"Gargoyles & Graffiti"chronicles architectural elements that I find interesting or unique in my travels. Gargoyles are my passion, but today graffiti (which I hate but am learning to love as it is everywhere) is as much a part of architecture as the gargoyles and decorative railings that thrill me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Memories: Then and Now

me and my brothers Christmas past

Driving in the car this morning, Moises shared his regrets for not making it out last night. He had a fever and was in bed by nine. But we went this morning and had a Christmas breakfast with his mom and sister and family. It was lovely. Daisy, my sister-in-law, lovingly prepared the turkey (pavo) and pork (pierna), both totally delicious. We bought the French bread to make sandwiches and grabbed some bags of chips at Bodega Aurrera. We ate a four course breakfast with family, and that is what Moises said too as we drove home, that Christmas is about family. Thinking about it, Christmas is about family and friends who have become like family.

Christmas at 18 months

So I would like to share my Christmas memories with you, my blog readers. In my mind, like snapshots, I think of Christmases past. I remember that my dad liked pork roast on Christmas, not the ham that my grandmother prepared. Christmas was crowded around the antique table for fourteen in my grandma’s little dining room, with the oversized chairs that came from Uncle Joe, my grandmother’s uncle. I remember Uncle Joe’s huge ears and the way his house smelled, like moth balls and faded memories. I remember how my grandma always invited strangers who had nowhere else to go, and my father didn’t like that either, grumbling about why he had to spend Christmas with somebody he didn’t know. Grandma invited them anyway, the widow from down the street, a distant cousin we barely knew. The scents of my grandma’s stuffing, her spaghetti with cheese and the turkey my aunt brought from her house. The cookies and the hugs and all the laughter. I also remember my parents in true Mad Men style, they drank cocktails while Uncle Rich chain smoked cigarettes. I miss those Christmases, but all those relatives are now gone to Heaven, never to be played out again. My mom, dad, grandparents, Uncles Rich and Ron, my mom’s sister Peg. I can hear you playing the piano and singing Christmas carols still, Aunt Peggy.

Left are my cousins and Uncle Bud in Ohio, my brother in Tampa, my nieces scattered in England and California, so far away for the holidays. Mom, I will never forget how you decorated the day after Thanksgiving, the hundreds of ornaments and figurines you had, the way you loved Christmas. I remember after Mike (my brother) died, Christmas was never the same. My dad cried every year, but you didn’t, Mommy. Even when the Huntington’s disease left you unable to walk or eat properly, you still loved Christmas … and your family. You never forgot me like your sister did when she got sick.

me on the left and cousin Denise on the right

So we missed the big celebration last night, but it is now Christmas Day. So filled with promises and hope, and I truly love the way my husband’s family, a true Yucatecan family, never holds grudges or resentments. We didn’t go last night, but we were welcomed this morning. And I realize something; this is my fourteenth Christmas in Cozumel. So now I have a whole new list of Christmas memories … our first Christmas here when our house was new and our dogs just arrived from the states, the year the rains came so strong we could barely drive down 30th Avenue to get to Daisy’s house, the year my husband went to Merida for the holidays (2011), and I celebrated both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with good friends. But we swore we will never be apart again as long as we can be together, and Moises said that too, that he did spend Christmas with his family last night, me.

I remember every year on Cozumel Island as a year having a whole new family to love and care for. I do regret not being able to stop at a friend’s Open House last night or seeing the baby at her first Christmas,  but there will always be next year, and my continuing new Christmas memories of Cozumel.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lippizzaner Horses of Slovenia

Sascha Gottschalk
Six months ago when I went on the Adriatic and Italy cruise, I was determined to come back and post all my photos and memories while they were fresh. I did do a lot of posts when I first got back, but one post I really wanted to do was about the Lippizzaner horses of Slovenia. I had taken a beautiful photo of a little girl riding a model horse in the museum of the stud farm. But I wanted to post her name, as I told her father I would. The little piece of paper I had written her name on was lost for the last six months. 

Today, cleaning my office I found it. So above is the photo of Sascha Gottschalk, a product of a US father and a Russian mother. I met them on the tour. They now live in Russia, where her father teaches English and her mother works for the government. I was perplexed why a child of an American guy couldn't speak English, so he explained to me that she had lived most of her life in Russia.  I love how I meet the most interesting people on my travels!

Info from the Lipica Stud Farm Museum

This stud farm in Slovenia is the oldest Lippazanner stud farm and has been operational for more than 400 years. More information on this beautiful place with wonderful horses can be found here.

I still prefer the horses of Andalucia. The horses we went to see near Sevilla back in 2003 took my breath away, and we were able to interact with them much more, but the Lipica horses are also beautiful. I especially enjoyed the time before the show when we were able to watch them in their natural setting.

Lippizzaner horse with baby

Note how the horses are born black and turn white as they grow older. 

Our tour group was also quite colorful. I met a wonderful couple who divides their time between Canada and California. They were quite taken aback by our guide, who practically blackmailed us in to writing favorable reviews of the tour.

Our tour group in Slovenia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Montserrat Cathedral: Another Gargoyle Heaven

Can you see me?

A very nice Australian woman offered to take my photo in front of the Cathedral doors at the Monastery of Montserrat. If you squint your eyes and look real hard, you can see me there down on the right hand corner. 

The Cathedral is full of wonderful architectural details and a place gargoyles would love.

Mosaic at Montserrat Cathedral

There are lovely mosaics, animal themed pews and gold galore. The inside is really a treasure trove, but what I loved about it the most was the spiritual feeling it has. I went to so many Churches and Cathedrals on my trip, but somehow when I was crammed in with a thousand other tourists, the appeal and the spirituality seems to disappear. I was lucky to be at Montserrat late in the day and it was quiet and peaceful.

Montserrat Cathedral interior

Are these jaguars holding the pews?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Olympia, Greece: the Archaeological Site

Olympia, Greece Archeological Site
from the Olympia Archaeological Museum

The day we docked in Katakolon, Greece to make our way to our destination of Olympia could not have been a more beautiful day. We had a warm sun, no clouds and a cool breeze. As the day wore on, it did get hot, as it did almost every day during our Roman Empire cruise, but since it was May, it was still bearable heat. We did not see one drop of rain the entire ten days.

My niece Sarah at the Olympia, Greece archaeological site
With a jolt of java in the morning, my niece and I chatted as we rode from Katakolon to Olympia. There wasn't much to see other than dried grasses and occasional farm machinery. But once we arrived, we realized just how special the place really is. More information on Olympia can be found here. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason.

Doric column at Olympia site

All of us that have studied Greek history have read about the Olympics and how they started. I still find it hard to believe that the first competitors did all that without a stitch of clothes on. Even if we aren't into history, who doesn't watch when we have the Olympic games on TV? My niece and I did the obligatory run down part of the Olympic track. Some members of our tour group actually ran the whole length, and let me tell you, it was a long way!

This is just the first post in a series on Olympia. The highlight for me was actually what they hauled into the Museum. Other than the museum in Athens, I don't think I have seen anything more impressive.

Corinthian columns - look at the size of the people to see how impressive they are

And last but not least, one of the cutest couples on our tour ....

Cute couple on our Olympia tour

Friday, November 1, 2013

Catherine's Palace St. Petersburg: pro or con?

Our guide in St. Petersburg

It seems it is all the vogue to go to St. Petersburg, Russia and come back with stories of how you loved the Hermitage Museum, Catherine’s Palace and generally St. Petersburg. The city felt cold to me, like the guide who took us around. She was lovely in appearance, a beautiful, poised woman dressed in a gorgeous outfit with a polka dot skirt. She smiled on cue. She answered questions, but there was a disconnect as if she was doing her Communist, civic duty. There was no warmth or spontaneity and what she said felt scripted. 

Too much gold?

My feet in booties to protect the floor in Catherine's Palace


St. Petersburg surprised me for its modern feel. I knew it contained a lot of old buildings but I was surprised at all the flash. I felt like I was in Times Square, but I prefer being near Tiffany’s so that was not a plus for me. Times Square always feels too dangerous and St. Petersburg felt dangerous too. 

The air in St. Petersburg is super polluted and my eyes stung the whole time there. I was probably cranky as well as the temperature was in the high 90s and there is no air in any of the museums (except the offices where we were not allowed.) 

The architecture is elaborate but almost too much so. I prefer French or Italian, and even though Catherine’s Palace is supposed to be Western, it felt so overdone with all that gold. Having to wear booties as well to tour the museum seems over the top, and the customs people both entering and leaving are so unfriendly. 

Catherine's Palace

 On the other hand, my husband loved it, but he did say he wouldn't want to go back. Here is a youtube video I found. Let me know what you think of Catherine's Palace, pro or con!

There were plenty of nice people outside the Palace. I bought some imitation Faberge eggs from a super nice lady and I love the eggs. I have them displayed on my guest bedroom dresser and they look great. And I had an ice cream at a truck outside Catherine’s Palace and it was delicious.

My fake Faberge eggs

One really cool thing did happen at Catherine's Palace. I saw a woman in the bathroom that I had met on an Eastern Med cruise a few years before. We got reacquainted and I was able to introduce her and her husband to my husband later on. Talk about a small world.

Singers at Catherine Palace lunch

Friend from cruise on our Neva River boat ride

Funny things we saw ...

How many signs they had with Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives advertising Loreal. There was a billboard on every block. Too bad I didn't get a shot. If anyone has one, please forward on.

The laundry hanging on the boat when we entered to go on our Neva River cruise, probably crew's clothes! (By the way, doesn't anybody else notice how dirty the Neva River is? I was shocked at all the industrial plants dumping stuff in the river on our excursion.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Da Vitale Restaurant: A Family Tradition

Wonderful salad at Da Vitale Restaurant

Divine bread Da Vitale Restaurant at Civitavecchia

People often ask me what country I love the most in Europe. I always say Italy. Italy exudes charm, beautiful accents, lovely people and wonderful memories for me. Always. One story I love to tell is when my niece and I did the Roman Empire cruise from Rome to Rome on the Holland America Noordam in 2008. We stayed the night before the cruise at a hotel in Civitavecchia. We went to dinner at a restaurant a block away called Da Vitale. I don't remember what we ate, but it was good. The place was packed and so a guy with very blue eyes who spoke almost no English, came over and took our order. He had a parakeet in his pocket and we were amazed how he would gently take the bird out once in a while and stroke its head, speak to it and then put it back in his pocket. We pointed at what we wanted and he obliged. I never forgot that experience and my niece and I would reminisce about it once in a while.

Green parrot at Da Vitale 2013

So when I went back to take another cruise in 2013 from the same place, Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, I tried to find the guy who waited on us that night with the bird in his pocket. 

A gentleman waited on me this time, Lorenzo (see photo below) ... and he spoke very good English. He told me that the guy with the bird was the former owner, and he now ran a different restaurant and his brother ran this one in Civitavecchia. He still has birds, he said, but he told me he wasn't around. He seemed genuinely disappointed for me that I wasn't going to see him.

Da Vitale waiter Lorenzo .. great service and speaks English.

The next morning walking around town, a young woman who also worked there flagged me down to tell me that the bird guy was there in the restaurant, having breakfast with his brother. There he was. I would have recognized those blue eyes anywhere. I felt silly asking to take his photo, but I did get one of the lovely young woman who found me. It was the older waiter from the day before who must have told her the story. He was there as well. This and other wonderful memories are why I love Italy so much (and the food.) You can't forget the scrumptious food!

Great service with a smile at Da Vitale

If you are ever in Civitavecchia, I highly recommend you stop at Da Vitale. More information on this great family restaurant can be found here on TripAdvisor. Tell them Luh sent you!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

From Toulon to Aix-en-Provence

Aix Fountain courtesy of WikiTravel

If there is one gargoyle-inspired stop on the Celebrity Silhouette Transatlantic cruise, it is Toulon, France. It is the gateway to Aix-en-Provence, a stunningly beautiful town. Note the amazing fountain above. I can just imagine a gargoye jumping down from it to explore the town. 

Aix flower market courtesy of WikiTravel
Between the flower market and the wonderful courtyards with fountains, a day wandering around Aix would be extremely pleasing to me. What do you think? Do you love these towns as much as I do? One of my favorite excursions a few years back went to Monaco, Eze and Nice. I especially loved Eze and did lots of posts on it. Aix looks just as inviting.

With its fabulous Cathedral and lovely streets to stroll, I think a leisurely day in Aix would be a delight and a great start to a Transatlantic cruise.

Cathedral Saint Sauveur at Aix

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Celebrity Silhouette Transatlantic

This video has to be one of the most beautiful I have ever watched from YouTube. It is a sail away from Venice on the Celebrity Silhouette. I was convinced that the transatlantic cruise Moises and I should do is the Spanish Serenade on the Equinox, another Solstice class ship from Celebrity. But the more I investigate, I am drawn to the Italian Classic Transatlantic on the Silhouette. What a beautiful ship and what a fabulous itinerary. I am drawn to the itinerary for November 1st, 2014.

Silhouette Quasar night club courtesy of FloridaAgenda.com

It leaves from Rome and I would love to spend a few days in Tarquinia first. Tarquinia is the spot where there are 6,000 Etruscan graves at the Necropolis. More information on this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site can be found here.

Tarquinia mural courtesy of UNESCO World Heritage site

The cruise travels to Livorno, where you can go to either Florence or Pisa ... also Toulon, France in Provence, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Tenerife in the Canary Islands before crossing to Fort Lauderdale. It is an awesome itinerary on a beautiful almost new ship. What's not to love.

Cathedral Palma de Mallorca

More information can be found on the Silhouette (Solstice class ship) on Celebrity Cruise Lines website.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Giglio Island: Costa Concordia Update

Costa Concordia January 2012
It is hard to believe it has already been one year and eight months since the horrific accident, where the Costa Concordia cruise ship went down on the Giglio Island reef. Finally this past Tuesday, the company in charge of moving the ship was able to get it upright, in preparation of moving it.

The technique used to turn the ship upright was accomplished by an operation called parbuckling. It was the largest ship to ever have this technique done, and the company who did it must be applauded, as they did a super job. More information on this operation can be found here.

Photo of Giglio Island  before the Costa Concordia accident

I just wonder how and when Giglio Island can return to normal. Maybe normal will be completely different than it was before. Having lived on Cozumel Island for the last thirteen years, I understand that small changes really effect the dynamics of an island, and having a monster cruise ship shipwrecked right off shore is a significant change, not a small one. 

This youtube video starts out showing how really beautiful the ship was. It is kind of frightening that they tell the cruisers that the ship is experiencing electrical problems and all will be well soon. Then the tragedy follows.

God bless those who lost their lives. I only hope for Giglio Island's sake, they can get the ship out of there soon.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Viva Mexico: Independence Day 2013

Happy Independence Day, Mexico! The theme this year is rain, rain, rain. We never made it down to the main street to see the fireworks last night. But one of our clients and a friend, Bill Bryan, took some amazing photos.


Photo by Bill Bryan

Bill Bryan captured this photo on Sept. 15, 2013

My favorite from Bill Bryan from Independence Day 2013
Which is your favorite?

Monday, September 2, 2013

You Can Go Home Again

Me on Cozumel Island right before my trip
I have spent the better part of the last seven years dreading returning to my home town. It is the place of much happiness, but also unbelievable sadness. My mom is gone, dad too. Grandma died in 1995. Both my uncles and now my aunt have passed too. So much is due to the dreaded family disease, of which I was spared. It is a mixed blessing. Just the thought of Cincinnati brings back such bittersweet memories.

Mariemont Inn lobby

When I realized there was a good chance I wasn't going to see my niece Sarah unless I went to Cincinnati, I decided to take the plunge and go back to the place of my birth. I found an incredible place to stay, the Mariemont Inn, which made the visit very pleasant. 

Mariemont Inn lobby

I also realized what a beautiful city Cincinnati is, so steeped in hundreds of years in history. I enjoyed seeing my family again. Sometimes I stay away because the pain of leaving them again is not worth it. It is easier to stay here on Cozumel Island and pretend that I don't miss them. Seeing them almost made me realize how much I do miss everybody and wish we could see each other more often.

Mariemont Inn restored to 1923 standards

Amanda at Front Desk of the Mariemont Inn

I visited my parents' graves and tried to find Little Grandma's (that is the name my nieces gave my grandmother on my mom's side) grave. I was unsuccessful in finding it, but I will find it next time. I finally stopped to say a little prayer at my brother's grave. He died when he was 15. I still love you, Mike. I wrote a poem about you, remember?

My mom's grave stone

My dad's grave stone

Michael McDevitt 1960 to 1975

Believe it or not, I think there will be a next time in my very near future. I want my husband to return with me. I actually miss the place I was born and feel somewhat as if I have finally come full circle.