Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Mimi Has Landed

My mother rolled up Friday morning a bit after 9:00 am from her Texas to Heathrow flight.  Since then, we have taken her shopping at three different British grocery stores, attended the Fete de Noel Christmas Fayre at the school my daughters attend, taken the dog to the dog park, had a very tasty meal at our favorite locally owned Italian restaurant, strolled to the pond in our neighborhood to feed some hungry ducks and a swan, decorated the house for Christmas (including the tree), made wassail and enjoyed mother's homemade french onion soup for lunch today.  I can make the same dishes, but they just never taste as good as hers.

Above is a pic of my mother, aka Mimi to my daughters, with her furry grandson.  The teen put him in his sweater, so it looks like he's coordinating with her.  He rather likes having someone else to pat and scratch and talk baby talk to him.

Before we head out for a Christmas markets river cruise from Basel, Switzerland, to Frankfurt, Germany, we'll be doing fun stuff like touring the British Museum, shopping at Harrod's, attending a matinee of the musical "Jersey Boys" and sitting down with a friend I've known since fourth grade for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall's Final Foliage

Last night when I took Ollie out into the back garden to take care of his business, he had to hotfoot it through the growing piles of leaves that have completely covered one of his favorite poo spots.  The yard service hasn't been here in over a week and the leaves are taking over.

When I was standing around waiting for Ollie to pick just the right tinkle spot this morning, I noticed leaves falling from the trees like pretty yellow snowflakes.  The wind doesn't even have to blow through the branches.  They're just ready to drop.

In the front of the house, I noticed some late blooming flowers.  The rose bushes along the back patio were still producing a few beautiful blooms until mid October.

While snapping pics of the flowers, I noticed some pretty foliage at the end of our drive.  I like how the green privacy hedges frame the tree that shines like a yellow beacon.

As I was walking back to the front door, I looked back to see the beautiful foliage peeking through the evergreen trees, resembling sunshine or fire.

With our move back to Texas this next summer, I won't miss the damp, dark days of fall here in the UK.  However, I will miss the lovely autumnal colors.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oct Cruise - Athens

Finally, finally I had the chance to visit Athens on this trip.  Ever since I took an ancient Greece history class in college, I've longed to see all of the things I learned from my very enthusiastic professor.  Last year we took a Mediterranean cruise for October travel week and our itinerary included Athens. However, there were protests planned for the week since Greece has been upset about EU austerity measures per their bailout plan.  Therefore, the cruise line altered our itinerary.  Instead of Athens, we visited Malta.  And I'm glad we did because there were a couple deaths in Athens during the rioting that week.

The husband had to bail on us and return to the US, so the 6th grader and I left for a shore excursion while he took a taxi to the Athens airport.  The highlight of the tour for me was our visit to the Acropolis.  It was incredibly crowded and immediately brought to mind a vision of ants crawling all over their mound.  

But once we finally made it to the top, we had some great vistas, looking both down from our perch and across the city.

Modern Athens was more or less what I expected - crowded, noisy, kinda dirty and in need of a facelift.  Nor was I surprised to see evidence of their ongoing unrest regarding the continued EU austerity measures as we rode the bus on our way to the Acropolis.  Public buildings seemed to be the target of their political graffiti, though there was a lot of garden variety tagging on buildings all over the city.

Just as I always imagined, the ruins atop the Acropolis were magnificent.

Above you see the Parthenon (pardon the dust, but shoring up they must since it was constructed in the 5th century BC) and below is the Erechtheum with the famous Porch of the Caryatids (six draped female figures serving as columns).  What you see are replicas since five of the originals are in the Acroplis Museum while the sixth is here in England where I had a chance to view it at the British Museum.

In the picture below, you can appreciate how the columns have been cleaned but the underside of the porch has not.

I was intrigued by the above portion of the Parthenon.  The poor horse looks as if it has been trapped and is getting crushed.  

Ephesus had cats, Delos had lizards and the Acropolis had dogs.  

After a morning spent on the Acropolis, we were dropped off at the Plaka for a couple hours of free time.  We had lunch at an outdoor cafe and trotted across the street for gelato.  I took a pic of our 2 receipts because they were written in Greek.

We snooped through tourist shops before ending up at the base of the Acropolis to take a stroll through the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus.  

Right across the crazy busy Athens street where traffic lights seemed to be merely suggestions, the pick up spot for our tour bus, were the remains of the Arch of Hadrian.  Built in the second century AD by the Romans, you can just see the Parthenon peeking from the Acropolis near the top of the arch.

From the other side of the arch, with the street to your back, you could see the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  Also known as the Olympieion, construction began in the sixth century BC but it wasn't completed until the second century AD.  

The toppled column between the two standing ones resembles a tube of cookie dough that has been sliced into pieces for baking.

Biggest surprise on our Athens tour - stumbling upon a tortoise at the base of the Acropolis.

Back on board ship, my traveling buddy and I won the 1980s music trivia challenge in the Schooner Bar, earning a key chain and flashing ring for our efforts.  Recognize any of these oldies but goodies from our answer card?

Last, but not least, we ended our evening with another towel critter after dinner.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oct Cruise - Delos and Mykonos, Greece

Our third stop on the cruise was in Mykonos, Greece.  There is no deepwater port, so we had to ride a tender to get ashore.  And since we were taking a tour of the nearby deserted island of Delos, we hopped aboard another boat for the 30 minute ride to see the ruins.

A lifelong history nerd, I never met a set of ancient ruins that didn't fascinate me. The ruins at Delos aren't as extensive or impressive as those at Pompeii and Ephesus, but I was still enthralled.

Below is a pic of a lovely old olive press in one of the Delian workshops they've excavated.

Above is an old cistern in a section of the excavated ruins where homes were located. Below you can see a couple columns still standing near the lake (greenery behind it).  As the guide told us while we were walking through the lake, it has to be drained when the archaeologists arrived to keep them from catching malaria from the mosquitoes.

Some of the floor mosaics they have uncovered are in remarkably good shape, considering they were created hundreds of years before Christ was born.

Delos is an important part of the mythology of ancient Greece since it's believed to be the birthplace of Apollo, son of Zeus.  At one time, people from places such as Greece, Italy, Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine, including Jews, lived in relative harmony on the island.  It was thought to have a population of about 25,000 at its height of influence and popularity.  

Over time, Delos has been sacked and pillaged, beginning with King Mithridates in 88 BC when he razed much of it, killed thousands and sold the remaining inhabitants into slavery. It lay in ruins for centuries until it was rediscovered in the late 1870s.  Since then it has been excavated by the French School of Archaeology.

Today Delos is open to tours and also contains a visitor's center/museum.  It's interesting to note that the rule put in place back in 425 BC still exists today.  The Athenians at that time decreed a purification of the island.  All of the graves were removed and henceforth no births or deaths will be allowed on the island.  And to ensure that, visitors must leave every afternoon.

It's amazing how these dry stack walls, both homes and shops, are still partially standing after all these years.  As expected, parts of Delos resembled an architectural graveyard, with columns and pediments scattered all around.  It was all just a little too big and unwieldy to hide beneath my raincoat, so no amazingly awesome ancient souvenir for me.

Lo and behold, some of the writing remains on the ruins.  I'd love to be able to read it.

And plaster from a couple thousand years ago - with the bright colors favored in that day still faintly intact.

While looking back through my pictures, these two really caught my eye.  The first one is a portion of a phallic symbol, very popular on the island.  This isn't some crude drawing, but rather a marble penis (obviously severed) with testes and even pubic hair visible just at the base where it sits atop the plinth.  Public pornography, to my WASPy way of thinking.  

And the second was a lion's head detail on a building.  Not so sharp and crisp due to weathering through the centuries, but still really beautiful.

While we were touring Delos, there was a thunderstorm approaching. We saw lightning and heard enough thunderclaps to make me glad our tour on the barren island was almost done.  At one point, I looked off into the distance and saw a funnel cloud.

Whereas Ephesus had resident cats, Delos had lizards.  And it seems there were a variety of sorts and sizes.  I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about them, though the two lower elementary aged boys on our tour were thrilled to have something to do (attempt to catch one) besides listen to the guide's spiel.

After our tour, we took the boat back over to Mykonos and roamed along the shorefront for a bit.  

If you look closely at the above pic, you can see a rainbow.  While I was purchasing the requisite Mykonos magnet - I have a magnet collection representing all of our travels - the husband and daughter found a gelato shop.

While we were waiting on our tender back to the ship, we stood beneath some fish market stalls, already closed for the day, and spied a cat.  No doubt it's a favorite spot for the kitties to hang about and wait for something to accidentally hit the ground.