Beach photos

I just returned from a relaxing week at the beach. The smell of the salt air and the sound of the waves was so soothing. Swimming in the warm (if you call 70 warm at that time of year) water and body surfing the waves was invigorating. Walking the beach, feeling the sand between my toes and being lulled by the rhythm of the surf was the best way to unwind. The weather was cooperative and the whole family had a wonderful time. Now I am back home, catching up on chores but trying to remember it is summer vacation. Let me just post some of these pictures and take myself back to the beach. I hope you can go there too.

The thrill of the surf and salt water

Pretending I’m a kid again

Sunset over the salt marshes

Feel the power of the ocean!

 
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Back to Reality

For the last week, I have been out of touch. It is amazing how the lack of WiFi (or at least the unwillingness to pay extraordinary rates for it) can really make you appreciate the meaning of vacation. For a whole week, I was unable to check my email, post on my blog or check updates on the latest news. The only things I needed to think about were which water activity I was going to do next, or where I would choose to eat my next meal. I brought some reading material, but I never seemed to find long enough chunks of time to sit and enjoy them. Instead, the few times I was lounging occurred when my husband and I were enjoying our late afternoon cocktail on the beach. 

   We really slipped into Jamaican mode; never consulting our watches or setting a schedule for the day-so it was a rude awakening on Monday morning when we returned to the reality of our daily life. Getting everyone out of bed was tough enough; then I spent most of the day unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping and planning our schedule for the week. After sorting through all the mail (email and USPS), I finally had a chance to do some catching up online.

Apparently, the most newsworthy topics that happened while I was away were the devastating tornadoes in the midwest and some attacks in Pakistan. The buzz really seemed to be more focused on the secret service members who were caught in a prostitution scandal and some more political blunders by Mitt Romney, who seems to be claiming the nomination. The Trayvon Martin story is still stirring up controversy. I had hoped it would have been resolved by now, but I guess it is just too juicy of an issue for the media to ignore. I never heard anything about the summit that Obama attended at the time of the scandal. I guess it wasn’t as important as a political indiscretion.

I was shocked to see that gas has climbed to $4.09/gallon of regular and am not looking forward to filling my tank again. At least I can say I came back with a nice tan, carefully attained by lathering up with 50SPF lotion; and, even though our food and drinks were included, I did not gorge myself on them and returned 2 pounds lighter. It must have been all the water activites that saved me.          Maybe I could paddle back there, off into the sunset, away from this reality…  When is my next vacation? I better schedule it in.

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.

Kids in the Hot Tub

Ever since I booked a Mediterranean cruise this past summer, I have been receiving a newsletter from Cruise Critic.com.   I usually just read the headliner and then move on. In the last week though, something caught my eye. Apparently, with the increasing number of families taking cruises the lines have become blurred over the rules about kids using the hot tubs and who is responsible for enforcing them. As the author of the blog, Jodi Thompson, said this has become a “hot button topic”. Reading the responses to the article was quite dramatic. People strongly had an opinion on either side of the argument. So here is my view, having been on a Holland America cruise this summer with adolescent children, for what its worth.

During the first two days of our cruise, the Lido pool (aka the family pool) was closed for maintenance. The only option for the children (of whom there were plenty) was to swim in the Aft pool (labelled as adults only). Obviously, it would not have been fair to prohibit children from using the only available pool on the ship and I had no problem with that plan. However, once the pool was reopened the rule did not seem to be enforced. The first day I used the adult pool was our day at sea. It would have been very relaxing to lay on a lounge chair by the pool or soak in the hot tub, except for the fact that both were teeming with children- some wearing only a swim diaper!

Hygiene and health issues aside, don’t I have the right to enjoy some peace and quiet if I am at what is called the adult-only pool? My own children always went to the family pool. They were old enough to know polite manners and how to be safe. Besides, at 11, 13 and 15 they needed their own space as much as I needed mine. Even though the Lido pool was crowded and noisy, it looked like the kids were all having fun. There were plenty of families hanging out there…except for the few who chose to ignore the rules and allow their children to play in the adult pool.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been a preschool teacher for 10 years and I love little kids. But this was my summer vacation. I came here to get away and relax. I tried to ignore them for a while, but every time I wanted to swim, I got splashed in the face. And whenever I wanted to use the hot tub, there was a crowd of them horsing around in there. Finally I could not tolerate it anymore. I felt like a terrible curmudgeon, who everyone must think hates children, but I approached one of the parents. I politely pointed out that this was an adult pool for relaxing and that the other pool had reopened and was meant for families. She didn’t look too happy with me, but she went to check it out and within fifteen minutes moved her kids to the other pool.

Apparently, I was not the only one who was annoyed. A little while later, a staff member asked the kids in the hot tub to leave and by the next day, signs were up everywhere reminding people of the age restriction. Of course, there were some teenagers who ended up using the adult area, but as long as they were just talking and not fooling around no one bothered them. I couldn’t really blame them since their only other choice was to go in the noisy kids pool.

Maybe what these cruise lines need to do is rethink their on board entertainment areas in order to accommodate the growing numbers of young families as well as the retirees who tend to travel. There should be a reasonable way to provide an appropriate swimming area for different age groups and a willingness to enforce their rules. Parents need to be responsible as well. The last thing I want to do is be policing other people’s children when I am on vacation.

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- 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.

 

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