Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Funkweiler as Daddy

It's 10:30 p.m. and Sammie is feeding Bradley, who is having trouble going to sleep tonight, as he does every night.
Sammie puts the bottle in Brad's mouth, who sucks on it for a few seconds then starts crying. Sammie waits for a few minutes, then puts the bottle back in and the process repeats itself. I just overheard Sammie saying this to his young son (1 month old today!), "Brad, your life is so hard. Every time you cry, one of your parents picks you up and feeds you a bottle. You really ought to join a support group." pause "Or are you self conscious about your lack of eyebrows?"

And on the theme of support groups, the other day something quite mundane startled Brad. Sammie commented to him that only Phoebe would be scared of something like that and maybe the two of them ought to join a support group.

But back to the feeding. Sammie just commented to Brad that he starts to cry but then remembers there's a bottle in his mouth and stops. Now, when Brad begins to squak Sammie is saying, "BOTTLE!" to remind Brad not to cry. It's kind of working.

Sammie: It's 4th and 4 Brad and the Giants are going for it!
(Pass complete, 1st down Giants)
Brad: (passes gas)
Sammie: ...and Brad celebrates with a fart!

Watching Sammie as a Dad is pretty amusing.

ps - Brad "celebrates" quite often...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sammie, when are you going to post more pictures of Brad?

I get asked that question a lot these days. You know, I ran a half marathon yesterday through the Texas hill country -- nobody asks about that, though...

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful"

Sammie and Brad take a nap
(Brad would later wake me up by puking all over me...)

"What is that black thing you keep pointing at me?"

Brad really hated his first bath....

...the dissatisfaction of the experience lingered for some time.

Story Time

"Not now, Mommy, the game is on"

From an economic perspective, Brad considers
his fingers as substitute goods for binkies.

Brad likes his new blanket from Aunt Sara

Brad and his Great-Grandmother, Phyllis Duncan

For those who wonder, we have come up with a few nicknames for Brad. We started with B-Rad and that is what we usually call him. It led to B-Radley which then led to Boo Radley -- Melba came up with that, but she won't let me use it -- even though Boo ended up being a good guy. (Maybe some day Melba will give me credit for remembering the storyline of To Kill A Mockingbird.)

Anyways, we also call Brad, "Subtle". This used to be our nickname for Phoebe who is never subtle about wanting anything. Brad is even less subtle....

My latest nickname for him is the Formula-Bibber. This comes from how many bottles he went through yesterday during the SEC and Big 12 Championships games -- he had formula all over himself as he drank, burped loudly while drinking the bottles, would break out into crying fits at sporadic times for no apparent reason, then his eyes would roll back and he would fall asleep for a few minutes only to wake up screaming for more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My mother-in-law is much better at blogging than I am. She came over on Monday to meet Brad, take pictures, and bring cool presents! She posted some adorable pictures on her blog. Enjoy!
(ps - Sammie took the "late night" shift with Brad and didn't get to sleep until 2 a.m. I took over at 4 for a feeding and he was perfect for me. :) He's his Mama's boy!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bradley Samuel

On November 13, 2009 Bradley Samuel Markham was born to a young mother who loved him very much but knew that she couldn’t give him the best life he could have. So she selected Sammie and me to raise him. On November 15, amidst much emotion, she placed him into our arms.
And that makes us… (fill in the blank) parents, sleep-deprived, very happy, learning to be comfortable with baby poop, covered in baby spit up, elated, “stuck” in Utah at my parent’s house until we have legal permission to take him back to Texas, extremely grateful, more familiar with wee hours of the morning than we ever wanted to be, the proud owners of numerous boxes of diapers and cans of baby formula, still trying to believe it finally happened, trying to give Phoebe (our dog) plenty of attention so she doesn’t become too jealous, madly in love with our little son, all of the above. Sammie’s ecstatic that he’ll be able to watch the Super Bowl this year with his son. I made the rule that all stinky diapers that happen while watching football are Sammie’s to change.
Thanks for all the prayers and good vibes sent our way!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two things of note...

First, Melba just about cried yesterday watching football. It was one of those, "My heart has swelled with such deep emotion that I can't help but cry" cries. Was it the BYU clobbering of Tulane? No. Was it the intensity of USC vs. OSU? No. Well, what was it? Beaver Stadium -- just the sight of it put her in complete and utter nostalgia and created a deep longing for days when Beaver Stadium was a part of her daily routine. So proud :)

Second, help Travis out -- he has made an animated short and entered it into a contest. Go here and vote for it:

Then create an account and rate it really high and leave a good comment.

Oh, and unpacking is going slowly but surely. We're still not quite at a point to take pictures, but we should be soon. For now, you'll have to enjoy the front of the house.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Non-Blog

We're back! It's been two months since our last post. Rumors abound through cyberspace of why we have not blogged in so long. We'd like to dispel a few of them now.

1. No. Sammie did not accept the job with the Amish, thereby limiting our internet access.
2. No. Melissa did not burn her eyeballs out playing crossword puzzles and solitaire on the computer and have to give up computing.
3. No. Texas does NOT, in fact, have laws restricting communication with those on the outside. (Although we will neither confirm nor deny that similar laws are currently in front of the state legislature.)

4. Yes. We left our home in PA on June 8 and since then have been in 16 different states and have had our mail forwarded to 3 different addresses.

Here's a fun fact. We have seen every family member in both the Boyers and the Markhams except for the Markhams who live in Texas. So much for Sammie's argument that, "We'll be close to family if we live in Texas, Melba!" (We're excited to see all Texas Markhams over Labor Day weekend!)

We're finally in our beautiful home in Austin, TX with a regular paycheck, a fenced-in backyard for Phoebe, a lawn that took Sammie 3 hours to mow this morning (not because of the size of the yard, but because of the length of the grass!), and a kitchen large enough for all of Melba's cooking toys. (In fact, there's room to buy more!)

Ahem. We need visitors! If you like 100 degree weather, by all means head down now. But hurry because rumor has it that it may cool off by Hallowe'en. If you like mild winters, head down in a few months. We have a guest bedroom ready for y'all!

Stay tuned for pictures of the new digs...

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I have an update, a trip report, a short funny story about Sammie, and a longer funny story about church. If you're game for all that, keep reading!

We no longer live in Pennsylvania. :( Getting packed up and moved out was pretty crazy (even with a packing and moving company) but we made it! We had a nice drive across the country with a stop in DC to stay at Corinne's and see some friends. We made it to the boat launch dock at Bullfrog Marina in Lake Powell by Thurs afternoon. Dad, Joe and Matt picked us up in the speed boat and drove us out to the house boat, where we found the Kaelberers minus Lucy, Mom, and some Cannon crew: Chad, Connie, Heber and Heber's girlfriend (soon to be a Cannon!). We were only there overnight, but it was a blast! We waterskiied, had a campfire, slept under the stars, and tubed. That's about all you need to do!

We spent a fun week in SLC with family and helping my sister Liza and husband Ben move into their new house. We are now in Austin and just made an offer on a house! Once the offer is accepted (hopefully!) we'll post pictures and give more information.

Funny story about Sammie. Last December, I posted a story about Sammie "losing" the Garmin (gps) and finding it in his backpack after we'd already replaced it. This morning, we searched all over the hotel room and rental car for the Garmin, which we hadn't seen since getting in town on Monday night. We couldn't find it and wondered if the cleaning staff had snatched it. We stopped back at the hotel at lunch and I looked for it again. I found it, of course, in Sammie's backpack. Detecting a pattern here...

Our first Sunday in Utah, we went to church with Sammie's parents. They have a great ward and we really enjoyed it! We laughed all the way home, though, about our experiences in Elders Quorum and Relief Society. The sister teaching in RS stood up and confessed that this was her first lesson and she was so nervous, she had over-prepared. Meanwhile, in EQ, the person conducting announced that the teacher wasn't there and they thought he might be sleeping in after working a night shift. In RS, the teacher brought out a beautifully wrapped gift (since the lesson was on spiritual gifts) that she opened and from which she drew out visual aids to place on the board and guide the discussion. In EQ, the hastily-appointed discussion leader scrambled to find enough books for everyone so they could read the lesson together. He asked for lots of comments, especially from the visitors. The sisters in RS made insightful comments, remarking that after reading the lesson earlier in the week, they had reflected on certain points and learned valuable lessons. In EQ, the discussion leader would pause the reading, ask for comments, then let an awkward silence pervade the room. The RS teacher did, indeed, overprepare and referred the sisters to other articles and resources online where they could further research the topic. She ended the lesson by passing around a basket with a gift for each sister--homemade cake balls, individually wrapped.

After Sammie and I compared notes, I commented that, once again, I was SO glad that I was born a girl!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 1 Home

Monday morning we got to the airport early, got checked in, and were standing in line for security when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Betty and Janet! Two of the four sisters we enjoyed so much on the boat. They had send the other two off earlier that morning and were waiting to their flight to Philadelphia and then on to San Diego. We were excited to meet up with them because we had never said goodbye and didn’t have their contact information. Betty had a few Euros left, so she bought us some drinks and we chatted with them until it was time to board. I’m so glad we met them!

The rest of Monday was one. long. boring. sweaty. crowded. cramped. airplane ride.

Did I mention long?

We had the two middle seats (you get what you pay for…) and, fortunately, the guys on either side of us were nice about letting us out, but we were still cramped. I watched “He’s Just Not That into You” and loved it! In fact, it made me cry. Sammie woke up just in time to see me crying and make the requisite number of jokes about my crying over a dumb chick flick. I also watched “Hairspray,” which I’ve seen before, but absolutely love! John Travolta is the most awesomest person in the whole world! Sammie’s movie player didn’t work so we switched seats and he watched movies while I read, drooled on his shoulder, played solitaire, and complained about how long the airplane ride was (10 hours).

My cousin Cate Todd picked us up at Dulles and drove us to her house, where we had left our car. It was so fun to see her and her wonderful kids again. They’ve been here ever since I moved to the east. In fact, I lived with them for a couple of weeks when I first got to Harrisburg and waited for my apartment to be available. I lived about twenty minutes from them, was in the same ward, and spent lots of time at their house. They are such a great family! I’ll really really miss them.

We were both anxious to get back home, even though it was late, so we loaded up on munchies and caffeine and drove back to PA. We made it home by 1 a.m. (which felt like 7 a.m.) and fell into bed.

What a great adventure!!!

May 29 - 31 Rome

(note: I was in charge of writing this post and Sammie's in charge of pictures. However, the packers are here, as I type, and we've been crazy trying to finish things up here in State College. As soon as Sammie calms down long enough to sit in front of a computer, I'll add pictures to this post...mlm)

Friday, we got off the boat and went straight to the hotel (Marriott again) to sleep. Sammie was as sick as I had been in Naples, so a long nap did him a lot of good. I took a shorter nap and made a list of all the stuff I wanted to see in Rome. I’ve been to Rome twice and have mainly seen the touristy stuff—Coliseum, St. Peter’s, etc. The last time I was in Rome was Thanksgiving of ’03. In spring semester of ’04, I took a Baroque art class with Troy Thomas, my thesis advisor and an awesome art historian. He lived in Rome for a while and so knew where all of the good art was stashed. I sat through the entire class kicking myself that I hadn’t known all this stuff when I was there and promising myself I would go see it all next time I went to Rome. Well, I didn’t get to all of it, but I got to a lot of it!

We left the hotel in the late afternoon and headed first for the Coliseum. Unfortunately, I got us lost, so we had a hard time getting there. Along the way, we saw the Capitoline Museum that had some of the Caravaggios I wanted to see. We paid 9 Euro each to go in and looked around for about 45 minutes at some ancient Greek statues and pottery. It was very interesting, but I was anxious to see the Carvaggios and get on to the Coliseum and other things we had planned. We were having trouble figuring out where to find them, asked a couple of different people, and walked all over the entire museum. Finally, the third person we asked told us that the exhibit was closed. (Arrrrgggghhhhh!) This is something we discovered about Italy: museums are not very well marked and it’s hard to get information such as directions. Oh well.

Our route to the Coliseum went past the Forum, so we gazed at the splendor that was Rome while walking. Sammie wanted to touch the Coliseum and take some pictures. I have to admit I was still pouting that I didn’t get to see the Caravaggios and that we had wasted so much time and money. Poor little American tourist… :) We found a little outdoor café that had excellent lasagna and pizza, then made our way back to the hotel.

Saturday was museum day! Can I just say how lucky I am to have a husband who will let me drag him around to art museums in Rome all day? He’s such a good sport! (We had a discussion in the middle of the day of how my dragging him to art museums and stuff like that compares to his hauling me off to soccer or football games. I think we give each other a nice balance.) We started with the Vatican, along with the rest of Rome’s tourist population. The Vatican Museums are amazing! They started out in “paganism” with a lot of classical sculpture. We saw the Lacoon and the Apollo Belvedere (to drop a couple of names) and many other beautiful Greek-inspired Roman works. We then transitioned into Christian art. A ceiling in one of the Raphaelite rooms (though I don’t think it was painted by Raphael…) depicted the transition from Classical subjects to Christian subjects.

I loved the Raphaelite rooms, and especially The School of Athens. I’ve studied this painting many times, and even taught it. (Warning: Boring Art History Paragraph) It’s the epitome of Renaissance painting with strong Classical influence: Plato and Aristotle stand in the middle, surrounded by celebrated Greek and Humanist philosophers, artists, and thinkers. The painting is a literal study in mathematical proportions and linear perspectives, with all lines in the painting converging on the two figures in the middle. I had always seen it as a beautiful, well-crafted representation of humanity, reason, and logic. I never realized that it had a counterpart painting, hanging in the same room on the opposite wall, named Disputation of the Holy Sacrament. It shows God, Angels, and Saints above, looking down on Religious, Philosophical, and Intellectual figures below, debating the Sacrament. All lines in the painting point to the actual Sacrament on the altar at the center of the painting. The message is that the power and wisdom of God comes to men on earth through the Holy Sacrament. It complements The School of Athens by celebrating the power of God while the other celebrates the accomplishments of Men. They are both very Humanist ideas, but with a different focus. Anyway, I just loved seeing the School of Athens in that context and realizing it was only half of the story Raphael was trying to tell.

I apologize for this, but I need to put in one more boring art history paragraph. Skip to the end if you need to. I’ll never know… I also loved being in the Sistine Chapel (even though it was so crowded in there, I almost didn’t want to go in). The audioguide that we had gave a cool perspective on Michelangelo. They talked about him not just as an artist, but as a Theologian. Everyone who’s seen a Michelangelo painting or sculpture recognizes his gift for portraying the human body. Irving Stone describes Michelangelo sneaking into the morgue at night to dissect cadavers and study their anatomy so he could better represent it in art. I had always just thought it was a Renaissance, humanist thing—the Greeks loved to celebrate the ideal human form, and so, then, did the Renaissance artists. But the audioguide suggested that Michelangelo, in portraying the unclothed human body so many times in the Sistine Chapel, was celebrating the body as the vessel by which humans can become like God, and can return to Him. This is a very basic concept. As Mormons, we talk about mortality, or the time spent in our mortal bodies, as the time to prepare to meet God. We talk about overcoming the things of the flesh or the natural man and succumbing to the things of the Spirit. We acknowledge our bodies as imperfect, although still sacred, and look forward to receiving perfected, glorified bodies in the Resurrection. (By the way, does that mean that I can eat chocolate all I want and have a perfect body? Mormon Doctrine never really addresses that issue…) In early and Medieval Christianity, this idea led to practices such as asceticism and even more extreme practices such as self-mortification or self-flagellation. Part of Renaissance Humanism was celebrating the human body again in all of its beauty and magnificence. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo took that idea and added to it the idea that it is through our bodies that we come close to God. I never thought Michelangelo was that profound. It was wonderful to have that insight about him.

Okay. I promise to step out of Humanities Teacher mode. (For a little while at least. I may need to wax laborious about Caravaggio later on.) We were in the Vatican Museums for a long time – 11:00 to about 3:00. Our brains and feet were sore when we came out, but it was a great experience! Our next stop was the Galleria Borghese. We had to reserve tickets beforehand and needed to be there by 4:30 to pick up the tickets for a 5:00 entrance. (They limit the number of visitors into the Gallery.) We stopped at a Creperie for one ham and cheese crepe each and one nutella crepe to share. Yum! We then proceeded to have the most frustrating experience of the trip – finding the Borghese gallery! It took us two maps, lots of asking people on the street, too few street signs, and over an hour, but we finally got there—hot, sweaty, and really annoyed. But we got there. The Borghese gallery is awesome! I really love two of their policies: limited number of visitors and no cameras. It was still crowded, but not as bad as the Vatican Museums. And you didn’t have to stop every two feet to wait for a tourist to take a picture of another tourist striking a cheesy pose in front of a piece of art.

In the Borghese, we first entered a room with SIX Caravaggios! Sammie said he hadn’t understood why I was so disappointed the day before when we couldn’t see the Caravaggios in the other museum, but now he understood. They were wonderful! I love Caravaggio because he depicts Biblical scenes and people as real. Mary has dirt on her feet. Matthew, Peter, and Paul look like old men. They’re not idealized, too-good-to-be-true figures that no one can relate to, but real people. (Which is why his art offended so many of the people he painted for…) We also saw 5-6 Berninis. We both loved those, too. Sammie was especially captivated by David. We both loved his facial expression of pure determination and effort. We also loved the Rape of Persephone and the way Pluto’s hands press into her flesh. I kept having to remind myself that we were looking at marble, not real human flesh.

Enough about Art History. After coming out of the gallery, we found a charming little restaurant/café and had focaccia, pasta, and entrees. Halfway through the meal, as our stomachs were rapidly filling up, we commented to each other that we had no idea how Italians stay so thin. Unfortunately, after that huge meal, we had to run to catch our shuttle back to the hotel. We were exhausted! We had left the hotel 11 hours earlier and had been on our feet for all but about 2 hours of that entire time. We slept soooo well that night!

In fact, we slept so well that we both forgot to set the alarm and woke up late on Sunday. We rushed through breakfast, though, and ran, again, to catch the city bus. It was an interesting ride. We didn’t realize that our hotel was so close to a large gypsy population. They started getting on the bus and we realized what a good idea it was to not ride that bus late at night. A mother got on with her three adorable children. Her little girl, about 3, was adorable with huge brown eyes and brown curly hair. She waved at us and smiled for almost the entire ride. It took us an hour and a half including a bus ride, two subway rides, and a fast walk up a steep hill, but we made it to church in time for Sacrament Meeting. The meeting was wonderful. The topic was conversion. A new convert told her conversion story and two other members talked about conversion in general. I was surprised at how much I was able to follow. Sammie really enjoyed being in an Italian Sacrament Meeting again. I was impressed by the strength of the ward. I also noticed how noisy the meeting was. Oh well.

After the meeting, I had a nice surprise! A friend of mine from an old singles ward (the Madison Ward) was there with his wife and two kids! Ricardo Scardina moved into the Madison ward for my last year there, quickly fell in love with his writing teacher at LDS Business College (Jana) and married her in February. I was always really impressed with Ricardo and his roommates and thought they were great guys. It was so random and fun to run into Ricardo and Jana at church in Italy! We got to catch up on our lives in general and on Madison Ward gossip. We also met two other girls, EJ and Sadie, who were backpacking in the British Isles and Italy. We all set out for the metro station together. We said goodbye to Ricardo and Jana at their stop on the way to the Vatican and continued to the Pantheon with EJ and Sadie. We walked around with them for a couple of hours and wandered by the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. After buying them some gelato, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the Piazza Navona to gawk at Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain and Piazza del Popolo to find some more Caravaggios. There are three churches in that area that have Caravaggio paintings. They were all wonderful! I especially loved the Martyrdom of St. Peter. Peter’s face is so precious, and so real. He’s an old man, clearly nervous about being crucified. He doesn’t have an unreal, otherworldly, longsuffering, saintly expression, but looks like he’d really rather not go through with this. (But of course he will.) I thought about our latter day prophets and how I would feel if President Monson or President Hinckley were martyred. I felt a great love for Peter and for our modern day prophets.

In the Piazza del Popolo, we found a café with excellent lasagna and pizza. Sammie thought it was the best food we’d had all trip. We sat for a while soaking in the atmosphere. The piazza was crowded with rowdy Italian teenagers (Sammie’s nickname for them is Grummets), some locals, and lots of tourists. A guitarist had set up shop on the square and was wailing on his guitar. We enjoyed listening to him, except Sammie said his guitar wasn’t “eq”ed correctly, and we wished Sammie had his bass and could join in. Eventually, some young girls started talking to him and, well, that was the end of the music. Bosnian and other Eastern European refugees made the rounds of the square, selling roses to tourists. Sammie told me how they are sponsored by “the club” (he said it was dangerous to use the word “Mafia” in public) who extorted large sums of money from them just to let them stay in the country and live in a small apartment with 10-15 other refugees. We drooled as two Ferraris drove by. After soaking up the atmosphere for a while, we made our way to the metro stop and the hotel. As we drove out of town, the bus again filled with gypsies. They all got off at the same stop, next to a large field, and Sammie saw a path leading into the trees that most of them headed down. A few feet later, we saw some gypsy women and children scavenging through a garbage dumpster. Again, we were glad we weren’t on the bus late at night. (Sammie had been feeling bad that we paid a lot extra to use the hotel’s shuttle bus rather than the local bus, until we actually rode the local bus. Then we felt the extra money was worth it.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

5.28.09 Napoli

Melba is not feeling well at all – she was up for a good part of the night with a terrible cough. If there was a good place to get sick I think Napoli is it – there isn’t a whole lot that we want to see here. We slept in until about 9ish. We were woken up by emergency lighting and a broadcast by the ship captain that the engine powering the ship had failed so the ship had no power. I can’t remember the cause, but they started a different engine and restored power to the ship within about 15 minutes. We went to breakfast around 10 and thought that once Melba had something to eat she would feel better. Well, breakfast didn’t help much.

We came back to the room and Melba slept. I looked over the Lonely Planet guide and found some spots right next to where we were docked that I thought would be fun to go see. Melba slept until around 1 and I convinced her to get ready and go. We left the boat around 1:45 and saw the 4 sisters as we left. They told us about a train that would take us to the top of a nearby mountain where we would could see Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The train was pretty close to the ship as well so we decided to go there instead of what I had initially planned (I wanted to see a cathedral, opera house and piazza).

Getting to the last train stop on the mountain was easy but I had to ask directions to get to the top of the mountain. There was an old castle there called St. Elmo’s Castle. We bought tickets to go inside and went up the elevator. Inside, we met a really nice Italian family from Napoli who are currently living in Germany, but have come back here for a vacation. I talked to the Dad for a while – he asked how I spoke Italian so well and when I said I was a missionary he immediately knew I was Mormon. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Funny how we were able to figure that out. He spoke English fairly well, albeit broken, and we talked for a little while longer – they headed back, but we stayed to look around some more.

The view from the castle was amazing. At least as good as the one from Tuscany. It was a bit foggy and rain clouds were coming in, but we could still see for miles. Mount Vesuvius is huge and in the distance we could barely see the Isle of Capri. We walked around the castle some more and then headed back. We ended up spending about 3 hours in Napoli and it was really nice. The Lonely planet guide said that crime was really high and to be very careful – but I only noticed friendly Italians. We didn’t have any problems.

I might be coming down with whatever Melba has. My throat is getting really sore. Melba seems to be getting worse. She was really light-headed walking back to the ship and has gone to bed. No dinner for her. We might order room service (it’s free on the ship) but I’m going to wait a little while longer to see if she feels well enough to go to the dining room.

Tonight we need to pack our bags and leave them outside our door for the crew to take. We will get on the bus tomorrow morning at 8:15am and it will take us to the airport. From there, we will get on the Marriott shuttle to the hotel. What we do tomorrow depends on how we feel. I think we’re going to try to do the rest of Vatican City that we didn’t get to our first day in Rome. We’ll see. We’re actually staying in Rome for the weekend to save money – plane tickets to Dulles any day on Fri-Sun were at least $1,000 per person compared to what it would cost to fly home on Monday. So it’s not like we’re spending a bunch of money to be in Rome and may not be able to do anything.

We just got back from dinner – we went to the cafeteria style dinner room as opposed to the main dining room. Same food, mostly, but a much more casual environment. They had lamb and it was delicious. I went back for seconds and thirds. We enjoyed eating dinner while cruising along the coast of Italy and seeing the small islands alongside the ship. Now we’re back in our room and ready to start packing. This will be the last post until we get back into Pennsylvania. I’ll post more pictures then – for now, I don’t have enough internet minutes left to upload them (it takes a long time).

It’s been a fantastic cruise – except for getting sick. I’m now as sick as Melba was two days ago and I hope I still get to enjoy Rome. Ciao-

From Melba: I’m feeling a lot better now after a good nap and dinner. At dinner, we were talking about our favorite ports of call and realized we loved all of them. Some highlights from each port: climbing to the top of the Duomo in Florence, then eating a bona fide Italian lunch; running off the train to see the leaning tower in Pisa, then making it back before the next train left in an hour; beautiful, scenic, affluent, snobby, my-yacht-is-bigger-than-your-yacht Monaco; Picasso, Gaudi and the Medieval fair in Barcelona; going to church, meeting Bill, and eating gelato in Palma de Mallorca; the mosaics, Roman baths, and the view in Tunisia; the mosaics in Cappella Palatina in Sicily; and the view from the top of the castle in Napoli. Around the boat, our favorites are the four sisters (Susan, Linda and identical twins Betty and Janet), Whinny and Gaston, other people we’ve met at dinner and around the ship, the towel creations every night, the shows – especially the magic/acrobatic show Mysteriaque, the food!, line dance classes, butter mints and popcorn after dinner every night, leaning over the railing on the promenade deck to look at the water. But MOST of all…I’ll never ever forget the belly flop contest!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

5.27.09 Palermo

I’m currently sitting in the Sports bar on the ship frustrated because we can’t get ESPN – that is where the Champions League Final match is being broadcast. We can get ESPN2 – but that’s just showing the French Open. I’m so frustrated right now. In fact there are seven other people in the bar just as upset as I am. I may run back to the room just to see if we can get ESPN there – I don’t think we do, though. The bartender just called the Casino Manager who called the Broadcast Tech who is trying to get ESPN. I’m crossing my fingers that they can pull this one off. At the start of the trip Melba wondered why I wasn’t going to catch a train to Rome from Palermo and go watch the game live. Well, the answer is that I have no idea how to find the stadium and I doubt I could get tickets – even if I could, I’m sure they would be EXTREMELY expensive. Rome is probably filled with people right now just partying outside of the stadium – even there were any tickets available, they would be gone in a heartbeat.

Today we decided to be lazy. We’re both pretty worn out and we looked at the Lonely Planet guide last night and there wasn’t anything that really appealed to us. It did say that the premier tourist attraction in Palermo was the Cappella Palatina which is in the center of the city. There were also some museums so we decided to head there.

The port is about a mile from the city center so we were able to head out on foot. Right from the get-go we were approached by people wanting to sell us cab rides. Once we got past them we were approached by people wanting to give us horse and carriage rides. It turned out that the horse and carriage drivers were all over town and they approached us every time we passed one. The city was really dirty and run down – I was actually surprised a bit by this because I thought it would have been better kept.

The main square in town is really amazing – the corner of each building is decorated with lots of statues of religious figures – what you expect in Italy. I commented that we don’t have anything like that in the States and Melba commented that even if we did the ACLU would demand it be removed immediately.

One corner of Quattro Canti – the city center of Palermo

We continued on a bit further and visited the main cathedral in Palermo. Nothing too special – but it was big and nice. It was also cool inside. The humidity is awful here and it was really hot.

Well, it’s official – I won’t be watching the Champions League Final because this stinking ship with all of its technology can’t get a live broadcast of ESPN. I am so upset/mad right now. We saw apartment buildings in Tunisia that were falling apart and our tour guide pointed out that they still have satellite dishes just to watch soccer – people would rather watch soccer than have four walls underneath their roof. These people are watching the game and I am not. This is so frustrating… Barcelona is up 1-0 in the 20th minute. I wish I could be watching. Oh, well.

OK, I’m done venting. Back to what we did today. We chilled in the cathedral (literally) for a while in the cathedral and then headed for the Cappella Palatina. We stopped to look at the Lonely Planet guide map and I noticed that the Cappella closes for lunch from 12-2. We had a late lunch and we weren’t ready to eat yet so we looked at few other places nearby that were open – just to kill time. We headed back to the Cathedral to look at their treasury and crypt. The treasury had some really beautiful pieces that dated back to the 16th and 17th century. Lots of jewels in the shape of crosses, gold and silver goblets, and clothing worn by the diocese from that time. It was weird to look at these things and think that they were made before the Declaration of Independence was written.

The crypt was kinda cool, but kinda weird. There were about a dozen or so stone caskets down there that mostly dated back to the 15th and 16th centuries. One of them was for a priest named Giovanni Paterno. Giovanni is technically ‘John’, not ‘Joe’ – but it is still close enough to be cool. (Joe is Giuseppe in Italian, btw).

Giovanni Paterno -- Died in 1511

We headed out of the cathedral and looked for lunch. I had asked the woman at the ticket counter where a good place would be – we looked but couldn’t find it. So we went into a bread shop and had some pizza-sandwiches. (Update: Barcelona 1-0 at halftime) They were pretty good, but not great. The woman who worked there was Southern Italian to the bone – she spoke really loudly and really fast everything with her was subito, subito, SUBITO! (Subito means ‘quickly’.) At 2pm we started walking towards the Cappella.

The Cappella was much harder to find than we thought it would be and when we got there the line was long. The problem was that it seemed each person was taking 2-3 minutes to buy tickets. After about 10 minutes of waiting Melba asked if we really wanted to see this. Well, we got in and were blown away. Gold mosaics throughout the entire ceiling – most of them went chronologically through the Old Testament. We were in the room – and it wasn’t very big – for 45 minutes or more. It was just simply amazing.

Inside the Cappella Palatina -- everything here is a mosaic

Funny story – we left the Cappella and sat on a bench to rest our feet. Two teenagers sat next to us and started taking pictures of each other making goofy faces. Their Dad came out and grabbed a video camera from one of them – it was obvious that the Dad was mad at his kids. A few minutes later we saw a tour guide come out of the cathedral and explain some things to a woman – I wondered why one person would hire a tour guide. Melba figured out that this woman was the mom. As best we could tell, it looked like this family decided to do a trip to Italy and the two teenage sons were bored out of their minds and goofing off, the Dad was doing his best to keep his sons in line and the Mom was enjoying the tour guide. Funny.

The Cappella made the day worthwhile – we left there and began the walk back to the ship. It was hot, so we were compelled to buy some more gelato. I will definitely miss the many gelaterias we see all over Italy. As we crossed a busy street and almost got hit by a car that was running a red light – I reminded Melba of something our Tunisian tour guide said yesterday, “In America the stop lights are compulsory, in Greece and Italy they are suggestions and in Tunisia they are decoration.”

It took a bit longer to get back to the ship than we thought it would, but it was still a nice walk. Palermo is really dirty and we could tell that people seem to go to the bathroom wherever they please – and the odor really comes out in the heat. The day turned out to be just what we wanted, though – nice and relaxing.

We went to a disembarkation meeting today. Kinda weird to think that our cruise will be over on Friday. Nothing that I didn’t expect at the meeting – getting back to Rome on Friday should be a cinch. Tonight was a formal night so we headed back to our room and got ready for dinner. Last night, Melba ran into Winnie and Gaston (the couple we met at the airport from Arizona) and agreed to meet up with them tonight for dinner. We had a wonderful time talking to them – they are fun people.

Melba decided to leave a tip this morning for the room stewards who have taken really good care of us since the start of the cruise. We knew that they wouldn’t take cash, so we left them a pack of gum, some candy, and a note to say thanks for all of the hard work and towel animals. We got back to the room and there was a towel orangutan on the bed. How fitting.

The Towel Orangutan

Melba has been sick since yesterday. She woke up yesterday with a sore throat and had a hard time talking. She got some medicine that seemed to help – tonight, though, she couldn’t find it. Possible that she ran out – but she got a 4-day supply of the other types they gave her. Anyways, she bought some Dristan from the store on the ship, but it didn’t help her stuffed up nose. We went back to the room after dinner and Melba tried to feel better while I went down to the Sports Bar to try to watch soccer (don’t worry, I won’t go off on another rant about how extremely upset I am that a state-of-the-art cruise ship with all of its super-duper advanced equipment can get a broadcast of ESPN2, but not ESPN).

I have since come back up into the room to write this blog/journal. Melba is really stuffed up and can’t talk well. I’m making fun of her by talking like I’m clogged up – I’m sure that if she wasn’t so sick right now she’d be really mad at me. I left to go down to the store and buy her some Benadryl – maybe its allergies. Walking down the hall I saw a couple heading back to their room. We said the typical “Hi, how ya’ doing” and for no real reason (other than it doesn’t hurt to ask) I told them that my wife was all stuffed up and wondered if that had some Sudafed. Well, they both lit up and asked if I wanted Sudafed, Claritin or something else. I have no idea if the store is even open right now so I’m glad I ran into them. They gave her some Sudafed and a Sudafed PE – so she ought to make it through the night.

Time to get some pictures ready to upload to the blog. Napoli tomorrow and then Friday comes and we’re off the ship. We’ll spend the weekend in Rome and fly back to Dulles on Monday.

Oh, and Barcelona won 2-0. I'm happy they won (because I don't like Man U) but I'm still upset that I missed the final.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5.26.09 Tunisia

This morning the boat pulled into La Goulette, Tunisia. This would be the only stop that I felt somewhat uncomfortable about. Melba and I had such a bad time in Egypt two years ago and I wondered what it would be like in a different part of North Africa. Well – it was nothing short of fantastic. The vendors were a little bit pushy (and I mean just a little bit), but other than that we had an excellent time. We chose to not explore this city on our own – rather, we paid to be part of an excursion with a tour bus and guide. It was money well spent. This particular tour was 8 hours long and it went to all of the spots that Melba’s Lonely Planet Guide said we should see. While we were driving around I had the chance to look into a couple of public buses, and, well, let’s just say that it confirmed to us that this was not a city we would want to see on our own.

Tunisia is the only country on our stop where we have to go through customs while getting off the boat – that means we have to carry our passports with us. I was nervous knowing that if we got robbed it would mean our passports are gone. But we felt safe the whole time and didn’t have to worry about that.

There is all sorts of history in Tunisia – I had no idea. Most history dates back over 3,000 years to the Phoenicians. (Yes, the name made us miss our dog…) While this country is mostly Muslim and therefore has a predominately ‘Middle-Eastern’ look to it, Tunisia certainly has an identity of its own. It is a desert – but has lots of cactus and flowers everywhere.

Our first stop was in the city of Carthage. Our tour guide said that the houses in Carthage (very big and beautiful) are for the wealthiest people in Tunisia – his words were, “This is the Beverly Hills of Tunisia.” We went to visit some Roman ruins that were across the street from this neighborhood. Our guide explained that the ruins spread to the areas underneath the huge houses but they couldn’t be excavated because it would be too hard to convince all of the people living there to move. Funny how politics work. I was taking lots of pictures – the tour guide started referring to me as ‘The Paparazzi’ because I was constantly snapping my camera.

We drove 30 minutes through the city and went to El Bardo Museum – it used to be a palace and now houses the largest collection of mosaics in the world. I was amazed at the artwork here – it was absolutely beautiful. Some of the pieces used tile so small I could’ve fit about 10-15 pieces on my thumbnail. From a distance, they looked like paintings because of the detail.

This is Melba now. Sammie doesn’t feel well so he’s off to bed…
We loved the mosaics at the El Bardo Museum. Apparently, Tunisia was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. And since they supplied so much bread, olives, figs and other food to Rome, they got very rich. So, they decorated their houses with mosaics to show off how rich they were. Most of the mosaics we saw were pre-Christian, so they depicted a lot of the gods and goddesses—especially Neptune because he’s the god of the sea and they were very dependent on ocean trade.

After the museum, we went to some shops in the old city. It reminded me almost exactly of Jerusalem’s old city, except a bit more mellow. The line here is “Come in please, just for a look.” Whereas in Jerusalem, the line was, “Special price for you.” But we still heard lots of “Hello, please” and other familiar phrases. In particular, I noticed the smell – spices, leather, some b.o. It brings back a lot of memories.

(Warning! Boring history paragraph) Our tour guide took us to a rooftop to look out over the old part of the city. He pointed out four different types of mosques. The first was an Arab mosque and the second was Turkish. Then he pointed out a Moorish mosque and a Berber. It took me a while to get all of these groups straight in my head, but as far as I understand, this is how it goes… Berbers are the native people here, the Africans. They also inhabit Algeria and Morocco. (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia make up North Africa). Sometime before the Romans, the Phoenicians from Lebanon came over and established Carthage. The Romans followed some centuries later, during the time of Julius Caesar, and destroyed the old Carthage then built a new one. Roman culture pretty much hung on until the Arabs swept through in the rapid expansion of the Muslim Empire. Their ultimate goal was to get to Spain, but they set up shop in Northern Africa along the way. They also gathered locals and took them along to Spain—Berbers, Carthaginians/Romans, etc. When the Muslims were expelled from Spain, the descendents of those natives came back to Tunisia, but were called Moors because they weren’t Arab nor Spanish, but also not really Tunisian either. Finally, the Ottoman Turks came through and ruled until the 19th century when the French came in and took over. The poor Tunisians finally gained independence in 1956 and, ever since, Tunisia has been a fairly stable Arab-Muslim country with a relatively good economy, fairly low terrorism, and high religious tolerance. Phew! Sorry about all that. I actually wanted to write it down so I would remember it.

After coming down from the rooftop, we spent some time in a rug shop. The rugs were breathtaking! Many of them resembled the beautiful rugs we’ve seen in Israel and Egypt. But the rugs made by the Berbers were quite different. They almost looked South American or Native American. We weren’t really in a position to buy a rug—not only do we not really have an income right now, but we don’t know what our home in Austin will look like or what kind of rug we would need—so we didn’t buy, but I look forward to the day when we have a Tunisian rug in our home!

Lunch took place at a buffet filled with delicious Mediterranean-type food. I was sitting next to two women—one an artist who taught art in high school for about 30 years and is now a docent at an art museum, and the other a retired journalist who is now writing a book. We had lots to talk about! We’ve really had fun meeting different people from the cruise. Most people are older—enjoying their retirement. Many here are celebrating an event—a wedding anniversary, or a graduation. Another family on our tour bus today is celebrating the father retiring from the Marines. He’s here with his wife, their 4-year-old daughter, and both sets of grandparents. It’s fun to hear about different people’s situations and what brings them to Noordam. (The name of our ship.)

After lunch we went to a quiet hillside village where all of the houses are painted white with blue shutters. It overlooks the Mediterranean and has a constant cool breeze to mitigate the hot African temperatures. We walked up a busy street, past lots of shopkeepers, and were rewarded at the top of the hill with beautiful views of the Med.

We had two quick stops on the way back to the ship, to see some more Roman ruins, and then stumbled on to the boat exhausted but happy. We’re both pretty tired tonight. Sammie’s sick to his stomach and I’ve picked up a nice cold. I think we’re also both feeling the anxiety again of the move ahead of us. We had hoped to hear news during our cruise that our house has sold, but it hasn’t. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s been to look at it since we’ve been gone. They’ll probably all want to come when we’re home, trying to pack up and move. Sigh. That’s how it goes. We’re going to take it easy the next two days. The last two ports are Sicily and Naples. We plan to have easy days and save up our energy for Rome! Oh yeah, and the move…

So… anyone wanna buy a townhouse in State College? Special price for you! Come in, just for a look. Hello? Hello please.

Monday, May 25, 2009

5.25.09 at sea

I woke up (late) this morning to wonderful news. My sister Martha had a baby! Emily Carol was born Sunday morning. Mother and daughter are doing fine! And then, tonight, I came back to my stateroom and found some more great news – Sammie’s brother Steve and his wife Janet also had a baby girl! She doesn’t have a name yet, but she’s also beautiful. Congrats Martha, Adam, Emily, Steve, Janet, and Baby Girl!!!

I knew Martha’s baby would be born while I was gone, so I called her from the airport to wish her luck. When I was in Europe in 2000, my niece Lizzie was born. I commented to Martha that I like this arrangement: she and Lindsay stay home and have babies while I take trips to Europe. :)

Today was another long, lazy day at sea. Sammie and I staggered upstairs for breakfast and then I walked a 5k around the ship’s deck. I listened to one of my recorded lectures, this one about TS Eliot’s Wasteland. It was very interesting.

When I came back to the room, Sammie was already working hard on his morning nap. He was way ahead of me on rest, but I soon caught up. We finally made our way to the pool in time for lunch—kabobs, salad, and rolls out by the pool. After lunch, the ship DJ held a line dance class by the pool. I loved it last sea day, so decided to join in again. The last line dance was “Hey Baby” and DJ Glenn got everyone in and around the pool dancing. It was awesome!

After sunning, swimming, and hot tubbing, we changed for dinner. It was formal night again tonight, so Sammie dressed in his suit and I wore what I had worn to church. We sat with a recent college grad and her grandmother. It was lots of fun to sit by them. They asked what has become, for me, the “golden question”: how did you guys end up in Virginia? I love turning to Sammie with a big grin and saying, “Yeah, Sammie! How did you end up in Virginia?” Then he has to tell about being a funk musician in LA and moving to VA to get a real job and find a wife. People always get a kick out of it. (And, of course, he always asks if they’ve heard of the p-funk…)

Tonight’s show was music from Broadway and it was very good! Some of the Noordam singers shows have been cheesy. Okay, they all have. But tonight’s was really good. Very low on cheese and high on entertainment.

I know the big question on everyone’s mind is what towel creation we found when we got back to our room. An elephant! Our guys are getting more and more creative.

Early to bed tonight. Big tour in Tunisia tomorrow!
Congrats again to the new babies! Welcome to earth!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5.24.09 Palma de Mallorca

I’ve found that something that bothers me on the cruise ship. When we go out onto the main decks by the swimming pool there are a few European men who, instead of wearing a regular swimming suit, wear what I call “Man Panties.” Gross.

It’s Sunday today and Melba and I got up early to head out to Church. Last night, I looked online for a ward thinking that there was no possible way we would find one in Palma de Mallorca. I was partially right, I didn’t find one – I found four. It longer than expected to have the ship cleared by local authorities so instead of leaving the boat around 9 and using the bus and our feet to get to Church, we took a cab. €14.05 to get to Church and we even made it on time.

After Sacrament Meeting was over we were in the foyer talking to a few people. We talked to the missionaries and I was talking to a convert from Nigeria who had been on the island for 3 years. He works at a restaurant in a hotel. He was converted 4 years ago in Nigeria and is trying to get back there. We then met a guy, Bill, from the States who travels all over the world for his job, but spends his summers in Palma de Mallorca – where he boss lives for the summer. Then we met 2 people, Vaughn and Ben, from our cruise – Vaughn, the father, was taking his 18-year-old son on a 20 day cruise (they did the other 10-day excursion covering the Eastern part of the Med before this 10-day leg) before he – the son – goes to BYU. As we spoke, I asked Bill which direction we should start walking to get back into town. We weren’t that far and I figured that we could all walk back. Bill offered the 4 of us (Melba, me, Vaughn and Ben) a ride into town. Hard to turn that down.

As we got in the car, Bill offered to take us to a castle on a hill – it is the only perfectly round castle in the world. Um, really hard to turn that down. Bill then said that after the castle he would drive us to the cathedral (really big, built in 1600’s) and we would be able to walk from there back to the ship. This was very generous of him and I asked if there was anything we could do to repay him – he said to just repay the favor to someone else. As we drove, I started asking Bill about his work. He provides security to a rather wealthy businessman – we’re talking a net worth well into the 10 digit range – as he (Bill’s boss) travels the world to the different businesses he owns. Most of these businesses are in Latin America – Bill therefore spends Fall through Spring travelling in that region and lives on the island during the summer while travelling with his boss on his private yacht (153 feet) around Europe. It sounds like a cool job, but the more we talked to him I realized that it’s something that would be fun the first time, and then it would turn into work – meaning it’s not like travelling for vacation.

We got to the castle and Bill let us out of the car to walk around. (I think Bill had work to do and didn’t mind waiting for us). This castle was really pretty and gave amazing views of the city. No charge to get in or climb up to the top. We walked around and talked to Vaughn and Ben for about 10 minutes and then went back to the car. We could’ve stayed there for easily 45-60 minutes, but we didn’t want to keep Bill waiting. We got to the cathedral shortly thereafter and thanked Bill for being so kind to us. Perhaps this was our blessing for going to Church.

The cathedral was built from about 1300-1600 (yes, it took 300 years to build) and it is really big. There is a museum that has many artifacts pertaining to the museum, but it was closed. In fact, most everything is closed on Sunday around here. Mass was going on when we got inside so we couldn’t walk around. When mass ended, we started roaming around and looking at everything – lots of stained glass windows and statues. A second mass was starting and we decided to stay and watch. We didn’t ‘participate’ per se, but we did enjoy being there from a cultural perspective. And, of course, we didn’t understand a single word that was being said. Mass ended and we did some more walking around the cathedral, but it was closing and they hurried us out.

The Cathedral at Palma de Mallorca

Outside the Cathedral at Palma de Mallorca

Outside of the cathedral were some picturesque staircases and walking paths that seemed to be a part of the cathedral grounds. We listened to a very talented guitarist play classical music while we took pictures and strolled across the grounds. Then we began the long walk back to the ship. Bill had pointed out to us the walking path that would lead back to the ship and after a little bit of roaming, we figured out where we needed to go. This was a really fun walk – lots of palm trees and it was right along the port. There are about a million sail boats of all sizes in the port here and it was fun to walk by them and see where they are all from. We could see the ship from the cathedral and I thought it would take about 15-20 minutes to get there on foot. I was way off – it would have taken about 45 minutes had we walked and not stopped.

Walk back from the Cathedral

We did have to stop a few times – my feet still hurt from all of the walking we did yesterday and it got kinda hot and we saw a gelato shop and well, had to stop again. Amazingly good gelato and it was dirt cheap – Melba got 3 scoops for €2 and I got 4 scoops for €2.50. We sat on a bench looking out over the port and ate gelato. It was really fun. I try my best to enjoy moments like that – I know that they won’t last long and I won’t get to experience them again – but it seems that every night when I sit down to write a journal about the day I reflect on them, wish I could do it again, and wonder if I really appreciated it while it was happening.

As we got back to the port we began talking to another couple on the ship who had walked back from the cathedral as well. (Everyone is really friendly around here). Yesterday the woman had her purse stolen in Barcelona – I felt really bad for them. She was being really careful while they were walking around to make sure nobody snatched it from her. But while they were sitting on a bench she took it off of her shoulder, somebody came up to ask directions (as a distraction) and someone else came up from behind and grabbed her purse. Someone from a distance saw this happen and yelled at the couple from a distance – the woman tried to run after the guy, but he went into an underground garage and disappeared. They were able to go to a Police station and get the paperwork necessary to get back on the boat and cancel their credit cards. I don’t think she lost anything valuable (everyone leaves their passports on the ship), but I’m sure this was a real downer for their trip. Melba and I did our best to try and make her feel better – but I don’t think it helped much. I’m glad that we travel with Camelbacks (there nothing valuable inside for anyone to grab anyway) and have all of our valuables in a money belt. While we are still vulnerable, I feel like we have taken enough precautions that we don’t need to worry about someone getting our money or credit cards. I also know to watch out for thieves if a local comes to ask directions or something – that’s usually how they distract tourists for a robbery.

Interesting note: It is 5:35pm local time as I write this. All aboard for this port was 5:30. The captain just made an announcement that all of the passengers and crew are aboard and we will be leaving port. This is interesting to me because we haven’t left this early in any other port we’ve been in. We’ve always left at least an hour after the all aboard time. I wonder if it’s because of legal issues, replenishing items onto the ship, or if it’s because there were passengers that we had to wait for. Hmm. I’m just curious. Melba and I try to get back to the boat about 90 minutes before the all aboard time because we don’t want to miss the boat and we never know how long it will take to get back. There could be traffic, a parade (there was one in Barcelona yesterday) or a gelato stand which could all delay us getting back. Even if I knew the ship would wait for everyone before it left, I wouldn’t change that plan – I’m just curious to know how long the boat waits for people until they decide to leave without them.

Dinner was delicious tonight. We arrived around 6:30 and the place was mostly dead. We got a table to ourselves today simply because there weren’t enough people to fill the 2 other seats. While the service has been magnificent since we got on board, our waiter tonight was by far and away the best. He was very cheerful and friendly. When we finished our soup (each meal has appetizer, soup, entrée, and dessert – in that order) Melba commented that hers was absolutely delicious – our waiter said, “Do you want me to bring you another one?” Of course. He looked at me and asked if I wanted another bowl (I had duck and sausage gumbo, Melba had a chilled melon soup) – I didn’t, but asked if he could bring me some meatballs. Melba had them for her appetizer and said they were delicious – and he brought me out some. Very cool guy.

The show tonight was spectacular. A married couple from France did acrobatic dancing – where he holds her in the air while she twists her body all sorts of ways that make everyone else cringe – and magic tricks. Some of the tricks were unbelievable – literally. We went to the 8pm show and decided to head back to the 10pm show just to see if we can figure out how they do it.

Something that I will miss about the cruise is coming back to our room after dinner and having towel animals on our bed. Each day the creations grow increasingly more impressive. Yesterday we had a lobster and today we had a pig – and the room attendants put Melba’s sunglasses on the pig. Perhaps when people come visit us in Austin (hint, hint) we will have some ready in the guest bedroom.

The Towel Pig

Tomorrow is another sea day so there’s no point in going to bed early. On Tuesday we will be in Tunis – neither of us has been there before and I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance to go back anytime soon. The itinerary schedule that the ship gave us says that “vendors can be pushy” – I took that to mean that this port may be Egypt all over again. We decided that we weren’t going to explore this city on our own. We paid to have a tour called “The Best of Tunis” which will include ruins, a museum, and sightseeing in a town known for rows of white walled houses with blue roofs. The guided excursions that the ship offers are expensive and it seems that Melba and I have pretty much done what they offer – but for less than half the cost – on our own. The only real difference is that we use public transportation and/or feet instead of a bus. Tunis will be different, though. I don’t feel comfortable going around there by ourselves.

It’s time to get some pictures ready to upload, post this blog and then go to the 10pm magic show and try to figure out how those tricks are done.

It’s now almost midnight and we’re back from the second show – we figured out how most of the tricks are done. That said, the second show was more impressive than the first because we were really able to see the showmanship in the two performers. We walked around the promenade on Deck 3 after the show and then went up to the upper deck and looked at the stars. Melba wanted me to be ‘romantic’ – but I don’t/can’t do that. I decided to go back to the room and she decided to stay up on the deck and look at the stars. I left the deck and went into the dining room (you have to go through there to get to the elevators) and saw some desserts – “perhaps this will be romantic,” I thought. I brought two of them out to the deck to Melba. I said something like, “Excuse me, Ma’am” in a deep voice and it kind of freaked her out – but she smiled when she saw me with desserts. The only problem was that these desserts were gross – and I mean they were completely unfit for human consumption. I felt bad, but Melba still thought it was sweet. We went into the dining room and Melba grabbed some chocolate cake and I grabbed some ice cream.

Tonight I get to sleep and not have to wake up early. But before I sign off, here are some pictures from Barcelona that I think you will enjoy:

Melba with a Chicken

Look at the name of this plant

Saturday, May 23, 2009

5.23.09 Barcelona

Today as we sat on the Metro, exhausted but also excited about our great day in Barcelona, I apologized to Sammie that we had come so far, spent so much money, gone through so much trouble, made so much effort, and my favorite memory of the trip was going to be his strut around the pool doing the moonwalk, lawnmower, and sprinkler. As I sat by the side of the pool watching the first contestants, I reflected that I had NO idea what Sammie was going to do. I just knew it would be funny. When he broke out into his super-cool dance moves, I was the only one by the side of the pool not clapping and cheering—because my head was between my knees, trying not to fall off from laughing.

Today at lunch I asked him why, in our almost 4 years of marriage, I never knew he could do the moonwalk, the lawnmower, or the sprinkler. He replied that the moment had never come when he thought the best way to strengthen our marriage and deepen our relationship was to break out in the moonwalk. I asked him if everything he did, then, was to strengthen our marriage and deepen our relationship (if you read this blog with any sort of regularity, you know what a scary thought that is!). I asked him where he learned that stuff. He then told me all about the break dancing lessons he had in 3rd grade. Apparently he can also do the backspin. Sure would have been nice to know all this about 4 years ago…

ANYWAY… Barcelona is awesome! Sammie said it very well on the bus back to the port – the geography of Barcelona is not as scenic as Monaco or Tuscany, but it’s PACKED with culture! We began the day (and I made Sammie leave the boat early so we’d have lots of time!) by walking up Las Ramblas (or, in some guidebooks La Rambla). It’s a wide, tree-lined street running up the middle of the city and filled with all sorts of shops, markets, and street performers. Actually, most of them don’t really perform. They dress up and pose as “live statues.” It’s pretty cool. We’d been told we could buy almost anything on this street, including squirrels. I proposed buying a squirrel for Phoebe and letting the two of them loose in the basement. We never found squirrels, but we found baby chipmunks and lots of mice, hamsters, chicks, birds, etc. (No, we didn’t buy one for Phoebe.) We veered off the street at the Mercat de la Boqueria. It’s a crowded, crazy market that included entire dead pigs. My already queasy stomach lurched a few times at the meat stands. Back on the street, we wound our way through the Gothic Quarter towards the Picasso Museum. Barcelona is OLD! The Gothic Quarter has old houses with narrow, windy cobblestone streets. In fact, the Picasso Museum is in one of these old houses. On the way to the museum, we stopped for a while in another market—this one medieval. The vendors were dressed in period costumes and they were selling medieval items—pottery, herbs (culinary and medicinal), calligraphy, all sorts of meats and cheeses, perfumes, etc… And Belgian Chocolate! A medieval band strolled through while we were browsing. We intended to go back later in the day to buy souvenirs and see some sword fights, but we didn’t make it back.

The Picasso museum is awesome! I’ve never paid much attention to Picasso. I’m not a huge fan of modern art. I love the stuff right before modernism—impressionism, post-impressionism, expressionism, and even some early cubism. After that, it just gets too weird for me. But this museum focused on Picasso’s early development as a painter and I was struck with his early styles. A lot of his early work resembles van Gogh and some of those guys that I like. (And he was influenced by them while he was in Paris.) It was interesting to see the evolution of his work.
After Picasso, we sat down for lunch at a sandwich shop. We had yummy sandwiches and sat for a while, resting. Unfortunately, we both got off the ship with stomach aches (maybe a little sea sick from our day at sea) and by lunch also had headaches. I remember on previous trips abroad when I would run around hot and humid cities all day for days at a time and hardly feel it. Getting old… (Joe reminded me on my last birthday that I am now as close to 40 as I am to 30. Thanks Joe – you wanna die, clown?)

After lunch we walked through the City History Museum. It was basically a walkway and audio tour through Roman ruins that have been excavated underneath the city. What I liked most about it was the explanations of different occupations in the city. For example, while we looked at ruins of the local laundry and dye place, we learned that they used urine to disinfect their clothes. In fact, the launders paid a city tax so that they could put buckets out for people to urinate in so they could use it for the laundry. The doctors in my family have always tried to tell me that urine is sterile. But my definition of something that is sterile, laundered, or in any way considered clean, is that it doesn’t have urine on or in it. Call me OCD… Anyway, we also learned how to dry fish to make a popular fish sauce and how to make wine. It was a very interesting museum.

Our next stop took us an hour to walk to. The guidebook said it was the MUST-SEE of Barcelona and we took their word for it. And boy were they right! La Sagrada Familia is a big—no, enormous—Cathedral that has been in progress for over 100 years and won’t be finished for another 20-30 years. Its main architect is Gaudi, a popular and innovative Spanish artist who made this Cathedral his life’s work but, unfortunately, died while working on it. It’s based on traditional Gothic cathedrals but with a modernist twist. For example, the shape is a Latin cross, and it has the traditional facades, naves, apse, cloister, etc., but they’re modern rather than gothic. Two facades are completed, one representing the passion and, the other, the nativity. The passion façade is very stark and bare—symbolic of death—with scenes from the crucifixion—beginning with the Last Supper and ending with the burial. The sculpted figures are almost cubic—very angled and stylized. But the effect is staggering! Inside, the columns are made to look like tree trunks and the tops of the arches spread out, not into a typical vaulted ceiling, but into what looks like tree branches! So as you sit in the Cathedral (and it can hold up to 10,000 people) you feel like you’re in a forest and can quietly meditate. It’s amazing! The nativity façade, in contrast to the passion façade, is filled with all sorts of signs of life—flowers, plants, animals, etc. It celebrates Joseph and Mary as well as Jesus and assigns each of them a virtue—charity to Jesus, faith to Mary, and hope to Joseph. The first thing I was struck by when we finally found the Cathedral was its height. But the main tower, which has not been built, will rise quite a bit higher than the 8 already built. I think I’ll need to return to Barcelona to see the completed Cathedral. Anyone wanna come?

We hopped on the Metro after leaving La Sagrada Familia and then had a ways to walk, back down La Rambla, to catch the shuttle bus back to the port. La Rambla was chock full of people. Of course, it was 8:00 on a Saturday night by this time. There was some kind of a parade with lots of traditional dancers. That was fun to watch, but also made for a lot of crowd-jostling. We also saw some of the more colorful aspects of Barcelona—including 3 local cross-dressers out for an evening stroll. (I joked with Sammie that they made me nostalgic for my mission—I met a lot of transvestites in Campinas).

We got back to the ship just before 9:00, had a yummy Italian dinner, then made it an early night. In fact, Sammie is in bed next to me snoring, already—his red hair beginning to stand on end in preparation for the morning and his toes wiggling where his feet are sticking out of the covers. (He’s cute!)