Friday, November 20, 2015

Halloween - We Didn't Entirely Miss It

It is no secret that Halloween isn't my favorite holiday.  What's not to love about kids on a sugar high, sticky finger, and candy wrappers?  I know, I'm a scrooge.  I was happy to miss Halloween this year.  We didn't miss it entirely though.  The Saturday before we left our friends had an adult Halloween Costume Party.  Generally Josh and I don't dress up, but she hooked us up with our Greek God costumes which actually worked well for the cruise too.

I like this picture of Josh and Dave playing a marshmallow game.  Josh was celebrating his win and Dave was questioning how he did it. 

The kids had one opportunity to dress up for the ward party before we left. 
They also dressed up for school the day before Halloween, and then Halloween was on a Saturday this year so they got to celebrate all day long!
Andy and Caleb had a special halloween because they got to stay with their friends for the night.  Andy stayed with the Millers.  

Caleb stayed with his friend Carter.  I told Caleb he was too old to get his costume from a bag this year so he settled on being a "movie theater floor".  This was his last year trick-or-treating and he made the most of it!!  I think he may have gotten a 10 year supply but somehow he downed all of it!

Johnny and the girls went to my mom's for Halloween.  My mom was not well, but Connie and Cody and their families were there so they were very well entertained. 

The kids had a great Halloween, and SO DID I!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Italy, Greece and Turkey - BETTER than I even imagined!!

After sailing in the Virgin Islands seven years ago Josh set his heart on sailing the islands of Greece.  Last year I came across a Mediterranean Cruise deal that was too good to resist and decided to make the dream of spending time in Italy and Greece a reality.  With all of our children in school (Johnny in preschool just four hours a week, none the less, no longer a baby) the timing felt good.  It was a long year of waiting and planning, but the trip was better than I ever imagined!!

Josh and I have never really traveled without friends or our children, but spending this quality time together enriched our marriage and proved to be a wonderful experience.  We were gone for 12 full days.  I knew that our children were very well cared for with a daytime babysitter from noon to 6 (who has raised 8 children of her own) and a newly wed couple who came and made dinner with them, created a fun bedtime routine, spent the night and got them out the door in the morning.  My mom had the girls and April had the boys for two days each weekend.  With the shifts in help everyone seemed to enjoy their time and the kids had a nice break from us as well.  

This is an overload of pictures and information, but I want to record the details for my friends who may take similar trips in the future. It was the trip of a lifetime!!  I am so grateful that it worked out so perfectly for us!!

After a long and painful red-eye flight we arrived in Rome at 8 AM on October 29.  I decided that we would enjoy our day more, and experience less stress, if we had a driver for the day.  I was right!! Our driver was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived almost an hour early.  He showed us sites that we would have never found on our own and made the day following a sleepless night delightful and easy. He drove us within a few steps of most of the sights and then waited while we took a few pictures and enjoyed the site.  Although he was a "driver" not a "guide" he taught us a lot about the history and culture as he drove us around.  Our very first stop was at this basilica.  I remember learning about these huge statues of the original apostles in General Conference and especially about the one behind me of Peter holding the keys of the priesthood.  The church was breathtaking!

One advantage of being with a driver is that he pointed things out like what appears to be a park between us and this ancient castle is actually a spot where chariot races were once conducted. 

It was fascinating to see that forum and try to comprehend the history and age of this ancient city.  

Of course we went to the Pantheon, which is were we also enjoyed our first bite of real Italian Pizza and gelato.  It tasted great!!

At the spanish steps a man was trying to sell us roses.  We didn't have euro's yet and all of our cash was in the form of $100 bills.  He didn't get his money (and of course he took the roses back) but he did take some pictures for us.  

He told Josh to kiss me which was really scary for Josh.  He was sure this guy was going to run off with his phone!

We missed hearing the Pope speak at the Vatican by a few hours, but the courtyards were larger than life.  It was breath taking.  Our selfies don't do it justice!!  Another site the driver took us to, that we would have never found on our own, was the key hole outside of the Vatican.  It was jaw dropping - the view from the key hole to what used to be used as the front door to the Vatican. You can google "the key hole to the Vatican" to see images of what we saw. 

Our driver took us to 3 of the 7 hills of Rome where we enjoyed the beautiful views of the city!

Trevi's Fountain was under renovation so he took us to another one of his favorite fountains in addition to Trevi's Fountain.  

We stayed in a darling Bed and Breakfast less than 1/2 a mile from the Colosseum.  After we checked in, we had our driver drop us off to explore on our own.  I was a little disappointed that the Mamertine Prison, where Paul was held in Rome, was closed for renovation, but the other sites did not disappoint!  The Colosseum was just as magnificent as I could have ever imagined!

From the Colosseum we took a bike taxi (which was an experience in itself) to Piazza Navona, a square full of artists and fountains that we had seen on our drive, were Josh wanted to return for dinner.  We LOVED the homemade pasta and carbonara sauce.  It was new to us.  We decided to create our own "Taste of Italy walking tour" back to our Bed and Breakfast.  We had pasta and appetizers at a couple of different restaurants.  All fantastic! We also had an out of this world crepe, full of white chocolate and strawberry's, along the way. It made Josh obsess over getting crepes for the rest of the trip. We did get lost, so our walk home was VERY long, but what's more romantic than getting lost in Rome?!  Actually we were really tired - it was a little frustrating.  We just needed our GPS!! And a bathroom every 15 minutes for Josh!

The following day we took the subway and train to the port and got on the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas Ship.  Cruising was the perfect way for us to do this trip.  I felt overwhelmed enough figuring out our excursions.  If I'd had to figure out where to stay it just wouldn't have happened.  We were perfectly comfortable on the ship in our little room. It took so much pressure off and created an environment where we could relax and rejuvenate between sightseeing.  It made it a little more of a "vacation" than a sight seeing whirlwind. 

Our first full day on the boat was scheduled to be a day at sea, but there was a medical emergency that forced us to dock in Sicily.  It was a short stop and we didn't get off, but it was fun to see Sicily at least from the deck.  

Our day at sea was also Halloween.  Josh insisted that we bring the Greek God costumes that our friends lent us.  The ship did encourage costumes for dinner attire and there was a big Halloween party.  Those dressed up were encouraged to join a "parade".  Josh and I were avoiding it when one of the Captains, came and got us and escorted us down the stairs.  It was a fun memory! 

Sadly, the weather took a turn for the worst and got VERY WINDY so we were unable to port at our first stop and ended up spending an extra day at sea.  We didn't get to see Olympia, but of all of the ports to miss I felt okay about missing that one because we did get to see so many ancient ruins.  We REALLY enjoyed our time on the ship being FORCED to relax, something that we seldom have the opportunity to do. We also became engaged in making friends from all over the world on the ship. 

Our first official port was Rhodes, Greece.  It was a windy day, but we were happy to get off the ship and grateful that it wasn't raining.  The water was blue and beautiful!

We were the last cruise of the season so some shops were already closed down for the winter, but there were very few tourists at our stops.  There were enchanting streets and shops. 

This was the first of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of olive trees that we saw.  The olives were in season so we could see both the green and the black olives on the trees. 

Josh was on a quest to try all kinds of Greek food.  We started with sea food!  Josh ordered a "Greek Salad" and found that it was about 1/2 fresh tomatoes, which he has always disliked.  The rest was mostly cucumber with some olives and a big block of feta cheese on top.  He tried the first bite of tomato and didn't like it but decided to keep going.  With the help of some olive oil and vinegar by the end of the salad, and especially by the end of the trip, he discovered that he likes tomatoes after all.  Greece is apparently known for quality calamari so Josh ordered a plate of it.  I was a little shocked when my giant shrimp came with the heads on.  I usually dislike when my food is staring at me.   One other funny thing that happened at this particular meal is that I was listening to the conversation of the table next to us about what time it was.  (We'd just had a time change.)  I joined in to tell them what time I thought it was.  We began talking and found out that they were from Utah and then a couple from the next table said that they were also from Utah.  The funny thing is that we were probably all of the Utah people on the ship and we all happened to be eating a late lunch at a random restaurant in Rhodes.  It is a small world!

I'd have to say that the biggest surprise of the trip was how much we enjoyed Turkey! We had a private driver and a guide for this day.  They met us early for a full day of touring.  The first place we stopped was a site called the House of Virgin Mary.  It is thought to be the house where John brought Mary after the crucifixion of Christ.  It was a peaceful experience with amazingly low crowds.  It was an a beautiful fertile hill, near the ancient city of Ephesus, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

There was fresh spring water.  Each fountain representing health, prosperity and love.  

There was also a prayer wall filled with written prayers.

Behind me is a water basin that incidentally looked just like a baptismal font. 

We spent the next few hours in the excavated portion of the Ancient City of Ephesus.  This city was a prominent city and sea port between 600 BC and 500 AD.  This was just the beginning of the long walk along the "Royal Road." 

We extended our tour by viewing the Tarrace Houses.  These were the homes of the rich along the hillside of Ephesus.  They are painstakingly restoring mosaics and walls in theses lavish homes. I personally get overwhelmed by puzzles with more than 50 pieces. 

We know that in this ancient theater, with exceptional acoustics, Paul once preached to the Ephesians. 

Turkey is famous for their hand made rugs.  This girl showed us how they take the silk from the silk worm cocoon's. There is a mile of silk on each cocoon!! 

We had the privilege of viewing many amazing cotton, wool, and silk handmade rugs. It was incredible!

We enjoyed a buffet of traditional Turkish food.  

It was surprisingly green and beautiful!

We also went to a factory where pottery was being made.  This woman was hand painting this incredible pot.  She painted a flower on my hand. 

One highlight of the trip was the friends we made on the cruise.  We loved getting to know different couples.  This particular couple reminded us SO MUCH of some of our dearest friends.  They were honeymooners from Canada.  We are pictured tendering in to our next stop, Crete, Greece. 

We learned upon arrival that four wheelers (quads as they are apparently called everywhere else in the world) could be used on all of the major roads on the island so we rented this puppy for the day and had a wonderful time exploring.  

We took the hour drive to Chania to see the beautiful castle, city, and amazing beaches. 

One thing we found beautiful and unique to Souda was the way they made paths with pebbles.  They placed them on their sides.  It was beautiful.  Josh did his best pose for this picture. 

On the way home we found this picturesque monument and gardens.  Were were the only ones there the entire time we explored.  We felt lucky to have stumbled upon this jewel. 

We enjoyed our last few hours in the charming old town of Crete.  Having a four wheeler came in handy getting up this hill to a castle in old town. 

Due to a strike of the port authorities in Greece we were unable to port in Athens and tendering there was not an option.  I was REALLY looking forward to having a private tour "Following Paul's Footsteps in Athens and Corinth" by Michael Sterianos of  I hope to someday go there and follow in those footsteps of Paul, but considering the port had to be changed, the island we got to explore was the next best thing.  Josh was off the wall excited to go to Santorini. The island mostly consists of cliff's to the sea and they have built homes along these cliff walls.  Here I am tendering in.  We were on the first tender in and one of the last back to the ship.  It was an amazing day!

There are three options to get to the city from the port.  One is to ride donkey's or to walk up the mountainside and the third is to ride on this cable car.  You can imagine which option we chose.  Walking down was enough of a hike for us. 

We had such a good experience renting a four wheeler the previous day that we decided to get one in Santorini as well.  Or favorite part was the beauty of the city Josh has had as the screensaver on his computer for the past year.  We just took our time and enjoyed!

We had a classic Greek dinner enjoying this priceless view!

We got lost on our way to find the black sand beaches and ended up on the tallest mountain of the island.  From there we could view EVERY side of the island.  It was incredible!

We loved going late in the season because the crowds were so small and the weather was perfect for sight seeing, in the mid to low 70's most days.  The down side is that the water was a little too cold to get in.  We did enjoy a little nap on the beach in the warm sun.  

It was a PERFECT day!  Everything we could have ever imagined!

Of course eating is always a highlight for us two food lovers.  We had open dining so we ate with different people most nights.  It was fun to enjoy a variety of conversations.  Our claim to fame was that fact that we were the parents of five small children.  By the end of the cruise we'd be talking with people and our family would come up.  They'd say things like, "we've heard about you."  We love the low stress environment where we don't have to worry about how much it costs or if we will like our dish. Josh ordered at least two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts at every dinner.  He had the goal of pigging out and he did!

Our final port was in Naples.  We had been warned of the corruption and dishonesty of the venders in Naples so we chose to get right out of there, just after a quick picture at the castle near the port. 

Naples does have a beautiful subway system.  There are no mirrors in this picture.  It was quite impressive. 

We rode the train to Pompeii.  Where in 79 AD the city was buried by a volcano in a matter of minutes preserving a moment in history.  On the way a Baptist preacher and his wife from Texas, that recognized us from the ship. found and joined us for the journey.  We end up spending the day with them.  We treasured spending time with a variety of people. 

We intended to spend most of the day at Pompeii but ended up actually spending most of our time riding to the top of Mount Vesuvius, still an active volcano.  We traveled through a national park in this impressive 4X4.  Josh rode shot gun.

The views from the mountain top were impressive. 

And the smoke coming from the walls of the crater was neat to see.  

Being suckers for a view we don't regret going to the top of Mount Vesuvius, but once we got back to Pompeii we realized how we didn't really leave ourselves enough time to see the vastness of this historic excavated city.  

It was fascinating to see the casts they had made of the bodies that were frozen in time. 

Our final day was a beautiful Sunday in Rome.  We took our resources and time to get to church and to see the Rome temple.  Against our better judgement we chose to rent a car to get the 40 minutes from the airport to church and the temple.  It appears as if no one abides by traffic laws in Rome.  Stop signs mean nothing, there are not lines on the roads and if there are no one is looking at them anyway, and the speed limit seems to be just a suggestion.  Gratefully, as stressful as it was, we arrived safely at church and then enjoyed seeing the temple.  This temple has already been under construction for years and may be under construction for another two years.  Apparently there have been countless road blocks from keeping this temple from getting completed.  What a blessing it will be when it is finally finished.  

What a trip!  It makes me excited to plan our next adventure!