Sunday, May 30, 2010

California Dreamin'

Eureka. Two days into our road trip and we have made it to Eureka, California. Today we will drive across the border into Oregon.

Our two days on the northwest coast of California have been amazing. The rugged, cold Pacific coast has alternated with massive redwood and spruce forests. There has been enough scenery to keep the most diehard photographer busy (some pics here), and best of all, we have benefited from Jaki's knowledge of some great spots to stop.

We weren't very far into our journey when we stopped in Lucerne at Foster's Freeze (I think) - and had soft-serve custard ice cream the way they made it when I was thin enough to not feel guilty about having a soft-serve cone.

But the real treat happened later, when we pulled into Anderson Valley Brewing Company. That's their horned bear behind me in the picture, but the beers were the real show there. They made many good ones, but there was one that I had never had before and I love it. It was called Sour Horn, and it was a "sour barley wine" aged in old whiskey barrels. It was sour; it looked kinda like beer; it was yummy. And, for whatever reason, it wasn't for sale. You could only sample it at their tasting bar.

The first night we stayed at Fort Bragg in a beautiful spot, with only a small meadow separating us from the cliffs of the Pacific. We had cocktails on our back decks while the sun sank into the ocean and enjoyed the view -- even if we didn't enjoy the temperature. I should add at this point that it has been cold here, and when the winds were whipping off the ocean it has been very cold. Let me put it this way, Hobart has been warmer than northern California this week.

We backtracked a couple of miles the next morning to have what Jaki called the "best Bloody Marys ever" at a little bar called Dick's Place in Mendocino. Jaki was soooooo right. I didn't see how you could make Bloody Marys that would be so special they would be worth a special trip. I was wrong.

Quick recipe (from what I could observe): the usual vodka, tomato juice, worcestershire sauce, tabasco sauce, horseradish, lemon wedge, celery salt, regular salt, pepper. But then there is a vegetable salad that raises this above the normal: two pickled green beans, a pickled pepperoncin, two colossal olives stuffed with pimiento. No celery.

Good enough to have two. (OK, three. Jaki was driving, after all.)

We walked around Mendocino before the bar opened, and it was a beautiful, charming seaside village. And I was really surprised that LK managed to keep the credit card in her handbag as long as she did.

Then we headed north, stopping to pick up sausage and cheese at the smokehouse on 101, bread at a great bakery before we made it to the Pacific Star Winery. In one of the most beautiful settings I have ever been in, this winery has the unique claim of sitting atop a faultline. The winery had actually been built before the faultline was discovered, and in fact the faultline is called the Pacific Star to recognize where it was discovered.

We sampled their wines, bought a beautiful red blend, pulled out our bread, sausages and cheese and had a lovely lunch overlooking gorgeous scenery and trying to stay a bit warm as the winds whipped across the land. As part of director LK's ongoing series of Pacific Rim lunches, the following video is offered:

We finally made it to Eureka last night, after Jaki drove us through some of the scariest, winding mountain roads I've been in. Hairpin turns overlooking 100+-yard drops with nothing to stop you except big trees that would probably treat the car as if it were a pachinko ball. But she did a great job, and today we begin Day 3 of our adventure.


And a Big Postscript. Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you and are really looking forward to making it to Rutland to have a proper celebration.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Photo Ops

Well, the cruise portion of our year of travelling massively has come to an end.

It was a pretty amazing experience - not least because the ship we were on in the Mediterranean kept playing the theme song from the Poseidon Adventure. But also because we got to see so many places we'd never visited before.

The first 24 days - on Azamara from Singapore through Thailand, India, Dubai and Egypt to arrive in Athens - were hot, often humid and in places that don't have much in common with Kansas. The 10 days on Mykonos were wonderful, with fantastic, warm weather and beautiful views. The final 10 days -- cruising the Mediterranean on Oceania from Istanbul to Lesbos, Ephesus, Santorini, Malta, Tunisia (the artist formerly known as Carthage), Cinque Terre and ending in France -- were much cooler.

In fact, I don't know who the woman is in that photo, but I took her picture because I believe it showed that some people feel they have paid for a cruise and they're going to lie by the pool no matter what the weather is like.

There isn't much to wrap up about the trip. I think the only place I didn't do a post was Cinque Terre. That's the lovely place on the northwest coast of Italy with villages high in the cliffs above the crystal clear sea. It's the practice for tourists to walk from one to the other. After LK and I did our bit there climbing up and down more than this guy is used to, I was waaaaay too tired to even think of writing. Anyhow, the important thing about Cinque Terre is the views, so enjoy the pictures.

And that is now possible because I have caught up with all the pictures I couldn't upload with the ships' lousy internet connections. I've created a Shutterfly share site with the albums from our trip. You can get there by clicking here or just typing in

I doubt if our kids would recall, but if you go to that page I bet it will remind you of days gone by when a friend would come back from a holiday. They would come for a visit, and we'd pull out the slide carousel and screen to see their pictures. It took a long time to get through them all - partly because of the narrative that went with every picture but also because inevitably a quarter of them were upside down.

Now, of course, you just open a web page, click on slideshow and off you go. And the best part is you don't have to listen to me drone on about what you're looking at.

Road trip starts tomorrow.


PS Looking at that picture of Julia Child in the post below, LK suggested that if she were bald and had a moustache she would look just like me. Actually, she said if I had curly hair and no moustache, I would look just like Julia. I point it out to show you the sort of things I deal with every day.

Don and Julia

When we finally moved out of our Greenwich house in February, we started what is turning into a marathon of travel. And our first travel partners were Robert and Jaki, who were visiting from California and were checking out Sydney, Far North Queensland, the McLaren Vale, Tasmania and New Zealand. By the time they left to return home, I believe they were completing LK's and my sentences, especially the ones where we disagreed about which direction to drive.

Today we are testing the limits of their patience by visiting them at their home. We're resting up today to acclimate to yet another time zone (and, hopefully, give LK a chance to get rid of a cold she's fighting). And on Friday we begin another road trip. This time up the Pacific coast through northern California, Oregon, Washington and a little bit into Canada.

But that's all for later. This morning Jaki taught me a technique for making omelets that amazed me. I was so impressed I thought it was time to drop the travelogue stuff and do a cooking blog for a change.

First, I need to state my credentials. I am a good maker of egg dishes. I am not a great cook overall, but eggs are something I do well.

The reason is pretty simple. Back about 40 years ago - long before Julie discovered Julia - I became a passionate follower of Julia Child's cooking show for one year. Ben and Tom were both very young, and Mary and I were in university. We set our class schedules so one of us was always home with the boys.

And that is how I came to watch Julia religiously. It happened to be her egg year, in which she wheezed and puffed her way through how to make souffles, omelets, and just about anything else that required you to crack a shell or two. And, since egg dishes are generally cheap, these were perfect for our student budget. So I made eggs, over and over again. But not just any eggs - really fancy eggs, made the French way.

Flash forward, and even today I love to have people for breakfast or brunch where I can show off my skills. I always thought the trick was in the technique. To this day I remember Julia showing how you had to let the butter in the omelet pan bubble up, die down and start to turn light brown before you pour in the eggs. And with that knowledge - and modern non-stick pans - I love making omelets.

But this morning Jaki introduced me to a new way. And I may never fry an omelet again.

"Come put your omelet fixings in a bag," she called out. Thinking it was a joke, I wandered into the kitchen only to be handed a sealable plastic bag with my name written on it. Jaki dumped two eggs into the baggie, told me to squish the yolks up fairly well and then told me to choose from the fillings - finely chopped onions, peppers (capsicums to my Aussie mates), bits of ham, avocado, grated cheese, tabasco sauce.

The bag was then sealed and put in a large pot of boiling water for 13 minutes.

That's right. The omelet was made by boiling it in a bag.

And it came out perfectly, looking great (OK, mine had a tail, but I hadn't put the bag in straight). The vegetables tasted much better and fresher than when you fry them up and fill the omelet. And, even though there was melted cheese holding everything together in the middle, there wasn't a mound of butter on the outside so it had to be better for the cholesterol levels.

Awesome. It tasted great. It was healthier. And all four of our omelets were ready for the table at the same time. In fact you could get a dozen ready at the same time, instead of having to keep telling people, "They're eggs, so eat them now. Don't wait while I make more."

It may sound like an odd way to cook them, but definitely try it. You can make perfect omelets if you know how to boil water. My days of showing off are over, I guess, but what a good trade off.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Marseille to Paris

"I can't believe we're here," LK said last night as we had a drink in Paris.

This was not a "I can't believe how wonderful Paris is and how great it is that we are here." Nope, this was a no-frills, brown-bag, "I can't believe we somehow ended up getting to Paris." And I shared her feelings.

We began the day leaving the ship at the Port of Marseille. We got off around 9:00am and had train tickets to Paris for a 12:30 train. We were both wondering how we could kill 3+ hours while simultaneously having to drag all our luggage around with us. We shouldn't have worried.

Mostly because all our luggage wasn't there to be dragged around. One of our bags - black with a pink ribbon on the handle - had gone missing, and as the baggage area emptied out one lonely bag remained. It wasn't ours, but it was black and it did have a pink tag on it. No one needed Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Mike and Connie from North Palm Beach had grabbed our bag instead of theirs.

Fortunately, they had indicated on their luggage tag that they were going to a hotel. Unfortunately, that hotel was in Avignon, more than an hour away. I can spare you the details. The fantastic woman running the baggage area contacted their hotel; when they arrived they were told they now had the joy of paying a round-trip fare back to Marseille in order to swap bags.

So our morning here was spent sitting around on the benches of the luggage collection area. During that time, we met several lovely couples who arrived to board the ship we had just left. Being all bubbly and excited to be starting the cruise, they chatted as if we were old friends. It passed the time.

Our bag finally arrived and we took a taxi to the train station with about 40 minutes to spare. Of course the elevators weren't working so we had to drag five suitcases weighing almost 100 pounds up some steep steps (did I mention we're travelling light this trip?).

Anyhow, I had a sheet that had the reference number for our train ticket purchase, and I knew I had to put it into the kiosk to get the physical tickets. LK suggested we drop the bags in one place and she would wait while I went down to attend to it. So I left her in front of the McDonalds (yes, they really are everywhere).

Only it turned out that the number I had wasn't the one I needed to get the tickets. There was another code, and I hadn't printed that out. I considered going to the ticket windows, but the lines were stretching forever and there was no way I was going to get there before the train left.

Looking at the clock which was now giving us less than half an hour, I hurried back to LK, pulled out the computer and prayed I could find an Internet connection so I could retrieve the code. No luck on the first few stabs. Then LK suggested that if anyone was going to have free Internet it would be McDonalds, which is where we were standing. Bingo.

Armed with the new code, I hustled back to the kiosk. 25 minutes left. Punched in the code, and the computer gave me this message: "It appears these tickets have been printed and collected. If you believe this is an error, please see one of our consultants." You know, the ones at the end of the 40-minute lines.

So I decided I would have to buy new tickets and sort out a refund later. Only all the trains to Paris were booked full for the rest of the day.

I went back to LK and suggested that we were stuffed. With 20 minutes left, we may as well consider heading to the airport. She said I should at least try the ticket agents in case they could get us on a later train.

After an information booth attendant who steadfastly refused to speak English, I stood in the line where I calculated it would be more than an hour before I could speak to anyone. I decided that since we would miss the train, anyhow, I may as well go have a cup of coffee first.

Passing the kiosks on the way back, I thought I may as well try to get our tickets one more time. And this time, of course, the computer thought the code was perfect, printed out our tickets and wished me a Bon Voyage. I smiled broadly - until I looked at the clock and realized we had about 10 minutes to find the right track and get on the train.

I doubt that anyone expected a sequel to last year's movie, "Run Fatboy Run", but the folks at the Marseille train station saw it. And, bon chance!, the track was close to where LK was guarding the luggage.

We actually had two or three spare minutes before the train took off.

So last night we sat outside, had a cocktail, and both of us really meant it when we said we couldn't believe we were in Paris. This morning we fly to the US.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

Our cruise ends in a couple of days, and we are flying to the US.

I think.

British Airways cabin crew are scheduled to strike the day we are supposed to fly with them, but BA is going ahead with our London to San Francisco flight, anyhow. With the cabin crew on strike, I am hoping that they are going to just give each of us 20 of those little booze bottles and tell us to enjoy the flight. Maybe they will even let us use the ovens and heat up some food, too. Not sure. But then again, if there is no cabin crew, who's to stop us?

In any case, the service will probably be heaps better than with the regular BA staff. Because we can all figure out how pleasant they would be if they're so po'd at their company that they want to go on strike.

Our only problem is that we are leaving from Paris that day, not London, and BA has cancelled our Paris to London connecting flight. I spent way too much time on our slow internet connection yesterday trying to figure out how to switch to another BA flight an hour earlier that had not been canceled and finally gave up. Instead I copied the phone number for their Italy office (where we were at the time) and rang them.

I ended up with a long recorded message - in Italian, of course - and it dawned on me that everybody who had a ticket was calling BA to reschedule flights and I was likely to end up on hold for a very long time. If, in fact, that is even what the recording was saying in the first place. For all I know, it could have been a BA manager fluent in Italian saying, "Our flight attendants are hoping to save their jobs by making sure that our record losses this year get even bigger. They are to organized labor what the Greeks are to the European Union. When we finally go bankrupt, we hope they enjoy asking their next set of customers if they want fries with their burgers."

Anyhow, I grabbed the laptop and walked to a place on the ship where I could get a reasonable internet signal and logged onto Qantas since we had booked these flights through their website using frequent flyer miles. Lo and behold, there's a message waiting for me. Seems they wanted us to know that our flight from Paris to London has been changed to one leaving an hour earlier. And we are confirmed on it.

Isn't life great when things work out that easily? Well, I can't really answer that for you. Because about eight hours later I got a voicemail on my mobile phone. It was from Qantas. They were sorry to inform me but the flight we had booked from Paris to London has been cancelled due to the strike and we need to speak with British Airways to book an alternative. They then left a phone number that can be used in France, which will be convenient when we finally get there. Except that it costs 15 Euro cents a minute and I am pretty sure I will be on hold for a very long time.

I am really not sure what's going on. I have a printout of a confirmed booking on the new Paris-to-London flight. And eight hours later I have someone telling me I need to speak to BA to get on that flight. I guess I should call them tomorrow when we get to France, but with the Aussie dollar in freefall, I won't be able to avoid hearing the ka-chings in my mind as those 15 Euro cents start adding up.

No matter what, though, I am feeling pretty confident that we will make it to the good old US of A on schedule.

Assuming, of course, that a certain volcano in Iceland decides to cooperate.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Malta and Tunisia

We've had two busy days and added two more ticks on the world map - Malta and Tunisia. Both were very interesting places. I am glad we visited them.

The first thing you need to know about Malta is that it will disappoint most of your expectations. We did not see one Maltese Terrier. There was no Maltese Falcon to be found. The only Maltese Crosses were in the tourist shops. Hey, there weren't even any Maltesers in the food shops.

Once you get past that, though, you realize that Malta is a beautiful island. Historically it has two great moments of glory when the Knights of St John were able to repel the Ottoman Turks in the mid-16th Century and about 300 years later during WWII, the Germans and Italians failed to conquer the island. Otherwise, though, Malta is the sad sack of the Mediterranean. As Fodor's guide says, "Malta has been overrun by every major Mediterranean power: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs; Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese and the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem; the French, the British and now tourists."

That last bit is no joke. This is one serious cruise ship destination, and even this early in the year - a few weeks before the season begins in earnest - there were thousands of day trippers filling its streets. For such a rich history, Malta's streets look like nothing more than a huge, crowded outlet mall. Its shops and restaurants are full of local specialties - Benetton, Prado, Furla, Burger King, Starbucks. OK, we couldn't find much local to buy there. Even the jewellers who had been around since the middle of the past century are hawking stuff made elsewhere. About the only local thing we found were a few restaurants promising a local specialty - a casserole made with rabbits. You know you've sunk to new lows when hare pie is your biggest claim to local fame.

Visually, however, Malta is fantastic. High limestone cliffs, beautiful old sandstone forts and public buildings. Even a legacy cannon installation from British days - and if you didn't think that was British you soon found out because they were playing "The White Cliffs of Dover" on the PA system every few minutes. Someone evidently forgot to tell the country they were no longer a British colony.

Tunisia, another much-conquered place - was also great to visit. The city formerly known as Carthage sticks in everyone's mind, even though most of us only have a vague recollection that Hannibal brought some elephants over the Alps in the ongoing war with Rome. In fact, the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage lasted centuries, and it was only toward the end that Rome finally got the upper hand.

There are plenty of archaeological remains of Carthage, but few of its first incarnation as a Phoenician city around 2800 years ago. That's because Rome levelled everything when they finally conquered Carthage. There are plenty of Roman relics, but not as many as you would expect. Perhaps because the Vandals came around about 1400 years ago and levelled everything they found. By the way, a few centuries later the Arabs came from the east and - no surprise, I suppose - they levelled everything.

Most of the stuff we saw was from the Roman era. The baths are in exceptionally good shape and a large amount of the original buildings have survived. The rest is your standard here's-a-column stuff that may excite archaeologists and ardent historians, but leaves most of us casual tourists wondering how long before happy hour starts on the ship.

But the overriding impression we had of Tunisia was that it was a beautiful place, rich with history and full of friendly people who will sell you their sandals if you are willing to give them enough money for them. Of course, the southern part of the country is Sahara so the coastline may very well be the only really pretty part of the place. But since that is what we saw, that's good enough for us.

It would be so much better to show you some of the pictures from these places, but I have given up any hope of this ship's internet connection working well enough to do so. We will have a Shutterfly Day next week when we are in the US and let you see some of the neat stuff we've encountered this week.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Skipping Santorini

Yesterday was a day at sea as we shot through the southern Mediterranean from the Greek island of Santorini to Malta. Being a day at sea, that meant we stayed on the ship, lazed around, read a lot, ate a bit too much, drank a bit too much and then wondered what to do for the rest of the afternoon. Then, after our afternoon nap, we started eating and drinking again.

Our day at sea is not all that different from our day at Santorini, because LK and I decided not to go in. Having spent 10 days on a Greek island before getting on this ship, we pretty much knew what we would find there. And then the conditions made our minds up for good. The ship dropped anchor at the port, and local tender boats came out to shuttle our fellow passengers to land. The tenders, however, were going through some scarily high waves and it looked like a real theme park ride to get to shore .

And once there, because Santorini is several hundred yards above sea level, you have a choice of getting into a cable car big enough for six people, riding a donkey, or walking the very steel path. That's it in the picture. You get on in that building at the bottom and go up the hill to the town at the top.

I could only imagine the looks of horror on the faces of my fellow passengers were I to jump on the cable car with them, and I don't have to tell you what a donkey would be thinking if I moved toward it. And we all know we can forget the steep climb. One stumble and you can imagine me picking up speed as I roll back down the hill, with the locals yelling whatever the Greek is for "Runaway Fat Boy" as people leaped out of the way.

Anyhow, the internet connections this trip have been horrible. I had hoped to put a couple more pictures up with this post, but the uploads keep failing. We have just docked in Malta this morning, and it looks like we will have a great day to walk around what seems to be a very interesting place.

More later.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mary's Place

Meet me at Mary's Place.
We're gonna have a party.
Tell me how do we get this thing started.

We began our tour of Ephesus by meeting at Mary's Place, but unlike the old Sam Cooke song and Bruce Springsteen's update, there wasn't any party. In fact, there were lots of signs saying don't do this and that, and too many people telling you to Shhh, please be quiet, this is a sacred place.

It seems there are lots of folks who believe that this little stone cottage high atop a mountain in eastern Turkey is where the Virgin Mary moved after Jesus quit this earth. From what I can tell, those folks are mostly Catholics and Turkish tour guides. There is no historical record, no facts of any sort to support this belief. Rather, their faith is based on the visions of a young German nun 1800 years after the fact and a French priest who was pretty sure he uncovered the place that matched her visions a century later.

The absence of any factual evidence has made the Catholic Church hesitate to proclaim that this really is Mary's house. But they are Catholics, after all, and it's really hard for Catholics to totally ignore the visions of young nuns no matter how little sense they make. So they had an each-way bet. They haven't said this really is Mary's house, but three different popes have now made a pilgrimage here. John Paul II's visit in the 1970s, our guide assured us, triggered a massive boom of tourists wanting to go up the mountain as well.

Frankly, I have my doubts. First, this house is very, very high up. It's a crazy winding road today that stresses the engines of the dozens of tour buses grinding their way up. I cannot imagine an older woman living up there 2000 years ago. I'm pretty sure Ephesus didn't have any pizza places doing home delivery.

Of course, it's just possible that this site was chosen as a kind of ecclesiastical heli-pad, making it the perfect launch place for a short trip when she was assumed into heaven. Or it could be that she never lived here and the young German nun wasn't having visions but delusions.

I did the maths and it really seems a stretch. If Mary was, say, 16 when she gave birth to Jesus, she would have been 49 or 50 when he was crucified. Maybe not that old today, but a few millennia ago, that was a pretty fair old age. Maybe she'd want to leave Nazareth, but it's not like they were pushing senior communities on the Dead Sea back then. And the idea of wandering all the way to eastern Turkey, settling in a port city and then choosing to live high in the mountains does seem a wee bit odd. To be fair, though, it's not exactly like Mary's life fit any patterns of normalcy back then.

Those who choose to believe that Mary lived here are well past worrying about whether the facts support their belief. They drink water from the stream here, convinced it has healing powers. They leave rags and tissues tied to a wall, believing their prayers will be answered. Did I mention they leave donations?

In my perverse nature, though, I kept thinking of British novelist Geoff Dyer who wondered where Catholics who lived in Fatima and Muslims who lived in Mecca went when they had the urge to make a pilgrimage.

From Mary's House, we went down to the real deal - the ruins of ancient Ephesus. This city was at one point the third largest city of the western world, behind Rome and Alexandria. More than a quarter million people lived here (no one knows how many more because slaves weren't included in the census), and large parts of it have been excavated and restored to give us a strong sense of what life was like back then.

LK and Shirl were here about 12 years ago, but it has changed quite a bit since then because the government and sponsors have spent millions excavating and restoring terrace houses that were still underground back then. The ruins were really interesting to me, but I know that you either love old stuff or you don't. I suspect, though, that most people would get a kick out of wandering around here - at least before summer sets in with its super-hot days.

There's not much to actually say about Ephesus that Wikipedia won't say better. I think the best way to share our day is through pictures. So far this trip I have had rotten luck getting a strong enough signal to upload pictures and videos. However, today I am confident we'll have the internet connection we need to get them online. After all, I left my hankie on the wall at Mary's house.

Postscript: Well, yes, the Lord does work in mysterious ways. However, answered prayers or not, it took 38 minutes (at 45 cents per minute!) to upload one lousy picture. And it was, of course, the one I really didn't care about at all. Maybe at a later date . . .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Taksi Driver

There are few things more interesting than getting in a taxi in a strange city with a driver who does not speak a word of English and who seemed genuinely confused when the doorman at our Istanbul hotel told him our destination was the cruise ship port. No, he didn't SEEM genuinely confused; he WAS. His conversation with the doorman lasted a good five minutes, another taxi driver joined, the doorman went inside and came back with more information, and finally our driver took off.

Since he still seemed somewhat bewildered by everything he had heard, we were happy that we had a few hours to spare before the ship left port. We were not so happy that there were no seat belts in the back. Or to be precise, there were seat belts but no buckles. After a few minutes of tailgating, slamming on brakes, and swerving between lanes, both LK and I looked lovingly into one another's eyes. We both had figured out it was the best way not to look at what the driver was doing in the traffic.

Along the way, our taxi (actually, it's "taksi" in Turkey) pulled into a couple of service stations; the driver yelled something out the window and listened as people yelled back. LK assumed he was asking for directions; I wondered if he was checking on the football scores. Either way, we figured we couldn't be too much off course because we were driving next to the harbor, which is all beautiful parkland here in Istanbul.

Finally we spotted our boat off in the distance. It was on the other side of the Bosphorus and we had to cross a bridge to get over there. At which point LK and I began to recognize some landmarks since we had stayed in that area a few years ago. It didn't help us figure out how to get through the maze of streets to the ship, but at least we had a sense of where we could go for a good lunch.

I am not sure our driver had a sense of either. At one point, when it seemed we were pretty close to the ship, he turned right only to slam on his brakes when he saw it was not where he wanted to be. He then did what any taxi driver the world over would do - he chose to ignore the law because obviously they do not apply to you if you are working. He did a K-turn in the street, nearly knocking over a bicyclist and forcing cars into the wrong lanes to avoid hitting him.

Did I mention we weren't wearing seatbelts?

About two streets further down he pulled to the side of the road in the middle of the block, yelled out at someone who yelled back, and then put the car in reverse. He nearly knocked over a motorcyclist, and the poor guy who was dragging a cart probably decided just to throw his underpants away when he got home.

We then drove down a street that was pretty obviously a cul-de-sac. Our driver yelled out to someone, who pointed to where we had just been before we backed up and gestured to go ahead and then turn right. Without knowing Turkish, I understood that. Our driver, perhaps because he did know Turkish, required that it be repeated a few times. At which point, of course, he started to back up towards a couple of pedestrians. But the guy who was giving him directions put his hand up and pointed out (literally) that we had pulled into a parking lot and all he had to was go forward through the lot and exit on the other side.

And from there it was short work to get to the ship. Among the clues -- there was a massive sign reading PORT with an arrow pointing right. I should point out that as I understand it, this was a rather uneventful taxi ride for Istanbul. And to be fair, it was nothing compared to the rides we had been on in India and Egypt.

This morning we are anchored off of Mitilini, the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos. Yes, this is where the name originated, but I don't know if the current residents choose to call themselves Lesbians. One of the things LK and I plan to do is find out whether they prefer that or other possibilities such as Lesbites, Lesbers, Lessies, Lesbosiders or Leswegians. Or perhaps just plain Lesbo People. We will let you know.

POSTSCRIPT: Our Internet wasn't available when I finished this post, and we have now visited Lesbos. I still cannot tell you what the people call themselves, but I can tell you it is not a particularly good idea to ask your waitress if she considers herself a lesbian.

Friday, May 14, 2010

King Pout

LK and I get along famously. We laugh at each other's jokes. And some times, she just laughs at me even when I'm not telling a joke. We have great conversations, and occasionally don't even complete one another's sentences. It's a wonderful relationship.

Until we travel.

We are perfectly fine so long as we are in one place, but when we move from one place to another, things don't always go so swimmingly. Part of it seems to arise from the fact that I am now hearing only about 60% of what LK says, and she in turn is starting to accuse me of mumbling when I speak. But we both know that the more serious issue lies in our personalities and how we react to the stress of traveling.

For example, we have now had the same conversation in about 35 different countries. One of us (and it could be either of us) has somehow ended up with several more bags to carry than the other one.
"Let me have one of those bags," the latter will say.
"No, I'm fine."
"But the bags are heavy, and I have a free hand."
"No, I'm fine. In fact, the heavy bag on the right helps balance me with the heavy bags on the left."
"I'm really happy to carry more."
"No I'm fine."
"Well, if it gets too heavy, just say so because I am happy to carry more."
"OK, but I'm fine."

Yesterday was a great example of how we cope together. We flew from Mykonos to Athens, connecting to a flight to Istanbul. Going through the Athens airport, I had the wheeled suitcase and a heavy bag, which I balanced on top of the suitcase as we moved from gate to gate. LK had her handbag, her knapsack, two duty-free plastic bags and another bag. You can read the previous paragraph for the dialogue.

But it was in Istanbul that our true characters shone. We collected our bags, asked at the information booth where to board the hotel shuttle buses and walked out there. Only problem - in its infinite wisdom the Airport Marriott has decided that it did not need to run its shuttle between 3:30 and 6:30 in the afternoon.

I looked at the cab rank and saw a row of cars that might hold one or two bags and one or two people but nothing like both of us and all our luggage.

"Oh great!" I said. "More than two hours until the shuttle and the cabs are too small. More than that, they're not going to want to take us on a short run to an airport hotel. Great!" LK suggested we at least find out.

Later, when discussing all of this, LK said that for some reason I "turn stupid" when I travel. "You tharn," she said, using a word you won't find in most dictionaries but which translates as the response a deer has when it sees headlights. "And you pout," she added. "In fact, you're King Pout."

I could argue the point, but I won't because I know I will lose. Why? Well, for one thing, yesterday LK and I wheeled our luggage from the shuttle stop to the taxi rank. The first cab there was much bigger than the others, and the driver said he would be happy to take us to the airport hotel. In fact, we easily made it in time for Happy Hour.

So not only was I wrong about everything, but I knew that at some point LK would want to analyze the day and point out that I was wrong about everything. Which she did.

No wonder I'm King Pout.

Monday, May 10, 2010


It's not exactly Sybil or the Three Faces of Eve, but there is definitely another personality living somewhere inside my beloved. This person doesn't surface very often, and when she does appear it's usually near the end of a night.

I call her DJ LK because, well, because when this person appears LK decides it is time for her to take control of the music system and choose the songs for the rest of the night. Or, in some instances, the song (singular) since if she really likes one a lot we can hear it over and over again.

I first encountered DJ LK more than a quarter of a century ago. It was the first Christmas I spent with her and the kids. That night DJ LK decided that Jackson Brown's "Running on Empty" and JJ Jackson's "But It's Alright" needed to be put on a continuous loop. I know the kids tired of it, but I felt I was learning something about the woman I love. Since we were living on Jackson Street, I thought it may just be some sort of organizational thing where she felt we could only listen to people named Jackson. Thank God they hadn't released "Thriller" yet.

When we moved to Oz, DJ LK showed up quite often. We often found her cranking the volume and playing the soundtrack from "The Phantom of the Opera". Need I add, over and over again with no other songs in between. I never wanted to delve too deeply into what was going on in her head that she loved this particular album, but I do know that after several back-to-back plays, I did consider throwing a chandelier at her.

Of course, we were dealing with turntables and/or CDs back then. You might think that the advent of the iPod would make it easier for DJ LK to vary the musical selections. But then you would be mistaken, for the very essence of most of DJ LK's shows is to listen to a great song over and over until you know every little hiss and pop in the background.

DJ LK has shown up several times in recent years when we've had others around. I know Caroline has dealt with her. I am pretty sure Jason and Laura retreated to their room on more than a few occasions. But last night, it was me and me alone who spent a wonderful evening with DJ LK. And I have to confess that we had a full and varied playlist for the evening and it was fun.

It started when she turned the iPod to Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love". "This is the best song in the world," she said. We danced in our room to the 72-year-old and ended with a long kiss. "Wow!" I thought, "this is going to be a fun night.

DJ LK then told me that she wanted me to play this song at her funeral. So much for the effects of my soul kisses.

I asked her if that meant she was replacing her funeral song from "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or adding to it. "Replace," she said firmly. "Things change."

The performance was interrupted after a few more Cohen songs because the next song on the playlist was Manfred Mann's "Pretty Flamingo". And unfortunately, we didn't have it. So we had a brief break while I downloaded it. Then it was back to the 60's.

Listening to it, DJ LK smiled and proclaimed, "It's the best song in the history of the world."

"Pretty Flamingo?" I asked with more than a bit of disbelief.

"Many DJs consider it a great song," said DJ LK as if that resolved this discussion. She then added, "It's a very short song, unfortunately."

I then asked her if perhaps her fondness for "Pretty Flamingo" might have more to do with some moment in her life than its musical merit.

"No," she said, "it's a great song. . . but there was this boy named Cletis. . ."

Here we are, married a quarter of a century and I never suspected my wife had ever ever ever had a crush on someone named Cletis. The things you learn.

Anyhow, I thought you might enjoy DJ LK's playlist from last night.

Dance Me to the End of Love, Leonard Cohen

Flamingo, Manfred Mann

, Patsy Cline (No, I have no idea how that snuck in, either)

, Paul Simon

and Pearls, Prince

the Air Tonight, Phil Collins (OK, I'm starting to think we kind of got stuck in the Ps on the iPod list of singers. Fortunately, that got fixed next with . . .)

Dance, David Bowie

, Bowie

Tide is High, Blondie

A Dion trilogy of :
Runaround Sue
The Wanderer
Teenager in Love

What a Night, The Four Seasons

, The Four Seasons ("This was the best song of our teenage years," said DJ LK, momentarily forgetting "Pretty Flamingo".)

Girls Don't Cry, The Four Seasons (cut short "I don't like this song that much.")

Teardrops, Jackie Wilson

, Johnnie Ray (It was only when I was writing this that I realized she had snuck in a three-song bit about crying. See how good she is!)

Tennessee Waltz, Patti Page

Bayou, Linda Ronstadt

, Elvis Presley (And she did have 30 other Elvis songs to choose from!)

And then DJ LK ended the tour de force with Van Morrison's "These Are the Days". Which she played five or six times. Do you know why? Well, I'll let her explain, "This is the best song ever written."