Monday, August 31, 2009

Things That Annoy Me

From the LA Times:

"Officials said ... five people initially refused to leave their homes when the evacuation order was issued. But since then, firefighters have set back fires in the area, and the people have now asked to be rescued. The Sheriff's Department considered sending a helicopter but was told by fire officials that conditions were not safe. Spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department is now monitoring conditions and trying to figure out how to get to them."

Now, I'm not so cold-hearted to say that, if these folks can't be rescued, they're getting what they deserve. But it is extremely frustrating that the Sheriff's Department has to waste time, personnel, and possibly a helicopter in order to save these dorks because they didn't leave when directed to do so.

You know, when I didn't go paragliding ... I mean, we'd wanted to go paragliding, but the wind wasn't blowing in the right direction. And one of the guys up on the mountain asked our lead glider guide if he could take off in another direction. And the lead glider guy said, "Sure, just as long as you first sign a release saying that you beat me up, tied me to the truck, and took off while I was yelling, 'No! Don't do it!'" Guy got the message and chose that, under the circumstances, it might be preferable not to take off that way.

I'm thinking we need similar forms for people who choose not to comply with evacuation orders. You know, something like, "I hereby understand that the people whose job it is to keep me from burning to death have demanded that I get out of here for my own safety, but I prefer to stay here because, based on my phenomenally inferior training and experience. I have personally determined that the risk to my safety is insignificant. I acknowledge that, when conditions get worse, as they are almost certain to do, I will be put up to public ridicule when I change my mind and meekly ask to be rescued -- assuming, of course, that conditions even allow for a rescue of my sorry ass."

Typo Du Jour

Reading an article about the fire, I find a report that the "Mayor said. 'Currently, the Los Angeles Fired Department has four strike teams assigned to battling the fire.'"

Really? I mean, I knew there were cutbacks, but the whole Department??

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My mother probably shouldn't read this post

OK, let's talk about the fire.

That would be the Station Fire, burning cheerfully out of control in a vaguely Northwesterly location from me.

I've been paying only a vague sort of attention to it, seeing as it was more than a city away, but this is, actually, one big, massive MoFo of a fire. The scope of it wasn't entirely clear to me until I was driving home from the theatre last night and actually saw it -- a big red ribbon all the way around the dark mountain. It looked kinda like Mordor, actually -- an image which was not at all ameliorated by other areas where there's tons of smoke billowing upward, lit a foreboding red light from below.

So, here's the bottom line -- the damn thing is burning something less than five miles away from me (as the crow flies -- there's a lot of terrain in between) which is enough to make me a bit concerned about possible evacuation. They've been trying to keep it away from Mount Wilson, which houses an observatory and a ton of communications towers and (more importantly, from a "how does this affect me?" perspective) is about directly North of me (ballparking that on a map, I'd say about 3 miles). I've been pretty happy with the whole Keep It Away From Mount Wilson thing, but the latest reports say it will get there sometime overnight. Now, that's still in the mountains, but they've been fighting this bastard in foothill communities all along the southern edge of the mountains, so if it gets to Mount Wilson, there's a reasonable chance it will end up within about a mile of my house, a fact which kinda freaks me out.

I'm not yet evacuating. I'm not yet packing to evacuate. But I did spend today preparing to pack to evacuate.

First problem: The cat. I don't want to show up on a friend's doorstep with a cat but no litter box. So, I went to the pet store and ended up filling my car with about $50 worth of spare cat supplies: litter box, litter, scoop, food/water dish, cat food, and (in the interest of protecting the furniture of wherever I may go) a small scratching post. Also, this seemed the right time to acquire a cat collar and nametag. On the theory that my place might get evacuated while I'm at work, I wanted to make sure the cat was safely labelled. To my great surprise, the cat took to the collar pretty well. Sure, there was about a minute of (somewhat amusing, really) cat trying to figure out why that little bell sound was coming from her, but, after that, she's been really cool with it. (Now I have to get used to the damn bell.)

After that: putting together a small bag of Crap I'll Want To Save. (To be clear, this is different from packing clothes, toiletries and meds to take with me upon any evacuation -- that can be done in under ten minutes with a duffel bag and very little choosiness.) So, I've got: my Baby Book, my passport, title to the car, deed to the house, various other financial documents, insurance policies, jewelry, my camera (currently loaded with pictures of everything in my house, for insurance purposes), and my netbook (after transferring the entire "My Documents" file from my desktop). There are a few more documents I need to throw in (and perhaps some collectibles I'd be really pissed to lose) -- but, honestly, pretty much everything else is just STUFF (a fact with which I am intimately aware, as I've recently unpacked all of it).

Don't get me wrong, here. I don't want to evacuate and I sure as hell don't want to lose the house -- especially after how long it took me to find it and all the work I've had done on it -- but I'm also oddly detached from the whole thing and OK with the thought that it could all go up in smoke. As long as I'm OK and the cat's OK, the rest is all replaceable (and insured, with full replacement coverage).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sharin' my Earworm

All right, here's the thing. There's this song from a show (I say "song from a show" rather than "showtune," since the latter tends to conjure up images of chorus girls tap dancing) which I rather like. Although it has annoyed me somewhat that I'd never heard anyone just attack that thing and sing it as well as I think it ought to be sung.

So, nearly two years ago, I saw a benefit concert with songs by the composer in question (Stephen Schwartz) and, bless his heart, Broadway actor Chad Kimball (whose biggest credit to that point had been playing the cow in the revival of Into the Woods -- a role previously played by an inanimate object) came out and sang the hell out of the song. I almost didn't recognize it at first, because they'd kicked the tempo up a bit, but once I realized that's what he was singing, I was just so darned pleased that someone finally got it right.

Now, the downside (and upside) to live theatre is that it's, y'know, live. As a result, even the cast recording of a production does not always sound as good as an awesome performance you might have hit one day when the cast was really on. And this is particularly true when the only recording you've got is someone else singing the damn song from a different production, where the tempo was too slow. But I listened to that anyway, because it was all I had.

Until about a month ago, when the director of the benefit concert in question actually posted video (nice, good, high quality, not-illegally-made video) of each number on youtube. This particular song has been viewed 87 times by now, and I suspect I'm responsible for a good quarter of that -- as I truly dig this rendition and, well, I don't think there's a way to put it on my .mp3 player.

So, check it out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Worse than the "World Series"

Why does Earth win "Miss Universe" every year?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weight Gain

On the cruise -- or more precisely, at the end of the cruise -- we were informed that, on average, people gain one pound per day of cruising.

Which was interesting because I'd actually started modifying my food intake about halfway through the cruise. Not modifying it much, mind -- it was more of keeping my desserts capped to one a day, and replacing that afternoon cookie with afternoon fruit.

Still, I know I ate a lot more -- and a lot worse for me -- than I eat at home. (And I certainly ate a ton on my last travel day, in my attempt to take in enough calories to get myself home awake.)

So, it was with some level of trepidation that I stepped on the scale upon my return, and discovered...

I hadn't gained any weight. My weight was right where it was when I'd started. At the low end of "normal" for me.

Over the past week -- with me back at home on my food & exercise plan -- my weight has gone up two pounds.

I am trying to process this fact. I've come to some interesting conclusions, which are likely to lead to some modifications in my current plan.

Preliminarily, I am, of course, aware that I got a lot more exercise running off on shore excursions than I do at home. On the other hand, I don't think the same is true of the week I spent in London, and I didn't put on weight there, either. So this isn't about exercise. It's more about the intersection of two different elements:

1. Eating for stomach, not mouth.
2. Portion control.

On the last day of the cruise -- the very last day -- I experienced something I hadn't experienced my entire trip: I had that feeling that I was full, but I ate another couple bites anyway. I don't think I would have noticed the feeling except it hadn't been there for the previous week. I had certainly eaten a lot -- in some cases, I ate everything they put in front of me at dinner and then some -- but I was always eating because I was hungry. (With the exception of breakfast, of course, when there was a certain amount of planning ahead.)

At the same time, lunch was often a serve-yourself-from-the-buffet affair, and I (in direct contrast to what you might think is standard buffet behavior) didn't take all that much at all. I'd put a small puddle of food on my plate, take it back to the table, eat it all ... and then be oddly surprised when I didn't feel a need to go back for seconds.

The other day, I tried to put these lessons into practice at home. Got lunch (a teriyaki chicken bowl) at the place I usually get lunch. And I usually finish the whole bowl, including every last grain of rice. And this time, I thought, "Hey, if I eat half of this, will I be full?" So I tried it -- and after I ate half the bowl, I had to have a small consultation with myself on how it felt. Is the stomach full? Not sure. The mouth wants more, because it's tasty. (Shut up, mouth.) Brain wants more, too. I'm on my lunch break; if I'm done, I have to go back to work. (Sorry, brain. Can't eat just to keep from working.) So, stomach? You OK with this?

Apparently so. The food that, for the past year, has been my regular lunch at least a couple days a week, is actually sufficient for lunch and dinner, if I split it up.

I'm also trying to deal with the impact of television on my eating. Because there was minimal television on this vacation -- and I definitely eat when I watch television. That's my "discretionary calories" (which I keep under 300), but I wonder what it is about watching TV which makes me want to snack. And I know (brain speaking, not stomach or mouth) that I wouldn't want that snack if I wasn't watching TV -- I certainly didn't when I was on vacation. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I turned of the TV and tried to finish my book, I'd be eating less.

And there's no doubt that stress (i.e. not having any on vacation) and sleep (getting at least 8 hours on vacation) have also both played into the unusual circumstance of Not Gaining Weight On A Cruise.

I have to admit, however, that I'm a little bit depressed by the discovery that my daily life is not good for my health.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Too Much 'Nip

When I last took Jasmine to the V-E-T, I purchased a catnip filled sock. The vet was selling them. Proceeds were to benefit homeless kitties, and it seemed the equivalent of giving my cat a lollipop after a trip to the doctor's office. It was a baby's sock, filled with catnip, double-stitched closed.

Jasmine wasn't too interested because she was traumatized by the vet visit. But I left the sock out for her playtime enjoyment.

Hardly touched it.

I came home from vacation to find the sock unrecognizable -- with numerous holes torn in it and catnip flakes in a puddle around it. And a pretty happy cat.

I need to throw out the sock before I have a catnip covered house, but I didn't want Jasmine to notice me throwing her stash away. So I moved it. Into the cat carrier we use when we're going to the vet. On one hand, it may encourage her to go back into the carrier. On the other, she'll be stoned the next time we see the vet.

Sunday, August 16, 2009



(Stage Three's Weird Not-Entirely-Asleep Dream was buying shoes at a Land's End store [do they have stores?] while dodging teenagers riding on skateboards.)

House clean; cat adorable; mail waiting; me exhausted.

The Slog Continues

And now, stage Two Point Five, cooling my heels at JFK. Am actually cooling my heels in the JFK American Airlines lounge, because (apparently) my International Business Class Transityness gets me in here, even though the woman at the flight check-in desk was unaware. (Said woman at check-in desk, "It's membership only. Hmm. Well, it says 'club' in here on your reservation, so take a shot.") I am grateful for this, as I've got at least another hour here, and would rather do it in the comfort of soft seats, free munchies, clean toilets, and free internet.

Actually, especially the free munchies. Once I saw the menu on Iberia (special chef-designed Mediterranean cuisine) I actually wished I'd eaten FOUR breakfasts, rather than the two-and-a-half I'd had. My choices for lunch were pig's knuckles, a fish I'd never heard of, and steamed veggies. I was actually considering the steamed veggies (shocking, I know), but managed to toss back a couple of pieces of mystery fish, once I'd shaved off the skin (ewww). Everything was all nicely presented, but the appetizer of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto is still, y'know, asparagus and prosciutto. (I wondered idly what the Hassidic Jews sitting behind me were eating, as they'd clearly ordered the Kosher option, and would therefore have avoided all this ham.)

The flight was over eight hours, of which I managed to sleep for about three. Maybe four. And, actually, maybe sleep. Hard to define what that was, exactly, as my subconscious was clearly engaged in wandering aimlessly if not actually dreaming (this time: I was outside a theatre in Los Angeles, late for a production of Phantom of the Opera, and stopped instead to help three random couples take wedding photographs outside the theatre -- somehow, this was accomplished by holding up fabric swaths for background in my teeth), yet, simultaneously, I seemed always aware that I was on a plane and that it would take only the slightest act of will to wake up. Weird (on both counts), but I'll take credit for a nap.

Once I got to JFK, Immigration Guy sent me to Customs Guy as I had some food with me (but nothing Agriculture Guy would care about). Customs Guy asked how I was doing and I said (with a smile), "I'm peachy!" He was pleasantly surprised; apparently, most people are annoyed when sent over to him. I told him I was probably a bit punchy from the journey. But, honestly, I had about two hours before my connecting flight; it isn't like he was keeping me from anything, and dude was just doing his job. I hate to be all "you get more flies with sugar" about things, but, really, interactions with law enforcement do tend to go smoother if you don't start them out being all negative.

The Long Slog Home

Greetings from the Iberia Business Class Lounge (Yay) at the Madrid International Airport. This means I successfully accomplished Stage One of my journey -- Istanbul to Madrid -- and am on to Stage One-Point-Five, which is cooling my heels at the Madrid International Airport for about four hours (which is approximately how long it took me to get here) before Stage Two, my connection to New York.

Having been unable to find ANY official information on how early one has to check in for an international flight out of the Ataturk Airport (Iberia´s website said 45 minutes for flights out of Madrid, but that it might be longer for some of its flights out of other airports -- thanks so much for THAT useful information), I settled on a 4:30 shuttle for my 7:00 a.m. flight. This because the UNOFFICIAL information I´d received -- from the idiot tour guide in Ephesus, from Kagan, from the cruise director before I left the ship, from the hotel, and from random reviews of the airport -- varied between one hour and two hours. The estimates on how long it would take to get the airport that early in the morning began at "around 45 minutes" and went up from there.

Well, ladies and gents, these people hadn´t seen my airport transportation guy drive. Two lanes (going the same direction) down the road and he´d straddle em both, tooling along at a very impressive pace well in excess of the speed limit. (Speed limit said 45, he´s doing 80.) Indeed, the only time he slowed was to gawp at a bunch of police cars by the side of the road, checking to see what all the action was about. The result was that one short hour after I´d left the hotel, I´d: arrived at the airport; had my bags screened; passed passport control; had my carry-ons screened again; found nothing but insanely expensive prices at the Turkish Duty Free shop (pleased, at least, that I paid less at the Grand Bazaar than what Duty Free was charging for my souvenirs); found the lounge; and was about another chapter into the book I´m reading.

I´m still exhausted, though. I know this because I´ve eaten breakfast two and a half times already this morning, and I´m still starving. Clearly, my body is asking for fuel and will take calories in the absence of rest. I got about six hours of sleep last night -- and when the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. (interrupting a dream in which I was haggling a good price for something and paying for it with an oversized British Underground medallion), I had a good few minutes of "Where the hell am I?" before, "Oh yeah, Istanbul" kicked in.

Contemplated napping in the "rest area" of the lounge -- a dark room with comfy stretch out couches. But they do not supply alarms of any sort, and it´s just my luck I´d sleep through my flight out of here. (Best to wait until I´m on the plane out -- the seat will be less comfy but at least I´ll know I´m moving toward my destination.) And so, I´m off to explore Madrid´s Duty Free shopping, in a last ditch effort to find SOMETHING that isn´t "too gay."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Traditional Turkish Grope

Yes, I know I should be going to sleep now, as I have to wake up on about 6 1/2 hours, but, really, some things need to be 'blogged. Indeed, I was mentally composing this while the events were actually occurring.

The way the Family Legend tells it, one of my aunts got groped during a massage in a Turkish bath. I remembered this.

Someone recommending my hotel stated that she got the best massage of her life in the Turkish bath in this very hotel. I remembered this, too.

I booked a massage at the Turkish bath in my hotel, and, actually, I can sorta understand both sides here (much like the misunderstanding regarding the "scarf" requirement at the Blue Mosque.) The massage was extremely relaxing and quite pleasant. And while the dude doing the massaging did, in fact, leave untouched that portion of my person which would be covered by a bikini, he was working off a very, um, Brazilian definition of "bikini."

I feel like we're very close friends.

Istanbul in 8 hours

I love my Istanbul hotel. It just used my three favorite words in the English Language: Free Wireless Internet.

And I would have loved this place anyway, even if they hadn't given me a free shuttle to the airport tomorrow (to make up for a mistake which, honestly, I'm not really sure I understood) AND had a room for me when I got here the early side of 8:00 this morning.

My tour guide (whom I chose based on internet recommendations) met me at the ship as scheduled, took me & my massive bags to the hotel, waited while I checked in, and then took me on a whirlwind tour of Istanbul's old city. Conveniently, the four major Old City sights are within walking distance.

Kagan (who looks sorta like a Turkish Brendan Fraser) first took me to the Blue Mosque, which is really quite gorgeous, and gave me a quick lesson in Islam -- or, at least, Islam the way it is practiced in Turkey. I also figured out the mystery of all the conflicting information I'd read on the web as to whether women have to cover their heads when visiting the Blue Mosque -- when you enter the mosque, there's a sign that says ladies have to have their knees covered (or something like that -- that's not the cause of the confusion) and wear "a scarf." Now, some folks have read "scarf" to mean "head scarf," but, apparently, the Blue Mosque means it in a "cover your shoulders" sense. So the short-sleeved shirt I was wearing over my tank top was just fine. And, anyway, they pass out big blue pieces of fabric which you can wrap around whatever offensive part of you is visible when you enter the mosque (said shorts-wearing Kagan, "I have to cover my sexy legs"), so if you're not sure about whether what you're wearing is appropriate, the blue-fabric passer-outer will hand you a piece and mime at you what you need to do with it. Inside, the place is impressive as all hell -- as per usual, there will be photos.

Then we booked on over to Topkapi Palace. Now, Jordan (a taxi driver in Greece) was not permitted into the historic sites with me; Kagan (a tour guide in Turkey) is encouraged to do so -- indeed, he got to buy my ticket at a separate window (no line) and got a free one for himself. He took me around some of the gardens, into the Harem (separate admission fee, but amazing), and then into the Treasury, where I saw a few of the meaningless little trinkets (like the 86-karat diamond) the last sultan left hanging around when asked to depart by the new Turkish Republic in 1923. (I may be slightly off on either of those numbers).

Then it was off to Hagia Sophia -- the church constructed by Justinian in his plans to move the seat of the Catholic Church from the Vatican to Constantinople. Thereafter, when the Muslims took over the city, their first plan had been to destroy the church, but once they saw how beautiful it was, they decided it must be a house of Allah and turned it into a mosque. At present, it operates as neither church nor mosque, and is just a museum, with massive amounts of tourists going in and out. (This was the first place Kagan took me that was very crowded -- and everything afterward was, too. I think I got so much seen today because we started early enough to miss the crowds on the first few attractions.)

After Hagia Sophia was the Cistern, constructed at the same time as Hagia Sophia -- which was substantially more impressive than I'd imagined as the damn thing was even larger that the church itself. They'd dug out, say, an entire city block, thrown in all sorts of columns recycled from old Greek and Roman sites to hold up the new ceiling, and then put on a ceiling (at ground level). The whole thing collected massive amounts of rainwater.

Then, after a break for lunch, I braved the Grand Bazaar. 4000 indoor shops; haggling mandatory. Kagan gave me an "orientation tour" and then left me to own devices for an hour. I'm fairly sure I paid too much for a couple of gifts for people back home (although I did pay less than what I would have paid for them in Greece), but the whole thing was pretty fun and not at all as bad as my tour guide in Ephesus had made out.

See, my tour guide in Ephesus apparently wanted us to do most of our shopping in his City (Kusadasi) rather than Istanbul, so told us ... well, actually he told us downright lies about Istanbul in general and the Grand Bazaar in particular. Everything from "Don't trust anyone in Istanbul" and "beware of the gypsies; they'll surround you and pick your pocket" to "the Russian Mafia launders money through the Grand Bazaar" and "rent for a small shop in the Grand Bazaar for one year is one million U.S. dollars." (As for the latter, Kagan said it was more like $50,000 for the best shops; half that for the more distant locations.) Although you definitely wanted to keep a close hand on your belongings (and pay in cash to avoid possible cloning of your credit card), it wasn't much worse than any other big city -- just required some common sense -- and I actually enjoyed making my purchases there.

Thereafter, we went to the cheaper Spice Market, which is frequented more by locals (prices are in Turkish Lira only; they won't do business in Euro like at the Grand Bazaar). Picked up a few more things. Between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market I told Kagan that I had no trouble getting gifts for my female friends, but I still needed to pick things up for two men -- one of whom was gay. From here on out, Kagan kept pointing to things in the market saying, "how about this? It's gay" ... which invariably led to my response, "Not THAT gay."

(Sidebar -- Kagan asked me about gay marriage in California, which is a bit of a confusing subject if you're not familar with California law. He said that, in Turkey, the are apparently right now having a case being litigated where a sports referee had been fired after coming out -- so the issue of gay rights is still a bit undecided here.)

So, I hit SIX sights in Istanbul in eight hours, came back to my lovely hotel, picked up my password for free wireless internet access, and am getting caught up on the 'net before an early dinner, a trip to the hotel's Turkish bath, and a massage before I hit the sack for my 4:30 a.m. airport shuttle. I'm wiped, but it's a good sort of wiped.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

After Ephesus

The above (or, rather, below) isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate Ephesus. Because, as you’ll see in the photos, just DAMN, it’s a pretty incredible site. The restorations were done over the past, say, 80 years -- and even though they vary in quality, it’s still awfully impressive to have a vague outline of an actual Roman city. And when we saw the 7 private homes (a separate museum within Ephesus), the homes gave us some clue of the massive amount of work the archeologists were up to -- as some of the rooms contained, say, hundreds of pieces of broken cornice, and someone was painstakingly trying to figure out what had gone where. The scope of the ancient city is impressive, but the scope of the undertaking to recreate it is even more so. (All of this will make more sense with photographs, which will be supplied once I get back to America and have slept for about a week.)

After Ephesus, we were returned to a “carpet demonstration.” Basically, we saw the methods by which weaveable silk is obtained from the silkworm cocoons, and how it is weaved. This was followed by a free cup of apple tea (yum) and a rather lengthy display of the wares in the Windstar Approved Handmade Turkish Carpet Shop. About which I can only say that I am amazed (and, I guess, flattered?) that there is a person on this planet who can look at me and, with a straight face, think that I can spend $22,000 on a carpet.

This is largely the end of my cruise. We’ve got a full day at sea tomorrow (I expect to spend much of it packing) and will end up, early the following morning, in Istanbul. I’ve got about 24 hours in Istanbul, and then (probably) a similar amount of time spent traveling home. I’m told that I should leave for the airport some FOUR HOURS before my flight. As my flight departs at 7:00 a.m., this thought does not thrill me.

Oh! And, since this was a different tour guide, I got to hear my second Turkish dude speak English. He didn’t have the same emphasizing-the-wrong-word issue, although he did share a habit of repeating an entire sentence for emphasis. Where they other guy said “Before Jesus,” this guy said, “Before Christ.” However, this guy also made a point of identifying himself as a Christian, while the other guy was a Muslim. I wonder if it was a religious thing -- maybe the Muslim preferred saying “Jesus,” as his faith sees Jesus as a prophet, but not the messiah? Dunno exactly, but it’s interesting. There will, I’m sure, be further data after my tour in Istanbul.


Well, here’s an interesting fact I didn’t entirely know about myself before this trip: Tour guides annoy me.

In Athens, I had a taxi driver who took me to all the sights, told me all about them on the way there, and then dropped me off, leaving me to explore them at my own pace and see what I did and did not care about.

On my shore excursion to Ephesus, I was with a tour guide who took our group of 17 through the site -- walking ahead with a silver umbrella, talking for awhile while we all gathered around him, and then set off again for the next point. If we tried to stop for a photo (which took more than just a moment, as other people were often standing where one needed to be, having their own Kodak moment), we ran the risk of losing sight of the silver umbrella completely. There were really only two times when we had any time on our own -- while our guide was doing some paperwork, he gave us all ten minutes to explore the ancient latrines at our leisure; and, at the end, ten minutes to poke around the Celsius Library and make our way out (the “making our way out” part took a good three or four minutes off the total).

Let me try to context this out for you. Ephesus was once the site of the second largest city in the Roman Empire (the first being, y’know, Rome). It has been substantially excavated and restored over the years, so there’s quite a lot to see -- the main road, the agora, the theatre, the odeon, 7 private homes, the Library (which is the most impressive facade in the place), the baths, the latrine, and so forth. And we had the very most free time to look at the john. I’ll be honest with you -- I took some pictures in there as I was fairly impressed with the Romans’ solution to the problem of human waste. But this was nothing compared to the pictures I WANTED to take at the Celsius library -- which I pretty much had to run through, taking a few snaps, and figuring I’d look at the pictures in more detail later. Bottom line, I haul my ass all the way to Turkey to see the ruins at Ephesus, I want to spend my time taking them in at my own pace, not listening to my tour guide endlessly repeat the facts he thinks are important (my tour guide was a moonlighting schoolteacher -- this explained much) and running after him.

Others in my group probably had a different opinion -- I expect some found what he had to tell us to be quite enlightening. I just found myself wishing I’d had the option to rent the little audio tour (the one that lets you listen to prerecorded info about whichever building you’re wondering) and just meet him back at the bus in two hours. I guess I’m just more of a do-it-yourself-er when it comes to going around museums or historical sites. Besides, sometimes I just want to stand there and stare at it until it speaks to me in some way -- and the toilets weren’t saying anything I wanted to hear.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gabrielle's Sunscreen

I met Gabrielle and her dad at dinner after Rhodes. Gabrielle is the first person on the ship who has initiated conversation with me, rather than the other way around. She spotted me outside the restaurant and said she’d wanted to say hello since she’d noticed I was traveling alone. Gabrielle gets bonus points. :)

I had dinner with them that night -- also interesting conversation. That’s not the point.

The point is: I ran out of sunscreen this morning. Got all of me covered except my right leg, when my spray crapped out on me. I used some of my tiny tube of face sunscreen on my leg, and figured I’d buy more at the ship’s store. This wasn’t easy -- the ship’s shop cannot be open when we’re in port -- and that meant it was closed all day yesterday (when I was anticipating a lack of sunscreen) and this morning (when it actually happened). I thought I’d buy some in Bodrum when I walked back to the ship from the gulet, but (in a welcome departure from the description in the brochure), the 20 minute walk back to the ship was replaced by a quick shuttle ride from the Turkish tour company.

Back on the ship, I ran into Gabrielle and happened to mention my sunscreen quandary. Which was, in fact, a problem, as tonight was our barbecue on deck, and I’d just showered off the last of my sunscreen. She loaned me hers and said I could return it whenever. I gratefully applied the stuff, and then carried it with me to later events in the hopes of seeing her and returning it. Gabrielle didn’t make it to the lecture on Turkey, the Turkish folk dancers, or the Turkish belly dancer. I did not see her at the barbecue, nor when the crew started line dancing which eventually blossomed into a full-blown dance party.

(Brilliantly done, by the way. Started with the crew performing an amusing line dance. Then the crew did some traditional line dances, prompting more and more passengers to join in. After the Conga line, they gave up all pretense of line dances and just played traditional party music (starting with “Celebration”) which kept everyone up there dancing.)

It was loud and festive, but I didn’t see Gabrielle, and by the time they were up to “Love Shack,” I figured I’d take a spin around the ship and see if I couldn’t locate her someplace more quiet. My first stop was the ship’s bow.

No Gabrielle. Nobody. Deserted. Dark. Beautiful.

Everyone dancing on the pool deck is missing that we’re cruising up the Turkish coast. The city lights are beautiful off the starboard side; ahead of us, the ocean is black and limitless; above, the stars are bright in the sky. Forget Gabrielle. I stand here, taking it all in, pondering my place in the universe -- as this appears to be what one does in this sort of situation. I take the scrunchie out of my hair and let the wind blow it all back as I stand at the rail. Someone turns on a bright light behind me -- I’m disappointed to find out that the crew needed to light up the sail for a minute, and wasn’t simply providing me with dramatic lighting.

They turn off the dramatic lighting and I temporarily ignore Turkey and look at the stars overhead. The crew turns off more lights on the ship to give me a better view (or to do something ship-related -- hard to tell, really). The dozens of stars I could see before turn into hundreds. It’s awe inspiring. I see the brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen.

I feel remarkably good about my place in the universe.


I am traveling with morons.

I don’t mean this with respect to any one individual (come to think of it, there is one -- but that’s not the way I meant it). Most people I’ve met here are pretty sharp in the real. But as a group -- dumber than gravel, honestly.

After Rhodes, there was some partying in the ship’s lounge. The piano player stopped playing when the ship pulled out of Rhodes, to tell us there was a great view from the bow if we went up on deck. Everyone runs up the nearest stairs -- at the back of the ship, and then stayed there. I move up to the front, where there may be ten other people, and wonder if we’re really the only people who know what “bow” means.

We’re in Turkey today. Our tour guide (who learned English in Turkey and speaks the language very well, but puts the accent on the wrong word -- I can’t wait to meet other English-speaking Turks and find out if they all do this) tells us that the Mausoleum -- one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World -- was in Turkey. He tells us one other Wonder is also located in what is now Turkey. Do we know what it is?


“The Colossus of Rhodes,” volunteers someone. No, that’s in Greece. (Hence the “of Rhodes” part.) The guide gives us a prompt, “You’re seeing it tomorrow.”

I take pity on the guy. “Ephesus,” I say.

“The Virgin Mary’s house,” someone shouts. (Really? OK, yes, there is a tour that goes to a house accepted to be the house where the Virgin Mary lived at some point in time, but this is not a Wonder of the Ancient World. Number one: not ancient. Number two: not a wonder; a house with religious significance. Dork.)

(The correct answer was: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Remember back when I showed you pictures I took in London, and I showed you that sculpted female face which I liked so much? From the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.)

But that’s tomorrow. Today, we are in Bodrum, Turkey. (Yes! A new country!) I went on a tour which went to Bodrum Castle -- another place with antiquities lodged in a medieval building. This one (which was built with the stones of the Mausoleum -- the other Wonder in Turkey) houses an Underwater Archeology Museum. (“Underwater” modifies “Archeology,” not “Museum.”) We basically saw lots (and lots) of stuff recovered from old (really old; like 16th Century B.C. old) shipwrecks. (Our guide does not say “B.C.” or even “Before Christ“; he says “Before Jesus,” which somehow never fails to crack me up.)

After the museum, our group, which numbers only 10, is taken on a “gulet,” a traditional Turkish boat (not TOO traditional -- it has a motor… and indoor plumbing). There are cushions and mattresses set up all over the boat, with canvas overhangs hoisted to give us shade. We all lounge around this boat feeling insanely pampered while we sail around, have lunch, and occasionally stop to have a swim in the waters off the coast of Turkey. It is here were I’m convinced my shipmates are not, in fact, morons. (“The Virgin Mary’s house”? REALLY?) We’re a very odd (non-random) assortment of 10 people. Two substantially older than the rest (in their 80s -- he’s in great health; just medaled in a Senior Olympics -- guy throws shotputs; she’s moving slow); two multi-generation family groups (a couple with their high-school-aged daughter -- the daughter, by the way, is insanely bright and well spoken; and a mother with her adult daughter); another couple; and me. Professions also vary -- we have a corporate interior designer and a bio-chemist who is planning to save us from an Anthrax attack; a veterinarian and someone who controls the appearance of stores in a well-known nationwide retail chain. Conversation was varied and interesting -- everything from the vet’s opinion of pitbulls to how it feels for several of us to be visiting a Muslim country for the first time. Ten people was a group just small enough that we could really gel, at least for a few hours -- and when you’re all this far from home, in the surrealistic setting of eating baklava and lying on towel-covered mattresses, you find yourselves talking about things you would never normally discuss with strangers. Bizarre and wonderful.


I’m glad I’m journaling this -- in the true sense of the word -- because I’m honestly forgetting what happens from day to day. When I’m back home, this vacation will feel like it was gone in a second, but right now, it seems like ages. Was I really on the Acropolis a week ago? Was I in Rhodes yesterday? Was I riding a gulet in Turkey today? Yes -- but all I can really recall in the immediate past is looking at the stars.

I’ve gotten way ahead of myself. First, yesterday, Rhodes. Here’s the thing about Rhodes that isn’t spelled out in its entirety in the Shore Excursions brochure: Yes, Rhodes does have an acropolis -- the Lindos Acropolis. It’s much harder to reach than the one in Athens, much more crowded (for reasons I cannot possibly understand), and much less worth the trip. There’s a (fairly small) temple of Athena there, but the great bulk of it is a restoration built in the 1920s. I mean, there’s four columns, and each column is made out of, say, six pieces of rock. Looking at this thing, you can tell that only piece of one of the columns is original. Look, I can see a restoration in a museum, and it wouldn’t require walking up 330 steps with a bunch of tourists coming the other way and no handrail. In contrast, the insanely interesting thing about Rhodes is the old city, which is (according to our guide, and I have no reason to disbelieve him) the best preserved medieval city IN THE WORLD.

I, of course, signed up for the Lindos Acropolis tour, being all about antiquities and not caring a whole freakin’ lot for medieval history. And I did the acropolis tour, and elements of it were very nice -- the view (pictures to come) was freakin’ awesome, and I hung out with a very nice couple. But when it took about an hour fifteen walking (uphill) to get there, and the guide told us we could cover the Acropolis at our own pace and it shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes, well, I could tell it was going to be a little anti-climactic.

Luckily, I was easily able to remedy the problem because the Lindos Acropolis tour was in the morning but we were docked at Rhodes all day. So, once we got back and caught our breaths, I went back to Rhodes -- with half of the couple from earlier -- to check out the Old City. Because just by looking at the fortified wall around it, it was clear that this was the real item of historical interest in Rhodes.

Paradoxically, the coolest thing we saw in the Old City was a medieval church which had been converted into an archeology musuem, and there were HUNDREDS of freakin’ antiquities there. Tons. In ancient times, damn near everyone stopped in at Rhodes (along the trade routes), and paid their respects to Athena by leaving an offering of sorts at her temple at the Acropolis -- and all of that stuff which has since been dug up is at this museum in the old city. Painted amphorae (jugs) from as far as Corinth; Athenian stuff throughout the ages; glass works; sculptures; metal…. there were heaps of these things (and, dredging up scattered bits of Art History from the recesses of my mind, I was able to spout off random interesting facts at the husband -- who apparently found me to be quite educational. I was frustrated that I remembered so little; but when you know next to nothing, I guess a little seems like a lot).

After the museum, I … well, I shopped. The best preserved medieval city in the world is being used as a great big bazaar. Picture … well, actually, picture any of the themed shopping areas in Las Vegas -- like the Forum Shops at Ceasar’s Palace or the shopping area at Aladdin. Except the historical setting in which the shops have been plopped is REAL. So it’s just streets and streets of old medieval buildings which now house restaurants, linen shops, and souvenir stores which may as well be called “All Things Greek.” I got a reasonable amount of shopping accomplished in a short period of time, and went back to the ship, quite satisfied with Rhodes.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Upon returning to the ship, after having lunch, I sat by the pool and read for awhile. In retrospect, I should not be surprised that they cancelled the snorkeling; it was so windy by the pool that a BEACH UMBRELLA (from one of the tables) flew overboard and was lost at sea. Yep, “Umbrella overboard!” (I wanted to throw it the life preserver, but it sunk like a stone.)

I also made a massage appointment. I signed up for one of those bizarre ayurvedic things where they drizzle warm oil on your forehead, as I’ve always wondered what that feels like. (Answer: feels surprisingly like someone drizzling warm oil on your forehead. Although I DO recommend experimenting with this at sea, rather than on land, as the experience was amusingly enhanced by the rocking of the ship, which sent me and the oil moving in a sort of delayed harmony.) The whole thing was quite nice, and it might have put me in a happier frame of mind if the massage dude hadn’t cheated me out of part of the treatment. (Was supposed to include some “foot polishing with Himalayan salts” thing.) After I went back to my room and verified that the salt thing had been left out, and after deciding that, dammit, the shopkeeper in Oia might have taken advantage of me, but, this holistic therapist dude sure as hell wouldn’t, I walked back to the spa and (in an effort not to mess up my Chi or Dosha or whatever the hell it was that he aligned), politely asked what happened to the foot polishing with Himalayan salts business? Wasn’t entirely clear of the explanation he gave for leaving it out, but he did say that if I come back tomorrow, he’d do that for me. Good.

(Especially because tomorrow’s tour also involves a Donkey option, and since the only alternative is a long walk, I may need a foot polishing either way.)


I am intensely annoyed. I am particularly annoyed because it is largely my own stupid fault, and I should have known better. So I’m annoyed with myself. Which is really counter-productive as I don’t have anyone on whom to vent my annoyance. Which just makes me doubly annoyed, because being annoyed in itself is a waste of my precious vacation time -- and since I AM annoyed (and thereby wasting my precious vacation time), I’m, y’know, annoyed.

Here’s the thing: We went to Santorini today. Now, I originally booked a tour in Santorini which involved being driven around the island and taken to a wine-tasting. Before the cruise left, I received an email saying they regret to inform me they’ve cancelled that tour. So I have to sign up for a different shore excursion. And I’m not a huge fan of any of the three remaining choices. One is a short bus tour and a couple hours in the village of Oia, followed by making your way back to the boat yourself (either down 880 stairs, a cable car, or on a donkey). Another is a “highlights of Santorini” bus tour, which, I believe, ends with the same stair/cable car/donkey trilemma. The third is hiking a volcano, which actually sounds cool, but is listed as extremely strenuous, and I haven’t figured out if they define “extremely strenuous” the way I do, and I think sticking with “moderate” or even “easy” activities is the way to go. Just to be safe. So I sign up for the short tour with the time in Oia.

Once we get on the ship, we are informed that they have a brand new tour on offer in Santorini -- offered for the first time ever on this sailing -- snorkeling over a shipwreck. This sounds totally 100% up my alley. Fate, even. It’s active, but it’s insanely easy. I can’t do it WITH the tour I’ve already booked, but I can do it in the morning and, if the mood strikes, then go wander about Santorini myself (having to do cable car both ways or, in the words of our cruise director type, “smell like donkey all day”). So, I go to the cruise director type and tell him I’d like to cancel my tour in Santorini so’s I can do this snorkeling over the shipwreck instead.

He highly recommends against. In fact, he looks at me like I’m nuts. Why would anyone want to give up the awesome beauty of Santorini in order to snorkel over a shipwreck? He tells me he used to be dive master on this boat and the wreck is OK to dive, but it’s 50 feet down and you can’t even see it when you’re snorkeling on the surface. And that’s if visibility is good, which can’t be guaranteed. AND there’s a chance that there will be another ship parked right over it, which means you can’t see the shipwreck at all. And did he mention how beautiful Oia is? That it’s his favorite place anywhere? Everyone loves Oia. He agrees that if I snorkel in the morning, I’d still have about 3 hours left to see Santorini on my own, but he doubts that is enough time. He told me to sleep on it, and I could come back and cancel the Santorini tour the next morning (before 10:00) if that’s what I really wanted to do.

Now, rather than tell him, “No, cancel the tour,” I stupidly went along with him. Then proceeded to oversleep the next morning, until after the cancellation deadline had passed. So, I was pretty much stuck with the Santorini tour.

This was the Santorini tour: tender over to shore. Get on bus. Bus drives up to one photo stop at the top of the island. Pretty. I take a photo or two. It’s very windy and I nearly lose my hat. We get back on the bus, for the drive to Oia. I can’t tell you exactly how long it took (nor the Santorini history our guide Nikos was spouting) because Nikos had a really soporific voice and I kept dozing off. We finally end up in Oia -- no, we end up near Oia. It’s not legal for the bus driver to drop us in the center of town, but he can get us fairly close and we should all jump out really quick so the police don’t see. So we jump off the bus, and Nikos walks us up the hill to Oia’s little main street. We have about an hour twenty here. Nikos recommends we all walk down the street to the right -- it’s about a 15 minute walk; there’s a picturesque Church at the end (public toilets on the way); and cute little shops. OK, I start walking (with some woman from the cruise whose son was off hiking the volcano). We take photos and visit the little shops. She buys some things. I buy some things. I get badly ripped off. (Badly. In retrospect, I suspect the guy mis-added, because I ended up paying about $18 for two postcards, two stamps, and a souvenir trinket which should have been about five bucks.) In any event, we stroll to the end of the street and back and take pictures. (I’m grumpy now, but I will not lie: Oia IS beautiful, and I got a couple of breathtaking shots.)

Bus then picks us up (again, jumping on real fast in the middle of the street) and takes us to Fira. Fira doesn’t have the picturesque sights of Oia, but it has the same shops -- only crappier and cheaper. My first thought was, “Greek Tijuana.” As with Oia, the bus driver wasn’t able to take us into town, so we were dropped off nearby, and Nikos walked us up to town. As with Oia, the walk was uphill, only here it was substantially longer.

Nikos tells us how to get to the cable car (or the stairs and donkeys), and tells us we have about two hours to spend in Fira at our leisure -- just be sure to be on the 3:20 cable car (at the latest) and get the 3:50 tender back to the ship. It is at this point that I get annoyed. One look at Fira tells me I have nothing to do here -- I’ve already bought what I needed (and been ripped off) in Oia; I’ve no need to cool my heels for two hours in Fira. Now, maybe if they’d dumped us all in Oia and given us an opportunity for later transport back from there, I would’ve stayed on Santorini. But as it was, I planned to haul ass to the cable car and make it back to the ship before they closed for lunch. And I commenced being annoyed about having chosen to take this tour rather than go snorkeling over the shipwreck. And not really annoyed at Cruise Director Guy for trying to talk me into the tour -- he was only being honest; annoyed at myself for not sticking with what I knew I wanted.

As you can see, my annoyance carried straight through lunch right up to … well, in all honesty, right up to about the middle of that last paragraph. Water Sports Director just walked through the lounge (where I’m typing this) and I asked her how the snorkeling went. She said they had to cancel due to high winds. And they didn’t cancel it until 8:30 this morning -- which is when we were boarding the tender to go over to the tour. So if I HAD chosen the snorkeling, I would’ve ended up cooling my heels on the ship all day long, rather than (at least) getting about 20 lovely pictures, two postcards sent, and an overpriced souvenir for a friend. Hmmm. Fate.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oh! And...

On the way back down from the Acropolis, I saw a sign from the same group I'd seen marching in the Plaka. (Same stylized dove and olive branch; same Greek initials.) I took a picture of it to remember, but it said something like "Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- in remembrance of the victims of the nuclear holocaust" and then it said that, in the name of peace, it was against the U.S.A., the U.N., and the E.U.

Man, you drop two nuclear bombs on someone, ....

I kid. The U.S. *is* the only country to have actually set off a nuclear weapon in aggression and, however justified it may have been, we do have to carry that one as a nation. Yep, that was us.

But, it's a bit of step to go from there to the idea that Greece can therefore accomplish peace by dissociating itself from the U.S.A., the U.N. and the E.U. (the latter of which, quite obviously, has no U.S. involvement at all). Which beliefs tend to transform said marchers, in my mind, from peace lovers to isolationist nutjobs. Making their march through the Plaka seem a little more creepy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I did not journal the night I got back from Delphi. I was wiped out. Wiped. Out. (I attributed this more to the lack of water on my hike up to the stadium than any lack of fitness on my part.) In any event, I strolled by the hotel spa to see if they had any massages available that night. (Thank goodness they didn’t. They wanted something like 150 Euros -- about $225 -- for a massage. Yipes.) So, I went back to my room, took a long hot bath to wash Delphi off myself, decided I wasn’t up to shuttling to the Plaka, so I had a bite in the “cheaper” of the two hotel restaurants. (11.50 Euro for a tuna sandwich. A TUNA SANDWICH. 6 Euros for a pot of tea. Freakin’ extortionate.)

Thus fed, I went to sleep, to get a good night’s rest before Jordan picked me up for my Athens adventure.

Bright and early (and with a bottle of water, dammit), I waited in the hotel lobby for Jordan. (Waved goodbye to the Intercontinental and their $17 tuna sandwich). And off to the Acropolis. (I actually did substantially better when Jordan quizzed me on what I was going to see at the Acropolis. Propylea, Parthenon, Erecthium, Temple of Athena Nike. And I had impressive stats on the Parthenon, like it was built from 448-432 B.C., chief sculptor Phidias, 8 x 17 columns (double counting the ones on the corners). He didn’t ask me about the decoration, but I was pretty much on top of that, too. Yeah, I’d studied up on the Parthenon.)

I liked the whole private driver thing, but what I really liked -- both at Delphi and the Acropolis -- was not following the tour guide waving the red umbrella (or whatever), stopping where they wanted to stop, staring where they wanted me to stare, and listening to what they wanted to teach. I got all my background info before walking up (Jordan earned his fee by pointing me toward a second, less-used, less-arduous route up to the Acropolis) and then got to stare at whatever I wanted to stare at for however long I wanted to stare at it. Want to stroll all around the Parthenon? (Yes.) Stroll away. Want to blow off that thing over on the West side of the acropolis? (Yeah.) Blow it off. I quite enjoyed having all this power over my own tour. Took as long as I wanted, snapped a lot of pics, and headed back down to Jordan.

Who then, at my request, took me to the New Acropolis Museum, where I got to play Compare and Contrast with all the treasures I’d seen earlier this week at the British Museum. (The New Acropolis Museum is very helpful in this regard. The upper floor of the museum is all about the the Parthenon. They’ve got the entire frieze running around the room, all the metopes displayed above, and both pediment sculptures -- at least, all the bits in existence. It’s just that the stuff that ISN’T in the Acropolis Museum is a plaster cast of the stuff that’s elsewhere, with a little notation (most often: BM) for its current location. And in this way, the museum silently yet eloquently makes its argument for getting this stuff back to Athens, because you can’t possibly look at the real fragments next to the plaster casts and not think, “someone’s got to put this stuff TOGETHER.”) New Acropolis Museum also has some fairly nifty scultpures I’d studied forever ago in Art History -- think Kouroi and … whatever the plural of Kore is … the archaic statues of young men (naked) and women (in all sorts of drapery). Sort of an added bonus.

Jordan then drove me all over Athens to fit in about a half dozen other sites (Temple of Zeus, Roman Agora, changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace [where, honestly, they look like they’re trying out for the Ministry of Silly Walks -- but I was one of only four tourists watching, so I kept on my best proper behavior and didn’t giggle even once], Socrates’s prison, Hadrian’s Gate… all sortsa stuff) and finally, brought me to the dock where I picked up my ship.

We’re currently at sea now. They’ve cancelled our first island -- Mykonos -- due to high winds and replaced in with Milos tomorrow morning. (It isn’t far; we may well have dropped anchor outside it already.)

I’ve met some nice folks on this cruise already. Bless the Windstar, when you walk into the dining room, they ask if you want to share a table or eat alone, and seat you accordingly -- which saves me the total awkwardness of walking up to strangers and asking if they mind if I eat with them. I mean, I can do that when we’re all sitting by the pool, or having drinks, but a meal is a bit of a commitment, you know?

ANYWAY, I should try the internet connection and post this already. Shades of my cruise in Australia -- I’ve come up to the lounge to do my journaling (then, it was reading) after dinner, figuring I’d listen to the piano player during. As in Australia, I’m the only person here -- everyone else has turned in already -- so I’ve had a nice chat with the piano player. As I told some folks I met earlier here (the young guy was concerned that there wouldn’t be any young people on the cruise), when the passengers let you down, you can always hang out with the crew.


I hired a driver for my two days in Greece. “Hired a driver” sounds so very extravagant, but, actually, it was cheaper than going with the tour bus supplied by the cruise company (because the cruise decided to apply their “single supplement” to the pre-cruise hotel/tour). So, cheap hotel on hotwire + Jordan, the taxi driver < (tour + expensive Athens hotel) * 1.75. And that there is the mathematics of my trip to Athens.

I found Jordan on the internet. It was only after I’d read all sorts of recommendations from random people on the web that I looked at his “testimonial” pages and saw two of my co-workers there. Yep, they’d used Jordan, too. So, good to know I was going with someone recommended by people I trust.

So, my full day in Greece was taken up by Jordan driving me to Delphi. And giving me bits of Athenian history along the way. Jordan asked, “What do you know about Delphi?” at which point I came up with: (1) Oracle was there; and (2) Temple of Apollo. (Not bad, I thought, seeing as Art History was about 20 years ago.) Jordan gave me all the details on everything I would see at Delphi -- both historical and mythological, and, by the time we got there, I was totally on top of this.

Here’s an interesting factoid about the archeological site at Delphi. It’s on the side of a hill. OK, mountain. So, after you drive up the long, winding, switchback-covered road, you pay your money and then start walking up the hill. OK, the treasuries of the various cities (where they’d store their offerings) were pretty low; as was the temple of Apollo itself. The ancient theatre (there will be photos when I get back) was a little bit uphill, but no biggie. But then… the stadium.

Holy crap, ancient athletese must’ve been in some kind of shape just to get to the stadium. The spectators, too, I imagine. I was huffing pretty bad getting up there (largely because I hadn’t brought any water with me, a fairly stupid move I don’t plan on repeated), but it was pretty impressive to look at. On my way back down, I saw a jogger -- I imagine she just runs on up to the stadium and back for a workout. That’s gotta be pretty cool, using these ancient sites as landmarks.

When Jordan drove me back from the main site at Delphi, we stopped at the ruins of the Gymnasium. (DOWNhill. Of course, you had to walk back uphill to get out, but still.) I liked these ruins because, unlike the main site at Delphi, you could actually touch them. I reached out to touch one of the partial marble columns -- it was hot, having baked in the sun for days, months, centuries. And I imagined myself to be a psychic, to see if by touching this column, I could somehow make contact with the people who must have touched it before -- some naked, oiled-up, muscular wrestler types getting ready for a match.

Nope, not psychic, but I have a good imagination.

The Plaka

OK, where were we?

More importantly, where are we? Somewhere in the Aegean, on a satellite connection at something like 55 cents PER MINUTE. And I’m told that since it’s a satellite connection, it’s useless for uploading photos, so you’re just going to text from here on out. In pre-drafted, uploaded in a minute, segments.

So, I last left you when I first got into Athens. My hotel (which was cheap as all get-out via Hotwire, and tried to make it back up in internet fees) ran a free shuttle into the “Plaka.” I don’t exactly know what Plaka means (“place” maybe?) but it’s the part of the city center which has, y’know, life. Restaurants and shops and such which are open after dark. So, I took the shuttle to the Plaka -- I was the last person on the shuttle and (not wanting to wait an hour for the next one) got to sit on some plastic … thing next to the driver and facing the rest of the passengers. The driver told me that if we got stopped by the police, I was the tour guide. Fair enough. I started thinking of things to say (“To your left is … some stuff”). We made it to the square on the edge of the Plaka and were told we could pick up the shuttle back “right in front of the McDonald’s,” which was logical and depressing all at once.

The Plaka wasn’t much, actually. Well, I’m sure it’s impressive if you’re wanting to buy fur coats (in 80 degree weather) or expensive shoes and such, but it didn’t do much for me. Nor could I figure out how the cafes worked (couldn’t tell if they had table service or if you bought your stuff at the counter). And then there was the march. Hundreds -- maybe a thousand or so -- of Greeks started marching down the street, shouting slogans (in Greek) and waving signs (also in Greek). The signs had what looked like a dove and an olive branch on them, so I figured it was something about Peace, which, y’know, I could generally get behind as a concept. But they were quite energetically shouting as they marched down the streets of the plaka, and another tourist and I shared what I guess you’d call “an uncomfortable glance” as we waited for them to pass.

I ended up at a real restaurant (with waiters and everything) conveniently located next to the McDonald’s. It promised some sort of ethnic cuisine (I honestly can’t remember where, but it was definitely Mediterranean), so I had the special of the day (some sort of chicken, allegedly in lemon) which was relatively tasty and got me fed just in time to catch the shuttle back to the hotel. (I got a seat. The people who were last to the bus had to wait another hour for the next shuttle, or take a taxi.)

So, that was my Plaka adventure.

(I’m pretty sure I didn’t journal that already. Sorry if I did. No time to check.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


OK, I think -- if I move fast -- I can get some photos up. Internet from the Athens hotel is in one hour blocks you have to use all at once and, stupidly, I didn't edit the photos before I signed up. So, here's me, wasting internet time not actually using the internet. Argh.
Yeah, OK, this is one of my favorite things from the British Museum. It's a face from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The British Museum used to have it on a wall right next to a post, so it was impossible to get a decent shot of it. Now, it's behind glass and way lower than eye-level. Sigh. My Art History professor had always talked about how early Greek art was superficial, but the later work understood the human form. He once said of this piece, "If you cut it, it would bleed." And I finally understood what the hell he was talking about.

This is a pediment group from the Parthenon. Everyone was taking pictures of it.

Pretty cool, right?

Here's a tip -- when the museum displays the stuff so you can walk around the back, go ahead and walk around the back. I was the only one doing this.

That's, obviously, the back of the pediment group. Nobody would possibly have seen this while the group was actually sitting in the pediment on the top of the Parthenon. But the sculptor put in all that detail (wings! drapery!) because, y'know, you just don't skimp on this stuff when you're carving the gods to put on top of the Parthenon. I admire that attention to detail.

Similarly, we have:

-- one of the Parthenon metopes. Which I photographed not so much because the centaur is kicking the guy in the nuts, although it appears that he is. I photographed it because of the detail on the centaur's arm. Look, detail:
Veins and shit. Now these were up high on the Parthenon; it's doubtful anyone would have actually gotten to look at them close enough to see this, but the artist thought it important anyway. Cool.

And finally:

That's the view from my hotel window. The freakin' Acropolis. How cool is that?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

You say "lost" like it's a bad thing

I’ve gotten lost more on this trip to London than any other -- larger because I didn’t entirely mind it. I would never allow myself to get this lost in, say, New York. In terms of safety, streets in New York vary from block to block. Not so in Central London; everything feels of a fairly uniform quality. So, if I know I need to go vaguely Southward until I hit Chinatown, and then hang an East -- no problem. And I might even find something interesting along my way.

The not-entirely-random wandering occurred because my not-entirely-plans didn’t go entirely according to plan. The plan was to do a London Walk this morning; I chose instead to sleep in. Then the plan was to drop by the British Library. Sleeping in won again. Finally, the plan was to meet a friend for tea. This did happen, although replace “tea and scones” with “milkshake and cupcake.” Sugar rush duly accomplished, we wandered a bit (and I managed to buy one more gift for someone back home). We then parted company and I realized I had the evening to myself. So, of course, I headed off to the half-price ticket booth to get a ticket to a show.

I now know why people hate American tourists. The half-price ticket booth (which, to be fair, works pretty much exactly like the half-price ticket booth in New York) has a big board on which all the available shows are listed. And if you happen to miss the big board, right next to it is an even bigger electronic board displaying the very same information. It is impossible to get into the queue without seeing the board to your left and the electronic board to your right. You would have to be a complete moron to miss them.

So, I wait in line. It’s a very short line, but we’ve been waiting in it long enough to see the boards (even if, for some strange reason, you chose to get in line without first deciding what show you’d like to see). The group in front of me gets called to the window. Four of them. American. I can’t hear what the guy in the booth asks, but I assume it’s something along the lines of, “Can I help you?” And the American asks, “What shows do you have available?”

I involuntarily roll my eyes. I’m hoping he’s telling her to step out of line and look at the board while he helps the next people, but apparently, he doesn’t. She then turns to her group and says, “What is it we wanted to see? Do you have Phantom of the Opera?” (No, actually. They don’t. If you’d looked at the board, you’d know that.) I roll my eyes again. I never saw how it ended; I got called to the next window. They were still there when I left.

I ended up seeing a play called “Collaboration.” I wasn’t really up for a musical, and of the plays available, this seemed like a reasonable drama. After all, it had Nazis in it. That’s a subject matter that playwrights can keep on mining indefinitely. This wasn’t a particularly exceptional Nazi play -- a fairly straightforward affair, but it was blissfully short and largely well acted. (I often wonder when I see a show with one bad performer in it -- didn’t the director notice? Did someone think about letting her go due to “artistic differences”? Because, damn, she’s just embarrassing herself and bringing the play down.)

And that’s about it from London. I’m back in the hotel (if I’ve got a few more minutes left on my overpriced hotel internet, I’ll post this) getting ready to confirm my flight and pack. To Athens tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bless My Taxi Driver

My taxi driver from the train station to my hotel, when I first arrived in London, made an odd recommendation to me. He suggested that, if I'm seeing shows in the West End, I should walk along Waterloo Bridge one night after a show and take in the sights.

This was an odd recommendation because I know all about Waterloo Bridge -- indeed, I'd sort of thought it was my own personal discovery -- I'd had no idea taxi drivers were recommending it as an actual tourist attraction.

But after years of seeing shows on the other side of the bridge and taking the Underground from one side to the other, I finally discovered the bridge allowed pedestrian traffic and learned that the view at night (when the lights are on, and the Thames is dark so you can't so how polluted it is) is freakin' gorgeous. I often try to see shows at the National -- the theatre on the other side -- because I really look forward to that walk back. Once, when asked my favorite place in the world, I responded, "Waterloo Bridge, with a great show fermenting in my head, and beautiful music on my Walkman." (Although, at the time, it was a cassette walkman, not an mp3 one.)

But what the taxi driver reminded me is that I can take in the view from Waterloo Bridge without actually seeing a show on the other side. You know, you can walk there just because.

Which is what I did tonight. I have no photograph because, like several things this trip, it was something of an impulse. This afternoon didn't go entirely well (spent altogether too much time finding the bank, walking to the cheapo internet cafe, and dealing with their very slow network connection), but things picked up awesomely thereafter. Had a proper British cream tea in lieu of dinner; saw a fantastic production of a brilliant play -- a revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia -- this is the fourth production of it I've seen and the only one which comes close to rivaling the original -- and when it was done, I was just so full of happy I couldn't think of anything else but how wonderful it was.

And so, I was paying so little attention to anything I walked the wrong way out of the theatre. My subconscious GPS was clearly at work again, because when I finally figured out my mistake, I was halfway to Waterloo Bridge. So I thought, what the hell? Cranked up my Walkman and went for a good and proper walk across the bridge. Full moon tonight. Gorgeous. I actually walked all the way across the bridge and back again -- so that I could get the full view from each side.

There's something ironic in the fact that the view I love only works at night so you can't see how brown the river is. I mean, there's something of a lie in it -- something ugly hidden in all the lovely city lights and the juxtaposition of the old and new architecture. And somehow, that makes it all the more right.

I found the Citibank!

Much excitement. Apparently, there are indeed great lengths I will go to in order to avoid ATM service charges. There are 5 Citibank branches in London -- two of which appear to be relatively near underground stations -- but one is near a station with dodgy availability, and the other is ... well, that's the one I tried to find.

It's at St. Paul's. According to the website, it is located at "Canada Square"

Yeah, good luck with that. Not on any map I have, nor my 20 year old A-Z. And, if you pull the map up on the Citibank website, it doesn't actually show the branch on the page, but yahoo maps (or whatever it is that Citibank is using) doesn't exactly know where the hell Canada Square is either.

I figured I'd take the underground over there and look for it on the map of everything near the station. Not on the map. Exited the station and looked around for anything vaguely bank looking. Circled a block with lots of people in suits. No dice. Returned to the underground. Was about to get back on the train in defeat, but decided to check the area around the other underground entrance. Briefly.

There's a square there. Not Canada Square -- Paternoster Square (or something else sounding vaguely ecclesiastical). Figured I'd take a quick look around the square. On the way to the square is a little street with shops and ... Yes! Citibank! Victory!

(For future reference: Take Exit 2. Side-step a bit to your left. Turn around. Walk toward the square. Look down the street on your right. Voila!)

Yes... not that fascinating to say I spent the morning finding a bank. But, y'know, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Last night, I had a steak, Guinness and mushroom pie. That's more British, right? Then I saw "The Winter's Tale" starring an actor whom I would, actually, watch fish. As long as he was reciting Shakespeare at the time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

British Museum

Dropped by the British Museum this morning. I used to go on every trip to London -- it'd be the first thing I'd do on my first day -- haul out to the museum, pay my respects to the Rosetta Stone, and drool over the Parthenon sculptures until I was too tired to stand.

But I haven't been during my more recent trips, and since I'm actually heading to Greece to see the Parthenon itself, it seemed wise to check out the stuff stolen from it.

The British Museum has a little description on the wall impliedly recognizing (with particular British understatement) the small dispute it's having with the New Acropolis Museum in Greece. To wit: Greece wants its stuff back. The poster at the British Museum explains that the Parthenon frieze is broken up 60/40 between Athens and London (can't remember which country has more -- I took a picture of this -- and of some of the antiquities themselves -- but can't upload them from this here internet place) -- ANYWAY, it's 60/40 and the British Museum explains that having the Parthenon treasures in the two different places serves two different (and according to the British Museum, valid) purposes -- the ones in Greece are displayed as part of Greece's history, while the ones in London are displayed as part of their place in the overall history of the world, alongside stuff that went before and came after.

I admire the attempt on the part of the British. And, indeed, I used to be grateful for the theft, because I'd wanted to see these treasures near in time to when I studied them in college (as opposed to now, when I've pretty much forgotten all of my Art History), and it was much easier for me to get to London than to Athens. But, honestly, they have no legitimate legal claim to this stuff, and the honorable thing to do is pack it up in styrofoam and ship it off the New Acropolis Museum.

I mean, I took a picture of a metope which had (as do nearly all of the metopes) a Lapith (dude) battling a centaur. Both the Lapith's head and the centaur's head were missing. The plaque on the metope said that their heads are in Athens. Seriously, it's time to reunite these figures with their heads.

The phone book?

I can't remember where I first heard the phrase, "I'd pay to watch him read the phone book," but I've used it a lot ever since.

I will no longer use it. I have a replacement now.

When looking at the list of in-flight entertainment on British Air, I happened to recognize an actor's name. Robson Green. He's in that very dark British police psychologist drama thing I like, Wire in the Blood. (Indeed, based on recommendations, I've also Netflixed an equally dark British police drama thing he was in, Touching Evil.) So, what was he in on the British Air in-flight entertainment?

"Extreme Fishing with Robson Green." It is exactly what it sounds like. Some Discovery-Channel-esque thing where he tries to catch dangerous fish.

I did not watch this. Apparently, my appreciation of Mr. Green's talents has limits. But I also have a new test for exactly how awesome an actor is: Would I pay to watch him fish?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Big Gay Musical

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is just the biggest, gayest, disco-est, over-the-toppest, funnest party musical ever. It is the perfect anti-jetlag musical because, honestly, if you can't keep your eyes open while three drag queens perform "I Will Survive," you're dead. Crowd was pretty much into it, wearing feather boas, clapping along, and suitably liquored up. (Woman behind me was a little too into it, loudly singing along with every song, even when she didn't know the words.) Not only was I awake after it, I was actually pumped.

Got back to the hotel and actually sat and read for a bit. The adrenaline wore off just after midnight, and I crashed till about 9:30 -- took a bit to get used to the noise of the fan, but once I got acclimated, I was OUT.

Woke up, ready for my next day. Which, of course, began by packing up my stuff again, for the promised new room in which everything works. (Had bought a few packing cubes before this trip -- am now a huge fan. They didn't actually make the act of packing easier, and I got the feeling they were taking up a lot of suitcase space -- but they've sure made repacking a breeze.) Turns out the new room isn't ready yet, but I'm on the list. I was promised: (a) a further upgraded room; (b) in which everything works; (c) into which my bags will have been moved by staff.

Anyone want to make a small wager on whether this will actually happen?

After walking up and down the stairs to reception and back to my room, it dawned on my that my feet were sore. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as I'd done a lot of walking yesteday (indeed, I walked more yesterday than I usually do on a normal day in London, much less my first day -- my mornings on the Elliptical machine are paying off). So, this morning, I wandered over to the Chinatown section of town and got me a 30 minute foot massage from a not entirely overpriced establishment.

This was a smart move. Really, I cannot stress enough the smartness of this. Feet totally revived and ready to brave London streets again. Hell, I'm thinking of doing a touristy guided walk tonight.

Saw a matinee today -- a dance show called "Shall We Dance" -- put together by, and starring Adam Cooper. (Adam Cooper? Anyone? No? There are a few performers whom I will fly across the Atlantic to see -- Adam Cooper dancing is one of them. Brilliant, elegant, and insanely charismatic.) My only mistake here was attending a Sunday matinee, where -- despite the fact that I am now in my 40s -- I single-handedly brought down the average age in the room. Seriously. They filled the busses at the retirement home and carted over every little old lady in London. (I'd like to see them take this crowd to Priscilla.) Which was fine -- I mean, I don't want to deprive the elderly of theatre or anything -- but the vibe was a little bit ... well, ... the dude next to me was humming along (without even knowing that he was) and the dude next to him was snoring. Loudly. It was pretty much the exact opposite of the electrified audience at Priscilla. This crowd sat there and said, "OK, entertain us."

That's about it for today. I'm off to see what kind of room I got, and maybe do a London Walk or something this evening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

-- bit of a ramble

I was second off the plane in Toronto. Well, third off, but the woman in front of my stood on the escalator, so I was able to pass her. (My plan is always to speed to Immigration ahead of everyone on the plane and avoid those lines.)

And, so … second off the plane and into the airport and there is nobody there. I mean, nobody. No security people (like there are in America) scoping you out and making sure you walk in the right direction; no airport staff; no other passengers. The airport was deserted. Like “have you ever seen The Langoliers?” deserted.

At Toronto, there’s no airport connections area -- so I had to clear Immigration and Customs, then hand my bags off to baggage connections, then go on up to Departures and check in for my connecting flight.

Which is where everyone in the Toronto airport was. I shit you not; every other check-in desk in the airport had something between 0 and 2 people at it, and the line for my flight to London was maybe 70 or 80 people deep. I was pleased that I used frequent flier miles to go Business class, because they had their own line, with only 3 people in it. I was even more pleased when I checked in and the nice man said I should go to the British Air transit lounge and get free dinner.

And, oh my GOODNESS was I pleased when I got on the plane and had my first encounter with Club World sleeper seats. The damn things drop down totally flat. Totally. Like a bed. And even when they’re not totally flat, they recline to anything in between. Yes, I’m loving the sleeper seats.

And I didn’t watch any of the in-flight entertainment, choosing to take advantage of my sleeper seat to, y’know, sleep. This seemed important to me as (despite all my planning) I still only got about 4 hours of sleep before heading off to the airport in the morning, and some 18 hours after waking up, I was going to land in London at 8:15 in the morning. (Something like that, anyway -- doing time change math in my head on so little sleep is not my forte.)

So, shortly after getting on the plane, I stretched out the seat, put on my eye shades and slept. For something like five hours. Hard to tell exactly -- I was having trouble falling asleep (people were talking), but I’m pretty sure I fell asleep because my conscious thoughts went from “why won’t those people shut up?” to “yes, I would like some breakfast.”

Then, in quick succession -- train to central London, taxi to hotel, hotel doesn’t have a room ready for me yet. So I dumped my bags and was off to wander for about four hours.

First, to Leicester Square, to get a cheap ticket for a show tonight.

Let me explain the type of show I’m looking for here. My first night in London, my plan is always to see “the loudest, most obnoxious musical I can find,” because I want something that will keep me awake until a decent hour and I can acclimate myself to the time change. Previous winners in this category include “The Who’s Tommy,” “Mamma Mia,” and “We Will Rock You.”

As it turns out, neither of my two choices for anti-jet-lag musical were on the half price board, so I actually had to walk to the theatre and buy a full price ticket. So, in three hours’ time (from when I’m writing this -- they charge 6 pounds for 60 minutes of internet access, so I’m saving up for when I post) I’ll be seeing, live on stage, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

After I bought my ticket, I still had 3 hours to kill before I could get into my room. (Did I mention that I hadn’t planned my wardrobe well, so I was wearing a shirt under which you could totally see my sports bra. This was fine for air travel, but I felt a bit self-conscious flashing my bra to everyone in central London.) I figured I’d go for a walk. In … that direction. There were two shops I intended to visit this trip (a theatre bookshop and a sci fi bookshop), and I had a very vague recollection that the theatre bookshop was, yeah, up that street, then make a left.

I did that, made another turn where the shop should be, and the shop wasn’t there. Rats. It was a bit of a longshot anyway. So I made another turn heading in the general direction of a main shopping street (and smiling to myself that I’m comfortable enough with London that I don’t really fear getting lost here) and I ended up …

… right in front of the Sci Fi bookshop. (Thank you, subconscious GPS.)

Spent at least an hour in there roaming the shelves and trying to decide whether I should buy a Captain Jack Harkness dol-- sorry, ACTION FIGURE, for a friend. But, more important, I needed a book. Generally, I just look over the shelves until I find something (a) interesting; and (b) by a British author. (I mean, why should I buy something I can get in the States?) In this case, I spotted my purchase pretty quickly, as it was another book by an author I’d discovered in precisely this fashion last time I was here. (And I’d enjoyed it enough to order some more off, so this was much better than paying international shipping.)

With my purchase in hand, I continued on wandering a shopping street. Bought a sandwich for lunch (tuna and sweet corn -- yum) and went back to Leicester Square to sit down and eat it.

(Sorry this post is turning out so long. The hotel charges 6 pounds for an hour of internet, so I’m doing a lot of writing all at once offline. May be posting from internet cafes later this week.)

Went back to the hotel just after 1:00 and my room was, in fact, ready. Came up to my room in an itty bitty little lift -- it holds 6 people, but I think they have to stand single file. Got in the room (which was, allegedly, an upgraded “superior” room). The nice man from the bell desk brings my bags up. I do not tip him as I have nothing small, but I feel bad about this and make a note to give him something later. I idly wonder if not tipping the bellman is going to give me bad hotel karma here.

My room is small (makes me wonder what an “inferior” room looks like) but serviceable. I unpack my London suitcase, get nekkid, use the loo and hop in the shower.

We’re skipping over a step here, which is when I’m standing there naked, for 20 minutes, trying to make the toilet flush. It won’t. It’ll fill with water and then drain the water out again, but it won’t flush. (Result: there’s toilet paper still in there, but it’s been repeatedly rinsed.) I could ring for help at this point, but I’m naked and really want that shower, so I decide to go with “denial” about the toilet. I shower and dress and am feeling 100% better. Well enough to deal with the john.

No, it isn’t working. Damn.

I pick up the phone to call down to reception and THE PHONE DOESN’T WORK.

OK, now I’m annoyed. I go downstairs and explain the problem. They say they’ll call maintenance and send someone up. I go back to my room and start drafting this post.

A lot of time passes. Finally the phone rings. It is reception, telling me the maintenance guy is coming now. She says that she couldn’t reach him before because the phones were down. (Well, that explains one problem, at least.)

I am interrupted by the maintenance guy. He flushes the toilet and says it isn’t broken. Says that’s just how it flushes. Says that the problem is there’s nothing really heavy in there, and that if I want it to flush, I need to put a lot more paper in there. But it’ll work fine.

(Really? Does anyone buy this?)

“Show me,” I say. He wads up a bunch of toilet paper and throws it in the toilet. Flushes it. We wait expectantly. It fails to flush. Score one for the American.

He now takes the lid off and starts fiddling in there with a screwdriver. More fiddling, more flushing, more fiddling, more flushing, more fiddling, (more paper), more flushing. Then: “You’ll have to call Reception and get another room.”

I do that.

Someone comes to my room with a key to the room directly below. I am told that the toilet should actually flush in this one. Hooray.

I pack everything I unpacked and prepare to move downstairs. I haul my stuff downstairs. (I note they did not offer to send the bell guy up to help move my stuff. I figure I deserved this.)

I get to the room downstairs. Haul my stuff in. Test the toilet -- it works! Turn on the air conditioning and …

… shit. The thermostat doesn’t work. And there’s a fan sitting on the dresser. Dammit.

I go back to reception (this time, not unpacking anything). I point out that they’ve moved me from a room with a broken toilet to a room with a broken thermostat and ask (trying very hard not to be an Ugly American) if I could have a room in which everything worked?

Apparently, I can’t. At least, not now. They’re solidly booked. The reception guy promises to move me tomorrow morning into “a very nice room,” but I’ll have to wait till then. He offers me a free drink at the bar for my trouble. I demur.

Should’ve asked for free internet.