May 20, 2015

Cruise: The Depressing Epilogue

We are so very grateful for all the adventures we got to have on the Mediterranean cruise, for the places God allowed us to see and explore that we would have had a difficult time getting to otherwise. We thank the Lord for the time we had together as a family to make memories together.

After 12 days of massive activity, we were exhausted and ready to head home. We knew our travel day might be a little stressful, but we were unprepared for what greeted us when we arrived at our house. We knew something was wrong immediately as we heard the "click, click, click" of the house alarm that indicated it had been going off long enough to run the battery down. When our breaker tripped a year and a half previous while we were on vacation, we heard the same noise when we returned and found everything in our fridge and freezer ruined. So we were on the alert immediately.

But this time it was worse than power issues. Muddy footprints, open doors and windows, items thrown all over the floor, and the strong smell of cat urine told the story: we had experienced one of the negative aspects of Napoli life, a break-in and burglary.

It was a surreal feeling. I remember having the thought, "We can't have been robbed--the big TV is still here!" And yet it became clear that other things were, in fact, gone. God's gracious hand prevented it from being so much worse than it actually was. As we pieced together the evidence, we figured out that the break-in had occurred a number of days prior to our arrival (as proved by the utter ruin of everything in our fridge and freezer, the cats having moved in and made themselves at home, the extremely cold house, and the alarm battery having died). Apparently the alarm went off long enough to annoy a neighbor, who yelled at Ted for "allowing" the noise to go on for so long. Gee, thanks, Signor, for your help. :-/

The items taken didn't value more than approximately $3000 total. Unfortunately, a number of them had more sentimental value than monetary value, such as the guitar Ted had had for 20 years, plus his violin from childhood that Charis had been learning to play. While I had some of my most valuable pieces of jewelry with me on the cruise, I lost several necklaces that simply cannot be replaced, such as the made-to-order cross necklace that contained the middle ruby from my grandmother's engagement ring, the ruby Ted had taken out so he could put a diamond in the ring for me to have for our engagement. Charis's jewelry was also taken, as was the Wii (all components except the sensor), some bottles of homemade wine given as a gift from a new Italian friend, Bose speakers, and I'm forgetting what else at the moment. We also lost probably $500 worth of food in the deep freezer and fridge because they flipped the breaker, probably trying to turn off the alarm.

At any rate, we had much to be thankful for, including the fact that we hadn't been at home when the event happened AND the fact that the thieves never returned to clean us out, which they definitely could have done since a number of days passed between the break-in and our arrival. We had a mess to clean up, to be sure, but good friends swooped in immediately to help take care of the food mess and sweep and mop the main floor anyway.

Over the next days we did a LOT of laundry, as we not only had 12 days' worth of dirty laundry from the cruise, but Ted and I also had to launder every item of clothing that had been in our dresser drawers, since the thieves emptied out the drawers and tromped all over everything with their muddy shoes. Additionally, we had to locate the various sources of cat urine and either wash/clean/disinfect or, in some cases, get rid of ruined items (such as a few beanbag chairs that were beyond saving).

It was a rather depressing way to end such a lovely vacation, and certainly not how we would have chosen to spend the remaining days of the holiday season with Ted's mom visiting us. The drama didn't quite end there, as we realized we had left a small toiletries bag at the cruise port in the chaos of making sure we had all our people and suitcases--somehow we all forgot about the little red chest that, unfortunately, contained the rest of my jewelry and some special souvenirs we had accumulated during the trip! The good news is that after a number of phone calls, emails, and severe headaches, we were finally able to pick up the chest in person a month later!! Ted's mom likewise had multiple problems getting home to Denver from Italy, having to spend the night in Rome and then also having to track down her suitcase, which went missing for nearly a month as well!

But we can say without a doubt that God is good all the time, and while we were sad about some of the items with emotional value to us, ultimately we realize that all material things will pass away. This world is NOT our home, and everything we have is a gift from God, who gives and takes away according to His plan. We spent time praying for those who broke into our house, that they would find God alone to be their provider and their salvation and seek to know Him. And we praise the Lord, too, for protecting the hearts of our youngest, who never did experience any fear or distress as a result of what had happened but rather seemed to just accept it and trust that no "bad guys" would return to harm us or take any more items. (Although Lucan did spend a couple of weeks blaming the "bad guys" for taking any of his items that he happened to be missing at the moment, such as his flip-flops or stuffed animals!)

May 17, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 11 (Messina, Sicily)

Adventure-wise, this was a fairly low-key day. But we had some fun at breakfast! After we had placed our orders, we handed out envelopes to the 6 older children, telling them this was their Christmas surprise but they had to figure it out for themselves. Inside each envelope was a slip of paper with a picture on it...

...a spider, octopus,
...a squid, 8-ball on a pool table,
...a magic 8 ball,
...and a hand of crazy eights.

Grandma J's eyes got really wide as she realized what message we were giving, but she didn't say anything out loud. Charis was shortly behind her, and a happy gasp escaped from her as she asked, "Are we having another baby?!" Slowly, one by one, the kids realized what the pictures had in common, and it was delightful to see their reactions and know that they were truly excited to hear that another sibling was on the way. I honestly had been wondering if anyone would figure it out earlier, because my clothes were honestly getting tighter and tighter even the week and a half we were on the cruise! But it seemed that Ted and I had kept the secret pretty well!

After breakfast we were ready to head out. This was another wandering-around day. We thought it would be nice to go inside a church on Christmas Day, so we set our sights on a large domed church at the top of a hill, navigating toward it as best as we could. We reached it and learned that it was a shrine, not a church! But it was a lovely building and situated in a location that gave us fantastic views.

We didn't have long in this port, and so we simply made our way back down to the main square, where we bought a couple of little souvenirs and ducked into the back of a Christmas mass that was finishing up in a beautiful cathedral.

It was a brief stop, but I guess at least we can say we set foot in Sicily during our stint in Italy!

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 10 (Malta)

Christmas Eve, 2014...

This was an incredibly cool port to come into! The walls were reminiscent of Rhodes, but we saw so much more coming in, I guess because of the shape of the port. It was a bright sunny day, and we were eager to explore without an agenda like we did in Rhodes. We did discover once we were off the ship that the weather was deceiving--strong winds were COLD and made us wish we had bundled up more. The cold affected me a lot more than I wanted it to, especially since we got cheap tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus.

Our first stop was the craftsman's village. Though many places were understandably closed for Christmas Eve, we did get to watch some men heating and shaping glass as well as a man who showed us the beautiful and delicate skill of silver filagree work. Amazing! We puttered around the shops a bit before getting on the bus again. Some of us had to ride up top--brrrr! Beautiful views, though! Prickly pear and rolling vineyards...using the bus gave us a feel for how big the island is--we think of it as a tiny little dot on the map, and yet it's quite expansive, definitely large enough for multiple little cities! We went to Mdina, the "silent city," and walked around the walled streets for awhile looking for a reasonable place for lunch. We gave up and opted for ravioli at 9.50 a plate. Oy! As it turned out, the manager must have cut us a family deal, because he only charged us 50 euro total!

After lunch Tobin begged to see the "dungeon museum," which turned out to be way too disturbing for Arden, so I took him and Zaden outside to wait. It was a very tiny version of what I remember of the London Dungeon--figures set up to recreate some of the medieval horrors and plagues. Sometimes reading history is quite enough! We don't need to bring everything to life! Charis said she wished she hadn't gone in and that she hoped Lucan didn't understand everything he saw. Tobin had been so reluctant and mopey about everything else we had done that day that I hoped he would feel good about getting to do something he really wanted to do, but the experience wasn't what he expected. Still, he at least knew better than to complain since he had asked for it!

We went straight back to the port from there, to everyone's relief. We settled little boys in rooms with Grandma and Charis for naps, put the others in Ted's room with a movie, and then Ted and I went back out (me with my coat this time!). We stayed on foot, taking the lift up to the city of Valetta. We saw the shooting battery where they usually fire the cannons at noon and 4:00, which would have been cool to see, but as it was Christmas Eve, all was silent. We wandered around the streets a bit, looking for a few particular things. We wanted a Christmas treat for our dinner servers, so when we found a specialty treat shop, we got ourselves some wonderful gelato and a box of beautiful Christmas cupcakes for our guys. Then we really focused on finding a Maltese cross for our "cross wall," but it was impossible to find one all by itself! On decorative plates or gaudy shields, yes, but no plain, simple cross! We finally got an unpainted square plaque for our cross wall as close as we could come. Then we headed back to prepare for dinner.

Christmas Eve dinner was wonderful, if a bit sad, because of knowing that our crew friends were serving us instead of being with their families. :-( We tried to express our appreciation when we gave them the cupcakes, but it's a poor substitute, I'm sure.

Crazy kids climbing the walls--but we pinned everyone down in one cabin after dinner to do our advent calendar. It wasn't quite the picturesque setting one would hope for, but hopefully it will stick with them.

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 9 (At Sea)

Seanin didn't get the memo about our plans to sleep in! He woke me at 6:30 with a dirty diaper, and I was afraid he'd wake Charis and Zaden, so I whisked him out of the room and went to meet Ted for our usual morning routine. Ted took Seanin, and I went down to check on our room after about a half-hour of finishing my Bible reading and having a light breakfast by myself. Charis and Zaden were just waking. By this point it was around 8:30, and Seanin was ready for a morning nap. Ted took Zaden to join those eating breakfast, and Charis stayed in the room to shower and have her quiet time, so I was able to get a run in. Then Charis and I traded places, so she had breakfast and joined the others who were swimming by that point.

I realized someone needed to attend the disembarkation meeting at 10:30, and the other grown-ups were occupied! So I woke Seanin and ran down to the theater to get the information. We joined the swim crew and discovered a German-style buffet by the pool. Pretzels, sausages, kraut, potato salad--yum!

The afternoon was relaxing: swimming, cards, naps, movies, kids' show, and/or date with hubby, depending! The evening show was a pirate show, so we took everyone except Seanin, who was very ready to sleep by then! The show was pretty good--lots of acrobatics, which we like, and very little dancing, which we didn't (at least, the kind of dancing that seemed prevalent in these shows!).

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 8 (Athens)

Monday, December 22...

We met for an early breakfast at 7:30, the time we pulled into port, thinking the rush would be over by the time our food was downed and we had collected all of our items. But there was a hold-up from the Greek port authorities, so we actually had to wait a few minutes before disembarking--not too long of a wait, so at least we didn't miss any action! We stubbornly decided we could make our way to the metro station on foot and get to the Acropolis from there, so we hoofed it nearly an HOUR to get to the station. Ugh! The kids were troopers, really. We had Zaden in the stroller and Seanin in the backpack. Poor Grandma had some problems with dizziness, but she felt much better after resting on the train and rehydrating.

From the metro stop it was a few minutes' walk to the Acropolis entrance--up the same road I had ridden on my Segway tour a month earlier! We purchased entrance tickets, hit the restrooms, and checked in the stroller--the Acropolis is NOT stroller-friendly!

It was a beautiful sunny day, if windy--the cold breeze, actually, was quite nippy during our long walk earlier, but in the sun at the top of the city it wasn't bad, especially with all the hiking. We read a little from Rick Steves' guide but mostly puttered around at our own pace.

Next was climbing Mars Hill. Seanin was asleep in the backpack by this point. We were definitely ready for lunch, but we were not ready to pay 9 euro for one gyro, so we took the metro to the stop near the National Archaeological Museum and found a reasonable restaurant for lunch. The fries and gyros were wonderful! Then we began walking again, and I found the place where we had eaten lunch during our girls' trip to Athens the month before, the same day our group had visited that same museum, in fact! But more importantly, across from the cafe is a specialty sweets shop where we purchased our baklava treats. :-) We let the kids each choose a goodie from the Christmas specialties on display, and then we cleared out their stash of baklava (850g, not quite a kilo!).

Onward to the museum! The kids were tired by the time we arrived, but we figured that would be the case and tried to make the most of it. As it turned out, many of the rooms were closed off. But we did go through all the ones that were open, which was great for me, too, since I hadn't seen most of those rooms before. Seanin got pretty frantic, having only napped a short time in the backpack earlier, so it got a bit difficult, but at least it was not very crowded inside. Ted was disappointed not to see so much, but at least we did get to see everything possible.

We sucked it up and paid 60 euro for 2 taxis to drive us directly to the port. Seanin was loudly unhappy about 2/3 of the drive, but at least we weren't retracing the many steps from the morning. We had 45-minute naps, just enough for Seanin to be completely unhappy during most of dinner. Sigh. He went straight to bed afterward, with Charis offering to babysit so I could see the show, an Italian music showcase that I actually really enjoyed. We all went to sleep with the happy thought that we would have no agenda the next day, an at-sea day after 5 very full days in a row!

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 7 (Izmir/Ephesus)

Our morning was pretty stressful--the ONE morning we had a set agenda, the sit-down breakfast service was a disaster! We waited forever for a high chair for Seanin, and we never got menus--which was fine, as we had our orders prepared, but we had to keep asking for our orders to be TAKEN! We were half an hour late meeting our tour guide, which meant that we didn't get to see a Turkish carpet-making demo at the end. So disappointing.

BUT! Our tour was amazing! Our tour guide "G" was fantastic...I can't remember her real name, as she told us to call her Rosie, since the G word means "rosebud." She was so good with the kids. Her informative talk made the 1-hour drive to Ephesus just fly by. We rode in a nice, comfortable van, and it was wonderful to have our own private tour guide and driver. Rose told us where the less expensive shops were and where NOT to buy Turkish delight, plus she was very aware of our interests, time constraints, and the needs of the little ones. We shopped a bit first, since the stores at the beginning point were cheaper than at the main gate where we exited. Then, it was on to exploring the ancient city of Ephesus! So, so amazing!! This was definitely one of those dream-come-true adventures for me. I'm trying to fix the details in my mind of our walk from upper to lower Ephesus--the higher points, where the officials and upper classes would meet and have privileges, down the main roads toward the library and the famous theater where Paul caused rioting as the Ephesians chanted about their goddess Artemis for two hours! Though the forecast for Izmir was rainy, Ephesus remained sunny and beautiful. The wind was chilly, but there were points I just had on my t-shirt.

We left for a quick lunch then at a kebab house, which was good--but I think Ted and I would have really appreciated more of a sit-down, traditional spread; however, given the circumstances (pressed for time, tiring kids), it was fine. From lunch we went to the Archaeological Museum of Ephesus, which had just opened 9 days previously after extensive updates and additions. There was saw one of the actual little Artemis statues that the metalworkers were so worked up about in Paul's day--he was threatening their businesses! We flew through the museum, hitting the highlights with our guide, leaving just enough time to see the very underwhelming remains of the Temple of Artemis. Thankfully we were warned to keep our expectations low, ha! One column out of 127 is all that's left standing, with a smattering of pieces left scattered about. I guess that's what happens when someone decides to make himself infamous and burns down the structure! The wood burned first, heating the lead that had been poured into the holes of the column pieces and melting the "rods" that had kept the structure intact.

During our brief time at the temple remains, we heard the haunting call for Muslim prayers. So sad--centuries later, people still worship false gods...

We only had time for a very short nap before dinner; you could tell it had been a full few days in a row, as Seanin was not very happy during dinner and Zaden had a meltdown regarding carrots! We opted to skip the show so we could get a decent rest in preparation for another very full day in Athens, our longest day in any of the ports.

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 6 (Rhodes)

Sigh. I doubt I will ever get caught up on this blog!! Continuing from my journal of our cruise adventures over the 2014 Christmas holiday...but oh, we have had SO many adventures since then that I would like to chronicle!! But...pressing on to finish what I've started...

Ted and I were together for our now-routine morning coffee/quiet time date when we pulled into the port of Rhodes, and we fell in love immediately! The medieval, walled portion of the city sprawled out before us, inviting us to come and explore. The sun was shining, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. Sadly, Tobin wasn't feeling well at breakfast and opted to stay in the cabin and rest and read. It was a shame--I think he really would have enjoyed this stop!

We first went to a museum housed in a 14th-century hospital--the building itself was so beautifully gothic and fun to explore, let alone all the cool things we saw inside! Arden asked to be our photographer, so we turned him loose with the camera for much of the tour. The kids got squirrelly by the end, but we saw everything that was open before walking up the "Street of Knights" to the palace. We decided to feed the kids before tackling that, rather to their chagrin (since we met up with friends who were going into the palace at that moment), but the half-sandwiches did tide us over, and we got a bit of shopping done to boot.

The palace was VERY cool! I loved the iron torch holders and the huge rooms. It didn't take long to see everything there was to see, so we had plenty of time to amble our way down the row of shops and make some purchases before getting back on board. We were able to put Seanin down for a much-needed nap and grab a late lunch, where Tobin joined us for his SECOND lunch looking much perkier. Grandma and Zaden rested in Grandma's cabin while Charis and I took turns with sleeping Seanin and the older kids swam.

Dinner was another formal affair, and quite yummy as usual. We gave a box of baklava to our server, letting Zaden (his favorite!) hand it to him. Edwin and Zaden are definitely special buddies!

Grandma took a turn with our little 2 boys so Ted and I could see the evening show with Arden, Charis, and Kenna. Tobin babysat Lucan, which was just as well--the show was a huge disappointment with only glimmers of appropriate family entertainment. We were more than ready for it to end!

[I'll have to post pics later...I'm using Ted's laptop because my screen is broken!]