Friday, August 28, 2015
We were up very early this morning to catch our tour of Chania, Crete. We have been up since 6:00 AM and as I am writing this last chapter of our trip it is now 11:00 PM. This will be my last entry of our journey. Tomorrow, Saturday, August 29, we will be at sea all day. We will dock at the port at 5:00 AM on Sunday, August 30. Our flight from Rome leaves at 11:20 AM for Charlotte, NC. We arrive in Charlotte at 4:00PM and catch our flight to Dallas at 6:15 PM and arrive in Dallas at 8:00 PM. I have been blessed to have had the pleasure traveling with wonderful friends. Perhaps in a few years another trip will be in the making.

Chania (Souda) overlooks the Aegean against a stunning mountain backdrop, with a deep history that dates back to the Stone Age. Its charming Old Town showcases the multilayered heritage of only the last 1,000 years. Here grand plazas and a delightful maze of alleys and side streets along the historic plazas and a delightful maze of alleys and side streets along the historic harbor area reveal its Byzantine, Venetian and Turkish architectural legacy as well as an array of interesting shops. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Ruled by the Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, Crete officially joined the modern nation of Greece in 1913. In the late Middle Ages, Venice-ruled Crete was an important center for Greek religion and culture. Post-Byzantine art melded Eastern and Western traditions, and the most successful artist trained in this style was native Cretan Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known by his nickname El Greco.

Crete is also known as the birthplace of the European Civilization. There are 900,000 thousand olive trees; the first olive tree was cultivated here. The olive trees can live up 2,000 years. The last major event in Crete, was the Battle of Crete in 1941, during World War II. The White Mountain Range is made up of limestone. Only 4% of the island is covered with forest.

Our first stop on the tour was the village of Vamos. We got off the bus and walked into the village. About 10 years ago, the young people started coming back to restore the homes. There are only 500 people in the village. Many of the homes have arbors overgrown with grape vines. Many had grapes on them, as well as pomegranate trees blooming with fruit. There were also lime trees and beautiful flowers.

Our next stop was the Monastery of St. George with its angora sheep and walnut trees. This is also where parts of the movie Zorba The Greek starring Anthony Quinn, was filmed.

Our next stop was a winery where we were shown how they make wine and press olives. We had a taste of the wine with a snack. This was also an opportunity to purchase some items.

The next stop was the market place in the city of Chania. This reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle with several shops located under one roof. There was everything you can imagine. After an hour there, we were back on the tour bus and headed back to the ship. 

Enjoy the pictures. Good night from Crete.

Church in Vamos

Grapevines growing on an arbor

Mona, Nola and Shirley, standing in front of a home in Vamos

Home in Vamos

Courtyard of the Monastery of St. George

Inside the Monastery of St. George


Tasting at the Winery

Shirley and Nola with the White Mountains of Chania in the background

White Mountains in Chania, Crete

Market Place in Chania, Crete

Shop in the Market Place in Chania

Tea in the Market Place in Chania

Thursday, August 27, 2015
Bodrum, Turkey

Situated on a peninsula, the popular resort and yachting port of Bodrum was first colonized by the Greeks in the 7th century BC. Like many areas in the Aegean region, Bodrum was under the control of the Persians, Alexander the Great, Christian Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire. While under Persian rule, the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was built. Stone from the Mausoleum was quarried to build Bodrum Castle (Castle of St. Peter), one of the last and best preserved example of medieval Crusade architecture.

One place of Bodrum that no visitor to this great city should miss is the famous Bodrum Castle, which overlooks the harbor and the international marina. This castle was constructed by the Knights of Rhodes in the 15th century during the crusades of the middle ages, and it was given the name The Castle of St. Petrus, or Petronium.

Occupying over 30.000 square feet at its base, construction of this castle took years to complete. The castle was built partly from the left remains of the mausoleum of Mausolus which had collapsed as the result of an earthquake. The huge exterior walls were designed in the early 15th century by the German architect Heinrich Schlegelholt and were strengthened by five towers known usually as the English tower, the Italian tower, the German tower, the French tower and the Snake tower. The French tower of the castle is thought to be the earliest one with the others being added during the following century. After the French tower, the Italian tower was built in 1436 by Italian architect Angelo Mascettola. The final parts of the castle were erected in the time of Pierre d’Abusson between 1476 and 1593, with the English tower being added at around 1480. The walls of the Bodrum Castle contain the nearly 250 coats of arms and armorial bearings of many of the knights that served there. Captured in 1522 by the Ottomans during the reign of Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, the church on the castle was converted into a mosque.

Bodrum Castle has a square-like plan. The castle’s dimensions are 590 x 606 feet, and its highest point is 155.8 feet above sea level. The entrance of the castle is through the first door situated in the northwestern corner. There are 7 doors before you reach the inner castle. The northern and western sides are double-walled. The thick walled structure with a sloping roof at the west side is a cannon blockhouse. All the towers and various places in the Castle of Bodrum have been converted into exhibition halls for the Underwater Archaeology Museum.

Today, all of us just took our time getting up and strolled into the city of Bodrum, Turkey, but we did not take a tour. We were out by 9:00 AM and I will be very frank it is HOT!!! Shirley and Jan still have some shopping to do. It is about a 30 minute walk into town from the ship. The flowers on the balcony of the condos and apartments are beautiful. The bay is full of boats and people are just basking in the sun. Bodrum is a resort town. After Ephesus on Wednesday, we are a little tired today. The pictures were taken from around the port and inside the city and beach/bay area. We will be back on ship and out to sea for Crete by 4:30PM.

Enjoy the pictures and good night from Bodrum, Turkey.

View of Bodrum Castle from the harbor

Home overlooking the bay

Beach area with view of the bay

Beach area with view of the bay

Balcony of a hotel in Market Square where several of the shops are located

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, continued
Kusadasi, Turkey

Enjoy these additional pictures.

View of Kusadasi, Turkey with Rhapsody of the Seas in the background

Ancient symbol of the medical symbol

Public latrines in the public baths; there is a drainage system for the waste underneath the toilet.

Original clay drainage pipe that has been discovered within the ancient city

State Agora built by Emperor Augustus and Claudius in the 1st century AD. The religious and state meetings were held here.

Various baths, built in Roman style in the 1st century AD. They had hot and cold rooms.

This is an example of the first Christian symbol that Dennis, our guide, shared this with us. Only the Christians would know the meaning of the symbol. Jesus Son Of God Savior...Fish Symbol.  This symbol has been found within Ephesus.

The four columns in the background are part of the Church of St. John, which was built on top of the grave of St. John.

Nike, Goddess of Victory. Nike was the winged messenger of the Gods who was delegated to take victory everywhere she went.

Remains of a fountain at the crossroads within the city

Master potter at work. I purchased two pieces of lovely pottery.

The owner demonstrating how the pottery looks before and after it been glazed in the furnace.

Visit to the factory where Turkish Rugs are hand woven. Turkish rugs are woven with a double knot. Usually the women are the ones who are trained to do this. Because of their small hands, they are more efficient.

The cocoon of the silk worm is soaked to kill the worm. The tool on the left is the brush that is used to stir the cocoons in the water, and the silk thread attaches to it.

Using the brush to stir the cocoons in the water and the silk thread attached to it.

The silk is attached to a hand turn spinning wheel and the silk is then spun on a spool to dry.

The silk is attached to a hand turn spinning wheel and the silk is then spun on a spool to dry.

Silk thread completely extracted from the silk worm cocoon.

Turkish factory that make hand-woven rugs

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Kusadasi, Turkey

We were up very early and off the boat by 7:15 AM in order to meet our tour guide Dennis. Hardwin was our driver. We were riding in a lovely Mercedes van.

Just outside of Kusadasi, is the ancient city of Ephesus which was once the site of many great civilizations, and the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world and the Library of Celsius, which was one of the greatest libraries in the world at the time. Founded by the Ionians in the 11 century BC, Ephesus was later ruled by the Romans, and conquered by Alexander the Great. At its peak, it was the leading seaport of Asia Minor, and continued to thrive even as it passed from one successor to another.

Excavations in the 19th century revealed several important artifacts from the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and today its ruins are considered to be the most important in Turkey.

In addition, presumably Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived with Apostle John during the last years of her life in Ephesus. Four years after the death of Christ, Apostle John took Mary to live in Ephesus. They were in danger by continuing to live in the city, so they moved to a secluded mountain top in Ephesus. The house was prepared by St. John and is on Mt. Koressos. The German nun Anna Katherina Emmerich (1774-1824), who was paralyzed all through her life, had established a spiritual communication with Mary in a trance and wrote down the information in a book called “The Life of Virgin Mary”. In 1891, Lazarian priests used the book as a guide and after much research found the location of the house where Mary spent her last days. It is assumed the grave of Mary is nearby. Th3 building, with a cross plan and dome, was later restored. The statue of the Virgin Mary in the apse was placed there about a hundred years ago. The kitchen beside the apse and the bedroom are all the original parts of the house. Pope John Paul VI, St John Paul II, and Pope Benedict have visited here. The House of the Virgin Mary is believed to have healing properties. The waters flowing from the fountains seem to have healing and curing effects on the sick. Both Christians and Muslims come here to visit.

St. Paul lived in Ephesus for a period of time and wrote First and Second Timothy, Letters to the Ephesians and First Corinthians while in Ephesus. See Acts 19 in the Bible. Apostle John had the visions to write the book of Revelations, and the Book of John in Ephesus. In 64 AD, Apostle John became the leader of the Ephesian Church community after the death of St. Paul. St. Paul was decapitated in Rome.

We had lunch at a neighborhood family restaurant that served traditional Turkish food. After lunch, we toured a family-owned factory that has been making ceramic pottery for four generations. They took us in and gave us tea while a master potter demonstrated how the pottery is made, all by hand while spinning the wheel with his feet. In the pattern, the daisy represented beauty; the tulip represented love; and the carnation represented respect.

And, we did do some shopping there...

Our next stop was a Turkish hand-woven carpet factory where we learned how the women make the rugs. Turkish rugs are double knotted. We also learned how the silk worm is taken from the cocoon and the silk is extracted and spun. We were served apple tea. The rugs are truly works of art. Jan and I are both now the proud owners of a "Turkish Magic Carpet". The rugs will be shipped to our homes sometime in early September. Shirley, Mona, and Jan purchased a Pashmina (long shawl ) which are made of silk and/or silk and cashmere.

There is a symbol of "Evil Eye" which is used to protect harm from coming into a home or business. The symbol is also embedded in sidewalks and entry ways of businesses and homes.

We returned to the ship after a day that has been a life time experience for all of us. We had a wonderful experience with our personal driver and shopping. This is the only way to go in a country where you are not familiar with or speak the language.

Enjoy the pictures. Good night from Kusadasi, Turkey

The home of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in Ephesus

Library of Celsius

Outdoor amphitheater with seating for 25,000 people

The Temple of Artemis, a pagan temple which was originally the size of a soccer field. The only remains of the temple is the tall pillar in the middle of the picture.

Walking on the original road into downtown Ancient Ephesus

Commercial market where shops and businesses were located in ancient Ephesus

Commercial market where shops and businesses were located in ancient Ephesus

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Santorini, Greece

The most photographed of all the Greek Islands is Santorini, with its whitewashed cliff-top villages against the blue waters. This natural wonder is a vestige of what was probably the biggest volcanic eruption in history, believed by some to have caused the disappearance of Atlantis. The raw beauty of Santorini’s volcanic landscape features its black and red sand beaches. Perched atop a craggy cliff is the traditional village of Oia, a haven for artists and artisans. Tourism and growing grapes for wine is the major income. You have to take the cable car up into the town, or you can walk the 500 plus steps on the donkey trail. The boat does not dock here. We are anchoring off Santorini, and the guests will be tender ashore.

Jan went on a beach excursion for the day; Shirley went into town. Selda, Mona and I stayed on the boat and had it to ourselves. Selda and I explored the ship and listened to the tour director’s lecture on Santorini. I also had a good swim in the pool. Mona had a massage and acupuncture and it is helping her knee and circulation. The pictures are from Shirley and Jan.

Here was Shirley’s take on Santorini…after pondering whether to ride a donkey up the 500 steps into town, she decided against it! Catching the cable car to reach the city was enough. She looked around and did some shopping, had Greek frozen yogurt and a Gyro sandwich. The food was very good. It was also hot! Finally, she visited St. John the Baptist Church, a simple and small church. The city is very beautiful.

Jan is a beach bum…she enjoys the water and sun. It energizes her. Her tour was spending half a day on the beach. Remember, the sand is black due to the volcanic eruption. She had a wonderful time.

When Jan and Shirley returned from their adventures, they were tired, but very happy to be having an adventure of a lifetime.

Tomorrow will be a big day as we have a private tour of Ephesus in Kusadasi, Turkey. 

Enjoy the pictures. Good night from Santorini, Greece.

Cable car

St. John the Baptist Church

St. John the Baptist Church

Jan on the beach

Jan on the beach

Cliff view of Santorini, Greece

Monday, August 24, 2015, continued
Day 2 on ship. It has been a great day for relaxing. We went down to dinner for our first formal dining on the ship. The food is very good. Mehmet is our head waiter who will be taking care of us. He is from Turkey. Tonight, for the first night of formal dining, the staff presented a parade for us. After dinner, we went to the live show and saw the Spring Fever Band perform. After the show, Jan and I walked around, and listened to people singing with a rock and roll band. Some of them were very good. It’s fun to see everyone enjoying themselves.

In the morning, we will be docking in Santorini, Greece. Enjoy the pictures. Good night from the Rhapsody of the Seas.

The Five Olives in the formal dinning room

Dinner menu

Selda and Mona with Mehmet, our waiter

Grilled shrimp with garlic butter

Dessert: Strawberries and ice cream

Dinning staff


Monday, August 24, 2015
Today, we are cruising on the ocean and resting up. Shirley is napping. Mona had a massage and acupuncture. Jan is soaking up the rays on deck 9. I’m reading and blogging and observing the people. Selda is napping too. The Five Olives are enjoying the food and the cruise. It is good.

Have a great day...somewhere from the Mediterranean.

Coast line as we were coming around the boot of Italy

Coast line as we were coming around the boot of Italy

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Shirley and I left Dallas, Texas on August 13. We visited Florence and Assisi. We then joined Mona, Selda and Jan in Rome on August 18. We have been blessed. Today all of us are leaving Rome for Civitavecchia, Italy to board the Rhapsody of the Seas...Yahoo!!!!!!

We were up early to check out of our hotel. Luca picked us up for the 55 minute ride to Civitavecchia, Italy to board the Rhapsody of the Seas. Luca brought special pastries for us to enjoy. We have made a good friend. Maybe in 2 years he will visit in Dallas. He has a brother who lives in Boston.

Captain Rob Hempstead was born in Rhode Island, USA. He is in charge of the Rhapsody of The Seas and has 27 years’ experience. The boarding process was very organized and quick. We were on board by 11:45 AM and our rooms were ready by 1:00 PM. It will be good to relax and enjoy the ride. Shirley, Jan, and I are sharing a room (7064) and it has a balcony. It did not take us long to get unpacked and organized. Mona and Selda have an ocean view in their room (2098). The rooms are very nice.

We had the routine emergency drill at 4:00 PM. All of us ate in the formal dining area. Jan and I had the grilled pork chop, salad, and sweet potato. Shirley and Selda had steak; Mona had salmon. While the ladies had desert, I went down to the pool for a swim. The pool area was empty. After a relaxing swim and sitting in the hot tub, I slept good.

Goodbye to Rome...looking forward to the cruise. Good night from somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Tonio (L) Front desk at Best Western Spring House, Rome

Mona, Selda, Shirley and Jan saying goodbye to Luca at the dock

Selda, Mona, Shirley and Jan waiting to board the ship, enjoying the pasty from Luca

Shirley, Jan and Nola's room

Ship view as it is televised on the TV

View from our balcony

Jan on the balcony

Saturday, August 22, 2015
This morning we were up and out the door early for our scheduled 9:30AM tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. The lines were very long to enter and it is much easier to pay for a self-paced video tour without waiting in the long lines under the hot sun. This was the first time for Selda, Jan and Mona to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. (Shirley and I went in the Spring 2008.) It was good that we had done the Scavi Tour first as it helped to understand the structure of how the church was built. Again, you just have to go and visit. For me, the spiritual and emotional elements are vibrant and the history of the church is interesting to me. Plus, the paintings and sculptures are one of a kind.

After the tour, we went back to the hotel to chill out. We will board Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of The Seas in the morning. All of us are looking forward to the cruise, and getting to relax and get some rest. I have not had my nap all week! And, I am looking forward to the swimming pool on the ship.

We had our last dinner tonight at a neighborhood restaurant located just around the corner from our hotel, Best Western Spring House, which has been awesome. I would certainly stay here again if I came back to Rome.

Enjoy the pictures.  Wi-Fi on ship is expensive so I will have to catch the free Wi-Fi when we come into port. In our journey together, Jan shared some words of wisdom to ponder on: “I am not in competition with anyone, for anything, in any area of my life."

This is my last goodnight from Rome.  And, thank you Ron, for posting my pictures and stories.

Mona and Selda


Shirley, Jan, Selda, Mona


The table with blessings of good food in Rome

Mushroom stuffed tortellini in cream sauce

Cream caramel, and fresh pineapple

Friday, August 21, 2015
We were up early this morning to meet our driver at 7:30 AM to take us to Pompeii, about a 3 hour drive one way. Our tour guide, Libby was waiting for us in what turned out to be a 3 hour walking tour on a very hot, bright, sunny day! Before we started the walking tour of Pompeii, we went shopping at the Giovanni Apa Coral Factory, a family-owned jewelry company specializing in cameo and coral jewelry. We were all very impressed and of course they accepted our credit cards with open hands. We were treated like royalty. They asked if we wanted water or coffee. I said, “How about tequila shots?” This was a great hit with them and the sales lady started to laugh and hug me.

Next stop was Pompeii. First of all, you just have to come here and see Pompeii. The excavations are only about one third completed. Maybe within the next 100 years, it will be finished. It is a very sobering experience. From the ruins, you witness not only the loss of how people died, but also how they lived, including their business and family dwellings. Jan’s most memorable moment was seeing a casting of a mother holding her child with another child lying beside her, trying to protect them both. On a lighter side, I took note of the brothels and the phallic symbols found on the buildings and sidewalk, pointing the way to businesses including the outdoor gym, swimming pool and public baths. We were able to walk into a public bath and see the fresco paintings on the ceiling that are still intact. The outdoor amphitheater provided training a center for gladiators. It took 2 years of training.

Walking on the original street foundation was remarkable. You could see where wagon wheels made ruts in the stone pavement. There were many fountains within the city and the water is safe to drink. We filled up our water bottle many times during our walk. And of course, Mount Vesuvius—this is what started all of the destruction. It is still here. And it is still active. The last eruption was in 1954.

After our tour of Pompeii, out next stop was lunch in Sorrento. While in Sorrento, we shopped in a specialty shop that made inlaid wood music boxes and other items. We began our journey along the Amalfi Coast on a scenic, two-lane highway that was also very curvy. In fact, Jan got motion sickness from all the curves. The houses on the hill side were painted in vibrant colors and were stacked up against each other, just like you see in the movies. The views were spectacular. We ended up in Positano, which has only one way in and one way out. So, we made a U-turn and started down the coast line, observing the extravagant yachts and sail boats off the shoreline. The elevation was around 3,000 thousand feet. We also saw a Russian yacht. Again, you just need to go. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Enjoy the pictures.

Fresco found on wall of a home

Fresco found on wall of a home

Fresco found on wall of a home

Restoration of a table

View of castings of the bodies found covered in volcanic ash

Lovers embrace to protect themselves

Mother protecting her children

Business; storage of food vats; this was a take out restaurant

Fresco on wall of a home

Public bath with fresco on the wall

Fresco on the wall of a room in a brothel

Fresco on the ceiling of a public bath

Phallic symbol on the sidewalk pointing to business

The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast

Russian Yacht

Selda with the Artist who painted the picture on the thimble. This was in Sorrento, where they specialize in inlaid wood music boxes and other fine items.

Thursday, August 20, 2015
Today we took the Scavi tour of the Tomb of Saint Peter and the Necropolis under the Vatican Basilica. We arrived for our 10:00 AM tour, which was awesome and a must do if you ever come to Rome. You must, however, secure advance tickets for the tour as only a limited number of visitors are allowed each day. For the tour, you are divided into smaller groups with a tour guide. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and took us 33 feet below the Basilica. It is amazing how the experts are able to uncover history of the past and preserve it. There are no pictures allowed in the grotto. The few pictures I was able to take were before we entered the grotto. I encourage read about Scavi Tour of St. Peter's Basilica here.

Also known as the Vatican Necropolis, The Tomb of the Dead or St. Peter’s Tomb, the area was discovered beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s (around the time of World War II) when the Vatican commissioned excavations to be carried out there before Pope Pius IX was set to be buried in the space. Long presumed to be the final resting place of St. Peter, it was presumed that there wasn’t much down there.

What archaeologists found however, was a burial ground (aka a necropolis) dating all the way back to the 4th century. They found the temple of Emperor Constantine who had ruled at that time and a spot of ancient graffiti that translated as Peter is here. You should never take a graffiti artist's word for it but archaeologists today are quite sure that bone fragments retrieved here belonged to Saint Peter himself, one of Jesus’s twelve apostles.

After the Scavi tour, we went back to the hotel for a quick break and then out again for a tour of the city with a private car and driver. In my opinion, in a city where it is difficult to know exactly what direction to go, hiring a driver is the best way. Of course, when you have someone who knows the city and can tell you some history it is a bonus. Our drive was Luca who was the perfect person to handle all of us. We always remember his patience and kindness. If you ever go to Rome, I encourage you to engage his will not regret it. He can be reached by email at: or by cell phone at: 393356622552.

Following is a summary of our stops around the city:

  1. Coliseum
  2. Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
  3. Santa Sofia Convent. Shirley and I stayed here on our 2008 visit to Rome Visit and enjoyed showing the girls where we stayed on our first here.
  4. St. John Lateran Church
  5. Pantheon
  6. Trevi Fountain, which is now under renovation. (No water is flowing.)
  7. Spanish Steps. Several of us did half of the steps at night; Jan did the whole 126 steps. I have a video of her on my Facebook page you can view if you are friends with me).
  8. Holy Stairs

As you can see, we were on the go for about 8 hours. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Thank you Ron for posting.

Enjoy and good night from Rome.

Jan, Selda, Nola and Shirley waiting in line for the Scavi tour

Swiss Guards

Shirley, Selda, Jan, Nola and Mona in front of the excavation at St. Peter’s Basilica

Model of excavation of Scavi under St. Peters Basilica

Luca, our driver in Rome with Shirley, Selda and Mona

WWII Memorial in Rome





St. John Lateran Church

Inside of the Pantheon

Dome of the Pantheon


2 sisters (Mona and Nola) walking the Spanish Steps

The Five Olives at Spanish Steps

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
My night was not so good, as I had an upset stomach and did not sleep well. I got up at 5:00 AM to have some tea and then we left for the Vatican at 7:00 AM.  The five of us took a cab as it had started to rain.  As we are walked toward the end of the line, the rain was coming down hard. We waited for over an hour in the pouring down rain before the line started moving through security. The hall where the Pope had a general audience holds 6,000 people. The atmosphere in the room was electric. We were sitting in the middle of the hall and could see the stage well. When Pope Francis entered the room, the crowd cheered and praised him. His speech was about family and work ethic. The speech and summary were translated into several languages. Shirley was able to capture some of the speech on video and has it posted to her Facebook page.

After his speech, he blessed the people in the audience for coming. He is very generous with his time nd generous and loving with the people. He did not leave immediately; he lingered on for about an hour. Shirley and Selda worked their way through the crowed to get closer to him as he exited the room. They succeeded in getting good close up pictures. Afterwards, we followed a lovely couple who took us to shop close to the Vatican and recommend a great restaurant to eat lunch. I have begun to feel better and am back on track! When I'm sick to my stomach, I am out of sorts...and not good company.

The pictures will tell the story of our blessed day.  Good night from Rome.

Selda and Jan in front of the Vatican

Outside the Vatican

Waiting in line, in the pouring rain, to see the Pope

Waiting in line, in the pouring rain, to see the Pope

Finally inside


Stage where the Pope delivered his speech

Just getting into the room; finally out of the rain

Pope Francis

Picture of Pope Francis on the big screen

Upstairs bed room

Jan sitting in our Roman bath tub

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Today we left Assisi for Rome on the train. We arrived at hour hotel in Rome about 5:00 PM. The room Shirley, Jan and I are sharing is beautiful. The bathroom is to die for. I will send a picture of the giant bath tub. Jan is sitting in it, so you can get an idea of how big this tub is. We all had dinner at the hotel. Good to share our stories and laugh. We are getting up early in the morning to go to the Vatican to have a general audience with Pope Frances.


Monday, August 17, 2015
Today is another wonderful day! Our day started with a wonderful view of Assisi from the patio. We have had cloud cover and a light sprinkling of rain. We were up early this morning and enjoyed our coffee on the patio as the sun was coming up. The patio of the convent has olive trees and peach trees. After coffee, we were off to the tourist information center to get a map of Assisi. So, we caught the A Bus and away we went. We had no idea of where to get off. However, we got to see the neighborhoods surrounding Assisi. The bus is small which allows it to easily maneuver the small, narrow roads. We asked the bus driver to let us know when to get off to see Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. After a 15 min ride, we were there.

Some basic information about St. Francis of Assisi:
Born: Assisi
Full name: Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone
Parents: Pica de Bourlemont, Pietro Bernardone dei Moriconi
Died: October 3, 1226, Assisi
Buried: May 25, 1230, Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, Assisi
Organizations founded: Franciscan, Dominican Order

We entered the Basilica and roamed around. It is very beautiful inside, with both walls and ceilings painted with frescos. There is an upper and lower church. We walked down to the lower church where the tomb of St. Francis is located. Shirley discovered people in line to receive a blessing from one of the Franciscan Monks, so we got in line to a received a blessing. Afterwards, we went into a chamber that contained artifacts of St. Francis, including one of his robes and his personal chalice.

We then left the Basilica to continue our journey of the city. The roads are very steep—they seemed like 90 degrees—and at times it could be a challenge. The shops in the area were open and I found a little shop I really liked. By the time we reached the top of the hill, it was time for lunch and rest. We had the best pizza. The picture will tell the story.

Now it is time to walk down the hill to the convent. We are leaving for Rome on the 2:00 PM train to meet up with Mona, Jan, and Selda. We are ready to relax and get ready for our departure on Wednesday.

Enjoy the pictures. Good night from Assisi.

Stree view in Assisi

Street view in Assisi

Street view in Assisi

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Tomb of St. Francis

Inside of the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Robe of St. Francis

St. Frances chalice cup

Street view in Assisi

Street view through the buildings

Street view in Assisi

Street view in Assisi

Pizza lunch on Monday in Assisi

View from the patio of the convent in Assisi

View from the patio of the convent in Assisi

Sunday, August 16, 2015
This morning we left Florence for Assisi. It was with a heavy heart we left our Sisters of Casa Regina. Father Ben was very kind to us. We were able to see lots of Florence because of his help. Alex drove us to Assisi. On our way, we took one last look from the bridge as we were driving toward Assisi. The weather was cloudy with some light rain. We arrived in Assisi around 1:00 PM. Alex is a master at driving the narrow roads of Assisi. 

We are staying at Convent Immacolata. Once we were checked in, we went back out searching for some lunch. You will not believe the food here—it is so good! The pictures will tell the story. We did some shopping and then back to the room to re-group. Walking up and down 90 degree streets can be tricky! Shirley's knees, feet and hips have been talking to her all day. The weather cooled down as the sun was setting. Shirley took some great pictures.

We found a quirky coffee/tea/smoothie/sweet shop that offered free Wi-Fi. We are also able to get a good internet connection at the convent. Will research some of the churches and other things we hope to find.

Enjoy the pictures. Good night from Assisi.

Shirley, Father Ben, and Nola

Sisters of Regina

View of Florence

Sign to Assisi

Entering Assisi

Entering Assisi

Convent of Immacolata, Assisi



View of Assisi from the balcony of the convent

Dinner in Assisi

Saturday, August 15, 2015
After a good night’s sleep, we are up and ready to take on Florence. We went down for breakfast. The sisters serve croissants, cereal, juice, milk, coffee, and fruit. Shirley and I ate in the court yard and enjoyed a start to a beautiful day. We talked about the things we might do to that day as we watched the bees busy in the flowers. I spotted one of the sisters who came out to take linen down from a clothes line behind a flowering hedge. I was so excited! As most of you know, that is what I do—hang my clothes out on the line. As we were heading up to our room, we noticed a priest in the sitting room. We introduced ourselves to Father Ben, who is from Kansas. He has been in Florence for 2.5 months to learn Italian. From here, he will go study in Rome at the Vatican for 2 years. Father Ben made suggestions for things to see and do as this was our last day in Florence. Today (August 15) is a national religious holiday—the Feast of The Assumption of Mary. We left at 10:30 AM and returned at 9:45 PM. We were in constant motion, thus a very long and blessed day and evening in Rome. This is how our day progressed:

We took a cab to Piazzale Micelangelo. This is across the river with a scenic overlook of Florence. The square, dedicated to the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, has copies of some of his works found elsewhere in Florence: the David and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. These copies are made of bronze, while the originals are all in white marble. The monument was brought up by nine pairs of oxen on June 25, 1873. The morning sun was shining high in the sky and the view was fantastic. You can see Ponte Vecchio—the first bridge over the Arno River that was probably built by the Romans in stone and wood and is mentioned in a document that dates from 996. Many vendors were there selling their goods to the tourists. We walked , walked, walked, and walked. Did I mention we were walking? Shirley and I walked the whole top of the Piazzale. Of course, we rested, rested, rested several times as well.

Missioni Francescane was the first church visited in Florence, located behind Michelangelo's David. The public bathrooms are clean but you also have to pay 1 Euro to use them. We even saw a wedding party on the patio on the hill, which was very nice.

Our next stop was a cab ride over to Santa Croce Church. We had lunch outside of the Piazza of Santa Croce. The food was delightful. Shirley had Salsiccia pizza and I had Penne al Chianti (pasta and beef).

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 meters south-east of the Duomo. The site, when first chosen, was in marshland outside the city walls. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

We stood in line for about 20 minutes to acquire our tickets to go inside. Once inside, it took our breath away. You just have to go and see it for yourself. We noticed there was a nice leather goods shop open inside of the church. Shirley purchased a wallet for her husband, which lead to conversation with Christina. She is closely associated with the owners of Scuola Del Cuoio, a well-known leather company.

The splendid 13th-century church of Santa Croce is not just one of Florence’s must-see sights, it is also the main route into the city’s Scuola del Cuoio, or Leather School, which stands at its eastern periphery. This riverside part of the city has been synonymous with Florence’s leather industry since medieval times. And in 1950, concerned by the plight of the city’s many orphans, the Franciscan friars of Santa Croce decided to approach two successful local leather artisans, Marcello Gori and Silvano Casini, with a view to setting up a school at which the dispossessed might learn a trade. The monks donated their frescoed dormitory wing as premises. And so the school and its shop were born.

Cristina talked to us at great length and said they are one of a few places that engrave with 22 K gold. Their school of leather produces the finest master craftsmen in the business and takes about 8 years to become a master leather craftsman. Cristina shared with me that she has a cousin in Dallas. I invited her to come and visit me when she is in town and she promised that she would. I hope she does. Another interesting fact that we learned is that the company made a desk set for President Eisenhower that is in the Oval Office. When we finally walked out of the church, the temperature had dropped. It was very cool, cloudy and wonderful.

Our next stop was a cab ride over to Piazza del Duomo and Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) This is the main church of Florence, Italy. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambioand completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris.

The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence and are a major attraction to tourists visiting the region of Tuscany. The basilica is one of Italy's largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence, whose Archbishop is currently Giuseppe Betori. Shirley and I had 6:00 PM mass there. Of course it was all in Italian—the Feast of The Assumption of Mary. Scripture readings were: Revelation 11:19a; Revelation 12: 1-6a, 10; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27a; and Luke 1: 39-56. We took part in communion. The best way to describe the must go and see it for yourself!

After church, we had a late dinner and decided to go back to the same restaurant where we ate the first night. I had salad that came in a bowl with mixed greens and tomatoes. Shirley helped me make vinaigrette using olive oil, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. I stirred them all up on my plate then and dumped the salad on top, finishing it with some salt. It was the best tasting salad! We walked backed to the convent, again with our heads hanging, feet dragging and tummies full. This time, however, we did not get lost.

Enjoy the pictures! Good night from Florence, Italy.

PS…Call Shirley4travel and make your reservations for Florence!


Nola and Shirley at Piazzale Micelangelo

View from Piazzale Micelangelo

Shirley and Nola

View from Piazzale Micelangelo

View from Piazzale Micelangelo

Missioni Francescane

Missioni Francescane

Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)

El Chico, just down the street from Basilica di Santa Croce

Rules on how to dress

Statue at Basilica di Santa Croce with International Lion 's Club plaque

Entrance of Basilica di Santa Croce

Christina and Shirley at Scuola Del Cuoio

Dome of The Chapel of Academia, inside Basilica di Santa Croce

Outer court yard of Basilica di Santa Croce

Bell tower (tall, slender building) and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Bell tower (tall, slender building) and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Friday, August 14, 2015
Shirley and I are on our way to London with a connecting flight to Rome. A driver will take us to Florence. It is 2.5 hour drive from Rome. We are staying at Casa per Ferie Regina Del Santo Rosario convent. We will be in Florence for two nights, leaving Sunday afternoon for Assisi. hair extensions uk

As I was standing in line for security check in Dallas, I started talking to Martin and Tracy, a young couple in line with me. They were on their way to Cancun. I met up with them again at our gate and Martin asked me where we were heading. I shared with him some of the details of our trip. He was very interested in going to Italy. So, when Shirley walked up, I said, “This is the Boss. She put this trip together. She is the travel agent.” For the next several minutes, Martin, Tracy and Shirley exchanged information. What a small world! Martin and Tracy were married at the Presbyterian Church off of Hampton and 67. This is also where Shirley and I attended The Banquet Spiritual Retreat. All of us knew several of members, including Martin's dad. What a blessing it was to meet them and we wished each other a safe journey. You never know how you will find the Wonderful along the journey.

We are flying business class. This is the first for us. For long flights, it is the only way to go. It was like sitting in my recliner at home. The flight was smooth and I was able to rest well and enjoy the pampering by the flight attendant. We enjoyed some of the latest movies and the Bose head phones were delightful. We landed in London, fought our way through the security check and walked almost to Rome! Meaning, there is lots of walking between gates. This is a very large airport. The flight from London to Rome is about 2.5 hours.

When we arrived in Rome, our driver, Alex, was waiting for us. Florence weather is hot and humid, just like Dallas. We arrived at Casa Regina around 6:30 PM. Once we got out of Rome, the country side is very nice, just like in the pictures. Sister Rosa checked us into our rooms, which are simple, clean, and just want we need. Breakfast is from 7:30-9:30 AM.

The month of August is considered holiday for many of the business here in Florence. Due to the heat, they shut down. We had our first meal in Florence at Perseus. The restaurant is about a 20 minute walk from Casa Regina. The pictures of the food tell the story of what a fine meal it was. We sat outside and soaked up the "wonderful" of just being in Florence. After our meal, we walked around a nearby large park and headed back to Casa Regina.

Rule #1: Never leave without the address or phone number of where you are staying! We were within a block of Casa Regina and could not find it. Finally, Shirley turned on the GPS on her cell phone. WE WERE SO CLOSE! We made it back to Casa Regina without any problems. It is safe to walk outside where we are staying, with lots of people out enjoying the evening. With our heads hanging, our feet dragging and our tummies full, it is time to shower and get some rest. We have been up for nearly 36 hours. The local time here is 8 hours ahead of Dallas time. Saturday we will get an early start. Enjoy the pictures.

Good night from Florence, Italy.

Shirley and Nola enjoy Business Class on their American Airlines flight to London

Martin and Tracy

Sister Rosa and assistant at Casa Regina

Courtyard at Casa Regina

Dinner at Perseus

Salad with Perseus Menu

Shirley had Penne Nettle Carnee Chianti

Crespelle Alla Fiorentina

Park in Florence
human hair wigs
Biking path on sidewalk

Saturday, August 1, 2015
Two years ago, I was celebrating my retirement from teaching and anticipating the Baltic States cruise. In addition, my good friend Shirley Hudson was celebrating 3 years for her travel business Shirley4Travel and I was celebrating 5 years for Nola Rae Smith Massage Therapy. Time has flown by and now another life time travel adventure is about to begin.

Shirley4Travel has created a wonderful trip to Rome, Florence, Assisi and a Mediterranean Cruise. There are five of us who will be traveling together. Shirley and I will leave on April 13 for Rome. A car will take us into Florence and Assisi. We will take a train back into Rome from Assissi where we will meet up with the rest of our group. We will spend a few days in Rome before we board our Royal Caribbean ship for the Mediterranean cruise. We have been planning this for this over a year, and now it is time to go!!!!

Follow along and see what we will be doing on our journey. Many thanks to my good friend Ron who will be updating my Web site with postings of our adventures. -Nola


Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Nola and Shirley are taking a Mediterranean Cruise in 2015. They will fly to Rome, Italy where they will board Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas for a 7-night Mediterranean Cruise. Click here to view a flyer for additional information. Follow along the journey or experience the journey in person! It's never too early to ask questions or make reservations.


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