Saturday, July 31, 2010

Honeymoon Do-Over

What a difference 80 degrees make. When we got married, we wanted to go somewhere far for our honeymoon, and we’d narrowed down our choices to New Zealand and Turkey. The deciding factor was the ticket prices – flying down under was over $2000 per ticket, but flying to Turkey was about $600 apiece. It was a no-brainer for us, so we packed our bags and were off to Istanbul.

On all the high praise we heard from our friends who had been to Turkey, and also the usual guidebooks, few had mentioned how cold it can get there… certainly a lot colder than San Francisco. It was sleeting cold, and as little as 6 degrees F. in Cappadoccia. Add the fact that Monika was five months pregnant at that time, it made for a delightful but certainly trying time—enough to get a great feel for the area, but leaving us longing to revisit when there were leaves on the trees on a warm day.

I’m not sure our return could have been much better. After really intense heat in Greece, we hit a couple rainy days in Istanbul, which was a relief. We even took the kids to the park in the warm rain, somewhere in the mid-80s. And since we’d had a pretty hectic time in Greece with the travel back and forth to Santorini, we wanted to take it as easy as on Elise as we possibly could, especially knowing that Egypt was about to be the toughest port on her.

Unlike last time, we also had the advantage of having lectures on the history and politics of Turkey that we didn’t get the first time around. Istanbul is as much in the crossroads of different cultures as anywhere in the world, having been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and now the Post-Ataturk government of secular rule, and that history seeps out in everywhere, one layer built on top of the other.

What a lovely time it was. I looked at the pictures of our honeymoon, just to refresh our memory of what the place looks like all dark and grey. And everything was so vibrant and full of life. We stepped off the ship, right next to the Istanbul Modern past the Galata bridge that we were already familiar with, and made our way to the Spice Market, off to a lunch at some hole-in-the wall place with tasty meats, and in hiding from the sudden rain, discovered the Basilica Cistern that somehow we missed the first time around… a heeby-jeeby underground structure where the city used to store all the water that came from the mountains.

By the time we walked back on the ship on the first day, we had revisited much of the steps of our honeymoon, culminating on what may turn out to be my favorite playground (for Elise) of the trip, right in the middle of the Gulhane Park next to the Topkapi Castle.

That night was also one of my favorite of the voyage, where most of the staff walked from the ship to a restaurant up in the Taksim district. Somehow we managed to seat 45+ people, eat a ton of delicious food, while everyone, including the kiddos, had a fantastic time. I think when I look back at this voyage, I’ll see that meal as the moment that the trip turn from fun to comfortable; when the ship became home. Those who have sailed on Semester at Sea before know of that moment, and it’s always a nice feeling when you get there.

We stayed in Istanbul the entire time, and despite having planned on making it to the Asian side of the city at some point, the closest we got to the other side was about 20ft of the continent on a impromptu Bosphorous cruise that we jumped on at some point. Monika and I have been there before, but if Elise doesn’t go back to Asia before she’s 18, I can imagine this scenario with her as a teenager where she will hold a grudge against us for having taken her 8000 miles never to step on the promised land. (Elise, if you’re reading this, please understand that it’s not that big a deal, I promise I’ll take you back someday.)

One thing we noticed: more than any other country, Turkey had an inordinate number of men and children come up and grabbed Elise, always touching her, and often picking her up and throwing her up in the air. It was pretty uncomfortable at first, but slowly it became clear that it was never malicious, that there seemed to be a expectation that you are supposed to come over and complement any child. They really value children (could it be that it was because Elise was a girl?) in a different way there, and we’re really happy that Elise was mostly ok with it.

(The relationship with children has a slightly different twist in Egypt – I’ll save that story for the Egypt blog).

When we left Croatia, Monika and I looked at each other and said it would be hard for any of the upcoming ports to beat it, and we thought we had our sure favorite. Three ports later, I’m not so sure. I personally felt like we completed what we missed in our first visit to Turkey – things I couldn’t possibly have predicted – and enjoyed way beyond the level of simply going to the tourist sites (Monika even went to a Turkish cooking class for a day). I left Istanbul the first time around loving it, but now it is also in my “list of favorite cities in the world”, which it hadn’t cracked the first time around. We had rested from Greece, and ready for the craziness that was about to come up in Egypt.

We’re leaving Egypt right now, another wonderful port, and easily the craziest place I have been since India, and we’re about to be at sea for 6 days before going to our last port in Casablanca. Sea Olympics are tomorrow, and this will be the first port we actually have a couple days at sea to reflect on what we’ve seen. And this was a good port for a little reflection time.

Good times for all. Pictures are up at .

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dolma, Dolma, Dolma

I’m aboard the ship right in Istanbul right now. Monika went to a Turkish cooking class with a bunch of the staff, and I stayed behind to take care of Elise. So after a fun morning at the park in the middle of the pouring rain, with lots of puddles to jump in, Elise went down for a nap. I’m just waiting for Mon to get back, and I’ll be heading out with Kevin, another staff member, as we try to get a haircut in a foreign land. Which is always an adventure.

It really has been a great several weeks now. After a long haul crossing the Atlantic, and testing the waters a bit in Spain, I think we’ve gotten into a really nice rhythm. Italy and Croatia were great with Monika’s parents, and Greece and now Turkey have also been fantastic, with some of my favorite days in these two ports. We had staff Karaoke night at sea followed by a full day in Istanbul that culminated in an enormous all-staff dinner in Taksim, and it couldn’t have been much better.

I can’t believe how much we’re getting done, and how great Elise is handling it all of it. With all the new places, new people, and shuffling around, it is a lot of stress and stimulation, but she’s doing amazingly well. She misses everyone at home a lot (she mentions everyone by name all the time), and she’ll miss everyone on the ship when we get home as well.

But I’ll do a quick summary of Greece. At some point before we arrived in Greece, we decided that five days would probably be too much to just stay in the port/Athens area, so the night before we dock, we decide to go to an island. Most of the students were going to Mykonos, and Monika really wanted to see Santorini given all the wonderful testimonial of all our friends who have been there – including Dave and Tanya, who spent their honeymoon there.

So in true Semester at Sea fashion, we make a last-second plan and purchase our tickets for a 2:15pm flight the day we dock. With the crises in Greece, there was going to be a air traffic controller strike the day after we arrived, and we wanted to make sure we had at least 2+ days to explore Athens. We figured that with the ship arriving around cleared by about 9:30am, we’d have our passports not long after that, could each lunch in Piraeus, then head to the airport in time to enjoy the famous sunset in Santorini. We booked our flights with our good friends Tom and Rebecca Jelke, who also have a little one (Parker).

We’ll, even though people were able to leave the ship, we didn’t get the passports back until about 2pm or so, which meant that we had to change our flights to 6pm or so at some cost. In the meantime, went out to explore Greece until it was time to leave for the airport. Which we discovered…

- We love the greek alphabet. It felt like an omnipresent calculus class (or a fraternity, if you’re so inclined. Which I’m not). I kept wanting to solve for all the missing variables. It was fun because by the end of the voyage, we were kind of able to pronounce some of the words, as long as we very carefully spelled out the greek letter aloud. We had no idea what it meant, but at least we knew how it sounded like.
- Greece is really hot this time of year. Really hot. It makes it really hard to go out with the little one, which meant we needed to keep her hydrated at all costs, use lots of sunscreen, go swimming as much as possible, and really try not to go out in the middle-of-the afternoon sun. My favorite moments of the port – the amazing sunset at Ia in Santorini, and the sunset at the Acropolis followed by an early evening at the Plaka district – were my favorite in part because it was so dang pleasant at that time of day. We’re getting in this pattern of going out early, eating and going to museums when it gets hot (and Elise falls asleep on the stroller), then enjoying the late afternoon and early evening hours again.
- The food is fantastic. Even the smallest, touristiest place has tasty greek food. Too bad I don’t remember the name of a single item. But Monika does. Hmmmm….. And we always order too much. There’s no way around it.
- I don’t know if we just got lucky, but the greek people seemed to have an exceptional care for children that I’ve never seen en masse before. Everyone has been absolutely wonderful to travel this whole time, making it very pleasant to bring Elise everywhere in Europe, but they took it to a new level in Greece. By the time we sat down to lunch on our first hour in port, we already had two people show us pictures of their kids and grandkids, and she was become fast-friends with our fast-talking waitress. If there was a line, we were sent to the front of it. Seats were always made available to us, motorcycles would stop accelerating and even stop traffic for us (and nobody else), and everywhere we got some free foods and items because of Elise. It was often quite touching and completely unexpected, and I really hope that we didn’t just hit an amazing streak, and that this is something the culture really values.
- The economic crisis is real over there. We benefit from not having as many tourists around, and lower rates to meet the lower demand, but everyone we talked to told us how slow business is right now (and thanked us for sailing in with so many students for five days).

So after the passport delay, an hour-long cab ride to the airport, another 2-hour flight delay because of air-conditioning problems, we were aboard our 40-minute hop to Santorini, where we witnessed the Santorini sunset from the air.

The island is very striking in appearance. Located on an enormous volcano, the caldera is open on two sides into the ocean, forming creating a huge three-quarter circle of gentle slopes on one side and 1000ft drops into the sea on the other. Inside the caldera, there is a growing lava island of the active volcano. The island used to be the home of the ancient Minoan Crete civilization, and there is a lot of evidence that the massive eruption around 14 BC (I believe) became the origin of the myth of Atlantis, because parts of the island disappeared, and the populations of Santorini and neighboring islands, including Crete, were destroyed.

Now the island, particularly the top of the cliff on the caldera, is covered in these distinct white buildings with blue roofs. I kept wanting to visit a hardware store just to take a picture of the paint aisle. I’m pretty sure all swatches are either “Santorini Blue” or “Santorini White”.

We arrived at night, took a short cab ride to the city of Thira, where our (cheapo) hotel was in the middle of everything and less than 100ft from the caldera. There’s enough time for us to get some delicious whatdoIcallits pita with Kebabs (greek tacos? Sufliakes? Mon, help!), then go to bed and get ready for a full day.

We discovered how much Elise loves beaches, so we made it the first priority the next day. We took a bus down to the public black-rock beaches on the southeast corner of the island, and parked there the first half of the day while Elise had the time of her life in the water. I don’t think it was possible to have a better water temperature… in the extreme heat we were in (made hotter by the dark pebbles), it was just cold enough to be extremely refreshing but not too cold. Fun times for all.

After lunch and nap on our way back to Thira, we jumped on another bus on our way to Ia (spelled Oia with what I though was a silent Theta in greek, but what do I know?) on the northern tip of the island. Which, to us, was the best part. Quaint, clean, with the best view, this is the place I would recommend staying to anyone visiting the island (though prices were sometimes six times more expensive than what we paid for our hotel). Elise fell asleep in time for us to have a glass of wine, and woke up to discover the playground out of heaven (Mt. Olympus?), on top of Ia, just ahead of a most amazing sunset. After playing for a few minutes, we grab a pizza, enjoy the most perfect of evenings, then take the bus (again) back to our hotel in Thira.

(OK, Mon’s back to watch Elise. I’m going to get a quick haircut. Be right back.)

(Alright, I’m back. That was hilarious. I guess they are used to dealing with a lot of hair here. I went with Kevin, we found a random barbershop near the ship, they spoke no English, and they give you the equivalent of a Turkish bath on your head. Lots of stubby fingers all over the place, lots of tools to snip hair you didn’t even know you had (they sure take care of that nose hair for you), and, best of all, they singe your ear hairs. Yup. I didn’t even know I had them until I felt a burning pain in my ear. The barber had pulled out a lighter, put them to my ear, and burned away all of my ear hair, on the lobes and everything. And he didn’t just put the flame and pull it away. He kept it there. It hurt a lot. And it smelled like burnt hair.

Then he took my head, dunked it in the sink in front of him, washed my face all over – stubby fingers in my eyes, ears, and nose, and then dried me off with a towel so vigorously I kind of felt I was being waterboarded. It was hilarious.)

(And my ears feel like a baby’s bottom right now. We have so many hilarious stories from Turkey – I can’t wait to type up that blog in two days).

(But I digess).

So after enjoying one more light day in Santorini, we made it back to Athens. The following (extremely hot) day, we explored Piraeus by going to the local playground with Cal and Cash, ordering WAY too much delicious food (I blame Dave), going to the local archaeological museum, and taking a nap, before waiting for things to cool down to visit the Acropolis near the end of the day.

The Acropolis is something. Way cooler than anything I could have imagined, and just a shame that much of it was destroyed by conflict. We picked a perfect time and day to do it – even though it was extremely hot, it was certainly cooling down at that point, the pollution had mostly blown away (giving us an amazing view of the city and sea from up top, and Elise was in a pretty great mood.

We were scrambling to make it but there before it closed, so we didn’t bother getting more cash. They didn’t take any credit cards, and we somehow managed to pay for the 24 Euro entry fee with the last remaining coins we had, and miraculously, we barely had enough. I can tell you the cashier loved us when we dropped all the coins in front of him.

For those of you who have never been to Athens, the walk up to the Parthenon is pretty precarious, with slippery, worn-down 2000-year-old marble, on some pretty steep ground. I can’t imagine what it is like when it rains – I can only imagine that these ancient marbled cities like Rome and Athens was a disaster when it rained. Can marble be any more slippery?

After enjoying the view, we tried to make it to the new, amazing Acropolis Museum, but it was too late. So we let Elise play in the grassy hill outside for a while, then walked over to the beautiful and quaint Plaka neighborhood, on the foot of the Acropolis, for another perfectly pleasant dinner with a view of the Parthenon.

We took it really easy on our last day in Greece and decided to go back and explore the Acropolis museum, which is stunningly brilliant. It is built on top of ruins (which you can see through the plexiglass floors), is laid out more like a modern art museum than a history museum, then had an offset third floor of the size and orientation of the Parthenon, to house every single sculpture that was ever part of the outside of the Parthenon.

The problem is that many (most) of the artwork is outside of Greece, and in fact, much of it has been housed outside of the country, primarily at the British Museum in London. The Greeks have been trying to get them back for years (claiming they were stolen), and one of the biggest arguments against returning the artwork has always been that they would be better cared for in England than in Greece.

But with the new museum, that argument is done for. It really is world class, and though it’ll be unlikely that the Brits will return anything, I think the Greeks have made a pretty good case that the statues belong in Athens, in the context of the Acropolis. It’s a must see for anyone visiting the city.

So that was pretty much our time in Greece. I think the pictures summarize it pretty well (

Now we’re almost done with Turkey (I’m now enjoying the most amazing view of nighttime Istanbul from the Staffulty Lounge, or 10 Forward, as we call it on this voyage) and we have crossed that point in the voyage where the ship is home; that you get the nice feeling when you see the lights of the ship when you’re out at night, and that you get really excited if you haven’t seen somebody for several days. We miss everything from home, and are looking forward to going back soon (two more countries), but doggone it, it’s nice to be here.

Off to bed, but a quick Elisey-ism before I go (I need to keep better track of these - there are a million of them).

The three of us were in our cabin two nights ago, and while Elise was having a boob, one of us (who shall remain anonymous to protect his identity ) passed gas, and quite audibly. So to distract from the fact, I say, "Elise, I think there's a frog in the room".

She looks up right at me and says, "A farting frog."

She would have gone back to the boob but Monika was too busy rolling on the floor laughing.


The next day, Elise was looking out the cabin window when SHE flatulates. She giggles for a second, looks at us, and says, "That was daddy's frog."


Back in a couple days.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What are you sinking about?

I’ve seen the MV Explorer in 22 different ports since 2005, and the view from the ship in some of these places have been stunningly beautiful (Hong Kong and Cape Town are two of my favorites). But none of them have been as quaint and picturesque as our little home in Dubrovnik, Croatia, with it’s light-colored houses topped by red-tiled roofs surrounding the little bay we were in.

Dubrovinik has been the surprise revelation of the trip so far. In sharp contrast with everything in Italy, we found an extremely clean, friendly, calm city, as if tourists hadn’t discovered it yet. It probably helped that we arrived in the middle of the week, during a European economic crisis, but that first day in Dubrovnik was one of the most lovely, peaceful, carefree days I can ever remember. The city quickly shot up into one of my favorite places in the entire world).

And what a place it is. It is a really modern city, with one of the most amazingly well-preserved medieval centers, the Old Town, with its massive white walls surrounded by the Ocean. We met Tom and Karen after they ferried over from Italy the day before we arrived, and spent the rest of the day walking around the old town and the walls, enjoying the magnificent view of the emerald and green Adriatic, and eating seafood and delicious pizza while Tom tried to converse in Croatian with our waiters. It was what I imagine some parts of Italy and Europe looked when tourists and pollution take over.

(And, weirdly enough, they had set up a tennis country in the middle of old town for an exhibition match between John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisec, which while was supposed to be out of view of the unpaying public, things are small and quaint enough in there that it was pretty easy to catch a glimpse of the action from the side. But I digress).

So we packed a lot in there in a few days. On the second day, we went with several friends to a hotel on the west side of town to do some scuba and snorkeling off shore while the kids swam in the hotel swimming pool. It was quite nice, with Elise taking her first ocean swim, but it was highlighted because the Croatia Summit was this week, with many leaders of European countries in town, and in the hotel we were in. Security was incredible, and the Scuba instructor told us Berlusconi was with us. Dave swears the old man in the hot tub with him was the Italian Prime Minister, since security was really present in the pool at that time.

That afternoon Monika and I left Elise with the grandparents, and rented a kayak for the rest of the afternoon. That was hilarious and a lot of fun, especially when we didn’t sink, which we almost did, since we rented a cracked kayak unbeknownst to anyone. The story of those four will be its own entry, and I’ll let Monika describe it from her perspective (which was the dry, comfortable, front half of the boat).

The next day we rented a little boat with a 15-year-old skipper to check out some of the island and beaches around the area, with Dave and Tanya. We jumped in the ocean, stopped by caves along the shore, and Elise enjoyed the water at a sandy beach for the first time in her life. Given how much she enjoyed playing in the sand, then running off to the water to wash it off, then back to playing in the sand, I think we’ll be scheduling more time to take her to the beach from here on out. She really had a great time.

But what stuck with me the most was the car ride back from the boat to the ship. The driver was our skipper’s mom, and she told her a bit about life in Dubrovnik. Life over there is really, really good right now. Really good. She said that “people celebrate more than they work”. The money is coming in from tourism, and the city has been able to keep order.

But she told us how miserable the 1990’s were for her and everyone in the country. Its hard to believe that the quaint little town was part of one of the most brutal conflicts and ethnic cleansing in recent history, and what kills me is how recent it all happened. The area has had an amazing history of conflict under different rulers, but it was quite peaceful and relatively prosperous under the Tito. After his death, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Slobidan Milosovic, a Serb, organized takeover of the Yugoslav republics to all be under super-Serbian control (after a system of apartheid had begun in the area). With that in mind, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, and the international community refused to recognize Croatia for a long time.

Croatia had no army, and without international support, faced retaliation from the Serbian military, who bombed Dubrovnik (a city of little strategic value) to ruble. Our driver delivered her son the day after the bombing of the city, in the hospital with no electricity or water, and delivered her other son (our skipper) later in the war.

And the brutal genocide began, with Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, etc… all cleansing their lands of the “other” people, with a brutality that was described by one of the professors this way:

“Rape has always been used in war, but they turned rape into a violent artform. They would rape women in front of their husbands, kill their husbands, then leave the women to bear the child of different ethnicity in the process of ethnic cleansing”

This was just over a decade ago, and of the people we asked about were affected by it. I can’t get my head over it. That everyone was affected by something so brutal not so long ago, and somehow manage to move on, at least superficially, into one of the most friendly and peaceful places in the world.

(They are really friendly. These old women who were sewing along the city walls gave Elise a pair of shoes she knit. We tried to pay her, but she refused – I don’t think I’d ever quite seen that happen before).

I honestly find it very scary, to say the least. Not because they move on, but because it seems like that violence and conflict can actually erupt anywhere, and I’m sure these people would never have imagined the turn their lives were about to make in the early 90s. I’m one of the most optimistic people I know, sometimes unreasonably so, but this is something I think of a lot, especially since having Elise. What kind of world are we leaving her? And the more I think about it, the happier I am that we are raising her in a culture of global awareness and cultural education, because I think this will be one of the most important skills or requirements of her generation. This will be a topic for a later post.

(And about the Balkan War… we visited the war photo museum in Old Town on the last day, and all I could think about is that we have a moral obligation to stop violence around the world. Sounds simplistic, and it may be, and some may consider this being the world police, but doggone it, that genocide was preventable if the international community had stepped in sooner. It’s really sad).

To finish on a good note – the driver told us they had bought some land by the water after the bombing for almost nothing, and that now that the city is doing so well, that they are really well off. I hope that’s the case for everyone who managed to stay in the city through the worst of times.

So now we find ourselves away from one of the most amzing places in the world, and off to Greece (which we can already see out of our window). We look forward to sending more updates then!

(Croatia pictures are at

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Rome with a View

So something really fun happened tonight. Elise was playing with our camera in the cabin, and figured out how to take pictures. So the grabs the camera, comes out of the room with it, and starts taking pictures of everyone she sees.

It’s a great little sequence of about 50 pictures or so. It starts out with tentative pictures, of walls and fingers grabbing the lens, but then quickly becomes this dynamic sequence from her little point of view… where she runs to people she’s really excited of seeing of seeing, and tells them she’s about to take a picture of them. It’s just pictures of happy people so happy to see her, and see her so excited, and crouching down to her level.

And, of course, she took many pictures of students she never met along the way. It was a great icebreaker (and right before she crashed an Insanity workout class and apparently tried to follow along with everyone. Wish I had pictures of that). I’ll post the sequence sometime after Croatia. I have a smile on my face just thinking about it.

Which, by the way, were doing a late-night docking as I type this. Immigration will happen in the morning, so we can’t leave the ship until tomorrow. Monika’s parents will again join us at this port, and everything seems to point to a wonderful four days here.
And why do I think that? Because we just had a fantastic seven days in Italy.
(Ah, Italy. Your architecture reminds me so much of Las Vegas.)

(Alright, just kidding.)

Remember when I said we did approximately 20% of what we normally do because Elise is around. Well, scratch that. Maybe it was because we worked out the kinks in Spain, maybe it was because we had a fantastically-located apartment in Rome, or maybe it was because we had the extra helping hands of Monika’s parents who met us in Rome and will meet us in Croatia. Or maybe it was just the gelatarias on every corner.

Whatever it was, we did everything we wanted in Rome. I checked all the major items on my list, and I got a great sense of everyday life over there. We even managed to walk from the Colisseum to the Vatican with Elise – one of our many walks – due to the perfect timing of her afternoon 2-hour naps.

We arrived in Civitavecchia after single day at sea, in which we went right between Corsica and Sardinia with an amazing full moon on the still water. We immediately venture in the intense summer heat with Dave, Tanya, and their kids, to the train station to purchase an express ticket to Rome. We were there in 40 minutes.

Much to Elise’s delight, Mimi and Baba were waiting for us at the train station. I really wish I had captured it on tape, because it was something out of a movie. She saw them from a distance, and as soon as she recognized them, she darted off into their arms. They are her favorite people in her entire little world.
And we were off to the apartment, which belongs to a Nagy family friend, and which was close to everything. We were immediately off to explore Rome, chasing Elise, eating gelato, and visiting playgrounds.

Which reminds me of a few things.

First, because the playground was amongst ancient ruins, as was everything else in Rome I mean, everything in Rome is old. There are ruins everywhere, and I’m assuming that everything is built on something that is over 2000 years old. It has to be a nightmare to build something new there, because I can only imagine the bureaucracy (beyond the typical Italian bureaucracy) to get permission to dig up in the city. I imagine that if you do get permission, and do dig, you’ll find something interesting. I imagine that has to be a problem with Athens and Istanbul and a bunch of other old world cities as well, which have a rich history, all where people have been living continuously in mass for centuries.

Second, I’ve come to the feeling that one of the measures of quality of life in a city is the number of playgrounds and park benches to be found. It really makes a big difference. Italy had great playgrounds (and an inordinate amount of park benches), but my favorite was in Naples. Beachside, really nice, and full of old Italian grandfathers bringing their kids to the park. Naples is a really “gritty” city by any measure, but walking around on that part of town really made me (us) fall in love with it.

Third, I had a wonderful conversation with one of the professors tonight about the environment, and where we are going. Things aren’t looking great right now, and he thinks it is too late to reverse the climate changes that we already started, and that things will change and that the third world will suffer most from it, but that he doesn’t think all is hopeless. Humans will have to adapt, and I can’t help but see Italy as a window into what countries like the US may look like many years from now. Things are crowded, and fairly polluted, but there is a great use of communal space. And since one of the biggest problems with dealing with global warming in a a world of increased standards of living, is that people are living in bigger houses. But the Europeans are using a lot fewer resources than we are, and part of the reason for that is that they live in smaller spaces, and make much better use of their communal spaces, going out for everyday entertainment (instead of making big living rooms with huge back yards). Imagine if WE had a pub on every corner.

And you know what? They’re happier because of it.

(This is what I love most about Semester at Sea – this sense of communal living. We have a small cabin, and we have to get out and be social to live – and luckily, we live amongst some amazingly interesting and well educated people to talk to.)
(I also love that I get to attend the lectures. We had a brilliant guest lecture in Global Studies about Croatia today. I may have to do a whole blog on it).

(But I digress).

This is all a long way of saying that we saw all the tourist attractions in Rome, and even hosted a party at the apartment where 22 shipmates (mostly parents and kids) came. And Tom and I made sure to take as many goofy pictures as we could. It may have annoyed our wives to the fullest, but doggone it was fun.

We even made it to Florence for two days, where Monika had lived a bit after college, before we went to Naples to meet the ship. Florence was pretty packed with tourists, and was extremely hot. Monika felt very nauseous the night we arrived there, and we later attributed it to sleep deprivation, dehydration, a possible heat stroke of some sort. Which makes her (according to her), a ninety-year-old woman.

One of my favorite things about Florence was seeing the statue of David. The museum opened at 8:15am, and because of the extremely long lines the day before, we decided we would make see it as soon as the museum opened.

So after a fantastic morning stroll seeing Florence wake up, we realize that everyone else had the same idea to show up early to the museum as well. Which means we waited 40 minutes to get it, but it was well worth it.

It’s a stunning statue – bigger than I imagined, and beautifully rendered. I always thought David was just passively posing, but going around it, you can see that he actually has a pretty angry “determined” face on him, like is about to cause some damage. And of course, Elise had to point out that “David has a small pepito”. That’s our daughter.

I can go on and on… but I need to go to bed. We posted pictures at, and will have lots more in a few days.

And we can’t wait for a few more days with Mimi and Baba. They are the best inlaws. And I may need to send some Tom Nagy-isms instead of Elisey-isms on the next post.
(One more quick story before I go. I was swimming on the ship pool yesterday with Elise, and she was laughing her head off as I threw her as high as I could and caught her back in the water. In between the laughter, she manages to say, “I have poops!”, which turns out is the last thing you want to hear while throwing a little kid in a small swimming pool.

I managed to catch her before causing too much damage, but man, there was poop everywhere. Monika and I quickly do the “I’m carrying you with the least amount of contact as possible as you dangle in front of me” that every parent is familiar with, and had to wrap her in towels since the inside of the ship is SOOOOO much colder than the outside. By the time we got back to the cabin, there was poop everywhere. I don’t think we could have gotten more poop on the towels and close if we had tried to catch it directly.

And it wasn’t even the worst poop story of the moment… as Cash had, at that same time, woken up from his nap with a poopy diaper, only to decide to take it off and smear on his bed before his parents got back in the room.

Just look at the picasa pictures and you’ll see it’s all worth it).

Thursday, July 01, 2010

My in-laws crack me up

We're enjoying a couple of days in Rome at a friend's apartment, with Monika's parents. They crack me up. Here are some pictures just from my camera - they have a lot more.