Sunday, October 02, 2011

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 8 & 9: Day at Sea & Barcelona, Spain

Friday was our one day that we had at sea.  We spent the entire day on the ship, which I had figured would bore me to death, but it ended up being a nice reprieve after such a busy and exhausting week.  

Dave and I slept until 10:30 that morning, which is something I haven't done since college, I think.  We went to a late breakfast/early lunch and then made our way to the pool deck.  We secured some chairs and then went over to watch the flowrider competition, which wasn't too interesting.  Afterward, though, Dave had a chance to do the flowrider 3 times.  It looks pretty tough.  I would have loved to do it if no one was watching me... I just can't get myself to the point of doing things like that in front of a bunch of people.  While he finished up there I went back to our chairs and read my book in the sun.  It was lovely!

We sat there for a while, then went to the room to pack and get dressed for the final cocktail reception and dinner.  We ate with Alan and Amanda (from Nashville) for our last dinner on the ship and had a really nice time, as usual.  Since dinner was so late, we went off to bed right afterward because we were scheduled to depart the ship at 7am the next morning.

Saturday morning we got off of the ship at 7 and helped everyone in our group weigh their luggage (I bought a luggage scale a year or so ago and it was definitely a good $20 spent), then went to check in.  As soon as we got to the checkin line, we were told that they had overbooked the flight and were looking for volunteers to be bumped.  Bryan and Dena-Marie immediately volunteered.  I hesitated because I didn't really think it was an option for us, but ultimately we volunteered and asked if we could get home earlier than 8:45pm on Sunday.  They switched our flights and got one to get us home by 12:30pm on Sunday afternoon - at that point it was a no-brainer!  $500/ in airfare, hotel, food & transfers in Barcelona... and most of all an extra day to actually see Barcelona!  We were jazzed!

After finally getting settled in our hotel, the 4 of us went out to explore the city.  Bryan and Dena-Marie had been there for a week last summer so they were our tour guides.  Dave navigated our way on the Metra...  our first stop was the Segrada Familia, which is absolutely incredible.  This temple is amazing and the pictures we took cannot begin to do justice to seeing it in person.  From there we went to the beach and sat there for a couple of hours.  We drank some beer and swam in the Mediterranean Sea (how awesome is that?)!  And from there we walked down Port Val to Las Ramblas, did some shopping, found a place to have tapas, and did some more shopping and went back to the hotel.  It was the perfect, relaxing way to end our trip and I'm in love with that day!

Sunday morning we flew out of Barcelona at 7:30am to Paris, ran through the entire Paris airport to catch a flight that left less than 1 hour after we landed, flew 9 hours to Chicago and finally saw our girls at 1:45pm!  It was amazing. They are so beautiful and I missed them more on this trip than I had on any of our other trips combined.  I think because they are now at ages where we could have done this trip with them and they would have been awesome and it would have been fun... so I felt a little incomplete.  It was so great to see them when we got home!  Dave and I crashed hard by 8:45pm that night - they were still going strong and we just prayed that they would stay in their room, fall asleep at a decent time, and not burn the house down :)  All was good the next morning... but Dave and I didn't feel normal until Thursday.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 7: Civitevecchia/Rome

{These posts are taken from emails that I sent to the girls everyday during our trip.}

Good morning girls!

We had a long day yesterday so I'm writing you on Friday morning instead.  It is 10:30am here on the Mediterranean Sea and you are sound asleep - 3:30am for you!  Daddy and I just woke up!  We've been so busy this week and got up pretty early yesterday so we were tired!

Yesterday we ported in the city of Civitevecchia.  Our tour guide told us it is pronounced Chee-vee-tee-veck-ya.  We arranged for a private tour guide with 2 other couples that we met here - it was expensive, but it was definitely a great way to do as much of Rome in a day as we possibly could.  Our tour guide, Salvatore, picked us up in a minivan at 8 am and drove us the 90 minutes into the city of Rome.  On the way there he told us many interesting things about the country of Italy, the areas we were driving through and about Rome.  Rome is interesting because it is modern city (modern = like today), but the city has been here for thousands of years and has buildings and walls that are thousands of years old.  There is a lot of history in Rome.

The first thing we did in Rome was stop at the Colliseum.  Only the guys wanted to go inside, so while they toured the inside, the women walked around outside and we ended up seeing the filming of some scenes from an Italian movie.  Apparently the people we were watching in the scenes were very, very famous Italian actors, but we had no idea who they were!  The Colliseum is a huge brick structure/arena where the ancient Roman people had big fights.  On the floor of the arena there would be gruesome fights between people - with chariots and spears and animals.  Usually the fight would result in the death of one of the participants.  And all of this happened while the Roman people sat on the side and watched it like they were watching a baseball game.  There is a movie about it, called Gladiator.  It was horrific!  That stuff happened before and after Jesus was alive.  

From the colliseum, our guide drove us past a place called Circus Maximus, which many people saw in the movie, Ben Hur.  Right now this is just a grassy field in the middle of the city, but in ancient times (before and after Jesus), the Circus Maximus is where the Romans held chariot races.  From there we went to a Palazzo that was designed by Michaelangelo.  And then to the Pantheon.  The Pantheon is a HUGE domed church (by the way, there are 300 churches in Rome - every time you turn around you see another church).  There was a lot of artwork in the Pantheon.  Daddy liked the Pantheon, I preferred to sit outside by the fountain and watch people!  And from there we went to the Trevi Fountain.  This is, apparently, a very famous fountain and the Roman people think it is ugly, while the rest of the world thinks it is beautiful!  It is HUGE!  And I think that the entire world was there looking at it - it was SO crowded!

Then our guide brought us to one of his favorite restaurants for lunch.  It was an experience!  The owners kept bringing us food and we hadn't ordered anything!  We had so much food and it was all sooooo good!  Right after we started eating dessert an argument broke out in the next room - some American's were there and found that someone had taken their wallet and taken all of the money out of it (1300 euros which would be over $2000) and left the wallet on the ground.  The people they were accusing were gypsies and they were fighting back.  It was loud and the owners were upset that it was happening.  We believe they were probably right, but they would never be able to prove it.  Just a good lesson to not have that much money on you and to not leave your stuff on the ground!  Our lunch, though, was amazing!  And then the owners brought out a whole bottle of limoncello for our group - it is a sweet/sour liquor that is made here in Italy with fresh lemons.  And it is good!  

After lunch we went to the Vatican.  The Vatican is a separate state inside of Rome and has its own government.  This is where the governing of the Catholic church takes place.  The pope lives in the vatican and it is a very special place for catholics.  We went through all of the Vatican museums and finally the Sistene Chapel.  The ceiling of the sistene chapel was painted by Michaelangelo.  There are many, many different religious / roman political scenes painted on the ceiling and he did it all by hand.  It was beautiful.  We were unable to look at it for long because it took so long to get into it and we were running late for our guide.  And it was incredibly crowded.  The sistene chapel is one of the most famous places in the world.  And finally, we stopped at St. Peter's Basillica, which is a huge church on St. Peter's square in the Vatican.  It was incredible and beautiful and by far the highlight of my day.  

So we did a lot in Rome in one day.  Almost everything that anyone would want to see, we saw yesterday.  We went quickly, so we want to return to Rome someday and take our time!  We are so lucky!!!  Hopefully we can take each of you to rome someday - it is an amazing city!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 6: Naples, Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii, Italy

{These posts are taken from emails that I sent to the girls everyday during our trip.}

Hi girls!  We just finished our second day in Italy.  Today we arrived in Naples, Italy around 10am.  I watched the boat dock at the pier - it was very interesting.  The ship had to back in to the spot and there were several other cruise ships in the port.  It was almost like it was parallel parking in the port.

We did an excursion with the cruise line today so we got onto a bus in the port and drove through Naples to get to Mt. Vesuvius.  We stopped in a little jewely factory to see how they make a particular kind of jewelry - the cameo.  A cameo is made from a big shell that they import from the caribbean.  The master carver removes the outer dull layer and then draws a picture on the middle layer then carves away at the middle layer until the shiny under layer is revealed.  Typically the picture is of a roman emperor's profile or a woman's profile.  I bought a pendant necklace with a J on it and wanted to buy one for each of you, but they didn't have all of your first letters available.  Maybe if we ever come back i can find one for you then!  I almost cried - i was very disappointed because i think you would have loved the necklace!

When we were done there we drove to Mt. Vesuvius.  Mt. Vesuvius is an active volcano that erupts very irregularly.  It erupted in 79A.D. and destroyed the city of Pompeii with its ash.  The most recent eruption was in 1944 and at that time the lava flow destroyed all of the towns between it and the bay of Naples.  For some weird reason, they keep rebuilding cities in its path.  And every time it erupts the cities are destroyed again.  Right now the volcano does not seem dangerous - we walked around the crater and it seems pretty dry and dead, but there is a wisp of steam coming from the center of the mountain which means that it is still alive and active.  There are volcanologists that monitor the mountain at all time and will hopefully  be able to warn people to leave if they think there is danger of it erupting again.  It was a very steep hike up the mountain - our legs are soooo tired!

After leaving Mt. Vesuvius we went to the city of Pompeii.  Pompeii was destroyed by that eruption in 79A.D., but archeologists found it many years ago when they were digging and they have continued to dig and uncover much of the city.  Many parts of the city were preserved pretty well.  we saw a huge house, a roman bath, a brothel, a bakery, a restaurant, a fountain.  Lots of stuff.  The city of Pompeii is much, much larger than we imagined it would be.  we were there for 90 minutes and didn't see hardly any of it.  I think you could explore that ruined city for a full day!

When we were done there we took the bus back to the port of Naples.  By the way Papa - Naples doesn't have anywhere to go with their rubbish/garbage, so at night people drive up Mt. Vesuvius and toss it around there.  Mt. Vesuvius and Naples are FILTHY.  There is rubbish everywhere you turn.  Litter in the streets, in the grass, in the trees, everywhere.  Maybe veolia should take a trip over there from France and see if they can help out!!!

When we got off of the bus in Naples, we decided to walk through Naples for a bit and get some pizza.  Naples is where pizza was invented and since I have no desire to ever return to that dirty city, I didn't want to leave without having their pizza!  We walked and ate with a newlywed couple that we met on tour.  They got married on Labor Day weekend and are doing this cruise as their honeymoon.  We enjoyed our dinner with them!  The pizza was good, although daddy said he would rather have Chicago pizza any day of the week.  I think I would prefer the Naples pizza.

So now we are back.  Once again we almost missed the boat!  We came back to the ship and as soon as we got on they pulled the equipment back into the ship and we are leaving.  We are going to dinner in a few minutes and then to bed - we are exhausted!  Tomorrow we go to ROME!

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