Puffins & Vikings Up Close in Ireland

June 21, 2012

Best moments - Coming face-to-face with a puffin while resting on a bench at an ancient Irish island monastery; closely studying Razor Bills displaying on their nests - no binoculars needed; exploring a Viking Cave with Colleen Batey.

Trip: Ireland & the British Isles
First Name: Jean
Last Name: Mielczarek
City: Fairfax,
State: Va

A Day in Selinunte

June 18, 2012

Stately Greek temples. Intricate Roman mosaics. Hot sulfurous lava. Cold Italian ices. A verdant green countryside dotted with yellow blossoms bursting from acacia trees. Spring in Sicily is the perfect time to sail its coastline and savor everything about it that delights the senses. Our Zegrahm voyage in 2011 gave us ten perfect days to explore this historic island.

On one of those spectacular, clear, blue-sky days, with cool breezes over the water and warm temperatures on land, we ventured out to Selinunte – the westernmost of the ancient Greek cities in Sicily. The Greeks arrived in Sicily more than two millennia ago, establishing Selinunte after crossing the Adriatic to the mainland of what is now southern Italy, and from there across Italy and the Strait of Messina to Sicily. The Greeks dominated the eastern part of Sicily but had only two major presences in the western portion – at Selinunte and at Agrigento.

The city of Selinunte occupied a stunning site on the coastal high ground with a commanding view of the sea. Originally, seven or eight Greek temples dominated the skyline. One temple has been partially restored from the remnants found there and it now stands in full height on a hill as it did in antiquity, with its resplendent Doric columns. Other temples have been left as they were found a few centuries ago, in large piles of fallen columns and stones, appearing as huge 3-dimensional puzzles awaiting the hand of a giant to reassemble them.

As we walked through the ruins of Selinunte we could see the layout of the main streets of the city, with perimeters of the houses laid out in stone. In the corner of one house rested a near-perfect terracotta bathtub; in another house, a simple mosaic of Phoenician origin still decorated the floor. There were shards of terracotta pottery everywhere under foot – remnants of pots and roof tiles. Selinunte is not as heavily visited by tourists as is Agrigento, and so it is less manicured. With enough money, time and expertise, the site could be studied and reconstructed from what remains. Surely it’s an archeologist's dream.

After scrambling among the ruins all morning, we were delighted to see a vendor at the base of the hill selling granita – Sicilian lemon ice – from his bicycle cart. It’s no surprise that granita originated in Sicily – lemon and citrus trees grow everywhere on the island. It was the most delicious lemon ice I've tasted in more than half a century – a refreshing treat in a fluted, white paper cup exactly like the lemon ice that my Uncle Sonny used to make and sell at his lemon ice stand in Jersey City – cold, tart and with the consistency of smooth, dense snow.

Other days brought us to equally fascinating sites – the quaint seaside village of Cefalù; the Hellenic temple at Segesta (with its unusual smooth columns); the temple complex at Agrigento; the Piazza Armerina with its fabulous Roman mosaic floors; the Stromboli and Etna volcanoes. My husband Irwin found Sicily to be one of the most interesting and varied places he’s photographed. And every day of our voyage not only brought new sights for him to capture with his camera but also revealed to us new insights into the history and culture – past and present – of this lovely island.

Trip: Circumnavigation of Sicily
First Name: Leigh
Last Name: Segel
City: Davis
State: California





A Trip Down Memory Lane--Traveler Tales from Turkey and Beyond

June 11, 2012

In 1960-61 we both seperately joined the Foreign Service/USAID and our first assignments were to Ankara, Turkey. In the spring of 1961 we became acquainted on a trip to Goreme/Cappadocia. As kismet would have it we fell in love and were married in Ankara in 5/62 and our two children were born there. Before departing in 4/65 we visited an antique store in Izmir and bought 3-4 pieces of "old pottery." Also we visited Bodrum and at a Turkish tea house we bought two amphorae that the local fisherman had brought up in their nets. We had two children so of course we had to buy two!! Their janitor's closet was full of amphorae. NOTE: in 1965 it was still "legal" to take these items out of Turkey and bring them in to the USA.

So in September 2009 to celebrate the upcoming 50th aniversary of our first trip to Turkey we joined Zegraham's Circumnaviation of the Black Sea cruise + the Cappadocia Post-voyage extension.

Off to Istanbul for a little sightseeing before boarding LeLevant on our voyage around the Black Sea. We lived in Turkey during the Cold War so the Black Sea was off limits to us as Diplomats. One thing we had heard then was that the U.S. had submarines based in Turkey. So on arrival at our first stop in Bartin our guides showed us where they were based. Our four Turkish guides were great and we enjoyed using our rusty, but basic Turkish with them.

Allan Langdale, one of the lecturers on board, was the specialist in Roman/Greek art. He so kindly joined us for dinner and looked at the photos of our pieces of pottery we purchased in 1965. After looking at one photo of a small black pot he immediately told us age, use and what culture it came from. Exactly what we had been told by a Smithsonian Museum expert!! At our stop in Histria, Romania he walked with us through the museum showing us pieces similar to what we owned.

After disembarking in Istanbul we flew to Ankara. A great lunch in the old city and then a tour of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. Hakkan, our guide, introduced us to his University professor who was the supervisor at the museum. She too gave us information about our pottery pieces.

In the afternoon we left the group to go on our own tour down Memory Lane. We hired a car and driver and revisited the apartments where we had lived almost 50 years before, our old USAID offices and the Italian Embassy chapel where we were married. In the evening we had dinner with our Best Man and his wife--still friends after 50 years.

The next morning we were off to Cappadocia with a stop first in Hattusha, the Hittite kingdom. In Goreme so many new caves had been discovered or opened to tourists. Downside--too many tourists. Kayseri was a historical and picturesque city. A visit to their small, but very interesting museum, was again led by Hakkan and he pointed our pieces similar to ours.

On returning to Istanbul we had our farewell lunch at the Hamdi restaurant near the Spice Bazaar. With help from our Turkish dictionary we were able to give a toast, in Turkish to thank Hakkan and Zegrahm for a wonderful, nostalgic, trip down memory lane. Again as Mastercard likes to say "the memories are priceless."

Trip: Circumnavigation of the Black Sea, 2009
First Name: Dick & Betty
Last Name: Podol
City: Reston,
State: VA

To the End of the World and Back

June 11, 2012

I told my husband there was no reason to worry about pirates. The Seychelles were too far away. We arrived at the ship to find it covered in razor wire and with 4 armed guards. We would travel at night at high speeds in blackout conditions to not attract attention. None of this mattered because we were very safe and we were going to an amazing world with sapphire blue seas and small jewels for islands. My husband managed to be on 3 more islands than myself since I refused to give up any snorkeling time. The abundance of fish and bird life was amazing. Before we had gotten off the ship we had broken past records and spotted over 400 species of fish. Drift snorkels out at Aldabra Atoll were probably among my favorite as well as our snorkels at Astove Atoll. They were so remote and the abundance and size of the fish were amazing. There were quite a few that were bigger than me! Than there were also the sea turtles and tortoises. The nature walks on Aride and Cousin Island were also highlights along with some first class beaches on La Digue and Praslin. This trip is not to be missed. I would go again in a instant!!!!

Trip: Ultimate Seychelles with Aldabra Atoll
First Name: Cathy
Last Name: Hahn
City: Indianapolis
State: IN


Seeing the Uganda Gorillas Up Close

June 7, 2012

Last June we joined Zegrahm for a return visit to Uganda--having lived there from 1986-1989. Since that time Dick had had two hip replacements and we knew he would NOT be able to join Betty on the trek through the hills and forests--this was their third visit to the mountain gorillas. BUT thanks to your guide, Larry Weiss, Dick was able to be carried down the steep mountain and then back up. Larry knew how much it meant for us to see the gorillas again and went out of his way to find a solution. 14 men alternated carrying Dick in the sedan chair. What a site!!! Then once down the mountain three men helped him to where the family of gorillas were located. The smiles on our faces after we returned to the top of the mountain were "priceless". Again thanks Larry.

Trip: Uganda: Primate Paradise II
First Name: Dick & Betty
Last Name: Podol
City: Reston
State: VA