Trevi Fountain, Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain marks the end point of an aqueduct.  Originally there was a simple basin to collect the water, but in 1730 Pope Clement XII commissioned a contest to build a more suitable fountain.  The official winner, one Allesandro Galilei was denied the job because he was a Florentine, and thus it was given to the Roman Nicola Salvi.  Work began in 1732 and continued for 30 years, at the end of which Oceanus, or Neptune carved by Pietro Bracci was set in the center.

The Pantheon was commissioned in 118AD by Emperor Hadrian, and is of a circular design.  It was the largest dome in the world until 1436, measuring 142 feet in diameter.  The  height of the occulus, or opening at the top which is the only source of light inside the building is also 142 feet high.

The massive 60 tons that support the portico were quarried in Egypt and moved by barge for construction.

This shot from inside the Panteon, which is now used as a church, shows persecutive of it’s size.

This shot taken inside the Pantheon shows how much light is let in by the single occulus 142 above the photographer.  The opening is 27 feet in diameter and the concrete is 6.5 feet thick.

The tour guide called these tall monuments story poles.  They are carved from top to bottom with scenes that are deciphered into a story.  They occupy several of the squares around Rome.

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Italy

I’ve decided to post some pics of Italy from our trip several years ago.  It was a fantastic trip, and I hope to go back again and see the parts we didn’t get to see, like Venice and Capri.

In Rome we stayed a few doors down from Saint Peters Basilica, at the Hotel Columbus.

The location was fantastic for the Vatican and the Basilica.  As it was summer, it was blistering hot, and I packed sleeveless dresses.  This was a mistake, as I could not enter into any churches without sleeves (on my dress, not the church).  I ended up buying a scarf and wrapping it around my shoulders so I could get past the guards.

The Pieta is one of the most moving pieces of art I’ve seen.  One can almost feel Mary’s agony as she holds her dead son.  There is a story told that after Michelangelo carved this magnificent piece, he overheard two workmen discussing it.  Part of their discussion was their disbelief that Michelangelo had indeed sculpted it as they believed him to be too young, so Michelangelo came back in the middle of the night and carved “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this” on the sash that Mary wears.

Of course there are many other pieces of beautiful artwork here.

And if you get bored, there is always confession, heard in a multitude of languages…

The Virginia Countryside

There is peace in the beauty of the countryside.  The storms of spring produce amazing cloud formations that roll and stretch across the sky.  It is quite a spectacular display.  I’m always in awe when I see this, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.  The countryside of Virginia seems different to me then the countryside in other states.  Whenever I look out at this expanse I somehow imagine life before cars, computers, telephones and paved roads–a colonial lifestyle when life was much simpler.

Piece de Resistance

Forgive my incorrect punctuation, but my knowledge of such matters as accents on a keyboard are slim.  Must correct that at some point.  Today I wanted to share with you my DH photo’s from our trip, as some of them are quite good.  I missed this guy, as he was on one of my no diving days.

I missed this guy as well.

When I saw this guy, I said, “What’s the matter with that sea horse?  Why is he all straight?”  DH rolled his eyes, then laughed.  “It’s a pipe fish.”  No, I’m not usually that slow.

I don’t know what this thing is, but his green color is beautiful.

This guy is called a Nudibranch.  They come in an amazing array of shapes, sizes and colors.

And the ever present Lion fish that has become such a problem.  It has no known natural predators, and therefore they have overpopulated the Caribbean.  The divers in Roatan have begun spear fishing them and feeding them to the eels to try to teach them they can eat them.  It has had good results, as now the eels are fat and happy (with the exception that when they see divers they now expect to be fed), and the lion fish population has become manageable.  This also means that everything they were eating are beginning to come back as well.

An excellent example of an fat and sassy Eel, being cleaned by a Banded Coral Shrimp.

This guy is called a Hogfish.

“Honey,” DH says, “THIS is a Seahorse…”

These guys are extremely difficult to photograph.  They are usually moving with a darting motion rather than a lazy swim, and they are skittish.

This little guy is called a Yellow Headed Jaw Fish.  They are able to raise their bodies out of those holes and drop straight back down , effectively swimming backwards in a downward motion.  It is very interesting to watch them.  The males will hold the eggs in their mouths to incubate them until they hatch.

This is a Patterson Cleaner Shrimp.  The yellow in the body are eggs.

We couldn’t figure out what this guy was, but he lit up like a neon sign.

This little guy was pecking away at the jelly fish to the left of him.

And the last photo, the fierce Barracuda.  All the ones we saw were around 4 feet long.

Sea Life

Unfortunately, the sinus thing didn’t really get much better, and even now two weeks later I’m still treating it.  That didn’t stop me from doing as much as I could, however.  I did shore dives when my balance was off and couldn’t take the rough pitching of the boat, and did the boat dives when it was a little smoother.

The class on buoyancy was fantastic, and brought to light the issues regarding different BC’s or buoyancy compensators.  I was using a BC with a rear bladder.  When these inflate, they have a tendency to hoard air in pockets unevenly, and if you don’t know how to handle it, it will cause you to roll.  DH uses this model and loves it.  Me, not so much.  I spent more time being rolled over on to my side or back, and fighting it.  It was not very enjoyable, so by the third day I decided to rent one that did not have that type of inflation.  It made the difference between have a really good time underwater looking at creatures and spending all my energy trying to stay in the right position.

So that problem solved, it was time to start photographing some sea life.

I loved the coral, I think because I tend to like landscapes.  But getting the white balance to work underwater proved pretty tricky.  You really have to keep an eye on your depth, because you lose wavelengths of light as your depth changes (or gain back if you are coming up).  As a result, you really have to WB every couple three feet.  If you are not paying attention, then your photo’s color will be off.  Also, once you get below 30 feet, WB really isn’t effective at all, and you need to go to flash.  The thing about flash is, unless you’ve invested a ton of money on strong flash equipment, your effective distance with a flash has to be pretty darn close.  Which is easy with coral, but fish have different ideas.  My first day with a camera was rather a disappointment.  I found I really needed bifocals in my mask, because I thought they were good pictures underwater, but many turned out to be blurry.  We spent a lot of time in the shallows just shooting with white balance.

I did find out what happens when you are trying to use WB and also turn on the flash…

Yikes!  If there is a way to fix this with photo editing, I have no idea what it is.  And believe me, I tried.  I read an article that said it is always better to get the picture correct when taking it than to rely on correction after the fact.  And I tend to be a purist anyway, I don’t like spending time correcting photos or tweaking them on photo software.  I’d rather just have a beautiful photo.

Here, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

CoCo View Resort

My sinus and ear issues sidelined me for a couple of days, so I wanted to take some time and show pictures of CoCo View Resort.  The dive master of the group we traveled with (and his wife) have been coming here for 31 years, and they had some stories to tell!  One they told of years before was about having to choose between having hot water for showers or air for the dive tanks, because they had been having electricity issues.  They couldn’t heat the water and fill the tanks, so they took a vote.  Air for tanks won, of course, because why would you come to a dive resort and not dive?

For me, the first time I was here was nine years ago, and they have made steady improvements over the years.  They have added more lounge chairs and hammocks for the docks, the food is better than I remember, the rooms are of the Island Bungalow type–very relaxing–they have a slew of bikes (which I admit, I don’t remember from the first time, but I wasn’t looking either), walking paths, beautiful flowers, a fountain, a dive shop and everything you need to take care of your gear in the easiest manner possible.  There is a nurse if you get sick, and very knowledgeable staff who are happy to help you with anything you need, including but not limited to reminding you to actually put your regulator in your mouth before you jump off the boat, as happened to me one day. (I’m sure he was thinking, How do you plan on breathing underwater if it’s not in your mouth?)   I cannot say enough about the guys that run the dive boats.  They will be right behind you helping you walk with all your gear, making sure everything is in order.  They find the even the tiniest sea life that I for sure would miss.  Tripadvisor ranks them highly in places to go for scuba diving.

The grounds are beautifully cared for and the temperature of the water is consistently 79 year round.  Winter day time temps are around 82, summer 87.  It doesn’t get any easier than this for scuba diving.  The setup is amazingly simple.  There are tanks for rinsing gear, and separate tanks for camera equipment.

They now have wifi throughout the property, and it’s lovely to sit at the outside seating area and look and the ocean while you sip on a drink from the bar and look at your photos, answer email, or blog.  There is also an exercise/spa building where you can get pedicures, manicures, and massages.

So even if you are stuck and can’t dive, there is plenty of relaxation.  They also have kayaks to take out and paddle around in, and the beach snorkeling is lively as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little anemone crab was by the dock in 5 feet of water as was this little guy.  Just like fishing, by the time tomorrow comes around, the fish will be bigger.

SCUBA Anyone?

The week of February 25th finds me in Honduras on a week long SCUBA diving trip with DH.  After the rather hellish fall season of 2011, I’m ready for something fun that will serve as an antidepressant.  A week of sun and surf, and exploring new creatures under the sea was just the medicine I needed, although the sixteen year old didn’t share this view.

“Why don’t I get to go?”  He asked.  A fair question, considering he’s the one that’s been accompanying DH for the last two years, rather than me.

I shrugged, unapologetically, but not without some sympathy.  “You have school, and you just spent twelve days in Indonesia on an amazing diving trip!  It’s my turn.”

He’s hooked, and I can’t blame him.  But darling that he is he smiled, hugged me and wished me an excellent time.

As with all trips that I undertake, there have been challenges.  Schleprock peeked his head out on the evening of the 24th with a phone call from the airline.  It was one of those automated things that said, “We are calling in regards to your cancelled flight…”  I waited with mounting fear, then there was a dial tone. The nerve!  More information please!

I tossed the message to DH with a look of confusion.  “What cancelled flight?”  He didn’t seem surprised.  Living in the small town that we do, planes sometimes get diverted to other cities, or just never make it here, and the flights are cancelled.  No bother (wait, did I just say NO BOTHER?), he dials the number to the airline and has them book us on another flight leaving an hour later than the original, but from another airport a little over an hour away.  This makes our wake up time 3:45 AM.  Grrrr.

So the next morning off we go.  It wasn’t until we were walking into the airport when DH turns to look at me with a horrified look on his face.  “What?” I ask feeling alarm bells go off.

“How are we going to get home?  Our return flight wasn’t changed–we are still flying into the other airport!”

I shrugged, determined to not let this be a big deal.  “We’ll have to get a cab home, then drive back and pick up the car.”

That problem solved, we face the next issue–15 minutes in Atlanta to change planes.  The lady at the check-in counter is confident we’ll make it.  I’m thinking she must have come to work after a bender without sobering up.

Miraculously, we come in only four gates away.  Even so, we were still the LAST people on the plane.  But I’m thinking it’s a bit like hand grenades.  It doesn’t matter how close it was, just that you made it.

Three and a half hours later we are touching down at 12:30 in Roatan, Honduras, where it is a balmy 82 degrees.  I can feel my heart lighten as I step off the plane into the warm air.

Nora, from Coco View Resort where we stayed greets us with a friendly smile and a handshake.  We run our carry-ons through the x-ray machine, then wait for the luggage.  Once we identify the luggage, we wait outside for a bus while the Coco View staff brings up the rear with luggage in tow.  The bus arrives, and the group boards.  We are at Coco View water taxi’s in about 15 minutes, and at the resort itself in another 5.

We have lunch in the dining room–cafeteria style.  Don’t let this put you off.  The food is rather amazing, especially for the large quantities they make. We have joined a larger group that has been here a week already, and catch up with everything that has been going on.  It was then we learn that some of the other people on the cancelled flight didn’t make it.  I’m feeling the winds of good fortune blowing that caribbean air around.  After lunch, we opt for a shore dive instead of going out on the boat.  That way the late comers can join us after they arrive.

Now, it has been in fact, 9 years since I’ve been SCUBA diving.  Kids, illness, sports and life in general have kept me from something I learned to do when I was in my mid twenties.  I’m now 48.  Yikes!  I have new gear (let’s face it, there have been some improvements since the early 90’s), and a new wetsuit.  Let me just say, I was an entertaining spectacle for the guests of Coco View on the first day.

The great thing about this resort is it’s layout.  It is made for divers–divers heaven really.  Everybody gets a cubby to store their gear.  The air tanks are here and the wash tanks are here, so that when you come back you can just dunk everything in the freshwater tanks to clean them.  There is a separate tank for photo equipment as well.

Wetsuit, check.  BC, check.  Regulator, check.  Mask, fins, hair tie and weights, check.  We waddle to the shore and start walking out to sea.  DH is ahead of me.  He looks back occasionally to see that I’m still behind him.  When we get to the dock, the water is chest high.  We put our fins on, bring out masks down, and he takes off.  I submerge, and my mask floods.  I stand up to adjust it, but it slips on my hair.  I submerge again and try to swim and roll over on my back.  I try to right myself, but my tank hits me in the rear end because it has slipped out of the strap holding it to my BC.  I stand up and look around, DH nowhere to be seen.  I submerge and look underwater, and am looking at nothing but ocean life.  My dive buddy has left me.  I try yelling for him, attracting the attention of everyone around, including the dive master of the group we are with who is standing on shore.  I bang on my tank, which might have been effective had I something other than my knuckles to rap on it with.  I surface again.  I am completely alone.  I stand there waiting.  I say a few untoward things I’m sure no one else can hear about desertion and the point of a dive buddy.  I didn’t think it was that loud, but sound apparently carries very well over the water.

I try to take off my BC, but I can’t.  So I just stand there and wait.  Finally, DH comes swimming back and says, “What happened to you?”

GRRRRRR!!!!!

We fix my tank, and proceed to about 30 feet.  I have trouble equalizing.  I have trouble staying in any position.  My regulator  won’t let me draw air in without great difficulty.  I roll all over the place, and finally give up, working so hard to get back to shallow ground that I’m breathing like I just sprinted 5 miles, and all I can think is, “Wow, I don’t remember it being this hard the last time, even if it was nine years ago.”

I come in thoroughly depressed.  DH takes a lot of ribbing for leaving his dive buddy in such a suffering state.  The dive master comes up to me and tells me we’ll get it right the next day, and I go to bed thinking, “What have I got myself in to?”  Surely the next day has to be better.

The next morning is a boat dive.  I look out over the expanse of water, and see a lot of white caps.  Hmmmm….white caps are usually not an indication of a smooth ride.  I get into my bathing suit and wet suit, and we walk to the boat where our gear has already been loaded on for us.  We have the pre-dive meeting of what reef we’ll be going to and the general plan of descent and then take off.

It’s a short ride out, maybe 7 minutes.  I sit down to my tank and get into my BC, put my fins on and stand up, lurching like a drunken sailor.  The swells are maybe 4-5 feet and all I can think is, Hurry, HURRY, HURRY!!  Into the water before I puke!  I jump in, and have trouble getting below the surface, where I’m tossed about in the surge.  I turn head over heels and swim down to calmer waters where I then try to deal with the buoyancy issues I seem to be having.  It was a shallow dive, maybe 40 feet and I never really got comfortable.  And, I felt slightly sick which is very unsettling under water.  When the dive was over (and I can’t tell you what we saw, because I was too preoccupied with equipment issues) I swam to the bottom of the boat and climbed in from the center well.  I knew it was bad before I even got off the steps.  I had the same feeling when I did my Advanced certification–a feeling like I couldn’t get my gear off and get to the back of the boat quick enough.  I plopped down on the back and thought maybe I had averted it.  But no, up my breakfast came, not once, not twice, but four times.  I didn’t think I’d eaten that much.

So far, not a great start.  I took the boat back in and skipped the drop off at the wall that allows you to swim from the coral reef in front of the hotel to the beach.  After the boat docked, I took care of my gear, and took a half a dramamine.  The reason of which is, the last time I got sea sick and took a whole one, I was unconscious for like, 24 hours.  It doesn’t really stop you being sea sick, it just knocks you out so you don’t KNOW you’re sea sick.  As it was, the 1/2 put me out for the rest of the afternoon.  I awoke to a beautiful sky.  DH came in and we talked.

“Feel better?”

“Yes.  But my ears and sinuses are stopped up.”

“We have meds for that.”

“Thank God,” I said, unhappy about the results of my peaceful getaway thus far.

“There is a buoyancy clinic on Monday.  I think you should go.”

“So do I,” I said, not at all offended.  I knew he really wanted me to have a good time, and he was great at problem solving, which was a lucky thing because there were lots of little problems to be solved.  We ate dinner and talked with the rest of the group for some time, some of whom were also seasick.  I could only hope that it would get better with the passing days.  And with that thought we went to bed with the sound of the ocean gently washing up under our floor.