travel


My 2016 trip was a domestic experience that has reminded me how unbelievably lucky I am to live in this gloriously beautiful country. I have now found a new favorite state—Oregon. The word WOW came out of my mouth often as I drove around the state and saw different landscapes, each just as wonderful as the other. And the people! They were so pleasant, friendly, and nice, it made my time there so relaxed. I met a number of people who had lived in my area of Washington, DC and each time I said, “And so now you moved to have your real life start out in paradise.”IMG_5185

But the best part of the trip was spending time with my niece and her girlfriend. The girls were perfect hosts, showing me their home town and entertaining me in wonderful ways. If it wasn’t so far from my roots, I think I would easily transplant to this wonderful state. Two thumbs up for Oregon and I can’t wait to go back during the winter to see it in its winter splendor.

IMG_5237The trip started out not so great with United having troubles with planes and crews timing out. After waiting for about five hours, the crew they finally gave us said they were going “illegal” and working overtime. Praise to those great FAs who delivered us to Portland that night instead of cancelling. I finally made it to my Airbnb rental in Hood River and hit the pillow at 5 a.m. ET. The place where I stayed was wonderful and the bed was SO soft and comfortable. They were close to the downtown but in quiet place. They had a horse and the friendliest three-legged cat I’ve ever met which gave me a good feeling of home.

Day One: Hood River CruiseIMG_4927

When I drove in, it was dark so as I woke up and drove to the Cascade Locks where the Sternwheeler cruise was located, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The river to my right was white-capped and surrounded on both sides by tall green trees covering towering mountains. I decided to take this paddle boat cruise up and down the Columbia River Gorge to see the sights from the water and a great decision that was. Not only was the boat fun, but we sailed up toward Hood River to see some windsurfers and the geological wonders that created the valley and then back down again under the Bridge of the Gods and past tons of docks along the river where the local Indian tribes people would fish. IMG_5086They throw out their nets and make a living from the river’s fish. And then we turned back at the Dam where several years ago, Lewis and Clarke took out their boats to go around the rapids that would have killed them if they kept on.

Bad Local Advice

After the cruise I grabbed a sandwich from a small local deli and listened to the owner chat away. It was nice to meet with so many people but unfortunately he convinced me to go way down the road to see some touristy places that ended up catching me in traffic that makes the DC commuter routes look like a walk in the park. So three hours later, after seeing a nice view from the top of the mountain (but not worth the traffic headache) I went back to what I wanted to do—just at a faster and condensed pace. IMG_4713I drove over the Bridge of the Gods because it looked cool and it was in that movie, Wild. And it took me into Washington—another state to check off the list! So I drove up the river coast on the Washington side getting cools views and then back over the bridge at Hood River where I got an incredible view of Mount Hood—so tall and snow covered.

Fruit Loop and Farms

I then sped on to a couple places listed on the Fruit Loop. First was an Alpaca farm where I thought there would be some cool things to buy. The cool things were super expensive so I just spent 25 cents on kibble and went to feed the funny looking guys in the barn. It was a quick stop and then I had time to stop at one fruit stand.IMG_4790 The jams looked yummy but I ended up just getting some peaches that I ate later on my trip—so much like candy! I decided to stop in town at an upscale pizza place that was packed. After walking the river path to see the last remnant of windsurfers (Hood River is the windsurfing capital) I then went to try out a glass of local wine and eat an overpriced personal pizza. But it was relaxing and nice way to end the day before heading to my rental place.

I had a wonderful relaxing evening on this mini farm, talking to my host, petting the horse and the kitty who meowed loudly at me as he crossed the paddock, and later gazing at the stars (no light noise makes the sky burn bright).

I could have stayed in Hood River longer but I got up early to head out for a long drive through the high desert and on to Bend, which I’ll discuss in the next post.IMG_5221

The Oregon Experience

Some things I saw a lot in Oregon were conservation efforts that put the rest of us to shame. They not just recycle but also compost, use solar and wind power, and act in lots of ways to protect our environment. I wish we could all make the effort they do to use natural resources but when you live in a swamp like D.C., it’s hard to see what you are protecting.

Also, in Oregon, drivers stop to let pedestrians pass everywhere—even in non-crossing places. In northern VA you are hard pressed to get cars to stop for people in walk ways. But you also get obnoxious pedestrians crossing against lights, so it’s lose-lose.

IMG_5296And then there were the marijuana dispensaries. It was interesting to see businesses that sold pot and to smell it around you, and it was all legal. But it really seemed to be a natural part of the culture in Oregon, which was pretty hippy but not in any weird or bad way—it all worked and seemed right.

Other observations to come, so read on if you want to hear about awesome Oregon!

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After our wonderful two days in Havana, we continued to sail west then around the tip of Cuba to a southern inlet on a beautiful beach at Maria la Gorda. It was a relaxing day that started with a short motor boat ride to a coral reef off the beach where we snorkeled for an hour or so. Not the best snorkeling I’ve seen but we had fun and then went back to the beach and found some chairs to soak in the sun. It was nice break and allowed us some rest.DSCF3421

Cienfuegos

Our final port of call on the island of Cuba was Cienfuegos. Once again we got our temperature taken before leaving the ship and went through an immigration office where we surrendered our temporary visas. We picked bus #6 again for our group tour and had a nice guide who on several occasions asked us what we wanted to do—indicating a very flexible agenda. This is why I think the Cubans will need to figure out some more formal and researched tours for future American audiences. They may have been feeling their way with us to see what we were interested in.

5670088876_6c9ac6b9f9_bOur first stop was the center of town—where we walked around the town square and learned a bit about some of the local buildings including a beautiful and magnificent theater. We went inside and were amazed at the restoration of this 1880s vintage theater with gorgeous paintings on the ceiling, old school chairs, and just the quaintest and classic setting I’ve seen. It was delightful. We weren’t allowed to take photographs but I googled one here and they don’t do it justice—it was one of those places where you had to soak in the ambiance in person.

IMG_4364We then made our way to an art gallery, the Sociedad Grafica de Cienfuegos. The gallery supported local artists and they share their talents with the neighborhood kids. The art was very interesting and I bought a small piece and got to meet the artist. Outside the gallery some of my fellow travelers were giving treats to some local kids who were loving the attention. One kid got some soap and had a broad smile when showing his mom his new gift. It was very sweet.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

The sign in the window is an ad to sell the house.

Along the way our guide told us some interesting cultural facts. Very few people in Cuba are allowed to own and sell their homes. He pointed out a sign on a house indicating the lucky owners who were trying to sell their abode.

We were very lucky as it turns out because our tour guide had some connections to a local artist who lived on a street of artists who were having a festival on the day we were there. So in a sense we got to hang out with locals who were having a block party. A banner across the street welcomed us to the creative zone. We were the only bus who got to go there, so this was a very special treat for us.IMG_4451

The locals were playing music, singing, dancing, creating works of art, and playing dominoes on a table in the street. One woman was working hard cleaning vegetables and potatoes that were going into the community stew pot. It was a huge black pot sitting on some burning logs right in the street. The guy behind her showed me a skull of some animal (a sheep maybe) with some meat still on it that was going to be put into the pot later.

There was also an interesting structure (for lack of better words) they created out of some kind of husks—maybe sugar cane since that is what the city is known for. It had a kind of a bulb like shape and was hanging on some poles. There were headphones attached and you could listen to music that was playing inside of it. There was some significance to this but unfortunately I could not hear our guide explain it. We shopped and explored several studios on the street that were basically the front rooms of the artists’ homes. It was a fantastic afternoon.

IMG_4472We asked our guide to skip a part of the tour that seemed boring—just a walk around of some tourist hotel and restaurant and instead opted to go back to the center of town to do some last minute shopping and explore the area. We had to get rid of the last of our converted pesos, so we helped the economy and bought some handmade jewelry, t-shirts, and dominoes games.

Final Thoughts

The Cuban people were interesting and friendly. We loved just walking around and exploring towns. The people have had to live through a lot of challenges through the last century—getting support from the Soviet Union and being in the middle of a fight between two super powers. They were living the good life for a while when supported by Moscow but have had to figure out how to survive living under an oppressive regime without financial support when communism failed in the Soviet Union. Change is coming (very slow to be sure but coming) and many of the people will probably be up to the challenges of living in a more socialistic society as opposed to a communist one. They are getting rid of some old policies but still are afraid of a government who maintains control and suppresses freedom.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Dominoes is a very popular game and the neighbors here are playing in the street.

Their infrastructure gets updated slowly—one building is about to fall down next to another that has been restored beautifully. The people have great education and health care but are very poor and have to work a lot to get any extra money for luxuries. They gather in public places to get Wi-Fi and as we all know, the Internet provides people with information and opportunities they need to become free. I felt very blessed to be able to see this country and visit with the people there. My hope is that someday their society will change enough to allow freedom for the people to seek God and worship Him openly, to find employment at will that allows for more comfortable lives, and to feel free enough to get rid of the Che Guevara postcards and express their opinions without fear of retribution.

IMG_4494With President Obama’s visit and the new policies to open relations with Cuba, we’ll wait and see if some of our democratic values will take hold in our southern neighbors. In the meantime, I would encourage Americans to visit now under the People to People program. And one note of interest, the Cubans also refer to themselves as Americans, which makes sense—so when there, you may want to be more specific when explaining where you are from.

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1 Greeting Cienfuegos

Our Cuban cruise continues. Santiago, our first stop is located in the Southeastern portion of the island. From there we sailed east and around the tip then west to Havana which is located not far as the crow flies but a long way via boat—toward the Northwest portion of Cuba. As we moved along in the early evening I saw a bunch of lights on the coast and thought…that must be Guantanamo Bay, and a minute later it was confirmed via announcements in six languages over the ship’s speaker. 
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Day at Sea

As we sailed for a day, it was relaxing on board and some of the options besides sitting in the sun, swimming, and having delicious daiquiris included a variety of lectures on the Cuban culture as well as their fauna, which we joked about but my dad attended and said was in fact interesting. At night, we were so far out to sea we experienced rough waves which had us rolling and cringing a bit, scared a bit and thinking about the collision last summer.

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Mom and Dad in front of the church in San Francisco plaza. The Mexican doggie sculptures were on display.

Havana

The following day we docked in Havana. As we stepped out of the terminal, we crossed a busy street and started our walking tour in the San Francisco Plaza. We were treated to a beautiful display of large sculptures of Mexican Chihuahuas—all painted differently—similar to many projects I’ve seen in the states—in Michigan they did Bears and my Aunt bought the blue Shakesbear which sits on the shore of Walloon Lake. But I digress…shakesbear1

Our guide, who was wonderful, took us to four different Plazas in the city. Each had its unique charm. As we approached one plaza there were some gentlemen sitting on chairs playing instruments. Throughout the city there were dancers, singers, human statues, artists, and other performers. A number of entrepreneurs were selling crafts, art, tchotchkes, and photo ops with little dogs.

Hemmingway's Hotel

Hemingway’s Hotel (tall pink building)

We passed by the hotel where Hemingway stayed and came to a plaza filled with people selling antiques. It was fun to check out the old books—encyclopedias, titles by and about the revolutionary leaders—as well as old cameras, stamps, vintage movie posters, and more. We had a chat with one young man who told us some of his relatives were in the states and never wanted to come back to Cuba.

Another plaza was home to a cathedral and had a huge human size nativity display. I recently talked with people in my church small group and prayed for a group heading to Cuba. These people had challenges ahead, including prohibitions against bringing bibles with them and stories of homes being bulldozed because the owners had meetings with more than a handful of people in attendance. I did not see evidence of Christian oppression out in the open because of all the open churches celebrating Christmas, but there are still many policies and obstacles to freedom to overcome for the people of Cuba.

The longest cigar in the world.

The longest cigar in the world.

In any case, we loved Havana. Later in the day we took a bus tour and visited a cigar store where they showed us how they rolled the leaves and we bought some contraband to bring home. The cigars were actually expensive so we only bought a few. After suffering through a bratty display of rudeness from a teenager and his obnoxious family who were berating our guide for taking us there to shop, we headed through the city catching a glimpse of our new embassy, stopping at a huge open area where massive crowds would gather to hear speeches, and then on to some museums.

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The Museum of the Revolution. Some hard core war machines dotted the lawn.

The Revolutionary Museum

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The US President’s depicted as “cretons.”

We couldn’t get into the art museum—for some reason it closed early—but we did get to see the museum touting the wonderful exploits of the revolution. It was a so-so place—pretty low tech but some interesting displays. It was heavy on the propaganda but did state some facts about how bad our CIA was back in the 50s and 60s. I didn’t really appreciate seeing three of our President’s displayed as dictators and Nazi’s but their policies of blocking Cuba from participating in international trade earned them a place on Cuba’s hate list.

Flea Market

cuba painting

The piece I bought was an acrylic painting on some sort of linen. Beautiful colors and you can see the clotheslines, water tanks, and the Capital building in the back. It was done by a young girl with lots of talent.

Our guide let us off at a flea market for some quick shopping at the end of the day. I had to laugh at the hypocrites who yelled at our guide earlier but who now wanted to go shopping. We bought a few t-shirts and then I spotted a ton of beautiful art all along the outside walls of the market which was located in an old train station. I bought a piece by a local that represented the colorful houses you see throughout Cuba.

On Our Own

We spent the next morning walking around the city on our own and had the best time of the trip. We stopped in a tiny museum that housed arms—a collection of Castro’s rifles and more. We were drawn into the place because there was a DuPont sign above the door—presumably because of the company’s early beginnings in the gunpowder business. One of the museum guides did not speak English but did a pretty good job of telling us about some of the displays—writing dates on her hand and using some non-verbal language to explain what we were looking at.

Castro's collection of rifles.

Castro’s collection of rifles.

We toured a fort, shopped the local stores, had a quick lunch at a local restaurant, and took in the sights and sounds of the locals. I wish we had more time to make our way through more of the old city streets but alas, back to the boat we had to go. Havana was really a neat place. We only saw a small portion but it was a lot of fun walking around and experiencing their culture.

Next stop was a day at the beach!

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The old books and encyclopedia’s on the street vendor’s shelves.

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The vendor’s set up all around the Plaza de Armas in Havana.

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One of the many artistic sculptures in Cuba. This was outside one of the churches.

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Dad stands near one of the blocked off areas in Havana that run down the streets–it’s a sort of water system where the water comes from the hills and flows through the streets and you can collect water from these collection points.

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A local girl plays with the birds in Havana–and a street band plays behind her.

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Just like everywhere, neighbors chat with each other on balconies.

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This guy was selling some sort of fried chip. It tasted okay–evidently was a local favorite.

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More vendors around the plaza.

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This entrepreneur has two laid back dogs who help him earn a living–getting photo ops with tourists. Christmas was the theme this week.

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Nativity display.

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Old car, guy selling fruit and veggies off a cart, all typical scenes in Havana.

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The new American embassy in Havana.

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Tourists get rides in the beautiful old cars they have kept running.

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A strange sculpture in Havana of a young naked girl on a rooster with a fork. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Some of the vintage trinkets found in the vendor stalls in Havana. Almost bought one of the cameras!

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A little boy gets a kick out of the human statute who moves ever so slow to shake his hand.

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No shortage of performers in Cuba. Dancers and musicians walk down the street on stilts with hands out for payment.

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Sun sets over the city. A view from our ship at the port.

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A view of the city as we leave on the ship. A large park sits along the water with the capital building in the distance.

Santiago, Cuba was our first excursion port. As Americans, we were allowed into Cuba as part of the People to People program that included educational lectures and excursions as well as opportunities to meet Cuban people and learn about their culture from their stories, dance, music, and history.IMG_3792

At each port we learned that the Cubans could decide from one day to the next what restrictions and procedures they wanted to put in place to welcome us. For our first visit, we were to line up in the entertainment lounge to have our temperature taken before being admitted into their country. Their free health care system lends itself to some pretty good care for their people and some paranoia about Ebola and other diseases.

IMG_3937After getting the okay from the doctors, we boarded our buses for our first glimpse at the forbidden land of Cuba. We expected to see the old cars, and did, but I think the presence of horse-drawn carriages, and packed trucks stood out as well. I also noticed numerous women pedestrians with their children walking with umbrellas—to keep out the sun, since there was no rain in site.

We seemed to circle the same main area of town stopping first at a large square—mostly empty but surrounded by monuments and several buildings with wire framed images of their “heroes.” Our guide said the Cubans like to celebrate their heroes but I had a feeling that who they regarded as heroes was subjective, regardless of the monuments and statues littering the land. The outlines of faces depicting Castro and Guevara were on buildings here and elsewhere and the huge statue of a man on a horse on top of the hill in this square was of a 19th century leader for Cuban independence, Antonio Maceo Grajales. IMG_3827The statue is massive and there are a couple dozen large steel structures coming out of the ground at various angles that represent machetes. We didn’t’ get a lot of history lessons outside of the Castro revolution but there is a deep history with a mix of cultures in this large Caribbean country.

We were taken to what most Americans may recognize as part of our own history, San Juan Hill. Teddy Roosevelt won the day and ground here with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war (which the Cubans called the Spanish-American-Cuban War). It was somewhat nondescript but it had a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. I never thought of Cuba as having mountains but it’s a sizable and includes several mountain ranges and reefs off the beaches.

IMG_3870Part of our cultural experience included a stop at the African Cuban Institute. We were entertained by dancers and singers, and a lesson in the history of the various groups that mixed to bring each of their historical traditions together to form a unique Cuban culture. The music and dancing were fun and I was grateful they didn’t force us to get us to dance with the rest of the group during the unending song, Guantanamera—which became one of those songs that stuck in your head for days.

As we left I noticed familiar human interactions—such as a local cop scanning a smartphone with his friend, some locals earning cash selling produce out of wheelbarrows, those selling wares of all kinds from little stands, and more (not so different from our small entrepreneurs in the country and city).IMG_3842

We drove back to the ship after stopping at a “western” hotel for a break. We had a little laugh at the gift store/bookstore that sold primarily books by the Cuban leaders and anti-American stories about Guantanamo Bay and endless shots of Che Guevara, which I was to later understand was a revolutionary “hero” of the Cubans (but probably not really since he murdered so many of them).

We set sail that afternoon for a rough ride around the island passing Guantanamo Bay in the evening. We could see a number of lights on shore shining on the compound and base as we headed east before turning north and west toward Havana, our next stop. It would take us some time to get there as Cuba is quite large. During sailing hours our crew offered a number of lectures and fun sessions on food, cigar rolling, dancing, and more.

Next post covers our wonderful stay in Havana.

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This is the first post in the story of my family’s trip to Cuba. The secret, mysterious land just off our coast has been one of the few places closed off for Americans. And when you suddenly tell Americans they can now go somewhere they couldn’t before, it becomes a lure, a top-of-the-bucket list desire.

Hell Cuba, meet Mrs. American tourist.

Hell Cuba, meet Mrs. American tourist.

For my parents and me, it was a free cruise we had been given as a result of the ship/tanker crash we survived last summer while visiting Greece and Turkey. As we boarded that very same but now fixed ship in Jamaica, we were a bit wary but noticed a few upgrades, including the deck off our nice room. The food still was not so great and the cruise line’s staff and crew were disorganized, but almost everyone was very pleasant and kind and willing to serve with a smile.

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The new American Embassy in Havana

My trip started off at an ungodly hour for me on December 24. I paid for a seat upgrade so I could get on early and sit in an exit row with some more room. But with some “turbulence” occurring near our Hub destination we sat and sat and watched the clock go past our now missed connections. Finally arriving in Charlotte and winded from a sprint to my connection gate, I headed back to the help desk and was told I missed the last flight to Jamaica. Fort Lauderdale and a lonely Christmas Eve was in my near future. One of my favorite hours of the year are usually spent with my family in Christmas Eve services so this vacation was starting out not so good.IMG_4155

Another super early morning got me on a very empty flight to Montego Bay where I landed safely and met my parents at the port. We had a nice Christmas day afternoon on board in our old boat—hoping we would avoid any collisions his time.

Our trip was scheduled to take us to Santiago, Havana, Maria de la Gorda, and Cienfuegos. Overall, the trip was interesting, the seas were really rough, and we ended up sailing past Guantanamo at night and going all the way around this very large island nation (or more accurately, this archipelago of islands nation).

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Cubans are working hard and smart–giving taxi rides and tours in the old colorful cars.

The Cubans are just getting ready to become a destination for tourists. They have a lot to do to prepare for a rush of Americans (if they want to keep up the tourist trade from our countrymen). The lack of Internet access, luxury hotels, and more organized tours and sites won’t live up to most standards in the long run but at the moment the mystery of the destination and having the cruise boat as a home, provided the comforts the first adventurers need. We overhead many people saying they were glad to get to Cuba before the Americans came and ruined it.

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They love to show off their revolutionary “hero” or mass murderer if you will, Che Guevara.

Many people envision Cuba as a place out of time. I would say that is somewhat true. The cars are vintage for sure and there were lots of people using horses as transportation, but beyond that and the items found at their “flea markets,” it was very much like visiting a somewhat poor Caribbean country. When the Soviet Union ended, so did the rich support Cuba was getting. And while they have excellent health care and a nice education system, most people are poor. But not necessarily unhappy. The politics are complex and we got a balance of truth and propaganda—certainly seeing the “evil” portrayal of American politicians and the CIA and their hurtful policies during and after the revolution.

I was surprised at the overwhelming presence of books, postcards, monuments, etc. of Che Guevara. Of course the people can’t speak out against him but on the surface the memory of him is honored and celebrated everywhere. He was a monster in disguise and has a most impressive PR agent—in the form of El Jefe himself who is sliding into history as we speak.

The people were nice and it was a pleasant experience getting to know their culture—a mix of native Indians, Spanish, and Africans who have combined their cultures to form the unique culture that is now Cuban.

Next post, I’ll talk about our first port stop in Santiago.

Dominoes is a popular game played all over Cuba.

Dominoes is a popular game played all over Cuba.

 

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A view of Havana at twilight as we leave port.

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Vintage cars and food sold on wheelbarrows and rolling carts can be seen everywhere.

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Colorful buildings dot the streets. Some are slowly being renovated and some falling apart. A slow process.

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Ahh, such a wide range of interesting topics to choose from at the bookstores.

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Public pay phones. Look like big alien helmets.

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Our ship, the Crystal has been fixed. The bow looks new and sturdy once again.

Our Greece and Turkey trip continued with a final day and two ports of call—Crete and Santorini. In between we were able to enjoy the wonderful weather aboard ship and some relaxing time at the pool.IMG_3362

Crete

Our morning stop was Crete. My dad and I took an excursion to Knossos, Europe’s oldest city where we toured an ancient excavated town. At the entrance was of course a dog guarding the ticket booth. The sign above him said tour guides were available—not sure he was suitable for that.

IMG_3430This area was believed to be the center of Minoan civilization. The legend of the Minotaur and the labyrinth came from this town—as it contained the palace for the King of Minos. Later it was home to both Romans and Greeks and had been settled and abandoned for several thousands of years. Today it’s a tourist spot where you can see wonderful ancient pictorials on the walls, large carved jars that held tons of grain, wine, and such for the inhabitants, and rooms with royal thrones.

One of the interesting things we saw in the ruins were marks in some of stones—a depiction of a double bladed axe or Labrys, a symbol of the ancient Greeks. Yes, that’s a connection to the labyrinth legend.IMG_3372

There was also a large stone sculpture called the horns of consecration—basically a symbol of bull horns. Something to do with their cult religion at the time.

After touring the site and seeing the beautiful frescoes, smart drainage system, pottery, and more, we ended at what was their small theater area. From there the Royal Road, claimed to be the oldest road in Europe, leads away from the site.

Our tour ended appropriately with a look through the gift shops where we could get the obligatory Minotaur key chain. On our way back we went through a town where it seems we stumbled onto a little china town, Crete style. In a short space of about ½ a mile we saw no less than three Chinese restaurants. Noticeable in such a small town.
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Santorini

Our final stop was the famous island of Santorini. If you haven’t seen photographs of the white houses topping the cliffs of this large caldera, then you’ve been living in a cave. As we got closer to the island, we could see the entire caldera. You see, the island is actually the partial remnants of a volcano and the non-submerged parts make up a very large caldera.

The ship anchored in the middle of the caldera near the main island of Santorini (Thera). A short ferry ride brought us to a dock where busses then transported us up, around, up, around, and up some more to the top of the cliff where we began our tour. Along the way around the island we went up to the highest point to get a view of the flat lands below. It was pretty large and there were lots of farms and white buildings everywhere. We finally made it to the town Oia where we walked up and down the narrow streets and stairs to see the buildings and views.IMG_3673

A tiring day was brought to a close with a gorgeous sun setting over the other islands in the caldera just as we were descending the large cliff back to the ferry.

Final Thoughts

Our last night was spent sailing back to Lavrion and a bus trip up to Athens. My parents and I (and the tour guide who picked us up) were perplexed at the two women on our bus who somehow thought their luggage was magically going to get from the boat to their hotel in Athens, when in fact it was sitting on the dock back in Lavrion. Oh well. Back to us in the airport—with my mom not able to walk, we asked for a wheelchair both in Athens and in Philly when we arrived. With respect to my mom, what a bonus that turned out to be! We were whisked through security, customs, and immigration—not a bad way to end the adventure this vacation turned out to be.
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The Greek and Turkey people were very nice to us and even through the headaches of the crash, the trip was fun and we loved experiencing their cultures, food, and ancient history. An interesting financial custom I discovered was that many of the shop owners do not like to take credit cards (plenty did, but a few asked for cash). You see, they have to pay steep interest rates on credit card purchases. Yet another thing that probably hurts them financially. At least they treat the stray pets there with compassion. So nice to see that. And the food was very good and healthy. Overall, a very nice place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone interested in traveling.

Since we got a complimentary cruise next year, we look forward to exploring the Adriatic Sea and the cultures and history there. Until then, Τα λέμε αργότερα.

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Looking down at our ship from the Monastery of St. John on Patmos.

Our family adventure through the Aegean area continues as we board our new intact ship in Kusadasi. We had a wonderful night sleep and lazy morning before heading over and dealing with some minor incompetence with the bus and ship crew. The bus driver let us off the bus so we had to walk through a shopping area which normally is not a bad thing but with my mom on crutches I was disconcerted to see the bus pull up with our luggage just outside the security area where we finally arrived on foot. The ship crew grabbed our bags but had them sent to the wrong cabin. I was beginning to worry about this cruise line but it turned out okay and we had a very nice room with a sizable deck. The roll out bed was again not good, but all in all it was a pleasant room with very nice staff. When we went to muster for the lifeboat meeting, I asked the crewman where we should go if the boat was to say collide with another ship and that area was damaged. For some reason he did not have an answer for that.

Beautiful paintings adorn the walls of the monastery.

Beautiful paintings adorn the walls of the monastery.

The Monastery of St. John

So, right away we sailed to nearby Patmos. This was not on our original itinerary but I was delighted because this is the island where the apostle John lived in his later years and where he wrote Revelations. While mom rested her foot and relaxed Dad and I headed out on the excursion. We were taken on a bus up the large hill (of course, everything is on top of the mountains on these islands). We had a hike up the road to the Monastery of Hagios Ioannis Theologos and it was worth it. As we stepped in to the courtyard and waited to enter the inner sanctum, we viewed the beautiful ancient paintings that adorned the walls and arches. They were biblical scenes and portraits of the saints. The views from the top were stunning. There was a museum there with wonderful artifacts.

The Cave of the Apocalypse

The sacred cave on Patmos. The far corner is where John fell asleep.

The sacred cave on Patmos. The far corner is where John fell asleep.

The apostle John was the only one of the original 12 who did not die a martyr. Not for lack of trying on the part of the Romans. After failed attempts to kill him, he was banished to the island of Patmos where in his golden years he received visions from God that inspired the book of Revelations.

John fell asleep in a cave on the hill on Patmos and recited the visions to an assistant who wrote them down. The cave now is surrounded by a chapel. We walked through a gift shop and down many steep stairs before entering the cave. It seemed to me like an indentation in the hill with massive boulders sticking out of the roof area. We walked past the spot marked off where he slept and under some more roof boulders. There in that ceiling area was a three line crack in the rock symbolizing the holy trinity. It was a wonderful feeling to be in that place where John lived in the Spirit. It was a very nice excursion and back on the boat we enjoyed a nice dinner and viewed the stars off our deck.

Lindos from the road.

Lindos from the road.

Rhodes—Lindos

Day two on our new short cruise was spent docked at Rhodes. Our excursion took us out to the village of Lindos, an ancient town at the base of an Acropolis. This was a steep long hike kind of day. We could see the Acropolis from miles away. It sat on the edge of the Aegean Sea. The buses parked at the top of a hill so the walk started with about a ½ mile hike down to an area where tickets and taxis could be obtained (note for our trip back up). We wound our way through the narrow pretty streets of the village. The pedestrian streets were canopied with vines and occasional openings where we spied the mountain ahead. Many courtyards and floors were made up of black and white pebbles arranged in pretty designs.IMG_3242

The guide mentioned the hike up was several hundred steps so I tightened my knee brace, filled the water bottles, and took a few photo breaks. At what seemed like the top, we saw donkeys (would have been nice to have them at the bottom). Some entrepreneurial women spread their beautiful linens over the side of the hill to sell them to the many tourists walking by. After a few minutes listening to the guide, we made our way up some steep and scary steps into the Acropolis,

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Women from Lindos spread their linens along side the hill.

The Acropolis at Lindros housed a church, columns of a stoa, a temple, another hill within the fortress that was filled with boulders, and views through the gaps in the wall of the Sea and the village below. We strolled around for a bit before heading carefully down the steps and path to the village where we did some shopping before heading back up to the bus and off for a tour of the ancient city of Rhodes.

City of Rhodes

We entered the ancient city on foot over a bridge that covered a dry and very wide moat. We didn’t do too much here but did see the outside of the castle, walked down the Knight’s Street, and then just through some of the streets where we shopped, checked out the locals that live there, and spotted an active public fountain in a big square.IMG_3340

We were on our own coming out of the ancient city since it was right at the port and we could casually walk over to our ship at our leisure. We spent the entire day there—I went to the pool and my dad went back to town to walk around a bit.

It was one of the more relaxing days on the cruise with pretty views of the port from the pool and our deck. In the late afternoon we left the port and sailed toward our next stop, Crete.

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Narrow streets of Lindos and lots of shops.

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Top of the fortress at Lindos.

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Looking down from the Acropolis at Lindos.

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The temple columns and a church beyond–parts of different eras of the fortress at Lindos on Rhodes.

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Need a resting place for the hike up this hill at Lindos.

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This was one huge moat surrounding the ancient town of Rhodes.

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A bunny tree in Rhodes.

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The Knight’s street in Rhodes.

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Exiting the ancient city of Rhodes.

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The city walls of Rhodes wrapped around the port.

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The modern stairs weren’t all that much better than the ancient ones on the left. These were the last ones before entering the Acropolis on Lindos.

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A long walk up to Lindos!

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