Roma

“Rome was mud and smoky skies; the rank smell of the Tiber and the exotically spiced cooking fires of a hundred different nationalities. Rome was white marble and gilding and heady perfumes; the blare of trumpets and the shrieking of market-women and the eternal, sub-aural hum of more people, speaking more languages than Gaius had ever imagined existed, crammed together on seven hills whose contours had long ago disappeared beneath this encrustation of humanity. Rome was the pulsing heart of the world.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Forest House

Mykonos!

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Skipping over Thessaloniki and Athens for now as I just processed the Mykonos photos. I felt the need to revisit. Ahhhh Mykonos, such a magickal, mystical island. When my son, Chad and I landed on the shore by ferry boat from Athens it was windy and a bit cold. It was mid-March and way before the tourist season was to begin. Everything was closed for the season and many were out painting and doing construction to get ready for opening day. We literally had to eat in one small section of the island as the only cafes serving were down on the bay front. I missed the wonderful veggie crepes that my daughter Stacy and I bought and ate back in 2005. The crepe stands are everywhere and are delicious! All of the bars were closed much to my sons disappointment. But we did linger in the waterfront cafes over very good pasta, pizza and risotto while drinking Greek wine and gazing out across the blue waters. Enjoy the gallery of images here.

Sofia to Thessaloniki

My son joined me in Sofia, Bulgaria in early March and we were at the apartment for about a week before we left the snow behind us and went on to sunny Greece. Here are a few pics taken in Sofia.

Sofia
A building on our street next to our apartment building
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.

I was so very happy to finally be on the train and headed to Thessaloniki, Greece. We had a train compartment all to ourselves and we were very comfortable for our trip through what looked to be Siberia out our windows. Arrived after dark in Thessaloniki to an empty taxi stand and deserted street but eventually a taxi pulled up to drop people off and we flagged him down. Our hotel was in a great area with plenty of places to walk to and no taxi needed to just wander around and reach the cafes and waterfront.

Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece
Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece

We immediately set out for a restaurant since we hadn’t eaten in awhile. We were directed by the desk clerk to a local buffet style cafe that looked to be just closing and had no customers but the man greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us to come in which we have come to learn is the Greek way. Instead of menu he told us our options and we both chose the soup. Nothing like a great big hot bowl of soup after a long trip. The waiter brought out a plate of big thick slices of homemade bread to soak up the soup. Of course we had wine with dinner and at this point we hadn’t yet learned that it is pretty much served automatically like water in Greece. We were pretty happy. And it is in those few moments that come here and there and often without warning that you learn to cherish the adventures of traveling. Alas I have no photos from the place as we were too busy enjoying the experience. In the above photo you can see the outside seating for the restaurant where we had a great first meal and incredible hospitality.

Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.                               

After a good nights sleep we ventured out to an outdoor cafe stand a couple blocks from our hotel. My daughter and I ate at these throughout our backpacking trip in 2005. They are a chain in Greece and sell pizza, sandwiches, drinks and cappucinos. We had a cappucino and pizza for breakfast, which is perfect if you ask me. The sun was already shining and it was glorious to be in the Mediterranean. We set out for the waterfront and along the way passed many churches and ruins of some awe inspiring gazing.

Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .

My son was a little uncomfortable at the open stares his way but I tried to explain that he looked pretty different and was wearing many labels on his clothing. Meaning that the looks were probably just looks of interest and wonder. I personally think his style is eclectic and stands out even in the U.S.! Open staring in many other countries like Greece and Italy, the two that I know of, where staring does not carry the same meaning and is not rude or mean hostility, like it often does in the U.S. We generally experienced a great deal of interest and hospitality while in Thessaloniki. This is just one of the many reasons I love traveling in Greece.

Here are some more photos of Thessaloniki, they have quite the cafe culture there and we enjoyed hopping from one cafe to another for a bit while there.

A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
Interesting things to read everywhere.
Interesting things to read everywhere.

We took a taxi out to an indoor skate park on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for my son to meet the owners and skate the park for a bit. My son is a pro-am skate boarder and so is always promoting his team, Lib Tech while he is out traveling. He was over run by roller bladers at this particular park though and we didn’t stay long.

As soon as I get my photos organized I will upload more. After returning a little over three months ago I am just now beginning to feel like I am rested. This trip took a lot out of me in so many ways. It was so worth it though! I fell in love with Greece all over again. I will return to my beloved Greece.

Internship in Bulgaria

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia, Bulgaria

My next journey will be to Sofia, Bulgaria in late January. I have accepted one of four offered internships at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was offered internships in Milan, The Holy See and Romania. It was a tough decision to make but I chose Sofia for a few reasons, including the rich history of the area and my fascination with how they have maintained a cultural identity given the many invasions and rulers that have occupied Bulgaria.  I intend to research and photograph some lesser known story. I will also be spending forty hour weeks at the embassy learning all about public affairs and cultural affairs in addition to working on a research project on Byzantine sources supervised by one of my professors and a PSU class online on Gothic art. I will be busy!

The internship lasts three months and then my son will be joining me in Bulgaria and we will travel to Greece and possibly Turkey for a couple weeks. Then make our way up to Germany to see my brother and sister in law who live in Stuttgart.  Another reason I chose Sofia is to take part in a fresco photo documenting expedition with the Balkan Heritage Field School. I support their efforts to document and archive the frescoes that are being destroyed and lost to history.

I have so much to learn in the next few months before I leave, I hope my brain will expand and contain it all!  I am still learning Italian, because I am tentatively planning on applying to graduate school in Lucca. I am learning some Bulgarian, which is really hard because it uses the Cyrillic alphabet. I am brushing up on my microsoft skills (ha) and learning to use excel (I use google docs for everything).  In addition I am putting together a cookbook for my son who will be living the bachelor life and does not know how to cook, some of his favorite dishes in easy to read format.

My life is really full but it is full of the things I dearly love and as my vision of how I always wanted to live becomes a reality, I can only look around in awe and say, Thank you, I am so blessed.

Reno Roadtrip

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My twenty year old son, mom and I took a road trip to Reno this past weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I did most of the driving and as always I passed photo after photo opportunity. I always notice the most photo ops while I am behind the wheel of the car. You know that perfect light meets matter moment and you catch it as you are whizzing by at 65 miles per hour. Or the tractor is plowing across the field, leaving a cloud of dust behind and the sun is situated at just the right angle…these moments kill me as I fly by…missed shots that I silently mourn as I keep on keeping on. Sometimes I call them out to my son hoping that at least someone can capture them but once called out the moment has passed and the shot isn’t THE ONE. I entertained the idea of having someone drive me around for a “driving photo shoot” just so I could see how many shots I could capture that I feel I miss while driving. The one I am still mourning from our trip to Reno is the “ghost diner” along hwy 39 in Cali. It was complete with old neon sign, frosty cones and whispers of teens gone by pulled up outside.  I may have to drive this route again just to shoot that one.  Happy drive-by shootings!

Solo Cruising on Carnival Cruise Line

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Carnival Victory docked at Grand Turk

I did it! I went completely solo on a cruise to the Bahamas. Carnival is the only cruise line that I know of that has lifted the solo supplement charge on select solo cruises. I paid what every other passenger paid and had a stateroom to myself. Smart move Carnival! I learned that I am courageous, still 20 something in some ways and am a lot of fun to be alone with. I began my journey on a very early flight to Ft. Lauderdale from PDX where I did not have to go through normal security but went through a short version where I did not remove my shoes or anything from my person or my bags and just walked through a detector and my bags went through a belt. Great start!

Upon arrival in FLL I called my hotel, Rodeway Inn and Suites and a shuttle was on its way. Florida in May is humid and hot. The hot was not so bad but the humidity was an adjustment. Rodeway Inn is a quaint little hotel with a very 50’s vibe about it. The hotel lobby has a little store where you can buy anything you forgot and more. Behind the lobby desk is a huge selection of wine, liquor and cigarettes. The staff are wonderful and very friendly. They have a restaurant on site with an outdoor patio that shares the same common area as the pool complete with sandbox and meandering paths through palm trees. Along those paths are some wooden props with face cutouts for fun photo ops. Music is piped out over the enclosed area and it has a celebratory party beach vibe. I was upgraded to the jacuzzi suite! The room was fabulous and the decor had been updated to the current decade. The bed was huge with really nice linens and right next to it was a huge jacuzzi. There was a small kitchen area that was bigger than the one I had in Italy. It had a microwave and refrigerator.

After I turned on the air conditioning, I decided to wander down to the lobby for some wine and food. I asked at the desk for some delivery menus and after hearing the wait time would be over 2 hours for any food in the area I opted for a frozen pizza that they sell right there. A small bottle of Barefoot Moscato and my 4 cheese pizza in my room watching my flat screen television. I took a soak in the jacuzzi and the bubbles massaged all the travel soreness out of my body, the wine out of my spirit. Then I hit the bed. Slept soundly with no issues. Never tried out the shower that was gorgeous with a glass enclosed stone shower and huge rain shower head. But I assured them at the desk, I would be back! I want to try out the restaurant, pool and party area.

Bright and early my shuttle service called to let me know they would be picking me up 30 minutes prior to the scheduled time and I jumped into fast mode. SAS Shuttle service provides shuttle service throughout the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and specialize in hotel/airport to cruise terminal Miami/Fort Lauderdale service all for $15 one way. Really nice comfortable vans with air conditioning. I did find out while waiting for my shuttle in front of the hotel that the hotel also provided shuttle service to Miami cruise port and it is probably the same price. Next time I will use the hotel shuttle for all transportation. The hotel provides free shuttle from airport to hotel and charges $5 for service to FLL cruise port. Still a great convenience and price.

Embarkation is always a wait and as smooth as Carnival makes it, the bigger the ship the longer it takes. Putting almostImage

3,000 people through security checks and check in can take awhile. I am not usually one of the passengers that is ready to embark first. The cabins are not ready until after 1:30pm and so if you embark before that time you are required to wait on ship. Most passengers go to the buffet to eat and drink and listen to the music by the pool area. I hardly ever go to the buffet on embarkation day but this time I missed breakfast due to the shuttle coming early. So I headed up to the buffet and got some food. The buffet food is not bad but it is not good either. It does the job of taking away hunger and that is about all. It may be a different experience for people who eat meat but for vegetarians the options are limited and never seem to be very satisfying. The salad bar is good but only offers iceberg lettuce and that is the one lettuce I just don’t care for. I had some roasted potatoes, potato salad, green salad and pasta salad. That is pretty representative of what the buffet has for vegetarians; a bunch of carbs and salad. I also avoid the buffet during the cruise because the food safety is a concern with me in the temperatures that the food sits at. The issue is that the buffet is near open doors to the pool area and in the humidity and heat it seems dangerous to me. I also observed flies landing on food and the kitchen staff ignoring it. Thousands of people eat at the buffet on a cruise and that is too many people hovering over my food choices.

After eating my buffet surprise lunch I headed out to photograph the ship. This is the best time to get shots of the ship without any people in them. No one is out looking at the ship. It is a strange thing but seriously you will see no one in any area but the pool and buffet.

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The Carnival Victory is a beautiful ship with a nautical theme, mermaids can be found everywhere and blue and green glass. I have never sailed on a ship this big and I think I prefer it to the smaller ships. I thought it would be crowded with too many people on bigger ship but it was the opposite and there was plenty of space and even small areas with no people at all. The Victory’s capacity is 2,754 passengers  with 1100 crew and is 893 ft in length. There are two main dining rooms; the atlantic and the pacific. The dining room is two decks high and can be accessed on two decks. One main stage area that is three decks high. It has a disco for late night dancing open until the wee hours of the morning. A piano bar, a karaoke bar, a comedy club (George Lopez’s The Punchliner), a full casino with stage area, an Irish pub (serves pub food) a coffee cafe, a library, an art gallery and more. The Victory is a nice ship. I felt very comfortable with the size and the options of entertainment.

I ate in the dining room every night. I chose “Your Time” dining which is dining in the Atlantic dining room anytime between 5:45-9:30pm. I like the flexibility of dining when I am hungry and working it around the events of the evening. I also wanted to take advantage of being able to dress for dinner every evening and boy did I ! I wore dresses to dinner every night.

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The rest of the time I ate room service meals. Every Carnival ship has 24 hr room service. The menu is limited to sandwiches, salads, chips and desserts but it was enough for me. You also have the option of placing a breakfast order form outside your stateroom door for a delivery of continental breakfast to your stateroom. I did that several mornings as well. I only wandered up to the buffet once on the cruise and it was on a port day when I decided to stay on ship and I knew there were not many people on board so decided to try out the 24 hr pizzeria and it was delicious.

My cruise was a six day cruise and it was enough time to develop a routine. I went ashore on one port day, Grand Turk. The other two port days I stayed on ship and lounged in my stateroom or wandered about the ship. There are activities for those who stay on ship but I didn’t do any. It was fun to just do what I wanted when I wanted to. About 5 or 6pm I would begin getting dressed for the evening. I would go to the early show; either comedy or main show and then eat dinner about 8 or 9pm. After dinner I would go to the piano bar to listen and sing along to songs. As for drinking; I brought onboard a bottle of wine. Each person is allowed to bring onboard ship one bottle of wine in their carry on luggage. That bottle lasted a couple nights in to the cruise. I kept it in my stateroom and poured me a glass and took it with me to the show and in to dinner. If I finished it at dinner then I ordered a glass at dinner and took it to the piano bar with me. You can take your drinks anywhere on ship with you. The wine was not expensive, it ranged from $5.50 – $9.00 a glass or you could buy a bottle and the head waiter in your dining room would store it for you to drink with your dinners. I am not the drinker that I was in my early years. I mostly drink wine with dinner and while watching the show or listening to music. I probably only spent $60 total on wine for the entire cruise.

The entertainment onboard the Victory is top notch. Outstanding entertainers and they work very hard at their jobs. In fact the entire crew onboard the Victory work very hard to make sure you have an outstanding vacation. Which leads me to tipping. The cruise line automatically charges the tips for the entire cruise at the end to your onboard account. It works out to be about $11 USD per day. Now these can be adjusted if you feel you have had poor service or want to increase it as well. I feel this is pitifully low for the level of service that you receive. Remember that bar service always adds 15% to your purchase ticket each time you order drinks so no need tipping above that unless you feel generous. I tipped the entertainer Rob in the piano bar as he did a fantastic job and I appreciated his talent.

This entry is long and there is more to tell…so I will save some for the next entry. Cruising remains one of my favorite ways to see the world. Carnival Cruise line does a fantastic job.

 

 

 

Rest, Relaxation and Sun!!!

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I am going on a week long cruise next week and it will be my first solo excursion in many, many years. I am excited about the new discoveries and freedom that come with being alone. It will definitely be a new experience for me. A cruise ship is hardly alone but for those that know what being a loner is like…one can be totally alone in the midst of a crowd of people. I plan to make some new friends, visit the ship library, lay on a lounge chair and read, go to the beach in port and lay in the sun sipping a tropical fruit drink, visit museums, photograph everything and just do what I want to do, when I want to do it. This actually may be the first vacation that is truly a resting vacation for me.

I work really hard at many things and now I get to put it all away for a week and think about things I want to think about, the color of the sand, the settings on my camera, dining room or buffet, and things that normally fall by the wayside when traveling with other people. Not that I won’t miss them, I will. My kids are wonderful traveling companions and we will have many more travels together.

I just applied for an internship with the U.S. Department of State. This is something I have thought about doing for a while now. The hours upon hours of research that I have done on art conservation/preservation located in Europe keeps bringing me back to government organizations. Both the European government and our government are the leaders in art conservation/preservation efforts. I have also been doing some soul searching about what motivates me and keeps me going …it is service to something greater than myself that contributes to a better world and continual learning. I plan to continue my education overseas and if I can work in the capacity of civil service for the U.S. then even better. If it is meant to be…it will be. But now that the application is completed and submitted, it is time for vacation!!!!

Fearless

I entered a contest that is based on being FEARLESS.  After studying in Italy for three months and taking my autistic son with me, coupled with my age and all the challenges that come with getting older and trying to accomplish great things…I think I am FEARLESS. Please consider following the link and casting your vote by “liking” my photo.

http://fearlesspsu.com/gallery?sort=recent&i=105

The name is Charolette S. and in the photo am standing in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy. It seemed a fitting image for FEARLESS.

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Settling In and Squirming About It

The experts say it takes as long as you were gone studying to go through the stages of reverse culture shock upon returning to your home country. That is about right. So my absence has been an adjustment period for me and I think it took a little extra time to adjust to a new city upon return. Chad and I moved into a new apartment in a new city or rather in my old hometown where I grew up and lived for most of my life. In the meantime, throughout all of this adjustment I managed to continue my classes at PSU. The first term after my return from Italy I took all classes online and then the current term on campus. Life events seem to be changing so fast. This term I find myself a senior and facing the end of my sojourn through an Art History B.A. and it seems it just began! My plan is to continue my education in art history, classical studies, conservation/preservation or some such Masters degree. I am looking at programs in Europe, probably Eastern Europe if all goes according to plan. I would love to study Balkan art history in depth and formulate my thesis on that area of art. I am moved by the history of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. So many ancient layers of art history moved through there over the periods and so much to discover and preserve.

I am itching to travel again and while I feel weary of travel in general and am burrowing in to my new place to feel rooted somewhere, I can already feel the urge to go out and seek again. I don’t know if this ever goes away. This need to find new places out there in the world and inside myself. New sights, smells, tastes and feeling the edge so close that balance becomes mindful. It really is an addiction. I am going to the Bahamas in a few weeks to spend some time on my own, reading, writing, soaking up the sun and while there of course visiting the art museums and cultural museums to get a taste of Bahamian roots. Photos will come! I have a brand new Pentax just waiting to be explored and this trip will be it’s maiden voyage.

I am enjoying the smallness of my life right now because I know from experience that it can change and become huge in a split second. I cherish time spent with my granddaughter and her wonder over how the light turns on and off. Her joy in discovery reminds me of how miraculous the tiny things really are. We flip a switch and have energy, water, TV, music, transportation…illumination. Image

A Photo Book on Pompeii

I visited Pompeii in November. I took a lot of photos but I didn’t feel that any of them ever captured the feelings of the place or what happened there. It was an overcast day when we went and it matched the surrounding ruins perfectly. I haven’t been able to shake the feelings that it generated in me even now. I just made a photo book of photos I took in Pompeii along with poems about the people and devastation of losing an entire city. It was and still is a tragedy for all time. It has changed me. If you are interested in the book…click on the link at the top.

Addendum: 100% of the profits generated from the book sales will be donated to The Great Pompeii Project. A preservation project developed by the Italian government to save the ruins, art and history of Pompeii. Much of it is crumbling away and lost forever to us. Please consider purchasing the book as a donation to this project. 

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