Archive for May, 2010


The Mad Macedonian With Scissors and Other Tales

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

On the last day of our cruise, I looked at the back of my hair, which I had been growing out for six months after a really bad haircut.  It was finally almost one length in a neat bob.  People had even been known to compliment me on it.  However, it needed a slight trim in the back.

Thus my meeting with Kristina, the self-acknowledged genius with hair.  “Why they cut it this way?” she said, after combing me out following my shampoo.  I shrugged and said, “I just want a trim.  No layers or anything.”  I guess it was the language barrier. Like I said, she was a Macedonian.

After fifteen minutes of furious snipping, my sixth month’s growth lay on the floor.  In the back, my hair is not half an inch long.  At the crown, it is perhaps two.  I have become GG the poor waif.  “See?” she proclaimed, “I am the genius!”

Someone at dinner (everyone was there for a change) said, “GG did you cut your hair?”

I began to have separation anxiety and had to take a tranquilizer.  I thought it was because we were approaching the end of our cruise, but now I think it was a belated reaction to my haircut.

The debarkation went like clockwork the next morning.  Once we hit the pavement, I was forcibly reminded that we were no longer being coddled but were at the mercy of the Italians, Venetian Italians, who are different than Florentines.  Someone forgot to get out of bed and come to man the ticket booth for the vaporettos.  An entire ship was unloading and most of us had no plan to spend 80 Euros (120 dollars or so) for the short trip to the center of town.  However, after wilting in a long line, I thought of my father  He left me a small inheritance.  Would he let me stand around for over an hour waiting for someone to open a booth to buy a ticket or would he spend the 80 Euros?  I made up my mind.  I told David we were taking a water taxi.

Our hotel turned out to be vintage 1950 with an elevator!  A small bar, a walled garden outside our room, and a very peculiar sit down shower completed its idiosyncratic charm.  We were out exploring Venice in no time.  I think David has lost his heart.  I tried to warn him, but he was not prepared for the glorious pastel baroque splendor of the magnificent city.  That day, my father also paid for a glorious Murano glass beaded necklace and earrings in the traditional Venetian blue and gold.

And what is Venice without Vivaldi?  Of course, there was a concert, our concierge said.  Right on St. Mark’s square in a little chapel there.  After a dinner that had nothing to recommend it except expedience, we journeyed to the chapel where we had a third row seat of the most magnificent “Four Seasons” I have ever heard.  It was a lovely evening.  Venice redeemed herself.

The train to Florence the next morning was amusing owing to the fact that our seats were in the middle of a group from the cruise.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t enjoyed it much, which was completely past my understanding.  I reassured them that they would love Florence.  (I wonder if now they are cursing me).

When we walked out of the train station, I swear it was as though we had never left.  The scooters, the traffic, the tourists were all there.  But so was that vitality which captured my heart six months ago.  Elisabetta ran all the way down the stairs at our B & B to greet us with many many kisses.  We went upstairs and talked like friends who hadn’t seen each other for years.  She had given us our same room.

Our first stop was, of course, the central market where my father bade me buy a lot of things, most of which were gifts, but David finally broke down and allowed me to buy a set of Tuscan salt and pepper shakers.  (I am in hopes that this is the beginning of a slippery slope.  I have loved Tuscan dinnerware since I came of age.)

Now it is twilight of our second day.  I am sitting on my balcony under the blue, blue sky and a soft breeze is blowing.  We have been for a long, long Italian luncheon at our favorite restaurant on the Arno, followed by a stroll through our favorite museum,  I am sorry to report that last night I had yet another fall (and was raised by no fewer than seven Florentines).  My hips are not in the best of shape, so we had a nap.  What can I say?  We were tired and slept til seven,  Time is precious here this visit, but I know that I will be back.


Our Last Day on the Princess

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

I’m having separation anxiety.  Shortly we go down to our final dinner on the Princess.  Even though I’ve been sick and sore most of the time, it has been magnificent.  This is the experience of a lifetime.  And if it weren’t for my Crazy Ladies,  I never would have done it.  What a debt I owe them!

They have never been far away and I have spent a lot of time writing because that is one way I relax.  Having your meals prepared and your cabin cleaned while you just sit and write away is my idea of a heavenly vacation.  Not to mention all the splendid side trips.

Happily, I will be revisiting my journey for many months to come as I compose my Crazy Lady adventure surrounding this cruise.  That’s one of the greatest things about being a writer—you can share your dreams with your readers and everyone you love.


The Perfect Place for a “Repairing Lease”

   Posted by: G.G.    in Uncategorized

Brits are always going away on what they call a “repairing lease,” which as far as I can tell means a relaxing vacation.  Today we found the perfect place.  Corfu, an Island on the west side of Greece.  It’s by far my favorite Isle as it is green!  It is also temperate year round..  Ths is the Isle where Odysseus was imprisoned for 20 years–some prison.!

The island has been under so many rulers and invaded so many times that I can’t count them.  However the principle characteristic of its capital city is charm.  The streets are so narrow, you can only walk down them single file.  Even so, the towering apartments have window boxes filled with flowers.  The city is built in what looks like 19th century Italian style with pastel buildings trimmed in white and huge bougainvilleas in magenta trailing over the doorways and windows.

The sea is impossible to describe.  The closest I can come to its color is to say it’s a clear aquamarine.  I’m hoping David’s pictures will do it justice.  The coastline is magnificent with thousands of olive trees and my favorite–the cypress.  The cliffs and bays are too picturesque for words.

I couldn’t resist.  I took off my shoes and went wading in the Ionian Sea!  It was so lovely that I was in danger of stripping down and swimming in front of a busload of German tourists.  I think I probably could have scheduled a tour that included a motorboat ride around the island, but I missed the boat (he he).

We were back by noon and ate out on our little balcony.  I am still sore from my fall yesterday, so I am going for a hot stone massage in a few minutes.  Ahh, this is the life.  If anyone had told me 5 years ago that I would be on a cruise in the Eastern Med funded by money I earned myself from my writing, I would have thought they were nuts!  It has been 4 years since my healing, and the Lord has not wasted one moment of that time without blessing me.

Tonight we will celebrate life and its goodness at the Crown Grill-the fanciest restaurant on board.  Tomorrow is a sea day, which we will spend packing and sleeping and eating and writing.  David is really helping me trim my chapters of Crazy Ladies and sharpening my opening descriptions.


Standing On the Ground of the Greats

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

I am happy to be with you again, and am grateful to David for filling in so we could keep all of you “posted” on this amazing voyage.  After an entire day of sleeping, I think I’m back.

As any student of Western Civilization knows, recorded thought in our sphere began with the Greeks, specifically Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.  By some kind of rare miracle, the place where they walked and talked still exists.  Despite hoards of Turks, Venetians, Macedonians, and Nazis, the Parthenon, temple to the Goddess Athena, still stands.  The worst thing that ever happened to this marvel of ancient architecture is that the Turks used it as a munitions dump and when the Venetians invaded, they actually blew it up!  Modern buildings would surely never survive such treatment.  But the Parthenon still stands, metaphorically bloodied, but unbowed.

In Florence, I wrote of the “rebirth” of modern civilization, but in Greece we see the actual birth.  These architects built solely from their own imagination–they had nothing to guide them and only thought to inspire them.  With geniuses like Pythagoras discovering geometry and philosophers like Plato discussing the “ideal” they were able to combine thought and math and create a temple like no other ever discovered.  It stands, as everyone knows, on the Acropolis, high above the modern (and unfortunately quite ugly) city of Athens.  The juxtaposition is a interesting contrast regarding the values of modern day Greeks.

I have a thing about columns.  They absolutely fascinate me.  I was thrilled to discover the point where I could look at the column on the corner of the temple that I faced and see that the columns behind it were not visible.  They were lined up in such a way that they appeared to be one column.  That is a mathematical trick, for if they were truly lined up, the other columns would be visible.

It was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that this was where modern thought began to unfold and where democracy was conceived.  Last time I visited, there were soldiers with machine guns on the acropolis and we didn’t get to climb it.  This time, the economy was teetering and anarchists were rioting.  It was much too hard for me to reconcile these things in my mind.  Are the modern Greeks really the descendants of the ancients?

We then traveled to Corinth, but at a stop on the way I had to perform my new trick of falling down.  I made it as dramatic as possible, and of course fell on the same knee I always fall on.  Modern Greeks spend very little money keeping the Roman sidewalks up to date!  I stepped in a hole, turned my ankle, and sprawled on the sidewalk.  Fortunately, nothing was broken, and my goal of climbing the Acropolis had already been achieved.

When we arrived at the ruins of Corinth we went to the excavation of a famous marketplace with accompanying baths.  A little the worse for wear, I paused under an olive tree and watched as the group went on ahead.  Finally I was able to follow, and ended up staring at a plaque I could not understand.  David came up behind me and told me that that marked the very place that Paul had stood when accused by the Jews of heresy.  Their rulers, the Romans (of whom  Paul was one), could find no fault with him as he spoke there in that spot in his own defense.  They released him, and he went on to create a large branch of Christendom in Corinth.  (Thus his letter to the Corinthians).  It was the Sabbath, and David and I both had the feeling that we were standing on holy ground.  This feeling had eluded me on the Acropolis in the temple to a pagan Goddess, but here in this ruined marketplace where David and I stood alone, we felt it.  Paul’s writings on grace have helped me many a time, and I was humbled to be standing where he had once stood.

This was called the Bema and was originally a few feet taller.  Paul stood in front of this structure, speaking up to the Roman official, who was standing on top of the Bema.


Ancient Ruins and Greek Islands

   Posted by: G.G.    in Uncategorized

We have gotten behind.  There are reasons (nothing to do with international intrigue), but we are catching up.

The first was a trip that David took because G.G. was getting over a bacterial lung infection that the very-British ship’s doctor diagnosed for her.  This trip was into Turkey to see the remnants of a city, Miletus, that began as a Greek city and was taken over by the Romans after they took over everything Greek.

Miletus consisted of about 180,000 people, a very large city in a nation that relied on lots and lots of farmers to feed itself.  Miletus was a seaside city beside a river that the Romans eventually abandoned because the river silted up the port.  The sea is now several miles away.

Miletus was connected by a twelve mile road to Didyma, another Roman city that was the home of a famous oracle, a soothsayer like the oracle of Delphi, who did his soothing (or was it his saying) in the temple of Apollo at Didyma.  We have a photo of the ruined temple below.

This temple provides an example of how wealthy Rome was and how much it spent on its cities and temples.  It is estimated that it would cost 2 million Euros (about $2.7 million) to build one of the columns of the temple of Apollo today.  There were 110 columns in the temple plus lots of statues and other stone decorations.

Both Miletus and Didyma have the feel of very great shows of power and wealth by people whose names and fame have been lost in time.  Those of you who know farming in places where there are a lot of rocks know that one of the common habits of farmers in those areas is to take the rocks they dig up while plowing their fields and pile them at the ends of the fields.  There are numerous farmers fields that border the site of Miletus.  At the ends of their fields they have piled pieces of small marble columns and bits of marble coverings used on the city’s buildings.

Another individual who traveled through this part of Asia during the height of Roman power, the Apostle Paul, seemed of far less import to most of the men of influence during his day, but of course we remember him very well although he never built any impressive stone temples for the worship of his God.

Part Two of our catch-up post requires that you understand that the nation of Greece includes over 3,000 islands, about 200 of which are inhabited.  One of the most famous is Mykonos.  For those of you old enough to remember, Mykonos is one of the places that Jackie Kennedy became Jackie O, because her wealthy Greek shipowner husband had a villa on the island.

Perhaps we didn’t see the best parts, but Mykonos looked a little like an aging tourist trap to us.  We much preferred the island of Santorini (see previous post on that subject).

This is the end of catching up for today.  Sometime tomorrow, we will write about Athens and Corinth (home of the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote letters), then we will be completely caught up, at least until the next time we fall behind.


Days Seven, Eight, and Nine-Wouldn’t You Just Know It?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

I certainly hope you have been enjoying David’s accounts on this blog.  (The family that blogs together, stays together).  The fact of it is that the day in Cinque Terra did me in completely.  My hips, knee and back were just not up to it, so Day Four when I should have been in Pompeii and Amalfi two of the stops I was most looking forward to, I was felled by destiny to sleep 48 hours in my cabin. (Fortunately Day 5 was at Sea)  In spite of all that rest, I woke yesterday with a sore throat which developed into a foghorn cough.  The ships doctor has me confined to my cabin, on anti-biotics, cough medicine, the whole nine yards.

However I did go to Santorini yesterday (before David insisted that I go to the doctor) and it was magnificent!  For all you Homer fans the Aegean sea is NOT wine dark, but turquoise blue.  It is magnificent as a background for the white-washed houses with their sea-blue domed churches.  David’s pictures will do it far more justice than I can.  We had a sort of hummus for lunch with pork and tomato pancakes.  I could have eaten a zillion of the tomato pancakes!  The beaches are made of black sand as the whole island is volcanic.  It sits on the rim of a huge “caldera” which is the name for the “cauldron” of the volcano.  It last blew in the fifties and everything has been rebuilt since.  They have also discovered the remains of the oldest known civilization, the Minoans. They were charmingly sophisticated judging from their artifacts.  Excavation proceeds slowly and who knows what else they’ll find in this settlement 3,000 years before Christ?

I am ashamed to say it, but my favorite thing were the jewelry shops.  They had real Swarovski (sp?) crystal.  I bought a cute little bracelet made of old dracmas and a lovely Greek doll, as well as some other things for gifts.  They had beautiful gauze clothes (some for baby girls, sniff) which David dragged me past.

The most thrilling part of the day was our descent from the top of the island straight down the perpendicular cliffs by cable car!!  The lady with us screamed and shut her eyes!

(Note from David – This isn’t Photoshop gone wild.  The Aegean Sea is really that blue.)

David is at Ephesus today, photographing the best preserved of the Roman ruins..  I am very sad to have missed it.  He had to wait in the harbor for a long time for them to get clearance to go ashore, because this is Turkey we’re talking about.  I hope he is not victim to a terrorist attack!

Please pray that I get well so that I can write a decent tale about the Crazy Ladies and their cruise!


A Buried City

   Posted by: G.G.    in Italy

The day before the mountain exploded in 79 AD, Pompey was a thriving Roman city of 100,000 people, located on the shores of the Mediterranean in an area noted for the fertility of its soil.  Overlooked by the Mt. Vesuvius, the city had mostly rebuilt itself after an earthquake of several years before.

The paved streets were carefully laid out at 90-degree angles, a Roman invention, and  were bustling with chariots and people.   The ruts made by chariot wheels were particularly obvious where taller stones provided pedestrian crossings that kept sandaled feet out of the mud and much that covered the streets.

Numerous restaurants offered hot food and delicious wine to the many daily visitors to Pompey.  In the town’s large square, men of property and influence met to deal with both civic and business affairs.  As was typical for the time, the majority of the city population was comprised of slaves while Roman citizens were a smaller ruling elite.

Some of the houses were large and luxurious, showing off the wealth and culture their owners had obtained by trade and travel with Africa to the South and Constantinople to the East.  Sports were important topics of conversation, at least among the men, and ancient graffiti kept track of the victories won by competing gladiators.

Mt. Vesuvius began a series of enormous eruptions the next day, likely during the middle of the day.  After the eruptions were finished, instead of a 9,000 ft. peak, the mountain would have a large crater between twin peaks of 3,800 feet.  The eruptions would send molten lava down the mountain slopes to the city of Herculaneum, entombing it in hard rock.  Pompey was not covered by lava, but rather, by thick layers of ash, which later turned to rock.

After the first eruption, many people ran down to the seashore where they were drowned by a large tsunami.  Some of the people timidly went back to Pompey to dig through about 10 inches of ash, searching for valuables.  It was those people who were permanently entombed in the city when a second, larger eruption sent poison gasses and mountains of 500 degree ash onto the city.  Eventually, many feet of ash covered Pompey.  So much ash fell that the ground level was raised and instead of being a seaside town, the buried city was more than two kilometers away from the ocean.

Within a day, the entire city was covered in ash, stopped and preserved just as it was the day before.  Unlike other cities, where some buildings might be preserved over the centuries, all of Pompey was captured by the hardening ash.

As time passed, people even forgot the location of the buried city of Pompey, although stories of the city continued.  From time to time, emperors and kings would send out parties of workers to dig for Pompey without success.  The region continued to enjoy a reputation for wonderful farming, its soil enriched by the volcanic ash that had captured Pompey in its grip.

Not until the mid 1800’s did British archeologists rediscover the buried city.  They were amazed at finding, nearly intact, an entire Roman city instead of only bits and pieces of this civilization.  About 90 acres of the original city have been uncovered, with about 60 acres still buried.  The excavation continues today, but the remaining buried portions of Pompey will never be uncovered.  Instead, archeologists are creating tunnels into the ruins, but retaining the cap of hardened ash on top to protect at least part of the ancient city from complete destruction from an inevitable future eruption of  Mt. Vesuvius.

The first photo show a typical street with a crosswalk of raised stones and individual homes and businesses, laid out like townhouses.  Another photo shows the painted garden wall of a wealthy merchant, full of strange beasts that he saw during his travels to Africa.  The third photo shows part of a ruined temple that was on the large town square, an area approximately the size of a soccer field.  Finally, there is a photo of  the shape of a pregnant slave, who was caught and buried by the ash while she tried to cover her head.  Over time, her body decayed, but the hardening ash preserved its shape during the intervening centuries.  The archeologists filled the opening where her body had decayed with plaster before completely unearthing it, so we have her preserved during her last moments of life nearly two thousand years ago.


Day 7 – A Long Drive with a Handsome Italian

   Posted by: G.G.    in Uncategorized

You’ve seen the movie.  An American woman travels to Italy and meets a suave and handsome Italian, dark hair combed straight back, curling over his collar.

“Why don’t we take a drive tomorrow and I‘ll show you my country,” he says with a smile.  She agrees.

The next morning, Stephano pulls up in front of her hotel in a bright red Ferrari convertible with the top down.  Our heroine jumps in and off they go.

Next, you see an aerial shot of the red convertible driving on a narrow winding road with rocky mountains on one side and a long drop to an impossibly blue ocean on the other.

This is the Amalfi Coast.

On the West coast of Italy, the Amalfi Coast stretches South of Naples.  It is famous for its wonderful weather, marvelous ocean and the rich and famous people who live there.  The area is named for the village of Amalfi, the largest of several villages along the coast.  Total population along many miles of coast is about 15,000.  For thousands of years, the villages could be reached only by sea, but after World War II, the Italian government built a very narrow and extremely winding road along the coast.

The Romans were the first people to use Amalfi as a vacation spot.  Today, the coast is a UN World Heritage Site, which means that no further building is permitted, so luxury villas built in the 1970’s are interspersed with stone watchtowers built two thousand years earlier to provide an early warning against pirates so the villagers could flee up into the rugged mountains for safety.

The first two photos are of the village of Amalfi.  The third is a wonderful entrance to a small house just off the village’s only street.  The fourth and fifth photos are the Amalfi square, with its statue of St. Andrew, whose bones are buried in the village church.  The sixth photo is an even smaller village up the coast, taken from the boat which showed us this marvelous part of Italy.

Click on the photos for a larger picture.

Tomorrow – Pompey, the village buried by an immense volcanic explosion in 79 AD.


Day 6 – La Cinque Terra

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Italy

This post is by David, substituting for a walked-out GG.

Today, we visited La Cinque Terra (Pronounced CHINKway Terra, meaning five lands or five villages) is Italy’s newest national park.  The five villages are located on a rugged coast on the West side of Italy near Pisa.  This was for centuries and still is one of the most isolated parts of Italy.  Even today, there are no roads linking some of the villages to anywhere outside.  Everything comes in via the sea or, within the last 40 years, by rail.  There are only about 5,000 people who live in these villages.

If the villages are isolated the small vineyards that surround the villages are even more isolated, in many cases, accessible only by foot.  For those of you familiar with Provo, imagine trying to raise crops on the face of Y Mountain.  That’s how steep the farmlands are in La Cinque Terra.  The mountainsides are terraced using hand-built walls of dry stone.  In all, there are more than 7,000 kilometers of these dry stone walls.  If stretched end-to-end, they would rival the Great Wall of China for total length.  In many parts of the villages, your friends are either above you or below you, seldom next to you.

I took a zillion photos, but have time only to prepare two for posting.  One is the main square of one of the villages, showing the tiny harbor which was the only connection with the outside world for many hundreds of years.  The second photo shows what the coastline looks like.  You can see one of the villages nestled between the huge mountains in the distance.  On the mountain behind the village, the cleared areas are the farm land.

Click for larger versions of the photos.  We have a slow internet connection on the ship, so I reduced them in size.

Riomaggiore 1-Tweaked-Small CT Coast 1-Tweaked-SM


Day Five: He Made It!

   Posted by: G.G.    in Uncategorized

Imagine my relief when I saw David plus luggage on the gangway trying convince the cruise official that he actually belonged on this ship!  I like to think that it was my honest freckled face that convinced said official, but more likely it was his boarding pass.  I slept a lot today, still recovering from my adventures in Rome.


As I said, I had no interest in Cannes after the fascinations of Utah Valley (LOL).  Actually, the Mediterranean really is blue, but Cannes looks like Irvine (don’t take offense, Buffy.   I just mean it’s full of all the sorts of office buildings you see in So Cal.  After breakfast in bed, I went to sleep again.  This boat is so soporific, all I want to do is sleep and eat.  However, due to the punishment my hips received yesterday, I actually submitted to acupuncture, and it worked!  David insisted we explore the ship in the course of which we dropped by the non-stop buffet and ate goodies.  More goodies for dinner, plus a delightful new couple from Stanford at dinner.  She knows my longtime friend Christy Neidig.  We had many things in common, and that was a delight.  After a day of doing virtually nothing, we must rise in the morning at 6 am to visit Cinque Terre, the five villages that can only be accessed by the sea.  We promise wonderful pictures.

So glad to have my husband back again!