Al and Marsha's Journal



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Barcelona Encore
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So….. here we go again....another much anticipated adventure, this time in the Western Mediterranean on an Oceania Cruise Lines ship,
the Insignia. The cruise is to start in Barcelona on April 18th and end in Athens on May 2nd.  Our plan is to arrive two days early in
Barcelona to spend some time there (which proved to be a fortuitous decision), and an extra day in Athens at the end and fly to Santorini
for the day.

A short explanation is in order here…. We originally booked a ten day cruise for May which included a couple of places we were anxious
to visit, particularly Barcelona and Santorini.  A few months before our scheduled date Oceania asked us if we would switch to a fourteen
day trip in April with no additional cost, plus they would pay for any additional costs we might incur in changing our plans, which we
accepted.  Santorini was not included in the new itinerary, therefore our little side trip at the end.

As has become my habit on trips like this I pay attention at the very start to the “omens”, meaning I believe that the earliest signs of good
or bad indicate what is to come.  As usual I was right at least for the beginning.

The earliest omen: after a very short wait and check-in at the Lufthansa counter at YVR for the first stage of our journey to Frankfurt was
an almost offhand comment by the young lady at the check-in desk…."The departure time is delayed one and one half hours”. 
I almost didn’t catch it, but my subconscious must have been alert….. After getting her to repeat that I asked how we were going to catch
our connecting flight in Frankfurt to Barcelona seeing as we only had a one and one half hour of transfer time between the flights.
Her response was intended to be reassuring, “The pilot can make up most of the time en route”. I didn’t believe her and in the end we
arrived exactly one and one half hours late and had missed our connecting flight.

Checked in, boarding passes in hand....what more could be bad? Little did we know.


The flight to Frankfurt was normal except for the fact that we were in coach and there was not an abundance of leg, or any other type
of room. To make matters worse, as I had anticipated, the jerk in front of me leaned his seat back as far as it would go for the whole flight.
You may ask why we travelled coach, when, if you read our recent voyage journals, you would know that we were set on Business Class.

In short, in the cruise package air fare was included.  The cost saving for using points and not taking their flights was about four hundred
dollars. We didn’t think it was worth 240,000 points to save that little, and to travel coach.  I am not convinced we made the right decision…

At this point we had not twigged to what caused the delay, and what was to come.  In his after take off announcement the Captain
apologized for the delay but commented that they had to dodge the dust cloud from the Iceland volcano.  Still didn’t twig.

So we arrived at Frankfurt, got onto a bus because there were no bays left at the terminal building (another clue the meaning of which
would become clear later) and were shunted to the terminal.

After clearing the minimal customs stuff we entered a world of total and mind boggling chaos.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.
There were thousands of people milling around, trooping from one part of the terminal building to another and all of them looking pissed off. 
Still no clue what was happening. Actually we both assumed this was normal for Frankfurt airport. I was beginning to believe that the widely
touted German efficiency was a lie.

After asking a couple of uniformed folks where to go to find out about getting rebooked to Barcelona we got into a line up which, at the
pace of movement, soon seemed like a two to three hour wait. We asked some more questions and we were directed to yet another
endless line up.

Still no clue on our part…….

Another question to another uniform led us to a third line up, which turned out to be the right one. It was only a one half hour wait to get to a
person at a desk. During this time we saw a couple of teams of what were obviously TV camera crews and announcers. One of them
approached Marsha and asked if she was German…. No interview there!  We wondered what was so newsworthy, but still no clue.

As soon as we arrived at the desk this time and we told her which flight we were from the agent said “Oh! Vancouver!”, and proceeded
to print boarding passes for another flight to Barcelona an hour or so later.

Now that we had a flight, Marsha began fretting about our luggage. Nothing we could do about that, so I suggested we just go with the flow.  

At this point, after we got our new flight settled we started to pay more attention to what was going on and gradually the light started to shine…..
All aircraft traffic in Europe was totally disrupted by the aforementioned volcano. People were stranded everywhere in Europe because
their flights had been cancelled due to airports closing, caused by the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano. This is why our flight from
Vancouver couldn’t get a gate, they were all occupied by planes from cancelled flights.

Hence the chaos.

Now we had a clue, and the flight to Barcelona was uneventful and mercifully short.  Our luggage was among the first onto the carousel.  
We cabbed it to our hotel, right in the middle of the tourist district.  Those reading this who are familiar with Barcelona will be able to place
it just two blocks from Las Ramblas and across a courtyard from the main Cathedral.

The Hotel Colon was as good as the guide books and internet said it was and we were delighted with both the hotel and our room (see the circle
in the picture.).  We had a balcony overlooking the square below and the Cathedral on the other side. The square was buzzing with people coming
and going in all directions



As soon as we checked in we wanted to find out about the volcano and air traffic so we turned on CNN to see the news.  As it happened
the story at that moment was about the problem. We quickly found out that Frankfurt airport had been totally shut down while we were in
the air to Barcelona.

We had been booked on the last flight to leave Frankfurt for Barcelona before the closing of the Frankfurt airport!!!

I am still trying to decide if we had experienced really good luck, or a brush with disaster, or both. As it turned out of the 680 passengers that our
ship can carry, 200ish didn’t make it to Barcelona in time even though the ship stayed there an extra day. Some caught up with us at the
ports we visited over the next few days.  I guess I have to conclude that we were lucky to get here at all, never mind, on time. 
If we hadn’t planned a couple of extra days in Barcelona we would not have made it.

Meeting new friends

Soon after we made our booking on this trip Marsha came across a chat room on which provided the opportunity for
travellers to hook up with others going on the same cruise.  Marsha posted a note there and in very short order she connected with two
couples who were interested in sharing the cost of excursions in the various places we were to visit.  We didn't want to take excursions
offered by the cruise company as they are very expensive and we don’t really like the herd mentality which goes along with full busloads
of geriatrics.  I know, I know, we’re geriatrics too, but we’re young ones.

One of the couples is from South Carolina and the other from Florida.  As it turned out over time, Gary from South Carolina is a master
organizer. He, Marsha and Kathy shared the bulk of the arrangements, and Marsha made our arrangements in Venice for just the two of us,
where we would be for two days.


After we unpacked our Barcelona bag we went out into the square and wandered around amongst the throng who were essentially doing
the same thing.  In the square was a semi-permanent chatchke market selling a variety of “antiques” and some pure tourist stuff.  After
wandering around we went to a small restaurant on the edge of the square and had a terrific meal.  Then we walked through some of the
narrow streets near the square, sampled the local gelato, and then to bed.

The Chatchka Market in the square and the little side streets at night.


Next morning our new BFF’s from Florida, Kathy and Charlie, met us in our hotel restaurant and we spent the rest of that day with
them, touristing. We agreed to spend a good part of the day on the hop-on, hop-off bus going around the circuit so that we could then
decide where to get off and on the next day. This turned out to work very well and allowed us to pick what we were interested in.
The Heads and the Simmons' very quickly developed a warm friendship. We spent several hours on the bus getting off for lunch
and a minor shopping expedition.

We arranged to go for dinner together and Kathy was anxious to go to a restaurant which had been recommended by her hotel –
the Four Cats. We launched our excursion from our square and Kathy and I vied as navigator. She had a map and I had my iPhone GPS. 
I think it was a tie. We arrived in the correct street and went into the restaurant.  We had a terrific meal, and then we asked for the bill. 
When it arrived we discovered that we were not at the Four Cats at all, but a different restaurant. When we told our server he laughed
and told us that both are owned by the same person.  He then called over the owner who took us four doors down the road to the
Four Cats and gave us a tour of the charming restaurant. We booked a reservation for the next night.

Las Ramblas

This kilometre long street which is pedestrian only is in the centre of Barcelona’s business district and over time has changed so that
the stores cater to tourists. There are some very “high end” (I hate that expression!) stores along the way. In what would normally be the road
myriad of booths selling the usual: magazines, candy, souvenirs… but also something else: small live animals, mostly birds. Vancouverites – think
Robson Street in Spanish, actually Catalonian. This dialect is spoken only in that region of Spain and is quite different from Spanish.
Catalonians are very proud of their heritage, and make no bones about it.

After our meal at the 4 Cats - Not! we wandered down Las Ramblas getting our first feel for the place.


Also scattered along the street were many people selling a variety of kitschy gimmick stuff, and a large contingent of folks miming in various
and complicated setups. We have seen these before, here in Vancouver, in Ireland, in London, but never so many and none with such
complex costumes and setups.

Street mimes on Las Ramblas - there are actually people inside all of the regalia!


Although Las Ramblas is very touristy (even though we saw many families enjoying the place too), but not offensively so. It's a very
colourful place to spend an afternoon or evening.

When we arrived in Barcelona we immediately noticed how ubiquitous motor scooters, and to a lesser degree motor bikes are used....
they scoot everywhere weaving in and out of traffic and squeezing themselves through totally impossible spaces. Easy parking and
cheap operating cost must be a major incentive.


We spent our two days roaming Barcelona and taking in the interesting style of the place. Much of the getting around was via the hop--on
hop-off busses, and much by old fashioned walking.

One of the most talked about personalities when Barcelonans talk about their city is the architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926),  We saw several
of his buildings while bussing and walking. They are hard to miss. On day two we hopped off at the site of the La Sagrata Familia Cathedral,
which he worked on for about 40 years before his death, and is still unfinished to this day. We spent a couple of hours wandering around
the Cathedral and going to the very top of the spires and then walking down a very tight circular stairway. It was quite a sight.

The "SOS" sign is due to the fact that work only goes on here when there is money, and all of it comes from donations and entry fees.


The strange part of this is that parts of the cathedral are now one hundred years old and in need of cleanup and repair while new parts are
continually being added.
                                                                              New                                                Old

Kathy, being an old hand at this stuff had brought with her a little device to plug multiple earphone sets into (she called it her spider). 
This is what they all looked like at the Cathedral. This device saved having to rent four audio systems.


Unexpected bonus - being at the right place at the right time and not knowing it......

We were very lucky that we were staying where we were because on Saturday afternoon we saw, from our balcony, on the courtyard
below a large number of folks performing a local Catalonian dance the name of which I don't know. After a few minutes of observation
certain elements became clear. There was a band playing a variety of songs from the Cathedral steps. Scattered around the square were
groups of 10 - 15 people in circles, young an old, performing a dance.

The first element I noticed was that each circle's centre was a pile of jackets and sweaters. What could be a better way of keeping your
eye on your stuff. The dance was very formal with prescribed steps which all dancers did in strict unison. Their faces were expressionless.
The tempo of the dance sped and slowed down from the directions given by one member of the circle.

There were several informal gatherings dancing in the square, and one very formal one near our hotel. The latter were all young and there
were coaches helping them get it right. I was fascinated with the discipline of it all and the seriousness of these young folks. I think that the
young dancers probably dance in competitions.

This spontaneous dance session happens every Saturday night at this spot. The tubby guy in the brown T-shirt was giving the dance cues.


After watching this for quite a while Cathy and Charlie arrived and watched with us and then we walked to the real Four Cats and were led to
our table as if were VIPs.  At the table were four glasses of champagne courtesy of the owner. We had another terrific dinner.

The 4 Cats (Charlie, a serious beer drinker was given a 4 Cats mug).    The 4 Cats bar - Ceramic tile is very big in Barcelona

After walking and enjoying the sights and sounds of La Ramblas we ended up back at the square in front of our hotel. We picked one
of the side streets that led off the square at random, and right away ran into a group of folks standing around at the intersection of the narrow
street and what looked like a driveway into the back of the cathedral. There was a guy set up there in this little out of the way place with a
CD player and speakers and he was singing opera to the gathered folks.

It was an amazing sight to stumble across and once more proved the value of taking unplanned side trips as you stroll around. When he
finished the song he was singing called on a lady who was standing in the crowd and she came out and proceeded to sing.


After listening to these amazing singers for a while we continued on our quest. We found a gelato place and of course could not pass by
without tasting some.

This sculpture below was on the side of a church visible only in this little laneway we were exploring.

Insignia - the cruise begins (sort of)


On the morning of the 18th we packed our bags and headed to the nearby berthing area where cruise ships dock. The taxi driver knew
exactly where Insignia was berthed and we got there with no fuss.

Checking in and boarding the ship was as painless as you could imagine. They took our bags the instant we got out of the taxi promising to
deliver them to our stateroom. The staff at the check in table were very welcoming without a trace of being forced. We were to find that for
the whole of the cruise the staff were amiable and friendly. We never once passed a crew member in the passageways and stairs who did
not greet us with a smile and a word. We also didn't stand in a line up even once during the cruise.

Oceania is known as a premium line at the upper end of the price scale (although this cruise was right in there with the bigger ships as far as
price is concerned). They have only four ships, three small ones like Insignia (her sister ship is Regatta), and one new larger one.
Another is scheduled to start cruising in 2011.

After receiving our identity cards we were directed to the Waves restaurant on Deck 9 to wait for our room to be ready, and to enjoy a
buffet lunch. There were already a number of passengers on board many enjoying the buffet lunch.  After that we snooped around the ship
to get our bearings. Even though Insignia is a "small" cruise ship, at least by our standards, carrying only 680 passengers, it sure seemed
big to us.

Our stateroom was on Deck 7 forward under the bridge.  We had chosen a room the same size as the veranda rooms, but without the
veranda. This gave us a little more room. As we were to be ashore all day at each port and cruising at night our large porthole was good
enough. On a different kind of schedule we probably would opt for a veranda room.

Our stateroom was ready earlier than expected so we found our way there and dropped our carry on stuff. Our bags arrived a little later.

It was a very pleasant room and as soon as our luggage arrived we unpacked and our attendant took our suitcases away. It felt really
great to be settled in our home for the next fourteen days.

While we were getting settled the long arm of the volcano ash problem's effect on flying in Europe caught up to us. The public address
came on with the cruise director telling us that due to these problems the ship would be staying overnight in Barcelona instead of departing
that night to allow late comers to catch up. We actually had a number of passengers arrive at each of the ports we visited for about a week.
We missed Mallorca but got another day in Barcelona.  Not a bad trade, we thought.

Before dinner, at 5:30 was the obligatory emergency drill in which all guests had to don life vests and go to the dining room, or theatre,
for direction. After some words about safety and all that stuff we were escorted out to the deck to be lined up and instructed what to
do in the case of a real emergency. I am positive that every person there felt like an ass parading around in the life jackets looking ridiculous.
The only consolation was that everyone looked equally silly.


The way dining works on Oceania ships is that there is open seating and you can go to the main dining room at any time after 6:30. The
immediate result of this is that there are no lineups waiting to get in after the first rush of early diners. In addition, there was a full buffet
in the Waves restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a Steak and Chop restaurant. Reservations are required at the Italian and Chop House
restaurants, but there is no additional fee. The only thing you pay for on the ship is alcohol. If you buy a bottle of wine they will keep
it for you and retrieve it whenever you ask for it at any bar or restaurant on the ship. Very Elegant!

We had arranged to meet Charlie and Kathy, as well as Gary and Doris (our second new internet friends) for dinner in the Grand Dining
Room. The lounge is the picture below just outside the dining room and before long we were saying things like "See you at the sofa at 7:30".
We latched onto one corner set of sofas and chairs as our meeting place for dinners and got very indignant if others were sitting there
before us.

The way our cruise was organized was perfect for us. Each morning we arrived at a new port after cruising all night from the previous one.
This meant that we had all day to tour and explore and the ship only moved at night. There were two exceptions to this, we had one two
day sail, and we stayed in Venice overnight. This arrangement worked very well, we never felt short of time.....

Barcelona, encore

The next morning we were on our own so we decided to take the shuttle bus from the ship to the Columbus statue, and for starters,
take a walk up Las Ramblas.

                                                                 Christopher Columbus - If he's supposed to be
                                                                 pointing to the New World he "discovered" he's
                                                                 pointing the wrong way......

We strolled up the street, stopping for a cold one at a corner cafe, and then continued walking about another kilometer to have a look
at another building by the aforementioned architect Gaudi. 

During our ramblings in Las Ramblas (pun not intended) we came across a large food market of the kind used by locals.


On the way to the Gaudi building I noticed an interesting sign over a small cafe/bar. It looks quite old, but I doubt if there is any significance in it. 
Just interesting.

Very often, by looking up as you explore a city or town you see clues as to how life for the people of the town goes on....
It's easy to forget that real people live in these places and have normal (for them) lives. Barcelona is not Disneyland.

This scene is common wherever we went.                                        This one, not so much......

Gaudi's buildings are quirky to say the least, with almost no square corners or traditional shapes. The building we were looking for was
originally built as residences but now it is a museum and offices for various social services. When we got there we took an elevator to
the roof (for a fee) to see the artistry up close and Barcelona stretching to the distance.

These are images I captured while wandering around the roof of this building. Never seen anything like it! What an imagination this guy had.
He was a follower of the "Modernista" style of architecture (whatever that means). For some reason I managed to spend considerable time
at this building without getting one shot of the exterior, which is equally as weird as the roof structures. I managed to snag a couple of good
shots of this building and a couple others off the internet.


The brownish columns are in fact chimney pots.


These two are other Gaudi buildings

There are many old buildings with imaginative design, but nothing as out there as Gaudi.

Everywhere we went in Barcelona we came across these racks of bikes lined up and attached to a holding device. We also saw the bikes
being ridden by people everywhere. We guessed that these were communal bikes which you paid a fee to ride. You would pick up a bike
at the start of your journey and put it back on a rack at the end. There was an electronic box where presumably one would swipe a card
to register that you have taken a bike and again register its return. A very neat system. The map on the right hand picture shows the nearest
stations on the bottom, and the whole city on the top. If you look closely at the top one you can see literally hundreds of red dots, each
one a station. I found out later that Barcelona has 6,000 bikes in this system. Other cities such as Paris have similar systems

After our extra day in Barcelona, we met our four new friends at "our sofa" in the lounge outside the dining room. While we were dining
(and that is the right word) the ship's whistle sounded (and scared the bejeezus out of anyone on deck) and we slipped out of our berth and
started on our way to Marseille.

Provence, France

We woke up a little later than we thought we would and headed right up to the Waves restaurant for buffet breakfast. We had arranged to
meet Kathy and Charley there and they were waiting for us. The buffet is varied and includes made to order omelets, scrambled eggs,
poached eggs, fried eggs, plus cereal, fruit, pastry . Charley succumbed to the chocolate donuts available for breakfast on our last morning
and said it was the worst donut he had eaten in his life. (Oh can't win them all)

Our first day of touring was one which Gary had arranged with a local licensed guide who met us at the dock as arranged. We all got into
her eight passenger van and took off out of Marseilles heading for Provence. Our first stop, about an hour away was Avignon. We had an
uneventful ride looking at the French country side and listening to Katherine telling us about the things we were seeing.

Just as we rounded a corner into Avignon Marsha spotted an old bridge and started singing a song about the bridge left over in her head
from childhood - Sur La Pont d'Avignon....  Click here to hear the song.  Press the browser back button to return here.

                                         Only half of the bridge is left because the other half was blown up in some war or another.


Avignon's claim to fame is the Pope's Palace which was started building by Pope Benedict XII in about 1335, but completed twenty
years later by Clement VI. The pictures below are of the palace and other scenes of Avignon.

From now on in this journal I will identify the place, and special features and then add a number of relevant pictures, some of which may
have commentary above them. Except in Venice we did not have time, once we had seen the historic stuff, to poke around and actually
experience a small sample of life in these wonderful cities and towns.

Avignon, Provence, France

Five of the six musketeers- Charlie, Kathy, our guide, Marsha, Doris, Gary.

I like doors, that's why!      Our bunch of tourists and guide.
                                                                                (more to come)

 The palace of the Popes                                                              See the folks looking out the windows?  They're painted on the glass.

The bridge at left, and lookout lower center                View from the lookout

The village of Avignon

We then travelled to the place near Avignon where Van Gogh lived for a time with the artist Paul Gauguin with whom he did not get along.
The story is that after a particularly acrimonious argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh got a kitchen knife and threatened to stab Gauguin.
Instead he pulled back, went into his studio and sliced off his ear. Hmmmmmm..temper, temper!!! We then went to the mental hospital
where he lived till he died in 1890. The hospital is still operational and also contains a museum dedicated to Van Gogh as well as displaying
art done by other residents as part of their therapy.

Next stop, down the highway a few miles - Les Baux de Provence - an historic town high on the crest of a hill. Then back to the ship.

Greeted by the crew on our return including the ship's band - actually meant for the folks who paid gazillions of dollars for the excursions
provided by the ship, but we snuck into the line. The fellow in the grey suit is the Cruise Director Dave.

Leaving Marseilles

                                                                                                    The pilot boat picking up the pilot on the way out.

Livorno, Italy - Florence and Pisa

Florence                                                                     Pisa


The port of Livorno was used as it is the closest point to Florence and Pisa which could accommodate the ship, so we did not spend
any time there. As soon as we could get off Kathy, Charlie, Marsha and I took a taxi to the train station. Once we figured out the train
schedule we bought tickets and were on our way to Florence to see the Uffizi Gallery and the statue of David at the Academia Gallery.
Marsha and Kathy had pre-purchased tickets on the internet to both places.

Neither the Uffizi nor the statue of David would allow pictures, so we could only photograph the outsides, plus other interesting stuff
such as the Ponte Vechio.

                                 At this point Charlie, in the cap, was getting tired of stairs!

                                                                                                  A lot of reconstruction going on at the bridge. We
                                                                                                  stopped here for a cold one in a little sidewalk cafe,
                                                                                                  and spent some time with Kathy's favorite recreational
                                                                                                  activity O and R, which is short for "Observe and
                                                                                                  Ridicule". We did a lot of that during the trip, especially
                                                                                                  watching tourists.

On the way from the Ponte Vechio to the David.

Back to the train and a short ride to Pisa followed by a fairly long hike to the leaning tower. By the time we were actually getting close
we were all getting pooped. I really hoped it was as interesting as our expectations.  Around the last corner, and there it was, totally as
amazing as we hoped.

                                                             Tacky souvenirs anyone?  Not!!

Another stop at another sidewalk cafe and then back (by local bus which Kathy spotted) to the train for the balance of the ride to Livorno.

Civitavecchia, Italy - Rome

As in Livorno, Civitavecchia is the closest port to Rome, so that is where we docked. In this case Kathy had pre-arranged a guide for
the four of us for a day in Rome. The driver was waiting for us on the pier when we were able to disembark from the ship, and we all piled
in for the hour long drive to Rome where we would pick up our guide, Mayta. She is an American who has lived in Rome for over thirty
years. She has a masters degree in art history so who better to tell us about the amazing history of the city of Rome.

Again, because of the strict return time for the ship, we were only able to dash from one well known attraction to another, and cover as
much as we could at each place. Having a private guide was proving to be extremely valuable in this situation because we were then able
to get the most value out of the places we did visit (and avoid lineups).

When the Pantheon was built the only outside light came from a twenty foot opening in the dome open to the weather. The sun's rays moves
across the dome as the day goes on. The opening is still open to the weather and there are a number of drains in the marble floor which
take the water out of the building when it rains.

Vatican City                                            


                                                                                                   This group of school children is being shown a scrolling
                                                                                                    picture rendition of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Mayta took
                                                                                                    us through this same set of pictures and told us about the
                                                                                                    panels, how they were created, what each one meant,
                                                                                                    why they were in the order they were in, etc. 
                                                                                                    As we were not allowed to use cameras in the chapel, I could not
                                                                                                    take any of my own photos. When we got to the chapel Mayta sat
                                                                                                    down to rest (she was using a cane to help her get around) set us
                                                                                                    loose for a while on our own. Having been through the pictures
                                                                                                    below we were able to understand what we were looking at.


Sistine Chapel pictures "borrowed" from the internet...There is no amount of looking at pictures of this place to replace seeing it yourself.
It is breathtaking. The ceiling itself was painted by Michelangelo standing on a scaffold with his head cocked back so he could see what
he was doing. He was not lying down as is often believed. He painted the ceiling panels in just over four years. The end panel (below right)
was painted after the ceiling and also took four years.

God's eye view of Vatican City.

Rome skyline from a nearby lookout point.


The Coliseum



The mob scene at Trevi Fountain. BTW - throughout our time in Italy we would constantly run into mobs of kids (see yellow caps below)
from eight or nine years old to high school age with their teachers, all touring the same places as we did. This is apparently an annual
routine, one of the benefits of which was that many attractions were waiving their entrance fees.

After the Trevi Fountain we drove as quickly as our driver would dare to go (which in Rome is damned quickly!) through rush hour traffic
so as to get to the ship in time for our departure to Sorrento and the ruins of Pompeii. Just before sailing time the ship's public address
system paged two passengers. It turned out that these passengers were not on board. They apparently showed up just in time.
This happened a few times during the trip.

Sorrento and Pompeii

We arrived at Sorrento at the designated time and anchored in the bay at 8:00 am.  While watching the docking going on I saw that the
landing area for boats and the ship's tenders was on a small shelf at sea level, but the town itself was a couple of hundred feet higher and
there seemed to be one steep winding road up to the top. Because this was an anchoring and tender situation the disembarking procedure
was not the same as at a pier. We had to go to the theatre and wait for a card to allow us to take the next trip ashore. Priority was given
to those who had purchased a shore excursion from the ship. The rest of us had to wait till there was space.  This was a little annoying
but as it turned out, we did not have to wait long. The picture below through our porthole (lousy photograph, ok snap shot) shows the
town of Sorrento on the top of the steep cliff.


We got onto the tender and were quickly at the shore. There was a shuttle bus to transport us up the steep hill (thank goodness!!!) and
drop us just over the hill at the town centre. We then got on the local bus, which took us to train station. More figuring out of schedules
and a twenty minute wait later we were on our way to Pompeii.  We got there is good time and got off the train to find that the entrance
to the Pompeii site was almost literally across the street. Our guide for the day was waiting and away we went past several stalls seemingly
specializing in fresh fruit. It turned out that today was a free day at Pompeii the same as we had found in Rome yesterday.

The photos below while interesting, do not come close to displaying the immense size of this city, and the sophistication of its society.
I will try to offer some illuminating info with the pictures.

Pompeii was a city of about 2,000 families in the year 79CE when near by Mount Vesuvius blew its top with an explosion which was one
of the largest ever. Within minutes the city was inundated with a flow of earth, gasses and covered with volcanic ash. Many citizens living there
did not get away and were subsequently suffocated and buried under meters of ash.

As it happens the ash had the effect, over a long time, of preserving what was buried. For this reason, when the excavation began in the
18th century a great deal of the city was still there. Most of the buildings, but not all, had their roofs collapse. Because the ash protected
what was under it, the remains of the city have led to a long list of new information about life in those times.

As an example of a very startling fact: Every building in Pompeii had fresh running water. The pipes were rolled lead and sealed at the joint.
The water was gathered quite a distance away and transported via pipes and aqueducts to Pompeii.  This whole system worked with
gravity only. Pretty amazing.

Pompeii via Google Earth. Below, the whole town, as excavated.    Closer view - this clearly shows how well developed it was, and how
There is still about 25% of the city not excavated.                            everything was laid out in an orderly manner.

                                                                                                   The ladies with our debonair guide Gaetano

                                                                                                    The plant growth on the top edges of collapsed roofs is causing a lot
                                                                                                    of damage. These were the stores of small merchants. They always
A small home with stone walls and storage areas                           had the merchant's home behind the store.

The road system was amazing and existed throughout the city. There were lane dividers for two direction travel of the carts. Some of the
streets were set up for one way only. Many of the oldest roads had two grooves worn into them by centuries of use by horse drawn carts.
This is the best
: The grooves were made by the steel rimmed wheels drawn by horses. The wheels had to be a certain distance apart to
maintain two way traffic on these streets which were always the same width. The distance apart of the wheels was the width of the hind end
of a horse. These grooves can be seen throughout Pompeii.  The good part of this is: Because of the way these streets were built Roman
chariots had to be made with the wheels the same distance apart. This requirement also spilled over onto the first roads connecting Roman
cities, in the British Isles and elsewhere. This lasted for quite a time, and when Britain adopted railways they used the old Roman roads
which were already made with consistent width. The tracks for the trains were laid this way throughout the country. This width (railroad
track gauge to use the technical term), for the sake of uniformity then became the standard throughout Europe. When the pioneers in the
New World wanted to start building railways it made sense to them to use the same gauge so that everything was built to the same standard.
That gauge is still in use today.

So the implication of this is that the width of modern railway tracks all over Europe and America is the same as that of the ass of an ancient
Roman horse. Hmmmmmmm?  Fact or myth?  Who knows, but it makes a good story.

These poor folks died by suffocation leaving only (after years) a fossilized remnant from which these casts were created.

Some buildings did not lose their roofs so the colourful paintings on the walls survived   The remains of their major temple.

This is a bakery with milling machine and oven

Instructions for use on the walls of a brothel

Many of the buildings were two or three story residences for the middle and lower class. Going for a stroll on Main Street.

This is the Pompeii MacDonald's

All of the houses of the nobility (i.e. rich) were laid out exactly the same way, the only difference denoting how rich being the size of the rooms.

After we completed our time at Pompeii with our guide, Gaetano we got the train back to Sorrento. The ladies wanted to shop
(surprise, surprise) so Charley and I cabbed it back down to the tender landing spot, and then to the ship for a well earned rest.
Sorrento is a very charming town. It is one of the places I would like to go back to.

Taormina, Sicily

The next morning we found ourselves watching as the ship arrived in the Sicilian port of Taormina.  There was quite a bit of ship position
adjustment to find just the right place to anchor, but a few minutes after the anchor dropped the ship's public address system announced
that it was going to take a while to get the positioning right because of the higher than expected waves in the bay. The crew judged that it
was not safe for all of us old folks to get into the tenders, and then ashore with all this thrashing about.  About an hour later the public
address system announced that it was not going to work, so were going to head up the coast an hour or so and berth at Messina. Gary called
our guide David on his cell and found that David was driving up to Messina to pick us up.  We eventually got docked, disembarked and
there was David.

As we drove through Messina he advised us that our original goal for visiting, Mount Aetna was in cloud and it was raining. We found that
hard to believe because where we were was sunny and clear. As you can see from the map below, Sicily is large (Taormina to Messina
about 25 kms.) so we took his word for it.


That meant that we would improvise and drive back down the island toward Taormina and see the interesting sights along the way.

The first stop was the village high in the hills which was where in the movie "The Godfather" Michael Corlione met and married his first wife,
who subsequently got blown up by a bomb meant for him. The two main spots were the local tavern where some scenes took place, and the
church high up on the hill where the marriage took place. Because of the movie this little town has become a serious tourist attraction. Aside
from the movie connection it is a very pretty town situated in an amazing setting.

                                     Taormina from our rocking and rolling ship.

 Having a wee snooze on the way to Messina   Utilitarian door                                               Snazzy door


The Godfather village - the church in the movie at top right below


                                                            The church in The Godfather movie       The bar/cafe in the Godfather movie

What a beautiful place to live.


Our travels South down the coast from Messina finally brought us back to Taormina, where we tried to anchor earlier. This is another
very pretty town built with the ocean one side, and built up a mountainside.

We returned as usual and had another pleasant evening with our new friends. The next day was spent at sea as we were covering a
relatively long distance to our next port. Having a full day to relax was welcome as up till now things had been a little frenetic.

Ancona - Assisi

Ancona, as in several other stops, was not what we were interested in. It is just a convenient port. We had arranged for a guide to meet
us in Assisi and show us the historical sites related to it. We picked up a rental car a short distance from the ship and drove to Assisi.
We found a place for a quick lunch, and I phoned the guide to let her know we were there.  A short while later my cell phone rang and
before I could answer it our guide showed up at our table with her cell phone in hand. She had called back my number on her phone
to see whose phone in the cafe would ring. Very clever. She was another expert with a masters degree in art history and we enjoyed
walking the town with her and hearing about its history.




The main attraction in Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco built in honour of St Francis of Assisi. In the top bird's eye view courtesy of
Google Earth, the basilica is at the top left corner. In the lower picture it is in the centre and the Church of St. Claire is on the right.

As can be seen by the panorama shot, Assisi is a very hilly town, and there was lots of up and down during our walks.

The Basilica                                                                                    The Church of St. Clare

Remember the hordes of school kids I mentioned earlier? Here are more!

We parted company with our guide and headed back to Ancona and the ship, ready for another pleasant evening, and the overnight trip
to Venice.


I have a problem here.... we were in Venice for two days: Firstly, we covered a lot of territory. Secondly, we both absolutely loved the city.
Thirdly, I took a gazillion pictures. So my problem is how to keep this section from putting you to sleep. I will try to keep narrative to a
minimum, and not to show too many pictures which tell the same story as ten others.

Marsha arranged for the two of us to meet a guide at St. Mark's Square for a walk through the back streets of Venice. So, our first
step was to hoof it from the ship, tied up along the waterfront promenade, to the square, a distance of about 2kms through a circuitous route
of bridges, narrow streets and many turns.  It is very easy to get disoriented here because, for the newbies, there is no reference point.
The GPS in my iPhone came in very handy here, once again.

Overview of all of Venice                                                         The main part of Venice showing the area we spent our time in.
                                                                                                   The straight line coming in from the left edge is the only
                                                                                                   roadway onto this part of Venice. There are no roadways
                                                                                                   in Venice itself.      

St. Mark's Square (no, the tower is not tilting, it's the camera lens I was using.)        The Doge's Palace

We met our guide, a transplanted American, and who, along with his wife, make their living giving tours. The wooden carving on
the right is actually an elaborate oar lock for the Gondolas which ply the canals. On the left is the wood working shop where they are
made by a father and son team. This shop is hidden on a tiny street far away from the tourists.


Many of the homes in Venice have decorative medallions or carvings near the door. The one on the right symbolizes the wounds on
Jesus' hands and the cross.

The building below was built several centuries ago as a church and never occupied.
The holes on the front are for installation of the decorative stone face which
was never installed.

Between the doors on the unfinished church are these "cat condos" created by locals to provide protection for the many feral cats who
hang out around here. The locals look after the cats, and the cats take care of the mice.  Good deal.

One very common decorative theme throughout Venice were the flower boxes on window sills. We encountered these samples as we
wandered the back streets where few, if any, tourists were.

                                                                         This picture is here because, in case you didn't notice,
                                                                         the curtains are outside the window. Don't ask!!


We had talked to our guide about the Jewish quarter of Venice and he showed us the location on the map as well as giving us a little
insight as to how it came about. We decided to try and visit the next day when were to be on our own with Kathy and Charlie.

This picture was taken originally to show the laundry, but the flag on the right caught my eye. This is (or was) the headquarters of the
Italian Communist Party. Note the shrine. Seems out of place on a Communist building.

Marsha commented that we had not seen any parks. So Michael took us to a big one, on the tip of the Island.

We stopped for a cold one at a cafe on the edge of the park and watched the world go by.  Now we were finished with the tour, so we
said goodbye to Michael. I took a ferry back to the ship and Marsha did some shopping. The ferry system in the canals is amazing.
There are several different companies offering ferry service from a series of small terminals all along the grand canal. The ferries operate
like busses with specific routes which stop at the little terminals in various configurations. They operate in both directions around
the main canals. The fare is very cheap, and they are frequent. It is a very efficient and enjoyable way to get around.
Vancouver folks think the ferries in False Creek magnified by ten.

This is one of the river cruise ships which often end their voyages in Venice.

That evening, after we made our separate ways back to the ship and reassembled.
the four of us went slumming along the grand canal, and onto the back streets
looking for a neat little cafe for dinner. The picture below is the only one of that
momentous event, so I included it.  What was most fun about this out of the way
sidewalk cafe was the owner. As soon as we sat down and got the menus he told me
that I was going to order the lobster and pasta. I thought I could outsmart him
so I said I wanted to review the menu. When he came back I ordered the
lobster and pasta.... so did Marsha. When our food arrived and he was
walking back to the kitchen Marsha asked him for some parmesan cheese.
He stopped dead in his tracks, wheeled around and said sternly "No... no
with lobster and pasta!". Our food was cold before we stopped laughing. We
found out later (much later) that in Italy you don't mix seafood and cheese.
Italian kosher I guess.

The night scene along the grand canal

I didn't get any pictures of the many guys selling purses and bags laid out on sheets on the pavement. There were dozens of them, all strung
in a row. We found out later that they were all illegal Somali immigrants, and this is one of the few ways they can earn money. We couldn't
believe that they actually sold any but the old standby "They wouldn't be there if they didn't sell anything." seemed to apply.

The next morning, our second full day in Venice the four of us disembarked early and decided to take the ferry clockwise around the canals,
which we did. The closest ferry terminal was just a few feet from our ship. As the ferry worked its way we could see some very interesting
goings on.




                                             Our sister ship Regatta in port at the same time.

As we rounded the left side of the island to enter the canal just below the roadway we saw how Venice proper gets its goods. Trucks
use the roadway and in the area just at its end they discharge their cargo onto boats for distribution. It was a very busy part of the canal
with boats coming and going in all directions. A bit like Rome traffic.

A little bit of Venetian quirkiness - street addresses. Apparently each "district" in Venice has its own number series, starting with "1" and
going up from there. Also, it is not clear how the city chooses the place to start numbering in each district, but they do not assign addresses
with any particular logic. On one street they may start on one corner and number the houses or shops up one side, and then cross the street
and continue back toward the other end. Sometimes they will number a street with the next number from the last street and then when they
get to the end of the block they go back to the beginning of that street, cross over and then continue the numbering back up the block. Our
guide told us that if we wanted to know where an address was, the only person in Venice who might know is the mailman.


The Ghetto

In 1516, the doges, Venice’s ruling council, debated whether Jews should be allowed to remain in the city. They decided to let the
Jews remain, but their residence would be confined to Ghetto Nuova, a small, dirty island; it became the world’s first ghetto.
The word “ghetto” is from the Italian getto meaning “casting” or Venetian geto meaning “foundry.” The name referred to the fact that
there was a copper foundry on the island. There was an entrance way through which the Jewish people accessed the Ghetto.
At night the gate was closed and guards watched all night to keep everyone in.

We were very interested in visiting the ghetto, so we got off of the ferry at the San Marcuola - Casinň terminal and walked the short
distance to the entrance. Here again the trusty iPhone GPS got us there easily. (No I am not getting paid by Apple to talk about the
iPhone. It is the best thing ever though.....)

This bridge denotes the beginning of the ghetto. In the background, between
the trees is a synagogue. Because the Jews were not allowed to worship openly,
they could not display the identification of the synagogues. This one has five
windows on the upper floor to symbolize the five books of the Torah.

This canal leads to the Jewish quarter and the right side is filled with shops with a Jewish flavour. (Pun intended)

Charlie and Marsha at the entrance to the ghetto      This tablet recites the law of the ghetto and the rules.

There are five synagogues around the edge of the central square in the ghetto. They are all quite small and of course are hundreds of years
old. There is one pair across the street from each other which have an interesting connection:  One is used in winter because it has heat,
and the other is used in summer by the same congregation because it is cooler.                              

We left the ghetto, found our way back to the canal and continued our ferry ride around the corner to St. Mark's Square, where we
disembarked again. Both Marsha and Kathy were on a quest for goods. In Kathy's case it was some Venetian glass beads in a store she
had seen, and she thought she remembered where it was. Marsha was seeking a Murano glass statuette of an elephant she had seen yesterday.
She didn't remember where the store was, but I did. Marsha didn't believe me. Both of them were wrong. Kathy could not quite remember
the twists and turns of the tiny streets, but we stumbled across it while proceeding to find Marsha's store. After she got her beads I led the
troop directly to the store Marsha was looking for. Success!

After that we started back to the ship for departure while looking for a sidewalk restaurant along the canal where we could get a real
Italian pizza. We had almost given up when we reached a place which looked promising. Here is Marsha's pizza. Now that's a PIZZA!

When the ship was about to leave we heard the PA system once again paging one couple and two other passengers who were obviously
not aboard.  Marsha and I went up to deck 10 and leaned over the rail to watch the scene unfold down on the dock. At one minute to five
they dismantled the tables and prepared the gangway to be pulled up. Literally at the last second three cars came screeching down the
dock (I don't who they paid, but cars are not supposed to be on the dock) and the four occupants leaped out and ran for the gangplank,
shopping in hand. It was really funny, but not for them I guess.

Cruising slowly out of the canal in Venice. And off we went to our next stop, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik, Croatia


We pulled into the harbour at Dubrovnik right on time next morning. It is an extremely pretty town, and as usual built on a couple of hillsides.
All of the buildings were the tile roof and pale colour variety we had seen throughout our trip. It looked calm and very peaceful.
I'm not sure why we expected anything else.

Once we landed and were able to disembark we grabbed a taxi and headed for the old city. Dubrovnik began life as a walled city, and the wall,
thanks to extensive renovations, is still intact. We walked the whole wall (at least Kathy and Marsha did.
Charlie and I wimped out two thirds of the way). More on that later.

                                                                                                         Our home... ain't she purty??

                                                    The walled part of the city.

After sampling the local ice cream and strolling around the main street, we headed for a street which we had noticed contained the
Jewish business district, and probably their homes nearby as well. We found it easily and saw a few stores, along with a
Synagogue/Museum which we took a tour through.

We did some more strolling around the streets in the hill above the main street and poked our nose into various places. Apparently this pharmacy
is the second oldest operating one in Europe. Speaking of pharmacies, an interlude:  Pharmacies in the countries we visited including Spain,
Italy and Croatia work very differently from ours. Virtually all pharmaceuticals that we would need a prescription for are available off the
shelf. I was able to replace a medication which I had left at home without the slightest difficulty. Seems strange, but true.

Our next goal was to climb the gazillion steps to the city wall and walk around the whole circumference of it. We paid our fee at the
bottom and headed up the steps to the wall. Charlie and I started winging about half way up. We took a number of times out to breath.

These two objects were sitting on a roof next to the city wall, and they intrigued me  
 so I stopped to photograph them. I don't know for sure what they are but they're   

We came across this interesting sight about the time
Charlie and I were ready to call it quits.
As there was a stairway down to this courtyard and a
passageway to the street we escaped and left the
ladies to the rest of the walk. We had no idea what the
guillotine was there for, but someone told us                                                                                                                                
that it was to be used for tourists who didn't pay

Our day ended about there and once the ladies finished their epic walk we took a taxi back to the ship. The taxi driver pulled a fast
one on us. At one point he turned at an unexpected place and Kathy, being observant of these sorts of things, made a comment.
The driver told us that the ship had moved while we were away. He said that every taxi had been notified.
So we drove a route that was totally unrecognizable and when the ship came into view he laughed and told us that he was just
pulling our leg. The fare was the same, so he was just having fun at our expense. So we sailed off into the evening. It was, once again
a beautiful evening, and some passengers took advantage of it to gaze at the sea.



Corfu, Greece


We took our time getting off in Corfu, and enjoyed a quiet coffee   These cities were beginning to look like carbon copies of each other,
 in the sun.                                                                                     but still fun.

                                                                                                                                Inside a Greek Orthodox Church

Aren't these two just lovely????  No, they didn't buy them.

Some colourful beverages in a store window. Notice the taps on these two....for samples to taste.


 Charlie's checking out the baked goods                      Old building, new building, same style.....

Zakinthos, Greece

We decided to stay aboard today and laze around the pool, and eat too much. The next couple of days will be very busy and we wanted to
store up some energy.

Nap time



Athens, Greece

BIG city                                                                                            The Acropolis - our  hotel was about 1/2" to the right.

We had to be off the ship by 9:00 am so we were able to have most of the day in Athens. We had decided that this would be our only
time for Athens as we really wanted to spend a full day on the nearby Island of Santorini. We had reserved an early flight the next day
from Athens to Santorini, returning in the evening, and then flying home the next day.

Without any fuss we arrived at our quaint little hotel a few blocks from the Acropolis (the roof top bar had a magnificent view).
The hotel Adonis was about what we expected (basic but ok for one night) One oddity.... the toilet shared the shower.  Hard to explain
but true.

Right after we checked in Kathy and Charlie came to the rooftop bar of our hotel for a look at the Acropolis and to work out what we
were going to do. We decided to make our way to the parliament building a few blocks away in time to see the changing of the guard.
Apparently on Sundays the ceremony is the full meal deal, band and all. We started off in the direction we thought it was, relying on Kathy's
superb map reading skills. The walk through the narrow streets to the main thoroughfare in front of the parliament building only took a
short time. We took up positions on the square to watch the goings on. The place was crawling with tourists, like us, all pushing and
shoving for a view. Here are some pictures of the ensuing ceremony.

Footnote:  Two days after we left this spot, the rioting over tax increases, etc. erupted here, right in front of the parliament building.

After this exotic event (kinda weird actually, but must have some historic significance) Kathy was not feeling well so they retreated to
their hotel, and Marsha and I jumped on a hop-on hop-off bus just around the corner. We got to a place which looked interesting...
some ruins on one side, a synagogue on a small street, a number of sidewalk cafes, and a flea market.

After having a cool one, and watching the people come and go, we wandered along the flea market (above) It was a flea
market in the truest sense of the word. The vast majority was old junk, piles of used clothes and shoes (yuck!), and many
plastic gimmicky bits and pieces. Colourful, but we didn't buy anything. Back onto the bus for our next stop, the Acropolis.

The Parthenon: The clean white parts are faithfully restored as a part of a ten year restoration project.  Did you know that there are no
two stones exactly the same shape in this building. The Parthenon had very subtle and advanced ways in architecture to create the visual
effect they desired.

After returning to our hotel, we decided to take a stroll to the Placa, the well known area catering to both locals and tourists.
The area is packed with shops, cafes, and the Somali purse vendors operating exactly as we saw them in Venice. 
While we had our dinner we watched a very interesting exchange between an American tourist at the next table negotiating
for a bag from one of the vendors. He started out at 50 Euros, and after much haggling she ended up getting it for 15 Euros. 
Lesson - never pay asking price in these places.

We had originally planned to stay in our hotel the whole time. This would have meant a very early rise to catch our plane home
on May 4th. Kathy gave us a better idea. As our flight to Santorini was mid morning the next day I booked a room at the
Sofitel hotel across the street from the airport. It was less than a minute walk to the departure level from the hotel. So, we
checked out of the Adonis hotel in the morning, taxied to the Sofitel, and checked in. This hotel is a whole order of magnitude
(if not two) more posh than the Adonis, and priced reasonably as well.



The whole island           

We then went to the airport to board our forty five minute flight to Santorini, which was pleasant and uneventful. I have to tell
you that Santorini's attraction to me was how beautiful and photogenic it is. It was that and more. I took many pictures that day,
and the ones below are a very small sample (believe it or not). There are two towns of note for the tourist, the main town, Thira,
where boats dock down a long way at sea level and one can walk up (886 steps!!!), ride a donkey (permanent donkey smell
on you and your clothes ensues), or take the cable car.

The second town, Oia (Aya) is in some ways more picturesque than Thira. As we flew in to the airport on the other side of the
island from the towns and took a taxi ride (about 15 minutes, and cheap) to Thira, and began our self-guided walking tour.
After a while we walked down the 886 steps to the dock at sea level, had a cold one in a sidewalk cafe, and took the cable
car back up.

There was a cruise ship anchored in the bay and upon inquiry we found that the passengers were all from Japan on a 100 day
round the world cruise. Wow!!

Once we recovered from a street navigation error (we somehow ended up on the complete wrong side of Thira in a residential
area) we went to the bus station and waited for the bus to Oia. The ride was mostly along a high mountain road which
was very windy and quite narrow. The way there put us on the side of the bus looking straight down several hundred feet.
Marsha didn't love the view.

We repeated our self guided tour in Oia which we enjoyed a lot, and taxied back to Thera.  We had time until our flight back
to Athens so we did some more exploring and then found a restaurant where we could have dinner and wait for the reportedly
spectacular Santorini sunset. Unfortunately a cool wind came up, and as were outside it became quite uncomfortable so we
decided to give the sunset a pass. These pictures clearly show how vibrant and clear the colours are here, and the deep blue
of the Mediterranean.
                                                                                                   This is Oia as seen from Thira


This one is my favourite

                                                                                                       Once again, daily life goes on, no matter how pretty the scenery.

                Here are a few pictures borrowed from the internet.  What a beautiful place.

If you've managed to get this far, congratulations. I know it's a lot of pictures, but one picture is better than a thousand words.

Our return to Vancouver was uneventful, and devoid of surprises, except one. We had a five hour wait between flights at Heathrow.
Marsha, as usual, was very antsy and spent a lot of time wandering around the terminal. On one of her excursions she heard
someone call her name from behind her. She chose to ignore it, after all who would we know in the middle of Heathrow terminal 5?
The person was persistent and called her name again.

This time she had to look and there were two very good friends of ours who live in Houston who were on the way back home from
their own cruise. Marsha ran over to get me and we had a very brief, but excited visit with our friends. Very soon they had to get to
the gate for their flight. It was wonderful to see them, short as it was.


This was another wonderful adventure to add to the list. We loved the ship, the staff, the ports we visited, and the new friends we
made. In fact, we like it so much we booked another Oceania cruise while still on board. This one, in April 2011, will be from
Miami to San Francisco via the Panama - 16 days.  We plan to go to Florida a couple of days early to visit our new friends Kathy
and Charlie.

Thanks for taking the time to look at all this. We hope you enjoyed it.


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