Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt

Well, I'm back to finishing the account of our recent trip for those that are interested. Next stop on was Cyprus in a town called Limassol on the south coast. Here we got out and strolled around in the town but the weather was not good and it started to rain so we didn't get far. Just as well we didn't take an excursion that day!

After a full day in port we set sail again for the Palestinian coastal city of Ashdod, just north of Gaza and technically within the state of Israel. The link under the word above takes you to the (very good) Wikipedia entry for this city, which has numerous facts and pictures.

We enjoyed very sunny warm weather the day we were there are went into town on the free cruise bus to see the town. Security was everywhere and people seemed to take it for granted but we found it strange to have a stop-and-search checkpoint when simply entering a shopping mall.

We often joke about the degradation of language which has reduced most countries of the world to communicate (as the ancients) in hieroglyphics. But we found there are times when hieroglyphics are useful — especially when you're in a hurry!

From this stop excursion coaches left for Bethlehem and Jerusalem, of course, but we were happy to relax in the sun and try to get a feel for things there.

That evening the ship sailed for Egypt with it's first stop at Port Said, where a lot of folks got off for an all-day excursion to see Cairo, the pyramids and other sites in the country. We had been tempted to take a tour of Alexandria and the famous museum there but in the end decided to spend the day on the boat relaxing. Port Said is a relatively modern city and exists mostly as the entrance port to the Suez Canal

At Alexandria, at the end of another relaxing day, we got off a strolled along a bazaar where Sarah bargained for some scarves. What an experience that was!

Well, after setting sail that evening we spent two full days without sight of land as we crossed the Mediterranean in a straight line from Alexandria to Civitavecchia. During this time I often consulted the huge screen on the upper deck which gave our exact position by GPS as well as details of the weather, wind speed, and so on.

The following were shots of this screen that I took on the Saturday morning, after sailing all night.

Lest I bore you any more with all this I will save the last post (of Italy) for tomorrow. I hope this has given you a feel for the cruise and how much we enjoyed it. We're thankful for all those who made it possible. God bless you!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another mystery!

You're going to think I live in a haunted house. Or else you're going to think I'm quietly going crazy and dreaming all this stuff up. But the fact is, today I have another mystery to present to you!

A few minutes ago I entered the scullery to pour myself a glass of wine for the evening — well, to fill up my carafe, but what do you care? — and my attention was immediately grasped by a large box sitting atop the pedal garbage can. I looked twice and sure enough, it hadn't been there an hour before and looked old.

In old-fashioned looking printing it said

10, rue des Minimes LE MANS

It seemed to be stuffed with old newspapers. Look at the box!

When I opened the box I found dozens of yellowing newspapers called La Flamme. I looked for a date and read "1 mai 1954" and then underneath it Hebdomadaire Régional d'Informations -- Organe publié sous l'occupation Allemande

My first surprise was at wondering why a newspaper printed in 1954 would have been printed "under the German occupation"! At this point I realized I was onto another mystery!

Needless to tell you, I do not have the foggiest notion of what this stuff is, nor how it came to be in my home! Tomorrow I will ask everyone susceptible of having planted such a box in my path and I promise I'll tell you what I find out!

The box was in fact filled with crumpled newspapers of varying dates but the one above was the most recent. Most were dated 1938, some 1940 and others 1942 and they make fascinating reading!

Friday, January 29, 2010


I interrupt the log of our recent trip to change the scenery completely. I've just seen a film I want to pass on. Didn't know whether to laugh or cry so at times so I did both. Here's the blurb on the documentary. It's done by a young Israeli boy, and lasts 90 minutes, so sit back and watch it when you have time, then leave your comments below. I'll get back to our travels tomorrow, DV.

"Quest to answer the question, "What is anti-Semitism today?" Does it remain a dangerous and immediate threat? Or is it a scare tactic used by right-wing Zionists to discredit their critics?

Speaking with an array of people from across the political spectrum (including the head of the Anti-Defamation League and its fiercest critic, author Norman Finkelstein) and travelling to places like Auschwitz (alongside Israeli school kids) and Brooklyn (to explore reports of violence), Israeli Shamir discovers the realities of anti-Semitism today.

His findings are shocking, enlightening, and surprisingly — and often wryly funny."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Second Corinthians

(How do you like the title? After yesterday you knew this one was coming, didn't you?)

Well, I have a couple more photos to share from Corinth. First of all, remember that monument in the churchyard with the verses from 1 Corinthians 13:1-8? How would you like to see the other side of the same stele? It was written in Greek (of course) and since Becky is taking a course in ancient Greek I thought she'd like to compare. In the event she says it is very similar to what she is used to. Here it is, with the ruins of Ancient Corinth in the background.

And, just to round out the town of Corinth here's a shot of part of the ruins. I don't know if you are someone who particularly revels in these kinds of photos or not. Personally I find that they all start to look alike after awhile which is why I try to find something novel or different to remember the place by.

Well, our next stop was on the island of Rhodes, which has such a rich history. Remember that the "Colossus of Rhodes" was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. If you'd asked me a couple of months ago where the Acropolis was located I'm sure I would have said Athens. What I'm sure I didn't realize (though I perhaps should have) is that every major Greek city had an acropolis.

Our guide pointed out that the word is derived from two others: "acro" signifying the highest, or most extreme part, and, of course, "polis" the city. Thus the acropolis was always on the highest hill and was the most prominent part of the city below. In Rhodes the acropolis is dominated by the remains of a temple to Apollo (not to be confused with Apollos, a former co-worker of Paul!).

I found the city fascinating since it is apparently one of the oldest medieval cities in the world that is still inhabited dating, as it does, from the middle ages sometime. It is dominated by the "Palace of the Grand Master" and has a history thousands of years old.

You really should take a look at the Wikipedia site on Rhodes — there is much there to see and learn. This was our third stop and we were still in Greece. Our next stop (tomorrow) will take us to Cyprus; an independent country but still dominated by Greek language and culture.

It only remains for me to show you a picture I took looking down one of the cobbled streets within the ancient city walls, and that must end my presentation for today. I hope you're enjoying it!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First Corinthians

After our first port of call (Katalono, Greece) I was looking forward to the second, Pireas, on the other side of the peninsula which, it turns out, is the port serving the capital city of Athens, which is slightly inland — just a few kilometres.

Arriving here we'd planned to take our first organized excursion on land in order to explore and get a feel of where we were. Of the several excursions offered for the day, we had decided to visit the old city of Corinth and its Canal, about which we knew very little.

The blurb in the brochure of excursions said,

"After a one and a half hour drive, you will arrive at the famous Corinth Canal. The idea of building the canal goes back to the time of Rome, when Emperor Nero started the first excavations with silver shovels and Hebrew slaves. Only by the end of the nineteenth century was technology sufficient to cut the Isthmus. From the bridge over the canal (built 900 meters above the water) you will be able to admire the vastness of this construction more than 6 kilometres long. If you are lucky enough to see a ship passing through the straits, get ready to take an unforgettable picture. Then you will continue around ancient Corinth, a city described by Saint Paul as "rich and sinful." Protected by a powerful fortress, the city had a forum larger than Rome, with temples, theatres, baths, fountains, stores, and basilicas. The most impressive structure remaining today is the Doric Temple of Apollo."
Well, we weren't "lucky enough to see a ship passing through the straits" but I did take a nice shot from the bridge (see below). The trouble is, by not having a point of reference as to size, I have completely failed to get the feel of being almost a kilometre high above the water. But, this is what I saw: you judge...

True to the brochure, our next stop was the old city of Corinth where we walked around the grounds and visited the museum. As our coach was turning around I noticed a church overlooking the ruins. It was surely a Greek Orthodox church and in its courtyard was erected a sort of moment with an inscription of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 in English on one side and Greek on the other. I thought again about how I might feel to know that the most beautiful texts on love were written to folks in my church town.
We had bought a few postcards at the Canal stop so I wrote up a couple on the bus and mailed them off to home. You know me, I couldn't resist a little humour on the greeting side that went home:

"Despite all that Paul had to say on the subject we have seen that some women still don't cover their heads. However, though everyone here speaks in tongues, it all seems to be done decently and in order."
I did meditate on the fact that, were it not for the Corinthian church, we would have a great deal less wonderful teaching by Paul. Think of it: the Lord's supper, the gift of tongues in the church, the resurrection, and head-coverings. Not to mention that wonderful chapter on Christian love!

Have a happy day and go out of your way to be kind to someone today!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jed & Susanne

Every day the Costa Pacifica edited a little four-page newspaper called Today which contained a message from the captain as well as any important announcements of meetings or activities. This paper, which was printed in (at least) four different languages, was distributed in the evening to each cabin.

Each issue started with the Captain's commentary summarizing the route he expected to follow during the day, the distance we'd cover, any interesting historical or geographical notes concerning our next port of call and other various bits of interesting information.

We hadn't been long at sea before Sarah noticed that Italian lessons would be given at three in the afternoon of the next day in one of the lounges. Not knowing what to expect, we decided nevertheless to check it out and see — both of us having a love for the language but, aside a few words and phrases, little else.

Well, we turned out to be two of perhaps a dozen or so passengers with much the same idea. It was a fun class and we did our "homework" and took it quite seriously and ended up with a much better grip on the language.

During one of the courses, which were mostly conversational, I seemed to overhear a man opposite me say something about being from Canada. He was a nice-looking man with thinning hair, about my age, and with a soft voice and he was at the course, like me, with his wife, who sat next to him. I found an opportunity after the class to strike up a conversation with him and imagine my interest and surprise to find that he was not only from Canada, but, in fact, from Edmonton!

His name was Jed and we ended up chatting for over an hour about the cruises they've been on (this was not their first) and what places they particularly enjoyed. When we got around to work I found that he was a professor at the University of Alberta teaching Negotiation in the Business Studies department.

I've been so long away from the milieu of higher education that I found this amazing to think of; both from a student's point of view, as from a teacher's. It just goes to show how much I still have to learn and how locked one can be in one's own world.

Anyway, during this time Sarah was enjoying his wife Susanne's company. She's apparently worked in many countries around the world in an official capacity through divers organisations of the United Nations. Though Jed lives in Edmonton, and has for the last thirty or forty years, she lives in Austria — she just can't get used to the idea of living in Canada!

Well, we ran into each other often during the trip and even found ourselves together all day on the Assisi excursion (more of that later). We exchanged email addresses and will try to keep in touch. They are a nice couple and meeting them was another highlight of our trip.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I've been wondering how I should explain our trip and I know that several of you have asked for photos. I took some photos, but not a real lot; I just used my phone to record a few memories and I'll share some with you.

But it seems to me that looking back on such a fantastic trip the things that stand out in my mind are the people we met, more than the things we saw. It took us a day or two to unwind and get used to the rhythm of the ship (we have never lived before in such twenty-four-hour luxury!) and it was the people we shared the voyage with that most drew our attention.

I mentioned that there were over a thousand crew members making a ratio of almost one staff for every four passengers — an amazing relationship that required enormous coordination but things couldn't have gone more smoothly. We quickly noticed that almost all the crew were from Asian countries. We seemed to notice a lot of Indians and Filipinos and later on we received a detailed presentation of the ship and found out that, in fact, Filipinos were in the majority with over five hundred on board.

There were also many Indians, as we'd noticed, and people from south-east Asian countries like Burma and Korea. What made this so interesting was that each crew member wore a lapel badge giving his or her full name, country of origin, and a representation of that country's flag.

At our first port of call in Katalono we noticed a pretty girl working the security desk — scanning disembarking passenger's cards and checking oncoming luggage, and so on. A glance at her badge told us she was from Nepal, which was an unexpected surprise and an obvious conversation-starter.

Her name was Mini and we immediately struck up a conversation with her to find out how she liked her job and how long she'd been working here. She is from Kathmandu and when we told her that our daughter has lived there for many years now (must be over ten, anyway) she was very excited! She said she was the only crew member from Nepal and there were times she felt a wee bit homesick but she brightened up to here of Evangeline and wanted to take her address.

Mini said she's already been working on this run for eight months and she'd had her contract extended for two months bringing her expiration date to the middle of March, at which time she planned to go home for a break. We encouraged her to get in touch with Eva and then Sarah remembered that Eva stocks up on Earl Grey tea when she comes out to Europe so we decided it might be fun to buy some and give it to Mini to convey to her. We picked some up, finally, on our stop in Palestine (Ashdod) as well as a little box of chocolates called "Merci!" which we thought was appropriate.

Mini was quite touched and took her courier job very seriously saying that she'd call Eva on March 16th and give her the tea. We got to see her every time we disembarked and when at last we said goodbye in Savona we felt quite like we were leaving a friend.

I'm very sorry to say that I realized too late that I hadn't taken a photo of her to remember her by or to share with you so you'll just have to imagine her lovely smile.

Having told you about Mini I'll now try to dig out a photo or two to give you some idea of the wonderful time we had. This first one is a quick shot of Sarah at the moment we first boarded our ship to discover all it had to offer: the Costa Pacifica.

This next shot is not illuminated by a flash; rather you're seeing the very thing we went to get — sun!

Here is our first sight of Greece, the little port of Katakolo.

Later on we entered into Athens' busy port of Pireas. Here we took a bus tour of the city of Athens as we travelled up to Corinth to see the ruins of the old city and the amazing canal which was apparently first started by Emperor Nero and then Napoleon but was not finished until 1893.

I'm going to stop here, so as not to make this page too heavy for you to load and also because I have a dozen more important things to do than this (forgive my candour!) :-)

I'll be back tomorrow with some more pictures of Corinth as well as a few of our memories and impressions of the area. Drive safely and be kind to someone today!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We're back!

Well everyone is asking about our cruise so I'm going to try to get to it in the next few days — as well as other things we want to talk about.

This was the ship; the Costa Pacifica, just inaugurated six months earlier, in July of 2009.

Suffice to say that the two-week trip surpassed all our (quite limited) expectations in every way! Twelve days on board, full board and our own cabin going south and east through the Mediterranean with stops at Savona, Civitavecchia, Katalono, Pireas, Rhodes, Limassol, Askdod, Port Said, and Alexandria.

Although we went ashore at every stop but didn't take excursions every time. One consideration was our budget and the other was the sheer novelty of everything around us. Since it was our first time on such a cruise we had decided that we most of all wanted to come away with a "feel" for some of the Greek islands. It worked and was a dream-come-true!

We left for Nice on Thursday the 7th, leaving the snow (!) and minus five degrees temperatures getting into Saint-Raphael on the TGV over an hour late due to the uncommon meteorological conditions — we could see snow on the fields until past Lyon!

Serge was there to meet us and we spent the night with him and Lilliane who took us out to a Moroccan restaurant for couscous. Next morning, after driving around a bit, we headed for the SNCF station at Nice where we were due to meet our cruise bus just before noon.

From there, everything was provided and their organization was meticulous and impressive. We rode to Savona arriving in the middle of the afternoon and went straight up to our cabin where our luggage had been already put for us and our trip began as the ship pulled out that evening. Over three thousand, seven hundred passenger and over a thousand crew making almost a small city with five thousand people aboard — yet the boat was designed in such a way that you never felt crowded. With twelve floors and a length of 400 metres there was always somewhere to go and something to do!

I took a few pictures for you to give you a little taste of the holiday — the first we have ever taken for two full weeks away from the rest of the family!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Microtec in the press

I don't talk much here about our family business, Microtec, because this is not really the place. But we've been expanding our outreach through word-of-mouth of our customers. Our biggest customer — who we've been supplying with our management systems for over twelve years now — is part of a much larger group based in Germany and has been gobbling up smaller related businesses for the past few years in order to expand their turnover and influence.

Each time the new acquisitions meant an sharp increase in our workload as the new entity was integrated into the global system of the new parent company. Over the past couple of years we've expanded our influence by this means to a new office in Barcelona involving in frequent trips down there for Raphael as he assesses their new needs and integrates them into the French company's overall management, commercial, and stock control system.

After much negotiation the newest acquisition was announced: a fairly large company in the Bordeaux area. This means that our order-book for 2010 is chock full and every spare minute will be spent in equipping and training the new sister company.

We are now committed to personal visits of at least two days a week to Bordeaux to help them set up the new system and to provide the necessary training. The CEO of the parent company felt that it was time to spread the good news and gain themselves a little free publicity in the bargain so a news conference was set up in our offices at Marçon in order for Raphael and Pascal, chief architects of the system, to explain its functionalities and for our customer to vaunt its merits.

This has meant a flurry of newspaper reports in all the local and regional press and radio stations. The conference went very well and, judging by the reports that have come out, the reporters were quite impressed. We've never sought publicity and advertise little so have seldom received such glowing praises — which is a morale-booster for all the staff here!

Here's a sample of one of the articles. Put on your beret, grab a baguette and a cup of French coffee and here we go...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy birthdays

We never get to this time of the year without thinking of our dear Joan and Lily since their birthdays are so close together. One right after Christmas on the 26th (Lily) and the other on the 9th of January, which is Joan, of course.

Unfortunately I don't have a very recent photo of them to post for you but you know who you are and you know you are loved, and never forgotten, especially at this time of year!

Receive our heartfelt love, both of you!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

A new year and more on the mystery

It's a new day, new month, new year. Though we know nothing changed at midnight, somehow we all fall for it, don't we? So be it; maybe it's God's way of keeping us sane.

God bless each one of you reading this today. May He grant you good health and wisdom to make the right choices in your life with others. Few things are more critical.

Well, here's the update I promised you regarding all those mystery letters I found last week. I've been doing some reading and it's very interesting — but doesn't help me find out how I came to have them here, in my living room! But let's look at what I've discovered!

(If you missed the previous posts it might be a good idea to read them now. Clicking on these links will open a new window so you can always come back here. The Mystery Book and The Mystery Letters).

1. Although the envelope suggests that only the year 1958 is concerned, in fact it contains letters dated as early as 1956 and as late as 1959.

2. The correspondence is essentially between two men: M. Paul Gerbault, an architect-builder living and working near Tours and in the pay of M. Marcel Martel, a Frenchman living in New York and working as Chef at the New York Athletic Club.

3. Though the two men obviously knew each other well, the correspondence stays at all times on a formal, business-like level — neither one uses Christian names, for example, and the formal vous form is used throughout.

4. The business at the heart of these letters is the fact that Mr Gerbault is building a somptueuse villa for the Marcels in their absence (estimated cost is four million Francs) and all the details of decoration, furniture, floor covering, and so on must be decided upon and paid for. There is much discussion of details and prices and receipts are made by Mr. Gerbault for monies received.

5. Sometime in the summer of 1958 Customs gets wind of this irregular transfer of funds from America to France and Mr Marcel is subjected to a hefty fine of 600,000 Francs which he finds intolerably unfair.

Well, you can see by now how the two mysteries tie together — in a way. But what remains a complete mystery to me is this:

How did I manage to get this book and all these letters and personal papers when, as far as I know, I've never had the slightest contact with either man?

If anyone ever comes across any clues to help us solve this, please get in touch! :-)