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)
In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students.
This article was originally published in October of 1996 in the Waterloo Region Record.
By Michael Redfearn
If you don’t think teachers can make learning boring, you underestimate the power of education.
“O.K. class, turn to page 59 and together we’ll read about how the Algonquin Indians lived hundreds of years ago.”
A holistic and relevant education must incorporate some real-life adventures. Invariably, this sometimes involves risk-taking outside the boundaries of traditional school buildings and school hours.
When asked their favorite memories of elementary or high school, many adults point to experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. They fondly remember field trips run by caring teachers who all had one belief in common – that education was much more than a basic understanding of the three R’s.
With all of the cutbacks occurring in education these days, one has to wonder if the learning which takes place outside of the confines of the classroom will also fall victim to the axes of the political czars in the Ministry of Education.
In my teaching career, I have been privileged to have accompanied students during some of the most valuable learning experiences of their lives. One such event was our school’s four-day, Grade 12 canoeing camping trip to Algonquin Park.
The knowledge gained by generations of high school students, who’ve experienced wilderness trips over the years, cannot be gleaned from a textbook. Booklearning alone cannot adequately prepare our children for life or truly convey the daunting physical hardships endured by our forebearers.
Only after they actually feel the oppressive weight of a 16-foot canoe or heavy pack on their backs, after hours of strenuous hiking, do students come to appreciate the comforts they often take for granted. Four days and nights of vigorous canoeing, portaging and camping in the autumn wilderness quickly spawns a keen yearning for a hot shower and cosy bed.
The haunting call of a loon at daybreak or rhythmic sound of autumn leaves rustling in the wind must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. Not even the most sophisticated computer or CD ROM technology can begin to capture the profound natural beauty of a mist-shrouded morning lake or star-studded night sky.
In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students. Having spend most of their lives in suburban comfort, they are awakened, in part, to the stark reality and natural beauty of the life of their ancestors.
The students quickly learn to work together out of necessity to overcome the many challenges posed by the natural world. Rocky, uneven, mud-soaked terrain, narrow, twisting waterways and beaver dams must all be navigated with care if the obstacles are to be overcome.
When pushed to their limits, shy, insecure students often surprise themselves with new-found talents and innate resources they never knew existed. To paraphrase the German philosopher, Nietzsche, these students begin to see that, that which doesn’t destroy them, makes them stronger.
They also learn that in order to live in harmony with the environment, they must respect its sheer power and nurture its awe-inspiring beauty. They begin to see what their ancestors understood – that they are part of a greater, divine force which emphasizes they sacredness and interconnectedness of all living things.
Though the winds of change are dramatically revamping the face of the education system in Ontario, one can only hope that those who truly value education will never abandon the struggle to expand the minds, hearts and spirits of students beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.
If we want our children to be prepared for the many obstacles they will encounter in life, then we must also continue to demand that the education system be both relevant and meaningful. Failure to do so would rob our children of the opportunities many of us have benefited from and of fond memories of their school years.
Photo Credit: Paul Bica
The following reflections are based on a recent vacation at a friend’s summer home in Upper Island Cove, Newfoundland:
THE AVALON PENINSULA
Craggy granite cliffs,
fossilized, moss-cloaked cathedrals,
draped in mottled orange and green garments,
immovable, amid moody seas.
Swirling seabirds, graceful guardians,
keep watch over ocean giants
whirling, reveling, gorging
in crystal waters below,
oblivious to the wonder
and chatter of gaping tourists.
Islanders, hardy, song and soul-filled,
ruddy faces etched, with toil, sweat, tears,
stained and strengthened by a callous climate,
bound to blood lines stretching back
over two thousand years. I wonder . . .
Was Eden like that?
by Michael G. Redfearn
We like to say that God made the world in six days and on the seventh day
He rested in Upper Island Cove. – Upper Island Cove Resident
Newfoundland & Labrador, maybe it’s time you came home for a visit.
– Slogan from a Newfoundland & Labrador TV commercial
As stunning as they are, Newfoundland is more breathtakingly beautiful than its superb TV tourism promos can possibly begin to convey. The rugged coastline: chiseled, orange moss on ancient rock cliffs, dazzling deep blue-aquamarine ocean, foamy waves and cool brisk winds . . . only truly awaken and enliven the spirit when captured through all the senses.
Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis.
― Letty M. Russell
Newfoundlander hospitality is legendary. Thousands of mainlanders stranded on the ‘rock’ on September 11, 2001 can attest to this fact. Islanders in small coastal communities really do leave their doors unlocked and unreservedly welcome visitors with open hearts and arms into their homes. My wife and I witnessed this incredible hospitality first hand. While on walks during our stay we received kind offers from residents of Upper Island Cove to “come on over anytime for tea”.
We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came. – John F. Kennedy
Nothing quite calms the soul or soothes the spirit like an expansive, picturesque seascape, a walk along a winding trail, a glimpse of frolicking whales amid the ocean waves or seabirds soaring in mid-flight.
Nature trails abound on the Avalon Peninsula. Two such trails (Mad Rock Trail near Bay Roberts, Signal Hill Trail near St. John’s) provide their own unique natural vistas.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter. Rachel Carson
Sometimes, the simple contours and colors of a rock or flash of a whale’s tail can stir something deep within us . . . connecting us to a profound eternal truth and timeless reality . . . beyond words.
Photos by Michael Redfearn