European Vacation, Summer 2011

(You can see the whole album of pictures here, or click on the links below which will take you to the various sections of the album. Apologies in advance for not having captions on the pictures (yet).)

DAYS 1&2, June 21 & 22

Glynis took us to the San Francisco airport at about 10:30. Check in was uneventful, and we grabbed a snack at Andale, the Mexican restaurant in the International Terminal. We boarded the plane early, thanks to Val’s Premier status on United. The flight took off on time, at 12:30. We were on our way to London!

On the flight we sat in two rows, Katelyn and Haley together and Val and Marilyn in the next row back. It was an overnight flight so we tried to sleep. Val and Katelyn got the most sleep. Marilyn slept a bit, and Haley not much at all.

We landed at Heathrow, got a bite to eat at EAT, and headed for our connecting flight to Rome on British Airways. Luckily we’d been able to check our bags through so we had less to lug around. The flight was thankfully uneventful. We landed on time, picked up our bags, and got the car at Avis. We had a slight delay since the driver’s side door was blocked by the car next to us being too close, but luckily the folks renting that car came while we were waiting, so the delay wasn’t long.

The drive to Giove took an hour and half or so, and we arrived at Erika and Charles’ at about 4:15 local time, 9 hours later than San Francisco time. Giove is a quaint centuries-old hill town in Tierney, complete with a Castello (castle), its walls defining the old town. Erika and Charles live in an apartment in the old town.  They also have a separate room above their apartment that serves as Charles’ office, and a separate apartment across the alley that they are remodeling into a beautiful guest house.

We introduced them to the kids, rested a bit, and then headed over the Agri Tourismo where we were to stay for the next 5 days. It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment, a bit rustic, but nice and comfortable on a beautiful farm with a pool and cats. Erica had done an amazing job of laying in supplies for us so we could have breakfast there each morning. She and Val had had hours of conversation about our various food requirements, so we had everything we needed to eat well each morning.

We unpacked, rested a bit, and headed back to Erika and Charles’ for dinner, a delightful meal of gazpacho, a vegetable/chick pea tart, and a chestnut tart for dessert, along with a delicious watermelon. This was the first of many completely vegan meals Erika prepared for us. Except for lunch in Rome one day, Erika made lunch and dinner for us every day, and each meal was fabulous. As she tends to do, she apologized for each meal not being up to snuff, and it became a joke with the girls that it was “all downhill from here” with each delicious meal.

DAY 3, June 23

We got a leisurely start just after 11, taking a beautiful drive to Porchiano Monte, another hill town. Then we headed back to Erika and Charles’ for lunch: pasta with mushrooms and peas, salad, berries, and homemade grapefruit sorbet. Then we headed out to the hill town of Bomarzo, to the Parco dei Mostri, the “Monster Park”. This is a garden built in the 16th century, filled with larger-than-life structures and statures. We strolled through the park and took a lot of pictures. After cooling off a bit and buying some postcards, we drove over to Viterbo. This was a special trip just for Kathie, to go to the only Harley Davidson shop in the region to get her a shirt.

On the way back to Erika and Charles’ we picked up dessert, specialty sorbet and gelato from their favorite shop in Vitorchiano. Dinner was once again great, and we ended a wonderful day seeing many fireflies outside our apartment when we returned.

DAY 4, June 24

This was our long day in Rome. We had to get up early to leave for the train by 8:30. The southbound 9:20 train from Attiliagno took about an hour to get to Rome. We took a taxi to the Museo Capitolini, the Capitoline Museum, an art and archeological museum on Capitoline Hill. We saw a special portrait exhibit from Roman times. Portraits at that time were sculptures, which meant we saw many heads, busts and life size statues. Other highlights included the mounted statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the bronze she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, and an amazing view of the Forum ruins.

For lunch we went to Ristorante Piperno, a restaurant we’d read about in Bon Appetit magazine. Val navigated us there via cute back alleys using her GPS. Lunch was delicious, although outrageously expensive.

Afterwards we found a taxi stand and took a taxi to the Basilica of San Clemente. This is a 3-level structure that takes you on a walk through time. First is the present basilica built in the Middle Ages; below that is a 4th century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had in the 1st century briefly served as an early church; at the bottom is a 2nd century mithraeum.

In Rome you can’t just flag down a taxi; you have to find a taxi stand. So we started walking. We figured if we went towards a populated area we’d find one, so we walked towards the Coliseum. Sure enough, after a long walk in the scorching afternoon sun, we finally found one there. We took a taxi back to the train station and boarded the train north, exhausted. We got off the train around 6:15, went back to the Agri Tourismo to rest, then to Erika and Charles’ for another delicious dinner, this one of tofu, seitan, vegetables, beans, and watermelon.

This was the start of Marilyn’s foot trouble, as she developed some bad blisters from the walking in Rome. This was puzzling because she was wearing sandals she wears all the time, so it must have been the heat and humidity. After this, she had to wear bandages on the blisters, and wear her sneakers anytime we went out walking any distance.

Speaking of the heat, note that it was very hot and humid the whole time. In Rome it was over 90, and other days it was in the 80s. Plus the sun in the Mediterranean area is a lot more intense than in the Bay Area, so we definitely noticed it.

DAY 5, June 25

Marilyn and Haley were really tired, so they stayed home the next morning, hanging around the apartment, playing cards and swimming in the pool. Val and Katelyn went with Erika and Charles to Orvieto, to the famous cathedral there. We all had lunch with Erika and Charles when they returned, then we went back to the apartment. Marilyn, Katelyn, and Haley all went swimming while Val read and rested. Then back to Erika and Charles’ for another delicious dinner: sticky potatoes and lentils, with dessert of fresh pineapple and hazelnut chocolate.

DAY 6, June 26

We spent the morning in Bagnaia, visiting the Villa Lante gardens, then joined Erika and Charles for a pasta lunch. We spent the afternoon packing and went for a final swim. Then back to Erika and Charles’ for a final dinner.

DAY 7, June 27

(Some pictures didn't fit into any of the categories described above, so they're in the "Italy-misc" album.)

Erika and Charles came over around 10 to say goodbye, and we left around 10:45. We drove to Civataveccia, where the cruise ship port is located. We stopped for gas just outside of the town. The Indian attendant was happy to be able to use English to speak with us.

See pictures of getting to the port and the ship.

We had to return the car by 12:30 because, like many businesses in Italy, the Avis office would be closed from 12:30 to 3:30. We’d been told that Val should drop the others off at the shuttle stop, take the car to the Avis office, then walk back to join them. The problem was that we couldn’t find the shuttle stop! We ended up at the ship itself, but they sent us back to the shuttle stop. We still couldn’t find it. Just after noon we stopped at an information booth to ask, and it turns out we were right there at the shuttle stop! So we unloaded everything and Val took off. She made it in time and walked back, and we got to the ship without any further complication. There was a bit of a wait to check in, but it wasn’t bad. We had to answer a health questionnaire and go through security like at the airport (which we had to do every time we came onboard). We were surprised that they took our passports and kept them for the whole cruise. They gave us cool towels and water, and then we were on board!

We spent time unpacking, then had a lifeboat drill – standard for all cruises. We finished unpacking and explored our new home. We had two cabins next to each other, adjoining via the veranda. Each room had two beds, a couch area, and a bathroom. Considering it was compact, it was roomy and pleasant.

We each had a room key that was our boarding card for the ship as well as our on-board charge card. Marilyn also had an extra key to the girls’ room. When we booked the cruise we’d put one adult and one child in each room, but since we of course had Marilyn and Val together and Katelyn and Haley together, we had to change the keys around. The first time we did it we got it backwards, so had to do it again. We were glad to get that settled!

Onboard Haley could go to the Kid Zone, for childcare. We visited to see what it was like. Haley was part of the “Ensigns” group, and at her age she could sign herself in and out on her own. That night there was a kids’ dinner. Even though it was our first night onboard and we wanted to eat together, we thought it would be a good idea for her to go and meet the other kids. So she went, and we found out later she was the only kid who went! At least she got to meet the staff, and got lots of attention from them.

At the dining room we found out that in addition to vegetarian offerings on the main menu, they had a special vegan menu from which Katelyn could order a day in advance. She made do with the main menu the first night, but ordered for the following night. We worked with all out with Ante, the maitre d’.

On cruises there are different options for dinner seating. On the main floor of the dining room there were two set seatings, at 6:15 and 9:00. We were on the second floor, with Celebrity Select seating. This meant we could come for dinner anytime between 6 and 9 at night. We generally sat at the same table and had the same waiter (Wilhem), and the people around us were generally the same people, although it changed a bit depending on the time and when we all decided to have dinner.

Haley was given a time to get back to the room (9:00), but was late because she was off doing a scavenger hunt with the other kids who showed up after dinner.

Here are a bunch of pictures of scenes on the ship on various days.

DAY 8, June 28 (cruise day 2)

This was the first of three “sea days”, where we were just at sea, doing things onboard the ship. We got into a routine these days: Marilyn would get up whenever and check in with the girls to see if they wanted to do breakfast with her. They could have gone earlier on their own, or could go later, or go with her. Val generally had her breakfast separate because she liked one of the smaller restaurants where she could get good oatmeal. At breakfast we would decide on a time to meet at the buffet for lunch, and at lunch would decide on a time for dinner. Other than that, everyone kind of did their own thing, although sometimes we would do things together.

On the first sea day we all went to Trivia, followed by the first of three sessions of Progressive Trivia. We did the first one all together, but for the second one Katelyn decided to be her own team, while Haley ditched out to go to the Kid Zone. After Trivia, Val went to a talk on Detox, and Marilyn went to Glass Blowing. Val joined her towards the end.

In the afternoon Marilyn took Haley to the pool. We found out at that point that the pool was the biggest disappointment on the ship. There were 3 pools on the ship. The nice big one was in the indoor solarium, and was for adults only. The two outdoor pools were the same size, but one was deeper. That one was used for pool games like volleyball, usually for adults or older kids. The second one was only 3 feet deep, and was only about 25’ x 25’. It was terribly crowded, and not very fun. After that first day we never went back.

Marilyn & Val spent some time just relaxing in the cabin, watching a movie and playing cribbage. The girls also hung around the room a bit.

That night we dressed up for the first formal night. We took posed pictures, and then watched an a capella quartet that performed before dinner, and many times throughout the cruise. There was a Latin guitar player, a string trio, and a dance band also; these all played in various places at various times throughout the cruise.

That night started a pattern: generally when the kids were done eating they asked to be excused, and could go and do whatever they wanted. Haley usually went to the Kid Zone (with a time to get back to the room, based on morning plans), and Katelyn usually went back to the cabin to watch TV or to work on creating a Cat Clan for Haley. There was a lounge for teens, Club X. Katelyn checked it out a couple of times but there never seemed to be organized activities there, just kids hanging out with each other. Katelyn, not being a particularly social animal, never really connected with anyone.

DAY 9 – June 29 (Santorini) (cruise day 3)

We didn’t leave the ship until after noon, so we got to sleep in late. We were tendered (taken from the boat anchored in the harbor) to the shore, although it was on a beautiful local ship instead of the ship’s tenders (small boats). Once on shore we got on a bus for our shore excursion. We first went to Oia (pronounced ee’-ya) where we went on a nice walk through the town. Val took a detour to go look for a geocache that ended up being further away than she’d thought. She hiked for a very long way, but unfortunately couldn’t find it. She headed back and was lucky to get a ride from a nice local couple.

Then we got on the bus and were shown around the island, looking at windmills, farms, houses, grapevines grown in circles instead of on trellises, and beautiful scenery. We stopped at the Santo Winery and had cheese, wine, tomatoes, and bread, and the kids had juice. Then on to the main town of Thira. We had a snack, bought Haley a parasol (which she used throughout the rest of the trip) and a dress at a local shop. We bought Katelyn a shirt, and visited the central church. Then we took the cable car down the hill to the harbor, foregoing the alternative route of walking or riding donkeys. (Val rode the donkeys when she was there on a school trip back in the 70s.) Then a ferry/tender back to the ship, where we had an exhausted dinner at 8, and went to bed.

DAY 10 – June 30 (Athens) (cruise day 3)

We had an early morning, up at 6:30 in order to get dressed, get breakfast, and meet the tour at 8. Our tour was supposed to be both the Parthenon and downtown Athens. But we arrived the day after two days of rioting and strikes due to the economic situation in Athens. So the cruise line decided that it wasn’t safe to be in downtown. This meant that much of our tour ended up being in Piraeus, the town next to Athens where we were docked. Not as exciting, but understandable given that the cruise folks have to be conservative when it comes to safety.

This was our first use of the “whispers”, small receivers hung around our necks with attached ear pieces. The guide could talk into the microphone in a normal voice and we could all hear. It was all coordinated so each tour group could hear only their guide, making it possible for many tour groups to be close to each other and not have trouble hearing their guide. We used these in several of the shore excursions.

We started the tour by being early visitors to the Parthenon. It’s a good thing we went early because it was incredibly crowded, and got worse throughout the day. We found out that because of the strike, at least one cruise ship that was supposed to dock the day before had to come in the same day we did, increasing the crowds.

One of Marilyn’s goals after her surgery was to be able to climb the 200 steps up the Parthenon to the Acropolis. She brought a cane and was able to do it!

We got back to the ship in the afternoon and had some down time before dinner. We had a relatively early dinner, right at 6, because Marilyn and Val wanted to go to the “Friends of Dorothy” meeting. This was the LGBT folks. So they went to the Martini Bar at 7 for the meeting, but couldn’t find anyone else, and left after 2 drinks and playing on the bar, which was frozen and so allowed play on the ice on the bar surface.

After getting the kids to bed, Marilyn and Val located karaoke that was scheduled at 10:30pm in the Sky Lounge, and had a great time singing and drinking. Marilyn actually didn’t sing (sparing everyone), but Val sang several songs.

Day 11 – July 1 (cruise day 4)

Sea Day. Katelyn & Marilyn spent some time together, reading, playing cards, and playing Scrabble. Val & Marilyn also played some cards. Haley spent a lot of time at the Kid Zone, and came back to the cabin with another girl, Micah, to watch TV together for a while.

Katelyn left a note for Val & Marilyn “While you two were having dessert, a small ship was inches away from hitting the cruise ship. Fail.”

Katelyn started complaining of a sore throat. Uh-oh.

Val & Marilyn spent some time on the deck watching the journey as we headed to Istanbul. Just after dinner we left the Mediterranean, headed through a channel called the Canakkale Bogazi, also known as the Dardanelles, to the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul is on the northeast end of the Sea of Marmara. Click here to see a map: the Mediterranean is on the lower left, and Istanbul is on the upper right.

Day 12 – July 2 (Istanbul) (cruise day 5)

We met our guide, Omer, at around 8:45am. He was delightful and personable, and connected well with the kids. He used to be a guide but now makes documentaries for Turkish television. He was our guide because he was filling in for a colleague who was out ill. He told us he was also about to start a 13-episode series for National Geographic. It was amazing to have our own private guide. Not only did he know a lot, but having him take us places meant that we didn’t have to wait on line because there was a separate line for people with a guide ID.

We were expecting a mini bus, but in fact were met by our driver, Huse, and an 18-seater small bus. He drove us to the center of the old part of the town, but then Omer told us we wouldn’t see him again until the afternoon. Apparently everything is within walking distance. And walk we did – everywhere.

We started at Topkepi Palace, now a museum. There were rooms of textiles and jewels, and then the antiquities, where there were pieces of Mohammed’s beard and also Moses’ staff. As we approached each building Omer would give us advice about what was worth spending time looking at, and what we should look at quickly and move on. His strategies kept us ahead of some of the larger tour group crowds. We went to the gift shop. After we left, Omer bought us some sesame bread, sort of like a pretzel-like bagel.

From there we went to the Blue Mosque. There is one entrance for worshippers, who get to go in to the main section of the mosque. At the other entrance there are plastic bags for your shoes, which you have to take off before entering the mosque. It’s huge and beautiful inside.

Outside of the blue mosque we saw the Hippodrome area, which is just a plaza now, containing some statues. Around that time we heard the call to prayer from the many minarets of the Blue Mosque, and saw the outside area where people come to wash their hands and feet before prayer.

Then we went to the Hagia Sofia. This is an amazing architectural accomplishment, opulent and beautiful. One of the most interesting facts about it is that it was a church at one point, but when it was made into a mosque all of the frescoes containing pictures of people were covered over, because Islam forbids peoples’ faces to be displayed in the mosque. Omer was so proud of this building. It was designed by two mathematicians, and was built by 10,000 workers in 5 years.

Omer then helped us find a restaurant for lunch. We ate wonderful food at a place called the Green Corner. After that we went to the Basilica Cistern, which was cool and damp and gave us a chance to work out the nighttime settings on our cameras.

Then we followed Omer on a walk through the back streets of the city. We stopped at an ice cream stand, where the vendors do little performances while dishing out the ice cream. Haley got teased, but got ice cream at the end of it so it worked out all right. We ended up at a rug shop. This is a unique experience. We sat in a wonderfully cool room and were served Turkish tea. The man in charge, Agop, was fun and articulate and spent a lot of time telling us all about the different kinds of rugs – how they are made and all about the materials. His assistants, young burly men, followed his directions, bringing out different rugs of different styles and colors. They expertly tossed out the rugs, and then flung them around, showing off the colors that look different from different directions. As each came out we commented, and Agop used our comments to influence the next batch he called out. After the floor was covered with a couple of dozen rugs, Agop guided us through the culling process, asking us what we liked and didn’t like, directing his assistants. The girls were amused, and participated eagerly in the process.

At this point we hadn’t even told him we were interested in purchasing, and hadn’t asked for any prices. Marilyn and Val started a discussion about whether or not we wanted to purchase, and decided perhaps yes. Out of the blue Haley piped up with “How much is that?”, pointing at a rug she liked. We all laughed, and Agop started calculating prices of the rugs based on the size and construction. We narrowed it down, and ended up deciding to purchase two rugs. Then came the question of how to transport them. Agop said they would knock off $100 each if he didn’t have to ship them, but we didn’t know how we would do that. They solved the problem by compressing the rugs into small bags, and putting the two bags into a small wheelie bag, which they gave us! Additionally, we didn’t even have to take them with us; they brought the bag to us when we met the bus later in the day.

Haley fell in love with the highest quality silk rugs. The smallest of them had 625 knots per inch, and cost  $6,000, and the one she really liked was 3200 knots per inch and therefore even more expensive. We were all amused; she was not.

After purchasing we were able to see one of the weavers, a woman (strict gender segregation here), knot a rug. She showed us how it worked, and then both Haley and Katelyn got to try their hand at it. We were there for a long time, about an hour and a half, but it was delightful.

We left the rug shop and headed for the Grand Bazaar. Before entering, Omer coached us. First, he advised us not to get too far off the path. There is a main hallway, and he said feel free to go off onto the side halls, but advised us not to turn off those halls. He said it was too easy to get lost. He also advised us about bargaining. He said that bargaining was expected, and said not to counter any offer below 50% of the original price offered. Since we were running late we only had 45 minutes. So we synchronized our watches and set off.

The Bazaar was very crowded. We stuck together, and took in the sights. The whole attitude of the place was fun and upbeat. Vendors said “Come, let me sell you something you don’t need!” We found T-shirts (including a Harley shirt for Kathie), earrings for Marilyn, a necklace for Haley, and gifts for lots of people. We had a great time bargaining, with Val trying several times to offer the children in exchange for goods, but to no avail. We ended the visit with a trip to a coin shop so Katelyn could get some old Turkish coins.

We then met our driver, who told us about traffic that was so bad it took him an hour to get into the center of town to meet us. We needed some cash, and I wanted to get a computer mouse because I’d forgotten the one at home, so asked Omer to find us a place. He did, first an ATM, and then an electronics shop in an underground shopping area. This was fortunate for Omer, because it turned out he needed a mouse for himself.

We got back to the ship exhausted, but really having enjoyed our day. It ended on a fun note, with an unexplained fireworks display on shore at around 9:30pm, visible from our veranda.

Day 13 – July 3 (Istanbul) (cruise day 6)

Unfortunately Katelyn had started having a sore throat the day before, and it got worse. She stayed behind in bed while the rest of us went on a cruise on the Bosphorus. We took an outrageous number of pictures as the views from the ship were gorgeous. We got to see both sides of Turkey, the European on one side of the water, and the Asian on the other. They served Turkish tea and coffee on board, and there was a pashmina salesman with whom we had fun bargaining. Haley got a pretty grey scarf, and Marilyn got a purple scarf. 

After the cruise we went to the spice market. What aromas and goodies! We got many types of Turkish delight, several kinds of spices for various foods, some Iranian caviar, and a handheld sewing machine.

By the time we got back to the ship Katelyn was feeling much better. We went to get a group photo at the camel, near the shops, and to sit in the fun chairs at the Quasar club. After another delightful dinner we went on deck to see the sights, and had fun taking pictures in the wind. We all went to bed early.

Day 14 – July 4 (Sirince, Ephesus, Kusadasi) (cruise day 7)

We got a later start the next day, for a noon tour. We thought we were meeting at the theater as we had for previous tours, but we were wrong and had to rush out to meet the bus. We got there just in time, and settled in to listen to our guide, Tan. We drove 30 minutes or so to the ruins at Ephesus. It was hot, but the walking tour was relatively downhill. The ruins are amazingly preserved, and the guide had many interesting stories.

Afterwards we drove up a small mountain road to the town of Kusadasi, a historical village. We had lunch at the Artemis restaurant, where we were able to request vegan food for Katelyn and they provided a lovely dish of all kinds of foods. She didn’t know what they were but tried them all. While there we ran into a family from Peninsula Temple Sholom  (Mom’s name was Susan; her daughter’s name was Lori). We visited a few shops in the town, then headed back down the mountain.

We stopped at a lovely carpet factory where many weavers were busy at their looms. This time we got to see a big vat of silkworm cocoons, and to see how the silk was harvested from them. Katelyn was given a cocoon to take away. She named it Jeff and kept it with her for a while, but apparently it got inadvertently thrown away a couple of days later.

Once again we got Turkish tea and an entertaining presentation of carpets. Val really liked them and ended up in a back room with Tan helping her bargain. She bought two additional carpets which she had shipped to us. (Note: they were delivered in late August.) While waiting for business to complete, Haley and Katelyn met up with some kids who found some adorable swallow’s nests with babies.

When we got back to the ship Val went on a side trip to find a geocache at a fort we could see from the ship. She didn’t find the cache, but indications are that she was actually in the right place.

After a quick dinner we went to the early karaoke session. We were virtually the only ones there so we got to sing a lot. It was basically us, George from Miami, and a group from Texas who led us all in America the Beautiful. At the end we wanted to do a song together as a family but Katelyn ended up having an attack of stage fright so left early. Afterwards she left us a post-it that said:

From: Kate
To: Parental Units
Sorry that we couldn’t sing together. I just got really scared, and didn’t want to sing

Day 15 – July 5 (Mykonos) (cruise day 8)

We had trouble getting Katelyn up the next morning, but eventually came to a mutual understanding. We headed out around 11 and caught the shuttle from the dock. We were annoyed at the transportation arrangement  because the shuttle didn’t actually take us into the town, but just to the port entrance where there was no information about how to get into town. We ended up walking into town and finding a taxi stand, effectively making the shuttle pretty useless. And then no taxis came…we waited almost an hour!

Finally some came and we got a ride out to Platis Gialis beach.  It was crowded, but pretty. We rented four lounge chairs with umbrellas (10 euros per pair) and went for a delightful swim in the Mediterranean. We saw small fish along a reef, and Haley and Val swam out to a buoy. We relaxed and had drinks in our lounge chairs – very decadent! Then we had lunch where the portions were large and expensive, but mostly the food was good. Marilyn’s dish was a whole fish which the waiter filleted tableside.

We had the restaurant, which was part of a hotel, call us a taxi, and took it directly back to the ship, rendering the shuttle even more useless. Val and Haley went off to find a geocache while Katelyn and Marilyn returned to the ship.

Day 16 – July 6 (Sea Day) (cruise day 9)

The next morning Val headed to Progressive Trivia for the finale, but Marilyn was late, having lost track of time while reading on deck. They came in 4th overall, which wasn’t bad because they were only two, but others had a lot more people. The team from Los Angeles won, and second place was from Chicago.

The kids ate lunch on their own that day. Marilyn and Val visited the health bar and tried some of the strange savory sorbets served there.

Marilyn got a massage. Val went to the gym, went to a boring talk, and to a classical piano concert.

It was our final formal night. Katelyn tried to wear flip flops but wasn’t allowed. Haley wore the new dress we’d gotten her in Santorini, as well as her pashmina from the Bosphorus cruise and her necklace from the Grand Bazaar. After dinner we went to see the evening show in the theater. Katelyn wasn’t feeling well so she missed it, but she felt better soon. The show was short, only 45 minutes, but was reminiscent of Cirq du Soleil. Afterwards we went for a walk on deck and saw the lovely crescent moon.

 Day 17 – July 7 (Solerno/Pompeii) (cruise day 10)

Our guide Pina gave us good information about the area on the 45-minute drive to Pompeii. It was hot, and there was little shade, but Pompeii was amazing!  We got back relatively early, had lunch, rested, packed, and had dinner. Afterwards we went to get the various cruise photos. We had trouble finding some and got assistance from Juanita, a cute butch from South Africa. After taking a picture with her and leaving we realized she’d never charged us for the pictures! There are benefits to having “family” everywhere.

We all packed and got our bags out by 10pm. The kids went to bed and Val and Marilyn watched a movie, “The Box”, which was very weird.

Day 18 – July 8 (off the cruise, London)

We went, as instructed, to the Silhouette dining room, at 8:30am. Then we were directed off the ship, where we got our luggage and went to buses. (One of our bags was broken, the wheelie bag we got from the carpet place in Istanbul.) We arrived at the airport at 10:15, but British Airways wouldn’t check us in since our flight wasn’t until 1:00. We, along with a lot of others on our flight, had to wait in line until 11:10 before they would check us in. Very annoying.

We finally got to the gate and had to wait some more. Val took the kids off to the bookstore to kill time. The flight finally boarded, 45 minutes late. We were late landing too. We got all of our bags and went out to the taxi stand. Because of all of our luggage we needed a large taxi, and they don’t come along too often. One arrived and was to be given to the people in front of us. Since they didn’t really need it we asked if we could have it, but the taxi organizer guys wouldn’t do it. Such jerks! Val had words with them. We had to wait 15 more minutes for another one to come along.

We finally arrived at the Royal Overseas League (“The Club”) much later, having hit a lot of traffic getting into central London. We got to our rooms, and were too exhausted to go out, so we had dinner at their restaurant, “The Buttery”. Tracey joined us for dessert.

Day 19 – July 9 (London)

We had breakfast at The Buttery and then walked over to Buckingham Palace. Seeing the Changing of the Guard was a total BUST due to the number of people also trying to see it. When walking away from the Palace we saw the guard regiments and mounted officers.  Then we saw a number of carriages with people all dressed up. They looked like nobles of some sort. But since they only had two escorts, front and back, Tracey explained later that they probably weren’t anyone very important.

We then took a taxi to the Tower of London, where we toured on our own, including seeing the Crown Jewels. We had lunch at Wagamama, an Asian style noodle house that Val had eaten at before, and we all loved it. Afterwards we rode the double decker bus tour to Marble Arch, seeing Trafalgar Square and other sights on the way. Then we caught a cab to Butterfield Green, where we met up with Tracey and Jason and Jet and a bunch of other queer folks for a birthday party picnic in the park for Tom, a delightful transguy. This was the first time Marilyn and the kids got to meet Laurie, Tracey and Jason’s don, whom we’d been hearing about since he was born last May. What a cutie! Also present were Hannah and her 2 daughters and dog, Baron Schwartz, Ashton (who works with coins at the British Museum), and Emilene, who is a scarf performer.

We took a taxi to Giraffe restaurant for dinner, and Tracey joined us. We then took another one back to the Club, but it took a long time because of many road closures (diversions/detours).  Val had a call scheduled with the folks back home about the sale of her dad’s house, and was a little late for that. At some point there was also an argument in the family about who would sit backwards in the taxi. Two of the back seats sit backwards, but you have to be OK with that. We ended up coming up with a plan, but the process was stressful.

Day 20 – July 10 (London)

We had breakfast at The Buttery again, but then our plan to go into central London was thwarted by a 10K run that closed a lot of streets. So we headed north, taking the Underground to Russell Street and walked to British Museum. We saw the Elgin Marbles, which was particular relevant because we had just seen the Acropolis. We also saw the Rosetta Stone and the mummies, and many other parts of the museum.

 We made a brief stop at the gift shop on the way out, then walked to Coram Fields where there was a kids’ festival going on. We met Jason, Tracey, and Laurie there. We got lunch at the People’s Market and had another picnic in the park. We took pictures in the “Upside Down” room, and Haley spent some time on the swings.

We then took the Underground again. Val was really tired, so she headed back to the Club, but Marilyn and the girls went on to central London see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and to get close to (but not ride) the London Eye. We took the tube back and packed. We were pretty tired and thought we would just have dinner at the Club, but we really wanted something different. So we tracked down a nearby Wagamama and took a taxi there. Tracey met us for one last meal before we left. Afterwards we completely crashed, exhausted.

Day 21 – July 11 (Heading Home)

In the morning we arranged for a big taxi, had the bags loaded by the bell staff and taxi driver, and took off for the airport. We arrived in plenty of time, had lunch, and caught our flight home. While the flight was uneventful from our perspective, a man on the flight had a medical problem and a nearby passenger, a trauma surgeon, helped him out. He was OK.

We got through Customs and Immigration without incident. Kathie picked us up. The kids missed her so much that after we got home, they ended up going to her house.

It took us a while to really recover, but it was the most wonderful family adventure!