Under the Mediterranean Sun

Dance like nobody’s is watching; love like you’ve never been hurt.
Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth. ~ Mark Twain

On July 9, 2016 my wife Barb and I embarked with 11 other travelers on a two week odyssey across Italy and Greece. The trip / cruise was organized by Barb’s friend Bridget to celebrate her husband Don’s 60th birthday in truly grand style with Don’s family (Don’s sister Marianne and her husband Scott) and friends (Ray, Lori, B.J., Gina, Bob, Bonnie, Jeff, Mike and Barb).

This blog post is my attempt to chronicle some of the highlights and provide some context around our amazing trip, not just for us, but for our family and friends, those who followed our activities via Instagram and Facebook and those who may not be on those social networks.

It is not intended to be a complete record of what transpired over the 14 days – the 13 of us agreed early on in our adventure that “what happens on the cruise ship stays on the cruise ship”. So this travel journal, though containing photos of our travel companions / friends, is told from my perspective and, for the most part, captures mainly those activities and events involving Barb and I.

We arrived in Rome from Toronto at around 12 noon. Our gallery / museum tickets were for 5 pm so we had plenty of time to check out our amazing 4 star hotel (Artemide) and have drinks on the rooftop before heading to the Borghese Gallery, or so we thought.

Fittingly, the first adventure of our two week Mediterranean holiday began in the ‘eternal city’ of Rome. Having recently visited Rome with my sister and brother-in-law for 9 days in May of 2015  – there were still a few sights we wanted to cross off our bucket list. One of these attractions is the Borghese Gallery & Museum that houses, among other precious artifacts, the amazing works of renaissance master sculptor/architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

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Drinks on the roof top (L to R) Barb, Don, B.J., Ray, Lori, Scott, Marianne, Bridget

After drinks we (B.J., Ray, Lori, Barb and I) headed down to the front desk for directions to Borghese Villa/Park, then were on our way. We walked to the park in about 45 minutes or so then asked someone for directions to the Museum & Gallery. Now you would think that residents of Rome, people working in the park and especially the Carabinieri (Rome police)  would know exactly where the gallery was located. But never underestimate the power of the locals and the meandering streets and piazzas of Rome to confuse.

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Mike, Ray, B.J. and Barb stopping for a photo op on odyssey to the Borghese Gallery.

It was mid-afternoon, an uncomfortable 34 degrees Celsius and we were speed walking with Ray & BJ setting the pace. But after numerous inquiries and walkabouts to find the gallery – we seemed to be going in circles. I was feeling somewhat parched by this time, fell behind the group to buy a couple of bottles of cold water from a park vendor for Barb and I and guzzled one of the bottles in about 60 seconds before catching up to the rest.

Mercifully, after an hour or so of speed walking and a dizzying number of attempts, we finally found our treasure. Though once there we queued up for at least another 30 minutes before actually getting into the gallery with our coupon and acquiring tickets.

The wild goose chase, the midsummer Roman heat wave and gallery wait were worth it! We sauntered through the air-conditioned gallery rooms and were mesmerized by the stunning collection of priceless sculptures and paintings housed in the museum / gallery.

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Saint Jerome Writing by Caravaggio

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Rape of Prosperina by Bernini

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This Caprese salad was a tasty starter to a fabulous dinner at the Ambrosia Restaurant atop the Artemide Hotel.

After a very long exhausting day of travel, walking in the midday heat, gallery viewing, sumptuous dinner and drinks atop hotel Artemide – we eventually made our way to our rooms and collapsed into our cozy beds for the night.

The new day began early with a hearty breakfast at 7 am in preparation for what was for some of us – the most meaningful part of our two week journey, the Scavi tour at the Vatican. The Scavi (excavations) tour is a private guided underground tour to one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, the most likely (99 %) resting place (tomb) of St. Peter, the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. This tour is so exclusive that visitors need to request a reservation a year or so in advance of their trip.

This time all 13 of us headed out on foot together on our pilgrimage towards the Vatican for our 9 am tour. After setting out together and encountering a few delays (toilet break, wrong turns, foot traffic, photo ops etc.) our group took longer than expected to reach our destination. In fact, many of us ended up jogging the last few blocks to the Scavi tour entrance to ensure that we would not lose out on our reservation/tour.

Fortunately, the tour guide was also a few minutes late which allowed us a few moments to collect ourselves, towel off, cool down and pass through security screening. The struggle to make the tour on time was more than worth the effort. Our guide took us to a room that housed a miniature replica (‘trophy’) of St. Peter’s tomb and she gave us an overview of the history of Rome around the time of St. Peter’s martyrdom. We were then guided through a narrow damp underground passageway directly under St. Peter’s basilica where no photos were allowed.

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Our Scavi tour guide giving our group an historical overview of ancient Rome.

We eventually made our way through the underground passageways soaking up the rich history surrounding the family tombs and artifacts contained therein. Finally, we were taken to St. Peter’s tomb (trophy) or at least to a large hole in an adjacent ancient wall to gaze upon the ossuary (container) holding the remains of St. Peter, dear friend of Jesus and ‘rock’ upon which the holy Roman Catholic Church was founded.

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A miniature replica of the ‘trophy’ St. Peter’s tomb is encased in glass.

Our tour guide briefly commented on the religious and spiritual significance of this most holy site and then led us together in praying the ‘Our Father’. It was a spiritual and deeply satisfying experience, filled with stillness, silence, peace and reverence.

Before exiting the tour we were guided into a small chapel located directly beneath the Bernini canopy and high altar in St. Peter’s basilica. In fact,  by looking up we could see part of Bernini’s magnificent sculpted bronze canopy through the holes in the floor grate directly above us.

Upon leaving St. Peter’s Barb and I hooked up with Bob and Gina and headed to the piazza Campo dei Fiori. We stopped off for a couple of photos in front of the charming apartment  Barb and I shared with my sister and her husband during our visit in May 2015.

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Barb & Bob posing in front of 29 Vicolo Del Palle – home base during our visit in May 2015.

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Gina and company trying  to cope with the oppressive heat by sipping cold beers . . .

 

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. . . and sampling some of the fruit from the market vendors in the Campo dei Fiori.

DSCF0839That evening, Ray and I posed with our new waiter friends Tomaso and Vittorio after our group of 13 enjoyed an amazing dinner at Cotto Ristorante.

The next morning Barb and I headed to Castle St. Angelo museum near the Vatican, another destination on our bucket list. We spend a couple of hours viewing the many religious, artistic and cultural treasures housed in this former tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian and papal fortress.

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Castle St. Angelo tomb, fortress & museum sits majestically behind us by the Tiber river.

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View of St. Peter’s from Castle St. Angelo

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This must have been an imposing, intimidating sight for foreign invaders back in the day.

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The view of Rome from atop of Castle St. Angelo was well worth the climb.

Following our visit to Castle St. Angelo the plan was to slowly make our way toward Villa Borghese and to stop off at the newly restored Trevi fountain along the way. The hope was to pick up some wine, cheese, fruit and bread to have a leisurely picnic in the famous park. But the extreme 36 degree Celsius heat soon disrupted our best laid plans and had both of us somewhat dehydrated and teetering on heat exhaustion.

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Me forcing a smile, though on the verge of nausea and heat exhaustion. Thank God for the beautiful ubiquitous fresh water fountains (nasoni) all around Rome. I doused my head under one near Castle St. Angelo museum to cool down and filled our water bottles with cool aqua for the trek to the Trevi fountain and Villa Borghese.

On our way to the Trevi we ducked into a modest ristorante to use the toilet and what else of course, but order another beer. Unfortunately, a side effect from drinking so much water to keep hydrated and the odd beer – is having to drink more water and visit the WC every half hour or so.

Even though it was lunch time, the brutal heat robbed us of any appetite for food. I know, hard to believe in a city so famous for fresh pizza, pasta and gelato at almost every turn! Don’t feel sorry for us though! We ate enough delicious pizza, pasta and brain-freezing gelato during our May 2015 visit to last a few lifetimes.

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Ahhh . . my bride finally got to view the Trevi fountain in all its newly restored magnificence and splendor – sans scaffolding. Apparently the coin she tossed in May 2015 worked!

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Oh but the throngs of tourists were plentiful and mighty. We even avoided the pickpockets!

From the Trevi we continued our pilgrimage to Villa Borghese in search of some respite (natural shade) from the crushing heat.

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It was at least 10 degrees cooler beneath the magnificent green canopy in Villa Borghese.

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One of many scenic vistas of Rome from Borghese Villa.

After 3 eventful days exploring Rome it was time to say arrivederci and continue on our journey to Athens.

Artemide Hotel

The 4 star Artemide Hotel in Rome was vastly unlike any place I stayed during my ‘student-budget driven’ 1982 visit to Italy.

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This stunning view of the Acropolis is what greeted us as we arrived for lunch atop the 5 star Royal Olympic Hotel in Athens.

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The most delicious Greek salad I have ever eaten. The huge feta wedge, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and capers were fresh and flavorful beyond belief. Oh ya, the Fix dark beer was nice too!

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Oppressive, blistering heat as in Rome – even at 4 pm in the afternoon. But I would not have missed the walk to the iconic Parthenon with my beloved for all the marble in Greece.

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Panoramic view of Athens from the Acropolis

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After descending from the Acropolis our tour guide took us to the ancient agora & stoa (pictured here), where Greeks have socialized and discussed politics for thousands of years.

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Panathenaic Stadium in Athens – site of the 1st Olympiad of the modern era in 1896. Capacity in 1896 – 80,000 – The only stadium in the world built entirely of marble.

Parthenon at night

While everyone else went out for dinner after a long eventful day, Barb and I headed back to the Royal Olympic Hotel rooftop for a cold beer and spring rolls, while squeezing in one last magnificent view of the Acropolis at night. #romantic

After one full and memorable day and night in Athens – we were soon on our way to one of the ‘top 100 places to visit before you die’ – the legendary Greek island of Santorini.

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Upon opening the door of our hotel room in Santorini – we were greeted with this breathtaking view from our patio. #volcanoviewhotel

Not ones to rest on our laurels and knowing we only had 2 and 1/2 days in Santorini – we rented a car with Bob & Gina and headed to ancient Thira along with Bonnie, Jeff, Ray, Lori and B.J.

DSCF0955Gina was our awesome driver as she deftly navigated us up the long winding road with steep drop offs and hairpin turns. This drive was profanity-free. Well done Gina!

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We then left the rentals behind and hiked quite a distance to the top. There was a wonderful cool ocean breeze that made the climb pleasurable. It was such a welcome relief from the stifling heat we experienced in Rome and Athens.

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My bride celebrating and revelling in the stark beauty of the sweeping vista below.

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Leaning tower of namaste!

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Hear, see, speak no evil (Jeff, Ray, Mike)

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This is as close as we got to the Red Beach of Santorini. The volume of tourists from the cruise ships, traffic and lack of parking convinced us to turn around.

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We then toured Akrotiri  – a fascinating Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was destroyed in the Theran eruption about 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash, which preserved the remains of fine Frescoes and many objects and artworks.

DSCF0999On day 2 we woke up to this heavenly view, feeling as though we were living with the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. That’s right, that’s a cruise ship poking out of the mist. In a few hours the brilliant morning sun slowly burned the mist off the deep blue Aegean sea.

One of the highlights of the entire trip was the Greek dinner and dance night at the Volcano View Hotel. The incredibly delicious Greek food buffet and live dinner music and Greek dancers set the stage for a magical atmosphere and an unforgettable evening of carefree dancing.

 

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We were all invited to the floor to dance to ‘Zorba’ and given 2 plates to smash. What a blast!

At one point during the plate smashing my good friend Ray asked me to imagine how truly wonderful and peaceful the world would be if everyone (all cultures) got along with one another as wonderfully as the participants in a Greek dance. I couldn’t agree more. OPA!

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The brilliant orange sun slowly set on Santorini, casting a warm glow across the velvet sky, capping off a perfect evening of food, fun and fellowship.

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“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

Under Mykonos Moon

The full moon and God’s infinite grace shone upon us on a most beautiful night.

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Our lovely Canadian born Greek pool bartender Katerina plants a kiss on the cheek of B.J.

Our final evening in Santorini was topped off with a magnificent sunset dinner cruise.

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The view of our hotel from our boat.

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During our Santorini boat cruise we anchored near a live volcano where some of the group hiked up to the top.  We then moved on to another island and stopped off by a sulphur spring where we jumped in for a swim beside the live volcano.  Our swim in the warm sulphur-filled water was followed up by a sumptuous Greek dinner buffet on the boat.

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Gina and Barb converse near the captain’s wheel.

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Gina, Bob and Barb

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#Livingthedream

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Our dinner boat cruise and final evening on the island wouldn’t be complete without a classic Santorini sunset.

We bid farewell to Santorini enroute to catch an early morning flight to Athens to meet up with our cruise ship, the Celebrity Equinox.

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So blessed to have made our cruise ship from the port in Athens after the flight cancellations due to high winds in Santorini. Soooooo fortunate not to have flown to Istanbul and landed smack into the middle of the chaos of an attempted military coup.

So thankful for Bridget who was all over it and who connected with our Celebrity rep in Santorini who then arranged tickets for all 13 of us for a hi-speed ferry trip from Santorini to Athens. Thankful for Barb and Bonnie who stood in line for hours (stepping around dozens of people sleeping on the floor – whose flights were cancelled much earlier than ours.) to ensure we could have access to all our travel options and get written confirmation of the flight cancellation for insurance purposes.

So many other travelers were not as fortunate. 300 or so Cruise guests from Istanbul scrambled until the wee hours of the morning to get to Athens in time for departure to Mykonos. Because of the political turmoil there – some likely didn’t make it.

Celebrity’s decision to change our original cruise departure port from Istanbul to Athens – following the bombing at the Istanbul airport a couple of weeks earlier – in hindsight – now looks brilliant!

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These lovely treats greeted us as we entered our stateroom on the cruise ship.

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The Celebrity Equinox is a massive ship. Onboard amenities include a large theater called Equinox Theater, multiple restaurant dining options, the Patio on the Lawn where you can relax and have a picnic or play croquet; numerous bars and clubs; the Solstice Deck, the top deck of the ship; a youth facility called the Fun Factory; and iLounge, which is the Internet cafe. For a complete overview check out the Ship Tour video. I love the onboard library!

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View from our stateroom to our balcony – linked to the balconies of our fellow travelers.

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One of favorite onboard excursions was the tour of the kitchen facilities. The onboard bakery and environmental recycling / food waste incineration programs were especially cool!

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Now that’s a wine tower! About 3 times the size of the Wildcraft Restaurant wine tower.

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Our first port of call – Mykonos.

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Mykonos, is one of the most popular and glamorous Greek isles, known for its nonstop party atmosphere.

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A dazzling Mykonos sunset with our cruise ship in silhouette.

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The Vioma Organic farm & vineyard ‘Yummy Pedals Tour’ was one of my favorite excursions!

DSCF1123Love this guy, just chillin in the shade.

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Our Yummy Pedals guide Dimitra outfitted all 13 of us with a bicycle and helmet in preparation for our cycling tour.

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We stopped a few times on route to the ocean. This was a quaint small Christian church/chapel were the locals offer prayers.

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Another spectacular day of nothing but sun and blue sky.

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13 Canadian tourists cycling Mykonos

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Wow! We made it!

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Had a refreshing swim to cool down and a yummy homemade muffin snack and fresh homemade lemonade for the ride back.

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Back at the farm and I offered prayers to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and all things alcohol.

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Heavenly spread of delicious fresh Greek food ‘Mykonos Garden’ & wine tasting after 2 hours of biking & swimming in the Aegean Sea. Apparently the prayers worked!

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Delicious red dessert wine to cap off a lovely meal.

 

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Back on the cruise ship, the cruise activities director roped me “hey Canada, come join us” into some poolside competition.

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All dolled up for dinner. Must be casual chic night.

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Our next port of call was Valletta, Malta, a fortified city and home to the Order of Malta.

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Grandmaster palace of Malta, home of the Order of St. John.

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Valletta contains buildings from the 16th century onwards, built during the rule of the Order of St. John also known as Knights Hospitaller.

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St John’s Co-Cathedral is a gem of Baroque art and architecture. It was built as the conventual church for the Knights of St John. The Grand Masters and several knights donated gifts of high artistic value and made enormous contributions to enrich it with only the best works of art. This church is till this very day an important shrine and a sacred place of worship. It is also a venue for cultural events. Source: stjohncoocatheral.com

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This was just one of 9 side chapels containing priceless ornate marble statues and paintings dedicated to the Grand Masters of the Knights of St. John.

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We also viewed Caravaggio’s only signed painting of the beheading of John the Baptist – though were not allowed to take any photos – so I included a Google image instead.

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The famous Pinto’s Clock tower has four dials. The middle one shows the hour and the others show the lunar phase, month and day in Italian.

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One of a number of creative door knockers in Valletta – known as il-habbata in Maltese. The knockers largely feature maritime motifs such as dolphins, sea horses and fish.

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We also took a boat ride to the blue grotto in Malta.

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The extraordinary blues in the grottos come to life in the brilliant sunshine.

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A rugged, natural window on the world.

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Had a huge lunch and did some shopping in this quaint fishing village of Marsaxlokk, Malta.

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Like olive and lemon trees, the prickly pear cactus can be found everywhere throughout the Mediterranean region.

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Our next port of call was Catania, Sicily. While approaching Sicily I noticed that this Italian naval frigate was also sailing into port. At first I thought that it was accompanying us into port – what with all the recent attacks on tourists, terrorism etc., but upon closer inspection realized it was out rounding up refugees trying to get to Sicily.

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Our tour guide in Sicily informed us that hundreds of refugees (most from Libya and the Balkans) are picked up daily from sea by Italian ships and transported into ports across Sicily. They then have health and identity checks, are fed and temporarily housed, then distributed around Italy. Most of the refugees are young men looking for work.

So here we were, living large like kings and queens on the luxurious Celebrity Equinox cruise ship and these refugees had just risked their lives in dilapidated overcrowded rubber dinghies on open seas, for a chance at a better life in a foreign country, if they make it!

The stark irony, the Italian frigate ride was their ‘dream cruise’! They had just won the lottery! Despite, for the most part, having nothing but the clothes on their backs, they were ecstatic at another opportunity at a better life.

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Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily dominated the landscape on our drive to Taormina.

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Our next day trip was to Taormina, Sicily, where the views are spectacular.

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Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. It sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is known for the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-­Roman theater still used today.

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The Ancient theatre of Taormina is an ancient Greek theatre built in the third century BC.

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Panorama from the ancient theatre

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Photo op time during a brief bus stop.

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We headed to a beach near Taormina for the afternoon.

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Barb and I enjoyed a refreshing swim, margherita pizza and Peroni beer #lavitadolce

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Final port of call – Salerno, Italy

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The final excursion of our holiday was to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

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Sorrento is a charming coastal town in southwestern Italy, facing the Bay of Naples. It’s perched atop cliffs and is known for sweeping views and Piazza Tasso, a cafe-lined square.

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Lemon groves and trees dominate the landscape throughout the Mediterranean.

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Giant lemons for sale in one of the markets in Sorrento.

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Bob, Gina, Barb and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch along with the people from our tour bus in this lush, colorful ristorante in Sorrento.

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Bob and Barb cool their heels in this shady ristorante oasis from the midday heat.

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Spectacular clifftop views, cliff-side villas and inviting beaches dominate the breathtaking landscape along Amalfi Coast.

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The seaside town of Amalfi is bursting with stunning natural beauty and a rich history. Between the 9th and 11th centuries Amalfi was the seat of a powerful maritime republic. Today it is the playground of the rich and famous.

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St. Andrew Cathedral has been remodeled several times, adding Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque elements. The cathedral includes the adjoining 9th-century Basilica of the Crucifix. Leading from the basilica are steps into the Crypt of St. Andrew.

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St. Andrew’s is a 9th-century Roman Catholic cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. It is dedicated to the Apostle Saint Andrew whose relics are kept here.

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A beautiful wooden 13th century Crucifix hangs in the liturgical area.

The next stop was the port of Fiumicino for our transfer to the airport for our flight home.

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As if on cue, a glorious sunset graced the horizon as we cruised toward Fiumicino.

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We hope you enjoyed riding along with us! We certainly enjoyed the trip of a lifetime!

Things crossed of our bucket list:

First Cruise (Celebrity Equinox)
St. Peter’s tomb (Scavi Tour)
Castle St. Angelo
Borghese Gallery / Villa
Santorini (Greek Night & Sunset boat/dinner cruise)
Amalfi Coast (Sorrentto, Amalfi)
Malta (Valletta, Mdina, Marsaxlokk)
Sicily (Taormina)


Kiefer Sutherland Band ‘Kills It’

You think Jack Bauer is the biggest badass around? Think again, because you obviously haven’t seen the Kiefer Sutherland Band.

Throw in a mix of some gritty country-rock  music, a solid supporting cast of talented bandmates (Austin Vallejo and Michael Gurley on guitar, Joseph De La O on bass, Jess Calcaterra on drums) and an intimate concert venue and you have all the ingredients for a memorable night on the town.

I don’t think Sutherland would have it any other way. At least that appeared to be the case judging by the reaction of 700 plus patrons last night as they thoroughly savoured and soaked up every drop of Sutherland’s Not Enough Whiskey tour performance at Maxwell’s in Waterloo.

In his self-depricating manner, Sutherland introduced the band by stating that they had things a little “ass backwards” and admitted upfront that “a band usually puts out an album first and then does the tour.” So he graciously thanked everyone (multiple times) for their leap-of-faith in coming out to see the band without first hearing its 13 songs.

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Kiefer Sutherland and his band performing at Maxwell’s in Waterloo last night.

To be clear, Sutherland is not going to challenge any of the current reigning music stars in the vocal category. Though it’s evident his low, raspy  ‘whiskey-soaked’ voice still gets it done. And what he lacks in vocal range, he more than makes up for with his frenetic leaping around the stage while playing his Gibson acoustic and Fender electric guitars with a gusto that even his doppleganger (Jack Bauer) would envy.

And the man writes his own songs (along with collaborator Jude Cole). From My Best Friend (A thoughtful reflection on how one has to ‘be their own best friend’ before expecting love / friendship from another) to the semi-autobiographical Down In A Hole (How people’s choices sometimes land them in trouble). Sutherland observed that, though never landing up in prison, he had seen the inside of a jail a few times.

At one point in the evening Sutherland shared a poignant story and song (Gonna Die) about a young American Iraq war veteran whom he stumbled upon in a confrontation with bouncers outside of a Los Angeles bar. The veteran was scared and explained to him that the hospital staff mistakenly gave him the wrong prescription medication.

Eventually, Sutherland was able to convince the bouncers to leave the young man alone and then took him back to the Veteran’s hospital where they admitted to the mix-up. The experience haunted Sutherland for weeks afterwards and inspired him to write Gonna Die.

Jack Bauer was the main reason the majority of the crowd showed up last night, but it was clearly the ‘real Bauer’ (Kiefer Sutherland) and his bandmates who, undoubtedly, left them begging for more.

P.S. – Opening for the Kiefer Sutherland Band was a brilliantly talented singer/songwriter by the name of Jessica Mitchell. Her voice was pure magic! Check her out at –
jessicamitchellmusic.com

Related Websites:

Kiefer Sutherland Music

Photo Credit: Michael G. Redfearn

 

 

 


The Day ‘Student Voice’ Almost Died

Thankfully, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been reprimanded during my career in education. But during the late-1990’s – at about the time the provincial Conservatives were deep into slashing and burning education and health care budgets – I decided enough was enough.

It was the Harris Tories’ threat to kill the stand alone grade 11 media studies course that made it personal and put me over the edge. The death of this course would have meant the end of a golden opportunity for many of my academically challenged students to graduate. You see, that course, for many, represented a chance to earn a ‘5th English credit’ that students needed to graduate with their Ontario Secondary School Graduation Diploma.

Not only that, the media course contained content (movies, music videos, magazine/tv advertisements etc.) in which most were deeply engaged and immersed on a daily basis. Students who wouldn’t dare dream of raising their hand in Algebra or History class – felt at ease and in complete control when analysing a music video or Superbowl TV spot in media class.

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Through such a course – they were able to ‘pull back the curtain’ on pop culture and get a valuable glimpse into how and why various media are able to effectively use marketing and cinematic techniques to construct meaning, manipulate and control an audience.

So upon learning that the government was intent upon gutting the media literacy credit – without consulting teachers or students – I got mad, then I got inspired. What if my students and I actually staged a media event (silent protest) to make others aware of this threat?

I sprang the idea on my students the next day and took a vote to see if they were interested in my plan. All were in favor (by show of hands) of: inviting the local media to our class, wearing black clothing and duct tape across their mouths (both optional – to symbolize that they were silently mourning the fact they had not been consulted in the decision to axe their course). Most of the class time would be spent writing and editing letters to their local MPPs expressing their thoughts at the government’s decision.

Of course, once the media arrived and the school’s administration discovered what was happening in Redfearn’s media class – guess who was summoned to the office and, not surprisingly, ‘raked over the coals’?

As I sat sheepishly in front of the admin team of three and endured their rebukes and indignation – I empathized with them. They were completely blind-sided by my actions. Yet, had I tipped them off before hand – I risked having the protest squashed before it began. Their biggest concerns – that they were not consulted and that the ‘image of the school’ would be adversely affected. Seeing students’ mouths bound with duct tape had, I think, something to do with it.

Fortunately, the media coverage was minimal. A segment ran on the local TV station at noon and later that evening (see YouTube video below) and an article with photo did run in the local section of The Record but the admin’s fear that pandemonium would be loosed upon the world was unfounded.

Instead, my students actually witnessed the media in action and THEY were part of the process: they took part in media interviews with local reporters, wrote to their elected representatives about how they felt about the government’s decision and watched, critiqued, filmed and edited TV and print coverage of their event.

In retrospect, I truly believe it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I and my students had ever been a part of. By taking part in the silent protest, ironically, my students actually found their ‘voice’.  And isn’t that what real learning is all about?

P.S. There was such a ground swell (provincially) from people outraged over the potential loss of the media studies stand alone course – that the Conservative government of the day backed down from its original decision to cut it.

 

 

 


CoMO Seattle 2015: Promises To Keep . . .

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Mohandas Gandhi
It is fitting and ironic that CoMO’s (Confederation of Meningitis Organisations) recent global conference transpired in the shadow of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. The imposing tower’s lofty height mirrored the expansive hopes and dreams of CoMO’s 43 attendees representing 26 countries.
The gigantic needle-like structure was also a constant reminder to CoMO members, many of whose lives and families have been forever altered by meningitis, that vaccine-prevention is still the most effective way for people to avoid contracting this indiscriminate killer.

Led by CoMO president Bruce Langoulant – with a supporting cast of Governing Council members, this year’s gathering had its fair share of golden moments under the Seattle sun. Most notable among them were as follows:

Gates Foundation Visit/Tour
Prior to the CoMO global conference – governing council members were privileged to be able to meet with representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hoping to explore the possibility of a future relationship with the Foundation – CoMO president Bruce Langoulant, gave the GF reps an overview of CoMO’s history and accomplishments.
CoMO GC members then were provided with an overview of the GF, shared a wonderful lunch and given a tour of the amazing eco-friendly complex and visitor center, both of which contained countless precious artifacts and inspirational exhibits. In short, the GF visit was a perfect motivational introduction to the conference.
GC members at Gates Foundation

GC members at Gates Foundation

Members’ Personal Stories
 Unquestionably the most powerful, heart-wrenching part of the conference unfolds near the beginning, the sharing of painful personal stories. Hearts, minds and souls of both story-tellers and audience members are stretched to the breaking point as painful memories are revisited and shared.

 Yet it is through tears and sharing the heartache, that meningitis survivors and family members can begin to emerge from the long, dark night of the soul into the hope-filled brilliant light of day.

Welcome New CoMO Members
If new CoMO members Nick Springer (National Meningitis Association), Sue & Al Koeing (Emily’s Dash Foundation), Alicia and Michael Stillman (Emily Stillman Foundation), Furakh Mir (Meningitis Relief Canada), Nayoon Song and Hyeran Kim (Korean Meningitis Centre) are any indication – the future of CoMO looks bright indeed! All of these individuals bring a deep passion and keen intelligence to the task of educating others of the symptoms and how to protect themselves against meningitis.
Group shot

CoMO Conference Seattle – Group Photo

Promises To Keep And Miles To Go . . .
As always – with so little time and much ground to cover – the conference agenda was jam-packed. Agenda topics over two days included: CoMO Initiatives/Reports, Regional Updates, Strategies to Ensure Fundraising Success, Making Meningitis Relevant In Your Country, Developing and Sharing of Regional Plans.

Passing The Torch
One of the more bitter-sweet moments of this year’s conference involved current CoMO president and Asia Pacific Regional leader, Bruce Langoulant, handing the CoMO leadership baton off to incoming president Chris Head, CEO of the Meningitis Research Foundation UK. Langoulant’s personal story of meningitis (2 Lives Two different Outcomes) involving his radiant daughter Ashley – ignited his passion to cultivate, nurture and grow CoMO into the world-class organization it is today.

The Glue
Of course, any organization would soon fall apart without the selfless, dedicated individuals who toil behind the scenes – people like Linda Gibbs (Office Manager), Daphne Holt and Sam Rosoman (Marketing and Admin Officer).

As the Seattle sun set on another CoMO Global conference – CoMO members would do well to reflect on a job well done and their pledge to continue the good fight against meningitis in their own regions.

by Michael Redfearn
Secretary, Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
Secretary, CoMO GC & Americas Regional Representative

Related Links:
Other CoMO Member Stories
‘Out of the Blue’ : The story of the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada


So Many Memories of St. David . . . flowing, like a river

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others. ~ Rose Parks

In light of St. David catholic secondary school’s 50th anniversay – I recently started digging around and dusting off the old Celtic archives – wondering if any of the VHS footage from the 25th anniversary Video Yearbook had not yet disintegrated and was still viewable. Having spent a significant slice of my teaching career at St. David (18 years) capturing and editing so many Celtics in action, I was hoping that it was not too late to transfer some of that fine vintage footage over into digital format.

If you are currently an active member of the rapidly-growing St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015 Facebook group – you probably already know that I have been posting ‘rescued video clips’ to the group’s timeline. And I can honestly say that I am thorougly loving re-watching those videos for the umpteenth time as much, if not more than perhaps even some of you.

StDavid50

God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December. ~ James Barrie

I just want to share with you a few personal observations resulting from the recent postings and associated comments:

  1. Sometimes Smaller is Better
    The 1988-90 25th St. David Anniversary video footage is quite unique in that it represents a time when the school population was significantly smaller (800 students – give or take before the early 90’s expansion) than it is today. I think the smaller community vibe is quite evident in some of the footage – especially the ‘sing-along 60’s day love-in’ in the school’s main hallway. The footage looks, feels and sounds like a ‘kumbaya cliche’, but 60’s day aside, I think that’s because the smaller community really allowed the students and staff to connect and develop closer bonds. Of course, footage of Celtics who have passed on (staff and students) – only adds to the power of video to evoke vivid personal, deep feelings and memories.
  2. The Power of Social Media
    The postings have generated an exciting buzz and sense of nostalgia within the Facebook group – as former alumni and staff ‘like’, reshare, and share their own personal thoughts and feelings about the video clips and the events and people contained in them. Leveraging social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) allows us to build on this momentum quickly, widely and easily, at a click.
  3. Golden Opportunity
    The upcoming St. David 50th Anniversary events represent a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our rich history/heritage together, reconnect (‘catch up’) with other former St. Daivd alumni and staff and connect with members of the current school community.

The St. David catholic community provided me with nearly two decades worth of precious memories of amazing people and events both inside and beyond the classroom walls: liturgies, teams, clubs, assemblies, victories, defeats, class excursions and memories of former teachers & students who have passed on etc. Many St. David graduates have gone on to establish wonderful careers and create loving families. I just  thank God that I was fortunate and privileged enough to work with some of you, to capture and now revisit once again, in the age of social media, some of those priceless moments, . Carpe diem!

Twitter: @StDavid50 #Celtic50
Email: SDCeltics50@gmail.com
Facebook: St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015
Lisa Denomme (StDavid50 Co-Chair)


An Open Letter to All Students

Everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody.  – Marshall McLuhan

An Open Letter to All Students,

Look up! That’s right, put your smart phones away, look me in the eye and listen to me for just a few minutes. Seriously, I mean it; your future may depend on it!

Don’t worry. I am not going to tell you how you should NOT use your mobile device or judge you. I have taught, observed and spoken with enough of you about digital technology over the years to know that the vast majority of you are decent, respectful human beings who, like me, make mistakes from time to time.

I know that your time is precious and that there are a gazillion things you could be doing with your mobile device right now, like chatting and playing online games with your friends via at least a dozen trendy social media and gaming apps; or capturing cool photos and videos of one another, tagging and uploading them to the internet.

You might even be texting, blogging or video-calling about how much you love your new sneakers or the amazing adventures you have planned for the summer. These are all valid and wonderful ways to celebrate the miracle of digital technology. You should keep doing these things!

balance-224644_640

I just want a minute or two to share three suggestions that may enhance your valuable time and perhaps alter, for the better, your life’s path.

  1. Always be positive. Whether you are online or offline, in person or in cyberspace, strive always to be upbeat, kind and gentle with yourself and others. Use digital technology and social media to stay in touch with family and friends and create a positive digital identity that you, your parents and teachers would be proud of. Build one another up by sharing all the incredibly wonderful things you are already doing in your school communities (charity fundraisers, arts, science and technology fairs, community partnerships etc.). If you are always positive and THINK before you speak or post online – this will go a long way in helping you to construct a positive persona and digital footprint, thereby avoiding potentially embarrassing, hurtful and perhaps tragic situations.
  2. Strive for balance in everything you do. It doesn’t take a genius to know that spending too much time doing anything: sleeping, listening to music, playing video games, or watching videos, is likely not good for your physical, emotional, intellectual or social well-being. Take some time every day to go outside and walk, run, or cycle in the natural environment. This would be a perfect chance to exercise your body and clear your mind, while celebrating, appreciating and enjoying nature.
  3. Be thankful. Make time to slow down, meditate, reflect on and be thankful for all the gifts in your life: family, friends, shelter, food, health and the natural environment. By slowing down, being appreciative and thankful for the people and possessions in your life- you will gain a deeper understanding and respect for them.

Remember, all it takes is one thoughtless moment: sending an angry text, posting or sharing online an inappropriate or embarrassing comment, photo or video of yourself or others – to derail your dreams. Ironically, by slowing down, thinking, being thankful and periodically looking up from your digital gadgets – you may just find a sense of peace, balance and new appreciation for life and all its wonders.

Photo Credit: jesslef


The Power of Prayer

When we have prayed prayers long enough, all the words drop away and we begin to live in the presence of God. Then prayer is finally real. When we find ourselves sinking into the world around us with a sense of purpose, an inner light and deep and total trust that whatever happens is right for us, then we have *become* prayer.
~ Sister Joan Chittister

contemplation

When approaching the expansive topic of prayer – I find that drawing upon the wisdom and prior experience of others helps to ground me. Therefore, I offer the following quotes about prayer for your consideration and reflection.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
~ Kierkegaard

Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
~ Bruce Lee

Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.
~ Mother Theresa

When man is with God in awe and love, then he is praying.
~ Karl Rahner

When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person.
~ Philip Yancey

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.
~ Woody Allen

Sometimes the best answers to prayer are the ones God doesn’t answer.
~ Robin Jones Gunn

Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.
~ Martin Luther

Love people who hate you. Pray for people who have wronged you. It won’t just change their life…it’ll change yours.
~ Mandy Hale

Photo Credit: Leyland Fransciso Photostream


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