Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cruising the Mediterranean - Part 4 Athens

Our 2nd port of call was Athens, Greece.  This was our longest and most challenging stop.  Again, we used some recommendations on and pre-booked a private tour with Ekol Travel Turkey & Greece.   We were joined by another wonderful couple that we had met on our Roll Call.

We booked everything online and Ekol was easy to work with.  Our tour guide was an energetic young Athenian who tried very hard to show us a great day.  The downside was that we were in a small taxi with 5 people and after an 8 hour day in intense heat it started to get pretty crowded. 

And when I say intense heat I mean 106F (41C).  I see these other bloggers posting lovely pictures of them visiting Greece.  They are stylishly dressed and their long, curly tresses are perfect.  I don't know how they do it.  I was a hot, sweaty mess!

Athens is a massive city and the various ruins and sites are scattered throughout.  Our tour was scheduled to be 8 hours. 

Our driver dropped us off of at our first stop, the Acropolis.  We got there pretty early but it was already getting crowded.  There aren't any audio-tours or signs to explain what you are seeing and we hadn't done any preliminary work or hired a tour guide, so I was a little concerned. 

At the ticket booth, we ran into a local guide who offered to take us up and explain the sites.  It was about 50 Euros each, we were in a group of about 7 and she did an okay job.  The Parthenon is the centerpiece.



I have to be honest.  I'm not sure if it was the intense heat, the large crowds or the construction cranes but I had a hard time connecting with the ruins.  It's one of the wonders of the world and I feel bad that I wasn't more moved.  

I think TE was a little more into it than I was.  I'm so sorry, readers.  I probably should have let him do the Athens post. But check out those views. 

Our next stop was the Temple of Olympic Zeus and Hadrian's Arch.  Along the way our guide pointed out various other important spots in Athens. 

Then we were off to the Panathinaikon Stadium where the first Olympic Games of the modern times were held in 1896.  I confess.  I stayed in the taxi while the others got out and looked around. 

Then to the Presidential Mansion to watch the changing of the guards.  The Greek Evzones are an elite historical infantry that guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Palace.  They take their job very seriously and it was fascinating to watch. 


Then we headed up to the highest point in the city to check out the views.  You can tell I was starting to have a sense-of-humor-loss because the numbers of pictures were dropping. 

Next, we were dropped of at a corner of the Plaka or market area for lunch.  We had a terrific Souvlaki and a gyro.  We tried to walk around and explore a bit, but did I mention it was hotter than the surface of the sun? 

By this time, I was in a sort of heat trance and just stumbling around mumbling something about "no more hot rocks."  Luckily, our next stop was the Acropolis Museum.  The only thing I noted was that it had air conditioning.  I found the nearest seat and parked it until my body temperature got a bit closer to normal.  It looked like it was very well done and TE could tell you more as he actually explored.  

The AC perked me up enough for a quick stop at a gift shop and a bakery for some Baklava. 

I think we squeezed as much as we could out of the day.  In spite of being a Texas girl, the heat definitely affected our experience immensely.

I don't think that Athens will be on the Return List.  It's a massive urban  area with everything that comes with it like graffiti and traffic.  There has been some recent unrest in the city and that was evident by the sight of a few riot police scattered about.   But there was never a time that we didn't feel safe (other than from heat stroke.)  However, we will definitely visit Greece again. 

I can tell you that ALL of the people that we met were amazing.  Most of them spoke fluent English and were very welcoming.  From our tour guide, to the restaurant staff, to the shopkeepers, even the soldier overseeing the guards at the Tomb, the Athenians were friendly and wonderful to interact with.  

Next stop... Turkey!


This is not a sponsored post.  All photos are ours.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Size Does Matter, People!

Good, now that I have your attention.

I’m afraid that I must interrupt this cruise review for a very important post.  Ya’ll know that every once in a while I’ll post an observational rant on various topics.  I find it very cathartic.  And my therapist agrees.

Well, I have another one rattling around in the brain and I can’t relax until this is written.  Today’s topic is shoes.  (You thought it was something else didn’t you?  You’ve been reading mediocre, mainstream erotica again, haven’t you? )

If you know me well, you know that I have a deep and abiding relationship with shoes.  I love shoes.  Love, as in love.  Really.  Love.  Shoes.

 One time I even had a little wine party for a bunch of my girlfriends.  Did we play fun drinking games or watch male dancers?   Nope.  We actually got out all of my shoes, piled them into the middle of the floor and played with them.  Best party ever!

You can imagine how hard it was for me to leave behind several pairs when we moved.  I’m slowly increasing that number again.

However, the replacements are very different.  In Texas, sandals, flip, flops, heels, and wedges were the usual.  In London, it’s all about the boots and flats.  And if you value your feet, you will cover them up on public transport.  So, I haven’t been wearing fun shoes since we moved here.  I even visited a sporting goods store the other day and purchased shoes especially made for walking.   (As if this was ever a consideration before.) 

"Most women prefer a trip to hell in high heels than to walk flat-heeled to heaven."
 - William A. Rossi

On the cruise I tried to wear heels for the first time in 6 months.  I looked like a one year old learning to walk.  Can’t you picture me wobbling from table to couch to ottoman?   After a gin & tonic, people were stopping to see if they could assist.  I leaned heavily on TE everywhere we went and even made him take me as far as the Ladies Room door.  It was so sad.  I used to do just about anything in pumps.  But that time is no more.  Please join me for a moment of silence.


But, that wasn’t the most embarrassing shoe moment of the cruise.  I had purchased the cutest pair of nude pumps.  I call them my Kate Middleton’s.  I was so excited to wear them on formal night.  I put them on and toddled through the cruise ship.  We went to dinner, had some photographs taken.  I was rockin’ the nude pumps.  Well, not exactly rockin’ them.  It was more of an ankle-quaking shuffle, but still. 

So, I’m standing against the counter at customer service while TE is taking care of something.  And this man comes up to me.  He’s attractive and he leans his head in close.  I think he even rested his hand on the small of my back.  And in some sexy, European accent he said to me.  “Your shoes are beautiful.”  I glanced at TE and smiled at the mysterious man.  I didn’t say it but I was thinking, “I know!  I’m so rockin’ these Kate’s!”   

So he then raised his eyebrow and in that low, heavily accented voice, “I congratulate you on your wonderful purchase.”  I thought maybe he was a man who either wears heels or just appreciates a nice pair when he sees ‘em.  I’m standing a little bit taller.  It’s like riding a bike, you never really forget how to walk in heels.  Pfft.  See, I so got this!  He then adds “But, (dramatic pause) you left the price tags on the bottom of them.”

You know when the sounds all around you come to a screeching halt and you’re left with that awkward silence?  And you feel like a spotlight is shining on your face?  And you wish the floor would swallow you up?    That. 

I thanked him for this information and he walked off to whisper to his wife about the crazy lady with the price tags on her shoes.  Luckily, I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  I waited until they were out of sight and nonchalantly looked down at the bottom of my shoes.  In my imagination, I was hoping to see a red swath of color indicating my true station in life.  But, alas… instead, on the bottom of each shoe was a big, honkin’,  black and white sticker. 


Are you feeling my pain, ladies?  It was so embarrassing. (For my US friends, M&S is a UK department store... imagine Sears.)

However, there is one minor consolation to this moment.  Under the price of my shoes was this. 

Size 5.5

Ha!  When I moved to the UK, I dropped two shoe sizes!  How cool is that?  A US 7.5 is a UK 5.5.  (I won’t mention to you that when it comes to clothing, I gained two sizes.  That would just be too much to bear.)

And answer me this.   Why are men so touchy when it comes to shoes?   Here are my standard shoe related responses for TE.  I just keep them in constant rotation. 

“As a matter of fact, I do need 12 pairs of black pumps and flip flops in every color.”

“A new outfit always, always includes new shoes.  It’s the rule.”

“I know it’s only 7 days.  But, I’m not even sure that 16 pairs will be enough.”

“So what if you only have 4 pairs.  That’s your problem.  Go buy some more.”

“Don’t talk to me about suitcase weight limits.  Your one shoe weighs as much at two pairs of mine.”

“No, I will not give you 5 quid for every pair that I take and don’t wear.  It’s none of your business.”

“Yes, they do hurt my feet and force us to stop every 45 minutes.  But, they are way cute so get over it.”

And lastly, I must share with you something that I’m very concerned about.  Now, remember, I’ve been in London so I haven’t seen a lot of feet lately.  But, on the cruise, in the ports and in the Rome airport I was extremely alarmed by some of the things that I saw.  Namely, the number of women that are wearing shoes that are way too small for them.  Here are some of the basic signs. 

The Overhang

This was the most common offense.  Women with sandals so small that the toes actually hang off the front of the shoe.  When buying shoes, you should stand up in those shoes and look down.  If you can’t see at least a millimeter of that shoe in front of your longest toe, then they are too small.  If I were to take a blade and cut off the top quarter inch of your shoe and at least an inch of toe would come off with it, then your shoe is too small.  Imagine the sole of your shoe as a lovely frame for your foot. 

The Claw

This is a more extreme version of the Overhang.  If your shoe strap breaks but you don’t miss a beat, because your toes are actually gripping the front of that shoe to hold it on, then your shoe is way too small.  If you can wiggle your toes and feel the tile floor beneath your feet, it’s too small. 

The Loose Piggy

If the top of your foot is covered with a strap and all of your toes are snuggled in nicely under said strap with the exception of your little piggy toe which is wiggling off in the other direction all by itself, then this shoe is not for you.  This one is not only offensive but dangerous for the poor little lone piggy. 

The Stuffed Wedge

I love wedges. They are so cute and comfy. But, they also tend to tilt you forward so that all of your weight is pushing into the tip of that wedge.  If this pressure starts squirting your toes out of the front of your shoes like a tube of toothpaste, don’t wear them.

The Creepy Long-necked Turtle

Peep toe shoes are supposed to be sexy, right?  A little 40’s Hollywood glamour.  A sassy peek of some candy apple red nail polish.  The keyword here is Peep.  If your entire big toe sticks out of that sweet, little bow-clad opening at the front of your shoe, then you shouldn’t be wearing that shoe.  I was reluctant to even mention this one, because it’s so extreme.  If I hadn’t have seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.  If you can’t picture it, then google “creepy long-necked turtle.” 

And this is just a few of the offenses that I saw.  I became so alarmed at the Rome airport that I actually did a scientific count while waiting in line.  I looked at the feet of the 10 women standing nearest me and 6 of the 10 were wearing shoes that were obviously too small for them. 

Now, Oprah has raised awareness about the alarming number of women who are wearing too small bras.  And now I feel we must also address the number of women wearing too small shoes.

It’s tragic really and, I’m afraid, even epidemic.   So, please help me spread the word. 

We should all embrace my favorite line from Steel Magnolias, delivered perfectly by my idol, the incomparable Dolly Parton. When asked what size shoe she wore, she purred...

“I wear a 6, but a 7 feels so good that I buy an 8.”

So yes, in fact, size does matter.  Let's all work together to end this senseless abuse of our precious feet.

Seo Min Hyun once said “For women, shoes are the most important. Good shoes take you good places.”   Wear good shoes, ladies. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cruising the Mediterranean - Part 3 Sicily

On Monday morning, we arrived in the Port of Messina at 10am.  It's the 3rd largest city in Sicily and was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1908.  So, the architecture is more modern than you see elsewhere in the area.

Based on recommendations from others on, we had pre-booked a private tour through Sicily with Mario.  Everything was handled via email and they were helpful and quick to respond.  We were joined by another couple that we met on the Roll Call and the four of us were quickly off with our Sicilian driver, Marcello. 

He showed us a few of the sights of Messina which is a vibrant port city. 

At noon, each day the clock tower chimes and all of the moving parts perform.  It's supposed to be quite special, but we didn't stay to see the performance.  We were heading along the coastline in an air-conditioned van to the picturesque town of Taormina.  It was about an hour drive.

Along the way, Marcello stopped at a beautiful overlook so that we could take some pictures.  He brought out some ice cold water and some lovely little pastries for us.  He was so sweet and took such good care.  He was a quiet man, but pointed out all of the important details and answered all of our questions.  

Taormina is a gorgeous little town on the Southern coast of Sicily.  Beautiful beaches, mountains, and ruins are nestled along the Ionian Sea.  Photographers, writers, and artists flocked to the area in the 19th century and made it a popular tourist destination.  Goethe and Capote both came to the area to write. 

Our driver took us up to the central area and dropped us off.  He made plans to meet us after an hour and a half of exploring.  We visited the Teatro Greco which was set up for a Film Festival.  We shopped for some pottery and stopped for a lemoncello gelato.  It was so good as the day was getting hotter. 

The streets are beautiful and dotted with plenty of cafes and shops.  We took our time exploring and taking pictures. 

The Sicilian pottery is spectacular!  All of the shopkeepers were friendly and helpful.  I wanted all of it!  I just love pottery.  I wish I could create something so beautiful.  We picked up a few small pieces created by a local artist. 

The crowds were starting to increase as the busloads from the ship started to arrive to the little village.  We stopped for a refreshing glass of local wine and Italian beer and then met up with our driver. 

We then zigzagged our way further up the mountain to the smaller town of Castelmola.  It's only about 10 minutes further up the mountain, but a lot quieter since the buses don't typically go up that far. 

We parked at the top and were treated to 360 degree views that were just breathtaking.  (Especially if you're afraid of heights.)

We explored just a little.  Most of the stores were already closed for siesta.  Marcello led us to a local restaurant for lunch. 

We ate out on the back balcony with a clear view of Mt. Etna which is one of the the most active volcanoes in the world.  It was sending up little puffs the whole time we were there.

The other couple with us was from Norway.  We had a terrific time getting to know them and after hearing them talk about Norway, we know it will be a future destination for us. 

I had my first taste of Spaghetti Carbonara.  It was so fresh and simple.  I had to pinch myself.  Here I was sitting on the side of a mountain in Sicily having this fantastic lunch with terrific company.  I had a moment. 

It was definitely a hot day with temperatures of almost 100F (38C).  July is probably not the most ideal time to visit the Mediterranean.  Be sure to wear light clothing and take plenty of water. 

That's one of the reasons we were glad we booked a small private tour.  We could set the pace and tweak the itinerary is we wanted.  And we were quick out of the gates to avoid the larger crowds.

The local kitties were all sprawled out napping on the stones, trying to keep cool. Several of us might have had a cat nap on the way back to Messina.  Full bellies and air-conditioning... you can't really blame us. 

Marcello dropped us off at Messina.  We paid him cash directly in Euros.  It was a very reasonable rate for a great day.  We made a quick stop for an authentic cannoli.  And after a few minutes walk we were back on the ship.  

Sicily was the perfect way to start off the adventure.  It's definitely on the Return for an Extended Stay List (but not in July).

Thanks again for following along.  I know it's probably more information than you want unless you are planning on taking the same cruise.  If so, I hope it helps you plan your trip.  Our next stop is Athens, Greece!


This is not a sponsored post.  All photographs are ours.