Saturday, July 3, 2010
Next, we traveled to Oia, another popular town, on a cliff above the port. Oia has a much less steep cliff to maneuver up than Fira, so it’s accessible from the water, but not by motor vehicle. We were lucky because we traveled to Oia the back way from Fira, but people coming off the boat had three options to get up to the town - cable car, walking, or riding a donkey….those are also the three ways to get back down (more on that later). Oia was just as pretty as Fira, but slightly bigger and a little more crowded. Here, there were many more beach-type shops and stores, and lots and lots of jewelry shops. We stopped for lunch and had our first genuine Greek meal. I had moussaka for the first time - eggplant with meat, potatoes and cheese and pasta in a lasagna-type formation. It was really really good! Russel was a little less adventurous and ordered spaghetti, but he enjoyed his meal nevertheless. We also got an order of tzatziki sauce and bread - Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and dill, all the makings for an amazing dip. After lunch, we explored Oia for the rest of the day, bought a bottle of Santorini wine, and decided to head down the cliff to the port. We had the same three choices as I mentioned above - cable car, walk or donkey. The line for the cable car was outrageous, and we wanted to enjoy the scenery, so we decided to walk. The locals told us it would take about a half hour to walk down it - so approximately a mile and a half on the path. We started down the path, and ran into the donkey drop-off/pick-up area. I managed to convince Russel that riding the donkeys down would be the best, and most memorable way to end our day in Santorini. I mean, how many times can you say you rode a donkey down a cliff-side? Plus, the donkeys share the road with the walkers, so the whole way down we’d be walking through donkey crap anyway, so avoiding the smell wasn‘t an option regardless. The donkeys were well trained to go down the cliff unguided - as soon as their handlers set them off they headed down the path independently. Luckily, Russel and my donkeys were buddies and stayed together the whole way down - which definitely made it a lot less terrifying for both of us. Although the donkeys were stable on the cobblestone, they often walked in a zigzag pattern down the path - so one minute they’d be checking you up against the wall of the cliff, and the next thing you know you’re right on the edge. A few times the handlers would be on the path and would whistle to make them speed up - since occasionally they’d stop and smell some flowers or take a break. After the fact, I’d ride the donkeys down again (although I’m not sure if Russel would agree with me). I absolutely loved the experience and will remember it forever. As we sailed away from Santorini, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful sunset over the islands. Next stop: Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey.
Pompeii, for those of you who failed history class, is a city near Mt. Vesuvius that was covered in ash when it erupted about 2,000 years ago. This preserved the city in a unique way that is pretty cool to see. Pompeii was about a 30 minute drive from the port in Naples. It was a good drive to see the city and surrounding areas, which was much different than Rome or Florence.
When we arrived at Pompeii we walked through a bunch of souvenir shops on our way to the front gate. We arrived at the gate and went up a steep hill of cobble stones. They warned us when we signed up and again on our tour pass that there would be a lot of walking on uneven terrain in Pompeii so we were prepared, unlike some others in our group including several older women and a skanky mom with high heals on (photo attached).
We walked through the ruins and took plenty of pictures. Some of the sights were amazing to see, others got repetitive and a little boring. The mosaics were especially interesting to see because some of them stayed completely intact throughout all the years. The houses we also cool, as well as the amphitheater. Throughout all of the ruins there were dogs that were for adoption. I’m thinking they were just strays that they wanted to get rid of. At the end of the tour we went back to the boat and laid out for the rest of the day, and I got sunburned. Tomorrow is a much needed at sea day. We can not wait to sleep in and do nothing all day.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Our next port was Livorno, the gateway to Florence and Pisa, two major stopping-points in Italy. Since these places are so significant, we chose to take an all-day tour to both cities. First, our tour took us to Florence, where we were free to roam around and explore on our own for several hours. Luckily for us, we were in Florence on a very special day. Every June 24 there is a festival in Florence, everyone is on holiday and all of the shops close down at 2pm for a parade through town. Since things would get hectic in the afternoon, our tour was in the morning – so we got the best of both worlds. We got to see the preparation for the festival (tents of food vendors, a carousel in the square, entertainers in the streets) and Florence everyday life as well, since the shops hadn’t closed yet. Florence is known for its leather goods and gold, so just about every store on the street was for one of the two, besides the high-fashion designer stores like Gucchi and Louis Vitton. We first visited the Palazzo Vecchio, where we saw a copy of Michelangelo’s David, among other beautiful statues and architecture.
We stopped in the Piazza Della Repubblica, where the festival’s main attractions were setting up. There was where we found the carousel and wine and food vendors. Of course, we couldn’t pass up tasting some of the local wine and buying a few bottles. Definitely some of the tastiest (and strongest!) wine we’ve ever found – and at less than $5 a bottle?!?!.
Next we stopped over at the Duomo, Florence’s most famous landmark. The Duomo’s intricate architecture is stunningly remarkable. We couldn’t get over how many tiny details were carved into the marble that makes up the cathedral and tower. We had learned earlier on the tour that the white marble used in many of the Florence architecture is abundant in the local mountains, and therefore is seen often around the area.
After a quick lunch (pizza, of course) we wandered over to the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that connects the main town of Florence to the Tuscan countryside. The bridge, we found, was actually completely lined with shops on either side – all of them jewelry shops. Gold and diamonds. Everywhere. The view from the bridge itself, however, was (to us) more beautiful than the glittering jewelry shop windows. On one side, Florence and its beautiful architecture, and on the other, the rolling green hills of Tuscany.
Florence, we’ll be back.
Pisa is a much smaller town, but with an equally famous landmark – the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At the present time it is leaning 14 ft to the side. We had about an hour to walk around the Field of Miracles, which is a grassy area a little larger than a football field. The Field of Miracles is home to three monuments, one of them being the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was actually a lot smaller in person than we expected – but still an interesting sight to see. As you could expect, every other person was posing for the typical “holding up the leaning tower” picture. We, of course, joined in.
Next up: Naples and the ruins of Pompeii
Russel and I didn’t have a tour scheduled for Monte Carlo, so we decided to sleep in and take our time around the city in the morning. Since we have an inside stateroom, we never know what time it is, and the only way our room brightens is if we turn the lights on. We set an alarm for 8:30am, but either didn’t hear it or it didn’t go off, because we woke up around noon. So, we set right out for lunch and exploring the city. Before we even stepped off the boat, the view was amazing. Yachts, Yachts, Yachts! The marina is full of yachts, some large and some small, all pristine. Some of the larger ones were as big as mansions, with hot tubs in back and helipads in the front. The cost of docking in Monaco is probably a fortune in itself, so it’s clear that these yachts belonged to some very wealthy people. Monte Carlo is a very small town – only about a mile long – and its major highlights are the marina, famous casino and the palace. The palace was much closer to the ship, and neither of us are big gamblers, so we decided to focus on the palace area of the city. We climbed up the side of a large hill to the palace, and took in the beautiful view. Everything about the town is picturesque – we discussed with some people afterwards that it didn’t even feel like it was a real place – it was so clean and perfectly kept. After roaming around through the palace area and small town on the hill, we strolled through the lush gardens, people (and car) watched, and did a little shopping in the boutiques. Lots of photos:
Neither of us has ever been on a cruise before, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Regardless, there were still many parts of the ship that surprised us. First of all, it’s size. The ship is absolutely huge! 19 decks, countless swimming pools, an enormous theater, five restaurants, shops, a world-class spa, jogging track, mini golf course, to name a few. Next, we weren’t prepared for the amount of food available to us – we even brought a bunch of power bars with us in case we didn’t make lunch one day – which we realized quickly wouldn’t be a problem. There is food available on the ship 24 hours a day – from buffets of pastas, salads and lunch meats to pizza and burger counters, ice cream bars, etc. Lastly, our stateroom is much larger than we thought as well. A roomy bed, desk, full closet and bathroom, it’s the perfect size for us.
On the first day aboard, we decided to explore the ship’s amenities and all it has to offer. There’s a beautiful grand hall, complete with winding staircases and musicians performing at all hours of the day. Spreading from that are boutiques for everything from jewelry to deodorant, a two story theater for singing and dancing shows, beautiful restaurants and buffets, and our favorite: the Lotus Spa and Fitness Center. Now, we didn’t really plan on working out, but we’re definitely considering it now after seeing the beautiful gym at the front of the boat overlooking the blue Mediterranean sea. You can literally jog on the treadmill as the ship sails forward and just watch the scenery change. Perhaps an even better part of the Lotus Spa, as we learned, is the Thermal Suite. Russel and I immediately signed up for the VIP couples package – which includes full access to the Lotus Spa’s Thermal Suite, a room full of heated stone beds (much more comfortable than they sound), a hot sauna, a steam sauna, an aromatherapy sauna, a fog shower and a tropical shower. The perfect way to relax on our honeymoon after full days of exploring Italy and Greece. As soon as we unpacked our bags and settled into our room, we headed straight to the saunas and relaxed.
Next was dinner – a part of the cruise we were anxiously awaiting. We had signed up for a traditional dining option – which means we eat at the same time, in the same place, with the same people every night. This could be really good, or really bad. All afternoon we were worrying about the types of people that we wouldn’t want to sit with at dinner (snotty couples, annoying families, picky eaters, etc). Again, we lucked out and were sat at a table of 6 with two very nice couples. One couple is about our parents’ age, from NC, with a daughter about to be married. The other couple is also on their honeymoon, married a week before we were, from Toronto. So, of course, the first night’s conversation revolved around weddingsJ.
The first night at sea was very comfortable – the slight rocking of the ship was actually rather soothing as we drifted off to bed and sailed for Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
After 10 hours of flying and 4 hours in airports, we finally made it to Rome, Italy! Our driver from the airport spoke absolutely no English, so we crossed our fingers when getting into the car. After about an hour of crazy driving on highways to tiny streets, we made it to our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready yet, since it was about 10am, so we handed over our bags and went exploring!
The Metro in Rome is absolutely the best way to get around. After riding it all day, we felt like pros getting around the city. The first stop was the Colosseum, Rome’s trademark. As soon as we stepped out of the metro station, there it was in front of us. I must say, it’s much larger than it looks in pictures. We walked around, taking in the beauty and avoiding the tourist traps as much as we could.
After spending some time in St. Peter’s Square, walking down a lane full of foreign embassies and visiting the bridges by the Castle of St. Angelo, we were ready for our first “real” Italian dinner! We found a small restaurant that served pizza and pasta, and had a wonderful meal and some amazing house wine. What a day and night – and of course these pictures just graze the surface of the beautiful things we saw in Rome.
Now off to the cruise ship!