- Exploring in depth the Ancient worlds of Rome, Greece, and Turkey.
- Meeting some wonderful new friends and spending time with current, dear friends.
- Dressing in wild (mostly underwear-oriented) costumes aboard an 11-day gay cruise of 2800+ men.
- Dealing with British Airlines and 4 lost bags, one of which a month later is still to be delivered to us.
- Cancer. Just can't get away from it. It was omni-present for Ed. Throughout the vacation he was dealing with on going side effects of his chemotherapy treatment despite being on a break from it. Throughout the trip he experienced very difficult and painful at times. But he never slowed or refused to do what was on the itinerary!
For those interested, here is what we did day-by-day in terms of the major sites we visited and our opinions. We took over 3000 pictures, and it will surely be a couple of months before a couple of Shutterfly picture albums appear. But, they shall; and when they do, I will post the link for anyone who wants to peruse them.
Where do we go next year? No plans yet. Because of Ed’s ongoing chemotherapy treatments, one day/month at a time for a while. But I am sure it will be somewhere fun and fascinating.
Day 1: Friday, August 7, 2015
Left SFO on a wonderful British Air, overnight flight to London, using miles to fly business-class. With good food and wine and a flat bed to rest, the vacation commenced on very high notes.
Day 2: Saturday, August 8, 2015
Arrived in Rome soon to discover, along with at least 200 others, that none of our (or their) luggage had arrived. We learned, only after landing, that there had been a 2-day luggage handlers strike at Heathrow in two of the terminals (of course, ours being one). We joined in line with lots of other frustrated, upset people -- all facing two frightened-looking clerks who were of no help at all.
Day 3: Sunday, August 9, 2015
Today, we plunged head-first into the glory days of the Roman Empire (after first visiting Coin Department Store the minute it opened to buy some clothes, hats, sunscreen, etc.). We visited:
- The Basilica San Giovanni (Rome's largest and official church, more important to Romans than the Vatican). (Visited while waiting for the store to open!)
- The Colosseum (Hint: Buy tickets in advance online to avoid hours-long lines. Tickets also included the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.)
- Spent a couple hours in the Capitoline Museums, the world's oldest public museums that house amazing, ancient statuary. We took loads of pictures (especially of all the naked male statues, LOL.) Took more pictures of the Forum from above and at different angles. Michelangelo largely designed the Piazza del Campidoglio where the museums are.
- Visited Il Vittoriano (aka the Altare della Patria) and the Piazza Venezia, "an ostentatious, overpowering mountain of white marble" (as one guide book accurately described it), inaugurated in 1911 to celebrate the united Italy. Now the home of the Unknown Soldier, Italians refer to it as the 'wedding cake.'
- Walked through the beautiful lanes of Palatino (Palatine Hill), once home to the rich and elite of ancient Rome.
- Had a beer on Gay Street. Took a nap (Ed) & washed out the few clothes we had (Eddie). Then ate our first of THREE dinners at the wonderful, little restaurant Clementine's (an imaginative Italian menu with lots of California influences) and met the owner, Diana, who also became a friend before the week was up.
Day 4: Monday., August 10, 2015
- Made our way on the Underground Metro to Vatican City and spent the bulk of the day (5-6 hours) in the massive Vatican Museums. (We arrived to find our online tickets were bogus. Only through the good nature of one cute museum employee were we able to go ahead and buy new tickets rather than having to go get in a line that was at least .25 mile long (maybe more) of folks who did not have tickets.)
- Our surprise at the Vatican Museums is how many of the museum's magnificent sub-museums are full of ancient, naked sculptures. Hmmm. Highlights beyond all of those included incredible tapestries and the several frescoed Raphael rooms that were much more (to us) astounding than the celebrated Sistine Chapel. We were not all that impressed with chapel ... especially with the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, the tense atmosphere and very rude guards. The frescoes are so high up (nearly 68 feet) the iconic art appeared to be thumbnail sized.
- We decided to walk the hour or so to get back to our home base of the Colosseum area (and Gay Street's cold beers). Took lots of photos along the way, including of Castel Sant'Angelo, a round castle on the Tiber of Emperor Hadrian and converted in 6th Century into a papal fortress.
- Had dinner later that night (always around the 10 p.m. time) overlooking the Colosseum at a nice balcony restaurant.
(We did receive notice that all 4 bags had arrived at noon from London to Rome Airport. As it turned out, that did not help a lot. Rome Airport was overwhelmed with thousands of bags and was ill-prepared and seemingly not-inclined to deal with them very fast.)
Day 5: Tuesday, August 11
- Visited the National Gallery of Modern Art (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna), and we were really impressed and delighted.
- Next, went to the National Estruscan Museum (Museo Nazionale Etrusco), housed in the former mansion of Pope Julius III (Villa Giulia) and displaying some of the most important pieces of Etruscan art in the world. Another 'don't miss when in Rome'. (We had already fallen in love with Etruscan history and art after a major exhibit several years ago in SF.)
- Walked home along a pedestrian mall street (Via del Corso). Got caught in a major downpour without umbrellas. Waited it out in a small, old church in Piazza del Popola.
- Dinner next to the Colosseum at an outdoor, gay-owned restaurant where we met other guys going on the same cruise as us later in the week.
(Today, our first bag arrived, but it was a small one with books, toiletries, and odds and ends in it. No clothes or shoes.)
Day 6: Wednesday, August 12
- Waited all morning until 1 p.m. for 2 more luggage bags to arrive. Luckily, these were the two large ones with all our clothes and all our cruise party costumes! But still, no bag with all our shoes.
- Walked to the Circus Maximus, which is mostly open ground now but still impressive in its huge size.
- Saw Temples di Ercole and Portunus, both dating to somewhere around the 2nd century, BCE.
- Explored the Teatro di Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus), where concerts are still held. Took a walk around it and nearby in what was once the Jewish Ghetto of Rome, the first and oldest in Europe. Shop signs in Hebrew still seen along the bumpy, busy Via del Portico d'Ottavia, speaking to the heritage when this was the eastern boundary of the small, crowded part of the City the Church 'allowed' the Jews to live.
- Under renovation, we went past but could not see much of the Portico d'Ottavia, a colonnaded walkway built in 147 BCE by Augustus to display statues plundered from Greece. The area later became a fish market during medieval times and up to the end of the 19th century.
- Crossed the Tiber and the small Tiber Island on the Ponte Fabricio (built 62 BCE). Walked through the winding, shop and cafe-laden alleys and streets of Trastevere (which becomes entertainment central in the evenings, or so we were told).
- With pain about to cripple him, Ed stumbled the long walk back to our place. But after some rest, we headed to Clementine's for another amazing meal and a fun conversation with the owner, Diana.
Day 7: Thursday, August 13
- On our last day, we saw some of the other iconic, Roman sites that we had so far missed, all planned in a walk by our wonderful B&B host and now-friend, Gianfranco.
- But first, we went shoe shopping (since it was evident that our 4th bag was not to be delivered before we boarded our ship on Friday). Luckily, sales abounded since Rome closes everything (all stores, most restaurant, most pharmacies, many museums) for at least a week, beginning with Ascension Day, Aug. 15. There are worse things than shopping for shoes in Italy!!
- We first explored the many levels of the Basilica of San Clemente, a present church where we descended various levels to medieval and paleo-Christian layers to the lowest depths where the members of the ancient cult of Mithras met and performed grisly rituals. There are still areas being excavated for further discoveries.
- As in Paris, the Pantheon of Rome (120 CE) is huge and very impressive. Its inner dome is immense and considered one of Rome's most important architectural achievements. Still today it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.
- One of our most enjoyable times in Rome was spending a late-afternoon lunch of thin-crust pizza and a mountainous serving of gelato at the immense and very busy Piazza Navona, eating at AI Tre Tariff. Three beautiful fountains, many outdoor restaurants, and a constant parade of the world's visitors (not to mention a superb front-row table at an excellent restaurant) made this a hit.
- Less impressive by the time we reached it in the late afternoon as clean-up was occurring from its famed outdoor market was Campo de' Fiori. And we were too early for its transformation into a supposed raucous, outdoor pub in the evening. Oh well, next time.
- After our normal nap and rest, we surprised Diana by coming back yet one more time to eat and socialize at Clementine's and to grab lots of pictures with our new friend and the hot, young waiter who had served us all week (and whose name we never got!).
Day 8: Friday, August 14
Day 9: Saturday, August 15
- Before we went ashore to the port of Naples, Eddie began the first of 7 personal training sessions he had with the wonderful Marco of the Canyon Ranch Spa on board. Over the course of the cruise, Marco gave Eddie 5 days worth (all videoed) of exercises and stretches to help strengthen his lower back and to build some upper body strength as well as to work on balance and spinal alignment. (Now the question is, will he really follow through at home? Time will soon tell.)
- On board, we attended after dinner the "True Colors" on-deck party at 11 p.m., wearing our red, white & blue from the good ol' USA and marveling at all the many international colors and their near-bare bearers around us.
Day 10: Sunday, August 16
- Bach on ship, we played at the pool in the late afternoon until mid evening (admiring all the 'local' scenery), had dinner, and retired a bit earlier than usual (i.e., before 1-2 a.m. or later).
Day 11: Monday, August 17
- At sea all day, which was a welcomed rest from our many days of non-stop touring. We mostly read books in the shade and then attended an uproarious, packed Bingo extravaganza, hosted by two dueling drag queens, La Voix and Dixie Longate (aka the fast-talking Tupperware Lady). Unfortunately, we failed to win the several thousand dollars won by a few, lucky others; but we did get a lot of laughs for our $70 (cost of our Bingo cards).
- And the night's show was the incredible Vanessa Williams (the first African-American woman crowned Miss America) who took us through a journey of her life's ups and downs, bringing much humor and wonderful musicality to our evening.
Day 12: Tuesday, August 18
- At Chania, Crete, we chose to explore the ancient, picturesque port town itself versus availing ourselves to the many excursions heading out to other sites on Crete.
- Our first, key stop was at yet another Archeological Museum, this one relatively small but still with interesting artifacts of ancient Crete and Greece.
- Continuing through fascinating streets of shops and alleys, we wandered through the old Jewish Quarter on Kondilaki Street and visited the still-active, small Etz Hayyim Synogogue, built in the 17th Century.
- Nearby, we had our first fabulous luncheon salads in Greece along with welcomed, cold mugs of Greek beer.
- Winding our way along the long seaside street, we went to the Firka Fortress, used in the past as a fort, barracks, and a prison.
- We took many pictures of the beautiful port and harbor, the many shops and brightly colored buildings, and the Chania Lighthouse proudly guarding over the entire scene.
- And we made our first purchases that were not replacements for lost items from our luggage. After perusing for a long while a large ceramic workshop, we chose two small wall hangings in the style of many of the Greek and Roman sculptures and frescoes we had been seeing for well over a week. We also happened upon a fabulous glass gallery of a local artist where we bought a brightly colored fused-glass wall piece reminding us of the streets and stacked, hillside houses we were seeing everywhere we went in Chania.
- The Tea-Dance today was a 'soaked' affair where 2000+ boys were repeatedly blasted with fountains and streams of water in all directions, all while drinking and dancing. We chose to watch from above. (I hate getting wet, and Ed decided just to rest awhile longer.)
- But in the late evening, we donned our Greek warrior outfits (thank you, Amazon.com) and joined the packed decks for an all-out, fun "Mamma Mia! It's Greek!" dance and party.
- Day 13: Wednesday, August 19
- In magical Mykonos, Greece, we first bused with boys over to the gay Elia Beach for 5 hours of sun, lunch, and more 'sight-seeing.'
- Day 14, Thursday, August 20
- In yet another gallery of art, we met a gay man who too was quite a character. We found a modern-style, high-colored oil painting with ancient themes (including a central Greek warrior). We bargained a bit and soon became convinced to buy it, have it shipped, and hang it who-knows-where. But we thoroughly loved how it will remind us for years of our many days of exploring ancient Rome and Greece.
- Day 15: Friday, August 21
- And now we arrive in Bodrum, Turkey to begin several days of touring parts of the world that both look familiar in a European way and also look/feel totally different from anywhere we have ever been.
- After a wonderful Turkish lunch at an outdoor restaurant on one of the main streets of the old city, we ventured to the site of the famed Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. As we had read, not much was left but a big hole and some random pieces of ancient stones. But there was an interesting history and drawings of what this wonder of the world must have been. Still, too little for the long, hot walk there and back.
- The rest of our time ashore was mostly spent walking through the mid-town, pedestrian mall but this time, buying nothing.
Day 16: Saturday, August 22
- We then visited the modern Ephesus Archaeological Museum that contained many statues and lots of other artifacts from the Ephesus ruins.
- After a stupendous, multi-course lunch, we had a wonderful tour and demonstration of Turkish rug making at a school (sponsored by the government) where young women learn the heritage way of hand-making these rugs. Of course, we did succumb and buy a 6' X 9' rug for our bedroom. How could we not?
- Back on the boat, we learned (with much dismay) that the planned, next day docking in Istanbul had been cancelled; and instead there would be a day at sea. The supposed reason was heightened security issues, but strangely enough, no one could find anything on any news site about anything to worry about. (Current issues with the Kurds were occurring far away in a remote part of the country to the south, with Istanbul being way in the north.) We suspect there were economic reasons for a ship and cruise company that both saw much more profit by keeping 2800 guys on board who like to party all night and drink the many bars dry. But, who knows.
- And in fact, the 11 p.m. White Party began and for some/many (but not us), lasted well after dawn.
Day 17: Sunday, August 23
- So, like everyone else, we enjoyed a day of relaxing, reading, and packing. We also had a great time at the final party, a classic disco tea dance at 5 that would not end for many hours. Just imagine the costumes these queens on board wore. Oh, my!!
Day 18: Monday, August 24
- The extensive grounds and many palaces of the Topkapi Palace Museum, home of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years.
- The Grand Bazaar (where we bought a replacement suitcase). It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.
- St. Sophia Museum & Church, a former Christian basilica and then an imperial mosque and finally a museum.
- The Underground Cistern & Basilica dating back to the 6th century.
- A 1.5 hour boat tour of the Istanbul shoreline (Bosporus strait), full of intriguing homes/mansions, many bridges, forts, hillside communities, etc.
- The Spice Market (where we bought Turkish Delight from supposedly the best makers in Istanbul).
- We checked into one of the nicest hotels we have ever stayed in (and for a very reasonable rate), the Vault. We had good-bye drinks on the rooftop terrace with Kevin & Anton, who were leaving for home the next morning, and watched the sun set over the hills, harbor, and many mosques.
- That night, we had a great time exploring the gay part of Istanbul with our hosts, Okan and Hasan (the gay couple and founders/owners of TSC Travel). We once again came away with new friends we will stay in touch with.
Day 19: Tuesday, August 25
- We walked all through the narrow streets and hilly alleys of Balat, the old Jewish/Armenian/Greek section of Istanbul. We saw, but could not enter, the Ahrida Synagogue.
- We marveled at the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, all works by Turkish artists. Again, our jaws were often on the floor.
- We went to the Neve Shalom Synagogue, a current congregation and a beautiful facility.
- We then visited the adjoining Jewish Museum of Turkey to learn the long history of Jews in Turkey (since 1492 when the Sultan welcomed Jews from Spain and Portugal to bring 'modern' medicine and the printing press to Istanbul). Jews have actually flourished for centuries in Turkey and were protected from the Nazis by the Turkish leaders (who rescued many of their Jewish citizens caught in Nazi-occupied lands).
- We then spent time at Süleymaniye Mosque, Moustapha's personal favorite mosque, and our favorite too. It also offered from its grounds awesome views of the city and port below it.
- Finally, we had a drink and a long visit with Moustapha before saying good-bye. Another friend gained.
Days 20-23: Wednesday - Saturday, August 26-29
- We did spend a day in the British Museum. While we had been there a dozen years prior, this time the visit had much more meaning since so many of the exhibits came from sites, cities, and countries where we had been on this trip.
- We spent two of the best days of our entire 3+ weeks with our dear friends Carlo and J.C., who came from Amsterdam just to see us. We mostly walked streets, sat in coffee shops, ate fun meals, and drank a few pints (all but Carlo, at least, who chooses to abstain). We talked and talked and talked. We also got to meet a number of their London friends, who now are our friends.
- And we did see four plays (fewer than we would have if there alone, but spending time with friends won out easily):
- "1984," a staged version of the famous Orville novel. Given new twists to bring it up to date today's concerns about "Big Brother" snooping via the Internet, large data banks, etc. Very well done. Very startling. Rating: 5 E's.
- "Bend It Like Beckham," a new musical that follows the same storyline as the well-known 2002 movie. The story is inspired by the first British women's soccer team to compete internationally in 1991 (long after other countries like the USA had well-known women's teams). Has a lot of Bollywood flavor since the star player is a young British Indian girl. The real sleeper of our four choices. A winner. Rating: 5 E's
- "Gypsy," the much-touted revival that everyone we know said we had to see in order to see Imelda Staunton in the role of Mamma Rose. The problem is, Mamma was sick that night, and we got an understudy (the first time she had missed a performance in the 200+ ones to-date. The result was only average. Having seen Patti LaPone in the same role a few years back in an outstanding B'Way revival, we were really disappointed. Rating: 3 E's. (I am sure it could ha been '5' with Imelda in the role.)
Day 24: Sunday, August 30
- Once again in business class on British Air, we enjoyed a nice, uneventful flight home, arriving this time with all luggage we but still missing the 4th piece we left with.
How blessed we are to have been able to make such a momentous, marvelous trip where we learned much, met new friends, and saw sights we had only read about. How brave of Ed that he lasted through each day, even when his pain made it difficult at times to stand upright. But as you can see above, he hardly, if ever, missed a beat.
And if you have made it this far, dear friends, you need a vacation, too!!