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Sunday, February 27, 2011

We're back!

Dear Family and Friends,

Arrived home late Friday night after being up for 26 hours.  I haven't done that since freshman year in college.  Between travel and 8 hours time difference my body felt pretty beat up but am doing much better today.  To see what our kids were up to while we were gone, check out Meredith's blog.  She was nice enough to take pictures, video and write down all the ups and downs of her two weeks.  It made me feel like I was almost there in person.

As for what we did here are my thoughts from our trip that I wrote along the way:

We are having a day at sea, passing by Galipole, Turkey and I wanted to write down my thoughts and impressions before they start to fade.    I still cannot believe we are doing this trip.  What it has really brought home to me is how grateful I am to live where I live and how blessed my life is.  I didn't realize how much I take for granted until I see so many people who lack.

After a week of panic to make sure I didn't forget anything we took off early  last Friday.  Spent a day  and night traveling and arrived in Barcelona, Spain.  Despite my body trying to tell me it was really 1 am the Larsens and us left our luggage at our hotel and spent the day exploring.  We spent 2 days literally walking the city and hopping on and off the subway exploring every tourist attraction.  After looking at all of Gaudi's buildings I learned why he coined the adjective gaudy.  The Sagridia Familia is a cathedral he designed that is still under construction and was the most interesting cathedral I ever saw.  All of his buildings look like they were made out of putty and then left in the hot sun for awhile till it started to melt. Saw the Olympic Stadium, the art museum and fountains and enjoyed paella and swiss hot chocolate (really plain whipped cream with chocolate sauce that you almost eat - I forgot how everything is smaller and less overtly sweet in Europe) along Las Ramblas a hyped up version of an outdoor mall.  Sunday we spent the day in the baroque part of the city seeing all the old cathedrals.  So technically we went to church and even were there for the sacrament!  All the old buildings and the amazing stained glass windows and the narrow cobbled streets made me feel like I was walking streets straight out of the books I have read.  One thing that has really impressed me on this trip is the obvious dedication, money and time that people have put into their religious buildings whether it be Greek temples, Catholic buildings or Moslem mosques.  We went to the city park that houses their government buildings and saw the Triton fountain that was my favorite fountain of the trip and several castles.  My impressions of Barcelona were tiny streets, lots of motorcycles with everyone remembering their helmets, parks everywhere, ladies pushing their shopping in little wheeled bags, cafes on every corner with people hanging out with their caffe and croissant (my chocolate croissant was delicious although I felt very out of place being a non-coffee drinker), apartments everywhere with beautiful railings on their porches and lots of plants, orange trees ripe with fruit along the streets, and beautiful buildings and sculptures everywhere you looked with graffiti quite common, and recycling bins everywhere.

Sunday night it was off to the ship where on our "off" days I have slept in and exercised with the sun up, eaten way too much, realized how big American portions truly are, taken naps and read books, played lots of card games and seen cool shows.  It actually took me a few days to get into the lazy mode but I am fully there now!  I had a weird buzzy, dizzy feeling for a few days until my body got used to the time change but then I was fine.

Tuesday we spent the day at Rome.  We had a tour guide take us and the Larsens around.  We saw the Coliseum, the forum and every other famous fountain and Roman remain you have ever seen in picture books.  We toured the Vatican and St. Peters.  Enjoyed a pasta lunch and gelato and soaked in Rome as much as we could.  It felt like a dream seeing everything I have read about in history classes.  Seeing Michaelanglo's painting of God touching Adam in the Sistine chapel or Raphael's paintings of the Greek philosophers.  You could literally spend weeks in the Vatican trying to see everything and would have a huge crick in your neck as half the artwork is on the ceiling.  St. Peters is HUGE.  I honestly had no idea.  My impressions of Rome are ancient beauty almost all through the Catholic church.  You literally cannot go down a street without seeing something.  Pretty clean city, driving is nuts but somehow works.  People crammed in together in apartments.  Pollution hangs heavy in the air so you can smell it.  The beauty and age of the city puts me in awe.

Wednesday we spent the day in Athens.  Our driver there was a huge talker so we learned all about life in Greece and the political system, strikes and the economic crisis.  We walked through the Acropolis and the Pantheon.  It amazes me how close they let you to all these ancient ruins here.  We saw the Temple of Zeus, the theater of Dionysus, the palace guards and did a drive by the more modern historical buildings.  Greece is so tightly packed in together.  I honestly don't know how people drive as there are only inches of space on either side of the car but there wasn't too much swearing or yelling.  The Acropolis is in the middle of the city on a hill and then surrounded by a city of tiny streets and apartments.  We had our delicious slouvaki (gyro) and walked the streets a bit.  People are a little in your face as they try to get you to buy the touristy nick knacks but not too bad.  One thing that this trip has really brought home to me is how little I know about the history of other parts of the world.  I have learned a lot this trip and at times have felt like my head is exploding as I try to cram all the information inside.  But there are so many things I want to read about now.

Friday we spent the day at Ephesus, Turkey.  I had never heard of this city before.  It is in the middle of the countryside and is the best preserved Roman city in Europe.  You could literally walk through the town for around one and a half miles as our guide pointed out what every building was and told the stories behind them.  They have started excavating the Terrace Gardens which are old Roman upper class houses.  It was amazing to see these beautiful tile mosaics and realize they are over a thousand years old.  Afterwards we went to have a traditional lunch prepared by this family.  It was cool to try  out all the different dishes.  They don't eat breakfast in Turkey, just lunch and dinner so they are bigger meals.  And turkish yogurt freshly made is so good, nothing like Greek yogurt.  And their hummus tastes nothing like the Costco special.  We saw how Turkish rugs are made and I now understand why they start at a thousand dollars.  Turkey had lots of pollution too and the people were much more pushy trying to get you to buy things but they were also willing to negotiate prices.  The stated price is just a starting point.

Saturday we landed at Istanbul Turkey.  We went to the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar.  Manic shopping, every kind of thing you could ever dream of buying, spices heaped up in containers and candy shops full of turkish delight, crowds and pick pockets everywhere with loud pushy shop owners trying to get  you to buy.  It is truly an experience.  Then we headed up to see the Blue Mosque.  They let you in towards the back to see the inside if they are not praying.  It was beautiful and so cool to see the faith of those there.  They have spigots in the front of most of their buildings for those entering to wash their feet before hand.  Since we were tourists we just had to take our shoes off, cover my hair and walk through a special door in the back.  Although Turkey is the most liberal Muslim nation and half the women had their hair uncovered on the streets it is still a more modest culture.

Sunday we had our first day of bad weather.  It has been pretty cool on this trip but nice for walking around.  Sunday it was 44 degrees with a cold, brisk wind coming off of the water.  It was dang cold and these sights don't have heating.  We toured Topaki palace where the sultans lived until the 1900s.  I didn't realize that the sultans ruled until World War One.  It was as opulent and immense as the movies and tales always make it out to be.   It took us several freezing hours to walk through everything.  One of the neatest moments for me was hearing the call to prayer and then walking through their shrine to the prophets where they have someone chanting the Koran in a sing-song voice as they store the mantel and some remains of Mohammed there.  They also had the rod of Moses, the cooking pot of Abraham, Joseph's turban and John the baptist's skull and arm.  We didn't have a guide in Istanbul so we were on our own with a tram and a map with the Larsens.  After the palace we went through Aya Sofia a former Byzantine church that was converted to a mosque and then opened to the public.  Until St. Peter's it was the biggest basilica in the world. Had our taste of baklava and came back to the ship to defrost.  That night we saw Turkish dancers with the traditional dancers and then a belly dancer who was everything you ever dreamed a belly dancer could be but never thought actually existed.  Definitely PG-13 material!  But it was so cool to see how she could manipulate her body in ways I never imagined humanly possible.

We have heard from the kids a few times via email with messages like this, "I love you and miss you.  Don't forget my souvenir.  Allison  P.S. We finally found Rocky"  Luckily Meredith was nice enough to send us a real update.  Rocky enjoyed an overnight stroll but luckily a neighbor found him.  Spencer survived his ski day field trip.  Kids had a good valentine's day and are enjoying playing board games with Meredith every night.  We have one more stop in Malta.  Am trying to soak in every moment of this amazing trip.

I am in the airport awaiting our flight.  25 hours being awake and traveling is not on my like list.  Hopefully my body will adjust quickly!

Malta was beautiful.  I never knew it was its own country.  The storm held off for us and the few small rain showers always happened while we were inside.  We took a rickety old public bus to and from our destinations and spent the day exploring.  We went to Mdina, the silent city - a fortress city with cobbled streets 5 feet side and tall buildings, some from the Middle Ages.  We got the best of both worlds as I found a great audio tour that walked us through the city while I listened and Jeremy was able to follow behind me taking his time with his camera.  They had several church/cloisters there that were cool to walk through.  But it was more the atmosphere that I enjoyed soaking up.  Seeing the old moat turned into a formal lemon/orange tree orchard and seeing the magnificent carvings on the buildings.  We went to Rabbat and walked through the crypts seeing were people were buried two thousand years ago and seeing the mosaics on the wall that were made by the earliest Christian worshippers.  We saw St. Paul's grotto where Paul lived and preached when he lived on the island.  Then we went to Valetta where we saw more cathedrals especially St. John's that has Cavillegro's painting of John's beheading in it.  That cathedral was built by the Knights of St. John and each of the 8 church's inside was decorated to represent one of the eight orders of knights.  The amount of skulls in the decorations and realizing that each tile on the floor was a knight's tombstone and seeing a skull grinning out at you from the alter/grandmaster crypts was a little odd.  After that we toured the palace and armory next door and learned about the Knight's history and Malta's past battles.  What always amazes is seeing all the old suits of armor and realizing how small these ferocious men were.

The storm that had held off during our sight seeing hit that night.  It was a late night already with the chocolate buffet, the big show full of acrobats, magic, illusions, dancers etc and then a karaoke competition.  By the time we went to bed everyone was walking, swaying side to side as if seriously drunk.  By early morning it was 12 to 18 foot waves with a force 10 gale that had us trying to watch a movie to keep our minds off our stomachs.  Sleep didn't happen till things calmed down.  So our last day at sea was spent recuperating from the night a bit.  We did get in one last game of shuffle board with the Larsens.  That is really a fun game.

Sad for the trip to end.  It really flew by.  Not looking forward to snow, jet lag and the household chores that await.  But I am so excited to be with our kids again and looking forward to the family routine.

Glad to be home and so grateful for our blessings.  Love to you all, Heather


The Skeehan Family said...

I LOVE your journaling - that was awesome to read. I love your detail and imagery on things... almost as good as being there :)

Can't wait to hear about it IN PERSON in a FEW days, though! Be prepared to rehash it all again :)


Jeremy Hall said...

Yeah, are coming! You know me, I have a bunch to sort through before I can decide what to get online. Stay tuned...