Monday, July 30, 2007

Day 4: Rhodes, Greece

We arrived at Rhodes, Greece on day 4 of our European cruise with Carnival Freedom. Rhodes is situated between mainland Greece and the island country of Cyprus. And as some of you may know, it was once home to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Colossus was a giant statue overseeing Rhodes’ main harbor. It was roughly 75% of the size of the Statue of Liberty, which in itself was an engineering feat back in ancient times. It took about 12 years to build, spanning from 292-280 B.C. The statue was dedicated to the Greek (false) god Helios. At 224 B.C., it was destroyed by an earthquake.

An artist depiction of what the statue looked like can be seen below. I’ve also included a picture of what the harbor looks like now.

A dutch artist named Heemskerck made this drawing based on ancient descriptions.

You can see from my harbor picture why tourists flock to Rhodes, Greece. This was taken on the highest deck.

One of the biggest attractions in Rhodes is the acropolis. The acropolis sits at an intimidating height overlooking the small town of Lindos. The first structure built on the acropolis was the Doric Temple of Athena Lindia, dated around 300 B.C. In the 14th century, it was fortified by the Knights of St John.

So Much History…
Rhodes is a spectacular place for historical reasons. Because of its geographical advantages, the island was an important commercial and military center of the Greek and Byzantine empires. It was repeatedly attacked by the Romans, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Ottomans, and even the Italians over the eons…and each time, Rhodes was able to rebuild itself as an important player in the Mediterranean.

No surprise attacks here! The acropolis, on one of the highest points of the island, has an excellent view of the beautiful harbor. Defenders had the first hand against oncoming attackers.

In the Roman period, the Apostle Paul went to Rhodes. According to the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 21, it was one of the places he stopped by while he was in Greece. While there were no other details added in the Bible on what happened with that trip, we can see the fruits of his work by the fact that the majority of the inhabitants are Christians, tracing their religious heritage all the way back to the Roman period. This is despite the fact that the Ottoman Turks ruled Rhodes for almost four centuries.

Before Paul’s trip, Rhodes used to worship pagan false gods. This temple was the Temple of Athena Lindia, one of the oldest structures on the acropolis.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 3: Day At Sea

We departed from Naples, Italy and moved forward to Rhodes, Greece, which is one of the largest of the Greek Isles and home to one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes. Due to the distance between Naples and Rhodes, we had a full day of relaxation with no shore excursions. But don’t be fooled, a cruise ship at sea doesn’t mean idleness. The Freedom offers a variety of fun-filled activities while at sea. Photos below!

Carnival Freedom chandelier Victorian Lounge

A beautiful chandelier found at the Victorian Lounge.

Deck 3 Carnival Freedom
On deck 3, you can sit and relax or you can dance to the leisurely beat of romantic music. It seems to be always manned at night with an eloquent singer and instruments. During the day, someone is usually playing the piano.

Food on a cruise ship

On several decks, primarily on 3, 4, and 9, you can find a plethora of restaurants and cafes. I was quite happy with the fact that the ship had chocolate-covered strawberries and the internationally sought after dish called “chicken adobo” (ask for it when you get on a cruise ship, they’ll know what you mean).

Shopping and cruising

The ship offers a variety of shops on deck 5. If you didn’t finish your souvenir shopping in one of your shore excursions, you can purchase some souvenirs in the ship’s shops for a set amount of time.


One of the best services on board is Carnival Freedom's European spa service. Run by a company based in London, they offer comfortable massages, a beauty salon, a gym, and other luxuries. One note of caution, if you are interested in some of the products they sell, make sure you ask for the prices ahead of time; otherwise, you are in for a surprise!

Several swimming pools, spas, a big screen TV, and jogging areas are available for people that want fun in the sun. Just remember to put on your sun block or you’ll have to pay your dermatologist a visit in a few years regarding skin cancer.

Every day at the Victorian Lounge, there are nightly shows and games. From song and dance to magic shows to Bingo nights…none of which really interested me. But to each his own!

If you let the stewards clean your room, you’ll get a surprise every night after dinner. These towel animals are a favorite for everyone, especially for my eight month old.

There are other things to do aside from what’s listed above. There are casinos, bars and clubs, but these to me are a waste of time and energy. Stick to the free food (not really free, its included in your ticket)...and go off to those excursions!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day 2: Naples, Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii

Port of Naples
As we docked into the port of Naples, we were ready for our all-day excursion that would bring us into Capri, Sorrento, and then Pompeii.

I found the port of Naples to be very beautiful in the morning. I'm beginning to think that Carnival Freedom's captain specifically programed the ship to arrive at the early hours in the morning just so we could see this beautiful scene below as the sun's rays slowly crept up on the landscape.

Port of Naples Italy
Port of Naples, Italy

Immediately after we docked, our group went directly to a jet boat that would take us to Capri. According to insiders in the area, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones were staying on the island for six days. While a lot of the cameras were looking for them and other celebs on the island, my camera was poised for another celebrity...the island's celebrated coast. Click on the thumbnail below for a bigger image.

Capri Italy
Island of Capri

After Capri, we went to Sorrento for a much needed rest and lunch. This quiet community is home to many shops, delightful restaurants, friendly people, and a bunch of crazy drivers on mopeds. ;-) We went to some of the shops in Sorrento and found some amazing wood work.

Sorrento Italy
Sorrento Italy

Last but not least, we went to the historical site of Pompeii, where sadly, a city has been frozen in time by a volcanic eruption. When you see Pompeii in your history books, don't under estimate its size or its people. This city was a modern marvel in its prime. I was impressed for instance with the city streets. They were "paved" with large stones and in the middle of the road were small pieces of marble. The small marble stones were used as reflectors for the residents' oil lamps at night to help guide them and to show them where the road was. Additionally, the sides of each shop had "parking lots" for horses. There were rings on the street corners to tie your horse to.

Ruins of Pompeii

I will be posting more pictures for this particular trip as time allows...but the pictures above should give you a taste of this particular shore excursion. You can click on each image to see a larger size.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Day 1: Rome, the Eternal City

Landing and Baggage Transfer to Cruise Ship
I landed around 9:00am, Thursday, July 12, 2007 at Italy’s chief main airport, Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport. The airport is located southwest of Rome at a nearby commune of Fiumicino. After going through an immigration check where they stamp your passport, you go directly to the baggage claim area. Once you find your luggage, you’ll need to look for Carnival representatives that will take your luggage to the cruise ship. This is why it is very important that your suit cases are tagged properly, with your name, cabin number and other pertinent information.

Airport Meeting with Carnival
Carnival then moved all of the passengers to a meeting area in the airport, where they assign us specific buses. Most buses go directly to the ship, while you can opt to pay for a longer route, which gives you a quick glance at Rome, the Eternal City.

My tour was run by local guides that not only knew about the area but lived there.

Rome At A Glance
My first visit to Rome put all the tourist books to shame. The historical richness of Rome simply will astound you. Rome at its height was the richest, the largest, and most powerful city in the known world. And while it no longer has the honor of being the center of the known universe, Rome hasn’t lost its historical and archaeological splendor.

I’ll be uploading pictures as I get to process them. You can click on the image for a larger version. So far here are some of the pictures from Day 1:

Narrow Streets of Rome

Some streets of Rome are quite narrow.

Pyramid of Cestius Rome Italy
Cestius had his tomb built like the Egyptian pyramids. Egypt was already a subdued country. The Pyramid of Cestius strangely stands in the middle of Rome since 12 B.C.

Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine was built as a triumphal arch around 315 AD after Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on 312 AD.

More pictures to come for Day 1!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What To Do Before Your First European Cruise

Tags you'll need for your luggage. See below.

As I’ve posted previously, I’m currently on Carnival's newest cruise ship, Freedom, sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Disclosure: Reasons I’m Here

I enjoy having a fun time in general and would love to tell you that I’m on this cruise ship without having any intention on doing any research. But that would be wrong. I’m on this cruise ship for a couple of reasons:

  1. First and foremost: to have fun with the family. With me are my parents, my sisters, my aunt, my wife, and my infant daughter. My little baby is experiencing a lot and she’s only eight months old. While she might not remember all of the things she’s visited when she gets older, she can see through the albums and DVDs that she went everywhere with her family.
  2. Second: to write about my first cruise experience. Since this is my first cruise, it would be foolish of me to simply ignore the opportunity to write about it…in a book. The book, which for now I’ll title, “The Complete Guide to Your First Cruise” will be a how-to handbook of sorts: what to bring, what to expect, and how to have fun. It will be my first color book as well and should be hitting bookstores early next year.
  3. Third: to “experience” biblical archaeology. My itinerary will stop over at Rome, Ephesus, and other ancient biblical sites. Aside from using a time machine, the only way to appreciate the culture and the architecture of what it was like 2,000 years ago is to go to these ancient sites physically. My whole family is of the Christian faith, so this trip will not only be a physical experience, but also a spiritual one. If you have a similar interest of biblical archaeology or share the same faith, I invite you to read my book, The Jesus Tomb: Is It Fact or Fiction? Scholars Chime In.

Passports and Visas

If you are an American citizen, you’ll have no problem going to most of Europe with just your U.S. passport. If you don’t have a U.S. passport, you’ll need to get one as soon as possible. The U.S. State Department is currently backlogged with passport applications, so make sure you apply half a year in advance. Also, if your passport is expiring within the next six months, you’ll need to get it renewed as soon as possible as some countries restrict you from entering. A friend of mine asked me if I needed to get a passport for my baby for the cruise and the answer is yes. Infants traveling internationally need a passport too!

If you are not a “first world” citizen (U.S., Canda, EU, Japan, etc.), Europe does discriminate against other countries. You’ll need a current passport (not expiring within six months) plus you’ll need to apply for the Schengen visa, which is a universal visa that you can use to enter into Italy, Spain, France, and other EU countries. My wife has a green card in the United States so we had to drive to the Italian embassy in Miami to apply for a Schengen visa which basically requires:

  1. Visa fee.
  2. A valid passport.
  3. U.S. residence card and/or driver’s license (optional).
  4. Birth certificate (optional).
  5. Proof of reservations (plane and hotel/cruise line).
  6. Proof of emergency medical insurance (search on Google, these guys are everywhere).
  7. Proof of employment and monetary support (show that you have enough money to support yourself while in Europe, show credit card balance and bank statement that can support $150/day).
  8. They will ask to take your passport and mail it back to you with the visa in a few weeks if you are approved.

Prior to Departure – Important!

The U.S. government requires specific passenger information on all cruise lines ahead of the embarkation date. You’ll need to go online or call your cruise line for more information on how to submit your passenger manifesto. If you do not submit your info on time, you may not be allowed on board or you may delay the entire ship.

Before the Cruise: For Adults

By now you should have already packed your bags. I tend to be unconcerned on how things are organized and arranged in my suitcase, so thankfully my wife packs all of my clothes. Here are some of my tips on what to bring and what to do with your luggage:

  1. You’ll want to bring formal attire if you wish to attend some of the more formal festivities of the ship such as the captain’s dinner.
    <,li> Bring a swimsuit if you want to swim at a European beach or the ship’s pool decks.
  2. Proper dress code is required in some European sites, such as the Vatican (no bare legs or bare shoulders).
  3. A cheap rain coat or an umbrella just in case there’s rain.
  4. Remember that most cruise ships have a laundry service. Carnival’s cruise ship charges $15.00/bag for their laundry service, so you don’t necessarily have to bring clothing for every day of the trip.
  5. Bring walking shoes for port excursions that require you to go on foot a lot. Bring slippers and other footwear that doesn’t easily slip, especially if you want to swim on the upper deck’s swimming pool and spa.
  6. You’ll want to mark all of your suitcases with the cruise’s tag. These tags require you to put your name, address, phone, sailing date, airline, flight number, returning flight number, and cabin number. When you land and check out your baggage, the cruise line will pick up your suitcases and automatically place them in your cabins.
  7. On international travels, bring at least a couple days of clothing on your carry on. There have been a couple of people where the airline lost their luggage. This is unfortunate and a practical reality in airline travel.
  8. Your carry on should have your medicines and other essentials. Please note as of 2007, the airlines are currently restricting the amount of liquids you place in your carry on luggage due to security threats.
  9. Passports, tickets, cameras, medications, and other high value items should be in your carry on. It should not be in your checked in luggage.
  10. Make a copy of your passport information and visas at home just in case you lose your passports. Also make a copy of your credit cards that you bring with you plus the toll-free numbers of each credit card just in case you need to cancel these credit cards if they are stolen or lost.
  11. Bring sunblock lotion. I bought Neutrogena’s SPF 45 UVA and UVB protection from my local store. Neutrogena is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores). There are other similar products available out there, just make sure you have UVA and UVB protection.
  12. Watch out for your airline’s weight limits. Some airlines are now restricting international suitcases to 50 lbs. It used to be 70 lbs for international flights. Continental Airlines charged me $25.00 for every suit case that was over 50 lbs. Yikes!
  13. Do you have a large party on board? Bring cheap walkie talkies! In order to communicate back and forth when we weren’t in our cabins, we utilized cheap short-wave radios to communicate throughout the ship.
  14. Cameras and batteries! Part of the fun is recording video and taking photographs of your experiences. You don’t want to forget about what you’ve experienced on the trip. For professional looking pictures, I highly suggest the Canon Rebel XT, it’s a relatively inexpensive digital SLR (semi-professional) and can take better quality photos than point and shoot cameras. It wouldn't hurt to bring a tripod if you want to take pictures of yourself as well.
  15. Do not bring heating elements like candles, irons and heating pads. Since they are a fire hazard, the cruise line will probably confiscate them. There are irons and ironing boards on each deck at the launderettes.
  16. There are towels in your cabins and at the pool deck – so I didn’t bring any towels with me.
  17. Bring at least one credit card with cash advance access so you can charge items such as water onto your cruise line’s boarding pass and withdraw money from foreign ATMs. Thanks to U.S. federal laws, your credit card also offers protection from fraud – the worst that can happen to you is a loss credit card and $50.00 worth of charges. This federal law protection does NOT apply to debit cards.

Before the Cruise: For The Baby

Having my baby girl with me on the trip is a blessing. But it would have been a nightmare if we weren’t adequately prepared. Here are some of my tips on what to bring and what to do before the cruise:

  1. Make sure you’ve paid for the baby’s travels. Domestic airlines are happy to let you fly with the baby for free, but on international flights, you are required to pay. A round trip international fare from Florida to Italy for a seat less infant cost me around $429.00. The cruise line also charges you for the infant at a discount.
  2. Inform the airline and cruise line regarding your baby, they'll usually give you higher priority in boarding. Our family managed to skip all lines at the airport thanks to the little one. This works on theme parks too.
  3. My wife had to make sure all of the baby’s diapers and formula was in the carry on luggage. We also bought medicines for the baby just in case she has a fever or diarrhea. Talk to your pediatrician for more information on what you should bring.
  4. Bring a toy or two to help her get comfortable in her environment.
  5. We bought a lightweight stroller. Normally, the little one is on a heavy stroller. But for travel, you want to use one of those umbrella strollers, designed to be easily folded and opened at moments notice. They weigh roughly 2-3 lbs.
  6. On the same note, make sure your baby gets enough shade from the stroller as well. On really sunny days, we used an umbrella.
  7. Bring a couple of pieces of the baby’s clothing in your carry on just in case there’s accidents during the flight or they’ve lost your baby’s luggage.

If I remember more tips, I'll just add it to this post.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good morning from the Mediterranean Sea

Good morning to you from the Mediterranean Sea! After eleven hours of air travel, bouncing from Florida to New Jersey to Rome, I'm finally here. I'm waking up to a slow, beautiful sun rise, just watching fishermen and other sea farers move about their business. As you can see from this picture, my wife and daughter are still sleeping. I'm not sure how they are doing it; I can't seem to adjust to the six hour jet lag that quickly. Or it might be because I'm extremely excited to see the ruins of Pompeii in the next few hours.

I know some of you have been here before and I would love to know what your favorite sites were. It’s my first time in Italy, and I wouldn’t mind any “beginner’s tips”.

I’ve already learned a handful of lessons that I’ll be sharing within the next day or so that are absolute must do’s before you come here. I have a rather unique perspective, seeing as I’m traveling with eight family members, one of which is my baby daughter (8 months old).

So join me if you’re bored or just plain curious, go on the blog

Cruise company: Carnival

Cities toured so far: Rome

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy July 4th!

This image is of the Washington Monument with fireworks in the background. This was taken on July 4th, 1986. Aside from the hot dogs, and the burnt fingers, July 4th means something so much more.

I have and will always remember the Declaration of Independence, the document that was adopted on July 4, 1776, which declared that the New World colonies were free and independent from Great Britain. From this stemmed the U.S. Constitution, perhaps the most 'advanced' document of its time, heralding a new kind of government of what we now call modern democracy.

If you are an American or someone that benefits from America's freedoms and liberties, you should celebrate this day. And to those that have taken the oath, it is definitely a day to be glad.

Part of the Oath of Naturalization
...I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law..."

Terrorist group (Hamas) pressures another terrorist group (Army of Islam) to release BBC reporter

Now I've seen everything... Alan Johnston, a BBC reporter that was kidnapped over 16 weeks ago in Gaza, has been freed...not by Palestinian security forces, not by Israel, not by U.S. special ops, but by Hamas? Hamas, a known terrorist group, surrounded another terrorist group, the Army of Islam, and told them, "Either free the foreign journalist or die." After much negotiation (first through random bullets, killing one civilian) and then through talking -- Johnston is free!

I can honestly now say, the pigs are flying. Hell is frozen. And the fat lady has sung.

Why did Hamas do this?
First, Hamas' main mission is to shutdown Israel and to retake Arab "territory". They clearly wanted to differentiate themselves from the likes of Al Queda, who has a philosophy of kill anything that moves and praising Allah for it. By paying respects to the media and international reporters, Hamas set a "tone" on how they will resist. They will not harm neutral parties but only attack known enemies.

Second, Hamas wants to show the world that they are running Gaza. As most people know, Hamas has overthrown Fatah in Gaza, the official security force of the Palestinian government. Fatah has struggled to maintain law and order in Gaza, and with this particular move, Hamas has shown that not only does it have the manpower to fight to maintain peace, it also has the will to do it. In short, this move was meant as a slap in the face to Abbas' Fatah forces.

Final thoughts
Hamas deserves credit for freeing Alan Johnston.

Does it free Hamas criminals from their previous crimes of suicide bombings and assaults on the civilian population of Israel? No. But it does offer some hope that Hamas is showing a moderate side, that there are people in the organization that actually care about life rather than a campaign of death.

Tony Blair, in his new respectable role of Middle East envoy, should offer an olive branch to Hamas: drop the suicide belts, drop the death to Israel mantra, and go to the negotiation table to create a lasting Palestinian state and Middle East peace.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Philippines taxi driver returns lost cash worth US$17,000

Imagine this, a 45 year old Filipino motorcab taxi driver, named Iluminado Boc, was behind on rent and had an ailing wife at home. Then one day one of his customers left a bag in his cab containing $17,000 (USD). This is equivalent to about 800,000 pesos. He would have been one of the richest men in his town if he kept this bag! But instead of keeping it for himself, he goes to the police and says, "It was not mine." Roughly around the same time, the original customer who owned the bag came to report it missing to the same police station.

He was rewarded $32.00 by the original owner.

While the money would have certainly helped out his family, Mr. Boc remained honest. Clearly, this man deserved more than $32.00, but at the very least he can keep what can't be bought or lost: his character.

(To the bag's owner: put your money in the bank! Use a credit card.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Product Review (2007): Sony's DVDirect [VRDMC3]

Have you ever had miniDV or VHS tapes lying around that you wanted to convert to DVDs? If you are like me, you have several tapes that are itching to be converted. DVDs after all can be universally played almost anywhere now days, and the format has a longer shelf life than your average tape format. The only problem with converting tapes is that it takes FOREVER if you go through a computer. You first have to upload your tape into your computer, then convert it into DVD format.

But! There is a solution to this. Today, I purchased Sony's DVDirect VRDMC3, which removes the computer from the equation. I simply attached my JVC camcorder (all camcorders will work), and put in a writable DVD disc and click Record. Of course, you make sure your camcorder is sending the video through an audio and video connection.

I now have two miniDV tapes fully converted into DVDs and it plays well on my generic home theater system. For those looking for a shortcut to converting VHS or miniDV tapes, I seriously suggest Sony's DVDirect device.

Food Critic Review (2007): The Sandy Butler, Fort Myers, FL

RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Phone: (239) 482-6765
Web site: The Sandy Butler
Managers: Jamie & Jason Nelson

The Sandy Butler is the newest restaurant that opened near Fort Myers Beach, FL. If you are coming from Summerlin Blvd, Sandy Butler is just a couple miles before the Matanzas Bridge. You'll find the restaurant and gourmet market on your right. The Sandy Butler is a mixed treat, it offers a 150-seat fine dining restaurant but also offers a gourmet market with rare, and unique foods. In fact, one of my favorite gourmet treats in the market is the chocolate-covered strawberries.

When I go to fine dining restaurants, there are two main things I look for: the meal and the atmosphere. While the meal part is common sense, you have to balance that with the proper mood. There are certain things you expect in fine dining restaurants: soft light, low-level noise, a relaxed pace, and delightful service. Luckily for me, Sandy Butler had all of this on June 25th, 2007.

The main entrée I had was the sea bass. Tenderly made, the meat was cooked to perfection. Forgive this trite expression, but the meat basically "melted in your mouth". Combined with a butterly sauce, it was a nice ending to the evening. My only regret was that I only ordered one sea bass. :-)

Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)

Directors: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Actors/Voices: Patton Oswalt (Remy), Lou Romano (Linguini)
Rating: 5 STARS

A rat named Remy dreams of becoming a great French chef despite his predicament -- that he is a rat! He is encouraged by his culinary hero, Auguste Gusteau, who always had the motto that anyone can cook.

Throughout the movie, Remy tries to find his purpose in life for his specific skills, the ability to smell sensitive ingredients and imagine tastes, far better than any rat. While his family wants him to stick to the family business of stealing garbage, Remy seeks out to do better in the world by creating and inventing fine meals. Through friendship, and hard work Remy's perseverance ultimately brings him closer to fulfilling his dreams.

Final Thoughts
Like previous Pixar films, the technical aspect of this movie was well done. The plot also was well thought out, as it encourages kids to chase after their dreams despite the struggles going there and despite your environment telling you that you can't do it or you shouldn't do it. Overall, this is a wholesome film that I would definitely recommend seeing.

U.S. national symbol alive and well

A spike of bad news has been on the tube for the past few days: floods in Texas, car bombs in Britain, fires in California, and many others. But what seemed to have missed the headlines is the U.S. national symbol of freedom, the bald eagle, recovering from near extinction.

You see, for over two centuries, bald eagles were killed, hunted, and poisoned. So much so that by 1963, out of the tens of thousands that used to fly in the sky, there were only 417 nesting pairs left in the continental United States. After discovering their numbers dwindling, federal and state governments added the bald eagles to the endangered species list.

On June 2007, the federal government announced they removed the eagles from the list after 40+ years of conservation. Some estimate there are now over 11,000 nesting pairs all over the United States. What's interesting is, roughly about 10% of the population is in my home state -- Florida. Apparently, they love to fish.

As you celebrate our nation's birth this July 4th, be happy to know our official and national symbol stands strong and healthier than ever after 200 years.