On disembarkation day, we checked into the Pullman in Barcelona, dealt with Michael's lost bag (it was found) and just hung out in the hotel room until dinner. So on Saturday, we were both antsy to get out and explore the city.
We asked the concierge if he could give some recommendations on a guided tour we could take, and he recommended the Barcelona Bus Hop on Hop off tour. It had 2 separate routes, a green line and a red line. The cost to do this was 24.95 euros each, and we got to use the bus all day long.
Beautiful Crazy Curved Place in Barcelona
When you enter, you pay your money and the bus tender hands you a map and a pair of red earphones. Either beside or under each seat is a headphone jack, and multiple choices of language. My first seat on the very crowded bus was on the very back row, smack in between 2 families. There was no way for me to bend down and insert my headphone jack. I just couldn't do it. Then on the first stop, I stood up and plugged it in while I could see it, and the bus took off again before I could hit the "English" button.
Colorful Way to Hide Construction
So I listened to the first 10 minutes of the tour listening to Italian. Finally after 2 stops, most all of the people hopped off, and hubby and I were able to sit together, and find the "English" setting of the guided tour. We rode the red line bus to all it's stops, not getting off. Once the sites started getting interested, we went upstairs to the top deck of the bus and started snapping away at the beautiful and diverse architecture of Barcelona.
You'll notice mostly the top part of the buildings of Barcelona, that was our view. When we came to the end of the red line, we jumped off in the shopping district of the city and I had my cappuccino fredo of the day, and Michael had his local beer.
Pit Stop and Cappuccino Fredo Refueling restaurant
I asked for the bathroom, and was sent downstairs. Again with the sketchy bathroom instructions… I had to pee so bad and I just entered the first toilet I saw. I knew I was in the wrong place right away, from the slipperiness of the floor (boys) but by then I was already peeing and just praying that no men came in while I was there. No, I didn't see any urinals. My eyes were trained for a toilet. This isn't the first time I've accidentally used the men's room in Europe. I'd done that in Germany in 1978… thinking the H on the door stood for Her, but actually it stood for Herren, which was "men" in Germany. Oh well, messed up and used the wrong toilet in Spain too.
After we were done with our drinks, we decided to walk around the city a bit and go on the "great purse hunt". This time hubby was very proactive and was trying so hard to find me something I'd like. But nothing really called me. That helped me decide I'd just wait till I got home and order something from Zappo's as a souvenir of the trip. It wasn't that we didn't try! However, we did not cross the street to the designer strip of handbag stores. I just won't shell out for a Gucci or a Prada. My purse habit is bad enough without lusting after bags that cost more than a small car.
He can dream!
No Purses in here
Burger King in Barcelona
So after walking around a bit, we hopped the green line bus and saw the rest of the Bacelona tour. I was starting to burn from riding on the top of the double decker bus and it was hot, so I grabbed my stuff and headed down for the first floor in the AC and stayed there for the remainder of the trip. I almost lost a hat up top, but someone brought it down with them and handed it to the bus tender and I said it's mine, oops, thanks!
The second part, the green bus line, got very tiring. We were on the buses from 10 am until 4:30 that day. Our butts and ears were tired. And we were starving.
We stopped at Monchos for dinner. I was a little nervous there, the restaurant had a lot of middle eastern people both working and eating, ladies with scarves pulled carefully up to their lower lashes unless they were eating. And when I went to the bathroom (downstairs again) I passed a green room where I saw someone sleeping on cardboard on the floor. I'm not afraid to say the whole middle east thing freaks me out.
my dinner at Moncho's
I wish I had taken a photo of the lady next to me, because she was beautiful. But I figured since she had to be covered, she wouldn't want her photo taken. Kind of like the Amish who think photographs steal their soul. But I don't know because I don't understand. It just breaks my heart that women are still oppressed.
We ended the day, rearranging our suitcases for the flight home, and just relaxing. I read a few books on vacation, Jodi Picoult's House Rules (very good 5 stars) and Fifty Shades Darker. Don't waste your time on the 50 shades books. Seriously, this comes from someone who did.
So much beautiful architecture
On Sunday, the porter called us a cab. Not just any cab would do, it had to be one that held ALL OUR LUGGAGE (never again). You know you have too many things packed when you need a special cab. Most European cars are small.
Back to the cab ride. Our driver was driving 110k's per hour, tail-gating and texting on the freeway to the airport. I was certain we were going to die, and begged hubby to ask him to stop texting. He did, but the driver pretended he didn't understand English. After a few moments he did stop texting, and we did arrive at the Barcelona airport unscathed, except for our nerves.
The flight home was long, but it seemed to go faster than on the way to Venice at the beginning of our trip. The dogs were really glad to see us, and it felt so good to sleep in our own bed that night. Monday we just laid around trying to get over our jet lag. We made ourselves stay up until 9pm both Sunday and Monday night, and by Tuesday we were feeling back to normal.
Our instructions were to tag our bags with the tags they provided with the instruction sheet, and put them outside of our room before 2am. I was a little nervous about putting the bags in the hallway, but not for the reasons you may think. The ship was so pristine, I didn't want to be the first to put our bags out and clutter up the hallway.
the port of Barcelona
We were the first to put bags out. Hubby wrestled with the bags and the door shutting on him which I really didn't realize until he came back in and said "you could have helped by holding the door". I told him I didn't realize he was having a rough time. But he got them out and we were all packed except what we were wearing to disembark and on with our vacation. We were spending 2 days in Barcelona!
pristine hallway of the 8th floor
But first, disembarkation. The ship kindly put all of our bags through customs, and the suitcases were in the port waiting for us, we had pink tags on our bags. Once again, we were faced with "how the heck are we going to get all these bags out of the port".
Luckily a porter showed up with a cart and loaded us up. He spoke very little English, but hubby managed to communicate with him via American dollars and he stayed with us until we finally got hailed a cab that was big enough to fit all our luggage. The entire shipload of people were in the taxi line, we were somewhere in the middle, but it seemed like forever until it was our turn. And it was hot. I didn't take any photos of the port of Barcelona, or the big taxi line of people. I should have.
Once we arrived at the Pullman Skipper Barcelona, we were relieved to find out we could possibly check into our room a little early. While we were waiting, we went to the little bistro cafe/bar in the hotel lobby, and I had my cappuccino Fredo and Michael had a Spanish beer.
cappuccino fredo of the day
The hotel manager had told us to go walk down to the beach, it was just a block away, but by now we knew that one block equaled 10 blocks in Europe, so we just hung around in the lobby. We didn't wait for long, our room was ready before noon.
waiting to get our room at the Pullman Skipper
We started unpacking what we needed for our 2 day stay in Barcelona. The night before, I had packed all my dress clothes and shoes and everything that I wouldn't need until we got home in one suitcase, and casual clothes that I would need into the other. I was busy putting stuff in drawers and closets when Michael realized we had forgotten one of his bags.
worlds tiniest tube of toothpaste
I told him, no worries, it had the pink tag on it with our name address and phone number along with the name and phone number of the hotel we were staying at so we'd be able to locate it fairly easily.
our view over the Sea at the Pullman Skipper
He rushed down to the front desk and asked for help. Here is where the language barrier wasn't a good thing. So, he hailed a cab and headed back to the port where we were dropped off in Barcelona. He knew which area we came out of because our ship was still there, already loading up the next cruise load of people. They found his bag and he came back to the Pullman Skipper and we just hung around the room for the day.
little restaurant in the Pullman Skipper
Michael booked us a new seminar, this time in Vegas! (and someone is NOT gambling…she's going shopping with the gambling money!)
I wish I had taken more photos of disembarkation! After he was finished making arrangements for Vegas, we took a walk to the beach and had dinner in a cool little restaurant that served an awesome cheese plate.
cheese plate, yum!
I'll have a side of Rocket please. wth?
a performer on the beach walkway (is it a boardwalk if it's tiles?)
We had 2 sea days while we were on this 12 day romance cruise. Both those days Michael was in class for the morning, so those mornings I slept in, and read and drank coffee. The last day, I pulled my suitcases out and started packing everything I wasn't going to use after tomorrow morning.
The Silk Den
Cruising was so much fun. Having our own private stewards was so nice. I really got spoiled getting high tea delivered every day. The laundry service was fantastic and everyone working onboard the ms. Nieuw Amsterdam just loved what they did, they were always smiling and going out of their way to help us.
The first few days we were aboard, the stewards were really aggressive with the Purell. I guess the cruise industry has figured out that this is the best way to fight fast moving disease, and I appreciated their diligence with this. You didn't have a choice, you just did it.
I was glad that we had muster before we set sail the first day, I was glad to know that those who refused to participate in muster were ejected from the ship. Everyone needs to know where to go and what to do in case of emergency.
notes to self for next cruise:
Never book shore excursions separate from your boat. The ship does not wait long for you before they take off without you, and it's your responsibility to get to the next port to meet the ship.
You don't need to bring much cash. The ATM machines in Europe and on the cruise ship give you Euros, but you can use a credit card almost anywhere you go. Find out exactly how many formal nights you are going to have and only bring that many formal outfits. You don't need so many pairs of shoes.
Never again with more luggage than I can handle on my own. We each had 2 large suitcases and 2 carry ons. Getting home through customs in New York was a nightmare, trying to get all the suitcases through was just a major pain in the butt. We paid 5 dollars for a smart cart we used for 5 minutes. Don't overpack!
Keep the papers the ship gives you daily so you can refer to them when you get home. You won't remember everything about your tours, and these are good memory joggers. Keep the tour maps too.
Let the boat take as many photos of you as possible. The packages they offer are expensive, but you'll be glad you have them later. And if you buy either the large or supersize, you get every photo they take of you. Great memories that started before we entered the ship.
The last night, Dr. Jay had a get together for all the dentists that came on the cruise that took his classes up topside in the Silk Den. It was an interesting place and all the photographs are from there. It was there we held the silly souvenir contest.
The entries were, a rock, a donkey,a seashell whistle, a rubber chicken, a ring holder, kumquat liquor and a tower of Pisa shot glass. Yes, it leans. I'm not sure how our 2 headed donkey didn't beat the whistle, but we didn't even place. The rubber chicken was a close second. There are things in that red bag on the table that can't be shown in front of the kids that were there, so they were disqualified. It was fun, but I got distracted trying to catch some memories of that part of the ship. The views were magnificent.
Flower of the day
Tomorrow, disembarkment day, lost luggage and our first day in Barcelona.
When the ship was at sea, the casino on the boat opened. They held a slot tournament in Club 21 casino that we paid ten dollars to push the button as fast as we could and pray that you get the high score. I have done another slot tournament in Vegas and it wasn't nearly as fun. But then again, I did win the entire tournament! 500 dollars! Woo hoo! (i put it in my apple/camera fund envelope)
Counting the cash
So at the finals, the casino gave us each of the finalists a Club 21 teeshirt for qualifying for the last round. I put mine on right away, overtop the shirt I was wearing. None of the other five finalists did that though, they handed their shirts to loved ones cheering them on. I figured it would be a good luck thing if I did.
I really won!
They handed each of us a glass of champagne. I don't drink! So I set it aside and the game began. Same format, we got five minutes and whoever accumulated the most points won.
Everyone else was pounding the respin button! I can't do that because of my stupid arthritis makes pounding hurt my hand like crazy. So I'd wait till the last reel stopped spinning and then hit the button. At first I thought my handicap would dash my chances of winning, but I was wrong!!
Soon I was over 8 thousand points and the clock was ticking down and blammo! I won!!
Now this winning didnt offset what we had lost in club 21, but actually it was a bit more than I personally lost. I drank the champagne
The gal who ran the tournament
Anyway, I was a Stunned and Happy girl! What an awesome way to end the trip! It erased my sadness over pulling away from Italy. Did I tell you I cried my eyes out when the ship shoved off from Florence? Yeah, Im sappy like that.
Next up, photos from the Silk Den and our last sunset on board.
After we visited Lucca, we headed to Rughi in Tuscany for lunch. The drive was a little freaky, the roads are one way and in some places very narrow. We arrived at this farmhouse Tenuta Gaetano Spadaro, for lunch and a stroll around their property afterward.
Tenuta Gaetano Spadoro
It was hot that day, and very humid. And this was last culinary stop at a place with no air conditioning. It was a beautiful place though, decorated so lovely. Even the walls are intricate stone. Lots of TLC has gone into this beautiful piece of Tuscany.
beautiful stone walls inside
inside Tenuta Gaetano Spadaro
Water, Sparking or Still?
The olives grown at Tenuta Gaetano Spadaro
homes on the hillside in Tuscany
foothills of Tuscany
The view at Tenuta Gaetano Spadaro
beautiful HOT sultry day
the olive garden at Tenuta Gaetano Spadaro
up another hill to wait for the bus
we were all ready to go back to the ship at this point. it was unanimous. but we had one more museum to visit. coming soon!
Lucca, Lucca, Lucca. I loved it there. The walking pace was faster than my liking once again. How do you get a chance to really shoot if you have to walk fast to keep up? Anyway, Lucca was mostly flat once you got into the town, through the walls that protect the little city.
entrance to the moat
ancient moat, still standing
Luca is surrounded by an ancient moat that has been transformed into a huge park surrounding the town. The beautiful walls are still standing. Our tour guide handed out walkie talkies and guided us from the beautiful moat to the town. She told us "no cars permitted in Lucca" but there were some-shop owners, loading and emptying cars. People were on bicycles everywhere, you had to be careful to not walk in their way. Scooters beep, cyclists veer. It wasn't too busy though.
another part of the moat
The reason I loved Luca so much is because my favorite opera composer Giacomo Puccini was born there. He is paid homage, there is a big statue in the square. Puccini composed my favorite opera Madama Butterfly. I've seen many movies that use arias from this opera and one that comes to mind is Fatal Attraction with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas.
looking down into Lucca
the entrance to Lucca
We walked 11,000 steps according to my fitbit for that day. And the walking is doable, but there are cobblestone roads to walk on, I imagine it to be a jarring experience if you are in a wheelchair or stroller.
Oh, writing about my travels is helping me relive the experience but it's wearing me out in a different way. At least my legs aren't tired. Nor is my back screaming! But emotionally, I'm toast! So, after visiting Gandolfo we made our way back down the hill to our tour bus. It was time to take off for our pasta making lesson and private lunch at a farmhouse in Lazio.
I loved our tour guide, he reminded me so much of my grandpop Morati. He wore a pressed gray suit, a white dress and starched shirt, a tie and a tee shirt underneath. He also sported a bald head which grandpop never did intentionally. Grandpop was just thin haired and had what hair did grow was always trimmed into a neat hairdo. He was much younger than I, but he still reminded me of grandpop.
We traveled windy country roads, the tour guide jumped out and moved a barricade so we could drive through a street that was closed, and then finally, we arrived at the Ristorante.
a section in the back of the resturant
I encouraged Michael to take part in the pasta making. It was old hat to me, I had done it so many times when I was a young girl. Slap me, but I didn't take any photos of him rolling the dough.
The restaurant was at a beautiful farm and the inside was decorated just as lovely as the outside of the place. All the tables were set with orange tablecloths.
tables of orange
We were served homemade bread (hard as a rock) bacon soaking in olive oil (no thanks) salad and then lasagna and little pasta in sauce. And of course some homemade wine. Everything was delicious but the bacon and the bread.
Did I mention it was hot? Inside, it had to be at least in the mid 80's. There wasn't a window open, and by the time we were done eating, I had melted. I excused myself from our table and went and sat outside under a canopy and caught a little breeze. I took a few photos of my Epiphanie Bags Ginger while I was out there and soon enough, Michael came out and joined me.
Ginger being posed
Ginger, my well traveled Epiphanie camera bag
They were serving desert complete with ice-cream inside the restaurant, but I was too hot to be eat. A waitress came out and asked if I wanted a coffee and I asked in my best Italian "cappuccino fredo please" and she brought me a hot cappuccino. Oh well. Maybe my Italian isn't as good as I thought. My entire two word language skills: Cappuccino Fredo.
After a while a few ladies joined us under the canopy to catch a breeze. The tour resumed with a visit to the wine cellar, but I didn't join. I don't drink much, I did taste a few wines while we were in Italy, and I even drank an Entire Glass Of Champagne when I won the slot contest (more about that later) but today I had no interest in going to the cellar. I just wanted to go back to the boat!
closer shot of one of the birdhouses atop the chimney
They told me I would have enjoyed it, as the temperature in the wine cellar was much cooler than outside. I was happy taking photos outside while they tasted the restaurants home made wine.
I was a little nervous about today's nine hour excursion, about my ability to do it. The excursion guide said it was the equivalent of 1800 yards, but it was more like 1800 miles. Just kidding, it wasn't that far, but it was a lot of walk, and a lot of walk at an incline which really makes my back twitch and complain.
as we rounded each corner, I was certain we were there... NOT!
uphill the whole way
beautiful building I saw on the way up
Another view of the building
But I made it! And I was rewarded with beautiful sights 360 degrees around me. I learned that the Pope vacations here in Gandolfo in his private villa in late July and August. The town then becomes quite the tourist destination while he's there. AKA busy. I'm glad there weren't many people but our tour, it kept me from getting lost because I was always behind. Not so much because I couldn't do it, it was because I wanted to take pictures and the group was walking way to fast to allow that!
seen on the way up the hill to Gandolfo
Castel Gandolfo is a little Italian town in Lazio, Italy, that occupies an area overlooking the beautiful Lake Albano. It's about 15 miles south east of Rome in the Alban Hills. As soon as we arrived at the top I said to hubby "cappuccino fredo please now" and we sat down at a little coffee shop. I've really got the hang of ordering my cold cappuccino now, even my dialect is fairly good. Hubby had a local beer and when we were through, he shopped for a little something for his daughter while I wandered through the town taking photographs.
The Popes villa (with the clock)
the angel on the popes villa
the front door of the popes villa
a chapel in town
I was so worn out from climbing the hill to Gandolfo I wasn't sure if I wanted to make the trek down the small hill overlooking Lake Albano. I'm glad I did. Lake Gandolfo is a volcanic crater lake formed by two craters. (again with the earthquakes!). In 1960, when Rome hosted the summer Olympic games, the lake was used for canoeing and rowing.
one more hill- Lake Albano
lovely little village
More scenery from above the Lake
villas on the mountain side (tour guide said rich people come here)
Another breathtaking view
He's a sight for sore eyes too!
After taking a bunch of photos, hubby showed up (it was a really small town) and we hung out just admiring the view. I got my flower of the day there, but soon it was time to climb back up the hill and make the long trek downhill to our tour bus. It was waiting there for us to reboard and head for a special lunch at a countryside farm.
Ahh I feel sad just like I did the last few days on the ship, our cruise is winding down now with only a handful of ports left to visit.
We arrived in Civitavecchia, Rome on Monday Morning.
Today's excursion is a long one, 9 hours. First to the catacombs San Callisto in Rome Italy, then a trip to the beautiful small town of Castelo Gandolfo in Lazio where the Pope vacations, and finally a private lunch at a ristorante in Lazio. It was hotter than heck today. You know, when your kneepits are sweating? Hot and humid.
The Catacombs of San Callisto
Located outside the city of Rome.
good to know where the WC is
wall outside the catacombs
beautiful things to photograph
The stairs to the catacomb of San Callisto. NO MORE PHOTOS! (I'm bad)
I know they are blurry, but I was scared
I used no flash in the taking of these forbidden photographs
The catacombs were built around AD 150. They were built outside the city of Rome because it was strictly forbidden to bury the dead within the city limits. The tunnels and tombs are carved out of soft volcanic ash that hardens once exposed to air.
The catacombs is an elaborate maze of tunnels where Christians worshipped in secret. This is also where early Christians buried their dead. It is a beautiful maze of underground tunnels and the tour guide takes you down stairs and into a few rooms of the catacombs, all the while reminding you that photography is strictly forbidden.
However, touching was not forbidden, and that made no sense to me, the relics were more likely to be damaged by the oils in human skin, but whatever. I snuck a few photos that didn't turn out so well because it was very dark in there. It was also pleasantly cool.
By now we were used to touring in the heat and humidity so going into the catacombs was a welcome break from the hot sun. We went into a room that had an altar that was surrounded by crypts of dead Christians. A lot of them were small, and the guide told us that the small rectangles were children. The atmosphere inside the catacombs, along with the volcanic ash make the tombs turn to rock. I'm not sure how many years it took to do that.
We were well rested and ready to go on our Naples excursion. The tour I picked for the day was "A Taste of Naples: PIZZAS & PIAZZAS". It was a four hour tour that took us to the heart of Naples and dropped us off in front of the Piazza Plebiscito. I'm reading now that we were to tour the Royal Palace, but that didn't happen.
During the drive into town, we passed a shanty town full of lean-to's and cardboard homes. It was sad and depressing and I told Michael "no wonder my family left Italy". The tour guide had the bus driver drop us off right downtown, across a busy street was a famous coffee shop. That's were we were headed. We had been warned on the ship that pick pockets were very aggressive and very good and to be aware of our surroundings at all times and I was nervous where they left us. I had my cappuccino fredo of the day and a sweet roll and Michael had a local beer.
After we were done we decided to walk up the street next to the coffee shop and window shop and take some photographs. The street was pretty shady (no pun intended) though, and I'm really not happy with the way these photos came out. I ended up with just a handful instead of many pictures, but I think I caught the essence of Napoli as I saw it.
the shopping district
the view up
Once our free time was up we found our tour guide who led us with a picket sign with our group number on it. We then drove up a mountain and got out to enjoy a beautiful view over Naples.
After that, we headed back to town for the culinary part of our excursion: Real Napoli pizza. I wasn't impressed so much with the pizza, it wasn't even nearly as good as Grotto's pizza at the beach or Crossroads here at home.
During the excursion, I told the tour guide that my family were immigrants to the US and he asked what their last name was. I told him it was Innamorati in Italy, shortened to Morati at Ellis Island. Innamorati means "lovers" in Italian. My heart skipped a little beat when the tour guide told me Morati means love.. I felt welcomed, at home in a way. But also, I wonder what the Innamorati's did for a living back in Italy? Or maybe their parents - my great grandparents were love birds when they came through Ellis Island and that was the name they were given? Mom says she remembers being told the name was shortened at the harbor.
Whatever the story, I started to feel a heart connection with Italy here in Naples. Despite the warnings of pickpockets and muggings. lol!
Tomorrow... ROME, the Catacombs and another private lunch.
Overheard at dinner Saturday night: "What are you doing tomorrow in Sicily?" "Nothing, there were no shore excursions for Sicily". Me: thinking…"what?" and then "OK honey tomorrow we can have a spa day". I didn't bother checking my little pink envelope for excursion tickets before I went to bed last night, someone said "no excursions" and I took them at their word and didn't check, or order breakfast. Woo hoo, we finally get to sleep in! Not that the excursions weren't fun, we were just excited to have a do nothing day after six excursions in a row.
Our Romance Package included a couples massage (times 2- remember I bought two). On second thought, I wondered what the heck I was thinking, I'm not letting a masseuse touch my back, not after a spinal fusion. So Michael called our concierge and asked if I could trade my massage for a pedicure and a manicure, and can he take a 50 minute block of massage instead of 25 minutes? The concierge was more than happy to apply the credit for my portion of the two massages to my mani/pedi bill, and to credit Michael with 50 minutes.
I took a bunch of harbor photographs before we headed to the spa. The harbor at Catania is just beautiful, but I wondered why we weren't allowed off the boat. (insert head smack here). Michael and I headed to the spa for some pampering and his 50 minute massage turned into double that because he was talking to the masseuse doing him (no happy ending haha!) about dentistry and social health care in Indonesia. I was busy getting my nails shaped and colored.
It just so happened that the captain of our ship was getting his weekly pedicure while I was getting my fingernails done. However, the manicurist did not tell me that until after he left. That was the only time I laid eyes on him and we had expected to have a private dinner with him. Another one of promised perks from our crappy travel agent that didn't pan out. Speaking of travel agents, does anyone have a good one they might recommend to me?
When we were done with our spa treatments, we met in the reception area and we each had bags full of product that we both were talked into somehow. Yeah, Michael and I are pretty similar in a lot of ways. Being easy sales is one of them.
Then we went back to our room and had a siesta while waiting for high tea and deciding where we were going to eat Sunday night. We ended up in the Manhattan Dining room for one of our last dinners there, and ate with Michael's instructor and his wife. When we got back to the room I pulled out my shore excursion ticket envelope and guess what? We missed the tour I had signed us up for of Sicily dagnabit. There WAS a tour!! Oh well, it was back to exploring in the morning.
Tonight we shoved off for Napoli. The land of pickpockets and warnings to watch your back.
Disclaimer: Although I strive never to copy other's writing, in my quest for information to share with you about Santorini Greece, I used wiki to get factual information to share with you. My words may be similar but they are my own!
water taxi and tour buses
Santorini Greece, also known as Thera, is part of the Cyclades Islands named after Saint Irene, located in the southern Agean Sea. Santorini is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption that happened about 3600 years ago. This eruption left a large caldera that was surrounded by volcanic ash hundreds of feet deep. It is thought that the eruption may have indirectly led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization due to a gigantic tsunami. Some people believe that the caldera that fell to the sea could possibly have been Atlantis. Satellite photo of Santorini. (please click on the satellite photo, it is excellent)
Ok now that the background information has been laid, back to business (pure Karen and lots of photos)
The view behind the Winery
Our first stop today was at the Santo Wines Winery. Michael liked the wine at the Santo winery. I fell in love with the breath-taking view while he tasted the vino. We took lots of photos at the winery of the Aegean Sea, and everything else that we could see. It was pure loveliness!
on the left, you see the big ship? that is our cruise ship. the marshmallows on the tips of the rocks are homes, hotels shops and churches.
After the winery we drove around and learned the history of the island of Thera. It has a climate similar to the desert and fresh Water is scarce. There are cisterns on the roofs's each home and business and we saw a water truck making deliveries. From what I read, Thera does have a desalination plant, but the water is not potable.
*only flower of the day
In Santorini, they grow their wine grapes low and shape the plants into baskets with the grape clusters ripening in the center. This protects the vines and the grapes from the wind and heat and also importantly provides them with water from the dew collected on the leaves near the ground. I have no photos of them, as they were pointed out as we drove by.
There's an old abandoned pumice quarry on the island that stopped production in 1986 to protect thecaldera. The island is built on layers of volcanic ash that can be seen in the rock walls that rise 200 feet from the water.
another shot from the winery
The African and European tectonic plates caused the volcanic eruption that dropped the center of this Cyclade Island into the ocean. Archeologists have uncovered evidence of the island being inhabited by the Minoans before the last eruption.
Perhaps this really is part of the lost city of Atlantis.
It is definitely a place I recommend visiting, it is indeed the most beautiful place I've ever seen. I want to go back and spend a week or two there.
Homes in Santorini
The tour bus left us off in a parking lot on one side of the mountain and we were instructed to take the stairs to the top to see the best view. Also to peruse in the shops and perhaps contribute to Santorini's only source of income: Tourism.
We made our way up a narrow stairway, and I was shooting this and that and all of a sudden I saw a beautiful white floral wreath coming down the stairs towards me and I thought flowers and focused right on and turns out it was a funeral procession and I felt like paparazzi. Those feelings didn't stop me from snapping 2 more photos discreetly that didn't turn out.
funeral procession coming down as we were going up
When we got to the top both Michael and I were busy snapping photos in every direction. 360 degrees of beauty.
There are 186 photos of Thera in my Santorini set on Flickr. Please enjoy
We met at the bus and continued on our tour to Melisanni Lake, an underground lake in a cave exposed after an earthquake. The tour guide told us of the scientific experiment done to track the waters passage from the Ionia Sea with harmless dyes in 1963 by Austrian geomorphologists. They looked to find the path it traveled under and through Kefalonia. They found it headed back to sea at Sami Bay two weeks later.
The brackish water from the sea filters through the limestone foundation of the island and is converted to mostly sweet water when it reaches the underground lake of Melissani. I stuck my arm in the water and tasted it, it was definitely not salty. I think the guide said if you pulled water from six meters down, it would taste brackish.
Melisanni is a beautiful underground lake and cave located north west of Sami on the Island of Kefalonia. After the tour guide promised my my camera wouldn't get wet, we made the trek down the stairs of the cave and boarded the boat for our tour of the lake. I just realized now that we arrived at the cave at the optimum time to see it's beauty.
At noon when the sun is overhead and filtering into the cave, there are glorious views of the bottom of the lake which is 32 meters deep in places. The water was crystal clear to the bottom.
It was an early excursion today. We had room service deliver breakfast to wake us up once again. The weather promised to be stifling hot again today so we dressed in cool clothing. We picked up water on the way to the gangway.
Michael in Argostoli before boarding the tour bus.
Once again, we took a water taxi to get to our bus waiting at the waters edge. Today our excursion was to Argostoli, the capital town on the island of Kefalonia Greece. The tour guide took us on an excursion all over the island. Kefalonia Greece is the largest of the Ionian islands in western Greece. The deep blue waters of the Ionian sea make a beautiful foreground of this lovely island.
did you guess? Kokolata, Greece
bad photo of hubby
the beach down there zoomed in
looking straight down
Our tour bus took us on winding steep hills and we stopped often at scenic overviews for photography opportunities. The scenery was just amazing. The most azure blue seas I've ever seen were there in Kefalonia. We stopped in a little harbor town called Fiskardo, where I ordered my daily capuchino fredo and today I splurged on a slice of apple pie.
mmm apple pie and cappuccino
my ever smiling honey
Michael and I walked around the town taking pictures and looking for our gag gift challenge for the last day with the dentists: The strangest souvenir we could find for 2 euros or less. Michael found a two headed donkey that was made in China, and that turned out to be our second souvenir because it didn't win the prize for corniest/cheesiest souvenir contest.
Of course all kinds of things are to be seen and done while in port, but I also wanted to share just how amazing the ship is. If you remember that I accidentally bought 2 romance packages, one of the gifts was dinner for 2 at the Pinnacle Grill. I think it was one of only two restaurants on board that you had to pay for food. We made our reservation and went to dinner shortly after we left port in Corfu. Our next stop is Argostoli, Greece, but first, our romantic dinner.
One of the first nights of the cruise we decided to give this restaurant a try and walked up to the host and asked to be seated. He asked us if we had a reservation and when we said no, he looked at Michael (in his shorts) and said no room for us. Michael replied "but there are plenty of empty tables". Then the Maitre De showed up and informed us quietly that men must wear sport coats and long pants to dine in the Pinnacle Grill.
So we dressed up (sort of) (well very dressed up for me) and headed down for our romantic dinner in the Grill. The food was fabulous, the service was superb. You have many different waiters in the Grill. One waiter to serve your water, another to serve you bar drinks. Another to serve the bread and then yet another to take your order. They were all exemplary at their respective jobs. We were pampered.
Michael had the tomato salad with balsamic dressing and I ordered shrimp cocktail. The tomato salad presentation was just beautiful. We both ordered filet, and honestly, it was amazing. The Maitre De came by our table and asked if everything was ok. Everything was better than ok!
The waiter took our picture with my iPhone and encouraged us to try dessert, even though we were both stuffed. I acquiesced and ordered the cheesecake and we each got a decaf cappuccino. It was delicious!
When we made our way back to the stateroom there was another towel animal waiting for us!
And it was beautiful sail out, watching the sun set over Corfu and as Corfu disappeared from the horizon, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunset over the Ionian Sea.
Tomorrow: Argostoli Greece, where we toured the entire island.
The second part of the day was a treat. After the visit to the Palace, we boarded the bus and headed to a Greek woman's home for a home made greek lunch and a swim in her pool if you desired. We were greeted by a man handing out shots of Ozo in little paper cups. He also had orange juice, so I picked that. The woman who owned the villa spoke English and told me that she has lived here since she was a little girl. The dear woman does this for a living, entertaining 3 tour buses a week. She had a bunch of helpers thank goodness and the food was amazing. And she was a lovely gracious woman. I wish I would have written her name down.
this is her villa, the woman who fed us in Corfu
Have I mentioned how wonderful the Shore Excursions that are booked through your ship with #HALcruises? Do book through the ship, you are much safer in many aspects as you will soon read once we get back to Italy. But do it early, don't wait till the last minute. Pick your excursions at least 3 months in advance.
this was her pool, she invited us to take a dip
Back to our private lunch. The meal she (the lady who owned the villa) prepared for us consisted of iced local beers, homemade wine, home made kumquat liquor, many authentic greek dishes and deserts, fresh fruit from her garden and store bought cherries. There wasn't a cherry tree on the property that I saw, so I asked her and she said no, she bought them at market.
The dear woman who fed us in Corful, Greece
Our picnic tables were set under an apricot tree with blue and white checkered tablecloths and crystal wine and water glasses. The food was delicious and it was nice to get to know some of our shipmates that sat at our table.
We talked about the bad odor we smelled all over the 8th floor the day before. I hadn't thought much more than "this really stinks" and it did go away by the next day. But this man, one of our table mates at the Villa, said he contacted the front desk of the ship and they gave him a 400.00 room credit for his inconvenience.
the view from her back yard
I hadn't complained, but once I learned that Holland America would make it up to us, I decided to call the concierge (our private concierge did I mention that?) he sent us a bottle of wine to make up to us for our inconvenience. Neither of us drink wine though, and we ended up giving it away to one of the workers before we disembarked on the final day.
another view from her back yard
So please sit back and enjoy our private villa and the owner's most beautiful flowers.
Her gardens, oh her gardens were so lovely. I hadn't brought my micro lens along for this excursion, so I did the best I could with my Nikon D800 and the 28-300m which is an all around good combo for touring. I investigated most of her gardens taking close ups of her beautiful flowers.
you knew I'd sneak him in somewhere right?
Next: Our return to the Nieuw Amsterdam and sites of Corfu as we set sail to Argostoli.
Our excursion to Corfu on Tuesday started with an outing to Sisi's Palace, otherwise known as Achilleon. It was hot again, the kind of hot that would (and does) keep me inside at home. Once again I heard 40 degrees Celsius and tried to ignore the Fahrenheit temperature. Today I brought a dry washcloth along from our stateroom. And water.
seen at the entryway
the view from the palace door
When you leave for your shore excursions, make sure to purchase a bottle of water on your way off the ship. If you can handle the larger size, go for it. I didn't have any room to carry a big bottle, so I just got the smaller size. It was gone by the end of visiting Achilleon, but they did have a refreshment stand on the way down. Drink lots of water.
Achilleion Palace is a beautiful place that was built by Elisibeth of Austria, otherwise known as Sisi. Sisi had an obsession for beautiful things and also she was very powerful. Tragically, she lost her son Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria. One year later she built the palace Achilleion and decorated it after her obsession with the Greek God of Achilles.
The palace is richly decorated with furniture that was intricately detailed and the ceilings were beautiful paintings. There are statues, sculptures and paintings of Achilles in each room. There are also many beautiful mirrors. Sisi obviously had a thing for Achilles!
I took a lot of photos inside the rooms, here are a few. The rest of the photographs on Flickr on my set called Corfu Greece.
The gardens were lovely and the view was spectacular. Did I mention it was hot? We were melting which was good because the delicious food we ate at the next stop needed worked off.
Someone said it was 40 degrees Celsius and I thought oh please don't convert it. It was hot enough without learning what 40 was in Fahrenheit and then the tour guide said "that's over a hundred" and I decided then that I didn't need to know how hot it was. My knee pits were sweating and my eyes were stinging from the sweat dripping into them and the guy next to me had brought a washcloth from his stateroom to wipe his face off and I thought "why didn't I think of that?"
Our first stop was to see a dancing musical performance by people in their finest dancing clothes and I'm not sure how they did that without fainting from heat exhaustion, but they didn't and I couldn't feel sorry for myself when they were in full costume, on stage, singing and stomping their feet to the musicians playing behind them.
So I took pictures, here there and everywhere inside the little theatre and quickly decided that convergence of lines and symmetry were going to be part of my photography memoirs from our Mediterranean cruise.
After the little show was over, we took a walking tour of the great wall that was built around Dubrovnik hundreds of years ago, and I saw the scars of recent wars. The sadness in our tour guides eyes was overwhelming when he spoke of sending his wife and children away during the last war in the 1980's and how he hung fishing wire strung with razor blades from tree to tree in his front yard to keep the insurgents away, a homemade booby trap to protect his home.
At the wall, I lost Michael. Well, sort of. The thing about the planned excursions is that when you are doing the activity, there really isn't time to stop and shop for souvenirs. But Michael decided to stop and buy us a spoon rest and the tour guide started walking ahead and I followed thinking Michael was right behind me but he wasn't and it was very crowded. And hot. Did I mention hot? I panicked and yelled "MICHAEL" and there he was in his royal blue shirt, carrying a little bag that contained our only souvenir from Croatia.
We walked the wall for a while, what was supposed to be 1800 yards turned out to be 1800 miles (not really) and then time we stopped to listen to a group of street musicians. There was a little patch of shade that everyone was trying to stand in. And we told the guide that we needed water. "No problem, we have that back at the bus" he replied and we headed back to the bus to get going to our next stop.
This was our first excursion where we'd be set free to explore for an hour. Michael and I were a little worried about letting the tour guide out of our sight, but we relaxed by a marina and had a bit of lunch. I tried to memorize how we got to this little place from where the driver parked our bus. I'm the map reader and direction giver in our marriage and if I don't remember, we could end up walking in circles (has happened before).
But we found our way back to the bus, passing by an ice cream shop with beautiful displays of creamy goodness in their freezer case. I asked if I could take a photo and the gal behind the counter said "sure" and I got a few shots. We didn't buy ice cream though, it was so hot that we both knew we'd be sticky messes if we did.
Then on the way back to the Nieuw Amsterdam, we stopped by the bridge (I wish I remembered details) that seemed to be a source of pride for the tour guide and I reckon the citizens of Dubrovnik.
When we got back to the ship, there were stewards handing out iced towels and lemonade and Purell to each passenger entering the gangway. High tea was waiting for us in our stateroom when we got back. Again, we showered and snoozed for a bit before dinner. Monday night was smart casual in the Manhattan Dining room. That was the night we decided we really didn't like the food in that dining room and that 8 was just too late for us to eat.
On returning to our room, we found another towel animal on the bed.
On Saturday night, we noticed a breakfast menu on the bed, one of those things you can hang outside of your door and they pick it up for you and bring your breakfast at the specified time. I decided this would be the best way to wake up, and we'd get some nourishment into ourselves before hitting the shore. Neither of us are breakfast eaters but we needed to store energy for the excursions.
So with a gentle rap on the door Sunday morning, our breakfast was delivered to our room (at no charge… food is free on HAL). We both ate and drank our coffee, took our pills and got ready to go.
Each excursion met in the Theatre by the Sea on the second deck, and a lady with a microphone would send us off onto our different excursions. Every offshore excursion I picked was food related, "a taste of Sicily" "a taste of Tuscany" and so on, but our first excursion off the boat was for a serenaded gondola tour of Venice.
the ceiling of our water taxi caught my eye
We exited through the gangway onto a water taxi that took us to the city.
our ship as we headed to Venice via water taxi
Once we arrived, we started the trek to the Gondola place and it was quite a hike, up granite staircases, down the other side until we finally arrived at the Gondola dock. I saw lots of beautiful things. Venice, in person. Pinch me. Was I really there?
Once we carefully boarded our gondola, you must be careful or it could tip if you step on the wrong place, we took our seat right ahead of the Gondolier. 2 other couples joined us, one of them the wife had an umbrella that you invaded my space in quite a few of my photos.
Our group had about 50-60 people in it, I'm not sure how many really, I didn't count. We were group number 21. Once all the gondola's were full, we shoved off on our tour of the streets of Venice. There was a man on one of the other boats, standing on one end just singing his heart out. He had a beautiful tenor voice and I recognized everything he sang.
our private tenor
Maria Callas home we passed by on our gondola.
there's that blue umbrella in the corner!
After the ride was over, we made our way back to the water taxi, following our guide who held up a picket sign with the number 21 in red. Michael and I stayed close to him, it was very crowded on the streets and we didn't want to be left behind because we lost the guide. At least 2 couples were left behind at each port, but none of them were on excursions booked through the ship.
The ship's security force keeps careful track of you, you must present your room card every time you get on or off the boat. And they can account for every single person that takes a tour. However, a few brave people did venture into Venice without a ship arranged tour and got left behind. There would be an announcement every day at shove off time "will Mr and Mrs So and So from room whatever please call the front desk" and in all fairness, the boat did wait a full hour before departing without the people who didn't make it back. It was up to them to make arrangements to the next port of call to meet the ship.
So if you are a first time cruiser, make your excursions through your boat! They won't let you get lost or leave without you in a strange town.
Once we got back aboard, we took our showers and then had a siesta.
Michael and I dressed for our first formal night onboard
Tonight was formal night in the Manhattan Dining Room. I was excited. I never dress up ever, well except for weddings and funerals. So this was fun, being girly and wearing dresses. Hubby looked real smart, but he didn't bring a tie. Next cruise, I'm renting him a tuxedo (they do that through the ship also).
In the Manhattan dining room, we were assigned table number 304. Our group was supposed to be big enough to seat all the dentists and their wives and children, but mostly everyone rebooked their eating time earlier. I guess 8pm was a little late for those with kids.
So out of the two full tables of 8, only 6-7 were ever seated at our eight o'clock dinner time. Oh well, we got great service. Speaking of great service, you are very pampered and spoiled on a Holland America cruise. It's a slap in the face once you disembark back into the real world where people aren't getting paid to be sweet and wait on every passenger they encounter. Yeah, it was easy to get used to!
After dinner we head back to our room and were greeted by a towel animal made by our stewards on the bed. That night, we found our Romance package waiting for us that I had
part one of our two Romance package
Actually I bought 2 Romance packages, thinking I needed to buy one for hubby and myself, but that wasn't the case.
There were two boquets of flowers and 2 bottles of wine and a folder filled with all the goodies that came along with the romance package, including a 25 minute massage in the spa for each of us. 4 total. Oh well, they did reimburse us for the portions of things that we never got a chance to use. Definitely buy the romance package, it's awesome
I read in the folder that we would have complimentary high tea served in our stateroom each day if requested. I just needed to call guest services and tell them what time I wanted it delivered. We picked 4pm, since dinner wasn't until 8.
High tea was lovely and just what we needed to hold us over till dinner at 8.
The alarm went off at 4 am and both hubby and I popped up ready to go. Horray Horray, it's travel day. We started by wolfing down our first cup of coffee, and then doing last minute things before it was time to go. Our son spent the night so he'd be here in the morning. We needed to leave at 5am and then we were off to General Mitchell International Airport.
(yes, the bear came along)
We had a seven hour layover in Atlanta, but we were so excited to go on our cruise, the time just flew by. What didn't fly by time-wise was the flight from Atlanta to Venice. Our seats were one aisle and one center seat, and we were crammed in tight for the 9 hour flight. I tried to sleep, and I probably did sleep for an hour or so, but not enough to save me from jet lag.
Once we arrived in Venice, we took a cab to the port where our ship- the Nieuw Amsterdam was tied up. Michael and I were both confused on how to get a cab but we learned quickly that the one that barges ahead in line to get your fare will be fast to rip you off. While I was helping get the luggage unloaded and onto the carts by the ship, Michael was getting the shaft from the cab driver. He told him it was 48 Euros. Michael handed him a hundred dollar bill and the cab driver said "thank you" and left without giving him any change.
Welcome to Venice
At the port we headed for a podium where a nice lady was standing handing out forms to fill out asking if we had a stomach illness or flu in the last 48 hours. I wonder how many people would say "yeah, I've had diarrhea really bad" knowing that they would lose their trip. But, there were Purell stations set up everywhere in the port and on the ship. We boarded the ship about noon Venice time. There was a red carpet to the gangway, and a Purell station right there before we could even get on board. That's smart thinking…if they lied about being sick, at least they might probably use hand sanitizer.
Our embarkation photo
The first 2 days we weren't allowed to touch anything but our plates in the Lido Restaurant which was the buffet. There would be no helping yourself for the first 48 hours - and that made us feel confident that anyone who might be sick wouldn't be spreading the flu. Heck, you couldn't even enter the restaurant without using Purell. There was a guy standing at the door with the bottle, squirting each pair of hands that walked through the door.
But back to embarkation … Once our number was called, we went to a counter lined with people, similar to the checkin counter at the airport but staffed with very friendly people. We had our pictures taken and were each issued a room card. Then we weaved our way through the maze to immigration and security. After we cleared that we headed onto the ship.
She was magnificent.
We took a glass elevator to the 8th floor Lido Deck and found our room at the stern (back) of the ship. Our room was beautiful, like a suite at a swanky hotel complete with a wrap-around verandah deck. There was a table with 4 chairs, 2 lounge chairs and 2 chairs with cushions and ottomans on the dec
Our room was on the top floor, starboard (right) side.
By now, we were both exhausted and getting acquainted with the deluxe verandah suite that Michael booked for us was fun. There were drawers and closets everywhere to put our clothes in. A note on the bed suggested we store our empty suitcases under the bed. Once we got unpacked, and looked through all the papers and excursion tickets on the bed, we
decided we just couldn't do the first day's excursion.
window seen at the Port of Venice
Our travel agent had told us not to sleep when we arrived on the ship or we'd really get hit with jet lag hard. Instead she suggested we go on an excursion. The point was to not go to sleep until bedtime in Venice but we just couldn't hang. So we took a nap instead.
the clock changed time zones without a sound
Dinner time was 8:00 pm in the Manhattan Dining room. First night's dress was "Smart Casual" so we spiffed ourselves up in our best casual clothes and headed down for dinner at 8. We weren't happy that our dinnertime was that late, but quickly found out that we could eat whenever and wherever we wanted. There was no shortage of food. And it was delicious food!
Manhattan Dining Room
The first night I slept well, but hubby woke up in the middle of the night restless and unable to fall back to sleep. But he stayed in bed and read until he got tired and we slept in until our room service was delivered in the morning. We used room service as our alarm clock in the mornings! That was much nicer than getting a wake up call and ensured that we would get a meal before heading out for the day's adventure.