My Great, Bad and Ugly Vacation–Sandy Blair

316_Sandy_portraitMy dearest friend and critique partner, Sandy Blair, is back in the Lair with us today to share with us her latest vacation adventure, a cruise around the Mediterranean! (CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO SEE THEM BIGGER!) She also has a new release coming up of THE THIEF, previously titled A Thief In A Kilt.

It’s also her birthday!! We don’t discuss age in the Lair, as you all know, but let’s just say she’s old enough to vote! 🙂

Happy Birthday, Sandy!! Welcome back and take it away!

Thanks, Suzy! Hello Banditas and Bandit Buddies. I love visiting here in the Lair and always a pleasure to be invited back to spend some time with you.

The Scot and I looked forward to our Eastern Mediterranean cruise for months. We’d shopped, dieted, and walked miles in preparation for the many ruins we expected to explore. We were meeting up with dear Texas friends Matt and Patty, who’d initiated this trip to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Wanting to explore Rome, we agreed to arrive in Rome two days before our cruise ship’s scheduled departure.

After a 10 hour flight, we arrived at our small boutique hotel located a short walk from the Spanish Steps. There we learned the Scot would be a thorn caught between two roses. That’s right. Patty was in the hotel’s grand wedding suite as expected but…alone. Yup, no Matt. (Long private tale I’ll skip.)

So, we made the best of it by commiserating that night on a beautiful, bougainvillea-bedecked roof top balcony overlooking the Eternal city with wine and local cheeses.

Day 2: Up early. Since our pre-booked Skip-the-Lines private tour of the Roman Coliseum wasn’t scheduled until the 3:00PM, we decided to explore on our own. We climbed the Spanish steps, threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, and explored churches— each more elaborate than the last, and then bought an all-day bus pass to travel to sites farther out…and got lost.


Not until we tried to get directions back to our hotel did we discover most Roman residents don’t understand English. (We just assumed they did because up until this point everyone—hotel, restaurant and shop employees–we’d come in contact with had spoken it. Silly us.)  Anyway, a few hours and a subway ride later, we spotted a subway stop we recognized, hopped off and walked the final mile.

The Coliseum: We picked up a few interesting tidbits.


Did you know the Roman Coliseum isn’t owned by Rome…or the state of Italy? Nope. It’s owned by a business consortium. A famous designer is currently footing the $3.2M bill for cleaning the exterior. And the stairways leading up to the seats were known in Latin as the “vomit steps” because when the events were over people poured out of the Coliseum like…well, you get the idea.

Next stop, Vatican City. Amazing and crowded beyond belief. Most shocking: Seeing alter bases made of glass sarcophaguses containing long dead popes. (I found this macabre and I’m Catholic.) According to our historian guide Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back. He stood on scaffolding and craned his neck, a lit candle for light attached to his forehead. He documented that it took months for his neck to straighten again.








Day 3: Time to head for the cruise ship. We’d booked a shuttle for the 1 ½ hour drive. Just five miles from the port, our shuttle blew its front driver-side tire. Since we were trapped at the side of a major highway with no speed limit and feared a rear-end collision, we all piled out. I stepped back and fell 3ft down a–until then unseen—cement culvert. And broke my right foot. (4th break for this foot. Sigh.) Turned out to be my R big toe. The Scot, shocked to find me in the ditch, hauled me out. We were thankful it hadn’t been worse–I could still walk…sort of, hadn’t knocked myself unconscious—so the tire was fixed and I soldiered on.

Day 4: At sea in a comfortable suite with balcony. Limping with toes taped.


Day 4, ready to get on the tender that took us to Santorini


What I woke up to on Day 4.


Day 5: Santorini, Greece. Gorgeous, windy and arid town at the top of cliffs. Tourism, capers, olives and wine keep the economy afloat. It’s so windy they have to train their grapevines to grow in bird nest-like circles. Spectacular views and great food. Lots of walking.

Everywhere everything was white and blue.

Everywhere everything was white and blue.


The town is perched on cliffs

The town is perched on cliffs.

Day 6:  At sea. No formal gown and sexy heels for me tonight. In strictly sneaker mode.

Day 7: Istanbul, Turkey, where the continent of Europe meets Asia, once the seats of the Byzantine, Greek, Roman and Ottoman empires. Now a Muslim republic that tolerates other religions, we were encouraged to dress “appropriately.” (No exposed arms or knees and head scarfs had to be worn when entering mosques, many of which were once churches.) Rugs, leather goods and gold jewelry were the dominant items for sale in this—the world’s largest–bizarre. Barter was the name of the game, which we found intimidating. Left without buying a thing. Walked 4 miles+ on the tour. 🙂

Day 8: Istanbul. Did you know the first–and world’s 3d largest–domed cathedral is here? Built in 503AD,  is decorated with beautiful mosaics and was the model for St. Peter’s, the world’s largest domed cathedral. (London’s St. Paul’s is the 2d largest.)

The main--royal-- mosque. The number of turrets indicates the wealth of the donor-builder.

The main–royal– mosque. The number of turrets indicates the wealth of
the donor-builder.

You would NOT believe the jewels in this place. Emerald coated water pitchers and swords. Diamonds the size of large eggs.

You would NOT believe the jewels in this place. Emerald coated water
pitchers and swords. Diamonds the size of large eggs.

Day 9: Ephesus, Turkey. Large hill top city ruins with a nice amphitheater. I didn’t know prior to this trip that coliseums are/were triple concentric circles with roofs while amphitheaters are/were only single layer, ¾ open-air arcs with seating specifically designed to amplify sound.  Yup. Walked 3.5 miles. Foot not happy.

The largest library of its time.

The largest library of its time.

Temple ruins.

Temple ruins.

Day 10: Mykonos, Greece. Popular picture book vacation village. Finally had an opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. So excited. But cold! Cold, cold! Discovered too late that no matter how careful you tried to be that rocky beaches still aggravate fractures.

Day 11: Athens, Greece. The Scot has apparently seen his fill of ruins. (He’d spent the better part of day 9 muttering about everything around him “needing a good bit paint and love.”) So when I said, “Honey, I’m sorry but can’t do another 5 mile hike today. You’ll have to see Athens without me,” I wasn’t exactly shocked when he jumped up and said, “Nonsense! I wouldn’t dream of leaving you alone.” He cancelled our tour and we spent the day reading and admiring Athens—today a huge urban sprawl–from our balcony.

Athens from my balcony and this is as close as I got.

Athens from my balcony and this is as close as I got.

Day 12: At sea and resting up for a seriously busy tomorrow.

Day 13: Naples, Sorrentino, the Amalfie coast and Pompeii. Serious walking day and mini bus trip up the coast. Naples, lovely with loads of pedestrian ways. Great shops and gardens everywhere. This is the heart of Lemon Cello country. Lemons are everywhere and incorporated into everything from soap to pasta.

Great pedestrian streets.

Great pedestrian streets.


The Amalfie Coast is simply spectacular…if you’re not afraid of heights. We ate at a restaurant situated below the yellow balcony used in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. (I.e. Our heroine, hurt by love, finally decides to trust her new love interest after much wooing by him, only to arrive at the guy’s seaside home and find the guy on the balcony kissing another woman.)

Sorrentino beach, along the Amalphi coast. Town where we saw the Under the Tuscan Sun balcony.

Sorrentino beach, along the Amalphi coast. Town where we saw the Under the Tuscan Sun balcony.

Amalfie coast...Roads were frightening!

Amalfie coast…Roads were frightening!

On to Pompeii, another set of interesting ruins atop yet another hill. When tons upon tons of hot ash and pumas flowed into building through broken windows and fill them to their ceilings (i.e. the bathhouse), the building and its priceless art were preserved. Building that didn’t fill completely collapsed from the weight of 12+ feet of ash on their roofs. What I found most surprising: their public baths had central heating and hot water thanks to volcanic hot springs, pizza ovens haven’t changed much over the millennium, nor have water fountains.

Pmpeii...Bath house. Had central heating!

Pompeii…Bath house. Had central heating!

Pompeii pizza oven. Nothing much changes. :)

Pompeii pizza oven. Nothing much changes. 🙂

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00027]Day 14: Arrived back in Rome then caught our flight home, only a wee bit worse for wear, J and where I immediately got back to work readying book #3 in the Castle Blackstone series, THE THIEF, for re-release. I love its cover designed by Suzy’s daughter Lyndsey!

So, where did you go on your last vacation?


Sandy will be giving away a signed copy of The Thief to one reader who comments today.

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  • Jane says:

    Happy Birthday, Sandy. I’m so jealous. A Mediterranean cruise is definitely on my to do list and you hit most the spots I really want to visit like the Library at Celsus. I haven’t gone away for a vacation in a while. The last time was a couple years ago and I went on a road trip to Toronto with my cousin.

    • Jane, he’s clearly gone back to his old girlfriend. He must be sick of the winter weather down here!

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Jane. Thanks for the birthday wishes. You’ll love the area and I hope you get to see it soon. It’s silly but I’ve yet to see Toronto and it’s just a few hundred miles away.

    • Morning, Jane!

      Weren’t the pictures from Sandy’s trip enough to make you want to go, too? Of course, I’m that tourist who would see one ruin and think, okay, that’s enough…take me to the vineyards!

  • Amy Conley says:

    wow now thats what I call a vacation

  • Sandy, welcome back to the lair. Wow, what a fabulous holiday. I”m green with envy – various disasters besides. I’m just the girl to break her foot getting out of a car. Heck, I”ve done it going down steps before! You went to some absolutely fascinating places! I haven’t had the good fortune to visit Greece or Turkey yet but I love, love, love Rome. It just vibrates with vivid life! And how lucky you were to be staying so close to the lovely Spanish Steps. Do you know John Keats, the poet, died on a house set right on the steps. There used to be a small, very poignant museum there detailing his last days. Sob.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Sandy

    Wow what a wonderful holiday and I want to go on it we went on a cruise to Fiji a couple of years ago and had a fantastic time even though we had such bad weather and missed some of the ports we were to visit and coming this November we are off on another cruise this time to New Zealand and we are so looking forward to it 🙂

    Happy birthday and I am glad you had a great holiday even though things didn’t go to plane

    And the books looks and sounds lovely

    Have Fun

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Helen,
      Lucky you! Visiting Fiji (and soon New Zealand) are definitely on my life list. So sorry you missed some ports of call due to weather. I wish you much better luck on your next trip.

    • Hey Helen!

      You know having friends down under gives me new perspectives on things. Here most people take quick cruises around the Caribbean or up to Alaska. You guys go to exotic sounding places like Fiji or New Zeland!

  • Mary Preston says:

    Loving the pictures thank you.

    My last holiday was up to the Sunshine Coast QLD to visit family. You know what they say about QLD don’t you? “Beautiful one day, perfect the next.” Believe me, it was too.

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Mary,
      I’ve only seen that area in movies. Beautiful! I envy you.

    • Hey Mary!

      The Jazzman and I were actually looking at pictures the other night of Australia. I was trying to show him where my Banditas live over there. It is a very, very beautiful country. We both remarked how big and diverse it is!

  • ki pha says:

    Omg!!! Almost everything I’ve learned from my college Greek and Roman Art and Architecture course is here! How fun!! I’m surprised you didn’t find anything naughty in Pompeii, or did you but you just won’t sure??? LOL

    But did you really want to know what my last vacation was? Well, I went to Milwaukee, Wis . for Barbara Vey’s Luncheon. And I’m so mad that I absolutely forgot to say hi to Donna when I was there! 🙁

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Ki,
      Yes, we did see something naughty in Pompeii 🙂 Folks, Pompeii was once a busy port town. People arrived from all over the known world and thus there were language barriers. To solve the problem they used hieroglyphics for on roads and businesses. The whore house had a lovely engorged phallus carved into the stone work above the door. 🙂

  • Lorraine Heath says:

    What a remarkable trip! My last vacation was to Savannah, Hilton Head, and Charleston. Lots of history there.

  • Sandy Blair says:

    Hi Lorraine,
    Thanks for dropping by. I’ve yet to visit Savannah or Charleston but am dying to explore them.

  • Allie Burton says:

    Sandy, Hope you have a wonderful birthday! What a wonderful trip! I love to travel as well. Last summer we went to the Dominican Republic. Alas, this summer the kids are too busy with activities and work and their own exotic trips. My son Kyle is in China for 3 weeks studying Giant Pandas!

  • Paula says:

    Looks beautiful, Sandy, and brava to you for (mostly) not letting the mishap stop you!

  • Deb says:

    Wow! What a great vacation! Thanks for your photos and the journal entries.

    My last vacation was two years ago to (north) Padre Island. Loved the rolling waves of the Gulf, the beach, and the difference in landscape from Iowa.

    My favorite vacations as a kid were to Colorado and the Rockies. Beautiful and majestic!

    My all-time fave trip was 6 weeks in Denmark, visiting relatives and seeing my grandfather’s hometown of Jerslev, the church he went to, and the little farm of his childhood. I loved visiting Kronsborg Castle (the one in which Shakespeared based the play HAMLET on.). Awesome trip, and I’d love to go back some day!!

    • Deb says:

      I should also add that Padre Island may be in Texas, but it is nothing like the rest of the state. Another world, almost.

      • Sandy Blair says:

        Hi Deb,
        Thanks for sharing your tale about Denmark. I’ve not been there and would love to see it one day. And Padre was a favorite vacation spot for my children growing up.

    • Hey Deb!

      I think the change in landscape to visit my grandparents in Tennessee was one of the reasons the vacations were such a part of my summer. I never saw the ocean until I was an adult.

  • sandyg265 says:

    We went to the Amish country in PA

  • catslady says:

    What a trooper you are. Sorry you missed Athens but this sounded like a fantastic trip! When we first married we took some wonderful trips and since we waited 15 yrs. before kids we had some nice ones such as Europe, Hawaii and a Mediterranean cruise.

    • Hey Catslady!

      I love that you got your travel in BK (before kids)! I’m getting mine in AK!! But cruises and my motion sickness probably won’t get along.

  • Sandy Blair says:

    Hi Catslady,
    I’m happy to here you were able to tour while young. Doing so after 55 can occasionally get ugly. 🙂

  • Becke says:

    Sandy and Suz,

    Thank you for sharing your trip. We have a Mediterranean cruise planned next spring. Like you, we’re heading to Rome early and I do NOT want to get lost. Thanks so much. So I need to learn Italian or get an app for that. :o)

    Our last trip was the Caribbean- St. Martinique.

    Best of luck with your new release.

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Becke,
      You’ll love Rome but do be CAREFUL…of pickpockets. Mainly immigrant Gypsies, they work Vatican City as if they own it. A Hampton resident (my town) just returned from Rome and reported her husband had his wallet lifted while at the Vatican. Lost ID, credit cards and a healthy amount of cash.

    • Hey Becke!

      This was a timely blog for you, then, wasn’t it? Just remember one thing. If you take a step backwards, always look first!! Apparently they hide culverts over there. 😉

  • Sandy M says:

    Great post, Sandy. Love the pics. And what vacation. Thanks for sharing it with us. I haven’t been on vacation in forever! Not even a few days to the coast, but that’s what I have planned the first week in July, and I’m so looking forward to it! As much as I’d love to see such far-flung places, I’d really love to just get across the U.S. to the east coast and all that’s in between here and there. Think I’m running out of some days, though!

    Happy birthday!

    Sandy M

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Sandy!
      If you come east, you MUST stay with us…just a 3 min. walk to one of the top 10 beaches in the US. Would love to see you.

    • Hey Sandy M!

      Driving across the US and back would be a long vacation and you’d get to see so much diversity. Luckily for me, when Jazzman and I travel, he doesn’t mind stopping at odd places and historical markers. 🙂

  • Shannon says:

    Happy Birthday! Great photos and what a story!

    Most of my recent vacations have been to see my mother, who simply cannot walk long distances, so we’re pretty limited in what we can do. Usually we go to the small town where I grew up.

    My last real vacation was to attend a conference in up-state New York, then I drove across Vermont and New Hampshire to Maine. I then headed up the coast to Acadia National Park. Using a tour book and the internet, I had a list of wishes, and I did one after another as time permitted. What I really remember is a hidden river with carefully constructed paths along rocky cascades and a couple of wonderful waterfalls. The Maine coast is spectacular. Of course I had the day and a half drive back to home, with no stops in Connecticut and Massachusetts except for sleep and meals. I added another 3 states to my 50 state count. I’m down to several mid-West states and Hawaii.

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Shannon,
      Yup, my neck of the woods (Mass, NH, Maine) is gorgeous!

    • That’s a lovely trip, Shannon! I have a standing invitation to go up to New England and see Sandy. Now if I can just convince the Jazzman he wants to drive the area for Revolutionary War spots I’d have a grand trip!

  • Lynn Rettig says:

    Wow! The picture for the start of your 4th day is absolutely perfect (speaking as a photographer here)!! Exactly what I love!

    But why in the world did they shoot “Under the Tuscan Sun” in the Amalfi Coast area? It’s nowhere near Tuscany!!



  • bn100 says:

    local beach

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi bn100,
      Beaches are good! That’s the main reason we moved here. (I’d been landlocked in Dallas for 30 yrs. So missed the Atlantic.)

  • Dianna aka Hrdwrkdmom says:

    They koshed the Kilt in the title?? I really liked that, I have all my “kilt” titles lined up. Love the picture, I might make a trip some day.

    • Hey Dianna,

      When Sandy left Kensington the “In A Kilt” had to stay with them as it was their idea. So now that she has the rights back to all but A HIGHLANDER FOR CHRISTMAS, she’s revamped them with new titles and new covers into THE CASTLE BLACKSTONE NOVELS.

      BEST news?

      She has two new stories planned to join, THE LAIRD, THE ROGUE and THE THIEF!


  • Maureen says:

    Happy Birthday Sandy! The pictures were wonderful. I hope to take a trip like that someday.

  • Alyn says:

    Happy Birthday!! Your trip sounded and looked beautiful. I hope to travel to some of those places one of these days.

    My last vacation was to New York. I won it in a sweepstakes that I entered so I figured, why not? I think I would have loved it more if I actually liked shopping and had unlimited funds to do it too. But then if I had unlimited funds, I would be spending it on food.

  • Chelsea B. says:

    We went to Pigeon Forge, TN this year and had a blast! We shopped (oh, the shopping! Countless stores that are all grouped together so you don’t have to drive around… siiiigh), rode the tram (FUN!), ate at the cutest diners, and, of curse, hit all the tourist spots. I definitely want to go back!

    • Chelsea, I’ve always wanted to stop in Pigeon Forge when visiting family but haven’t had the time. I might just have to think about planning that trip some day!

    • Sandy Blair says:

      Hi Chelsea,
      Thanks for dropping by. I’d loved TN the one time we visited. Very picturesque. But those winding roads were scary at times.

  • Barbara Elness says:

    Wow, I didn’t go anywhere that exciting on my last vacation, which was to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in California. We spent the holiday up in the mountains at Lake Arrowhead (no snow but very cold), in a lovely rented cabin.