Over the last 35 years, Gina and I have taken many cruises but last weeks ten day cruise to Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Santorini, Greece; San Marino, Italy, was the best ever. Neither Gina or I had been to these ports on Mediterranean Cruises in the past with the exception of Santorini. And, the artists on board were musicians that I have listened to and enjoyed since college. My Cousin, Dr Keneth Tan, turned me on to this cruise over a year ago but I kept signing up too late as they are so popular that they sell out nearly 2000 people in hours and days. We got lucky when over six months ago, we tried to take advantage of my cousin’s cancelation in order to get in this year. Congratulations to my niece Kelly who graduated during this trip Suma cum laude from University of Pennsylvania . and giving us the opportunity to book this cruise. As it turned out, Holland America just opened up some new rooms for us to pick from, having constructed 20 more staterooms on the 10th floor of the Holland American Ship the Westerdam. Next year is already booked in the Baltic with Keneth and friend with rumors that the following year they might cruise Australia.
What made this cruise totally unique to us, was the entertainment on board and the accessibility to the artists. Imagine eating drinking and dancing with people whom you only recognized from album covers or binoculars in concerts. The performances were non stop and overlapping. It was hard to choose whom to see and all the concerts were incredible with other artists playing backup and joining in. After the performances, The artists would hang around to talk and mingle. Sometimes they would eat dinner or lunch with you. None of them had attitude and I must say that the group as a whole really like each other and looked like they were on vacation with us. Even bumping into them at the ports on shore was fun–regular people with incredible talent. Also, with less than 1000 people attending each evenings main performance, and often less than 200 in the lounge venues, you would think that there would be strict rules about recording music, video or photography and Flashes. I was surprised to see people with big cameras, stedycamed video cameras and sound mics in the front row taping and snapping pictures like the press during each and every concert. There were no rules as to what you couldn’t record or photograph. In addition to the performances which were stellar, the artists hosted discussion panels, some with there instruments, on subjects like how to pick a Jazz Sax, or Jazz Guitar to what were the most hellish performances they have ever experienced. There were events for women or men only. Dave Koz did a clinic on how to cook eggs and all the female artist got together in a women only event to discus personal issues that they had overcome and talk candidly with each other. It was motivational and uplifting. We made many friends on this trip that had been on this cruise as many as 5 times. I even met a couple that use to live in Almaden and knew common friends. We actually felt in the minority being our first Jazz Cruise and people were anxious to tell us about there many great experiences on this annual cruise. Gina and I felt like we had finally found “our people”. The cruise was also pleasantly devoid of politics even though you could watch live Fox Network or CNN in your stateroom. The lineup was allstar–Dave Koz, Gerald Albright, Rick Braun, Johnathan Butler, Candy Dulfer, Mindi Abair, Sheila E, Jerffery Osborn, Peter White, Michael Lington, Valerie Simpson and some great suprise guests artists like Aubrey Logan, Javier Colon, Vincent Ingala, Paul Jackson Jr and Marcus Anderson.
When we first booked the cruise, we were more interested in the ports. Venice has always been on the bucket list, and I was very excited to see Dubrovnik where they film Game of Thrones. Gina and Mia were raving about Santorini. Ravenna Italy and Kotor Montenegro were also interesting from a photographers viewpoint because of the historical Antiquities and architecture. I was loaded for bear with my Lumix Gx8 and an Olympus 12-100 f4 all purpose lens three batteries and a gig of SD cards. I ended up taking over 1000 photographs, and about 100 audio and video recordings of unique music.
CLICK THE FIRST PHOTO IN EACH CITY TO SEE PHOTO ALBUMS FROM FLICKR
Dubrovnik’s city walls are a series of defensive stone walls that stretch completely around the old town, a distance totaling 1,940 6,360 ft in length and reach a maximum height of about 82 ft. Gina and I had researched the tour which was labeled strenuous. and everyone except us dropped out halfway through the tour. The main wall on the side facing the sea is 5-10 feet thick, but on the land side it is 13-20 feet thick, because is protected by an additional scarp wall as a defense against artillery fire. The whole city was enclosed with walls in the 13th century, but were continually extended and strengthened up until the 17th century. To increase the strength and defensive position, the walls were reinforced by three circular and 14 quadrangular towers, five bastions (bulwarks), two angular fortifications and the large St. John’s Fortress. Land Walls were additionally reinforced by one larger bastion and nine smaller semicircular. During the war in Croatia from 1991 to 1992, the fortress withstood thousands of modern artillery barrages and still stands today. The most memorable site from the Game of Thrones for us were.
Jesuit Staircase – The first part of the Walk of Shame on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing
Kotor is a fortified town on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, in a bay near the limestone cliffs of Mt. Lovćen. Montenegro has the appearance of an ancient fortification. It is a city of non-stop mountainous views, with an almost unimaginable coast line that I can only describe as Yosemite meets the Lake Tahoe. The moutains rise out of the ocean to 3000 feet leaving a small footprint for an ancient city to access the sea and cliffs to build defenses. As we pulled into the bay, one could see a wall crossing up the steep mountain to a church perched in the middle of the mountain. Above the church, a fortress and a flag about 1000 feet up the mountain. Gina and I both decided that we had to walk to the top of that and set that as our goal. Before we spent ourselves climbing mountain we decided to check out the small village Tici on the Lustica peninsula, get drunk and dance before the physical climbing stuff. The part about getting drunk and dancing was not really planned, but you cant go to these small villages without getting wrapped up in the culture of the small towns which revolves around grappa, olive oil , food, and music. It seemed everywhere we went in Kotor, the locals were singing. “knocking on heavens door” for some reason. It was a bit weird that the song was so popular.
Called “the Ladder” because of it’s steepness and 70+ switchbacks, this was our challenge to complete in less than 2 hours The walls date back to medieval times, started in the 9th century to protect Kotor from invaders. They were added to over the years by whoever ran the city at the time – from the Byzantines to the Venetians – until the 15th century when they finally formed a full loop up into the hillside. There’s a mixture of ramparts, gates, churches, forts and bastions built along them, and despite time, invasion and earthquakes over the years they’re still remarkably well-preserved. We had a gorgeous day for hiking .
it took Gina and I about 45 minutes to reach the Church of Our Lady of Remedy, up at 100 metres high. Built in the 15th century, it supposedly healed people of the plague (though I’d expect the climb finished a few off before they got here…). Now 100 metres up doesn’t sound all that much, but we definitely felt the burn and were amused as we passed people trying to make it up in sandals and platform shoes. Once we made it to the church we stopped to catch our breath and to take in the views down onto the red roofs of Kotor below, the cruise ship in the harbor and across the whole Bay of Kotor. Half way up we saw an old man selling water for 1.5 euros. We found another old man selling water for only one euro at the church. The price was going down as we got higher which didnt make sense to me. At the top, the price of water was again 1.5 euro. Tip of the day was buy water at the church.
From the church we hiked another 155 metres to do to get to the very top – the Fortress of Sveti Ivan, or St John. The original fortress was built in Illyrian times but the one there now is a medieval replacement that where guards would watch over Kotor below. You can see why when you emerge at the top – the impenetrable mountains and panoramic views for miles around means there’s no way any invaders could creep up on you. The fortress is crumbling and ruined now but you can’t help but be impressed by the amount of manpower it must’ve taken to build it up here. From the top, there the only way is down, to a much-deserved shower and dinner on the boat. Hiking down proved a bit harder than hiking up when I started to feel that small meniscus tear in my left knee that seem to get worse as I progressed down the mountain. I limped back to the boat and took a Motrin and hot shower and was fine for dinner. I might have survived going up better than Gina, but she made it down in much better shape than I . It sucks being 60.
Ravenna is a city in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It’s known for the colorful mosaics adorning many of its central buildings, like the octagonal Basilica di San Vitale, the 6th-century Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the cross-shaped Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. North of the center, the Mausoleo di Teodorico built in the 6th century for King Theodoric the Great, is a Gothic, circular stone tomb with a monolithic dome. The highlight of the trip to Revenna was visiting Dante’s Tomb made famous by Dan Browns book Inferno. Dante died in Ravenna in 1321, where he was in exile, just 90 miles from his native Florence. But since his works often included thinly veiled references to powerful people of the time, he wasn’t really welcome in Florence anymore, so he was interred there in Ravenna. Florence decided they wanted their poet back, even building a beautiful memorial for his remains. In 1519 Pope Leo X ordered the bones to be transferred to Florence, but the papal order was refused. Instead, an empty coffin was sent back. The Franciscan monks who had charge of Dante’s remains had secretly removed them from the tomb, and hid them Things took a turn for the strange in 1865, when workers were repairing buildings around the tomb in honor of the sixth centennial of Dante’s birth. While removing part of a wall a few yards away from the tomb, the workers found a dilapidated wooden chest hidden inside the wall. When they lifted it up, one of its rotten planks clattered to the floor, revealing a human skeleton inside. An inscription atop the chest, and another inside, said the remains were Dante’s bones. They were returned to the Ravenna Tomb where they remain today.
Gina has been to Santorini with her mom and sister and often told me how quaint the town is with its candy colored blue domed churches and all white building that look like snow on the hilltops. The architecture theme is something out of the Shire in the Hobbit. Santorini is a bunch of volcanic islands that form a big “C ” surrounding the Caldera (in the center) which is the “active“ volcano area. Not really a big island, there is not much to see after you have viewed the vistas, churches and the boutique shops. I got ripped off by a store owner buying a bag of pistachios when she gave me change for 5 euros when I gave her a 10. You are at the mercy of their memory since that put the money away before giving you change. I suppose one could certainly see Santorini as a romantic island since there is not much distraction from your spouse short of food and church. Plus the white cliff hotels look great, even though the 1.5 million tourist a year are taking pictures of you relaxing in your pool or veranda constantly.
I celebrated my 60th birthday on the cruise. The internet package on the ship was pretty decent and I also managed to call my mother on mothers day from sea. We flew Air France’s Premium Economy which I highly recommend. It was a brutal 11 hour flight and we were very pleased with the leg room and food. Our flight left from SF and landed in Paris where we transfered to Venice. We met some great people on the cruise that we will see again in year in the Baltic Sea when Dave Koz does Scandinavia. Next years ports will be – Copenhagen, Denmark • Stockholm, Sweden • Tallinn, Estonia • St. Petersburg, Russia • Helsinki, Finland. Spots are selling out fast if not already gone but I already know 4 couples have already booked that I know of as well as our new friends on this years cruise. The ship will be Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas.
Mark also started Physician Assistant school in Chicago at Rosalind Franklin Med School.Flying out a day before we returned, we are babysitting his dog Kimmie for a couple weeks until his girlfriend Phoebi picks her up for Seattle where she starts her career with Amazon. We plan to visit him this Thanksgiving.
It was hard to go two weeks without casting a fly rod. I did manage to at least eat alot of fish and I found the only tackle store in Venice. Reports from the Lake are mixed and the weather is in its summer windy cycle. Bolivia next month!