RIP Max (2002 – 2016)

I’ll never really understand how Max got his nickname. Or nicknames, for that matter. I think I just inherited my dad’s gift for fitting pet nicknames. He was Max to pretty much everyone, but to me he’ll always be Spud. It never had anything to do with potatoes or weeds or anything like that. I just looked at him one day and noticed that he looked like his name should be “Spud.”

It stuck.


Spud was a great cat. He was ultra-friendly, always rubbing up against guests’ legs to say hello. He was also my shadow. On days when I worked from home, he was almost never out of sight. He would sleep on his perch in my office or directly on my desk. Sometimes he would decide to sleep in my lap. When I would leave the room, he’d follow. At night, he would sleep on the pillow above Courtney’s head or, if he was feeling snuggly, he’d butt my head so that I would lift up the covers so he could crawl underneath and lay beside me.

Toward the end, when Max’s cancer started to really get to him, he chose the latter more and more frequently. In the last couple of weeks, he would wake me up almost every night around 3:30AM so that he could crawl under the covers and snuggle. One of the things that makes it so hard to have a pet put to sleep is that you feel that you can never really make them understand. I think they do, though, at some level. He had a reason that he was spending more time with me at night. I think they know when the time is coming.

The day we took him to be put to sleep, he spent an hour or so on the nightstand looking out the window. There’s not really much to see this time of year (birds have migrated away and most animals are hibernating or just holed up) so he usually isn’t up there very often during the winter. But that day he just sat there looking outside, taking it all in. I think he knew it was for the last time. Usually if he was awake when I tried to take his picture, he’d move or do something to completely ruin it, especially when he started hearing the shutter. That day he didn’t move at all; he just let me take all the pictures I wanted.


The only bad thing about Spud is that he could be a bit of a diva. If his litter box wasn’t up to his particular expectations that day, he would pee on the carpet. If he wanted to come into a room, but you wouldn’t let him because you were trying to get something done without him being in the way, he would pee on the carpet. If you left him home for a weekend, you had a 50/50 shot that he would resent you for it and pee on the carpet.

Eventually, we tried to encourage additional litter box use by giving him treats when he did. This created more problems than it solved, I think. Once he learned what was going on, he would come into the office and yell at you after he went to the bathroom until he got treats. Sometimes, if he was feeling particularly sneaky, he would just go into the litter box and move litter around as if he were going to the bathroom, but not actually do anything. Then he would come demand treats. He would also recognize who gave him treats and try to trick the other person. If Courtney would give him treats when I wasn’t around, he would occasionally demand treats of me when I came in the room. He was a crafty little dude.

The thing I did not expect after he was gone (and the part that hit me the hardest) was how empty the bed felt without him. He was just always there, every night, a fuzzy part of the furniture. How something so small left such a massive void was devastating. It was like there was suddenly a black hole where once there was only light.

The first couple of days after he passed, I would be doing something around the house, and I would see him out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned there wouldn’t be anything there. I’d be left alone with the ghosts in my mind. Thankfully, this has become much less frequent.

It’s been really hard letting go of him, but he had a great life. Even though he could be a pain in the ass sometimes, he gave us many years of happiness to more than make up for it. I’d give anything to have him pee on the carpet again. Or yell incessantly during a conference call. Or have him butt my head at 3:30 in the morning.

But all I can do is remember.


Day 8: Tuscany

I’ve been looking forward to this day for many months. Sure, I love me some ancient ruins, but I think the one thing I was most looking forward to on this trip was visiting a winery in Tuscany. I was really looking forward to trying some Old World vintages that aren’t really popular in the US, and boy did this place deliver.

We started out this morning by heading to the market in Livorno, the port where our ship was docked. After a brief five minute drive, we pulled up to the largest covered marketplace in all of Europe. There was stall after stall of locals selling fresh fish, produce, cured meats, butchered meats, prepared dishes, wine, olive oil, pretty much everything you could think of. Since it was Saturday, there were even stalls set up outside the marketplace selling shoes/boots, clothes, jewelry, and other fashion items.

Our purpose in stopping at the marketplace wasn’t purely to sightsee. We were there to pick out ingredients for the pizza we would be making at the winery later in the day. Everyone had an assignment for an ingredient and 10 Euros to spend to get it. If you had any left over, you could find items outside the list you though others would enjoy. Our ingredient was eggplant, and Courtney and I took our job very seriously, visiting probably twenty or so stalls to see which farmer had the best eggplants. After we made our purchase, we decided to use some of our remaining money to get some fresh basil, as that wasn’t one of the primary ingrdients that our chef handed out.

Once everyone procured their ingredients, we met back up at the entrance where the chef gave us a tasting of some fresh prosciutto and mortadella to see how the various curing/processing styles differed. After that, we got back on board our bus to head to the vineyard: Torre a Cenaia. Upon arrival, we were given a brief tour of the cellar, and then everyone got on board a covered wagon for a horse-drawn tour of the vineyard. It was a little chilly for some, but the weather was pleasant enough, even though it drizzled a little bit.

After fifteen minutes or so, our wagon pulled up to a little kitchen on the property that was over 200 years old. It was here that we would make our focaccia, pizza, and cantucci (the first baking before biscotti). Believe it or not, my summer as assistant manager of a Little Caesar’s served me well, as we made pizza dough from scratch, something I had spent several months doing on a daily basis. We didn’t use this dough, as it needs time to rise; we made the dough for the next group and used the dough made by the preceding group.

Under the tutelage of Chef David, head chef at the vineyard, we put our dishes together and cooked them in a wood fired oven. Everything came out amazing, and we all had our fill of bread, pizza, and roasted vegetables. To accompany the meal, we had four wines: two whites and two reds. The first white was a steel aged chardonnay, and the second white was a varietal called vermentino. We liked the vermentino so much that we bought a bottle that we will enjoy later in the cruise. 

The reds were a fantastic sangiovese and a red blend of the sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon. While both of these wines were great, we had been told by our tour guide in Rome that the wine voted best in Italy was a varietal called brunello di montalcino. It just so happened that the vineyard had this wine, though we didn’t get to try it while we were there. We decided to purchase a bottle for 24 Euros solely on the advice of our guide and take it to dinner back on the ship.

When we had finished our lunch, we boarded the bus for the half hour ride back to the ship. I promptly fell asleep for an hour, after which we decided to don our bathing suits for the first time and relax in the hot tub on the pool deck. The skies started to clear and the sun began to set while we were there, so after we got out, I rushed down to get my camera. I’m glad I did because the sunset was the bet yet and created the most enormous rainbow I have ever seen. It easily filled 1/4 of the sky (see Facebook photo).

Once I had taken my photos, we got ready for dinner, went to Martini’s for a pre-dinner drink, and then went to dinner at Polo Grill, which is the steakhouse themed restaurant on board.  I had a nice ribeye, and Courtney chose the surf and turf. But the real star of the show was the fantastic brunello di montalcino that we brought along. We knew we had done the right thing when the sommelier smiled as she read the bottle while she opening it for us. We will most likely be ordering a case of this sometime after we get home. It was just phenomenal.

Tomorrow we will be docking at Monte Carlo in Monaco but will spend the day in Nice, France at another vineyard. I’m looking forward to tasting the differences in the wine. We’re also going to try and visit the famous Monte Carlo casino if we have time. Tomorrow should be another busy day!

Day 7: Rome and The Vatican

We woke up this morning docked in the port of Civitavecchia. This is not Rome; Rome is over an hour’s drive away. If you had decided to make your own plans, you were either going to pay over 500 Euros round trip for a taxi or jumping on the train for about 75 Euros. Fortunately, we had a tour booked with the cruise line and didn’t have to worry about any of that.

We left this morning  on our bus around 9AM and made our way to Rome. Our tour started with a drive around the city, which was nice up until we were supposed to go by the Colosseum. Apparently there was some sort of protest or strike going on, and several streets were blocked off by the police. Despite our driver’s best efforts, we weren’t able to get access to the Colosseum area, so he decided to wait until the end of the day and try again.

We were dropped off in the Piazza del Popolo (the People’s Plaza) where we were given an hour and a half of free time to explore Rome. We followed our guide to the Spanish Steps and the fountain at the Piazza di Trevi, but from there we struck out on our own. We grabbed some pizza at a local restaurant (the Italians’ obsession with pizza seems equivalent to the Americans’ obsession with burgers) and then made our own way to the Pantheon and the Piazza Venezia to take some photos.

After that, we made our way straight back up the Via del Corso to meet with our tour guide back at Piazza del Popolo to reboard the bus and head to the Vatican. Our entire group made it back on time, save for two people. We waited around for them for another twenty minutes, but our tour guide eventually decided to give up on them and head to the Vatican to keep on schedule. Just as our bus was about to pull away from the curb, the final two people came running up just in the nick of time to join us for the last part of our tour. Talk about a lucky break!

We were dropped off at the Vatican where we were handed over to our Vatican guide, Christine, who took us through the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. All of the artwork was simply gorgeous. I especially enjoyed seeing the various maps of Italy painted on the walls, as well as the enormous tapestries that hung from the walls. I have to say that for some reason I expected the Sistine Chapel to be larger, but the paintings inside were just as magnificent as I was led to believe.

What completely blew me away was St. Peter’s Basilica. The whole thing is on such a massive scale, and the frescos and sculptures appear just flawless. I think I was able to get some really good photos from interesting angles here with such a wide open interior, and I’m looking forward to taking a proper look at them back home. The whole trip was amazing, and the only thing I really hated about it was the crowds.

Rome itself is already crowded, but the Vatican itself is practically intolerable. They really need to do some sort of timed tours where they control the amount of people let in at once and force them along a single path. Allowing everyone in at any time and having it set up where multiple paths converge on single, small choke points makes for some very uncomfortable situations. There were several times where I thought someone would end up falling down stairs or getting crushed in a crowd, but fortunately I didn’t see anyone get hurt.

Once were we done in St. Peter’s, we exited into the square and had a few minutes to visit the souvenir shop. Our gifts purchased, we then boarded our bus for the last time. We made our way back to the Colosseum area, and thankfully the crowds had dispersed so we could get our photos. With that taken care of our driver got back on the A12 to head back to port, and 90% of us immediately fell asleep, having been on our feet for almost eight hours.

When we got back to our room, we opened our complementary bottle of wine and relaxed a bit before heading to dinner. Our dinner tonight was back in the main dining room, where we were seated with Barry and Kris, a wonderful couple from the UK who are enjoying cruising in their retirement. We had a lovely conversation with them over dinner, and apparently they are as big of fans of American TV drama as we are, so we had lots to talk about. We also brought each other up to speed on our respective political climates, which was quite an enlightening conversation.

Tomorrow we will be docking in Livorno, which is the closest port to Florence, but we won’t be visiting that city. Instead, we will be heading into Tuscany to visit a winery where we will go to the local market to select some ingredients, make our own lunch, and sample some wines from the vineyard in the process. It will be a nice, relaxing respite after such a full day today.

Day 6: Napoli (Naples)

This morning we were awakened not by lowering life boats, but by our scheduled wakeup call. We had another room service breakfast and again made our way to the lounge for our scheduled tour of Pompeii. We didn’t have to wait long this morning, as we were docked at a standard pier, so we were able to just walk off the ship and onto our bus.

After the brief drive to Pompeii, we were led among the ruins by our guide Barbara, who also happened to be an archaeologist. She was very knowledgable about the city, and had a great passion, not so much for excavating further, as for protecting what had already been uncovered. Rather than expound upon the 40% of the city that is still buried, she was making sure that none of our group accidentally touched the frescos or otherwise did something damaging out of ignorance.

I learned many interesting things about Pompeii today: 1) most of the citizens of Pompeii did not die in the explosion; at least 90% of them had time to escape before the pyroclastic flow arrived some 36 hours later, 2) the city is much bigger than I expected, even taking into account that almost half of it is still buried; it would be very easy to get lost, 3) the rich and poor all lived in the same buildings; the poor lived on the ground floor, the wealthy on the 2nd floor, and the middle classes on the third and fourth floors, 4) they had raised crosswalks, street drainage, public fountains, plumbing (via aqueducts), and heated public baths; they were a very advanced civilization for their era, and 5) if you wanted to run for office, you had to do something for the city FIRST with your OWN MONEY before you would even be considered for election. I think that’s something we should adopt back home.

I have tons of pictures to share when I get back, but the things that blew me away the most were the enormous public square, the detailed mosaics and frescos in the houses of the wealthier citizens, and the infrastructure they had for heating their public baths. The ruins of Pompeii have definitely been the highlight of the trip for me thus far, and there were a lot more interesting aspects of the city to see than I initially expected.

After several hours roaming the city, we had about fifteen minutes before we boarded the bus back to our ship. We used this time to get some Italian pizza and some gelato, both of which were exceptional. Once we got back to the ship, we relaxed a bit before heading to high tea at 4pm. They have high tea on board every day, but today is the first day that it fit into our schedule. Courtney had an English breakfast tea, and I had Earl Grey. Courtney also took the opportunity to avail herself of the bounty that was available on the pastry cart.

After tea, we went to the gym to burn off some of the myriad calories that we’ve consumed so far on this trip, got ready for dinner, and went to Martini’s for a pre-dinner libation. Every drink there is a martini of some sort; I had the 007 (vodka martini, shaken not stirred), and Courtney had the French martini which contained some chambourd and pineapple juice with the vodka.

Dinner was at Red Ginger, which is the Asian themed restaurant on board. Our meal here, like everywhere else we’ve been on board, was exceptional. We had edamame, summer rolls, vegetable tempura, and ginger calamari to start (possibly the best calamari I’ve ever had). We each had a nice Asian tea with our dinner (lemongrass ginger for me and white ginger pear for Courtney), along with a very nice sake that was aged for two years, mellowing the flavors to perfection. For our main course we chose the double crunch chicken, which had just the right amount of spice. For dessert, I had a chocolate and lemongrass creme brulee, and Courtney had a bounty cake, which was like an Asian tiramisu.

We’re heading to bed a little earlier tonight. Tomorrow is a ten hour whirlwind tour of Rome and the Vatican, and we need to be well rested. Don’t worry, I’m going to be taking a lot of pictures!

Day 5: Taormina, Sicily

We woke up this morning to the sound of the lifeboat that hangs outside our room being lowered into the water. There was no emergency; it’s just that Taormina is a tender port. Many of the ports around the world cannot handle large cruise ships for docking at their piers, so the ships drop anchor in the harbor and ferry passengers to shore using their lifeboats.

We had a light breakfast delivered to our room and then went to the lounge to await our boarding call for our trip to Sicily, which would include visiting Mt. Etna as well as San Michele vineyard. We ended up having to wait in the lounge a little longer than expected due to the tendering operations. But eventually our group was called, and we made our way down to board the boat that would take us to shore.

Upon arriving in the port of Naxos, we boarded a bus for our drive up to Mt. Etna. The views as we made our ascent to the top were stunning (pictures when I get home), and it looked like every romanticized scene of Italy you’ve ever seen in a movie, only it was real. We were excited to visit our fourth volcano, but we had no idea how different Mt. Etna would be compared to the others we have been to in Hawaii and Guatemala. The sharp, rocky soil was exactly as we expected, but what we were not expecting was the incessant, gale force wind that would occasionally gust to hurricane strength. There were times I was almost lifted off the ground, and I couldn’t bring myself to get any closer than twenty or thirty feet to the mountain’s edge. Hiking down into the crater itself provided a little reprieve from whe wind, but the fantastic views were up top, so we didn’t spend much time there. 

After snapping as many shots as I dared, Courtney and I sought refuge in the bar (because of course there is a bar at the top of Mt. Etna) with most of the other tourists. Courtney got her turtle souvenir for Italy, a small figurine carved from the volcanic rock of the mountain, and we shared a caffe di crema, which was an espresso flavored food that was a mix somewhere between whipped cream and pudding.

Once everyone had received their free exfoliation treatment by being sandblasted with volcanic dust, we reboarded our bus and made our way down the mountain to San Michele vineyard. If you were to conjure up in your mind what a vineyard on a mountainside in Sicily should look like, it would probably be pretty close to this place. The view was spectacular, and the food and wine was perfection. For lunch we enjoyed a nice selection of antipasti, two pastas (cream and tomato based), grilled meats, a small slice of cake and some fruit for dessert. All of the wines we tried were exceptionally light, from the brut to the white, the rose, and the red. Some of this has to do with the varietals they plant, but a lot of it is also due to the volcanic soil that the grapes grow in. After lunch, we were given a tour of the cellars, and then we got back on the bus for the last time as we made our way back to the pier.

Once back on board the Riviera, we went to a private wine and cheese party with our tour group, had a scotch at The Grand Bar (at least for me; an Amaretto for Courtney), and then made our way to Jacques, which is Jacques Pepin’s namesake restaurant on board. As you might think, the entire menu is French style cuisine, and it was amazing. We both decided to make it a full six course dinner, which we paired with the remainder of our bottle of pinot grigio that we had purchased our first night on board. The food and the service were both outstanding, and I’m a little worried that Oceania may be spoiling us for our eventual return to Royal Caribbean.

Tomorrow we are dropping anchor in Naples, a slight detour from our original destination, due to some rough seas in Sorrento. Our tour is inland, though, so none of our plans are being affected. We will be traveling to the excavated city of Pompeii and exploring all that it has to offer. We are looking forward to our next adventure!

Day 4: Riviera

We’ve been on three cruise lines to this point: Royal Caribbean (many times), Norwegian (once), and now Oceania. We hadn’t even heard of Oceania until Courtney received an email from her alumnae association for this trip. This was much less surprising when we found out that the cruise line had only been in business since 2003.

Oceania is advertised as the “food and wine” cruise, and for good reason. Jacques Pepin, of PBS fame, is the executive director of all culinary activities on the ships for the whole line, and it shows. From the standard buffet lunches to the specialty restaurants on board, everything is absolutely decadent. I went to get a steak at the buffet on the first day, and they cooked it right there in front of me! Not only that, but the ship itself is much more refined than many other ships we have been on. It’s more the little things that we noticed, such as being greeted by name at our dinner this evening depsite never having met the waiter at any other point in our voyage. (He must have looked up our boarding photos based on our reservation.) It’s these tiny attentions to details that have pushed Oceania to the top of our cruise line list (that, and the amazing food and wine).

After waking up today, we went to the Terrace Cafe for breakfast, which is what would be your standard buffet meal on other cruise ships. I chose a traditional American breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns, while Courtney had a more varied start to her day with a sticky bun with pecans, a hard boiled egg, assorted fruit, and a yogurt parfait.

After breakfast, we scoped out some chairs in the shade on the pool deck to read for a while. At 11 we had a free cocktail reception for our tour group where we enjoyed some mimosas, bloody marys, and assorted canapes as we talked with the other Sweet Briar alumnae about the various goings on with the “reboot” of the college.

Once we were done conversing, we grabbed a quick lunch back at the Terrace Cafe and then went to the gym to burn off some calories in preparation for our wine pairing dinner in the evening. One of the great amentities on this cruise line that others didn’t have is that you can get free vitamin water or gatorade in the gym to help replenish some fluids after a hard workout. We took advantage of this after our runs on the treadmills, had an after-workout stretch, and then went back to our room to shower and get ready for team trivia!

In our previous cruises, we have won team trivia twice, and this time we came pretty close, coming in third when we teamed up with the other alumnae from Sweet Briar. We all won one “O Point” for our efforts, which we might be able to redeem for a shirt or hat or something at the end of the cruise, provided that we earn a few more points throughout our voyage.

Once we had secured our prize in team trivia, we went back to the room to get ready for the captain’s reception and our wine pairing dinner. The reception was similar to the receptions we’d been to on other cruises with free drinks and the captain introducing the senior members of the staff, but they also had some free appetizers that were delicious. On the other cruise lines, these are normally reserved for the upper tiers of the cruise line’s loyalty program members.

When the reception was over, we made our way to La Reserve, the top tier dining establishment on the Riviera. It was here that we enjoyed a seven course meal, each paired with a glass of wine that complemented the dish magnificently. We saved the menu just in case we are able to find these wines once we return home. We shared a table with some great fellow cruisers who were fellow wine enthusiasts that we discovered might be sharing some of our vineyard tours later in the week. It turned out that they were here on a tour with a California winery called O’Brien, and they invited us to a wine tasting with their group tomorrow. We are going to show up and either get some free wine or get kicked out. Stay tuned to find out what happens! Will the Silverthorns be forced to walk the plank, or will they get free booze? (Or will they just go back to their room and drink their free bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon?)

Tomorrow is our first stop in Italy at Taormina, Sicily, where we will be visiting Mt. Etna as well as San Michele’s vineyard! We are excited to visit our first winery in Italy and get a taste of some old world vintages. We’ll let you know what happens tomorrow!

Days 1-3: Athens

We’ve been looking forward to this trip to Europe for a very long time, and one of the things we were most worried about was jet lag ruining the start of our vacation. With this in mind, we spent the three days prior to our departure adjusting our sleep schedule. On Friday morning, we got up bright (?) and early at 3AM. Chad picked us up at 7AM and dropped us off at Dulles, where we waited for our 1PM flight to JFK.

We were a little concerned that the weather would cause some sort of major delay, but we only experienced minor delays that didn’t affect our overall schedule. We were on Delta for both the flight to JFK from Dulles as well as the flight from JFK to Athens. We did what we could to sleep on the flight across the Atlantic, only meeting with minor success. However long we actually slept, it must have been enough because we have not been jet lagged at all since we arrived.

We landed on Saturday morning at the Athens airport, which was build for the Olympics back in 2004. Since it’s such a new airport, it’s very easy to get in and out, and we were easily able to find our tour group, get on our bus, and head into downtown Athens where we would spend two nights at the NJV Athens Plaza. This hotel is perfectly situated, just across the street from Parliament and within walking distance of all of the historical sites we wanted to see.

Our room was one of the few that were not ready when we arrived, so we decided to walk down to “Souvlaki Row” for lunch. This is a small little side street that has been taken over by a few restaurants who have filled it with tables for al fresco dining. We randomly picked Thanasis where I enjoyed an amazing pork souvlaki while Courtney had an equally delicious chicken souvlaki. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, showered, and then walked to the National Archaelogical Museum. For seven euros each, we were able to view the most comprehensive collection of ancient Greek artifacts in the world. In addition to sculptures, pottery, and everyday items from the Greek civilization, there were also artifacts from the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations. I have never seen so much gold all in one place.

After a few hours at the museum, we walked over to The Ant and the Cricket for dinner. When we sat down, they gave us our water, some fresh olives, and a free pre-dinner shot of some sort of clear alcohol. At least, we thought it was a pre-dinner shot. After we had toasted and consumed the beverage, we noticed that the glasses at the other tables near us were still full. Had we outed ourselves as ignorant Americans and messed up a Greek tradition? We sighed with relief when a Greek family sat down nearby part way through our meal, and three of the men immediately drank their appertif! Hooray! We weren’t stupid foreigners! 

For an appetizer, we decided on the fried gruyere with bacon, which was just as delicious as it sounds. I had an amazing pork dish with capers (a criminally under-utilized ingredient in America, in my opinion) called Santorini. Courtney had a lamb and eggplant dish topped with bechamel sauce called moussaka that she also really enjoyed. We both had a glass of the house Greek wine (varietal unknown) that perfectly complemented our meals that tasted very much like a sauvignon blanc.
We needed to stay up until at least 9PM to escape the worst of the jet lag, so after dinner, we walked back to the hotel where we had a small food and wine pairing in the hotel lounge. I chose a local cabernet, and Courtney had a sauvingon blanc blended with another local varietal. Both were delicious. Once we finished, we took the very tiny elevator up to our room and immediately crashed.

We woke early the next day and headed down to the mezzanine level for our complementary Greek breakfast. There was an assortment of breads, fruits, and smoked meats as well as yogurt and freshly squeezed juices. The breakfast, like every meal we would have in Athens, was great. After breakfast, we met our tour group to board the bus that would take us to the various sites we would visit before lunch. Our first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built on the site of the original Olympic stadium for the first modern games in 1896. It was restored to look exactly as it did in the 2nd century (miserable stone seating and all). It was an impressive structure, but nothing compared to what we would see throughout the day.

After snapping some photos, we got back on the bus in order to head over to the Acropolis museum. This museum is dedicated to artifacts found in or immediately surrounding the Acropolis, including original stone panels from the Parthenon itself. There is actually an active excavation of an ancient neighborhood going on immediately underneath the museum, and when they’ve finished, tourists will be able to walk through. After getting our fill of ancient sculptures, we left the museum and walked on foot up to the summit of the Acropolis itself. There we saw Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul would have preached; the Odeon of Herodes Atticus; the Theater of Dionysus (see Facebook selfie); the Temple of Athena Nike; the Erechtheion; and, of course, the Parthenon. There was so much crammed into this small area that I wished we had more time there.

After touring the Acropolis, we returned to the hotel on our bus. There was an optional tour in the afternoon that would go to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, but our ticket for the Acropolis also got us into a ton of other locations in Athens, so we decided to strike out on our own and follow the walking tour in the guide book we brought. We started off by walking to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. The arch was my favorite part, as it literally says on one side, “This is Athens, ancient city of Theseus” and on the other side, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.” I envision Hadrian as the Donald Trump of his era, putting his name on everything and letting everyone know how great he was.

From there, we walked through the gorgeous and compact side streets of Athens, through tightly knit neighborhoods speckled with free-roaming cats and dogs, around the back side of the Acropolis, down past the Roman Forum and Trump’s Hadrian’s Library to end up at the Ancient Agora. This enormous area was the main marketplace of Athens. It also has the best preserved temple in the city: the Temple of Hephaistos. This was probably my favorite location, not only because of its very pristine state, but also because you could get very close to it. Another cool building in the area is the Church of the Holy Apostles, an 11th century Christian church.

We finished off the day eating at Antica just outside the Agora where we had tzatziki, fried calamari, and an awesome Greek pizza that was neither thin crust nor thick crust.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was culinary magic. We wandered back to the hotel, relaxed in the room for bit, and then had another food and wine pairing in the lounge before hitting the sack.

This morning we packed our bags for pickup, had breakfast, checked out, and then walked through the National Gardens while we waited for our bus to the port. The gardens were gorgeous, cutting off the sounds of traffic from the outside to the point where you forget that you’re in a sprawling metropolis.  Nestled inside was a small zoo, a botanical museum, a playground, and even some ancient ruins. Building anything new in this city must be a nightmare. I imagine you have to stop every other day when you uncover something ancient that must now be preserved.

After strolling through the gardens, we boarded the bus and made our way to the cruise port.  We have checked in, boarded, and I’m writing this from our awesome stateroom as we await our muster drill. There’s a lot to say about the ship, but as we have a full sea day tomorrow, I will just wait until then. I’m really excited for Italy, Monaco, and France. We’re just getting started!