A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

Cold But Beautiful Paris

Lynette and I are still in the beautiful city of Paris. Its cloudy and rainy and cold but still beautiful. We are currently staying with some very gracious friends who live outside the city. We take the train about 35 minutes each way to get back and forth to tour the city each day.

The other night our friends served a traditional French meal which was delightful. I can't tell you how great it feels to be staying and eating meals in a real home for a change instead of a hotel and restaurant. Tonight we had fondue which apparently is a very common meal in French homes during the winter. It was very tastey. I did not know this but "fondue" actually means "to melt." Makes sense.

Let's see, what is there to say about France that you don't already know from all the movies or shows done about the place. Oh, here's something, the restaurant servers (so far) are not all snobby and difficult like I had always been lead to believe they were. I'd always heard that they will often pretend not to speak english or will be very rude and such. But we have actually experienced quite the contrary. They have mostly been extremely friendly and helpful, and always speak english as soon as they realize we are foreigners. Which is pretty much immediately by the look of me. And if they have any doubt it quickly vanishes as soon as I open my mouth and try to utter a mangled "Bonjour." You may be wondering how a simple word like "bonjour" could be mangled but I manage it.

Here some photos of just a few of the many moods of the Eiffel Tower:

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And here's me and the Sofie Star together enjoying the view of the tower:
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It decided to rain the day we had planned to go to the Eiffel Tower but the weather here hasn't been too great lately so we figured we probably wouldn't get a better chance. And we hoped that with the bad weather most people would stay away and the line to go up wouldn't be too bad. But we were wrong and waited an hour and a half. (I'd hate to see it on a nice day.) It rained lightly on and off while we waited in line and about a minute after getting up to our viewing point on the second level of the tower it started to pour down. So we took cover and it quickly passed. Then it was still cloudy but we had a great view of the city, accompanied by a few rainbows.
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Here's us on the second viewing level of the tower which is about half way up. We could have gone to the top but it just looked too precarious up there. Even though the tower has been there over 100 years and was built very sturdily, the fact that it was only intended to be a temporary structure for the 1889 Universal Exposition freaked me out. I could just imagine the rivets finally giving way and all popping out just as we got to the top. So I decided the middle level gave us a sufficient view of the city.
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Notre Dame Cathedral:
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I guess its no secret who the French want for US president.
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The spectacular stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle:
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Arc de Triomphe:
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Going up the stairs to the top of the Arc:
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Lynette deep in concentration at the Musée d'Orsay art museum:
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Amongst other things at Musée d'Orsay they have some great impressionists' work including that of Monet, Gaughin, and Van Gogh which were great to see:
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I've always wondered what was inside that big glass pyramid at the Louvre. In case anyone else was wondering here's a photo. Beneath the pyramid, underground, is a big modern entrance hall where you buy your tickets and can enter the 3 different major wings of the museum by way of separate escalators.
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Inside the Louvre:
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The Mona Lisa is one of the masterpieces hanging at the Louvre, but I'm sure you've all seen photos of the Mona lisa before. So here is a shot of the crowd looking at it and taking pictures of it:
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This statue was NOT at the Louvre but I thought it was interesting.
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On Saturday we will be leaving Paris and going up to Tours, France to check out some castles.

dave & lynette

Posted by schuckley 15:18 Comments (2)

Ahhh...Venice

By Dave

sunny

OK, OK, we've gotten a lot of flack for questioning the whole gondola ride thing, and all well deserved I must admit. Lynette and I don't know what we were thinking - we were idiots. We ended up doing it and it was INCREDIBLE! And well worth the price.

We booked the ride through our hotel with the first and only female gondolier, pictured here:

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Included in the price was a bottle of champagne which we were happy to polish off during the 50 minute journey. It quite added to the already romantic mood.

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We quickly found out that the best views of the city are from the water. We leisurely rode down the Grand Canal and along the narrow waterways taking it all in.

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Supposedly all the buildings of the well-to-do along the Grand Canal were painted up this way with elaborate murals back in the day. It must have been quite a sight. This one is the only one that we saw that has now been restored to its former glory:

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There are still amazing details everywhere you look.

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This old place is supposedly haunted. Everyone who has lived here has either died in the place of natural causes or committed scuicide. I guess this means they were all either so happy with the place that they wanted to live out their last days there or hated it so much they wanted to end it all. Its up for sale in case anyone is interested. You might get a good deal due to its gruesome history. Its quite beautiful.
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So we had an absolute fabulous time. it was definitely a highlight of our Italy chapter.
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Back on land:
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I thought this was a cool sign for a restaurant. It didn't even say the name of the place. I guess they just refer to it by saying, "Hey, let's go down to the place with the boat on it for dinner tonight."
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Here's a view from the window inside the Peggy Guggenheim museum. I got in trouble for taking this one. Photos are not allowed inside the museum. I thought this meant of the artwork, but to my surprise it apparently includes shots out the window. The museum houses some great artwork by such famous artists as Picasso, Pollock, Dali just to name a few. (But of course I don't have pictures of any of them.)
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The view at the San Marco square:
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View from the Rialto Bridge:

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Something I found interesting about the meals served in Italy is how they serve things in courses. After appetizers is the first course which is usually a big pasta dish. The second course is a meat dish which they don't serve until the first course is completely finished and removed from the table. Which was a bit sad because I often thought the meat would go superbly with the pasta. The salad course actually comes as the third course, and then dessert.

One of the great things about Venice is that there is absolutely no traffic on the roads, if you can even call them roads. No trucks, cars, motorbikes, not even bicycles. Everyone just walks everywhere. No dodging of traffic, no annoying honking or noxious fumes. Just leisurely and carefree strolling. And every night it seems that the locals are out mingling on the street or in the squares with the neighbors as the children play together. All this walking must be how they all stay so fit and beautiful even with such large and tastey meals.
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We loved Venice so much Lynette wanted to take part of it home with us.

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We are now in Paris, France and loving it. This is a great city. Yesterday we went to the Musee Dorsay art museum, and went to the top of the Arc de Triumph for a night time view of the city lights. Today its off to the Louve.
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-Dave and Lynette

Posted by schuckley 14:23 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world Comments (5)

Florence, Italy

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We left Florence a few days ago. Florence is another city that is packed to the gills with lots of old, classical and Renaissance thingsto see... So much so you have to take it in small doses or you could find yourself looking at a Michelangelo sculpture and debating on where you are going to eat later on. The Duomo is in Florence which is this magnificient church built with green, white and pink marble with white sculptures and really breathtaking when you first see it. Michelangelo's David sculpture is here also which we saw earlier today. We completely lucked out because lines can be atrocious for the museum where he lives but for some reason there was absolutely no one in line and we walked straight in, bought our tickets and entered the museum. When we left the museum an hour and a half later the line was so long it almost went around the building. Not sure why but our timing was perfecto! The David sculpture was incredible to see in person like all these other masterpieces we have been blessed to see. We stayed for awhile and just looked at it from every angle. Dave took the time to do a sketch of "David" (the statue) which will be an awesome momento especially since you can no longer take pictures of it (even without a flash).

The day before we spent a large portion of the day in the Uffizi gallery. This gallery is really famous for its massive collection of works from the Rennaisance. It has a ton of masterpieces including two by Botticelli - "Birth of Venus" and "Spring." This is another museum where lines get really long but for this one we reserved a ticket so we could bypass the line which worked nicely. We also went to the Boboli gardens which has this gorgeous view over the Tuscan countryside from one side and then on the other side a view over the city of Florence. You can just imagine those rich people back in the day walking around those gardens and stopping for a chat or a picnic.

The place we stayed at in Florence was a "budget" accomodation in an old building right in the center of town. The first two nights we stayed at this hotel our room actually had a view of the Duomo. The hotel didn't have any double rooms available for the 3rd night but after talking to the hotel owner we sort of convinced him to convert a single room for us. He was kind of embarrassed to do it because he said the room was so small but he stuffed another single bed in there for us. Dave and I thought it must be the size of a closet from the way the hotel guy was acting but when he showed us the converted single room we weren't even phased since it was about the size of a hotel room in Hong Kong! So it was quite fine for us.

Italy has made us feel a bit underdressed however since fashion reigns supreme here. We are definitely getting tired of our worn old clothes over and over and they are definitely starting to wear thin in areas. Black is the universal color though. If you are in black you could pass for a local. Believe it or not, while in Rome, Dave and I were approached by an Italian girl in the subway who asked us for directions in Italian. When we said we were sorry in English she looked a bit embarassed. I'm not sure what Dave was wearing but I was wearing all black. Black never goes out of style.

Here is Dave with some photos.
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Hey, this is Dave with some photos.

This is the beautiful Duomo:
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Some shots of the inside of the dome.
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This is the view of it at night from our hotel room.
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Lynette admiring the view from our elegant hotel room (before we moved into the converted single.)
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Feeling a bit rebellious I let loose my long pent up artistic expression.
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Here's the view from the Boboli gardens that Lynette mentioned:
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Isn't this a beauty? And the landscape is pretty great too.
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We are now in Venice. It is very expensive here. I mean VERY expensive. Especially after we convert to the US dollar. We try not to think about it too much so we can enjoy ourselves but it can be hard. After the conversion a large Coke at a restaurant the other night would have cost about 15 dollars. - and no free refills. Needless to say I didnt get one. We are still debating on whether we should do the gondola ride since it costs 80 euros for 40 minutes which is about 100 dollars. The city is absolutely beautiful though and we've had some great food. We'll try to post some photos in the near future.

dave and lynette

Posted by schuckley 09:12 Comments (3)

When in Rome...

We were recently in Rome, and of course we loved it. Who wouldn't? But man oh man did we stay busy. Everyday we went nonstop because there is sooo much to see and we were only there for 5 days. It was kind of strange for me (Lynette) since I visited Rome when I was in college many moons ago and I immediately noticed some differences when we stepped into the main train station. The first and most obvious was the lack of gypsies. When I was in Rome before they were everywhere. They were dressed in billowy gowns and travelled in packs with kids in tow and they would come right up to you and ask for money and pretty much nothing you would say would make them leave you alone. I think they are still in Rome but I didn't see them in packs like I remember in the train station. Maybe it was due to the police presence I noticed. The other thing that was different was the lack of cats at the Colosseum. I remember there being cats all over the place and this time we saw a few cats around the general area but absolutely none in the Colosseum itself. This is weird and kind of sad since I wonder what happened to all those cats, but not so sad about the lack of gypsies.

Here is a list of all the things we saw in Rome...

The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain (at night), Borghese Museum (please go here if you are every in Rome), Spanish Steps, Keats House, Trevi Fountain (daytime), the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the 3 fountains in Piazza Navona, about 5 or 6 churches that I don't remember the names of, various obelisks, lots of monuments and old buildings, Vatican City including St. Peters and the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, the castle near St. Petes, the Pope.

We saw the Pope! Every Sunday at noon he gives a blessing and a bit of an address to the people who gather at St. Peter's square if he is in town. Lucky for us the Pope was in Rome and so we actually went to St. Peter's and heard him speak - in Italian mostly but he did say a little bit in English. There were a lot of people there so we couldn't really see him well. He was about the size of a peanut to us but they had large screens up so we could see him better. After blessing all the people in attendance, he got into a little car - "the Pope mobile" - and drove through the audience but again not close enough for us to get a good look at him. We could make out the top of his hat basically. We greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear the Pope in person and definitely something I didn't expect I would ever experience.

The Sistine Chapel was a major highlight of Rome also. Dave said it was one of the highlights of his life to see it in person. The thing about going to a place like Rome is that you get to see the actual painting, sculpture, and frescoes by people like Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Bernini, and on and on. It is hard to wrap your head around the concept that you are actually looking at Michelangelo's frescoes that he did with his own hands - things we studied in our classes in school, and are popular to most people in the western world. We are now in Florence and experience a whole new set of classical works of art. We hope to post some pictures of that in the near future.

---Hey this is Dave with a few photos:

Colliseum
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The Sofie Star is still in one piece and it made its way all the way to Rome! (unlike the backpack that Lynette bought in Nepal and was forced to finally lay to rest yesterday) Here it is at the Colliseum. (For any newcomers who missed the Sofie Star explanation way back when- My niece Sofie made me this craft piece before we left on the trip and I thought it would be cool to take it with us and photograph it going around the world.)
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I was particularly excited to see the Pantheon. Its amazing how old this thing is - from ancient Roman times. Centuries later, during the Renaissance the building was not looked on with much affection. At one point the Pope almost decided to demolish it but instead just melted down the Bronze which covered the coffered ceiling and used it for an emmense sculpture centerpiece inside St. Peters Church. The dome inside the Pantheon with the huge hole in the top is quite a sight to see in person. Here is a shot of the front of the building:
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The Bronze sclupture for St. Peters Church was sculpted by Bernini. This is a guy I learned a bit about in art history class in college. But to me all those sculptors kind of blended together back then. However, to see the works of art in person I now have a great appreciation for Bernini's work. We saw three of his most famous marble works at the Borghese Museum in Rome. His "Rape of Persephone," "Apollo and Daphne," and "David" (not to be confused with the famous Michalangelo's "David") are some of the finest artworks I've ever seen in my life. I can't believe what this guy could do with marble. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos. But it doesn't matter because I've seen photos of them before and its just not the same as seeing them in person. My jaw actually dropped when I walked into the room and saw the "David" sculpture.

Here's some photos from around Rome:
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Another artist I now have a greater appreciation for is Raphael. Lynette and I agree that his "Transfiguration" painting somehow goes beyond just being a painting, its an experience. You ARE allowed to take pictures of the artwork at the Vatican Museum but this piece was in such a dark room that the photos came out kind of blurry.

But I do have a photo of another Raphael painting that I was excited to get to see in person, "The School of Athens" fresco mural at the Vatican Museum. I've always loved this painting and to see it in person and actually be in the place where Raphael painted it was great fun.
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Here's one of the amazing ceilings inside the Vatican Museum. this place was decked out with all kinds of ornate decoration and art works.
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After the Vatican Museum we went over to St. Peter's Cathedral. Here's a couple shots of the inside:

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Here's some shots of it the next day when we went back to see the Pope:
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If you look close at the bottom of the large central doorway you can barely make out the Pope's white umbrella.
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Here's a shot of the church at sunset.

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That's all for now. Should have some stuff from Florence soon.
(Please excuse any type errors, artwork title errors, and historical errors. I was going by memory and didn't have time to look up to verify.)

Ciao!
-dave & lynette

Posted by schuckley 09:14 Comments (3)

9 months on the road

It is hard to believe but true. Very shortly Dave and I will have been travelling for 9 months. We have had an incredible time and are full of new experiences and inspirations and are looking forward to more in Europe. My Mom asked me the other day when I spoke to her, if we felt it was worth it and to that I would say there is no doubt even without having officially completed the trip yet. We had been right in thinking that we would not regret this decision once we were on the road. The magnitude of what we have accomplished has really become clear as we spend time vacationing in the easy and laid back country of Greece. We feel as though travelling independently through Asia was the challenge of a lifetime. We had to use all of our patience, quick thinking, and instincts to make our way through those foreign countries. We also could not have done it without the help of - too numerous to mention - local people. I should also send props to the Lonely Planet people whose guide books were a major source of help as well.

Greece has been like something out of a dream for Dave and I. We had just come from China which was the biggest challenge of all of the Asian countries we visited but also the one we both will remember very fondly. It is where we took that "a bit too adventurous" overnight bus where they smoked and played loud Chinese music on the radio. It is where a little boy of about 8 years old asked us if he could help us when we were stopped at midnight at some rural restaurant where there was a pig stable next to the toilets and Dave and I obviously looked a bit out of it.

The most challenging in China had to be when we decided to go to the rural village of Pingyao. This was supposed to be the most well preserved walled village in China. The day started with a mad dash to the airport on a airport bus that we almost missed due to a story for another time. Our flight went fine but the airport we landed at was small and there was no information desk and we didn't see any bus station or taxi stand. We eventually found a group of people standing outside and realized that this was the makeshift taxi stand and got in line. We realized quickly since we had been travelling in Asia a lot that people were cutting in line. This is totally a standard practice in China. You can not let your guard down for an instant or someone will try and cut the line. The weird thing is that no one seems to get mad about it. It is just the way it is. Dave manuevered his way in front of a guy who was trying to cut us off and scored us a taxi! Go Dave! He actually has gotten really good at cutting and blocking, etc. We showed the taxi driver the chinese symbol for train station in our chinese phrase book and off we went. Our driver dropped us off in front of the train station although it took us awhile to actually find it since it isn't like it had a sign that said "Train Station" in English on it. We felt uncomfortable immediately since the town of Taiyuan is not a tourist destination and we have never felt more different in our entire lives since everyone stopped and stared at us. We had gotten used to some stares since this is extremely common in China. Little kids pointing us out to their parents. Teenagers elbowing each other and then knodding in our direction. But in Taiyuan, a dusty town where we were only in to catch a train out of, obviously really was not used to foreigners. After roaming around aimlessly for awhile I see a sign that has a question mark on it. We go up to the booth and we say "Pingyao." The person was very nice and wrote something down in Chinese and pointed us in the right direction.

Again with the help of some locals who could guess at where we wanted to go, we found our way to the ticket booths which were mobbed with people. Dave asks a guard for help and he proceeds to cut to the front of a huge line to help us. No one batted an eye. He helps us get our train tickets to Pingyao. Again, without his help I'm not sure where we would have ended up. We then are directed to the actual train station where we wait for our train. It felt as though everyone in the massive waiting room just stopped when we entered. It didn't take long after we set our bags down to draw a crowd. Groups of people were standing around us and one man had me take a picture with his young daughter several times. Most people just stood and stared at us. It got to be so bad that security had to intervene and break it up and we were moved to the VIP waiting room even though we just had regular ol' tickets. Pretty crazy experience.

We ended up on a crowded train sitting across from two extremely nice students. One of which knew a little English. We were so grateful to be sitting next to them instead of some old man who would have just sat and stared at us the whole time. They helped me buy water from the vendor and made sure we got off on the right stop and gave us some handy advice such as Pingyao was known for their beef. This turned out to be great advice because we tried it and Pingyao did indeed have really good beef. We arrived in rainy Pingyao exhausted with our nerves shot after a really trying day. We still had to make our way to our hotel and it was raining and dark. As soon as we left the train station there was a rickshaw driver that knew where our hotel was and took us there (for an extremely overpriced amount) but we just wanted to get there. We whizzed through the darkness and rain and at first the town was like any other dusty town in China but then the rickshaw pulled into the walled city portion and all that changed. It was incredible, like going back in time, and when he pulled in front of our hotel we were welcomed by the warm and incredibly hospitable owner. Dave and I were beyond thrilled. The hotel was an old fashioned Chinese courtyard house that had been converted into a guest house. The rooms had traditional Chinese beds and was full of character. It was like a little oasis and we immediately relaxed. We had made it through one of the most challenging and difficult travelling experiences we have had.

But now we are in Greece and all that is in the past. Greece is like a little heaven on earth I think. We are on the island of Mykonos right now. This is the most popular of the Greek islands and the most busy. It gets 1 million visitors a year and half of them come in August! We are visiting the Greek islands at a perfect time since visitors are few and prices have been slashed (but still expensive.) The Greek islands have been a great treat. We have loved every minute. We have stayed on three islands and each one is different than the next. But all have those adorable white washed houses and churches. We have spent a fair amount of time hanging out on the beaches and the beaches are also different island to island. On Santorini there was a beach with black sand and one with red sand due to the volcanic rock. Paros had beautiful beaches with clear calm waters with huge wind carved rocks jutting from the shore(my favorite beaches). Mykonos beaches are busy with bustling bars and restaurants and the most people we have seen. All of the beaches do have one thing in common however, you are likely to see someone either nude or without their top. It is not uncommon to see a Mom and Dad with their kids next to a couple completely in the buff next to people in normal swimming wear next to several topless sunbathers. Everyone just gets along fabulously. Those crazy Europeans (young and old) just do not care if you see all their bits and pieces, nor do they care if they may be a bit too plump for those speedos or that g-string bikini. We love their seemingly lack of body conciousness but being Americans it still does not stop Dave from pointing out every nude or topless sunbather and me going "where?" and looking.

Yep, life in Greece has been awesome and I am willing to say that there is not a soul alive who would not find something to love about Greece. Although, we do know that that something will NOT be Greek showers since they are small squares that leave water all over the bathroom floor and are not large enough to bend over and pick up the soap without sticking your rear out of the offical "square" that is the shower stall. But that aside it is incredible. Please, buy your plane tickets now. Book your hotel. Go to Greece. Go to Greece.

We have a few more days in this lovely place before we move on to Italy. We fly to Rome on October 8th and I would say that we are equally excited about going to Italy.
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This is Dave here. Just thought I'd throw in a few photos.

Here is Lynette at the beach. Those fleshy objects in the background to the right of her are two of those nude sun bathers she mentioned. But in case you can't tell Lynette decided to stay clothed.
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And this is me at the beach. The water was absolutely freezing, (my arms were frozen in this up position) but I mean come on, this was the Aegean Sea, I had to.
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Most of the churches in the towns are pretty small, the ones with the white walls and blue domed roofs like I showed in the last blog. But we visited this large and very old one in Paros that was beautiful.
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This is a smaller room off to the side of the main cathedral. There's a creepy skull and cross bones carved on the floor toward the bottom, I'm guessing to mark someone's tomb. I've never been to a church before where there was a dead dude buried inside, at least not that I'm aware of. - Pretty eerie.
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One of the things you see a lot of in the churches here are these tin artworks where the faces are cut out and painted.
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Some of them look really strange because the faces are small and so dark from their age and a bit pushed in so it just looks like a bunch of holes where the heads should be.
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Here's one of the many absolutely extraordinary sunsets we've had the pleasure of seeing here in Greece.
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There are tons of cats on the islands. They are everywhere. Here's a tiny kitten that I heard squeeking softly from the bushes.
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Here's one looking for lunch:
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This one is into the art scene:
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And this one greeted us at our guesthouse in the mornings:
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Another animal you can catch strolling the streets here in Mykonos are pelicans:
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Yes, I'm sorry, this is just a photograph of a bicycle but I loved the patterns of the stones in the wall and walkway.
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Lynette at our regular breakfast spot here on Mykonos:
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Me feeling stoic during our visit to the ancient ruins on the island of Delos:
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Below is a shot from the dock on Paros. Our guesthouse was only a block from the water and since the air was cool and no mosquitos we left the balcony doors open at night to hear the wonderful faint sound of the waves washing in all night.
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And here is Lynette just after being surprised by a big wave in the face as she tried to walk the rocks at the shore:
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Okay, that's finally it. I know its been a long one. You can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing. Take care.

Dave
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lynette
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 04:59 Comments (2)

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