Thursday, December 17, 2015

Barcelona: Gaudi, Balconies and Another Pub.

This post is almost a month late, but here it is. Our last stop on our Mediterranean trip was right where we started in Barcelona.

Once again the weather was supreme, sunny and 70 degrees. This last day of trip was already scheduled to see the notable sights and enjoy a midday tapas meal.

Barcelona is a very beautiful city trimmed with luscious gardens and accessible beaches, which seem to be almost a year round spot to visit because of the temperate climate in the southern Mediterranean.

One of the most spectacular sights is the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, one Spain’s most famous architects and designers. Although Gaudi died in 1926, with just one-third of his inspiration for the cathedral completed, the work continues today to complete Gaudi’s original vision for the Cathedral to have three facades to depict the Nativity, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Nativity façade, the original Gaudi interpretation,
faces east and is the most ornate.

The Passion façade faces west is rigid and simple with its modern lines.
The Glory Façade, still under construction.

Sagrada Familia 1925
The Glory façade, depicting resurrection, faces south. It is to represent the road to God, but it’s still under construction and scheduled for completion within the next five years. When the basilica is finally complete, several apartment buildings will be demolished to make room for the tourist traffic.

The basilica is too much to cover in one day, but worth the trip around the block that it takes up, just to see the transition of styles over the last century.

After Sagrada Familia, we toured the Gothic district, Picasso’s teenage stomping grounds and continued driving around looking at the various styles of balconies. The older buildings most of which are at least 3 to 4 stories high, have balconies that are staggered in size with the largest on the lower level and decreasing on the each floor above. In the days before air conditioning, the lower levels were occupied by the more ‘well-to-do’ upper class, while the further up your apartment went, the cheaper the rent along with the least amount of cool air flow. Those that had bigger windows and balconies had the good fortune of more open living space and fresh air.

We ended or afternoon with a fine tapas mid-day meal and a nap. That night the Eagles were playing the Miami Dolphins and a few of us NEEDED to find some place that would be televising the game. As Fate would have it they found The Philharmonic, an English Pub that televised American football in Barcelona, Spain. Sadly, the Birds lost, but it was yet another Pub to add to the list of the other non-Mediterranean pubs we visited while on our Mediterranean vacation.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cannes to Majorca, Lazy Days

The last time I stopped at Cannes while on another cruise, I found it pretty much the same as I also found it this time, really pretty to look at and nothing to do unless it was after three in the afternoon.

We took our time getting off the ship, and that proved to be a mistake for any site seeing because the new docking leaves the cruise ship further from the sites of Monte Carlo, at least an hour drive.
Monte Carlo offers the site of the St. Paul’s, the Cathedral where Princess Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, also their burial site and a pretty cool changing of the Guard at the Prince’s palace, everyday just before noon. There is also the Casino of Monte Carlo, a scene set in James Bond movies, but also doesn’t open before noon, and only for slots, no table games until 3 p.m. Next time, we plan better.

We strolled around the yachts that we knew we could never afford and eventually stopped at anther Irish pub,
Quay’s, where we signed a few dollar bills and pinned them to the wall, along with all the other tourists, had a few pours of Middleton from our Irish bartender Jason and ventured back to our ship, lounged the afternoon with lunch at O’Sheehan’s, the pub type restaurant on the cruise ship and napped for rest of the afternoon as we prepared for our next stop Palma Majorca.


We did not leave the ship in Majorca. From the view on my balcony, it was beautiful scenery, but didn’t look to be the type of terrain for strolling around, and we didn’t think there would be any Irish pubs. Some of our group briefly checked out the port and found that it was more a stopover for the crew to do some personal shopping.

We lunched at O’Sheehan’s and napped some more before heading to Barcelona.

Next: Barcelona and the Balcony Class structure, and an English Pub.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Leaning Tower of Pisa still Leans and on to Florence

From Rome to Florence,  the following day was no less entertaining. 
This was my second visit to Florence and I still have so much more to go back and see.
The cultural sites are so rich in history and it is awe inspiring when one looks at the marvelous architecture that still stands over the centuries. 

From Livorno to Pisa, we stopped to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa to do the requisite faux photo of trying to hold the tower up… it’s still leaning. Although years of engineering brainstorming and rehabilitation have stopped the tower from leaning and it's actually gaining a few centimeters of straightness, it still leans. It wouldn't be the “leaning” tower if it actually got straightened!

After Pisa we stopped for lunch of antipasti and light appetizers and washed it down with a couple bottles of brisk Toscana blends.

Onward to Florence. 
The piazza squares in Florence are populated with wonderful tchotchke venders selling anything from tiny little Pinocchio puppets to 'fine' leather goods. 
Along the marketplace in the square I found this…. He has a ‘twin’ that used to reside in the center elevator lobby of the old original Strawbridge and Clothier flagship store on the corner of 8th and Market streets in Philadelphia.  His nose is shiny because you are supposed to rub it for good luck. Il Porcelino, the little boar.
On the Ponte Vecchio there is an entire strip of Jewelry shops offering some of the finest Italian gold. I almost made a purchase for myself, but resisted because I totally have to go back and visit so much more of what Florence has to offer.
What happened to Tayler and her injured ankle from the Sistine Chapel? She hobbled her way in and out of the stores, made a designer purchase or two and managed to not get injured while spending and shopping. 
The travel to Florence through the Tuscan Valley is at least an hour, so it’s difficult to so much in a short day. So I must return again. Still to see is the Uffizi Museum, the Bargello, and maybe the Academei, where the original David sculpture by Michelangelo resides. However, there are replica Davids everywhere in Florence and they ALL look the same.

We ended the day with a pint of Guinness at an Irish pub and went on our way back to Livourno. We found several Irish pubs along the way and just as in Ireland, they only serve beverages, no food. Pubs are for drinking and conversation, nothing wrong with that!
Tuscany Sunset

Next stop; Cannes and another Irish pub.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Life we Claim we Didn't Sign Up For: Naples to Rome to Gaze at the Sistine Chapel, Just Like Michelangelo

The Life we Claim we Didn't Sign Up For: Naples to Rome to Gaze at the Sistine Chapel, Just Like Michelangelo

Naples to Rome to Gaze at the Sistine Chapel, Just Like Michelangelo

From Naples our journey continues as we travelled to Rome. Once again, our drivers from Best limos in Rome came through, assuring we got the most out of our travel time. 

Our first stop was the Vatican piazza, which turned out to be the best stop of the day. 
We unknowingly had come the Vatican while Pope Francis was holding one of his weekly public audiences. We were all emotionally charged at such a once in a lifetime event. We found ourselves closer to the Pope here in Italy than we could when he was in our own home city! 
Granddaughter Tayler announced that she would probably have her wedding at the Vatican and that she was confident that her PopPop would make it happen, when the time came for said wedding. I told you she was entertaining.

Following that awesome experience we moved on to the Coliseum, lunched on antipasto, pasta, wine and finished our meal with some home-made limoncello.

On to the Vatican Museum to gawk at the beautiful but gratuitous wealth on display in the galleries on the way to the Sistine Chapel.

If you’ve ever been to the Sistine Chapel you might understand that although it is indeed spectacular, in the middle of the day it is not much short of a cattle herd of people and not every culture is brought up to understand the meaning of (invading)body space and common courtesy.  

The journey to visit to the Sistine Chapel is riddled with numerous contiguous galleries and up and down stairs, to which Grandaughter Tayler fell victim to all three of the previous noted gripes. As I ventured through the herd of visitors I was called back with a vocal alarm, “Mike and Joanne Costantino… Tayler fell and is hurt.” We turned around to find Tayler lay with a badly twisted ankle, trying valiantly not to cry. 
As it happens she was shoved by someone like the previously mentioned human beings that lack body conscious road courtesty, and she stepped over Tayler and meshed in with the human herd, without hesitating out of concern or apology. Yeah, she was a rude bitch and her companion was not much better.

Although photography is forbidden in the chapel, I previously found an opportunity to aim and shoot with my cell phone. While waiting for the wheelchair, I asked Tayler if she wanted me to try to capture a shot of the ceiling with her phone.  She replied, “I’ve already seen the ceiling, just like Michelangelo, ON MY BACK!” More entertainment.

The guards in the Chapel attended to Tayler immediately. We decided to wait for a wheelchair and wheeled her out to our waiting drivers. However, because we got separated from the rest of our group, they got turned around and found that they had to walk around the rotunda to get back to our rendezvous point. That sucked. 

Our adventures continued with the insane driving that only Roman natives seem to be able to manage in a calm non-chalant manner. After a horse and carriage almost sandwiched us, a puny frog green Fiat, side swiped our vehicle, but everyone continues without pause or concern and we navigated our way to our cruise ship, with a limping Tayler, icing her ankle and praying for a healing in time for the ext day's foray into Florence, where she intends to shop, even if she has to buy a set of crutches from the ship doctor.

The Life we Claim we Didn't Sign Up For: Journey: Barcelona to Naples

The Life we Claim we Didn't Sign Up For: Journey: Barcelona to Naples

Friday, November 13, 2015

Journey: Barcelona to Naples

Travelling is always about the Journey, and can be so much more than the destinations. That’s always been my mantra, “it’s all about the journey.”

We formed a group of friends and family for a cruise on the western Mediterranean.

For this trip we have a group just one shy of a dozen folks, with my granddaughter Tayler being the ‘youngster’ at the tender age of 19. For the most part of this trip Tayler has been equally entertaining and entertained.

We started in Barcelona, where we spent a day trying to adjust our body clocks by wandering down and around La Rambles and munching marvelous tapas at Guell Tapas Restaurant, which we found down a narrow street, not far from a most conspicuous porn establishment, that also proved to be a valuable landmark for other members of our group looking to catch up with us.

After Barcelona our next stop is in Naples. Good Karma was with us as we soon found our hired driver from Best Limos in Rome was the very same one we travelled with 5 years ago, Ivo Franco. I highly recommend Best Limos in Rome, they took excellent care of our group.

On this day our group was split up between those wanting a trip to the ruins at Pompei, while the rest of us went the other direction to the beautiful city of Naples, to see the St. Gennaro Cathedral , the San Carlo Opera House, and Via San Gregorio Armena, the Nativity street where you can finds hundreds of artisans and their workshops building nativity scenes of all sizes and all the trimmings to go along with it.

In Naples you will have the best pizza ever. And we did while at the Nativity street section.

While visiting the church of San Giuseppe Moscati, I stumbled upon a brass doppelganger of one of our sled hockey friends, Dennis Senk.

 Pretty weird....

The Teatro di San Carlo was a beautiful opera house and the last stop to tour of Napoli day before a delicious late lunch on the harbor.

Next stop, Rome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Non-Pink Twelve Year Journey with Breast Cancer

I wrote a similar post two years ago about my Breast Cancer journey. Most of this is a re-hash about my very personal feelings about breast cancer and the treatment, not awareness.

I’m not sure why October has been designated for so-called “Breast Cancer Awareness”, probably for fundraising and the very publicized Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk, but my most memorable moments in October are the trees turning to autumn colors, my husband’s birthday, and Halloween, not Breast Cancer.  Soon enough there is ensuing rush of things to do and places to go, leading up to and including Thanksgiving and Christmas. The daylight hours may be short, but the ‘to do’ list of the last two months of the year are full and hectic. It is also the time of year I have to get the dreaded mammogram and follow-up with an oncologist and surgeon.

It has been eleven years since I finished breast cancer treatment.  My breast cancer journey has been relatively easy when compared to what others endure or don’t survive. Some cancer patients call themselves survivors.  I don’t.  I see myself as someone who has thrived regardless of the bump in the road that was Breast Cancer.

It was a big friggin’ bump, but a bump, not an earth shattering devastating event that derailed life as I knew it.

Wait, yes, it did derail it to a degree, but I got back on track. I did what had to be done and moved on with my very busy and noisy life.

After several lumpectomies over the course of two years, the diagnosis came from my surgeon that ‘we’ found some breast cancer. I like that he uses the first person plural when discussing my condition, it’s a bond in a weird way, that he’s in this with me. From the time of that phone call through the next surgery and other events that were mostly complications from treatment, my surgeon always discusses things with me as if we’re partners planning on the next move. It’s comfort and support that makes that hard decisions not so hard and gives me confidence that I’m doing o.k.  It’s been a good twelve plus years that is almost like a good marriage.

I’ve had a few different oncologists over the years, the last one doesn’t piss me off like some of the others. She seems to appreciate and genuinely sympathize with my concerns. Most importantly, she honors and respects the treatment decisions I make for myself. That’s not to say the previous doctors were not good physicians, they were better than ‘good’, some of the best in their field of expertise. I am blessed to have been treated by very capable and top-notch doctors and while medicine is certainly not a popularity contest, I want to like the person that is going to grope what’s left of my boobs, while I sit on an exam table, stripped to the waist with a tiny paper jacket hanging open in the front. 

When the reality set in that my doctor visits were going to become a much more regular gig than an annual check-up, I insisted on a sheet to drape around me instead of the ill-fitting paper jacket that was designed to fit nobody I know. When I asked for the sheet instead of that stupid paper jacket, the nurse looked at me, smiled and simply got me a sheet. I have never had to suffer the indignity of that stupid paper jacket again. If a sheet is not already provided at each of my appointments, I ask for one.

With the start of radiation, I felt relatively good. I thought this was going to be a breeze.  By the middle of the fourth week, I wasn’t feeling like it was such a breeze. Monday through Friday, every morning at 7:15 I checked in at the reception desk, was handed my beeper to notify me that it was my turn in the “oven” (patient humor, but the techs did not find this reference humorous). I would go to a changing booth, strip to my waist and wrap myself in a sheet, march into the radiation room, with a large heavy door, similar to that of a bank vault, appropriately labeled with tri-foil radiation logo, lie down on a table with a form created from a body mold of my shoulder to keep me in the same position. Once under the accelerator, a light would switch on, the tech lined up the blue-black dots tattooed from the center of my chest to the middle of my side under my armpit, it looked like a grid pattern. It was called ‘the field’.  The actual shot of radiation inflicts no pain or discomfort and lasts for minutes. The set-up takes more time than the actual therapy. On most mornings I was back home within the hour.

  Weekly blood work indicated my T-cells were dropping, it was the tail end of winter and everyone around me seemed be fighting a cold. The fatigue set in like a wall fell on me. My skin was burned and blistered.  I wore snug men’s undershirts to reduce the friction of anything I wore against the raw skin. Toward the end of the seven week treatment it was time for the ‘boost’, a more concentrated blast of radiation. My skin was badly burned and I was asked if I wanted to take a few days off and pick up again the following week. I declined, it was the final week and I just wanted to be ‘done’.

After I finished radiation therapy, my skin healed really well, but a few months later developed a blood infection in the treated breast that almost become sepsis. Once the infection healed the scar from the surgery had now become a crater because of the damage from the infection.

A year later, the oncologist asked me if my uneven breasts bothered me. I laughed at first. She stood back, folded her arms across her own chest and simply nodded right and left surveying my chest. “Really, does the uneveness bother you?” she said. My response was, “of course it does, but what can I do about it?” She recommended a plastic surgeon. When I mentioned that I thought I wouldn’t be a candidate for reconstruction, because of my womanly size, she responded, “ this is not a size 8 world.” I like that thinking.

My visit to the plastic surgeon was a pleasure. I felt like a million bucks with every appointment. He also doesn’t believe this is a size 8 world. While he detailed for me what the results of the surgery would be, the treated breast had substantial damage and he was limited as to how much he could improve the look of it, filling the crater was about the most I could hope for as an end result. When all was said and done, on my last appointment with him I expressed that I was pleased with the view as I looked down. He said that was 90% of his job.

Along this journey the best medicine was something not procured by prescription or a surgical procedure. Nestling under a blanket with my husband while I whined about how badly I felt, and his quiet but constant presence was more healing than anything else.  Sometimes we’d lay side by side and just hold hands in silence. And those were truly energizing moments, lending strength to each other to get on with our life.

Every year I keep my appointment to get the ‘girls’ checked out, squished, groped and visually assessed by the medical professionals I call the booby team. From the Radiology tech to the surgeon to the oncologist, it will be a long day but I’m grateful I can get all the appointments in one day, and get it over with. When it’s all said and done I have my own little celebration. This year it might be a Sunday dinner with the family. We’re overdue for a Sunday dinner.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Few Will Totally Understand, A Poem, Girls Will Be Girls, Always, Staunch Hearts Forever True

Back in 1972 as we exited LF's doors
Little did we know what life had in store
The universe is sly and fickle
And Life can be sweet as much as a sour pickle

 But time and technology brought us all back together
We all had our share of rotten stormy weather
Like the ebb and flow of the ocean
We’ve returned to our teenage connection

Benchmark birthdays brought on a thought
To gather together and Bern’s plans were brought
It would be a long weekend, so we wouldn’t be rushed
What happens at girls’ weekend is always hush hush

Until we hang our bras by the fire
And post it to the internet wire

We’re wiser, for the most part
And wider,  like Rubenesque art
We're also funny and smart
That why we like to hang our bras from the hearth

Just look at these beauties
They’re clean, there’s no cooties
Our taste is displayed by smart choices in colors
Little Flower sure taught us how to be fashion scholars

Comments soon came accusing of being in “our cups”
But the truth is that we hung up our cups
Be they C cups or D cups and maybe an E
We hung up those cups to be hanging free

The ta-ta’s needed air and we likely obliged
And then all of a sudden some bloomers arrived

No person was tagged
To claim who was the hag
To wear those big girl panties
Worn only by old aunties.

I envy missing out of this year’s warm camaraderie

We are bound together with no snooty snobbery
The time has come to end this rhyme
I’ll not book a wedding for next year’s good time!