding 47 and 39. I could have asked what that sum of 86 had to do with 215.

Or I could do what I did at dinner last night. I waved to the waiter and ordered a third martini.

And when we got back to the room, I did what George Burns taught us all so well. I said goodnight, Gracie.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 46: Leaving Freehold

Happy September.

Can't believe we arrived here July 17th and this morning we are hitting the road to Boston, our final stop on this American Road Trip.

Not much time to post before we head out so today's post is just a quick pictorial catch-up of some of the place we visited. It's on Shutterfly here.

Day 45: More Fruit of the Blog of Knowledge

The sun returned yesterday, and the pool was a magnet. Everyone in the family ended up there - the four of us, Walt and Terry's three grandchildren, their sons Jeffrey and Christian and even Walt's mom, Anna. What a great bunch of people to spend a great summer's afternoon with.

It was a Disney-perfect summer day. Kids laughing and splashing, baseball games being followed and steaks and burgers on the grill. Needless to say, not much really happened so today's post will be one more chapter in the Blog of Knowledge. This is my ongoing contribution to the education of the 8 or 9 people who read this where I share interesting research that I've stumbled across lately.

The first study is especially disturbing. Scientists have discovered that fat people are stupid. A research project by scientists at UCLA have learned that obese people have 8% less brain tissue than thin people. They also learned that obese people's brains looked 16-years older than thin people's.

The scientists scanned 94 brains and decided that was enough to draw conclusions. Of course, their determination of cause-and-effect is open to debate because statistically it is just as valid to say that people with smaller brains tend to get fat.

Somehow, neither interpretation gives me much comfort. But I'm having trouble explaining why. Maybe if I have another macaroon it will help.

The second bit of research is much more positive. The New York Times reports that clinical trials are under way for a drug that lets you eat as much as you want but it tricks your body into thinking it's on a diet.

One of the best things to come out of that research is that the key ingredient in this drug is resveratrol. This is a minor ingredient of red wine, which goes to show that I have been self-medicating all these years without even knowing it. Which, of course, may be because I have a smaller brain.

Or it may just be because I am getting older. For another study has discovered that binge drinking is no longer restricted to younger people. In a study of 11,000 people between 50 and 65, a US government survey discovered that one in four of men my age has engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

Surprisingly, it turns out that I am not one of them. The standard definition of binge drinking is consuming 5 or more drinks in 2 hours. It's not so much restraint on my part (as most of you would know), but because I like to stretch out my drinking time to cover the whole evening, well past a mere 2 hours.

The research also learned that even after age 65, about 14% engage in binge drinking. I am pretty sure this is just an unfortunate coincidence where they go out for the early bird special and stumble onto happy hour at the bar. You know how hard it is for us retirees to say no to a bargain.