Category Archives: Travels Around the World

Why I Loved our Cruise on the MSC Sinfonia

Believe it or not, cruising is not only exotic and amazing,  it’s sometimes one of the most economical ways to travel.  I became enamored with cruising about 20 years ago when I found a 10-day cruise of the French Polynesian Islands for $400 per person ($40 per day). Considering a cruise provides room, board, and transportation,  if you patiently watch for sales,  it can often compete favorably with other types of vacations.  For instance, once (just to prove my point), I spent less per day  on a Caribbean cruise than Alan spent planning a week vacation in Florida.  Recently, a friend seemed embarrassed to admit  that he was taking his wife on a cruise for their 25th anniversary,  I’m guessing because he assumed I’d think that was too extravagant.  But, the fact is, it you’re willing to get a sell-out deal for an inside cabin,  it’s very likely going to cost you less than flying wherever, renting a car,  staying in motels, and eating in restaurants.  Just sayin’…  With that intro, I want to tell you about the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Sinfonia, which was our “home base” recently.  We were looking for a convenient way to spend a week with our kids
who live in Italy.  Their home is pretty much a 400-year-old palace,  but Alan has asthma, so he feared that the inevitable molds
(they have their own cave and their home is carved out of a mountainside)
added to pet dog and cat dander would be a recipe for hospitalization,
so we opted for sea breezes instead.  The MSC Sinfonia was the perfect ship!  It  has a great splash pad and swimming pools for kids,  a dedicated Lego Room  that could keep our kids occupied indefinitely,  a miniature golf course, shuffle board,  foosball, ping pong tables, a basketball court, and lots of fun activities.  I found a special where two adults could take two kids free,  so the four of us could take Mike and Grace’s four kids free!  Our grand daughters were truly ideal bunk mates  (not so sure about the two little boys,
who might have kept their parents up at times…).  Our waiters were incredibly good-natured and kept the fresh rolls, french fries and pasta bianca coming so the kids never got too hungry waiting for dinner.  Thankfully, the children are very industrious  and would spend a lot of time drawing and coloring  so the adults could enjoy  all the courses  of the (usually) 2-hour formal dinners each evening.  The ports were also gorgeous,  the weather perfect,  and the Adriatic Sea like glass.  In all, it was a pretty much ideal experience… or at least as smooth sailing as possible… with little ones.  So, if you’re looking for an easy way to maximize your bonding time  while minimizing your work time,  don’t totally discount cruising.  (One point of warning: We always watched the kids like hawks to make sure they didn’t fall off the ship from the 15th floor.) The railings are not kid safe! May I share a quick spiritual thought?  Sometimes we’re afraid to consider something because we think
it might be too spiritually expensive.  I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want to become a Christian
because it would be “too hard” or cost them too much. Really?  I believe that in reality, becoming a Christian is the most spiritually cost-effective way to attain the goal most people are after: Happiness, love, joy, and peace. Because we’re just human, nothing works flawlessly on this earth, but salvation through faith in Christ is the best “ship” to travel on
as far as I can tell, hands down!  If you haven’t looked into it yet, please do!

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:3-5).

(All photos, except the one of Tahiti, were taken a few weeks ago on our cruise of the Adriatic Sea via the MSC Sinfonia.)

The Eagle’s Nest of Santorini and the Holy Chapel of Nektarios

Oia, on the Greek Isle of Santorini, is both an area and a village.  The village is known as “the eagle’s nest” because it sits 490 feet atop  the volcanic caldera formed by the Santorini Volcano “Thera”
(which erupted 3,600 years ago) and caused such a tsunami  that some believe it is the source of the mythology surrounding the legends of Atlantis.  Oia is also the oldest settlement in Santorini and one of two harbors.   Today, there are over 70 churches in the Oia area,  and I want to tell you about our visit to one of them:The Holy Chapel of St. Nektarios.  This lovely chapel is part of the Roman Catholic “Prophet Elias Monastery,”  which was built in 1712 and dedicated to the Prophet Elijah.  The monastery was built at the top of Mount Prophet Elias
(the highest point on the island of Santorini, nearly 1900 feet), and it originally served as a fortress to protect the villages below. For the first 200 years, the monastery also served as an important source
of commerce and education,  although it eventually lost most of its commercial and political influence.  Today, the monks engage in meditation and in making
prints, candles, shoes, and wine.  The Holy Chapel of Nektarios also hosts collections
of rare, hand-written books and Byzantine icons.  Our guide took us there in time for a picnic lunch of roasted corn  in their lovely courtyard, which overlooks the entire island.  It was peaceful and calm, and the monks were gracious hosts.  It reminded me of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Michigan’s U.P., where we’ve often stopped at their Jam Pot Bakery for refreshments
(like muffins and thimble berry jam…
although in Santorini we snacked on sesame-covered peanuts and fruit drinks). Also, “our” monastery in Michigan is built on the shores of Lake Superior,  not on a mountain top in Greece surrounded by the Aegean Sea!  I did not hear the gospel while we were visiting, but standing on the top of the mountain in this inspiring setting, I remembered these words from the scripture:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7).

May all who know the good news proclaim it  from the mountaintops and valleys of our lives, whether we’re at home or abroad!

(All the photos were taken during our visit to Santorini while cruising a couple of weeks ago. What a gorgeous island! It has been used as the setting for numerous movies and listed among the world’s top islands by various sources, including BBC, U.S. News, and Travel + Leisure Magazine. In 2015,  Condé Nast Traveler listed it as #12 out of the top 20 islands in the world. Definitely worth a visit!)

 

Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι): Santorini’s Balcony of the Aegean

There are two communities in Santorini that are especially beautiful.  Today I want to share photos from Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι),which is also known as the Balcony to the Aegean, because the town sits high up on the cliffs  with perfect viewing of the sapphire waters and glowing sunsets of the Aegean. (We were back on the ship by evening, but even there the sunsets were lovely.) Imerovigli is also recognized world around because of the Church of Ai-Stratis, which has been loved, photographed, painted, (and even memorialized in a nursery mural) by various family members and friends!  Imerovigli only has 470 permanent inhabitants,  but their narrow streets are crammed with many thousands of visitors yearly!  Homes are built around the caldera amphitheatrically in the “Cycladic” style, typified by glistening white homes and blue-domed churches.  In the late 1800’s, wealthy ship captains built neo-classical mansions  into the sides of the cliffs,  and you can still see the succession of homes built above each other. The houses are painted with white lime wash so that the rainwater  which falls over them and runs down can be collected and used in their homes. Of course, they also paint their homes colorfully for aesthetic purposes.  I was amazed by how clean, new, and beautiful everything looked! Our guide explained that in 1956 there was a terrible earthquake  that just about destroyed everything on the island. Rebuilding has been a huge job, but what a beautiful community they have now! I would say they met their mountainous challenges and conquered them!While meandering through the byways of Imerovigli,  we noticed an irresistibly appealing book shop. The shop had words of wisdom written without and within. And, some words were even written on the bookshop:
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”  Have you met any new mountains lately?And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).

Visiting Magnificent Santorini

The Greek Isles deserve their reputation for mythical beauty,  and of all the Greek Isles, I think Santorini is the most famous and splendid.  What I didn’t realize is it that Santorini is actually a group of  islands. It is a volcanic caldera
formed by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions some 3,600 years ago.  The steep cliffs are nearly 1000 feet high  and the lagoon over 1,300 feet deep! The day we visited, it was a cloudless 80° with a soft wind blowing—a perfect (but typical) summer day!  Temperatures range from about 49-82°F year round,  and there’s nearly always a breeze blowing.  In fact, winds from 35-61 mph are not uncommon, so all their grape vineyards sprawl flat on the ground to keep from being destroyed by the winds! Our ship, the MSC Sinfonia, anchored in the lagoon,  and everyone had to “tender” (take a ferry from the ship) to Skala Port. There is a donkey trail  between Skala Port and Fira, the town built atop the cliff there,  but to save time, energy, and Alan’s allergic nose,  we zipped up on one of their efficient cable cars, which gave us breathtaking views of the area for miles around! Although it would have been pleasant to spend the day exploring Fira,  the most famous areas are Imerovigli and Oia, considerable drives from Fira, so we hired a very good-natured taxi driver
who was willing to stuff all eight of us into his van.  Per hour, this was by far the easiest and most cost-effective way  to tour a large group (especially with small children),  and our knowledgeable driver gave us phenomenal driving  and walking tours  of some of the island’s most picturesque places.

Well, I’ll have to share the rest of our adventures in Santorini tomorrow, because my time is up! At noon on Thursdays (EST), I join a prayer meeting at the Aqueduct Prayer Center. If you ever want to join us, here’s the link:

https://aqueductproject.org/prayer-center/

(then click where it says to click for the “live video conference call”). Anywhere in the world there’s internet, there’s potential for a prayer meeting together! Let me know if you want to join!

Meanwhile, I just finished praying with Catherine through Psalm 92, and I want to share two verses of that beautiful psalm with you as today’s benediction: “For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O LORD, how great are thy works!  and thy thoughts are very deep” (Psalm 92:4-5). Remembering the beauty of Santorini makes me very glad, and I know His thoughts are deeper than the deepest harbor!

A Blissful Day in Dubrovnik

Until my son Joel had a housemate from Dubrovnik a few years ago,  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never even heard of it.  It is an amazingly beautiful seaport along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia,  and as it turned out, this was both Alan and my favorite day of the cruise,  which is why I’m telling you about it first instead of last!  Although it only has a population of about 43,000,  Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site  and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mediterranean Sea. After visiting…I totally agree with the world of tourists! 🙂 It took us about a half an hour on a bus to get from the ship  to the center of the Old City,  and it was such a gloriously balmy day  that by then it was time for our daily gelato break.  (Italian gelatos make American ice cream look a little lack luster.)  Thus fortified, the kiddos were brave adventurers…with one caveat.

As an FYI if you travel there: Stop at the ATM before leaving the town square for some Croatian kuna (about 7 to 1 on the American dollar). Our toilet attendant would not accept Euros and expected payment per person to use the W.C. (water closet), so be advised! A kindly Englishman took pity on our crew, bless him!

So, happily reconstituted, we were all ready for a big day of exploring. Just a few blocks up the road from the fortress is a gorgeous maze of old streets, and beautiful buildings. The streets are lined with shops, musicians, and street vendors selling their wares. Old City Dubrovnik is clean and beautiful… even the pavement shone like glass!  Like all world-class cities,  the streets were also lined with beautiful flowers and appealing outdoor cafes. In the heat of the day, we decided it was time to find the beach. Banje Beach is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches I’ve ever seen. The water was cool, clear, and just perfect for swimming! It was so warm that we all got to swim for as long as we wanted to, and after swimming, we could search for beautiful bits of sea glass on the shore. They had lovely, free changing rooms (and bathrooms!), and all in all, I think it was a 5-star experience for all of us! My mother traveled all over the world, but my mother-in-law used to say,
“If I want to know what some country is like, I’d rather look at a picture book!”

To each his own! If you ever get a chance to go to Dubrovnik, I hope you take it, but whether or not you enjoy adventuring, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our adventure. I hope you’ve also learned a little bit more about this unique and lovely city in the incredibly wonderful world that God has given us! the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isaiah 41:20).

Enjoying our Italian Relations

With Michael (our second-born) and his wife living in Italy,  there’s been cause for super fun travel this summer!  First, Carleen (who is the wife of Aaron, our first-born)  went to visit with their kids for awhile.  These are two very brave women,  touring around with 8 children,  making home made pasta together,  and generally having a marvelous time catching up with each other!  Then, Aaron came to join the party.  The two families had lots of adventures together  as well as some double family touring. In Rome they were able to visit many historic sites,  including the Vatican and various museums,  and—of course—they feasted on some of Italy’s fabulous cuisine!  🙂 The day Aaron’s family left,  Alan and I went on a cruise with Michael’s family.  So, for the next couple of weeks you may be seeing lots of photographs  from Italy, Greece, Croatia, and the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea… as well as hearing tales of travels with four little ones in tow!We had a truly delectable time,  and I hope you enjoy sharing in our adventures  as much as I’ll enjoy recounting them!  “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart:
for consider how great things he hath done for you
” (1 Samuel 12:24).

(All photos used compliments of my wonderful sons and daughters-in-law…and mostly the gals, I think! Blessings! You kids are super!!)

An Unexpected Blessing at a Mackinac Island Church

No matter where in the world we go,
Alan and I like to fellowship in some church on Sunday morning if possible.  (If not, like we’re sitting in an airport or have no clue where there’s a church where they speak English, we watch our own church’s service online.)  In most American communities, there are usually at least two churches:
the local catholic church  and the local protestant church.

We are evangelical Christians (believing that people are saved by faith in Christ rather than by having enough “good works” to outbalance our “bad works” when we come to the judgment seat of God),  and so we always look for a churchwhere we hope this “gospel” (good news) will be preached.  (However, we did go to Notre Dame the last time we were in Paris, despite not knowing French or having much of a grip on the liturgy…at least we knew where it was!)   At any rate, I always think it’s good for my soul to learn about how other congregations worship the Lord,  and I also hope to be a blessing and encouragement to others as we share our faith together in corporate worship.              On Mackinac Island, there are several beautiful, old churches.  We were at a wedding held at St. Ann’s some years ago, which still makes me glow to remember.  The last few times we’ve been on Mackinac Island, we’ve gone to the Mackinac Bible Church, which meets in the theater of Mission Point Resort. We arrived a bit early and just happened to sit next to a sweet-looking couple. Moments into our chatting with them, we discovered that Nancy (the wife) and I both graduated from Bob Jones University and that her husband (a Harvard graduate) is now working in finance at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where our son Jonathan and his family will soon be moving. This couple was so kind! Before (the very lively) service began, we exchanged emails, and they offered their home to Jon as a base for looking for housing, etc. etc. etc. Their gracious hospitality was totally overwhelming, and just knowing that there is a mature Christian couple in Chicago as a reference for them is so comforting (because—as a huge city with a bad reputation for crime—trying to find housing in Chicago will be a bit intimidating)!  Thank you, Lord, for this very special blessing! Only You could orchestrate such an unlikely meeting, but that’s the sort of amazing God You are!(The majority of photos were taken on Mackinac Island, but I did intersperse some of cathedrals and basilicas from Europe, where we were visiting last week. I hope to start writing about that trip next week! This last amazing photo is more of Bob Hardee’s creative genius at work. God bless you!)