It’s quite a surprise to wake up in the morning to find that someone has placed mountains outside your window. Makarska is a lovely little town with a spectacular setting but it wasn’t as interesting as Hvar. And like other stops on our trip, it was hot. Granted, there were amazing breezes that were refreshing if one was sitting in the shade, but overall it did put limitations on our interest in exploring. We did take one very pleasant walk through the park just opposite the harbor on a hook of land that fronts the ocean.  However, after a day of sweaty sightseeing, one bad meal, and being in town as Croatia was gearing up to win their World Cup match against Nigeria, we decided to spend our second day in Makarska on the ship reading, puzzling, pooling, eating, and watching the scenery change as the anchored ship drifted into different positions throughout the day.

Staying cool in Hvar

Hvar was a magical place. We were there for about two and half days. I did a guided walking tour on the first afternoon while John took a sunset photography tour/class. (The better pictures below of details are likely the result of his camera.) For a day and a half we had been hot as heck and surrounded by the aquamarine gorgeousness of the Adriatic, but unable to actually get in. On our final afternoon we were desperate to get into the water and we made it our mission to do so. It was amazing. Very refreshingly cool and quite salty. Turns out the Adriatic is a very floaty.

It wasn’t until I saw this sign when I got off the tender that I realized that HRVATSKA is Croatian for Croatia.
I like to fantasize about what this looked like and how it was used on the day that it was finished. (And who the owners and builders were.)
I tried a million times to get a good shot of this spire, but it had an essence that wasn’t easy to capture on film. And we didn’t.
The main square in Hvar town.
All of these passageways with stairs were so charming.
Again back to my architectural fantasy. Did the owner sit down with the mason and say “Not all of my windows should be rectangles. Do you have anything in a Gothicky, pointy, quatrefoil kind of thing?”
According to my guide, the brackets with the holes in them were meant to hold dowels from which wet cloth could be hung–not as in to dry laundry, but to cool down the interior during the hot, but windy, summer months.
The guide also told us that the attitude of the animal in these carvings revealed whether things at the time were peaceful or not. Something about the book in his paws and his tail, but I don’t remember.
What I don’t have a picture of is the other end of the waterfront that had many rocky beaches for swimming. Since we didn’t break any kind of water socks and our feet are not exactly tough, we found a beach club that had loungers and, more importantly, platforms with stairs so one could get into the water without having to walk on point rocks. It was so cool and refreshing. And it had the added benefit of table service so cocktails and french fries happened as well.

We also visited a lavender farm and Stari Grad (Old Town)


Lesson learned: It takes an ungodly amount of lavender to produce lavender oil.
A side street in Stari Grad.
Midday things were kind of quiet in Stari Grad. Although just to the right of this photo there were some shops and cafes that livened things up.
You have no idea how good this felt.

Near Rijeka

Our first port of call after Venice, and our first time in Croatia, was the city of Rijeka–Croatia’s third largest. Rijeka itself had some great old Belle Epoque-era architecture, of which we took no pictures. I think it would have been an interesting place to explore but once again the heat did us in. And let me say something about that heat. We get hotter in DC but we also don’t go traipsing around the city taking pictures. Plus the sun in Croatia felt particularly strong. Maybe all the haze we get in humid Washington dulls the fierceness of the sun. In Croatia we felt like ants under a magnifying glass.

We took an organized tour to Mošćenice and Opatija. The former was a tiny little village where we were able to take a picturesque photo or two and the latter was a rather upscale resort town but didn’t really lend itself to an organized tour. Our tour guides seem to have nothing interesting to say. I know that can’t be true but I found myself so bored. And I like boring things. I think part of the problem was that I had taken a preventative Dramamine  (which I didn’t need) so I was sleepy and hot. In Opatija, John and I left the tour group and sat ourselves at a shady table on a beautiful hotel terrace and had ourselves giant ice creams.

When we got back to the ship we headed straight for the pool and a cocktail or two before cleaning up to go to dinner at Kukuriku in the charming nearby village of Kastav. When we arrived a grade school graduation was just wrapping up so the square in front of the restaurant was buzzing with local life.

First Stop: Hot in Venice

The only time I had ever been to Venice was over a lovely weekend in October of maybe 1998 or so. Well Venice looks the same, but it was hot and humid. We had had plans to walk like fiends and really explore nooks and crannies. Instead we were in search of shade, breezes, and air conditioning.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you look out the right side of the plane you will see one of the most amazing organisms ever built by humans.
The key is to always look up.
Worth dealing with the tourists for a view like this. (Said as if I wasn’t one of them.)
And then a gorgeous breeze to cool us down.
It was too damn hot to walk to our concert at La Fenice so we paid for a very expensive, but very fun water taxi.
A little pre-performance Bellini.
La Fenice. Very unassuming from the outside.
Just slightly more assuming inside. The royal box at La Fenice.
Not royal, but look at that regal woman behind me.
She was fabulous.
The opera wasn’t on while we were in Venice but I was thrilled to pieces to get to hear Elgar’s Enigma Variations live again. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Oddly enough, the concert was dedicated to the memory of conductor Sir Jeffrey Tate. The last time I heard Enigma live was when I saw Tate conduct it with the Minnesota Orchestra in the late 1990s. 
Post-performance Bellini. This one was really yummy.
Everything is harder when it has to arrive on a barge.
After three days, saying goodbye to Venice.
Last look at San Marco.
That medium size ship furthest to the right is the private ship we were on. See yesterday’s entry for more on that.

While we were in Venice there was a protest against all the big passenger ships that come into port. There are a whole slew of reasons to be opposed to the number, size, and location of ships that call. Many cruise lines start and end Adriatic cruises in Venice, often staying in port over night so guests have an overnight in the city. From my observation, at any given time there are about 5 to 7 ships in port at once at the main cruise terminal. Our ship, not strictly a cruise ship, is about half the size of most of those and has a fraction of the passengers. When we were on there were only about 250 passengers on board as opposed to about 3,000 for the typical cruises that come through. Still it is big. Venice should probably make some decisions about where and how ships access the city, but for now, you come and go right past San Marco. It’s pretty spectacular.

Oh yeah. Here’s another Bellini. (Next to John’s elderflower spritz.)


Our (temporary) home at sea

John and I have been on two cruises. It was not the kind of vacation we thought we would like. But we ended up liking our first 7-day cruise in 2009 so much that four years later we went on one for 14 days. The trick for us was finding the right ship. It was so, so, relaxing. I think I read 12 books in 14 days.

So flash forward five years to a different kind of experience at sea. Friends of ours bought a residence on what is billed as the world’s largest private residential ship. What does that mean? Well, it isn’t a cruise ship and it doesn’t mean time shares. It means people actually own a residence on a ship, much like a condominium. They own their unit and a share in the ship. Some of those units (like the one we were in) are studios and look much like a cruise line cabin, but others have two and three bedrooms and have kitchens just like a place you might live. The size of the ship is about 644 feet which is about half the size of the Celebrity ship we were on. The Celebrity ship hosts about 2,800 passengers, this one only had about 250 aboard while we were on it. It felt gloriously un-crowded to us, but apparently 250 is a higher than usual number of passengers.

So where does the ship go? Well, that is perhaps one of the most romantic parts of it for me. I often pore over cruise line catalogs for so-called “world voyages” where a cruise line literally goes around the globe in about 90 to 120 days or so. I don’t think I would actually like to do that, for one thing I’m not sure I have the sea legs for it, but I love the idea of it. Imagine being free of work and being able to spend 120 days seeing the world and never having to change hotel rooms. It sets my pre-airplane nostalgia meter to high. Well this private ship is a bit like that except it takes the whole year to go around the world. And because it doesn’t have to follow the parameters of the cruise industry that needs to keep their ships full of revenue-producing passengers, it can go as slow as it wants to. It goes to out of the way places like St. Helena, Napoleon’s final island of exile smack dab in the south Atlantic. Instead of one day in a port, the ship almost always spends the night and more often spends 2-5 nights in a given port. There are also parts of the itinerary that say things like “Captain’s Choice” with no set itinerary other than the general location of where the ship will be at the time.

Another aspect of this ship that I totally loved is that, although it has some great restaurants on board, unlike a cruise ship, the food is not included, you pay for it as you use it. This means that when you are in a port of call with fabulous food onshore, there is no incentive to run back to the ship to eat your meals. And when you are in the Mediterranean there is a lot of food on land to tempt one.

What about the residents? Our friends who own a unit were not on board while we were so we weren’t sure what to expect. We kind of expected the residents not to want to mingle with temporary guests like ourselves. Well, not only did we meet other temporary guests who were friendly, the residents we came across were extremely friendly and went out of their way to introduce themselves. While one would certainly need to command a certain amount of wealth to own a residence, the owners we met were not even remotely flashy and were, dare I say, down to earth. Some spend a few months a year on the ship, others spend most of their year aboard. I think if there was one common thread among the people we met it was that they were all rather intellectually curious and had a sense of adventure.

In the days to come I will show you all the places we went. For now I will show you some aspects of the ship itself that had me never wanting to leave. Our voyage started in Venice, sailed down the Croatian coast, around the boot of Italy and ended in Sicily. But after we disembarked in Siracusa, it kept sailing west through the Med, up around the bend to Amsterdam and then was headed up for several weeks cruising the coast of Norway and into the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbad…and then…well, you get the picture.

In the Adriatic. All of our ports of call in Croatia were reached by tender from where the ship was anchored off shore.
If you look closely you can see the line in pencil showing our route from Venice to Sicily. You can also see how after Sicily they headed to Malta and Sardinia among other places.
For someone spending a long time onboard, or who is satisfied to read just one big book at a time, The Study was chock-a-block with Everyman Library classics. Given the romantic, nostalgic, voyage around the world I mentioned earlier, I also romanticize the notion of plowing through all of these meaty classics on some months-long voyage.
A general view of The Study. There are tons of DVDs one can check out in addition to many other TV options in the residence, but we never turned on the TV once. Well, only to look at the tender camera to see when it was arriving and departing.
I wish this wasn’t blurry. Obviously a ship going around the world needs lots of guide books. There were two more sections of guides on the opposite side of this case.
That’s me in the background…in the….wait for it…jigsaw puzzle area.
Print outs of various world newspapers. I think I looked at these only once during the trip.
Most nights after dinner, either on shore or at sea, I ended up here working on one of two of the jigsaw puzzles. Note the height of the extremely spacious puzzling surface. It’s counter height so standing was a comfortable option and made moving around the 3,000-piece puzzle much easier. It is a good thing I didn’t experience this before our house remodel. One of the guest bedrooms may have been turned into a puzzle room. Also, most nights I had my headphones on and listened to fabulously loud classical music while I puzzled.
Have any of you ever seen a puzzle cover stand?! Brilliant. The Study and the puzzle area overlooked the lobby and were on the same deck as our cabin. Very handy.
Even though I brought a ton of my own books on the trip, I couldn’t resist taking a few out of the library. Of this stack I actually read Open City (which I loved) and Little Fires Everywhere (which I didn’t).
Headed back to the ship. (We did not crash into these rowers.)
Interrupting the final pages of my book to eat a cookie with Makarska, Croatia in the background.
Can you see why I didn’t want to leave? They also had a cocktail of the day. Did I mention that?
Need to add more class to your workout? Perhaps you can convince your Gold’s Gym to add a neatly arranged sarcophagus of lemons.
This was almost 9:00 at night as we sailed away from Venice, but often the pool was about this busy. Everyday after whatever adventure John and I came back for pool time with the cocktail of the day and a book.


Lots more pictures of the trip to follow. Stay tuned.


Q2 Quarterly Reporting

At the half way point, I have read 51 books of the 100 I need to read for my A Century of Books challenge. I made slower progress this quarter because I allowed myself to do more non-ACOB reading, particularly while I was on vacation. I could check off a few more years, but I am only counting books that were in my TBR at the start of the year.

Last quarter I said the 1950s was most enjoyable, this time there is no decade that really stands out, most were a mixed bag except for the 2000s. I really enjoyed the two of those. And the 1990s remains my least read decade so far.


Completed last quarter.


I read so much of the 1920s  last quarter there wasn’t much left to read. I did one this quarter and only have 1927 to complete to finish off this decade.

1928 – Quicksand by Nella Larsen


Last quarter a lot of my 1930s selections were mysteries/thrillers. Although I loved High Rising, I wouldn’t say it was a thriller, but Brighton Rock was (and I kind of hated it).

1933 – High Rising by Angela Thirkell
1938 – Brighton Rock by Graham Greene


The 1940s continue to be a slow decade for me. I think it’s more a function of saving them for a rainy day rather than avoiding them.

1944 – The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault
1949 – Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker


My one book this quarter from the 1950s could easily have been from the 1930s. 

1950 – Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey


Unlike the three books from the 1960s I read last quarter, at least two of this quarter’s books are starting to feel like the ’60s. Not Butcher’s Crossing (which was amazing) but the other two for sure. 

1960 – Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
1963 – A Day in Late September by Merle Miller

1969 – Fat City by Leonard Gardner


The Stern and the Nagle were very much of their period, at least content wise. The Central American background of the Ambler was in keeping with the times as well, but Ambler’s books are happily more old fashioned than that.

1973 – Other Men’s Daughters by Robert Stern
1974 – Doctor Frigo by Eric Ambler

1975 – The Odd Angry Shot by William Nagle


A decade of conflict for sure.

1982 – A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
1985 – The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

1988 – Beirut, Beirut by Sonallah Ibrahim
1989 – Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami


Apparently I avoided the 1990s last quarter.


A fantastically misogynist Carlotto (as usual) and a fantastic Auster.

2000 – The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto
2003 – Oracle Night by Paul Auster


I finally got going on the 20teens. The Marcus and the Williams were dystopias and definitely reflect our times. 

2012 – The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
2014 – The Golden Age by Joan London
2015 – Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker
2017 – When the English Fall by David Williams

The Whole Century So Far

1919 –  Free Air by Sinclair Lewis

1920 – Happy House by Jane D. Abbott
1921 – Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
1922 – A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton
1924 – The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall
1925 – Rex by E.F. Benson
1926 – Marazan by Nevil Shute
1928 – Quicksand by Nella Larsen

1929 – The Bride’s House by Dawn Powell

1930 – Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff and Vernon Bartlett
1931 – Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts
1932 – Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
1933 – High Rising by Angela Thirkell
1934 – The 12:30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts
1938 – Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

1939 – The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene

1944 – The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault
1948 – Catalina by W. Somerset Maugham
1949 – Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker

1950 – Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
1954 – Slide Rule by Nevil Shute
1956 – The Hunters by James Salter
1959 – Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler

1960 – Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
1961 – The Chateau by William Maxwell
1962 – Morte D’urban by J.F. Powers
1963 – A Day in Late September by Merle Miller
1965 – My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley
1969 – Fat City by Leonard Gardner

1971 – Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark
1973 – Other Men’s Daughters by Robert Stern
1974 – Doctor Frigo by Eric Ambler

1975 – The Odd Angry Shot by William Nagle

1976 – Agent in Place by Helen MacInnes

1980 – Recovering by May Sarton
1982 – A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
1985 – The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

1986 – To the Land of Cattails by Aharon Appelfeld
1987 – In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
1988 – Beirut, Beirut by Sonallah Ibrahim
1989 – Damascus Nights by Rafik Schami

1990 – The Boss Dog by M.F.K. Fisher
1993 – Saving Agnes by Rachel Cusk

2000 – The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto
2002 – My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell
2003 – Oracle Night by Paul Auster

2006 – In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

2012 – The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
2014 – The Golden Age by Joan London
2015 – Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker
2017 – When the English Fall by David Williams

Comprare di libri in Italia*

*Buying books in Italy

What does one do when one is an English speaker/reader and one travels in a foreign country? One buys books. One buys books.

Kind of funny that a store with very few English books had this bag prominently displayed. I got one of them to give out as a prize at the Reader’s Retreat in San Francisco this fall.

For the past year I have been trying to resurrect my college Italian by taking classes and being tutored. One of my strongest desires is to be fluent in another language before I die. In fact, that is second only to my desire not to die. So when I stumbled across this bookstore in Venice I couldn’t resist. They had books in English but it seemed silly to buy any of those. Plus, some of the Italian language books were so interesting looking. So I figured that in order to make progress with my Italian language studies I would need something in Italian to read.

The whole stack.
I’m not sure what the Academy of Silence is up to, but I thought these thin volumes would make good study material.


I love reading letters.
The covers on these short stories were too gorgeous to pass up. If they had had more in these editions, I would have bought them too.
The back covers.
Front papers of the Boll.
End papers of the Boll.
Front papers of the Lawrence.
End papers of the Lawrence.
I’ve read the Uhlman in English and liked it a lot. Since I still own the book I thought I could use this one and do a side-by-side reading.
No idea about either of these novels. I just tried to find something by Italian, female writers.