The beginning ....

The beginning ....
our engagement night!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stromboli, Olympia and Cyprus

It seems like weeks since we left Rome. We’ve had two full sea days aboard the ship and there appears to be a role reversal that has happened upon boarding. Megan and I have been doing traditional activities that are associated with elder couples, whereas her parents and their friends are acting like young bucks. To give you an idea of the true magnitude of this swapping of characters, Megan and I spent the other day playing bingo, learning to Cha-Cha and capped it off by watching Casablanca……while the “old folks” laid in the sun drinking margarita’s, walked laps and danced the night away! The only time we were able to keep pace with them was on karaoke night. Megan and I actually won an award for our rendition of Billy Joel’s, “It’s Still Rock –N-Roll to Me!”

We have gotten to see some amazing sights in these past few days at sea. We passed Stromboli, a small active volcano island of only a few hundred inhabitants. Smoke billowed from the top while the town went about its merry way, hopeful that there wouldn’t be another eruption like the one in 74 that made 90% of the population leave for good. The captain slowed down and circled the island so we could see its natural beauty. From there we sailed on, eventually passing through the Straights of Messina, which separates Sicily from the rest of Italy. While we passed through this mile long channel, we were treated to the beautiful scenic homes and beaches; all while being entertained with a talk on the rich and sordid history of this island.

The next day, we finally did our first shore excursion. We landed at Katakolon, Greece. We hopped aboard a bus and headed for Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games and one of the original Seven Wonders of the World; the Temple of Zeus. Although only one full pillar remains of his temple, our guide did a wonderful job in painting a vivid picture of what it would have looked like. The history and tradition all throughout this place was overwhelming. We learned all about the true meaning of the Olympics, to bring peace and honor, and to unite the people. We also learned that all the athletes were naked……glad we’ve changed that tradition! Each year the Olympic torch is lit at this site amid a big ceremony, and carried on to wherever the games are to be held…..even though the torch wasn’t a part of the original games at all.

Next we headed to the oldest winery in Greece, the Mercouri Vineyards. This land wasn’t simply full of succulent grapes and fine wine, it also was a home to numerous animals (including peacocks) and a family that had over a century and a half of tradition of cultivating this land. The vines were imported long ago from Italy, so it’s no wonder that the wine was so good. Megan was put on the spot by our tour guide to identify an ambiguous mural of Hercules fighting a Centaur that was on the bottle of white wine. It was very difficult to distinguish who was the hero and whom the villain. She noticed that one had what appeared to be an anatomical anomaly, but was nervous to point it out, in fear that she was wrong and would be embarrassed. When pressed, she took a chance and was correct, but then had to identify why she chose the figure on the right as Hercules and not the Centaur. In an uneasy voice she stated, “Because that one has a man part!” The crowd erupted in laughter…..and she was indeed correct. Remember, the Greeks did a lot of activities in the nude!

Next we landed in Larnaca, Cyprus. We did three excursions and also passed by the church of Lazarus. Evidentially, after being brought back from the dead by Christ, he carried on the message of Christianity in Greece for over 30 years. Our first two stops were interesting (we visited an old church and then an archeological site) but both paled in comparison to the town of Lefkara. Lefkara is a quaint town situated on top of the hill roughly 30 kilometers inland. At one time, every home in the entire town was required to be painted blue. You can still see the antiquity and charm that oozes from this little gem. Although they are famous for their silver and lace, we loved the ancient architecture and a church at the edge of the village that was built by selling part of the cross that Christ was crucified on. They kept a small piece and locked it behind a fortress of stone. However, you can enter a beautiful door and kneel before a cross, knowing that a piece of the one that Jesus shed his blood on is a mere few feet away. It was surreal, powerful and humbling all at once.

We are back on the ship, heading to Egypt…..did I mention how surreal all of this is?!?!
I hope everyone is happy and healthy. We have to pay for internet service, so pardon the lack of communication. Just know that we love you and miss you all. We’ll post another blog after we check out the Pyramids!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wrapping up Rome!

Rome is definitely a place that everyone should visit at some point in their life.

The amount of history and art is quite simple overwhelming. We spent half a day at Vatican City and didn’t even scratch the surface of all it has to offer. We shuffled through corridors and halls adorned with magnificent statues, baroque tapestries, and beautiful frescos on the ceiling. You could spend an entire day in one hall and not even begin to comprehend all the history that you are experiencing. Our tour guide, Christiana, did a fabulous job explaining the highlights of what we were seeing, and giving the history behind certain pieces, paintings and structures.

The two gems of the whole tour were the Basilica of St. Peter and the Sistine Chapel. There is very strong evidence that authenticates this as the grave site of St. Peter, to which Michelangelo was commissioned to build the Basilica that has become one of Rome's greatest landmarks. Yes, this is the same Peter that denied Christ three times and then went on to be one of the utmost evangelical preachers of all time. When you enter, the sheer size will cause you to gasp. The art work throughout this actively working chapel is astounding. Many ancient Roman structures, the Pantheon included, were stripped of their gold and copper in order to make this historic and religious landmark so marvelous.

But for me, it didn’t get any better than the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed and talking was at a whisper level, due to the reverence of the room. I had always wanted to see for myself the fresco representing God creating man, where the finger of God and Adam are extended and almost touching. Surprisingly, it was Michelangelo’s final painting in the chapel, painted 30 years after the ceiling work, which spoke to me the most. The Last Judgment adorns the entire wall opposite where the Pope enters, and it’s evident that the last three decades had both sharpened his talent as well as his disdain for the corruption of the church. The wall is much more sinister and grave than the stories told on the ceiling. If you look closely in the center and you will notice just the skin of a man, which is rumored to be his self portrait. After all, he was in his 70’s at the time.
After leaving the Vatican, we strolled across the Vittorio Emmanuelle Bridge with the Castle Saint Angelo in the backdrop. It was this fortress that was used as refuge for the Pope when Rome was occupied by Mussolini. Again, the history lessons are literally around (and on) every corner.
We made our way down to The Colosseum (its real name is The Flavian Amphitheater) where my male testosterone went into overdrive! Images of men fighting for different causes; freedom, penance or fame; but all fighting for their very lives made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. On out tour, we discovered that 85% of the Gladiators were slaves, who were forced to fight but could win their freedom with 5 victories. Ten percent were criminals who were sentenced to battle for their crimes. The last 5% were the ones who sought fame, fortune and most importantly, women! Evidentially, chicks really dig Gladiators. It was truly amazing to be standing inside of a structure that not only has housed so much sordid history, but one that has been around for almost 2,100 years.

I could go on and on about the history and culture of this immense metropolis, but it still wouldn’t accurately capture its essence. Like I said in the beginning, it’s definitely a place that everyone should visit once in their lifetime!

We are currently on a cruise ship heading to Cyprus. We just passed the Straights of Messina and will be docking in the morning to tour Ancient Olympia …….life is good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rome, Day 1

A little jet lag will never stop the Clarks! That’s right, we hit the ground running…..and the night is still young (in Roman time anyway!)

After being picked up by our personal driver (yes, he had a sign that had our names on it….we felt like rock stars!) we headed to the city in style, riding in the back of a Mercedes Sedan. Well, at least I thought we were special until I noticed that all taxi cabs were Mercedes too. I guess to Europeans, they aren’t imports....this will take some getting used to. What will also take some getting used to is the driving. Evidentially, there aren’t any true lanes, speed limits, right of way, etc….. I don’t know how this hot mess all works together, but it does.

After checking into our cute hotel, with a window that fully opens up to allow us to watch and listen to the bustling street passers below, we grabbed a map and headed out to explore.

This isn’t like any US city. First of all, it’s thousands of years older, but it also isn’t laid out in a “grid” like structure. The quaint roads weave in whatever direction their original trails happen to have led them. The streets aren’t marked with gosh American signs at every corner, nor are ostentatious skyscrapers present; acting as modern day lighthouses to guide the shipwrecked lives of overanxious tourists. It is almost as if the forces of time and tradition refuse to yield to the efficiencies of modern life. Although it was very frustrating from a perfectionist standpoint, and we got lost multiple times, we wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It is truly a magnificent and historic city.

In our five hours of walking, we managed to see the Pantheon, Pizza Navoria, Piazza del Popolo (where we had our first meal in Rome), Vittorio Emanuele Monument, Fontana di Trevi (see the pic of us above), Pizza di Spagna, and a host of other places that we weren’t exactly sure what they were!

Tomorrow morning, we head off for a three hour tour of the Vatican…..I can’t wait to see the Sistine Chapel, it has been on my life list.

Megan continues to say, “This is so surreal!” When I finally inquired as to what exactly is so surreal, she replied, “That this is a dream come true.”

She couldn’t have been more poignant and succinct……we are indeed living our dream!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jenna and Adam get married and the Dolphins win!

Minneapolis has gone three for three this year with beautiful weddings. It started with Sunny and Darren and wrapped up perfectly with Jenna and Adam. The weather was giving everyone pause for concern leading up to the big day, but once again, it magically cleared and we experienced a lovely fall evening.

The service brought tears to everyone’s eyes with its substance, splendor and significance. The bride and groom were quite stunning too…..

From there, there we took an old fashion trolley downtown for the reception. After some of the best toasts I’ve ever heard (and a unique way to make the newlyweds kiss), the place turned into a nightclub dance party that would make even Vegas envious. The floor stayed packed all evening. Ray and Cecky were even getting down…..and they won the recognition for the longest married couple at 65 years! It’s our hope that Adam and Jenna win that award at their grand-kids weddings!

I did mention we danced the night away, didn’t I? Yes, it got a little crazy….which is why you will only see one wedding picture here. Once we all got home, there was an incident with Amy, Sarah, a cinnamon roll and two cups of water. Let’s just say we all ended up on the floor laughing uncontrollably…..and I was the only one that went down due to the laughter! Rock on Maiser girls....rock on!

On Sunday, we were treated to awesome tickets for the Vikings / Dolphins game, courtesy of Gene and Carol. Megan had gotten these tickets for me, knowing that the Fins have been my favorite team since I was three. Since becoming part of the family, I’ve been “expected” to cheer for any team from Minnesota, as they are all die hard fans. I was even told that I could only go to the game if I promised to root for the Vikings. Whenever the Dolphins had the ball I would joyfully shout, “Let’s go D!” and then in a quiet voice whisper to Megan, “oplhins.” Although it came down to the wire, we didn’t get to see the “Favre magic” from the last year, and the Fins go to 2-0 on the season. Great game all around!

It’s getting close now……only three days until we leave for Rome. There are still a lot of last minute items to check off the list, so we’ll probably be a little hectic over the next 72 hours. If we don’t get to tell everyone “bye,” please know that we love you and will miss you all.

We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do an adventure like this and hope that you will follow along as we take the years of dreaming and months of planning, and finally make them all a reality.

Ciao everyone!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Folly Beach Room

Here's the view from our room......upon checking in, we were randomly selected as, "guest of the day," which meant that we got upgraded to a nicer room and received a gift basket that included a fruit tray, beach toys and candy.

A great final day to stage one of our honeymoon.

Minnesota, here we come!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Myrtle Beach and Charleston

I just have to start out by saying that we have the most amazing friends! Thanks so much to Curt for showing us around in Myrtle and to the Buelks’ for spoiling us in Charleston.
Night one in Myrtle was spent at 2nd avenue pier on a rooftop bar and restaurant where we enjoyed great company, conversation and views. The only downer was that the Vikings lost their season opener.
The next morning, Curt took us down to Surfside where we borrowed a golf cart full of “beach goodies” from his friend. It was so cool to ride a few blocks and then have your own golf parking lot all on a little electric cart…..Al Gore would be so proud!
We learned to play Bocce Ball (a load of fun; I’m totally hooked) and then took a four mile stroll on a beautiful beach with very few tourists. The weather couldn’t have been better.
Later we ventured to Murrells Inlet for dinner where we ate at Bubba’s Love Shack and enjoyed great music and food. We wrapped up the night by watching the WVU / Marshall game at a pub by his home. One of Curt’s ER partners showed up and we were entertained by two doctors telling tales involving tails. We laughed hysterically at a copy of an x-ray that was saved to his i-phone…..use your imagination!

The next morning we sadly said our goodbye’s to Curt ,with hopeful promises of seeing each other again soon, and headed off to Charleston, as John and Cinnamon were awaiting our arrival…..and the crumb snatchers (their kids) were staying with John’s parents. A night of adult fun awaited….
We ate at Zen, an amazing sushi place and then caught up on their Mr. Miyagi like back porch. It’s such a tranquil and beautiful place (actually, the whole house is!). After touring their home and the city, we both agreed that we never wanted to leave. The amazing hospitality shown by the Buelk only added to the city’s charm.
This was Megan’s first trip to the “true “south and she absolutely loves it. There are a few changes that I’m sure she finds weird, like having cemeteries in church lots, but overall she’s fitting right in.
We explored the entire downtown district and half of Folly Beach, taking in all the history and allure along the way. This really is a gorgeous and fascinating place that has officially won the coveted award of our “favorite city” on the honeymoon tour. This isn’t a dig on any other stop……Charleston is just that magnetic!
Megan is prepping dinner for a cookout tonight with our fabulous hosts and their neighbors while I update everyone on our adventure. I have the easy job tonight; grilling.
Tomorrow we’re heading back to Folly for a day (and night) at the beach. We’re staying at the Holiday Inn with all ocean views. I love to sleep with the windows open, listening to the sound of waves rolling in…… It will be out last night before heading back to Minnesota for Adam and Jenna’s wedding.
This might be the last update before we head to Rome and start the cruise. From there, I have absolutely no idea what the internet service will be like. Never fear, I will make sure to diligently document our travels, but might have to do multiple posting at once.
Stay tuned….there is a lot more misadventures to come from “The Clarks.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Virginia Beach with the Hoffman’s

What a wonderful time we’ve had in Virginia Beach. Nick and Sarah have been so gracious to take us in and make us feel right at home. It will be sad to leave tomorrow, but Myrtle Beach and Curtis await us next!

We started out the trip by taking what I thought would be a nice leisurely boat ride on a vessel named Rudee’s Rocket. The name should have been my first clue. Although it was a total blast, I got absolutely soaked to the bone! It was like mixing a roller coaster ride and water park all into one. My shorts were still wet three hours later when we got back home.

The next day, Nick introduced me to the Cross Fit work out while Sarah and Megan hit a normal gym. At the end of the session, I was yet again drenched, but this time it wasn’t with salt water. Yes, the workout was that good. Thanks Nick!

That afternoon, Megan and I played with the kids for hours. After being used as a gymnasium, building Lego houses and racing toy cars, I honestly feel like I earned the right to be called “Uncle Dan.” Later, we met Nick afterwork at a place that was billed to have the best crab cakes in Virginia. After eating Megan’s homemade cakes, I guess I must be spoiled, because these didn’t come close to hers. I married a great chef!

We slowed the pace down today with a trip to the beach. Hunter didn’t have school so he went with us. We became good boogey boarding buddies while the girls soaked up the beautiful weather. Megan and I were able to steal a little time away for a stroll down the beautiful seashore, much to Hunter's chagrin.

Tonight, we’re planning on grilling out at home and possibly tasting the Dove’s Nick shot on his recent hunting trip. Maybe we’ll even watch another Comedy Central roast…..if our stomachs can take any more laughing

Thanks again to the Hoffman’s. It’s been a great visit and we can’t wait to do it again!

Monday, September 6, 2010

DC and Georgetown

Sorry for the delay in getting this blog out, but DC was so wonderful that we spent most of our time exploring and didn’t have much time for anything else! As tough as it was to top NY, DC did it. Here’s a brief synopsis of what we did….and then I’ll get to the good stories.

We hit every major historic landmark, accompanied by perfect weather. Pictures were taken all over this truly amazing city….and Georgetown, which we absolutely loved. It is definitely a place we will return to. We enjoyed amazing food and views at the W Hotel, strolled along the Potomac, and walked through the lovely homes in our nation’s capital.

OK, now for the funny stuff……

For all of you who have never visited DC, when you open the map that is handed out at every hotel, the section that is listed as “the mall” isn’t actually a mall at all. It’s just an area around the Smithsonian that they call a “mall.” Yes, I spent two days searching for my idea of a mall…. a food court, Banana Republic and a Foot Locker. I searched all around the hallowed monuments looking for something that didn’t exist; and my bride silently, and with girlish humor, allowed me to continue to search with futile efforts as I literally walked over the actual mall numerous times. It wasn’t my finest moment. However, I would have strolled over those grounds a thousand times….they were that beautiful.
The only thing negative that I have to say about DC, was the fact that everyone was asking for money to feed the homeless…..and it must have been working, because I’ve never seen so many obese street dwellers before. Yes, the homeless in DC were fat! It was quite ironic being asked to help feed overweight people (home or no home). It was a perplexing enigma. Megan suspiciously noticed that the city was lacking the usual pigeon population normally associated with a city this size. Draw your own correlations….. In response to all the donation requests, Megan finally suggested that the next time someone asks, we should offer to buy them a gym membership instead of a meal!
Speaking of the gym, we had a little incident at the YMCA in which I inadvertently was turned into a Peeping Tom. Let me explain…… Our hotel came with day passes to the gym, so we decided to get in a quick workout before splurging on dinner in Georgetown. Upon entering the facility, we were told that Megan couldn’t have her purse on the workout floor and that we would have to get a locker. So, being a gentleman, I walked my bride down to the lobby to get a locker. We were informed to take our pass to the 6th floor and trade it for a lock and key. What the attendant didn’t tell us was that the 6th floor was the women’s lock room. Yes, the elevator opens directly into the dressing room. I bumped my knee and almost fell as I frantically ran to the stairs covering my eyes, as a lady continued to yell at me to, “Get out! This is the women’s room. Get out!” It really wasn’t fun to stay at the YMCA.
We left this morning and headed to Virginia Beach where Nick and Sarah picked us up……what happened from there is deserving of a blog all to itself……stay tuned.

As always, we love and miss you all…..

Friday, September 3, 2010

Street Meat

Two words for you: street meat. Yes, you heard me, street meat!

NY is famous for their local vendors on almost every corner in the Time Square area; selling kabobs, falafel, and other mysterious concoctions that smell absolutely delicious. I dare not question the frequency that they clean the aforementioned portable mini kitchens, nor do I ask to see their latest health inspection report. All I care about is that their tender meat and succulent vegetables satisfy my midnight cravings.
My new bride thought I was crazy for eating questionable meat from a cart on the side of the road, and after the first experience, her worries had merit. The genius of street meat is that it’s fast, fantastic and affordable…..that is unless the vendor thinks you were born yesterday. Note of caution, if the prices aren’t posted in advanced, ask first. There is nothing like haggling over the price of a kabob as you salivate as if Pavlov himself has just rung your bell, knowing the reward is inches (or dollars) away.
Long story short, I was offered the “meat” at a price of $7, but I negotiated its release for only $4, along with some foreign word that I can only assume was an admonishment of my frugality and shrewdness in these business matters.
After this experience, Megan kept urging me to go get more the next night, so we could laugh yet again at the magnificent, albeit suspect city, that we came to love…….until next time, stay classy New York!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New York, Day 3

OK, this first part is for my brother who notices every little detail (like our cousin eating with her left hand even though she’s a righty!). In the pictures from yesterday, neither one of us are wearing our wedding rings…..don’t worry, the marriage is on solid the humidity that’s killing us! Both our hands have swelled significantly, hence the lack of rings.
OK, with that little detail taken care of, let me briefly tell you about our day…..
We slept in, walked to Greenwich Village and ate at a beautiful and quaint café. From there we went shopping and people watching in Soho, which was our favorite neighborhood. We found a great little wine bar in Tribeca and a adorable mini muffin stand.
We’re about to head out for dinner….I can only hope it’s as good as last night’s meal at Blue Fin in Time Square. I would highly recommend it. There’s nothing like eating grilled octopus while watching the naked cowboy entertain the tourists!
We will say goodbye to NY tomorrow and catch a train to DC. We can only hope that it’s as enjoyable as the Big Apple has been.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New York, Day 2

In case any of you were wondering, New York City is rather large. We had a well conceived idea to rent bikes for the day and ride around Central Park. We packed snacks and reading material so that the day could be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Well, after one complete 6 mile loop, our adventurous sides won out and we opened up the map. A few blocks away from the park is the Hudson River which has a bike path, the Greenway, that runs from 60th street all the way down to Battery Park. "Looks like fun", we said to one another, and off we rode!
It was a beautiful ride, albeit another 6 plus miles one way in 95 degree heat!
On the way down, we stopped by Ground Zero and saw the construction. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 9 years. It was a somber moment.
Our next stop was Battery Park which also inspired patriotism. Looking out at Ellis Island and our Statue of Liberty made us both proud to be Americans. Yes, we were proud, but also a little dehydrated. So I went to buy us some diet cokes, which were sold to us by someone who could barely speak English. After cracking them for a long swig, he handed me my change and it was two dollars short. When I inquired that the price on the sign was less than what I was actually charged, he belted out in his thick accent, “dat price for Pepsi, not Coke!” I think our forefathers would be disappointed……
We then decided to ditch the bikes and head for Wall Street. I tried to imagine what it would be like to work there every day… wasn’t appealing. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but neither one of us could live it that type of craziness! We did have to find the bull and get our picture taken with it. I’m optimistic that it will portend better financial years ahead!
About this time, we were really starting to get tired and hungry, so we headed back. I rode with my camera around my wrist and tried to get pictures of Megan trailing me. You know how we love the “self portrait” shots!
After dropping off the bikes, we had to stop by the soup place that was from the Seinfeld episode, “The Soup Nazi.” We picked up a shirt for our buddy Todd and some chilled gazpacho and headed home. Sorry, "No soup for you!"
Tonight, we’re going try to find a sushi place we walked by the other day, the Blue Fin, and then hit a Speak Easy or two.
If you’re enjoying these posts, click on the “follow” link on the upper right side of the page, as I might not be able to upload to FB all the time.
We miss and love you all!