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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That 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.
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.
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.
From the Trevi we continued our pilgrimage to Villa Borghese in search of some respite (natural shade) from the crushing heat.
After 3 eventful days exploring Rome it was time to say arrivederci and continue on our journey to Athens.
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.
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.
Gina 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!
On 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.
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!
Our final evening in Santorini was topped off with a magnificent sunset dinner cruise.
We bid farewell to Santorini enroute to catch an early morning flight to Athens to meet up with our cruise ship, the Celebrity Equinox.
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!
Love this guy, just chillin in the shade.
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.
The next stop was the port of Fiumicino for our transfer to the airport for our flight home.
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)
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.
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 –
Photo Credit: Michael G. Redfearn
Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night
And you see your gypsy . . .
To the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear
I have no fear, I have only love . . .
Excerpt from Gypsy by Stevie Nicks
By Michael G. Redfearn
If great artists are judged by their ability to inspire and evoke deep feelings of joy, pathos and divine despair, then Fleetwood Mac painted another masterpiece yesterday evening at the Air Canada Center in Toronto.
Only six months after elecrifying a packed house of largely aging boomers back in October – the suprisingly well-preserved 70’s folk-rock demigods thundered and gingerly (given their advanced years) pranced and strutted across the stage.
As in October (same set list, same songs) though a timeless pantheon of hits that most fans and critics believe reached its apex with their montrously successful 1977 studio album Rumours. And who could really blame them for not giving their faithful throngs of followers exactly what they want?
Heaven knows, the fab five (Mick Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) have paid their dues and then some. The Mac pack have endured enough heartache and struggle to last many lifetimes. Their personal battles with each other and life-threatening addictions to cocaine and alcohol are legendary.
But great pain and suffering sometimes yield extraordinary work and the sheer volume of stellar music generated by the late 70’s and its remarkable longevity, is testament to the band’s creative spirit. At a point well into last night’s show – Buckingham stated, “I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen our share of ups and downs and I think that’s kind of makes us what we are. In this particular moment, with the return of the beautiful Christine, she is a beautiful soul, now it signals the beginning of a poetic, profound and I think prolific new chapter of this band – Fleetwood Mac!”
It appears that adoring Fleetwood Mac fans are still smitten with the relatively recent return of keyboardist Christine McVie – following her 16-year hiatus from the band. And draped in her Godiva-esque blonde locks, trademark all black ensemble, shawls and lace, Nicks twirled, swayed and charmed her worshippers like a high-priestess dancing on an altar of love .
Throughout the solid three hour performance, Buckingham again proved that he is one of rock history’s most vital visionaries and talented guitarists. His lightning-fast fingers skidded across his various custom guitars delighting the 17,000 worshippers in attendance.
The whimsical lyrics of Nick’s enchanting song Gypsy (she dedicated this song to her closest friend Robin Snyder Anderson – whom she met in high school and who died from Leukemia at age 34) remind us of how truly sacred and fleeting life is.
Perhaps what is most compelling about Fleetwood Mac is how many of their songs echo the longings of the human heart. How their own personal stories reflect both the countless joys and wonders of this incredibly beautiful and broken world and the people in it.
That no matter how much we strive to avoid it, none of us escapes the dark night of the soul. Though if we have faith, work hard and are tenacious enough, we can sometimes attain our wildest dreams and this may be their greatest legacy of all.
You Make Loving Fun
Second Hand News
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Sisters of the Moon
Say You Love Me
Never Going Back Again
Over My Head
Gold Dust Woman
I’m So Afraid
Go Your Own Way
World Turning/Mick Fleetwood drum solo
People do you hear me, just give me the sign,
It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth
Here’s to the future for the dreams of youth,
I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now
I Want it All – Queen
Those who casually claim that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ – have not experienced the recent incarnation of Queen . If their (July 28th) performance at the ACC in Toronto is any indication – the young people I saw seemed fully aware and appreciative of the musical brilliance of the rock royalty (Brian May, Roger Taylor) and the ‘new guy’ (A-Idol sensation Adam Lambert) on dazzling display before them.
In fact, I would argue that, for a few brief hours, time stood still for the throngs of aging boomers as well as those weaned on reality TV, mobile phones and social media. That’s the beauty, or should I say ‘booty’ for today’s slick concert promoters and performers – the ability to woo and mesmorize both the hipster and hip replacement generations simultaneously.
Oh sure, 21st century photo and lighter apps flickering on omnipresent pocket phone screens may have replaced instamatics and butane lighters at today’s pyrotechnic-laden performances, but they’re just fluff. What really resonates with the faithful, what no computer-generated app can recreate – is the live concert experience.
It was and it wasn’t Queen on stage at the ACC. May and Taylor are perennial ‘lions in winter’ who can still bring down any house, anytime, anywhere with searing guitar riffs and commanding drum solos. And as much as some people like to compare them – Adam Lambert is NOT Freddie Mercury, nor, thankfully, does he pretend to be.
It’s the purity, genius and grace of iconic songs like Love of My Life and Bohemian Rhapsody that seized the collective attention of the audience. No easy task considering that most of today’s concert goers have the attention span of a tse-tse fly hooked on meth. More importantly, for those of us who remember Queen of the 70’s and 80’s – their songs and music likely evoke memories of special moments with loved ones from a romanticized, though now distant past.
It’s the flair for theatrics, musical and vocal talent and ‘fire in belly’ of Lambert, May, Taylor and company that win the day. But more than that, it’s their ability to reimagine and recreate the classic Queen songs, in a way that holds the audience spellbound. By refusing to try and clone Freddie, an impossible task, this version of Queen is able to seize the glorious past, present and promising future and hold it all, briefly, in the palm of their hands.
In the end, if they are at all like me, I believe many of the excited and exhausted fans leaving the ACC (especially the energetic young woman in the seat beside me who stood, hollered, danced and sang for most of the concert) could say that they ‘had it all’, at least for a few magical hours.
Photo Credit: wikipediacommons