Another Family Rendezvous in Athens

nov-misc-joan-and-tom-00820 November, 2016

Just getting ready to turn out the light after this wonderful day in Athens with cousin Margaret and her husband George Stathapoulos. We did use the wheelchair we’ve rented from the ship to go the endless yards of pier and terminal, leaving and returning. Stowed it in the trunk while we were with them. They pulled up just as we emerged at 10:30.

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George and Tom

Athens is very different than it was in 1978. The air is smogless. The traffic moves, at least on a Saturday, in reasonable ways. Trees line boulevards, and there is not only the magnificent 1896 stadium but also the whole complex that was built for the 2004 Olympics.

Margaret and George’s street is quiet with pretty trees, and from their fourth floor apartment, filled with sun and with art work, including a piece of Tom’s, you can see all across the city and to Mt. Hypettos and Mt. Pendeli beyond.

We steam all day tomorrow, down from Piraeus and during the night across to Valletta on img_1619Malta: these places we’ve heard about all our lives, specially during the 1939-45 war, but never seen. It’s supposed to be rough weather tomorrow, nice again the next day. Thank goodness my sea-sick years are over! I used to have to be at the helm on a sailboat or I’d be endlessly sick. That ended when I was in my fifties. Wonderful being able to have these glimpses of past, present  and future. Margaret had just gotten a sweet video of Lily which I could look at on her laptop while she was getting lunch on the table.

One world, even though we are going through a rough time right now! My journal, with daily segments from the Times Digest we get aboard every day, will be an archive of a society in torment.  Hope, love and work….my mantra for the next years.

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Messina and Beyond

image2-20It’s barely sunrise, and we ghost into this lovely harbor on the Greek island of Corfu.

We passed Stromboli yesterday at about this time, a fuming volcano in the middle of image3-8nowhere as we approached Messina.

We went through the Straits of Messina mid-morning with a freighter right next to us, pilot aboard, through big tide rips, mountains on either side. Mt. Etna wasn’t visible though, as she would have been if it hadn’t been cloudy deep in the mountains on Sicily.

And we spent the rest of the day and night powering across to this little community of Kerkira on Corfu.

image1-53I have to go back to Naples with this picture of Tom on the bow with mountain sitting right there. I spent the morning walking and taking an R2 city bus across to Garibaldi Square where I finally found Feltrinelli’s bookstore embedded in the train station. It seemed it was the only place I could buy an Italian phrase book. And I am so glad I had the experience of being in downtown Naples by myself. It is indeed terrifying, as the traffic is kind of a free-for-all, but the bus driver was helpful, pointed me in the right direction, and I held on to my wallet/purse as though I knew what I was doing and where I was going!

The taxi driver I found at the head of a long line of taxis, when he heard me lamely trying to say where I wanted to get back to, asked me if I spoke Spanish. So I gratefully explained and we shot off into the maelstrom.

I love this little painting I bought on the sidewalk outside the cathedral in Malaga.image5-2

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Rendezvous in Barcelona

image1-49Friday 11 November
Coming into Barcelona at a little after 6:30 AM, we’re approaching in the dark, the city sparkling along the broad curve of the harbor. We’ve come into the Mediterrancean, had a day in Malaga, and a windy, bright day in Alicante, both cities on that SE coast of Spain, ports with big Marinas, shore-side esplanades, parks with ancient fig and banyan trees between the palms. The Phoenicians were here and everybody since. Now the Castillo sits above the modern city, and in Barcelona the ridge above the port is terraced with Cedars of Lebanon marking the levels like bars on a ribbon, old fortification walls silhouetted at the top.

We should all go revisit those wonderful Yves Montand films, “La Gloire de Mon Père” and “Le Château de Ma Mère.” Even though they take place in France, the “garrigue” is much the same: scrubby, dusty, and hot, not even enough water for rosemary or thyme. We’re right along the coast from France, just down from Catalonia. Tom and I, when we came up and over through the Pyrenees at Andorra, and down to Valencia, remember cloaking our slight concern about being safe (or not) while camping by referring to them as possible “banditti.” We may have confused it with Italian opera, but we slept safe nonetheless.

We do treasure the memory of looking out over Spain as the sun was setting and watching a group of rooks playing, circling higher and higher on the air currents until they were almost invisible.

image1-51Now two hours later, we’ve communicated with Dexter who is working on some film editing with his students in a film studio in Barcelona, had lunch in the Rotterdam Lido at the Dock, rented a wheelchair for the rest of the trip from the ship front-office, and had a nice afternoon in Barcelona, came back and had beer over free wifi in the terminal before reboarding. It took Tom a long time to consent to the wheelchair idea, but it makes ALL the difference. These glistening modern terminals are interminable, and then you add just walking along sidewalks, and he’d be done in.

On to Livorno (Sunday 13 November)
Went ashore today in Livorno, the town full of strolling families, bundled up, as it was cold, Sunday, not much open. But the two things we needed–suspenders and a black tie–we found in the distinguished little shop right off the square. Though I can say lots of things in Italian (as long as they occur in opera, and that’s not always very useful) I bought a pair of handsome, conservative suspenders, adjustable for buttons or clips, and a black silk pre-tied bow tie in a combination of Spanish, French and English, all in bits. The lovely blond young woman who was running the shop intermittently helped an aged man tie his just-bought shoes. And we were on our way.

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Landfall: Sunrise in the Azores

image2-17Have come up to the Crow’s Nest to watch the dawn break as we approach the Azores. We dock on the first one at 9 or so. It’s still dark now, and I just went on line for a few minutes and found this (email from home).

There she is. Long rain storm before sunrise, but now brilliant. The “shield” silhouette like Kilauea.

LATER – We’ve had a lovely day, renting a car here in Horta, on the island of Faial, and driving way up into the hills. Very reasonable. Good roads. Had lunch at a local coffee shop.  “Obrigada,”  is what I say. For Tom, “obrigado.” The vegetation up in the hills is very like the Coromandel peninsula in NZ..  tree ferns, lots of mosses and ferns, some huge trees. And everywhere you look, another big or small caldera. This whole complex of islands is part of Portugal – geologically all volcanic, over millions of years.

Happened to be sitting next to a couple at the last lecture who prove to be kindred spirits, probably in their 70s. She, Carly, got her graduate degree in Folklore at UCLA, sings! and I did remember to bring two copies of “Saving Songs.” Look forward to that. We exchanged cabin #’s. He, Dean, looks like St. Nicholas, long white beard, and is a computer person. He’s worked with people like the paleontologist and the plate tectonics guy who are our speakers, Charles Sronka and Stuart Sutherland.

THURSDAY – The captain said in his noon report that indeed the storm and resulting swell WERE stronger than predicted….steady 50 k winds and gusts to 60… But it has lessened now and they’ve reduced speed to make the going more comfortable; we can make it up tomorrow coming in to Horta in the Azores. There is something about feeling a great ship being strong and at the same time flexible, working all her joints and holding it all together.

This nice assistant Maitre D’ stopped so we could take pictures at lunch.

Have just finished rereading A Man Called Ove, and am starting on another re-read: the one Anderson Cooper wrote with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, during the year before she died.  There’s a Swinburne verse at the beginning that I am memorizing, which starts:

From too much love of living
From hope and fear set free
We thank in brief thanksgiving,
Whatever gods may be,
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Haven’t quite got it yet, but almost.

image1-47WEDNESDAY – They had these paper napkins out at lunch on Halloween, and I covered my journal with one of them. They just fit when you unfolded one, with enough left to fold over the edges.

TUESDAY – I’m awake, but it’s still early, 4:30, and I can hear a big storm outside and feel even this great ship being moved around, tossed up and then settling with almost a thump in the trough of a wave. It’s a good time to stay in bed and not try to walk around.

fullsizerender-9We came back to our cabin and found this little elephant waiting for us on the end of our bed the other night . I thought of our great-grandson, Noah, because it’s almost his birthday and I know he is fond of elephants.

These two huge seals are up by the swimming pool right where the big Mother Bear and her cub were on the last ship. I’m going to draw these seals if I can ever find the good pencils I bought specially for this trip. I can’t find them anywhere! Maybe they got left at home.img_0055

We are probably out of the shelter of the Bahamas now. I’m in bed and can feel the ship begin to pitch and roll a little more than it has been. 5:41 AM. We had dinner at a table with six other people, one Dutch couple, two men from California, a couple from western New York state.  The ship started in Boston, and the line at Open Seating early-sitting held several people who were quite indignant at being made to stand in line. Actually they were mostly indignant at where the crew had placed the sign explaining what was happening, explaining that they couldn’t have the tables they’d had last night. We left before dessert and went up and along to where there used to be music on Amsterdam, and sure enough, there was: pianist, violin, two young women, Ukrainian this time. Very good. The pianist did the announcing, replacing the mike each time carefully on the right side of the music rack. We each had a Cointreau on ice, but no chocolates. Too bad. Our “Explorer 400” promotion gets us free drinks the whole trip. At dinner, that means wine by the glass, $8 and under, which still gives us a huge choice. Creme Brûlée very hard to resist, and it’s on the menu EVERY night.You could over-indulge seriously if you wanted to!  TV has a music channel that plays all the time.

While I was up talking to the pianist when they took a break, our friend Daniel from the Amsterdam South Pacific cruise came up behind Tom, he  says, and said softly “Art Is; Letters Are,” in Tom’s ear. What fun to see them again, of all people!: Daniel and his quiet Chinese- scholar wife, Carol. So far we hadn’t recognized any passengers or crew. Except I did see in a seat ahead of us at the recital the old guy who virtually lives aboard. We think of Nancy and Kirk, and wonder what we’ll find in the way of of daily offerings on sea-days.

image1-45Our Lanai stateroom is really nice – the ‘sitting room’ part looking right out onto the port promenade deck through glass french doors that are one-way. You can go out directly from the stateroom onto the deck, but to come in, you go along to a regular entrance. To help us find our doors, we are right at the number 4 Boat-station sign. Inside, we’re just one door away from the base of the Atrium. The deck-plan is identical to Amsterdam.

We’re so glad we did the small upgrade that gives us this nice change.

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Aboard Ship and Off to Sea

image1-41About to have a Sushi lunch, enjoying the view out our floor-to-ceiling windows giving out on to the Promenade Deck. We can see people, crew, passengers, going by, but they can’t see us. We can even go out directly to the Promenade Deck.

Once at sea, a storm passed and it looks like a pretty day. The gala night last night was fun. Will write more later.

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Arrived Safely in Ft. Lauderdale

The first leg of the journey is complete. We are staying in the Ramada Inn in Ft. Lauderdale, all surrounded by freeways. Windy and cool here. We are all set to board Rotterdam tomorrow. In the gift shop I found a small bag to carry my wallet and passport and things so I don’t have to carry my whole big purse. Today we are going on the sightseeing boat tour where you can get on and off at various places around Ft. Lauderdale.

Our taxi driver this afternoon was named Lodrer (pron. loh-DRAIR), and when I found he didn’t understand really anything we said, I tried French, and sure enough, we launched into a rapid conversation. He was probably 65, from ‘ah-ee-TEE,” and took us not only to Target but back via another way and safely home to our Ramada nest. I’m so glad we scheduled in this day of rest between train and ship! The floor rises still beneath our feet, the way it does when you’re just off a small boat.

On the last leg of the train trip from Portland we were passing through piney, sandy woodlands and I realized we were parallel to New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where Tom was conceived. It was when Gramps and Minie (his parents) were starting a school down here, and his brother Bill was a baby.

img_0741-1The train from Washington, D.C., was very wobbly, throwing you around a lot because of bad roadbed, and had to sound its horn almost steadily: looooooong, loooooooong, short, loooooong. It didn’t make for very peaceful sleep, but we didn’t wake up for good until we’d been in bed for 10 hours. We had a good breakfast in the cafe car right next to ours.

The morning before arriving in Washington, we woke in Southern Pennsylvania and those lovely woods had lots of yellow in them. Then into the amazing terrain of West Virginia. In the train station was saw Amish families, and Tom took a nap.

We had come through Chicago and the high route through Montana.

In the Chicago train station we saw Amish families. The children were leery of getting mowed down by the cart that was carrying us and our carry-on luggage. Even the tiniest girls wear the dark bonnets, all of that same design. Every time we’ve come through here, there’ve been groups of Shakers and Amish, different bonnets, different styles of clothing. One group was even singing acapella.

image2-16As for these two guys, one of whom is named John, they actually own this restored private car. They caused it to be hitched on right behind our car which had been the last.

All that happened in the dark near St. Paul, about 5:30 a.m. I later talked to them and find they’re heading to North Carolina to do some job or other. Perhaps buy another railroad?!

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And Off We Go!

departureThere comes a point before a trip when I feel scared that nothing is going to work. I wake in the night and riffle through possible catastrophes, (that’s a wonderful word in French….”cat-a-STROFF!”): we will forget something crucial, the reservations I’ve made will prove to be for the wrong day.

Actually once, we were coming home from seeing Hester and Len in New Zealand the year they lived there, and had not taken into account the date line. So we had a whole day, unexpected, on Oahu, and had a lovely time. We rented a car, drove out Kaneohe direction, found a motel, and even visited the place where canoe racers took off from.

Now we are under way! We boarded the train here in Portland Saturday afternoon. We will miss family, but we count on seeing them again in December. From here, we go to Chicago, then Washington, D.C., and then Ft. Lauderdale, from whence we sail Oct. 28 on Holland America’s MS Rotterdam for six weeks. Ports of Call include Athens, Corfu, Olympia, Livorno, Barcelona, Alicante, Cadiz, Palermo, Malaga, Casablanca and Gibraltar, not necessarily in that order. We sail back to Florida, arriving Dec. 9 and board the train back to Portland.

You can reach us by email at tomjoanbuell@gmail.com.

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