Sunday, May 21, 2023–Santorini, Greece

I apparently got confused in yesterday’s blog entry, thinking it was Crete that had the switchbacked access to the top of the island. However, the switchbacks were on Santorini. That blog entry has been edited.

Switchbacks, left center

Today’s stop was the island of Santorini, considered by most to be Greece’s most beautiful isle. Santorini is one of the world’s most popular islands, known best for its dramatic scenery, whitewashed villages and fiery volcanic activity.

We anchored not far off shore, requiring a tender to the island.

There, we were met with extremely long lines (20+ minutes) to catch the cable car to the top of the island to its capital, Fira, a bustling cliff-top town awash with old cathedrals, enthralling museum collections and cozy tavernas. (The alternative to the cable car was to climb the difficult switchbacks. Regrettably, several people who walked the switchbacks slipped and fell on the rain-slicked cobblestones.)

At Fira, narrow, crowded streets awaited us.

After a brief walk along some of these streets, we again waited in a long line (20+ minutes) to catch the cable car back down the mountain. 

Back at the ship, we had dinner and watched “The Book,” a cirque-type production of the highest quality. The Book is an epic journey for the imagination that brings the magic and tradition of storytelling to life through cutting-edge tech, including a wall of robotic video screens, 12K projection mapping, and talented live performers.

Friday and Saturday, May 19-20, 2023—Day at Sea and Crete, Greece

We could get used to room service and breakfast in bed to start the day. Once out of bed and dressed, our day with lectures as part of the Educational Opportunities portion of the cruise began a bit disorganized—we were given wrong time and wrong place to meet for the lecture. And, speaking of the lecture, the discussion of Paul’s early life was interesting, but too long at 1 hour and 45 minutes! Food, thus far, on the ship has been good. There are more young couples and children on this cruise than any other we’ve been on; thus, there is little to no room at the hot tubs or pools—another reason to choose “adult only” Viking. It really didn’t matter today as cool and windy weather filled the day; while it was too cold for pool lounging, it was perfect for napping, especially with the sound of water splashing against the ship! We are among the few passengers who did not buy the drink package, but those who did are certainly trying to drink “their money’s worth.” We are really liking the music on this cruise.

On Saturday morning, the Odyssey of the Seas sailed through a number of Greek Isles and into port on the Island of Crete.

The first stop was at a memorial cemetery honoring British, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers and airmen who were killed while fighting on Crete against the Germans during World War II.

There was also a stop to overlook the city of Rethymnon. Next was a stop at Arkadi Monastery, a fortress-like monastery whose history dates to Byzantine times. The monastery had one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve seen, simple but elegant as well.

We finished the excursion with a stroll through the distinctively ancient yet distinctly modern bustling Rethymnon which reminded us of a small version of Gdańsk, Poland.

In the evening we attended a show by a British group, the Barricade Boys, stars of the “Les Misérables” musical, live in concert. From fabulous harmonies and incredible vocals, the Barricade Boys blew us away with their one-of-a-kind vocal performance.

Wednesday, May 18, 2023–More of Rome, Italy

After breakfast, we toured the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. The present structure stands over the place where Constantine built the first church over Saint Paul’s grave. The church features a portrait of every Pope that has served the church. Next, we entered the Catacombs of Callixtus, built along the Appian Way. Here, 16 Popes from the 2nd through 4th Centuries were interred, though they have been removed to various churches over the centuries.

Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

And then, we were off to tour the Colosseum. The Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome. It is the largest ancient amphitheater ever built, and is still the largest standing amphitheater in the world, despite its age. Construction began in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD. The three emperors (Vespian, Titus, and Domitian) who were patrons of the work are known as the Flavian dynasty.

Panorama of the Colosseum

The Colosseum is built of travertine limestone, tuff or volcanic rock, and brick-faced concrete. It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators at various points in its history, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles including animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, dramas based on Roman mythology, and briefly mock sea battles.  Although substantially ruined by earthquakes and stone robbers, the Colosseum is still a renowned symbol of Imperial Rome and was listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It has links to the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday, the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.

From atop the Colosseum, we saw the the Arch of Constantine and the Forum.The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome dedicated to the emperor Constantine the Great. The arch was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Melvin Bridge in AD 312. Situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, the arch spans the Via Triumphalis, the route taken by victorious military leaders when they entered the city in a triumphal procession. Dedicated in 315, it is the largest Roman triumphal arch; the arch is constructed of brick-faced concrete covered in marble.

Arch of Constantine
The Forum

And then was back to the hotel for dinner and packing for our Thursday departure from Rome.

Thursday, May 18, 2023–Ending Our Tour Of Rome

Today, we toured the Vatican, and explored its museums. 

As reported by the CIA, popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy. In 1870, the pope’s holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed. Disputes between a series of “prisoner” popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion. 

First up was queuing up alongside the Vatican City walls to enter the Main Gate. Long lines were seemingly everywhere, but moved at a reasonable speed.

Upon entering, the Vatican Museums awaited us. The Vatican Museums are the public museums of the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries, including several of the most well-known Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. Before entering the Vatican Museums, we traversed the the Pinecone Courtyard, and the New Wing.

One of the first parts of the Vatican Museums that is seen when the visit begins is the Pinecone Courtyard. It is a large open space of 300 square meters adjacent to the corridors and halls of the museum. This pine cone was made in the first century B.C., and it was a decorative fountain that, very probably, adorned the interiors of the Baths of Agrippa.

Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) employed the Roman architect Raffaele Stern to build what is now called the New Wing (Braccio Nuovo) of the Chiaramonti Museum. Photos were prohibited in many areas of the museums and photo ops were minimal.

We marveled at the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica and stood in awe of Michaelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

St. Peter’s Basilica

After touring the Vatican, it was off to the Port of Civitavecchia where we boarded Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas. We’re officially off the internet for 10 days more or less. We had a really good dinner on board, and listened to great jazz, “Jazz Standards” by the Odyssey of the Seas Quintet.

Monday and Tuesday, May 16-17, 2023–Another New Country

Kay and I left Hot Springs Village at about 10:00 o’clock AM on Monday, driving to the airport in Little Rock. From there, we flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, then flying to Rome, Italy, arriving at 9:00 o’clock AM.

At the Charlotte airport

Italy marks my 34th country visited. Luggage pickup and customs clearance went without a hitch, and we were immediately met by our tour representative, Educational Opportunities (EO) Tours, for Rome. From the airport we bussed to the City of Rome where we descended the graceful Spanish Steps, saw a number of the Egyptian and Roman obelisks, and observed several of the famous fountains of Rome, including the famous Trevi Fountain. 

The Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy, climb a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità. They were made famous by the 1953 blockbuster film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

The Fountain of the Boat is a Baroque-style fountain found sat the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome’s Spanish Square (Piazza di Spagna). It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1623 an completed between 1627 and 1629.

Fountain of the Boat

The city of Rome harbors thirteen ancient obelisks, the most in the world. There are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks in Rome. The Obelisk Trinità dei Monti tis is a Roman obelisk created during the reign of Roman Emperor Aurelian (reign 270 to 275 AD). Emperor Aurelian was so impressed with the Flaminio obelisk created for Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II during the 13th century BC, he ordered a replica. It is located at the top of Spanish Stairs, in front of the church by the same name. 

Obelisk Trinità dei Monti tis

The Trevi Fountain is perhaps the most famous fountain in the world and definitely in Rome. The baroque fountain on the Piazza di Trevi square was initially designed for Pope Clemens XII. However, it was not built until 50 years later; construction lasted from 1732 to 1762. The fountain’s fame is in part the result of the many films, including the aforementioned Roman Holiday.

Trajan’s Column is a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, that commemorates Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan’s Forum, north of the Roman Forum. It was constructed in 113 AD.

Trajan’s Column

The Fountain of the Four Rivers depicts Gods of the four great rivers in the four continents as then recognized by the Renaissance geographers: the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Río de la Plata in America. The Fountain of Four Rivers is topped by the Obelisk of Domitian. It is dated to the reign of Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). Originally set up in the Circus of Maxentius, the obelisk was broken and buried over centuries. Although Pope Sixtus V was aware of its location, it was not excavated until Pope Innocent X, in 1649.

Trevi Fountain and Obelisk of Domitian

And then it was off to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is a former Roman temple and, since 609 AD, a Catholic church in Rome, Italy, on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated around 126 AD. Built by Agrippa between 25 and 27 BC, the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to the twelve Gods and to the living Sovran. Traditionally it is believed that the present building is result of the radical reconstruction by Hadrian between 118 and 125 AD. It is the only ancient Roman building that has remained practically intact through the centuries. In 608 Pope Boniface IV had the remains of many martyrs removed from the Christian catacombs and placed in the Pantheon.

The Stadium of Domitian, also known as the Circus Agonalis, was located to the north of the Campus Martius. The Stadium was commissioned around AD 80 by Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus as a gift to the people of Rome and was used almost entirely for athletic contests. It was Rome’s first permanent venue for competitive athletics, erected for Domitian’s celebration of the Capitoline Games. It was patterned after Greek stadia and seated approximately 30,000. In Christian tradition, Agnes of Rome wass martyred there. This is a photo of the Arcade of the Stadium of Domitian. Architecturally speaking, an “arcade” is a succession of contiguous arches, with each arch supported by a colonnade of columns or piers. Exterior arcades were designed to provide a sheltered walkway for pedestrians. The walkway was likely lined with retail stores. 

Arch from the Stadium of Domitian

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world (interior dimensions) and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic tradition holds that the basilica is the burial site of St. Peter, chief among Jesus’ apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome (Pope). St. Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the basilica, also known as the Altar of the Confession. For this reason, many popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period. St. Peter’s is famous as a place of pilgrimage and for its liturgical functions. The pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year both within the basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square; these liturgies draw audiences numbering from 15,000 to over 80,000 people. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age. Its chief architect was none other than Michelangelo!

At right, St. Peter’s Basilica

From there it was off to the hotel for a quick nap, passing by Circus Maximus where preparations for a large concert—Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band—were being made. After our nap, we met for a group dinner at the hotel.

Monday through Sunday, May 8-14, 2023–Just Call Me Lefty

We both played pickleball at Balboa Baptist Church on Monday, and Kay played with her ladies’ group on Tuesday. I had an MRI on the right shoulder Tuesday afternoon and the results showed a full depth partial width rotator cuff tear, swelling, and fluid buildup—pretty much expected. Kay played golf Wednesday morning with the Lady Duffers, and a call from the orthopedic office advised that surgery was needed to repair the right shoulder; it is wait and see when I can get on the surgeon’s calendar—6 weeks to 2 months out AFTER clearances from the GP and cardiologist. I was so preoccupied that I totally forgot about a Board of Trustees meeting at Christ of the Hills United Methodist Church! 

And “speaking” of the cardiologist, my checkup on Thursday provided much needed good news—everything was good and only an annual review.  Kay’s “The Book Club” met on Thursday afternoon, where the sisters of different mothers ate and discussed the book of the month.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we’re without “incident.”

Monday through Sunday, May 1-7, 2023—A Varied Week

No pickleball this week! For either of us! It’s been a varied week And, no golf either! We did continue semi-annual medical appointments and Kay had a couple of social events. And, of course, there were a couple of church meetings to attend. For the first time in memory, I did not have anything scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday—should have gone camping as weather was great!

I did get out to shoot photos on Tuesday, May 2, and again on Wednesday, May 3. Tuesday’s shoot was at the Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area. Here are some photos, gallery style. Just click on a photo to see an enlarged version. Of note is the first of Bee Balm blooms, a precursor to the emergence of Diana Fritillaries.

Bee Balm

Only a few butterflies were observed.

A Cedar Waxwing posed for a photo along with an Ozark Clubtail dragonfly.

On Wednesday, the forecast was for light winds and mild temperatures—perfect for a day trip to Mt. Magazine State Park. The wildflower bloom was spectacular.

The relatively high number of species of butterflies was surprising, though most of the butterflies were ragged and worn. The Giant Swallowtail and Tiger Swallowtail were the showstoppers!

Giant Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

On Thursday, Kay and I got our third COVID booster injection. For me, 24-hours of misery and despair followed. I have had a reaction to each of the four injections, lasting anywhere from 24-48 hours where my temperature runs about 3 degrees above normal, and I experience flu-like symptoms, This time, after 24 hours, everything was back to normal except for lack of energy from laying in bed all day.

Towards the end of the week a few Baltimore Orioles showed up at the hummingbird feeders. Kay put our orange halves and grape jelly for them, and they bring delight with each sighting. 

Monday through Sunday, April 3-30, 2023—Medical Appointments, Pickleball, and Photography

It appears that when you get our age, one’s life if filled with medical appointments: GP, pulmonologist, cardiologist, dentist, optometrist and ophthalmologist, orthopedic doctor and surgeon, and audiologist; I’m sure there are some “…ists” left out.

Kay quickly resumed her full social calendar along with golf and pickleball. My days have been filled with work on my paternal ancestry, some left-handed pickleball, a couple outings to take photos, printing, matting, and framing photos, and church work and meetings. I thought after a lengthy rest, the shoulder injury would get better, but it hasn’t! And, the results of various medical appointments reveal that it is in fact a torn rotator cuff; an MRI is scheduled May 8. It would sure be nice to be healthy again.

One of the accomplishments realized this month was the completion of a draft of my paternal ancestry. So many hours went into the research and writing, I feel as if I knew them personally. Regretfully, there was good, bad, and ugly ancestors!

Also, I managed to get out to the Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area a couple of times to photograph wildflowers and butterflies. It was almost too late for some of the usual flowers as many had already bloomed. A favorite, Fire Pink, was in the last stages of blooming, but offered a couple of photos. These photos are from an April 11 visit. Just click on a photo to enlarge it.

A few butterflies were flittering about as well.Again, just click on a photo to enlarge it.

On a personal note, I was diagnosed with a probable rotator cuff tear in the right shoulder by the orthopedic clinic on April 21, and have an MRI scheduled on May 8 to confirm the diagnosis. This shoulder has been hurting more or less for over 20 years, and movement has been somewhat restricted. It’s likely that I tore or finished the tear in December and January playing pickleball, golf, and water volleyball. Anyway, here’s the long and short of it.  I am learning to do as many things left handed as possible, e.g. pickleball. left handed.  The orthopedic (PA) spelled the process out for us.  She said she suspected his MRI would come back with a rotator cuff tear. If surgery is recommended, and it is highly likely, then it will be scheduled after the MRI.  The ortho surgeon is currently booked out 6-8 weeks, so we suspect the surgery will be after July 1 or later.  It will be done in Hot Springs at CHI as outpatient surgery.  The doc will check the labrum and repair if needed, as well as reposition the rotator cuff tendon and repair the tear.  I will be in a sling for 6 weeks with physical therapy, then physical therapy for stretching and movement for another 6 weeks, then physical therapy for strengthening for another 6 weeks, for a total of at least 18 weeks for recovery. Combined with periodic back pain from lumbar spinal stenosis, I have had better days. So, after surgery no big trips for us until possibly late fall. 

On the upside and in anticipation of a lengthy recovery, I upgraded the computer work station to gain a little speed processing photos—MacMini, new monitor, keyboard and mouse, and docking station. Time will tell if it is faster. And, bird feeders—seeds, suet, and hummingbird nectar—have been located in strategic spots. Next will be lots of flowers for nectaring butterflies and hummingbirds.

Dodging wind and rain most days, I returned to the Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area on April 28, almost missing the Larkspur and Blue Star blooms. Once again, just click on an image to enlarge it.

Blue Star

Even a Pileated Woodpecker made an appearance.

Pileated Woodpecker

And even a couple of butterflies survived the wind.

Friday through Sunday, March 31-April 2, 2023—Travelin’ Home

The winter season officially ended for us on Friday morning as we departed Palm Creek RV and Golf Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona. It was a bit of an uneventful winter with unusually wet, cool, and windy weather. Kay still managed to play lots of pickleball and golf  while I did very little in the way of outdoor activities. The likely rotator cuff tear really limited what I could do. Even taking photographs caused aches and pains. 

Nevertheless, we traveled from Casa Grande to Van Horn, Texas, a distance of just over 500 miles. With both of us taking turns driving, it was not a difficult day’s drive. After overnighting in Van Horn, the day saw us traveling to Santos, Texas, another almost 500 mile day. And, after overnighting in Santos, we finished the drive home, arriving mid-afternoon. Unpacking was more of a chore this time around, and we both were exhausted after the adrenaline stopped flowing. We were blessed in that there were no issues in the long trip home. Even the drive around Dallas-Fort Worth was not too bad.

Wednesday through Thursday, March 22-30, 2023—Keeping Busy and Sky Diving

To say that we stay busy would be an understatement. Kay has something going on almost every day and evening; on the other hand, without competitive pickleball and golf, there are large gaps of time in my days. Filling these gaps has been a relatively easy task, what with researching and writing about the Fred and Zoula Dunn ancestry (my paternal grandfather and grandmother), editing what few photos that have been taken this season, posting an occasional photograph on Facebook, and keeping this blog up to date. Wednesday evenings have become my personal favorite as we play “duplicate” bridge with the Seitz’s. Here’s how it goes. The hand is dealt, we bid the contract, and play the hand. And then, we reconstitute the hand face-up on the table, and discuss the various bids and ways to play the hand. Steve Seitz provides lots of very helpful guidance and input. Again, my favorite activity this winter. And, Friday afternoon “Arkansas” pickleball is always fun, but the dinner and adult beverages afterward is even funner!

Sunday afternoon is typically reserved for “Arkansas” golf and the 19th hole (or 10th hole in our case” but the last Sunday was called off due to lack of participants. Instead of golf, we drove to Elroy to watch the dare devil skydivers jump out of perfectly good airplanes, and free-fall thousands of feet before swooping in for a perfect standup landing. A long wait was in order because of dust devils and heavy wind.

And then, Sunday evenings are usually concert/show evenings. Our last Sunday evening concert was Down on the Country, a Credence Clearwater Revival Tribute Band featuring vocalist and professional entertainer Mike Yarema. The was a great concert with great music. And, Mike Yarema sounded just like John Fogerty.  Mike told the stories and sung the songs of this iconic group, including several favorite hits: Born on the Bayou, Fortnuate Son, Proud Mary, Who’ll Stop the Rain, Green River, and many more!