Endeavour Comes to LA

A fairly historic day in Space History today as the Space Shuttle Endeavour takes its last “flight” around Los Angeles today.  Apparently the pilots of the jumbo jet were given free reign to tool around California today with a loose flight plan, including two swoops around the Santa Monica area.  Guess what that means?  Prime rooftop viewing platform!  Here are my pics from this amazing afternoon:

The view of where we expected Endeavor to show up
The view of where we expected Endeavor to show up21-Sep-2012 11:48, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 4.5, 9.815mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
And sure enough, there's Endeavor in the hazy distance
And sure enough, there's Endeavor in the hazy distance21-Sep-2012 11:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
You can start to make out the real shapes of the shuttle as well as the F-18s
You can start to make out the real shapes of the shuttle as well as the F-18s21-Sep-2012 11:50, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
Such a great shot and I can't believe how close it was to our rooftop
Such a great shot and I can't believe how close it was to our rooftop21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
It's right there!
It's right there!21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 11:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
This is the second loop around Venice and Santa Monica after the shuttle did a low flyby of LAX
This is the second loop around Venice and Santa Monica after the shuttle did a low flyby of LAX21-Sep-2012 12:01, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.0, 12.056mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 12:01, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 12:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
21-Sep-2012 12:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 100
Not as close by as the first loop but still pretty amazing
Not as close by as the first loop but still pretty amazing21-Sep-2012 12:02, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 5.8, 18.8mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100

Great Couch Looking for a New Home

Hi – I’m Hobie’s trusty living room couch and have been a treasured part of his living room family since 2009.  He’s taken great care of me but apparently he is looking for something in a different style.  Is there anything wrong with me?  Nope.  He’s just fickle and wants a new look.  P’shaw.  I’d love to find a new home though, so if you or someone you know is looking for a great sectional couch, please let Hobie know.  He’s asking $400 for me and honestly, that’s a great price.

19-Sep-2012 17:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 2.0, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
19-Sep-2012 17:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 2.0, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 160
19-Sep-2012 17:52, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS, 2.0, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 100

Hobie doesn’t have a delivery service though so I’d definitely need a ride to my new home.  Obviously I’m coming with all the brown pillows because they’re part of me and Hobie can’t have them.  So there!


Santorini, Greece (2011 Trip) Pics

August 31, 2011 – Santorini!

Our first port o’ call!  It was exciting to explore a place that neither of us had ever been to before – especially as that place was Greece.  It had always been one of my favored destinations and one that I hadn’t yet been to, so to not only finally make it there but while on this ridiculously luxurious ship – pure bliss.  In the morning, we awoke to the ship still moving yet outside there were scattered little Greek islands.  They weren’t islands that make you think beautiful and unspoiled – more like the volcanic remnants of what used to be there, which is in fact the case.  Santorini as it is today is basically the remnants of what used to be a huge island that blew up in a giant volcano.  Now it’s an archipelago – many think that this was actually the basis of the legend of Atlantis.

Anyway, Santorini is what many people would think of in terms of a Greek Isle….at least in terms of the countryside and bleached-white architecture situated on dramatic cliffs with stunning Med views.  As the Equinox approached the city of Fira on the coast of Santorini, it became clear that what looked like white-topped cliffs was not due to geology but the city itself.  It clings on the side of these massive cliffs and as you’ll see in the later pics of this post, it ends up affording the town an unbelievable view of the water.  Simply breathtaking.  There is actually no harbor big enough for a ship our size, not to mention the fact that Santorini is a very popular cruise ship destination.  Hence, Equinox docked out in the water and we were taken ashore by multiple skiffs.  This was our first excursion experience and it was almost nerve-wracking to get assigned your tour group number and anxiously await your number to be called.  It finally happened though and after a quick jaunt to the shore, we met our guide (a very beautiful Greek woman – you can see her in the photos if you pay attention) and were ushered on to our bus.

Arrival into Santorini

The bus immediately went up the scariest fucking switchback road I think I’ve ever been on.  As I mentioned, there are ridiculous cliffs around the entire island so to actually see the interior of the island, you have to ascend the cliffs.  UGH.  It was nauseating how high we ended up going and seeing how high above even those massive cruise ships we were.  That torture blessedly ended and we ended up driving across the island and through many volcanic-soil-based orchards and vineyards.  The landscape, at least up there, reminded me a lot of Southern California, besides the volcanic part.  Our first stop was to the highest point of the island which afforded us views of the entire Santorini.  It was a beautiful and HOT day, so the views were spectacular.

Bus Ride Up to the Highest Point

The second and longest stop was in one of the more ancient cities of Santorini, Pyrgos.  This is basically the city you imagine when you think of Greek Isles.  The stunning white architecture with pops of blue here and there led to all of us in the group being slack-jawed at the beauty.  Our guide took us on a walking tour through it and while it was extremely beautiful (you can see the pics – I didn’t choose that top photo above for no reason) it was muthafuckin’ hot.  Holy god it was hot.  So glad I had a hat and we brought water as otherwise your ass was going to pass out.  Don’t mind me though – it was totally worth it.  We were taken to where the old fortress had once been and saw its ruins along with all these gorgeous little step-filled corridors.  Sigh….it was so beautiful.  Could totally imagine going back there just to vacation and chill the fuck out.

City of Pyrgos

This excursion wasn’t JUST a visit of Santorini – we also got some authentic Greek food for lunch!  We went to this great little restaurant with a beautiful view and met some new people for the first time the entire trip.  There were some great couples that we ended up seeing frequently over the cruise, but this excursion was very fortuitous as we ended up meeting Amy at lunch.  Larry & I were kind of the chatty ones at the table and over some topics, it was clear we got along fabulously with Amy.  Trying not to be too awkward about it, we ended up asking Amy if she wanted to hang out again during the trip.  We definitely ended up doing so many times – I think even that night we did as we went to our first cruise ship show and met up with her afterwards to play craps.  That’s when we found out she’s in the advertising industry too!  Small world.  Back to the story though, it was a great lunch and I ate most of the food, surprisingly.


It was then time to head to our last stop, the city of Fira.  This was the city you could see from the cruise ship and is basically the other city you’d think of when you think of the Greek Isles:  the one that has the ridiculously gorgeous view of the Mediterranean.  Le sigh.  It was mesmerizing to just stare out from any of the myriad walls, balconies, or alcoves and just gaze out.  By this time, the sun was down a bit and the afternoon was growing long, so it wasn’t as terribly hot.   Our tour was also over at this point and our guide gave us our “return tickets” which earned us passage on the Suspended Tramway back down to the docks.  Let me just say….I loved Santorini, but this last part nearly ruined the excursion.  Basically, that tramway is one of two ways you can actually get back down to the water where the skiffs await to return you to the ship.  We were told that you could also walk the stairs down the cliffs.  I won’t claim that I am super athletic or the opposite, but I envisioned either falling or suffering from muscle pain due to thousands of stairs down. Plus, we had been warned that the path reeks since donkeys are also going up and down those in case you want a ride.  So after grabbing an ice cream up top to cool off, we went for the Tram.  As did all the other thousands of people there.  Like I said way before, Santorini is a huge cruise ship destination and there are many more tour groups than just from your ship.  We ended up having to wait about an hour to finally get on the Tram, all while roasting in the sun since there wasn’t any cover.  Long afternoon.  Yet finally, we got on the tram, I momentarily freaked out as I HATE those kinds of trams especially when you’re that high up, and got back to the skiff and then the ship.

City of Fira

Once back on the ship, the captain mentioned that the Greek sunset at Santorini was not to be missed.  So after changing and showering, Larry & I rushed up to the deck, used our fantastic drink passes and welcomed the gorgeous Greek sunset with some fine cocktails.  It is nice to be on vacation!

A Greek Sunset

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index

Athens, Greece (2011 Trip) Pics

September 1, 2011 – The Ancient City of Athens

The Birthplace of Western Civilization!  The Parthenon!  The Acropolis! Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see Athens.  Along with the Hagia Sophia, The Parthenon was another building I’ve imagined visiting my entire life and this trip was going to help me fulfill that check box. SWEET.

The morning of our arrival in Athens, we woke up already there.  It was interesting to find ourselves already in a brand new place and really not have a clue where we were.  At the time, I didn’t think you could see Ancient Athens from where we were – I discovered I was wrong, after getting back from our excursion.  The port for Athens is known as Piraeus and it would be like driving from Long Beach to Downtown LA in terms of comparable distances.  The first order of business was a bus ride along the Piraeus coastline along with commentary from our tour guide, who knew the ins and outs of Athens, that’s for sure.  I couldn’t tell you much at all about what I saw writing about it nearly a year later.  Luckily I’ve captioned most photos as applicable.

The approach to Athens clearly indicates that it’s basically just another big city, much like you’d see in the U.S. or in most parts of Europe.  It’s not particularly picturesque and kinda pedestrian, if you permit my blase attitude.  Only when you get close to the ancient areas do you start to see the “money shots” if you will.  Once in the downtown area about 45-60 minutes later, you can start looking out the window and having your mind blown.  The ancient quarter is awesome.  The Acropolis is truly a sight to see, and can be seen from miles away, as it is a big hill crowned with ancient historical buildings.  Throughout the rest of the city are scattered other majestic sights, like ancient Olympic stadiums, ruins of temples, amphitheaters, other historical hills….you could probably spend another day enjoying the sights.  At a leisurely pace.  Beyond that, Athens is a typical bigger-than-medium dirty city.  Nothing wrong with that, but it kind of clashes with the other island-ic parts of Greece where it’s quaint and staggeringly gorgeous (see Santorini and Mykonos).

Leaving Piraeus for Athens

After getting driven around the ancient part of the city, our walking tour of the Acropolis began.  As it also did for THOUSANDS of people.  It’s not surprising this is a hugely popular place to go.  Yet when it’s balls hot outside, the last thing you want to do is be crammed with every other foreigner and move at a snails pace.  Alas, that is the price to pay to experience the divine.  🙂   You basically queue up in a long crowded line up the steps of the Acropolis, funneling through a central ancient gate that then opens up on the expanse of the Acropolis proper.  It’s a fantastic view though, as you go ever higher and get an ever better view of Athens.

Climbing the Acropolis

But yeah, once you get through that gate, that’s when it was all worth it….as there’s the mother-bleepin’ PARTHENON.  It really is staggering and impressive and not-at-all disappointing.  It is sad to see the condition it’s in, but if you read up on the history of the building (which is entertainingly told in “The Secret Lives of Buildings”), it’s amazing there’s anything left of it all, what with all the explosions that have taken place in it.  Larry & I walked around the site, taking it all in.  At least up here there is room to breathe even if it’s still crowded.  Yet it was really really hot that day (go figure, it’s hot in early September in the Med!).  We only had so much time and then it was time to rejoin the group bus, as we then were headed to the “tourist” quarter called the Plaka.

The One and Only Parthenon!!!

The Olympics Stadium

At the Plaka district, we were given a few hours on our own to just explore the area and buy souvenirs/crap.  It was also up to us to get some food, so Larry & I wandered into the heart of the Plaka ville and found a Greek restaurant to indulge in some touristy samplings of Greek food.  At that point, we were ravenous and the food and Greek beer were AMAZING.  After getting a bit of energy restored, I had wanted to visit the New Acropolis Museum.  The museum is brilliantly designed as it is built on top of ancient ruins where the old Plaka city used to be…but what’s cool is that the museum is literally propped above the ruins, and the floors are glass so you can look down and see where there are excavations occurring.  The museum is also situated at the foot of the Acropolis and aligned the same way as the Parthenon.  Why is that neat?  Because the museum has all the original remaining sidings of the Parthenon in order to better preserve them.  Basically, you’re seeing fake friezes on the Parthenon structure as there’s little way to protect them out in the open effectively without shutting the Parthenon down.  So you get to see the structure and a fairly idealized form of the remains, but the real stuff is in the museum.  It’s a great way to see all sorts of Greek antiquities, but don’t take a picture inside there!  NOT ALLOWED, as I found out.  Oops.  Lots of great stuff to see there, and it’s air-conditioned.  Hallelujah.  Also very interesting are the many scale models of the Acropolis throughout the last few thousand years, through it’s initial construction, it’s transition into different purposes and religions, and how it came to look the way it does now.

Plaka and the New Acropolis Museum

I was very happy to have finally visited the Acropolis for myself.  It’s a very worthwhile thing to see and experience – I would like to have visited other spots throughout Athens, but honestly, I don’t feel like I missed out on too much.  Maybe one day we’ll be able to swing back through there.  After our free time was up, we jumped back on the bus and drove the much quicker highway route back to our gigantic ship.  It fairly quickly took off at that point, and from our room we could watch the whole process unfold as the ship un-docked.  There were some hot dock workers to look at too…that wasn’t bad at all.

Back at Equinox

One thing about our cruise experience itself that was a bit frustrating at first was the dining experience.  No one ever showed up to our 8-person table!  Ever.  So we were the lepers, apparently.  It wasn’t this night, but I think maybe the next when they finally sat us at a 4-person square table that 2 people could sit at and not look stupid.  We didn’t eat every night at the main dining room, but let me tell you, the food there was fantastic.  The waiters, servers, and sommelier were amazing.  A very great experience, that is for sure, once we finally got our own table.  I think it’s just that people now have different options, including other restaurants throughout the ship, along with a Flex Eating thing that sells out immediately long before the ship sails, in which it’s like a restaurant and you can eat just with your party.  I think a lot of people don’t like the idea of having to eat with the same people every night, especially if you end up hating them.  Ah well….their loss, as Larry & I are AWESOME dinner conversationalists.

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index

Istanbul, Day 1 (2011 Trip) Pics

September 3, 2011 – Exploring Istanbul, Day 1

As I mortifyingly admitted yesterday, there are quite a few pics from our epic trip last year around the Mediterranean.  I’ve decided to work backwards.  As I slowly but surely get all the picture pages up from that trip, I’ll continue to update the list of pages with links.  Messy, but it will have to do since this is going to be put up in all sorts of random order!

Anyway, I just started writing this paragraph and remembered that I had written a LOT of stuff during the cruise itself, especially during those days at sea.  But then I remembered I had written them on my old iPad, which I had recently wiped in order to give to Harv.  D’oh!  But then, I remembered that Apple awesomely backs up your data when you connect it to your computer.  And then I remembered that I built my new iPad from my old iPad’s image… After remembering which app I used to type in my trip journal (aNote – a pretty great app for purposes like travel diaries, btw) I nervously opened it up and BAM! there were my notes…I had forgotten that I’d only written up the days from Rome, but honestly, that’s a relief too.  Those were action-packed days!!!

What all that means is that I’m stuck remembering the rest of the cruise – luckily I took shittons of pictures, so when in doubt, I can lean on the pictures to tell the story.  So, where was I? Oh, yeah, ISTANBUL!

Our ship, the Equinox, had docked in Istanbul before most everyone woke up, as when we finally did get up, we looked out the balcony directly on to the Istanbul cityscape.  Sho’ nuff, this was definitely Istanbul.  Mosques everywhere, but also still quite a city.  From our room, we were facing the wrong way to really see any of the historic center stuff you associate in your mind with Istanbul, namely the Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque.  The ship was spending two full days here in the city, and Larry & I had booked a two-day excursion.  I was RIDICULOUSLY excited to come here.  It’s always amazing to think of the history here in what was once Constantinople.  It’s also the only city that straddles two continents.  Plus, the Hagia Sophia.  I mean, seriously.  Once we got sorted into our travel group, we found out that our itinerary for today was to mainly visit the insane (in a good way) markets, including the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, along with visiting Topkapi Palace, finally ending with a boat cruise on the Bosphorous.

Arrival in Istanbul

First up was Topkapi Palace.  It’s where the sultans made their home, back before Turkey stopped having a sultan.  It’s now preserved as a museum, storing quite a few interesting artifiacts, including many ridiculously gorgeous jewels, portraits of all the sultans, some quite impressive religious artifiacts (including allegedly Moses’ staff….Larry & I both had strong doubts about the authenticity of it, and even after asking our affable and knowledgeable tour guide, she couldn’t confirm but informed us that most have strong beliefs that it is) and a gorgeous view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorous, the bodies of water that surround and cut through Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace

After the Topkapi Palace, we went to the Cistern, a Roman construction built underground and where in ancient times the city would store its water.  It is still being preserved for historical reasons and because it is awesome.  You walk down some stairs like you’re heading into a basement, and then there you are in this dramatically lit, massive underground chamber like out of a dream.  It’s filled with a little bit of water that fish swim in – it’s also very cool there especially considering it’s fucking hot as balls up top in September.  It’s incredible to think that not only was this built 1500 years ago, it still stands and there’s a city built up above it.

Exploring the Cistern and area

From the Cistern, we hopped back in our bus and went to the Spice Market.  I’m sure I’d seen this before on the Amazing Race, and it’s definitely an attraction that doesn’t disappoint.   It’s wall-to-wall people with tons of vendors selling textiles, spices (duh), trinkets and souvenirs, food, jewelry….basically everything you’d imagine.  Larry went to the tour-guide recommended spice stall (Aladdin’s – for reals) and picked up some Turkish Delight (candy that would kill me what with all the nut-based shit in it) and pistachios (for snacking).  After walking through it a bit, we ended up in a textile store and bought some “Turkish-looking” pillowcases and a table runner.  The tour guide had warned us that engaging vendors at all means you’re interested, even if you say no.  She was not wrong.  They’re persistent and I bet we probably could have made an even better deal for ourselves.

The Spice Market

It was time for lunch at this point, and we ended up at a restaurant that served up lots of Turkish flavor, including kabob, a pate thing, and even now, I can’t remember it all, neither can Larry.  But it was all mostly good.  This lunch we ended up meeting some of our other fellow cruise passengers as we were seated at large, communal tables.  I remember a few couples, one in which the woman was very nice but her husband was standoffish, a very nice married couple from Ireland who we would occasionally run into throughout the rest of the trip, and I think a German couple who were polite but again a little reserved.  Good food though.

After lunch, our big bus somehow navigated the seemingly-small small streets of Istanbul to drop us off at the Grand Bazaar.  The Spice Market was big and chaotic, but this place is just massive. MASSIVE.  If you ever play Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you’ll get kind of an inkling of how big and meandering the corridors of this ancient mall are.  It’s so easy to get turned around inside.  Everything looks the same after a while as the vendors pretty much all start repeating after a while.  There’s only so much crap that can be sold.  By this point, Larry & I had satisfied our curiosity factor and after getting turned around a few times and seemingly lost, we finally found our exit and went outside.  It was even hotter than balls than it was earlier, so we found a somewhat shady spot to sit in and wait until the group was scheduled to meet up again.  It had been a long day so far, and the heat on top of it is exhausting. ÂI was really looking forward to the final stop on the itinerary for the day, the boat cruise.  I just hoped we didn’t pass out.

The Grand Bazaar

So yeah – the boat cruise on the Bosphorous, leaving from the Golden Horn.  Istanbul has a little inlet harbor that is called the Golden Horn, because obviously that is where a huge amount of their trade would come through.  The Golden Horn is an inlet off of the Bosphorous, the main body of water that cuts through Istanbul and is the path from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara/the Mediterranean.  The cruise was wonderful, as it went along a route on both coasts of the city, as it is a city that is cut in half by the Bosphorous and gives Istanbul coasts in both Europe and Asia.  It also happens to be that some of the world’s most valuable real estate (along the lines of Bel Air and such) is along those shores, since there’s mega oil money and Russians there.  If you’ve ever seen the James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, we went by not only Electra’s Istanbul house (which is right along the shore), also her evil lighthouse/submarine lair, a very quaint little place called Lenore’s Tower.  In other words, it was awesome.

Boat Cruising on the Bosphorous

After the cruise, it was finally time to go back to the ship and crash.  Seriously, that was a long ass day.  But basically, completely amazing at the same time.  I fell in love with Istanbul and could easily imagine going back to visit again, perhaps after knocking out some of the other places Larry & I would like to visit.  But I didn’t have to say goodbye to the city just yet, as we had Day 2 the next day!

Back on the Equinox

2011 Mediterranean Trip Pics Index