Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mt. Stromboli Day at Sea

Mount Stromboli
Off the coast of Sicily
We were to start our tour on the Western Mediterranean. As such, the first day out of Rome was at sea as we had to go around the foot of Italy and then back up to Croatia. Mount Stromboli is in between the toe of Italy and the island of Sicily. 
 On the morning of the first day out, we came upon an island that was spewing smoke. Wow, an active volcano.
As it turned out, Mount Stromboli is one of three active volcanoes in Italy and has been in continuous eruption for the past 2,000 years.
 Just as surprising to me, note the cluster of houses on the lower left of the picture.
Ginostra is just one of three small villages on the island.

 The other two villages are on the northeast part of the island--still away from any lava flow.
Although the volcano is constantly active, the last major eruption was April 13, 2009. The constant minor eruptions are visible from many points on the island and from the surrounding sea, giving rise to the island's nickname "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean".  
As Mt. Stromboli fades into the distance, one is not surprised to learn that in the early 1900's a few thousand people lived on the island. Now only a few hundred live there.
Note the blue color of the sea, a stunning "Mediterranean blue".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Eastern Mediterranean
Above is the Franjo Tudman Bridge near the Port of Gruz where we were docked. The bridge was designed in 1989 but construction was stopped during the 1991 Croatian War of Independence.
This photo does not do justice to the beauty of the flowering bushes and trailing flowers everywhere. Simply stunning. The mountains further inland protect the coastline from chilly inland temperatures. See the palm trees?

Dubrovnik is now a quiet, picturesque tourist stop for many cruise liners. There is little evidence of the shelling Dubrovnik took from the Serbs during the seige. Incidently, a pretty good idea of the war can be seen in the movie "Harrison's Flowers".
Dubrovnik is known as the "Walled City" as the old city has 1.24 miles of walls consisting of turrets and towers intended to protect the city. A major tourist attraction is to walk the wall around the city. Christine did not want to walk that far so we walked around in the old city probably logging twice that distance.
Above is Fort Bokar built to protect the city while the city walls were being constructed, and it was the key point in the defense of Pile Gate which leads into the old city.  

The St. Lawrence Fortress is also located outside of the city walls. Above one of the drawbridges that leads to the fort is an inscription that is still so relevant today:  "Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro" –"Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world."
The Nymph and Satyr statue is just outside the Pile Gate.
Pile Gate (above) is the grand entrance into Dubrovnik's Old Town. The statue is St. Blaise, the city's patron saint.  

Bell towers are scattered throughout the old city.
This is the entrance to a nice museum that we visited. Sorry, no pictures inside were allowed.
Typical narrow street (walkway?) predominant throughout the old city.
 Church of St. Blaise. St Blaise is the city's patron saint as it is chronicled that St. Blaise appeared in a vision to a canon of St. Stephen's Cathedral warning him of the city's impending attack by the Venetians, thereby saving the city.  

 This is the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius.
It was built between 1667 and 1725 and was modeled on the mother church Gesu located in the Piazza del Gesu, Rome.  
View of Dubrovnik from near the Jesuit Church. 
No, we weren't visiting on a Monday. In the old city, one practices old (efficient) ways, right?
Contrast the old city with the newer part of town. I prefer the old.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mediterranean Cruise

Holland America Cruise Line
Embarkation Port, Rome (Civitavecchia)
 This past summer, Christine and I were fortunate enough to take a three week cruise of the Eastern and Western Mediterranean.
 Noordam, our ship, held 1924 passengers. This is our ideal of passenger capacity. We have sailed on larger ships and were disappointed. Perhaps we were spoiled by our first voyage of the Alaska Passage on the small Holland America ship Statendam. We loved it. Our next cruise was on a very large liner in the Western Caribbean and we did not like the large crowds and elbow to elbow people. We have also sailed on medium-size ships, but give us a choice and the smaller ships win.  
As might be gleaned, the Noordam has lots of balcony suites which is a plus; meaning we had a balcony suite on our first voyage. Since then, Christine will not settle for less. As returning mariners, we received an upgraded balcony suite. Christine, and therefore I, was happy with our room the whole trip. A side note: this coming year we are taking another cruise, and on the Noordam again. We ask for, and received, the same room again. Back to our present story; the dark shaft running up the middle of the ship is an elevator with windows which allows one to watch outside as it ascends or descends.
The boats along the rail serve two purposes. One of course is to hold passengers should the Captain get too close to land and ground the ship. (Not making light of the Costa Concordia as it was a real tragedy. Incidentally, we saw the ship still on its side as we sailed from the port. It indeed was too close to land.) On the lighter side, the other purpose of the boats is to serve as tenders (water taxis) at ports where the water is too shallow for ships to dock at a pier.
 There are so many things to do on a cruise ship that a person would have to try really hard to be bored.
 We loved the atrium and rapidly took some shots before the ship filled with people.

 This couple entertained us at the Captain's brunch for "veteran" mariners who have sailed on Holland America ships previously.
 And at the theater, there was nightly entertainment with a variety of themes.
 The Noordam had two pool areas. Christine liked the "adults only" area better and spent many hours and days in the hot tub in the front center of the picture. Frequently, as Christine would be soaking in the tub, I would go to the gym and spa for a workout. The exercise room was fully equipped and one could obtain whatever type of workout was desired.
 While passengers were not touring, eating, working out, lounging, swimming, soaking, gambling (on board casino), dancing, reading in the library, (activities go on and on), the events were interspersed with formal dining nights.
 Our cruise had six formal dining nights. For Christine, it meant at least three formal attires. For me, I just brought an extra tux shirt in case of an accident.
 Food. One can eat 24 hours a day aboard ship. (And some tried to). Imagine being in a large city and being able to go to any restaurant, cafe, or fast food establishment and order anything you wanted--free. That is what it is like dining on a cruise ship.
I was talking with one of the chefs and he said that they cook 10,000 meals a day. I said wait, there are about 2,000 passengers, approximately 1,000 crew, and eating three meals a day, that would be 9,000 meals. He said yes, but many would eat more than three times a day and gave an example of some who would have early breakfast, then come in for late breakfast, then line up at the counter and ask what was for lunch.
 The previous picture was part of a showcase of fancy bread. Above was one of several tables of deserts made from chocolate themes. (And for kids 8-80, the ice cream bar was open on the Lido from breakfast to bed time. Yes, the servers got to know me by my first name.)
Even so, especially in deference to the 10,000 meals story above, in the three weeks, Christine gained only one pound and I about 5--so we were not one of the four to five meals-a-day characters.
 But this was still the embarkation day so we took a fast trip around the walk to see the port sights. Of interest to me, note the red bulbous nose at the front of the near ship. These additions to ships have been of great assistance in stabilizing the rise and fall from head on waves. As a matter of fact, most of the ships today have to be in very rough water for one to realize there is any type of pitch or roll.
 Port traffic jam. Just like downtown Rome.
 In contrast, the three mast ship looks very serene.
 Time to start moving out. This tug assisted the ship from the pier and helped the ship maneuver in the narrow channel.
 Finally we are on our own steam and leaving port for our upcoming big adventure.
Which pleased Christine. A Mediterranean cruise has been one of her bucket list items for years and it was coming into being. And throughout the cruise, her years of devouring National Geographic Magazine stories and pictures would come to life close-up and personal.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fredericksburg Fall Foliage Frolic

Christine and I missed the Fredericksburg ride this year due to my hip replacement. However, Jerry Middleton and his wife Cindy were able to go. They took some great shots of the ride and of their adventures and passed them on to me. I would like to be their ghost writer and tell their story as well as I can. Jerry, if I forgot some of the things you said about the ride or ad lib incorrectly, let me know (gently) and I will correct them.
Jerry and Cindy Middleton were joined by John Dampier from San Angelo. I am not sure what distance John was going to ride but Jerry and Cindy were taking on the 25 mile route.  
 Jerry says that this may look short but it was like riding up
a wall. How much was the grade?
  "Who would put a 15% grade this early?  Good
thing it was short." As many know, Jerry hates it when I tell him the grade of the hill we are climbing. However, he got a Garmin and now I know he peeks at the grade--while hating it. 
Rest stop with cookies, fruit, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Cindy looking for the cookies.

The longhorn cattle in the pasture just didn't care about all the activity.
 Note one of her horns goes up and one goes down. Can hook you coming and going.
 "We began to wonder if we were lost or if everyone else was."
 "At least we are together."
Welcome reassurance: "--someone else was going the same way."
 Jerry and Cindy stated they crossed 19 cattle guards for the 25 mile ride. That is almost like the Fort Davis ride.
 Jerry told me "There was water there and the scenery was beautiful."
 Must be Halloween season.
Turn off to the airport: almost at the finish line.
The HCBC greeter at the end.
 "Now we have seen it all. They rode with their dog".
 Riders were treated by a flyover just before lunch time.
Which Jerry took advantage of--BBQ pulled pork, potato salad, and cole slaw.
 Of course, they always have desserts there.
 Some people like flowers. Cindy takes pictures of horses. (Some readers may recall Cindy is a competitive equestrian.) 
 Always make a vacation out of a vacation. As if the scenery of the ride wasn't enough, Jerry and Cindy took a side trip to the Old Tunnel State Park just outside of Fredericksburg.
 The abandoned railroad tunnel is home to up to three million Brazilian free-tail bats and 3,000 Cave myotis bats.
Besides watching bats emerge from the tunnel, visitors can hike, bird watch, or spot general wildlife. The Old Tunnel nature trail is less than one-half mile in length so out of town riders may easily visit the Park and still make it home before dark.
I wish to thank Jerry and Cindy for providing the photos of the ride. It just rubs in what we missed by not being able to ride. With reasonable luck, we will be able to join Jerry and Cindy for next year's ride. However, I will plan on riding the longer route so as to avoid the 15% grade hill on the 25 mile route. I prefer to listen to Jerry's war stories as I eat the BBQ sandwich and munch on the desserts.