Family Jewels: Something New for a Change

While the jewelry I have shown previously is old by family standards, last summer I was given a brand new piece for my collection. My family had taken a Mediterranean cruise during July (you can read more about it under the category Family Cruise 2011). One of the favorite places we stopped was the Greek island of Santorini.

My husband had arranged for a private boat to take us around the island. Santorini is part of an atoll- an exploded volcano. This explained the ragged black cliffs of igneous rock we passed on our excursion.

The captain was wonderful and knew where to find some private hot springs. We loved swimming in the effervescent water, which grew hotter as we approached the mouth of the inlet.

Captain took us to a snorkelling spot where we could approach a 600 ft drop off and peer down into the crater.

Afterwards we ate a delicious lunch he had prepared onboard: falafel, tomato salad, bread with olive oil, spinach, mushrooms and a plate of olives. Everything was fabulous! He dropped us off at the opposite end of the island, near Ia, where his taxi friend took us up top. The views were spectacular- even better than we see in the Jamie Lee Curtis commercials for Greek yogurt.

While we wandered around the numerous art galleries, we spotted a souvenir shop.

My mother had the clairvoyant idea to commemorate the day by purchasing choker necklaces made of lava beads- the same igneous rock we had motored up to in the morning. She bought one for each of us, so we could always remember the special time we shared.

This is the one she gave to me. It is made very simply out of rough pieces of rock. I love the symmetric placement of the blue glass beads and silver rings. It is great to wear with a t-shirt for a little extra pizzazz. Best of all, when I touch the lava beads, I can instantly take myself back to the sulfur hot springs and the tasty luncheon we all shared in Santorini.

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Day 9- A”Maze”ing Mykonos

Today we arrived in Mykonos, a popular Greek island for tourists. Everyone was excited to get out and explore after our previous day at sea. Hillary and Susan wanted to walk through the town together, shopping and sampling the local food. Mike, Amy and myself planned to take the kids to a beach for some swimming in the lovely blue Mediterranean waters.

We had done some research the day before and decided on a beach which was slightly farther away, possibly less crowded. Mike wanted to give David a thrill by renting a scooter for touring around. Amy and I planned to take Megan and Kate on the bus and meet up later.

We had all been informed by the cruise director that Mykonos was originally designed with natural foils- winding streets and alleys which were not laid out in any logical manner- in order to prevent capture by invaders. He promised us that we would get lost. Sure enough, while searching for the bus depot, we seemed to wander in circles, passing points over again until we got lucky enough to spot the buses.

The schedule was complicated to figure out and led us to believe we had just missed the bus to our destination and would have to make other plans. Just then we saw Mike and David filling up their gas tank nearby. We told them our new plan and they said they would meet us there.

When the bus arrived a few minutes later, we saw that it was in fact going to the beach we had preferred to visit. Oh well, so much for meeting the guys. At least they had a scooter and could get around on their own. We were stuck with where the buses went.

We had a comfortable ride up and down the coast of the island and could appreciate the layout of the different beaches. We arrived at our stop about 20 minutes later. The turquoise water was very inviting and the warm sand felt soothing between our toes.

We plunked our towels and backpacks down and went for a swim. Kate and Megan had a great time splashing and diving together. It was nice to see them having so much fun. And that was the point of taking a relaxing beach day where we weren’t focused on seeing the historic attractions. Amy and I lay on our towels, soaking in the smell of the salt air, the rolling sound of the waves and the glow of the sparkling sunshine on the waters.This was close to Paradise…

Unfortunately, our reverie would soon have to end in order to catch a bus back to our cruise ship. We collected our things and headed to the washroom. When we walked into the cafe, lo and behold, Mike and David were sitting at the counter having some sandwiches!  Apparently they had gone to the beach we told them, discovered we had not made it and decided to come here anyway. The funny thing is that they had not even considered looking for us on the beach,because we had stayed close to the moped parking area just in case.

We had to get going though, so we headed to the bus stop and then took the return trip back into town. Now all we had to do was rewind our steps through the maze to locate our loading area. At one point we came to a fork in the road. We were not sure which way to go and Amy suggested walking out to the water to get an idea of where our ship was. We passed through an outdoor cafe to the seaside lookout. We spotted our cruise ship and knew the general direction to head.

As we walked back through the cafe, Megan spotted her Grandma and Nana sitting at the table an arms reach away! They were so surprised when she gave them a hug! We pulled up some chairs to join them and told them about our earlier meeting with Mike and David. Of all the places where the reputation was for getting lost, we had some pretty remarkable encounters!

We spent a half hour or so, sharing our adventures over some Mojitos and lemonades. It was funny to think what the chances of meeting up were, especially if Amy had not insisted on looking for the ship. When we got our bill, we were dismayed to learn that our Mojitos were outrageously expensive (12 Euros each). Fortunately, the ambiance of our gathering- surprise, family, view- made the whole experience “Priceless”.

Day 7- Athens: Crowds and Old Friends

This morning we docked in Piraeus, the port city of Athens. The Cruise family, Susan and Kate were in a rush to disembark. We had to catch a train in order to meet up with our tour guide. Mike had arranged a private tour with some local archaeologists to take us around the Agora and the Acropolis. We got slightly lost when our train was detoured to a different stop than planned, but we arrived at our meeting place only a few minutes late. Unfortunately, no one else was there.

Mike spoke with a local shop keeper who was happy to let him use the phone to call our guide. It took over a half-hour to determine that no one had been sent for us and we would have to take the tour on our own. Mike was extremely disappointed, but we all let him know we appreciated his efforts and would make do.  Kate and David had fun running amongst the statues, comparing their heights to the headless figures. Susan and Megan were deep in contemplation over what it took to build these sites; while Mike and I marvelled at how amazing it was that they were still around.

               

It was getting hot, so we decided to go to the top of the Acropolis before it got any later. Much to our dismay, we realized the crowds were growing large and there was no way to avoid them. The children were very patient and calm, even though we were wedged into a mass of strangers speaking many languages. The adults, however, were secretly panicked. We mentally divided up into partners, each with a child, whom we would protect in the event of a stampede (I know, we all have dark thoughts and worse case scenarios running through our heads). By the time we gained access to the historical site, we were stressed, dehydrated and needed a break. Poor  Kate had been such a trooper standing in line, but at soon as we broke free, she needed to sit down and take some Tylenol for her headache- which had started during the hour-long wait.

Almost at the same time, Amy called us on Mike’s phone. She and Hillary had met up with some old family friends who were visiting relatives near Athens. They had come to the city for the day to take them out to some museums and lunch. When we relayed our misfortunes to Amy, our friend insisted on coming to “rescue” us and bring us to lunch as well. By this point, we had had enough heat and crowds so we did a quick walk through of the Acropolis, took our mandatory photos and actually felt thankful that we didn’t have to stop at each ruin to hear a detailed explanation.

               

We met up with Amy and Demetrius, a now 60-something gentleman, but just as charming as I remembered. He greeted each of us with a big hug and his signature Greek kiss, one on each cheek. He gave us a local tour on our walk to the museum. He had grown up in Athens and his descriptionof how it had changed was almost more meaningful than seeing the ancient ruins. Demetrius and his wife were the picture of Greek hospitality. They were both so delighted to have us on their turf- although we felt ashamed we had come all the way to Athens to catch up, when we could have seen them in New York.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch- Greek salad, soup, lamb or pasta and a refreshing beer or lemonade to revive us after our stressful morning. We spent an hour talking and exchanging family updates. The children heard stories about their parents and came to realize that these kind people actually knew a lot about them. When it was time to head back to our cruise ship, Demetrius made sure to get us on the proper train with directions to our stop. We all vowed we would do a better job keeping in touch.

It is so wonderful to reconnect with old friends and realize why you were friends in the first place. Now it is up to us to cement that bond, and not just on Facebook. I don’t think eFriends give out Greek kisses, at least not last time I checked.

Cruise Day 3- Split Croatia

The compelling thing about a cruise is that you tour the land by day and travel great distances on water at night. So by the time you wake up the next morning, you can be far away. In our case, we had travelled across the Adriatic Sea to Split, Croatia. Neither Croatia nor our next stops in Turkey were places I would have considered making a separate trip to, but that was the appeal of the cruise. I couldn’t imagine getting there any other way.

Split looked like a charming little town with a historic palace, market place and some museums to explore. Mike and I took the kids to the tourist attraction, the Diocletian Palace, while the other three adults visited the museum and market.

The palace was crowded, but once we climbed up the tower, we had great views of the town and out to sea. Unfortunately, the height of the stairs, as well as the rickety construction, gave Kate second thoughts about ascending. I felt bad that I had gotten her into this situation again. However, she bravely waited with me or Mike at one of the lower landings, while we took turns climbing. We were very proud of her ability to deal with the crowds and her appreciation of the old buildings we were seeing.

Next we had fun wandering the market. David, always the animal lover, spotted a woman selling rabbits. He bent down to pat them, just as he had with the pigeons in St Mark’s Square. They took to him immediately. For the rest of the trip, he tried to convince me that he should get a pet rabbit when we returned home.

After our tour, we stopped at a restaurant for pizza and salad. We sat at an outdoor table where we could watch the pedestrians from many countries walking by. While we were waiting for our food, I had my niece call home. I knew my sister would be anxious to hear from her and it was hard to get cell phone reception on the ship (not to mention very expensive).

Predictably, Kate only gave her mom minimal answers; “yes”, “no”, “cool”; so when she was done, I took over the conversation, filling her in on the details of our trip so far. I remembered how much I had longed to hear from my daughter when she was away with her Nana last summer on the Baltic.

My sister could not thank me enough for calling her. “You just made my day!” she exclaimed. I am sure Kate knew her mom would want to hear from her; but, as children do, wanted to draw the lines between her life experiences and her parents’. Fortunately, she had no qualms about sharing this experience with her aunt- so we had plenty of fun moments together, which we will remember for a long time.

Day 2- Part B Dilemmas of a Responsible Parent

After lunch, Megan, David and Kate explored the ship. They discovered the ping-pong tables, swimming pools, the basketball court and the Crow’s Nest. By the time they came back to the room, David had broken off his id bracelet, claiming he was almost 13 and shouldn’t have to wear it.So what is a responsible aunt suppose to do when Kate declared she wanted her’s off too?

At first I tried to explain it was for her own safety. I told her if David had his off, she could still roam the ship with him and no one would care. I did trust David. He has a good sense of caution while being confident enough to try new things. However, here I was in the Mediterranean with my sister’s child who I perhaps felt over-protective of, (but you can understand why). So I felt completely torn between what was best for them both- safety or independence?

As it turned out, no one really ever checked their bracelets. The ship was very secure and any time we exited, someone asked if the minors were accompanied by us. Kate tried to follow the rules about wearing the bracelet, but I could see that it was very uncomfortable- too tight and with a long tag hanging off. In the end, she managed to break it off when no one was watching, and that was the end of it.

Amy’s Anticipated Arrival

As the evening approached, everyone became more excited for Amy’s arrival. She had been travelling all day from the west coast of Canada. The last time we had seen her was at Christmas. There had been several family gatherings since then, usually on weekends, but Amy lived too far away for such spontaneity.

Amy and her husband loved their jobs and their location, except for the fact that all of their family members were on the east coast. Having no children of her own, Amy treasured her nieces and nephews and was looking forward to this extended visit as a way to bond with them even more closely.

Hillary (Amy’s & my mother)  was beginning to appear anxious. All mothers worry about their children and Hillary was no exception. She was even more excited than I to have her family together and was already planning special activities with each one. I finally convinced her to take a walk on the promenade deck so we could get some fresh air and take our mind off the wait. It was relaxing to stroll around the ship and take in the views of Venice and the vaporetto action on the sea.

On the way back, we stopped in my suite to see what the kids were up to. We found them hanging out on the couch with some fruit salad, french fries and Fanta. Obviously they had wasted no time ordering room service. At least they made one healthy food choice.

Mike was sitting out on the verandah. When I stepped out to join him, my mouth dropped open and I blinked my eyes in disbelief. My surprise turned into pure joy as I stretched my arms out, shouting “Amy!” and ran around the table to embrace my weary but equally happy sister, who had just arrived and was sitting in the lounge chair. Hillary was four steps behind me and soon all three of us were entwined in a group hug.

Love is a powerful magnet to draw people together. Coming from 5 states or provinces, in small groups or alone, for the sole purpose of a vacation shows a strong committment to what it means to be a family. Over the course of this cruise we intended to take every opportunity to strengthen our ties and replenish our stores of love for when we would be apart again.

Day 2- Embarkation Part A: Organization & Challenges

Today we all slept in a bit – trying to catch up on some shut eye. However, by 10 am we were repacked and ready to head to our cruise ship. Once again we each had to drag our suitcases up and down stairs and through narrow alleys until we reached our vaporetto stop. By the time we arrived at the dock, we were soaked with sweat. Everyone received a room key but David and Kate were disappointed to learn they needed to wear identification bracelets due to their age. This would become a point of contention later in the day. However, at this moment everyone was eager to check out their staterooms and explore the ship.

We were staying on the Ms. Nieuw Amsterdam. We had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite for the four of us and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our room! We had a king size bed, a large sitting area with ample room for the pull-out sofa, a spacious bathroom with 2 sinks and showers and a separate dressing area with plenty of storage space, including a large vanity. Our verandah was twice the size of the regular ones and had comfortable seating for 8 people- perfect for our whole group!

I’ll admit I am an organization maniac and I set to work right away trying to figure out where to store four people’s stuff for the next 12 days. The guys were easy. They were able to share a closet and use some drawers. I found some drawer space for myself and used a closet for shoes and hanging things. That just left Megan’s stuff.

I knew she had packed way more than she needed, but a 15-year-old girl needs her fashion and her make-up so we agreed that, as long as it fit in her suitcase, she could bring it. As it turned out, the dressing room was perfect for her. She could fit everything in the closets, lay her makeup out on the vanity and I could draw thew curtain on her mess so the rest of the room looked presentable. Problem solved!

Since Megan and Susan were returning Mariners, they were able to attend a special Embarkation lunch and invited the rest of us as guests. We walked in to the Manhattan Dining Room and were immediately impressed by how friendly and helpful the staff were. The choices of food on the menu indicated the luxury of the options we would have during our stay.

Since it was only lunch, I skipped the appetizer and ordered a chilled asparagus soup and a raspberry walnut salad, followed by a scoop of watermelon sorbet for dessert. Everything was as delicious as it sounds! Little did I realize what a sensitive issue our food choices were to become during the cruise.

At the outset of our trip, my mother-in-law was seriously underweight. Since being widowed less than 8 months ago, she had not been eating well. Compounded by the stress of her new situation and occasional depression, she looked shockingly frail. Her goal was to put on 5 pounds and revive her spirit on this trip.

Kate, on the other hand, had been sent on this trip by her mother- who tried to maintain healthy eating habits at home and asked us to be mindful of sticking to them. With so many courses to eat and tantalizing desserts everywhere we looked, we quickly knew this was going to be a challenge.

The remaining members of the group, myself included, were foolishly trying to enjoy a variety of foods without gaining a pound. This idea seems ridiculous in retrospect, as there was always good food available at the Lido buffet, in the Neptune Lounge or by ordering room service.  Fortunately, none of this was on my mind as we finished our first meal. Everyone smiled at each other and complimented the waiters on how delicious everything had tasted.

 

A Family Introduction

    In July 2010, my daughter returned from a cruise on the Baltic Sea with her grandmother and immediately declared that we had to take a family cruise together next summer (2011). Neither my husband nor I had been on a cruise before and we were not anxious to do so. However, this Baltic Cruise had been taken on the heels of my brother-in-law’s death and at the outset of my father-in-law’s terminal illness. He had originally planned to go to the Baltic, but became too disabled for travel. It was apparent that he would not be around by the following summer.

For these reasons, we decided to move ahead with our plans in the spirit of healing and bringing everyone together. By the time we had our final itinerary, we had 8 people, ranging from 11 years old to 76, on board for the Mediterranean! Our highly unusual combination included my children (Megan and David), my mother (Hillary), my mother-in-law (Susan), my husband (Mike), my sister (Amy) and my niece (Kate- the daughter of my other sister, not Amy’s). The following travel log is a testament to family spirit, the power of love and the lessons we can learn from each other.