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Europe Pt 7 : The Norwegian Epic

Coming to the end of these travel posts for Europe and I cannot end without talking about the actual cruise – the ship. We were booked on the Norwegian cruise ship EPIC and I was supImage result for Norwegian epicer excited about boarding. Not only was this my first cruise, but a few weeks prior a group of author friends went to Book Splash on board the same vessel! So I was more than excited since I missed that convention.

We met it in Barcelona, Spain and as our taxi pulled onto this beautiful bridge, to the right of us was this massive, floating city with blue nacelles and yellow sliding tubes along the top. I was becoming very excited. Guys who worked for the ship met us at the car with large silver carts to take our suitcases, tagged them and brought them to the ship for us. They would later deliver them to our doors which was very convenient. We didn’t have to worry about dragging them through the lines with us.

What I found very convenient was that the lines moved very fast. They told us what we needed to present (boarding pass, passport etc) and we got those ready. Our purses were checked, they signed us in and gave us numbers as to what order we would board. All that took little to no time at all which was amazing for me.

When we boarded, our rooms weren’t ready. So, we wandered the ship, trying to find out way.

There was plenty to see, from the casino, different restaurant, posters for shows, bars, an art gallery – it was amazing.

When our room was finally ready, we made our way to it. Our suitcases hadn’t arrived yet so I spent most of my time on the balcony taking pictures of the port and watching other ships around us.  Then we had to go muster – apparently, legally, before a ship can go anywhere, they have to do this. It’s when they set off the emergency alarm and you have to report to your station. Once you do that, they scan your keycard (this is a card you use for everything) and you wait. Then they show you how to get off the ship in an orderly fashion in case of an emergency, how to use the life vests, where are the escape pods, who to follow, what to listen for – that kind of thing. When it’s all done, we get to finally start cruising.

Now, let’s get into the real point of this post.

The Staff:  I didn’t have one bad experience with a staff member. They were fantastic – kind, helpful, funny. If they didn’t know the answer to a question, they ask you to wait while they found out for you. If they couldn’t find the answer, they directed me to client services. Which was a breath of fresh air. Our room steward was from India and he was the most amazing person ever. He would clean our rooms and when we came back, there would be a folded animal on our beds. It always made me smile. Our room was kept pristine but these guys and I was so happy. Sometimes I felt bad crawling into bed after an outing because it was so nicely done.

Our ice bucket was always full. I drank the melted water or when we came back from Sorrento with Limonchello, the ice came in handy.

The meal staff were amazing too. One chef was always singing a tune which was so good to hear. He always had a smile and a kind hello no matter if you see him at his station, or wandering around checking on the people or in the halls. The restaurant staff were nicely dress, clean, polite – it was really nice.

Ship services: My mother was stunned at the number of paid services on this ship. Basically you get the basics with your package – your room, certain foods, juices, alcohol. Now, the alcohol I understand. The juices you had to pay for were the good stuff. Then there are these machines at the top floor restaurant with juices that weren’t sweetened. The colouring was weird and those are the free ones. I drank water mostly when I was on board.  This was my mother’s first time on a Norwegian but she’s cruised with other ships before and never had this issue.

We went bowling and was told we had to pay for that AFTER we bowled. We wanted to go to the Japanese restaurant on board, yup, that was extra. We wanted to see Epicurean, their version of Cirque Du Soleil, extra. The Spa was extra – everything that was considered high class was extra.

It turned out to be more expensive than we originally planned – WAY more expensive. Which I think wasn’t cool at all. Yes, I agree, certain things should be extra but some of the things they were charging for was ridiculous. So for that reason, I would never take a Norwegian again.

Shows: Though we didn’t end up seeing the Epicurean show – we did see Pricilla Queen of the Desert on stage, as well as the Beatles Tribute and Burn the Floor. I am a sucker for a Latin dance show where they mix tango, with the waltz and contemporary – it was spectacular! The Beatles tribute band was amazing as well. I was expecting a bunch of men who barely looked or sounded anything like the Beatles but I was super happy with the show.

As a HUGE fan of the movie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I went into this with my nose up and highly skeptical. I was terrified because my very Christian mother was with me. But, we watched the show and it was amazing. I don’t mind a little nudity or cursing for art sakes but my mom was a little taken aback by it. Other than that she enjoyed the music and the comedy. I am always amazed whenever I see this show in whatever format.

The ship overall was very clean and very lively. The restaurants were nice except for one that is located in the middle of the ship called TASTE. A certain part of it is under an opening and above that is the casino. Since people are allowed to smoke in the casino the smell of cigarettes drift down into the restaurant.  I was not im

Above Taste – the tables below

pressed by that and didn’t want to go back. The second time went much better as we were seated in another section.

 

All in all, I’m not sure I’d cruise Norwegian again. I mean the staff was fab, and the shows amazing but the food wasn’t all that and the cost is too much. I wasn’t impressed with that at all.

But, I did have fun. For my first time on board a cruise ship it was memorable. If you are thinking of cruising do all the research first. See what their paid services entails and what comes with your ticket.

If you don’t, you’re going to come back in debt and at that point you’re going to have to weight the cost versus the experience. I know these things are expensive but for this one there were too many surprise costs. My mom was horrified and she’s a cruiser–she’s been on at least a cruise a year for the past five or so years. So imagine the shock when we finished bowling and was told we now had to pay. It was interesting and maddening all at the same time.

Poster for BURN THE FLOOR

 

 

Hugs,

Kato

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Music Monday – Superfruit

Name: Superfruit or Sup3rfruitImage result for superfruit

Members: Mitch Grassi & Scott Hoying

Language: English

Associated Acts: Pentatonix & Amber

Note: Mitch and Scott are members of the super acapella group Pentatonix. Superfruit was started as a youtube channel that blossomed into a highly successful group. They have done duet with the amazing K-pop singer Amber.

Songs of note: Sexy Ladies, Guy, Teenager Heartthrob, One Goodbye from Lonely.

Featured song: Guy

 

Hugs,

Kato

Entanglement – A Review

“You let someone see you at your worst, and you watch if they stick around.”

NOTE: This might contain spoiler.

Starring: Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie), Jess Weixler (Peter and Vandy, Lumpy), Diana Bang (The Interview, The Edge of the Garden)Image result for entanglement movie

Blurb: While searching for the meaning of his existence, Ben Layten uncovers a family secret that leads him to a woman named Hanna. When Ben and Hanna fall in love, Ben’s life becomes increasingly and strangely complicated. He soon starts to realize that everything is amazingly and incredibly connected — and that the world might just be more inexplicable than he ever imagined (IMDB).

Review: Entanglement is about a man feeling despondent with life–I mean, we all get those days when we just feel over it all. But, the majority of us snap out of it and adult on. Ben (played by Thomas Middleditch) goes on an attempted suicide spree that leaves him even more depressed. That is until he finds out a secret his parents had been hanging onto for his entire life. Now, believes this secret is the reason why his life is the way it is–that because to their lie by omission, he could have had a very different life. With that thought in mind, he sets out to finding the person missing in his life and see if he could find some meaning to life.

The first time you meet Ben, you know he’s losing it. And his best friend Tabby (played by the adorable Diana Bang) is desperately trying to be understanding. She keeps trying to save him, even helping with some of his crazy attempt at finding meaning. But as you go further into the film, you realize there is a reason Ben is so jacked up. His mother and father were a couple plums short of a fruitcake. They aren’t very supportive and you being to realize Ben’s displacement stems from their attitude toward his life and his depression.

With life splintering, things only get worse and Tabby is beginning to think she cannot help Ben.

Entanglement is a tribute to all who suffers from a mental health issue. I could completely relate to Ben. Sometimes you just feel as if the world is a crazy, chaotic place and you don’t fit in anywhere. And sometimes you think your life could have been different if a certain thing had played out differently, if you’d zigged when you probably should have zagged. This movie is a silent classic and it opens the eyes to what happens when someone’s life is splintering.

Mental health issue is real people–it is so real, I cannot even begin to tell how real.

Hugs,

Kato

 

Europe pt 6 – Palma de Mallorca

The day before Palma, the ship stopped in Cannes. Wouldn’t you know it? I was sick that day. I caught a cold somewhere and I couldn’t breathe. I knew my group loved walking so I decided since I couldn’t breathe properly, overexertion was not the best thing.  I stayed on board, relaxing, floating on the pool, chilling in the hot tub with an ice-cream cone. It was a restful day.

Onward to Palma de Mallorca!

The port of Palma – Photo by Kato

We didn’t have much planned for Palma. I don’t think any of us was really familiar with it. I’d done a little digging years ago for a book I had wanted to write but nothing really came of it. We took a shuttle bus from the ship to the city center–or at least what they were calling the city center.  As we approached our destination, there were small boats in the water–a lot of them. Someone said there was a boat show happening but I wasn’t sure how accurate that was. I think Palma de Mallorca is one of those places where everyone owns a boat. A bit before there wee fishermen selling fresh fish off their boats. It seemed to be, they go out early in the morning, then carry their haul back to sell. The destination for the shuttle bus was wonderful. It was by the ocean and we could see the ships in the distance. On the side of the road were street vendors trying to sell us things. .

Though we had no plans, we walked in the direction the bus faced, the water to our right and a busy street to our left. We crossed a busy intersection walking toward where a castle stood beside what looked to be a building from the Ottoman empire. I found out later it was called Cathedral La Seu. It was beautiful.

In front was a water way, and on the land side was a bunch of vendors selling awesome things. My mom bought a little bracelet for her grand niece with the little girls name designed into it. We stood there and watched the man make it for us. Around him was

Beer in Palma – Photo by Kato

music, and sunshine and food and beer. Apparently, we’d stumbled into a craft beer show! This fit perfectly with my “beer in every port” goal. I wasn’t sure what this beer was called – actually, I can’t remember–but it was light and refreshing.  The it was a time to showcase the region’s best craft beers.

There was also food, a lot of food. I had empanadas and cakes because, well, it’s called empanadas people!

We passed food and beer and continued just wandering aimlessly. We went through these beautiful gates along the side of the castle, up some steps then passed through where vendors were selling candles and bath salts and the entire area had this amazing aroma! I believe it was the slight heat with all the candles and scents around us. Still, we continued along under some trees into what looked to be the castle’s garden, with fountains in the center and benches under hibiscus trees. I said trees because I’d never seen hibiscus grow so tall before but the flowers confirmed they were in fact hibiscus trees.

There was art everywhere. If you look behind the sculpture you can see the old walls of the castle. There were also architecture from the olden days everywhere, pristinely kept and still standing. This area was peaceful, cool beneath the trees while the world ran wild and chaotic with traffic just steps away from this.

One of our travelers couldn’t walk much so she remained on one of the benches in the park while the rest of us wandered down to the street and the shopping on the other side of the walls.

I really wanted to take pictures of all of this but there was people everywhere. I couldn’t get a clear shot of anything. Apparently, here is where the tourist shop-till-the-drop. There are stores everywhere. Every store sells different things. Hats, scarves, clothing, food including tapas, liquor, mugs, bags–whatever you want, you’ll find there. We wandered along, picking up little trinkets here and there.

I wanted to stop for paella but we couldn’t.t We only had about seven hours in Palma de Mallorca so before we knew it we had to start heading back.

We went back for the lady we’d left under the trees and we sat there with her for a moment, taking in everything around. We found a cove into the back of the castle where

Me chilling at the castle – Photo by Kato

there was what looked to be a swimming hole. I found a dove there sunning herself and couldn’t believe how romantic the entire thing had been.

Though I didn’t want to leave, we eventually made our way back toward the shuttle buses. We stopped to speak to a few people then wandered leisurely toward the area with the sea on one side. The vendors were still there so we bought some magnets with Palma de Mallorca on them then caught a shuttle bus back to the ship.

It wasn’t a long day in this port, but I enjoyed every second. From the sunshine, to the beautiful architecture. Everything instilled in me a peace I had never had before. The happiness seeing all this, though limited, sent through me proved that I would love to travel more–maybe not on a cruise because I would like to spend more time in the places I go to in order to experience the food, people and places. I want to eat all the things. Drink all the beers and speak all the languages.

Ambition? Maybe!

Palma de Mallorca – thank you for that sense joy and peace.

Hugs,

Kato

The Mummy – A Review

“Whatever’s in there has been safely hidden for 2,000 years. This isn’t a tomb, it’s a prison.”

Starring: Tom Cruise (Risky Business, Mission Impossible (all of them)), Sofia Boutella (Atomic Blonde, Hotel Artemis, Star Trek Beyond), Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders, The Tudors), Russell Crowe (Gladiator, Robin Hood), Jake Johnson (Let’s Be CoImage result for the mummy 2017ps, Jurassic World), Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story, The Preacher’s Wife).

Blurb:  Nick Morton is a soldier of fortune who plunders ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London (IMDB).

Review: I can’t with this movie. When I heard they were making a new Mummy movie, I was overjoyed–until I found out they casted Tom Cruise as the lead.

Let me explain something to you – Brendan Frasier will always be the star of The Mummy. I don’t care how many years pass, who they cast–it’s ALWAYS Brendan Fraser for me. Even with how bad the third movie was, I still watched it because Brendan Frasier and Jet Li.

I will write this review about this sorry excuse for The Mummy (2017) and then think of it no more.

To make matters even worse – this horrid movie is supposed to be the start of a new series of movies for The Dark Universe – apparently more movies will come with Tom Cruise but stories surrounding Frankenstein’s Bride, the Invisible Man, The Wolfman and all our old favorites. And even after The Mummy did so abysmally, and received nothing but bad reviews, Universal is still backing this mess.

*exhales* I gave this movie a chance even with all the bad reviews I’d read. Why? Because I love making up my own mind. I should have listened.

Let’s start with the acting. Tom Cruise is as stiff as he has always been. And to top it all off, the writing seemed as if he’d written them. Everyone one else was so-so and I’m still trying to figure out why Russell Crowe was even in this movie. Why was he even a thought to be casted? The bad guy–er I mean female–Ahmanet, I don’t even know where to start with this one. It all culminated into a horrible ending of begging and Tom Cruise showing the same, tired acting he’s always known for.

The chemistry between Nick (Tom Cruise) and Jenny (Annabelle Harris) was none existent. I’m not even sure they even tried. I mean, it wasn’t like they stood a chance. Brendan and Rachel was sexy as hell together on the screen and there was nothing remotely vulgar anywhere. There was just an adoration between the two actors that makes me watch their movie every chance I get.

And that second to last scene – that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

This movie was a hot mess. It was so bad I don’t even want to think of them making more. It’s especially maddening when you think of it because two of the writers are behind things like Dead Poet’s Society and Jurassic Park! The premise behind this movie was so damn good! That’s another thing that got me! The movie could have been sooooooooooooooo much better than what they eventually tried to shove down our throats!

Something went seriously wrong in the making of this movie. Someone had a strangle hold over how they wanted the movie to seem not thinking there is a cult following to the originals. And while this Mummy has a different angle, different lead characters, it is still being compared to Brendan Frasier’s and Rachel Weisz’s.  What they need to do is just rehire Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz. Give them WHATEVER they want, then find Oded Fehr, pay him whatever he wants and let’s do this thing right.

Please don’t make another Mummy with Tom Cruise as the lead.

Please.

I just…wow…so bad.

Hugs,

Kato

Europe Pt. 5: Livorno!

The next port of call was Livorno. We had an entire day here but that day was taken up by travelling from the Port to Pisa. It was made twice as difficult when the person who took charge of getting us there, ignored instructions forcing us to literally go out of our way to get to where we needed to go. We were told to take the Lam Blue from where the shuttle bus left us but that instructions were ignored. We took the wrong bus, wound up at a train station, then had to take a train and a second another bus to make it there. By

The platform in Livorno

the time we arrived, it was basically to look at the Leaning Tower, the cathedral beside it, take a few pictures, browse for a second at the markets at the entrance then ran like crazy people back to catch our bus.

Lesson #1: At the train station, you have to purchase your tickets at the window at the front of the building. Then, you must find your platform and activate your ticket by sticking it into this machine on the platform. When I went to do this, the machine wasn’t working. We asked a local. He laughed and said, “These things are never working. Try another platform. If that doesn’t work, go back to the front and ask them to do it.” I quirked a brow and followed the instructions. We wound up having to head back to the window.

Lesson #2: Bathrooms. Long story short, you have to pay to use them. But at least they have toilet paper and are clean.

Back to the ticket. The lady at the counter was super helpful. She stapled our returned tickets together and highlighted what we needed to know on the first ticket. She spoke flawless English, but I had uppity and say hello in Italian. I felt super proud of that. She grinned and returned my greeting. She explained everything to me when I went to buy mine and my mom’s tickets.

Lesson #3: Tickets are timed. So, you can use one ticket for as long as the time hasn’t run

Train ticket in Livorno

out on one mode of transportation. There are no transfers – so when you get off a bus to go into the train, you pay on the bus and on the train. Tickets are not transferable to both. If all you’re taking are buses, your ticket will last about an hour. If you’re going from a bus to a train (or vice versa) you must pay on both.

The first train to Pisa was clean. It was an older train and rocked slightly on the track. The announcement at the beginning gives the stops etc in Italian and in English, which was great. It was awesome to me to hear so much Italian in such a short span of time. The stops are very far apart. We only went three stops but the ride was about twenty five minutes. We passed through open fields and swamp lands which was a little comforting because I love the country side.

When we arrived at Pisa, I was stunned by the number of vendors that were set up at the entrance to enter where the tower sits. We were in such hurry that I didn’t get time to get pictures. But there are tons of them. They sell everything from purses, to scarves and food. I would have loved to spend at least an hour just wandering from one to the other.

Lesson #4: Pickpockets. The entire time we were in Europe, we were warned to guard our bags and purses carefully. There are a number of pickpockets operating in these areas especially The Vatican and the crowded layout of Pisa, especially at the gates.  Be super careful with valuables.

The leaning Tower of Pisa – Photo by Kato

Seeing the tower was as magnificent as they say. I was especially proud when I could basically play tour guide since I knew why the tower leaned and all that good stuff. We didn’t get a chance to go in. We were short on time and the lines were insanity.

People were taking pictures everywhere, most of whom were pretending to be pushing the tower up. The green close to the tower was cordoned off with a sign that said not to walk on the grass. I suppose they were trying to keep it pristine but you couldn’t even sit on the damn thing.

The tower wasn’t as high as I thought it would be but it draws crows like very little I’ve seen in that area. There were people walking to and fro, people peering out the arches in the actual tower, children, dogs, men selling things.

Lesson #5: There are people selling things everywhere. They are very persistent. They sells scarves, selfi-sticks, magnets even water. Be very careful when purchasing things from these vendors as they aren’t legally supposed to be doing this. Sometimes they get super aggressive. A few times I really had to put my foot down. This isn’t only at Pisa – they are in the square in Livorno and every port we stopped at.

I took the little time I had to bask in the wonderful atmosphere around us. Even with the heat and the blaring sun. The peace I’d felt in Rome and Naples returned and I took a quiet moment for myself, to stare up at this building, a way of imprinting it into my memory.

I would love to go back, if only to go inside.

Taking in front of the Tower

 

Me chilling in front of the tower – No make-up. It was too hot for that.

Not sure what this is, but it looks like a part of the old city wall – Taken in Livorno on the way to Pisa – Photo by Kato

 

Hugs,

Kato

 

Europe Pt 4 – ROME! You’re up!

The next port was Civitavecchia which gave us access to Rome. I couldn’t have been more excited. Honestly, I didn’t think that was possible. But the more I thought of all the places I would have the chance to visit – well–

The next morning, I wolfed down breakfast and played the impatient waiting game until everyone else could get their crap together. This was one of the ports where we had things planned for–a tour and the places the tour would take us. The Coliseum, The Vatican – including St Peter’s Basilica, as well as lunch in Rome.

I. Was. Pumped!

As we drove through the streets, I realized how very little has changed. Aside from technology, most of the streets we travelled on were not paved with asphalt but with a kind of material that resembled cobblestones. It made for a very, very bumpy ride.

We were driven by where Julius Cesar was killed, shown the home of the current Roman leader, drove by one of the churches that is said hold one of the Holy Doors (porta Sancta). We were shown where Mussolini gave his speeches. We were also shown the historic theatre and was told of Nero and the burning of Rome. Historians believe that

The Coliseum – Photo by Kato

Emperor Nero burned down a great portion of Rome so he could build his massive royal compound. He took up a great portion of the seven hills of Rome. Our guide, Piera, doesn’t believe that.

I still believe Nero was batshit crazy.

Finally, we arrived at the Coliseum aka Flavian Amphitheatre. Even as our tour bust drove alongside it my eyes burned with tears. I was in awe of this structure built around 70 to 80 AD that still stood as large as anything else.  There is something remarkably humbling, standing in the shadows of this spectacular piece of history and walking along cobble stones that were laid during the reign of Emperor Flavian.

Piera explained the history behind it, that it was free to enter but people were all given tickets. Above the arches (entrances) are Roman numbers which she explained were on the tickets to tell people which gates to enter through to get to their seats. Seating was in kind of a caste system, of course. Inside, gladiators fought each other, animals fought animals–this was also a kind of a zoo as well. This was where people would see Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh my!

Around the coliseum, houses are standing where families live. Beneath all that are the sleeping quarters of the gladiators, the animals, the gladiators’ hospital etc. According to Piera, th

Arc de Triumph in Rome

ere is an entire city beneath the current structures.

 

Also, the Coliseum was called the Flavian Amphitheatre but was called the Coliseum because there was a massive, golden (of course golden) statute of Nero outside it.  It was called The Colossus. During the dark ages and the decline of the Roman empire, the statue was melted down to make weapons for the constant battles Rome had to face – from outside forces and the dueling wealthy families within to civil wars. It was a bad time for Rome.

Another thing I learned, the French had this habit of building an Arc de Triumph everywhere. There was one in Barcelona that I had a chance to visit but was too tired to go. And guess what? There’s one in Rome right outside the Coliseum!

We wandered through Rome, stopping in certain places on the way to learn about little

bits of history that had me enthralled. There are Egyptian towers in the City, including one in the Vatican. There are statutes and monuments everywhere and each and every one of them has a story.

There was something about walking amongst these things, some of them built before the coliseum which mean they were built WAY before modern technology. Yet they stand as they were built yesterday. I absorbed the feel of them, touching everything I could, dragging my fingers through the fountain waters, wishing in every one I could.

I drank from some of the statues as our guide told us the water was some of the cleanest in the world. She knew the different ones we could drink from and which we shouldn’t. She drank from each and every one of them as well to prove we could and since I drink a lot of water, it was a blessing for me.

I’d always seen the Trevi fountain in movies. People would throw their money in and make a wish. Though it wasn’t on our itinerary, Piera brought us to it, explaining the history behind it. Of course, it was very crowded but we made our way as far down as we could until I could get a coin and make my own wish. I shed a tear then, because that

Trevi Fountain – photo by Kato

was a dream in itself. Piera I noticed that at the top of them there were names and years. Piera explained the names were of religious leaders.

Point, there is a lot of religious symbols and monuments in Rome. At one point, even today, Popes held a lot of power and wealth in Rome. Most of the buildings and statues and churches etc were built by popes or were commissioned to be built by popes.  Some of the buildings in the city were built from other buildings that were pillaged of their wealth and brought back to satisfy the need to build by the popes.

She told us stories of some of the wealthiest families back in the day living in Rome being the Pope and the Catholic church. We were even taken through the ‘ghettos’ of Rome where the powers that were at the time relegated the Jewish people, forcing them to live in not so pristine conditions. I realize hate has always been in fashion – I was extremely sad at that.

As I stood, staring at the fountain, I realized, a few hours in Rome just wouldn’t do it. I totally have to go back.

Next, one of my favorite part of each port – FOOD!

Mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto – Photo by Kato

We were taken to this beautiful, authentic Roman restaurant where the owner attended to us personally. He is friends with the lady who put the tour together. He was a lovely man who made us laugh. Here I had freshly made mozzarella wrapped in Prosciutto.

Note – during this trip, I was advised to eat all the things! I ate all the things. I’d never had this before and was a little leery at first.  But, I remember that when in Rome… Curious, I cut into the one sitting before me. I skipped the olives–I won’t eat that anywhere.

It was delicious. My mom and I ate an entire one by ourselves and then we started in on another one. We were also served fresh bread, keep in mind, everything was made on site. The bread was still warm and with homemade butter, I had to push the plate away from me and into the center of the table. Everything was so yummy.

Next, came the pasta. I was waiting for that moment. We were allowed have two types because we were tourists. We were given the chance to try two in one which was

Pasta in Rome! – Photo by Kato

amazing and I jumped at the chance.

It was a bit salty but good. Others in our group were complaining the pasta was hard. The thing is, we were in Rome and pasta is always cooked al dente. They don’t cook it within an inch of its life like we do here on this side of the world.

I enjoyed as much as I could then had to stop because of how salty it was. I was able to eat a little more of it than others because, as planned, I ordered a beer with my own. While the others ordered wine. I figured, I could have wine any time but my goal was to have a beer in every port.

Beer in Rome! – Photo by Kato

 

We then rushed to The Vatican. What we didn’t know was that the day we were there was a public holiday. The lines at The Vatican was surprising. We would have had to get there at least at 7am to make much of a move. But we were taken into The Vatican and shown around the square. I drank from the water spout and marveled in the history around us. We couldn’t get into St. Peter’s Basilica because of the LONG line. My mom was disappointed and so was I. But I was just happy to be in that space.

 

Inside The Vatican

To the right of this photo you can sort of see a part of the line heading inside the basilica. The line wrapped around behind where I’m standing to take this pic and disappeared behind the actual basilica. It was crazy.
For those who don’t know the significance of St. Peter’s Basilica – it is said to be built atop where St. Peter was buried.
I had a marvelous time in Rome and I can’t wait to go back! Hopefully, this time, I can spend more than a few hours and get to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
Hugs,
Kato

Amazon Crap

Okay, this warrants a blog post because a facebook post would just be too long. Plus I keep getting emails now regarding the rest of my CIRO series. For those who have zero clue what I’m talking about, lemme break it down.

A year ago, I got wind of a new series, fan fictions really, that Amazon was doing called Special Forces: Operation Alpha: Miracle and the Beast (Kindle Worlds Novella) (GSG 9 - CIRO Book 1) by [Chailyn, Kendra Mei]KINDLE WORLDS. This is where a big name author, create a world, and other authors are then allowed to write their own stories within said world, using one or more of the World Creators (will become WC for this post) characters plus their setting.

I was super stoked. I LOVE LOVE LOVE men in uniform and jumped at it when I saw there was a special forces one started by Susan Stokes (who will become SS for this post). I created my CIRO – Beast, Pitbull, Barbie, Zero and Mouth and started writing like the wind.

I have fallen so hard for this guys. So far, Beast’s story has done well, was an Amazon bestseller, along with Barbie. Pitbull was due out this July, plus I’ve written a story in another world, The Brotherhood Protectors, that was due out this October. I am also in Mari Carr’s Wild Irish World and had just started a sexy cowboy novella in Sable Hunter’s world.

It came as a huge shock when our WC told us that Amazon was shutting down the Kindle World program. No reasoning behind it–it would be just gone.

So now, they’ve stopped taking submissions for the Kindle Worlds. All traces of Kindle world will be gone as of July and authors and WC are now left feeling like a lady bug who got knocked onto her back.

I am unsure of the reasoning behind this latest move by Amazon. And to be honest, now Special Forces: Operation Alpha: Barbie (Kindle Worlds Novella) (GSG 9 Ciro Book 2) by [Chailyn, Kendra Mei]that I’ve had time to think, I don’t care. What they have done is disgusting and it is really starting to become an issue for many indie authors, including myself. They don’t understand, or don’t care, what this now means.

This means that some WC can now screw over their authors. Because now, even if some authors change their stories to no longer include the WC’s characters/settings, the author still requires permission from the WC to republish the newly edited book. I mean, what in the hell?

Now authors have to replace covers, remove logos, rewrite stories or scrap them after all that work…it’s a bloody mess. Covers are expensive. For me, my Miracle and the Beast cover was done by a different person than who did my Barbie and my Pitbull covers. Thankfully, the Pitbull artist offered to work with me because she realized it wasn’t my fault this is happening and I LOVE my cover.

Authors will also lose all the reviews they’ve gotten since the worlds began on these stories.

I’m pretty sure tons of authors are going to get royally screwed by this upheaval. Amazon handled this very poorly. Thankfully, my special operations WC told us all that she has our backs and will try her best to make this less dramatic than it seems to be getting for some authors.

So let’s address a few things I’ve been getting emails and PM’s about:

  1. Will readers lose the stories on their Kindle – This I have no idea about. Readers will have to contact Amazon and ask them. Personally, I don’t think you will lose the stories. It’s probably like if an author un-publish their story, you don’t suddenly lose it. You paid for it.
  2. GSG 9 CIRO – Right now, the decision is to leave them in the Special Operations Alpha world and work with the authors who will remain a part of this world to get Wild Irish: Wild Chance (Kindle Worlds Novella) by [Chailyn, Kendra Mei]the stories back out as soon as possible. Once I have more news to report on this end, and can share, I will.
  3. The rest of the GSG 9 CIRO stories – PITBULL requires editing but is pretty much read. I am waiting to see what happens in the world and what SS decides and go from there. MOUTH’s story almost complete, writing-wise, and my niece already helped me flush out ZERO’s story. So, I plan on finishing them.
  4. Where the heck is REAPER – At the moment, REAPER is edited, cover done, beta-read and ready to go. I cannot, however, release it until I know what the WC for the Brotherhood Protectors decided. Depending on her decision, I will have to do some SERIOUS rewrites on REAPER to make it my and have nothing to do with the world, then have my cover guru change the cover to remove the logo (yes, I do have the cover and was just about to share it when the news broke, so that’s remaining secret a little while longer). So, to answer that question, REAPER is in limbo.
  5. Will there be new covers and do I need to buy those – I don’t know yet. The cover for Miracle and the Beast my change–I really would like to change it. The cover for BARBIE I will not change unless there is a HUGE problem. It is terrifyingly hard to find pictures of strong, black females on these stock sites and I really don’t want to venture into that hell right now. The cover for PITBULL will not change if the current plans stick. The stories themselves, (BEAST and BARBIE – especially BEAST) will go through major rewrites and edits so if you feel the need to repurchase them by all means. I will try my very best to ensure these new versions give you something new to hopefully be worth it. Of course, I will work with the other authors to have contests as well. More info once it becomes available.
  6. What will happen to WILD CHANCE – Again, no idea. I am still waiting to speak with the WC to make a decision that will benefit you guys and myself.  I don’t know what the WC is thinking at the moment and that will affect my decision for the story – either way, I will be putting it out again but it will be DRAMATICALLY changed due to copyrights issues and the sort.
  7. Can we still buy these books – Yes. According to amazon the only thing you cannot do right now, is submit new stories. You will be able to purchase all these awesome titled until around mid-July.
  8. Can we still read them on KU – For a little while longer you will be able to. They weren’t clear on when they will remove them from Kindle Unlimited, but they will be gone. Again, not sure when – since Amazon didn’t give us a removal date for KU.
  9. What can I do as a reader – I feel so proud and honoured to have awesome readers like you guys. Some people wouldn’t even ask this. But since you did, let me say this. Once these books are taken down by Amazon we will lose our reviews. So, if authors decide to re-release their stories, whether as is or vastly edited, please support us. Buy the books, some authors hand out ARC’s for free. Once you’ve read them, please go back and leave another review. We really appreciate constructive criticism (we love hearing how awesome you think our stories are too) and it helps us get better. Leave us a review, tell your friends, share it on social media, send a kind word to the author(s). Right now, between the whole cocky debacle and this newest brick wall, we could use all the love we can get.
    Be patient with us. This is hard and figuring out this conundrum that Amazon has left is in will take some time. Also, keep supporting your favorite authors during this time (and a few new to you ones as well). Transitioning will be super hard.
  10. How are you doing – Better than yesterday. I’ve shed a few tears to get my anger and frustration out. Now, I’m just looking for a way to be able to feel as if my writing is worth something again.

Personally, it breaks my heart having to go through this. And, in all honesty, I want to go buck while and start firing at people but what good is that going to do? We don’t know who to go after for this. Right now, we’re just taking the news and moving on as best we can. Last night I cried for about 3 hours when it sank in what we were about to deal with. I seriously considered quitting and I am still mulling it over because if you knew my past in this industry–it’s been more rocky than anything else.

As more comes to me that I can share, I will. In the mean time, thanks again for your support. It means a lot to me and the others within these worlds.

Hugs,

Kato

Interstellar – A Review

We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper

Blurb: In Earth’s future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. But first, Brand must send former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers through the wormhole and acInterstellar Posterross the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home (IMDB).

Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, True Detective, MUD),  John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun, The Crown, How I Met Your Mother), David Oloweyo (Star Wars Rebels, Queen of Katwe, A Wrinkle in Time), David Gyasi (Troy: Fall of a City, Containment, Man in the Orange Shirt), Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Get Smart), Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea, Gone Baby Gone, Ocean’s Eleven), Matt Damon (The Martian, We Bought a Zoo, True Grit)

Review: Let me start by saying Interstellar is a fantastic movie. It won’t be for everyone and I can get why. But the movie is none-the-less amazing.

For a lot of people Interstellar was a long, pointless flick that should not have been made. Some even went as far as to say it’s the worse movie they’d ever seen. And yes, I get it. I can totally see that. In an age where Marvel is remaking everything and nothing is fresh, Interstellar must have been some kind of a shock to the world.

Sure, it dragged like hell in some places, but I understand the movie. I get how it played out and why it did that way. This movie is a bit of a brain stretcher. It forces you to use your brain. It has math, science and more math. It grabs the mind and twist it in a way that forces you to think outside the box. No one has ever gone through a black hole and in this movie, Cooper has. He didn’t know what he would find or if he would even survive it but he did.

I think most people were expecting a rousing good time. They didn’t want to use their brain while watching it and Interstellar forces you to think, to work out the problem along with the characters. The first time I watched it a little slowly–I kept having to rewind to go back to a certain point and rewatch. I don’t mind–I love movies that challenges me.

The ending I had to watch a few times but I liked the way it ended.

There were quite a few big names in the flick but it didn’t feel like it was jam packed full of them. I love the low key-ness of it all.

Sure, Interstellar isn’t for everyone. And for most, you won’t understand and I think that’s why so many people dislike the movie. I enjoyed it. I think the graphics are mesmerizing, the imagination behind the flick had to have been amazing. You should totally watch this.

Hugs,

Kato

Europe Trip pt 3 – Napoli – I was in you!

The first port we stopped in was Naples.  At some point in my sleep, early in the morning, I felt the ship doing something of a weird, little shake. I shook it off as rough waters, rolled over and went back to sleep. Then my bladder started calling and I grunted and climbed out of bed. I noticed a little sunlight peeking in through the blinds and decided to look out.

The first thing I saw were these beautiful, red buildings. I screamed, jarring my mother awake. “We’re here!” We’re here!”

She moaned. “I know.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I was incredulous!

I quickly used the bathroom, then grabbed my camera and darted to the balcony and began snapping as many pictures as I could. My mother, who had cruised before merely pulled the sheets over her head while I was outside, making kissy faces, trying to get the best angle to take a selfie with the buildings in the background.

Toward the front of the ship was Naples’ Castel Nuovo – a beautiful castle that sits in the center of a busy street. A little bit of old mixed with the newness of cars zooming back and forth around it.

I couldn’t wait to get off the ship. But apparently, the authorities had to clear the ship before anyone could get off. I suppose that’s for safety. While we waited, I showered, dressed, grabbed everything I would need for the day, camera/phone for pictures, money for little things and pizza (ever since watching Eat Pray Love, and knew where pizza came from, my dream was to have pizza in Italy–specifically pizza margherita in Italy.).

I was ready to go – then my mom dropped the bomb on me that we had to have breakfast first.

Port of Naples with construction

*Dramatic sigh*

I tapped my foot impatiently as I wolfed down my meal. But then had to wait for everyone else. Soon, not soon enough, we were all together and were finally permitted to get off the ship. We wandered through customs, and through a gorgeous little shopping center then down flowing front steps and outside. I was tempted to fall to my face and kiss the ground while shouting quite dramatically “LAND! SWEET, SWEET LAND!!”

Then, I figured my mom would not impressed with my acting skills so, instead I settled for changing my status on facebook to “Naples I am in you!!”

I learned that Naples is also called Napoli.

We didn’t get much into the actual city. Aside from the port and looking at the beautiful buildings around. Instead, we found a taxi driver willing to take us to Sorrento and Pompei for a reasonable fee and off we went.

On the way, the driver – Guiseppe who told us we could call him Joseph, was hilarious. He played music for us, gave us some history of the places we were passing, the history

View from the street on way to Sorrento

of pizza margherita, Vesuvius and he stopped along the way so we could get out, stretch, buy souvenirs, take pictures while we oohed and ahhed over the scenery.

We stopped quite a few times and everything was absolutely breath-taking. At one point I found myself crying because all you have to do is look at this picture right here to see why. The mountains, covered in fog which slowly trickled into the clouds, building built into the side of the mountains, roads that turn into tunnels leading to different locals, buildings that seemed to have withstood the test of time and humans.  I was left speechless while the others were either taking pictures of haggling with a street vendor on the price of something. For the longest time, I remained at the railing, staring down over the Bay of Naples below us, wondering how high we’d driven. I watched sailboats go to and fro in the soft waters below. I watched cars go in and out of the different tunnels in the mountains, marveling at the technology and great thinkers who worked to make man be able to walk through walls. I was humbled by the time we climbed back into the little bus and took off again.

Limonchello

I have never had real limonchello, so when I saw it being sold at the side of the road, I forked over the 2 Euros it cost and picked up a cute little bottle of the stuff.

I didn’t drink it. I decided to save it for later. So we continue don our adventure, our driver being his hilarious self, playing for us everything from Dean Martin to Bob Marley. I tell you, there are very few things more amazing, that driving through Italy with Bob Marley blasting from the speakers.

Traffic became horrid when we arrived in one of the small towns before Sorrento. It was something I was used to. I took the time, when not in a tunnel under the mountains, to keep my eye on Vesuvius. I have to be honest, having Joseph remind us that it erupted in the forties was a little unnerving. But for the most part, I was left amazed by this towering mass that had caused such devastation in 79 AD, destroying everything in its path, including burying Pompeii and Herculaneum.  I leaned my face into the window, tilted my head, anything I could do so my eyes would remain on it. A few times someone joked that the fog against the tip was smoke and I eyed them with contempt for all of two seconds before that was forgotten and I went back to staring at the volcano.

We stopped again. This time, it was because the ladies in the front saw little carts on the side of the road and were curious what they were. Turns out, it was a place to get freshly

Me with the juice cart

squeezed orange juice made from the delicious Sorrento oranges. For 2 euros, we stood there and watched as he squeezed oranges with this machine into this beautiful jug that had been sitting in chunks of ice. He then poured it into a plastic cup and served it to us. I wanted to just keep drinking.

Maybe it was I was in Italy, almost into Sorrento, drinking Sorrento oranges but it was delicious–fresh, cool, not too sweet. I leaned my back against a concrete column and was enjoying until it was announced we had to go. I quickly downed what was left of my juice, dropped the cup into the vendor’s makeshift garbage, and fired off a few more pictures before hopping back into the bus.

Again, I rested into the side and stared out, trying to find Vesuvius in the horizon. But we’d turned into a different direction and it was no behind the bus. I frowned and focused on what Joseph was saying about the towns we would pass through.

 

We made it Sorrento. There wasn’t much to do in the square but shopping and bask in the history of the buildings around us. The group decided to appease my craving for pizza and we found this beautiful restaurant.

Lesson: In most parts of Italy, to order a meal and take it out, you only pay for your meal and applicable taxes. To eat in the restaurant, you have to pay a surcharge. It’s nothing major anywhere from 1.50 euros to about 3 – depending on the restaurant. So, don’t freak out.

We settled in and after I checked to ensured they had what I wanted I made my order. Someone said we should order two and each person could get a piece of each. I was vehemently against that. I’m a team player with most things but I had been waiting close to ten years for this moment. In the end, I got my wish and only shared with my mom. I tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to make it. And when it finally came, I took pictures.

When I finally tore off a slice and bit into it – it was just as delicious as Julia Roberts portrayed in the movie. Not too salty, no canned anything anywhere and just melted on my tongue. I moaned so loud, people at the table stared at me in silence for a second then burst out laughing. I then had to explain to them that this was all I really wanted in Naples/Sorrento and I was on cloud nine. Our waiter was amazing and kept us laughing the entire time. He spoke great English–said he learned from tourists who visited the restaurant. I was proud of him and told him so. I received my first “bella!” in Italy which made me very happy.

At the end, he brought us all free shots of limonchello.

The square in Sorrento

 

This was below the road and new Sorrento

We left Sorrento and headed back the way we’d come but diverted slightly for Pompeii. The streets in Pompeii were cobblestones, old, and beautiful. Though we didn’t get a chance to go into the destroyed part of the city (The line alone was killer and we had to head back soon to make our all aboard call), we wandered the outer rim, buying Gelato and little trinkets to bring back home. But, though we didn’t get a chance to go IN, I knew I was in the presence of greatness, in the presence of a force greater than man. I acknowledge that helplessness, dwelled in it for a little, then released it in the world around me.
Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii were good to me.
Hugs,
Kato