Monday, June 29, 2009

Day Eleven-Venice

Although it did not seem like it would be at the beginning, today turned out to be a fabulous day! We took the bus into Venice proper and purchased a 12 hour pass to ride the vaporetto. We wished we had figured out the vaporetto pass thing sooner…it would have saved us a lot of money on getting around in Venice! We boarded the water bus headed to San Marco along with about 200 of our closest friends. Actually, many of them were not friendly at all. Nonetheless it was a packed water bus and we were at the back. When our stop came, we could not get to the front and of course, you guessed it…the bus kept going and we missed our stop! By this time, we had firmly decided we hated this place. We shoved our way off the next stop and proceeded to walk about one and a half miles in the blazing hot sun back to San Marco, where our tour was to begin. We stopped along the way to eat at an outdoor café, as much for the shade as for the food!
We met up with Charles and Jackie to go on our tour “See Venice in a Day”. This was not the best tour we had, mainly because our guide, Anatella, did not use headsets and we could not hear her very well. The tour took us through St. Mark Square (Piazza San Marco) where she showed us Dogge Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, the entry columns of the square, the bell tower, and discussed the general architecture of the square, which once served at the seat of government when Venice was its own state. We went into Saint Mark’s Basilica and it was gorgeous. This church was once private and served the nobility of Dogge Palace. The ceiling is completely covered in art made of glass and gold leaf mosaics. This church was completed in about 1090 AD, and once again, I could hardly wrap my brain around how this place was built with such detail and precision in a time when machinery did not exist. Next Anatella took us into the different areas of Venice, which I sort of related to areas of Atlanta, like Buckhead, Virginia Highlands, Midtown, etc. Our tour ended, near Rialto Bridge, which is a big shopping spot. So Jackie and I shopped while Andy and Charles found a café to sit and have a beer. I was most excited about a mask that I purchased from an artist who makes the masks. He makes masks as props for many plays and movies. He made the masks used in the movie “Eyes Wide Shut”. He signed it and gave me information about his website where I can see the process he uses to make his masks. Very cool!

Next we caught the vaporetto to take us where our gondola ride was to begin. We were there very early, so we walked about and found a little store to buy wine for the gondola ride. Penny, Michael, Kim, Stennis, Pam and Bo came also and we boarded our little piece of Venetian culture called a gondola. There were six gondolas travelling together with an accordion player and an older Venetian gentleman who belted out some serious Italian tunes. Andy and I enjoyed a glass of wine and soaked in this special occasion. It was something very special and the ultimate ending to our day in Venice.

After the gondola ride, we ate dinner at a restaurant where the others in our group had eaten twice and highly recommended it to us. We were not disappointed…the meal was fabulous! It started to rain at the end of dinner, but we didn’t mind. We made our way through the rain back to Piazzale Roma where we caught the bus back to our hotel. As we rode, we reminded ourselves of the vast array of places we visited and all of what we saw and did on this trip. It has been the trip of a lifetime for us and we are so happy to have had the opportunity. Tomorrow we go home. It is bittersweet…I am ready to go home, yet I will leave a little piece of myself here among the olive trees, vineyards and Mediterranean waters. Viva Italia…Arrivaderci! Cindy :o)

Day Ten-the Dolomites/Italian Alps

These hills were alive! Ummm...not really hills at all. We were 7500 feet up with the snow all around us!
Just gorgeous!

I thought this was a neat little shack.

Auronzo di Cadore....a small village on a gorgeous, milky turquoise blue lake in the valley below the Dolomites.

A dam in one of the small towns where part of the mountain fell into the lake in 1963 causing water to rush over the dam, flooding the valley town below and killing 1000s.

This morning, Andy and I left the relative safety of The Splendour of the Seas and stepped into a world we did not understand. It was raining, which added an additional twist to maneuvering our way to our tour of the Dolomites. We very easily exited the ship since we took our own luggage off and took a taxi to Piazzale Roma where there was a place to store luggage. We were leaving for a tour at 9:00 AM and did not have time to go to our hotel to check in. Once the luggage was stored, we took the vaporetto (water bus-public transportation system) to the stop where our tour was meeting. All this was accomplished by about 7:45…and we had a 9:00 tour! So, we found a little tiny (I mean the size of a box) walk up bar that was open and got sandwiches for breakfast. We sat under a sheltered area, ate our breakfast , watched the pouring rain, listened to the roaring thunder, prayed the lightning would not strike us, and stared at our ship, which was a stone’s throw away from where we were sitting. It seemed a little ironic that we had gone by car taxi, then water bus to get to a spot almost just beneath the window of our room on the Splendour.

Eventually, 9:00 did come and so did Henrico, our tour guide. We were in a group of 7 people. One couple was from Colorado, another lady was from Michigan. And a lady with her son were from England. And so we were off on our day into the Italian Alps. I know I keep saying this, but once again, this was a place too stunning to describe in words and too beautiful for pictures to portray what we saw. We began in the valley below the mountains stopping in several of the small towns. In Longarone we saw a dam where a terrible disaster happened in 1963. Part of the mountain fell into the lake on the opposite side of the dam causing the water to be displaced and splashed out over the dam. It flooded this little town and killed over 1000 people. Next we stopped in Pieve di Cadore. This is a beautiful little town where the painter Titian lived. Next was Auronzo di Cadore (Cadore is the name of the valley all these towns are in). This was just a picture stop at a beautiful turquoise blue lake with the mountains in the background. The lake water is a creamy turquoise blue-ish green from the limestone that the water travels through coming down out of the mountains. Henrico told us this was an area where the wealthy lived and vacationed. Our next stop was Misurina, which is at the base of a National Park of Dolomites. We had lunch here in a nice restaurant overlooking another lake. As the day had gone on, the weather began to look better, so Henrico said we would be able to go into the park, called Rifugio Auronzo. So we began our climbed to 7500 feet above sea level! Here, we were not just looking up at mountains and snow…we were in these mountains and touching the snow! The most stunning mountains I have ever seen. Even Mitch and Vicki who are from Colorado and have lived in near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming said there is nothing like this in our country! From here, we went back down and into the famous ski town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. The 1956 Winter Olympics were held here. It is a place where the rich and famous vacation in the winters. But in the summer, it was just a quaint little town. Andy and I got some fresh blackberries from a fruit and vegetable market and just enjoyed sitting in this little Alpine village. As a matter of fact, all of what we saw today was more Alpine looking than Italian looking. This is due to the strong German influence on this place. It was actually part of Germany until after the first world war.
From Cortina, we made the one and half hour journey back to Venice, where we retrieved our luggage, and Henrico took us to our hotel.
We are staying at a Marriott near the airport, which is a nice hotel, but far from Venice proper. It is actually across the bay in a town called Mestre. There is a public bus stop just across the street from our hotel. It is very cheap to get back into Venice, and only a 20 minute ride. We took the bus back and met Charles and Jackie for dinner. It was a very nice restaurant, and very expensive! The entire menu was in Italian, so it was difficult to order. We managed to muddle through with the help of the waiter who translated for us. Then we made our way back to our hotel and began to prepare for our last day. We will be in Venice tomorrow for a tour and gondola ride. I am looking forward to it, but I must admit I am ready to go home. I miss my kids, my dog, and my bed! Good night and love to all. Cindy :o)

Day Nine-At Sea

We have a drink in the Schooner Bar just before the last night's dinner.
Jackie and I relaxing on a beautiful sunny day at sea.

Oh yes, we are genuine techies! Can not believe the money I spent on internet service just to stay connected!

On the bridge...the red emergency phone rang while in the middle of our tour...there was some kind of medical emergency around the pool area.

This is the guy who watches the control panels of the ship...the ship really runs by auto pilot.

Today has been a good day to rest and get my mind thinking about the last leg of our journey. This morning about 9:20, an envelope was pushed under our door with an invitation to a bridge tour at 9:30! I had just gotten out of the shower and needless to say, it put Andy and me both into a tizzy! I hurriedly dried my hair and threw on clothes while Andy went on up to the meeting spot so that we would not be left. I did make it there on time and the tour was very interesting. We were surprised that we were allowed to take all the pictures we wanted. The officer that showed us around was very nice and also very informative. We were amazed at all the instrument panels, computers, alarms, and reports they used, yet the ship’s wheel was smaller than the steering wheel of my Tahoe!

After breakfast, Jackie and I spent some time in the coffee shop on the computer to share a few pictures and catch up on blogging. I sent Caitlin a Facebook message to see if they were awake so we could Skype with her and Ashleigh. A few minutes later, a skype request came through. It was the first time we had done this and it worked great! I was so happy to see my girls’ faces, even at 7:30 AM (their time) they looked great! It was funny when the two of them started to argue about something. I told them there were other people around and they could hear them argue. All the people in the coffee shop began to laugh and a couple told us they actually missed this kind of sibling interaction from back home.

A while later Jackie and I met up on deck to lie in the sun for a while. The ship was moving very slowly and the seas looked smooth as glass. With the slow movement of the ship, the wind was not so bad and the day was just beautiful. We ended up going to the Solarium and sat in the hot tub for a while. Phillip and Stennis joined us there.

Then on to packing and getting ready for our last dinner. We were happy to give Hugo (our waiter) a nice gratuity. We just loved Hugo! Phillip said he was one of the top waiters he had ever had and Phillip and Renee have been on numerous cruises on several different ships/cruise lines. Now on to bed….packed and ready to leave the ship tomorrow at 7:00 AM. Good night and love to all! Cindy :o)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day Eight-Corfu, Greece

The first cave we went inside of.
The heart-shaped bay looking down on Paleokastritsa

Andy and me with the Paleokastritsa bay and Mediterranean in the background.

A photo of the main town on Corfu, called Corfu Town....very original huh?

The beautiful blue water that looked magically illuminated just by the sun shining into the water and lighting up under these rocks.

I found another nice little surprise just sitting there waiting for me to explore in the Mediterranean today. It is called Corfu and it is the northernmost of the Greek Islands. It does not have the same feel as most of the Greek Isles. It feels very European due to the island being ruled by the Venetians for many hundreds of years. This place is about 36 miles long and 18 miles wide. It has a population of about 400,000. The main agricultural product is olives, and there are 4 million olive trees on the island. The olives here are too small to be used as table olives, so they are mainly used to make olive oil. The wood of the olive trees is used to make decorative and useful items for the home.

Our tour guide today was Elani, who took us on a panoramic view of Corfu. She gave us lots of information about the island and the people. The Corfuan people are very friendly and almost always happy. Sometimes it seems when they are speaking to one another that they are angry, but they are really just very robust and jovial people. We saw many houses that were partially constructed but looked abandoned. Actually, we saw this in Santorini as well. Elani explained this is because people do not borrow money to build a house. And they do not marry until their homes are built. Therefore, many couples are engaged for 5-10 years until they can complete the home construction as they have money to do it. When couples do marry, the girl’s family has a dowry that is given to the bride. On the Sunday before the wedding day, all the family and friends come to help move the dowry from the bride’s home to the new home of the couple. The groom is responsible for bringing the bed and the bride brings the mattress. The bringing of the dowry is somewhat like a parade. The couple’s bed is made with linens which are handmade by young unmarried girls to represent purity. The families throw coins and bills onto the bed to ensure the couple always has wealth, and a young boy child (about 2 years old) is tossed onto the bed. This is to ensure the couple’s first child is a boy…which of course does not always happen. But it is very important to the Greeks that they have at least one boy child. When asked “how many children do you have?” A typical reply would be “I have two children and one daughter.” Elani also talked about education here. It is similar to that in the United States. Children are required to attend pre-school and kindergarten. They begin primary school at age 7 and they progress through 12 grades. To become a teacher, university is necessary for 4 years after which time you make the equivalent of $1200 per month.

The first stop on our tour was a resort town called Paleokastritsa. Oh my!!! I could scarcely believe what my eyes and brain were taking in! This place is amazingly gorgeous. We had a 40 minute stop here, so Renee, Jackie, Charles, Andy and I took a boat tour of the caves around the bays. This water is the clearest, bluest, coldest water I have ever seen! The boat captain took us actually into the caves. We saw beautiful pink coral, stalagmites (are these the ones growing down from the ceiling?), fish, and the harsh crags that have been carved into the rocky mountainous areas of the shore here in Paleokastritsa. Our next stop was way high above Paleokastritsa in a place called “Bella Vista—or Good View”. Good? No, this word is not was I would use to describe this place. Our bus driver was extremely skilled to get us here. Several times, cars coming toward us had to back up to a spot where they could pull over to let the bus go by, and several times I thought we just might end up back down in Paleokastritsa by way of falling off the side of the mountain with the hair pin turns being tackled by a huge motor coach bus!!! We were overlooking the resort town below and we could see several bays, two of which were heart shaped. Here we had time to sit in the walk up coffee shop, so we had traditional dishes of baklava and iced coffee. Just delicious! Next, we made our way back down the mountain via a different road, not much different than the first. We saw beautiful countryside, olive groves, grape vineyards, cypress trees and very rural homes. All the while, we could still see the Mediterranean and the country, Albania, in the distance! Back down the mountain, Elani drove us by some of the highlights in the old town, including the old and new forts (both of which are very old), a nunnery, and the main town square. It was a lovely day with very nice weather. Each day, I think it just can’t be any more beautiful than today…then the next day comes…and it not more beautiful, but it is just as beautiful in a different way.

Since the ship didn’t arrive until 12:30, we didn’t come back to the ship until about 7:00. We went to the Viking Crown lounge, which is on deck 11 (the only thing on deck 11) to have a drink and watch the ship leave port, which is where we stayed until dinner. Tomorrow is a day at sea. We are looking forward to sleeping in a bit. I am planning to participate in the “Walk for Wishes” which is a charity fundraiser for Make-a-Wish Foundation. The guys are going to try to get their putt-putt dollar a hole game in since the crew had the course closed for maintenance on our other “at sea” day. And I hope the weather is nice so that I can lie up on deck for a bit….I am losing my tan!! And the rest, we will just take as it comes. Goodnight and love to all…Cindy :o)

Day Seven-Santorini

Andy and me with the village of Oia and the Mediterranean behind us.
This will go down in history as one of the funniest things I ever husband shoving Jackie up onto a donkey!

Another beautiful view...

And another...

And another...I really mean that photos and words cannot give you a true image of the beauty of Santorini!

I know most of you have heard of Santorini, and some of you may have visited this place. If you are among the group who has been to Santorini, you are truly blessed! I have to say I never in my wildest dreams ever believed this kind of place existed on earth! Santorini is harsh, yet gentle. It is stark, yet subtle. It is quiet, yet alive. Santorini is a place I cannot describe to you in words to do it justice. It is a volcanic island. The last eruption took place in the 1600’s which created an enormous cauldron with what is now considered Santorini becoming the outer rim of the volcano. The Mediterranean lies thousands of feet below the towns and inhabited areas. On top of the cliffs you can easily see the circular shape of the 5 islands, outlining the cauldron, that make up Santorini. Archaeological finds give reason to believe people inhabited this island as far back as 700 BC. The main religion is Greek Orthodox and there are hundreds of churches in this small place, most with a dome painted brilliant blue.

Our day in Santorini began with our tour. The ship was tendered, so we took a small boat to the island where our tour bus was waiting to take us up, up, up the side of a cliff to begin the tour. Maria was our tour guide and she gave us tons of information about the volcanic actions and how the volcano drives the lifestyle of the Greeks who live here. Volcanic ash makes extremely fertile soil and growing grapes is the main agricultural crop. The grapes are not grown up off the ground as they are in most traditional vineyards, rather they grow low on the ground. Pumice is also a by-product of volcanoes, so the pumice industry was once huge. Eventually, pumice mining stopped because it was ruining the island’s beauty and livelihood. Even the fact that the cliffs are made of lava is important to the building of homes here. Lava is so hard and trustworthy, many homes are built into the side of the cliffs. They are very small-only 3 rooms and Phillip and Renee were talking to a waiter in a restaurant who said his family is trying to sell one right now with a price tag of 700,000 euros (about 1.1 million US Dollars)!!

Our first stop was the village of Oia (pronounced ‘eeeah’). This is the place you see photographs of in all the travel brochures and travel documentaries. We were lucky to be one of the first tour buses there, so it was very quiet and quaint. We had about 40 minutes to roam the village and the shops. I didn’t think that was nearly enough time, and I have only one regret, which is not to have taken a taxi to go back there later in the day before we left. Next we drove through the wine country and low lying side of the island. It was interesting because looking at this area from up top, it seemed like flat farm land, but once we were down there, it was not flat at all! Then Maria took us to a winery where we tasted 3 types of Greek wine produced on the island. The white wine was very good, so I bought a bottle to take home. They had some delicious olives for us to try and of course, the view on the veranda of this winery was spectacular! Our next stop was in the main town of Santorini where our tour ended, giving us time to have lunch and browse the shops. Our lunch of gyros and greek salads was in a café overlooking the Mediterranean. Then we browsed the shops, and I have decided the touristy shops all look the same and sell the same stuff throughout the entire Mediterranean.

Jackie was determined to ride the donkeys back down to the pier, despite the warning from the ship saying they did not recommend riding the donkeys. So, I figured if my 50-something year old friend could do this, so could I! And Andy, of course, could not let me do this without doing it himself. Charles, however, was having no part of the donkeys! Thus begins an adventure I will never forget! Jackie was the first to get on her donkey, which was not easy! Finally, Andy and the “donkey dude” shoved her by the rear end up onto the beast. I was laughing so hard, I thought I just might pee myself right there amidst the donkeys! I do have good pictures of this woman/animal interaction…I hope you enjoy the photo as much as I enjoyed watching this take place! Then “donkey dude” (who was NOT a nice man at all) searched to find a somewhat large donkey…possibly a mule…to take Andy down. So then we were all on our donkeys, hooked together with ropes in a group of about 7-8. Donkey Dude walked us down the path, which was about 2 miles zigzagging down the side of a cliff. I was thankful this man had some heart in him somewhere and did not just send the donkeys down on their own, which many donkey dudes do. Andy was on the lead donkey and my donkey kept trying to get up beside Andy’s donkey. The only problem with this is it resulted in my knees being shoved into the anus of Andy’s donkey. I was sure there would be donkey poop on my knees when I got off that thing! LOL!! As for the ride…it was very nerve-wracking! If the donkey got too close to the inside wall, your legs were scraped or you had to dodge the briar bushes hanging over the wall. All the while I was concentrating on holding myself back so as not to roll right off the front of the donkey what with the steep trajectory of our stance! I just kept thinking of how funny this would look if I was watching it all and I couldn’t help but laugh in spite of how it was not funny at all while it was taking place! And another very important part of the experience that I cannot leave out…the smell!!! You can only imagine what 100 plus donkeys, plus their poop and pee smells like! Need I say I was never so happy to be at the bottom of that cliff? We decided if it was 2 regular miles, that must equate to about 10 “jackass miles” because it sure felt like we would never make it to the bottom! I have no regrets…it was an experience I will never have again, and it made for some great laughs and good conversation!

Once we were back on the ship, we headed to the pool and hot tub to wash away the donkey stinch and calm down from our experience. After that, a much needed nap, then the captain’s cocktail party for returning Royal Caribbean cruisers with Renee and Phillip. After dinner, we went to the show, which was a guy who impersonates Elton John. He was fabulous and really did look and sound just like Elton John. He is the only Elton John impersonator to be authorized by Sir Elton John himself.

Tomorrow is Corfu, another Greek island. Can’t wait to see another of the small morsels that make up the 6000 Greek Isles. So, goodnight and love to you all! Cindy :o)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day Six-Ephesus & Kusadasi, Turkey

This is a picture of a picture, so not good quality...but this is our dinner night with our special guest, Officer Adam Hill.
Ancient temple in Ephesus

Virgin Mary's home

Statue leading to the Virgin Mary's home

Kusadasi, Turkey taken from the ship when we arrived in port.

I have to start my entry today by saying WOW! What an interesting and informative day! Today we docked in Kusadasi, Turkey. This is the town where the port is. The weather began cool and a little rainy, but soon became a beautiful blue sky and very, very hot (about 90 degrees)! Our tour began here by motor coach where we made our way to Ephesus, an ancient city which still stands in ruins. Our tour guide today was Khan. Khan was a very nice man who had been a teacher. He said teachers are the lowest paid workers in Turkey, which is why he became a tour guide.

To begin our time here, the motor coach took us to the top of a high mountain where the Apostle John built a house for the Virgin Mary. She lived here in her elderly days, eventually dying in this place. It was very emotional for me to enter this Holy place. Upon entering Virgin Mary’s home, I was given a shawl to cover my shoulders. Very quiet music was playing and no one was talking. Just hoards of people were lined up kind of like a pilgrimage to enter the home of the blessed virgin who gave birth to Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Our tour guide (who is Muslim, like 95% of the country) told us all wishes you wish in this place come true. I interpreted that in my Christian beliefs that all prayers come true, so I prayed. I prayed to my God, in the name of Jesus for safety, good health and a long happy life for Caitlin and Ashleigh. I also prayed for Andy and me to live long healthy lives, not so much for ourselves, but more so that we can enjoy the blessings of God on our children. As you can imagine, this was very moving, unlike any experience I have had in any church or chapel thus far on our trip!

After leaving the house of Virgin Mary, we went back down the mountain to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus has roots all the way back to 700 BC! It was on an important trade route with roads leading out of the city to the Aegean Sea. At one time Ephesus was the 3rd largest city in the Mediterranean. In its most glorious days, Ephesus had a large market place, a hospital, a library, public baths and toilets, a church, temples, theatres, a brothel, and a stadium. An earthquake finally destroyed the city after many times of rise and fall throughout hundreds of years. Even now, we saw archaeologists digging to uncover more remains as the city is only one-third revealed. It is just mind-boggling to think that we were walking the same streets where Jesus once preached, John the Baptist continued to spread Christianity and even Marc Antony and Cleopatra visited! This was an experience of a lifetime!

After the tour, things got a little more dicey…shopping in Kusadasi! We had been forewarned that the Turkish merchants are very aggressive. And we saw this first hand when our tour ended in a carpet gallery. At first it was great…the gave use demonstrations on how silk is obtained from the silkworm and made into thread, and also how their handmade carpets are painstakingly woven by only women. They even gave us nice cheese sandwiches and drinks. Then the carpets started rolling out! Some of the most amazing rugs you can imagine…there were wools, wools on cotton, silk on cotton and silk on silk. Once the presentation was over, the men came out of nowhere to “help” us make our purchases. So in my little pea brain, I am thinking…well we could use a new rug for the den…so I ask ‘”what room size carpets do you have for under $1000?” I think he thought I was joking…but once he realized I was serious, he told me no such carpet exists! The cheapest rugs he had in this size begin at $3500! One of the silk on silk rugs they showed to our tour group was $38,000!!! Here is what I think about that…for that price, it had better be a magic flying carpet because this is more than we paid for the cars we own! It took quite a while and much persistence on our parts to make it down 4 flights of stairs to the bottom of their gallery to get out of this place. We were dumped out into a shopping bazaar, and I can only liken it to our cruise stop in Jamaica last summer. These people are relentless! I was very happy to find a quiet little restaurant overlooking the city of Kusadasi called “The Windjammer Café”! And best of all…it was free food! Yes, I do mean we went back to the ship for lunch and to spend the remainder of our time in this tourist trap aboard our ship.
In the afternoon, Renee, Jackie and I met in the computer lounge to work on blog stuff. Then it was off to the jacuzzi to relax and have a few drinks. I was behind on getting pictures downloaded and writing my journal, so I got somewhat caught up and I am completing today’s journal now late in the evening after a wonderful, very exciting dinner with a special guest!

Did you read from yesterday about the guy who Andy met that works on the ship who is from Jacksonville? And the part about how he wanted to know our stateroom number? Well….Adam Hill, officer and facilities manager, dined with us this evening! He said the captain wanted some of his officers to go into the dining room and have dinner with some guests this week, so Adam chose our table! He ordered wine for our table, and the photographer came for a special picture. Each of us received a free copy of this photograph! Adam was very interesting and everyone had many questions for him. He gave us some good information about Santorini…the donkeys!!! What a nice guy he was!! And he gave us a wonderful surprise during dessert…he has arranged a tour of the bridge for us on Friday!!! The bridge is the place where they “drive” the ship. This is a behind the scenes place that we are so lucky to see! He said an official invitation would be delivered to our staterooms later in the week with details on the time and meeting location. Stay tuned for my blog on Friday…should be very interesting!

Thus ended our evening. Tomorrow morning we will be meeting for our tour at 7:00 AM! I am looking forward to our time here, as I have heard such wonderful things about Santorini. And I just cannot wait to write this blog tomorrow evening to tell about the donkeys….until then…good night and love to all!
Cindy :o)

Day Five- At Sea

The evening show..."Dancing through the Movies"
Formal night picture, courtesy of Jackie Petty:o)

Our ship's captain welcoming everyone at the captain's reception

A beautiful lighthouse on the coast of one of the Greek Isles

The wine tasters!

Today was a day of MUCH needed rest! I am almost embarrassed to admit that I slept until 11:30! I know Kenneth, our stateroom attendant, was just dying to get in our room to clean. So I quickly dressed and went with Andy to eat lunch. Around mid-afternoon we went to a wine tasting with Jackie and Charles. I always find myself just staring at the shelves completely overwhelmed in the grocery store, thus reverting to my old standby wine-Beringer White Zinfandel (aka “grown up grape juice”). I decided this was a good opportunity to learn a little more about wines and try a few without having to buy a whole bottle. We had a great time at this event…got a little tipsy…learned about different reds, whites, and champagnes….found some I definitely like…enjoyed the company of two ladies from New York…oh and…did I mention we got a little tipsy? LOL!

After the wine tasting, we sat on deck watching some of the Greek Isles as we cruised by. The breeze was just right and the afternoon was just beautiful! Andy struck up a conversation with one of the crew members who happened to be one of the few Americans working on this ship AND he was from Jacksonville, Florida! This was so cool since Andy is originally from Jacksonville. Adam knew about the small town, Baldwin, just outside of Jacksonville where Andy lived until he was 10 years old. Adam told us lots of good information about the ship, as he is the facilities manager and is in charge of all maintenance of the ship. He wrote down our stateroom number, and we are wondering why he did that???

This evening was formal night, so we dressed and headed for dinner. Of course we had to get pictures, so Jackie and I took turns taking pictures of the other couple. Charles was just not smiling to Jackie’s satisfaction, so Jackie said “Charles, why can’t you smile like Andy?” And Charles’ comeback was one to remember…”That’s because he is married to Cindy, honey, and I am married to you.”LOL LOL LOL! This night’s dinner was the best we had yet on the ship! Lobster bisque, Caesar salad, filet of beef, rosemary mashed potatoes, asparagus, and grand marnier soufflé for desert. PLUS a great bottle of cabernet sauvignon that we had learned about at the wine tasting.

After dinner we went to the evening show with Renee, Phillip, Jackie, Charles, Kim, Stennis, Penny, Michael, Pam and Bo, which was a music and dancing show “Dancing Through the Movies”. It was fun to reminisce with the music, and the Royal Caribbean dancers were pretty good!

Off to bed now, gotta get up early tomorrow as we meet for our tour at 8:00 AM in Ephesus, Turkey!!! Good Night and love to all! Cindy :o)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day Four-Dubrovnik

My feet relaxing on a rocky beach!
Our lunch spot and view from just outside the old town.

One of the beautiful streets in old Town Dubrovnik. People live in these alleys, as you see some laundry hanging outside of a window.

The monastery and some of the boats in Cavtat.

Dubrovnik, taken from a point high above from our coach bus as we travelled to Cavtat.

I found this great little place today called Dubrovnik that I want to share with the world! Dubrovnik is the southernmost city in Croatia. It is a gorgeous town with white houses and terracotta tiled rooftops nestled along mountainous terrain that shoots right up out of the Adriatic Sea. Our ship docked at about 10:00 AM this morning as Andy and I watched from the Windjammer Café while we ate our breakfast. We met for our tour with the others in our group at 10:15. Our guide was a very sweet lady, native to Dubrovnik named Vesna.

We boarded the coach bus that would take us to a smaller village called Cavtat. This is a small fishing village and it was absolutely stunning! There were cafes lining the street, which ran right alongside the small bay. The bay held some of the most beautiful yachts as well as smaller quaint boats. At the end of this bayfront street was a Franciscan monastery. Since it was Sunday, many of the locals had just attended church and were sitting in the cafes having coffee or breakfast. It was almost like we were in a scene from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous…the people coming off the yachts, their security guards patiently watching over the multi-million dollar floating palaces, the breeze was gently blowing, and the whole place was very quiet and very still. And then our very small, very touristy, very ferry-ish looking boat came in to bring us back to reality. We boarded this small boat for a ride along the coast back to Old Town Dubrovnik. Though we did not see much purpose to traveling back to Dubrovnik by boat, it was quite an adventure! Once we were out of the small bay, the waters were unprotected and very huge waves were rocking our boat wildly at times! Our poor guide, Vesna, was not feeling so well at the end of it all.

At the end of this boat ride, we began our tour of Old Town Dubrovnik. This place was the original town which was built over a century ago. It consisted of one main street with many very narrow side streets coming off the main street. All of this was enclosed by a two foot thick wall. All of this town was made of limestone. The streets were large limestone blocks that had been worn smooth over time. The place was so clean! Vesna took us to the church and to the monastery there, then we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea…a view I just cannot describe. I will post pictures of this, but even a photograph cannot do this place justice! After lunch we were free to explore the old town, so Andy and I wandered through some of the smaller streets. We found a street vendor selling homemade olive oil flavored with rosemary and garlic. And right beside her was another vendor selling lavender while a fresh fruit market was set up right beside that. I also cannot describe the aromas here, all I can tell you is anytime I smell olive oil or lavender, my mind will automatically bring me back to this place.

The coach bus took us back to the ship about 5:00 PM. Renee, Phillip, Jackie, Charles and I headed to the hot tub while Andy finished watching a movie he had started on the train trip to Venice. From the hot tub, we watched our ship slowly take us away from this place, one of the most beautfiful I have ever experienced! Then back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. Thus ends day four of our grand adventure. Tomorrow is at sea…Andy, Richard, Charles and Phillip are playing putt putt for money tomorrow! That should be fun and funny! I may just go to the spa for a massage…no firm plans right now for the day, other than I plan to sleep until my body decides to wake up! This vacation is so wonderful and yet so tiring at the same time! Night night and love to all! Cindy :o)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day Three-Traveling to Venice

Venice from the ship...can't wait to get back and see this place!
The countryside taken from the train. This area is known for its vineyards.

These little cars are everywhere...if they are not driving a teensy tiny car, they are driving a motorcycle!

Hi friends! We are ending up day three of our adventure. Today was a traveling day, so there is not as much to share as yesterday.

We were up very early this morning, leaving the hotel at 7:00 AM. We headed to Termini Station to catch our train to Venice. Once we figured out how the train system worked, it was relatively easy. We boarded our train about 8:30. We sat in first class on the train, and I say this is the only way travel in Europe! Our seats were a grouping of four seats facing each other with a table in the middle. We did not have seats with Jackie and Charles, but that turned out to be a okay, as we met Luca and Betta. They were our traveling mates for the first 1.5 hours of the trip. Luca spoke perfect English and Betta also spoke English. Luca works for the United Nations and just recently travelled to Atlanta to give a lecture at Emory University. He was very happy to report he had eaten shrimp and grits in Georgia and loved it! These were the nicest people. They also had two daughters (ages 7 and 11). They told us many interesting things about Italy, Italian food, olive oil, the transportation systems, family life, and the Italian countryside. Once Luca and Betta left in Florence, we had the four-seater all to ourselves the remainder of the way, which was nice for us to stretch out! We saw many interesting countryside scenes along the way…vineyards where white wine is primarily made, olive tree groves, lots of other farmland, and beautiful old villages.

We arrived in Venice at Saint Lucia Station about 1:15 PM. I was totally shocked to find it was windy and very cool! After 2 days of 90 degrees and humid, I would not complain much! Then we found our driver waiting at the end of the platform for us with a little sign with “Andrew Crews” printed on it. He took us straight to the port where a Royal Caribbean agent was waiting at the dock to take our luggage. From there, we checked in and made our way to the ship.
The Splendour of the Seas is a smaller ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. Many of you know we took a family cruise last summer on the Mariner of the Seas, which was soooo much larger! This ship is also older, but all around it is a nice place! As the ship left port, we took many pictures of Venice, as I know we will not be given the opportunity to take such pictures from this high up again. Afterwards, we met some of our friends Renee, Phillip, Ruth, Charles and Jackie on deck by the pool. We had a celebratory drink there….actually, we moved to an inside bar where it was not so windy and continued to celebrate our arrival on the ship. :o)

We just came back into the room from our first dinner. Hugo is our waiter. He is from Australia. Fernanda is the “bread and water girl” and she is from Brazil. Dinner was a nice time of fun conversation and comparing stories of what adventures everyone has had so far. We are very tired as we have burned the candle at both ends…so I must get to bed so we can be ready for our big day in Dubrovnik, Croatia tomorrow! Love to all! Cindy :o)

Day Two-Rome

My favorite photo inside St. Peter's Basilica. I think it looks like God is watching over this holy place.
This was my favorite part of Michelanglo's famous ceiling depicts God creating man in His image.

Hello all! I am writing to you as one tired chick! It is again, almost midnight and we left the hotel at 8am this morning. Our day began with a stop at the Caffe Vaticano where we had coffee and waited for our tour of the Vatican Museums to begin. We met our friends Kim, Stennis, Penny, Michael, Pam and Bo there. Our guide for the tour this morning was Angelo. He was part Italian and part Australian with a lovely accent. He was very passionate about the subject of art in this museum and was gifted in telling it like an old story handed down through the generations. Angelo told us we would only be seeing the highlights, as taking time to see and absorb every piece in this place was estimated to take about 12 years! I learned more about Michelangelo than I ever thought possible. He very carefully explained the frescoes painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Each one of the main paintings represents a story from the book of Genesis. I learned what “fresco” actually means…it is a complicated procedure of putting plaster onto the surface, etching the outline of the painting into the wet plaster and adding paint to the plaster all before the plaster can dry, which is about 22 hours. Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as he did not see himself as a painter, but rather as a sculptor. Basically he was coerced into it by the sitting pope forgot his name-YIKES!). We saw many statues, frescoes, tapestries, and mosaics. We saw the Raphael rooms, and several gardens. Angelo told us the two main rules in the Sistine Chapel were no photos and no talking. ( Interestingly, prohibiting photos has nothing at all to do with damaging the paintings. The Sistine Chapel was restored in the 1980’s and it was financed by a Japanese company who asked for exclusive photo rights to the paintings. So it is all about a copyright issue!!) I worried that I might cry when I entered the Sistine Chapel, but I did not need to worry…in fact, I didn’t even realize we had entered the Chapel until I took a good look at the ceiling! There was loud talking and MANY photographers taking those copyright-protected pictures! I felt sort of like it was disrespectful, but honestly, this room did not look like a chapel at all…it was just an empty room the same as all the others we had passed through. At the end of the museums, we walked through St. Peter’s Basilica on our own. This is the largest church in the world! Absolutely stunning!

We left Vatican City with just enough time to make it to the area of the Coliseum and find a place to have lunch. Then it was on to our 3:00 PM tour of the Coliseum and Ancient Rome. Our guide for the afternoon was Valeria. She was Italian, but spoke good English. I must say the Coliseum was a bit upsetting to me. Valeria described in great detail the events or games that took place there….extremely barbaric behavior and many animals and gladiators were killed here all for the pleasure of Romans to watch! It was equal to what watching the Dawgs play football on a Saturday afternoon! These people were entertained by watching people malled, beaten or attacked by live animals or other human beings! However, I could not help but appreciate the sheer age of such a structure! To think people more than 2000 years ago came here just like me! WOW! Next on our tour was Palatine Hill. This is the place where Romulus founded the city of Rome and many of the structures are stlll partially standing. Very humbling! This was a very hot afternoon and there are many free flowing fountains throughout Rome and the water is very good to drink. It is also very cold water, so it was wonderful to splash a little cold water onto ourselves throughout the afternoon.

Next we were off to the Pantheon. We had visited this square the evening before, but the Pantheon was closed, so we wanted to go back. The inside of the Pantheon is a marvel of ancient Roman structural composition. I can scarcely wrap my brain around how difficult it must have been to build a beautiful temple in the day in which it was built! I mean this was way before even Jesus! It now serves at a church and was to be revered as such, but was not…same as Sistine Chapel. Here in the piazza, we rested a while, had some delicious “gelato”…which is the Italian version of ice cream…but different than American ice cream. And oh so good!!!
On a whim, we decided to take a carriage ride that took us to many of the main sites, most of which we had seen the day before, but definitely worth another look-see….and we highly recommend this type of travel and touring….it was absolutely a wonderful way to usher in the evening! Our driver ended us in Piazza Navona. This is an oblong square with many places to eat and shop. There were also many street artists. I bought a painting from a very poor-looking lady. She was separate from the main throng of artists and she was actually working on a painting. I almost felt sorry for her! And her work was good…plus cheaper! Many of the artists there seemed shady…like maybe they did not paint at all, but instead took people’s money for “paintings” that were mass-produced in a factory in China. We ate dinner along the street in a wonderful restaurant called Tre Scalini. Once again, another fabulous meal!

Once back in our hotel, we made a quick trip up to the rooftop bar. We knew the view was gorgeous and wanted to snap a few last shots of this beautiful place. Although we were here only two days (and more was needed), I feel like I have truly experienced something special! I want to etch the scenes into my brain and never forget our time in Rome!

But alas, we are off in the morning to bigger and better things! We catch a train at 9:00 AM to Venice where we will board the “Splendour of the Seas” and a new adventure begins. Arrivederci Roma! Cindy :o)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day One...Rome

The Pantheon
The view from our hotel balcony looking over the entire city of Rome!

Andy and me in front of Trevi Fountain

Hello everyone! We are finally here and have made it through our first day. You can only imagine how tired we are! Once we arrived in Rome, we made our way to our hotel, the beautiful Rome Cavalieri. The hotel is very nice and we have a great view of the city because the hotel sits atop a hill over Rome proper.

Our touring began with the hop on/hop off double decker bus tour. It was scorching hot and the headphones did not work, so basically we were just riding around not fully able to appreciate what we were seeing and falling asleep from exhaustion. We finally got off the bus and found a wonderful café to have lunch. Then we made our way on foot to Trevi Fountain. Legend says if you throw in a coin, you will ensure that you will one day return to Rome. Since we didn’t have any coins, I guess we better take full advantage of our time here now. LOL!
Next we found the Spanish Steps. This place beautifully connects a piazza high on a hill to the streets below. It is the site of many protests, some crazy stunts, poetry and song lyrics. We filled our water bottles in the fountain at the bottom of the steps. Jackie and I originally turned up our noses at such, but then we saw Samantha Brown do it on the Travel channel and figured we could too!

By this time, we were all worn out, so we made our way back to the hotel for showers and some rest. In the early evening, we ventured out again. This time we took a taxi to see Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona and The Pantheon. At first we were not sure of our taxi driver, but he turned out to be a wonderful 80 year old man with a wealth of knowledge, much of it experienced first hand! He drove us to all the places we requested, gave us interesting stories and waited patiently while we snapped shot after shot of the city! We ate at a very small restaurant well off the beaten path. It is called La Tavernetta and it was recommended to us by a friend whose father travelled to Italy. The food was awesome…very fresh! They only served wine, but Andy was happy to find a bar around the corner that actually had his Wild Turkey!

Here is my initial impression…there are TONS of motorcycles and mopeds, the traffic is CRAZY, scary and this is a wonderful place to experience something different and to understand and appreciate all the wonders of our planet! I have tried to put up pictures too, but my file sizes are too large...will work on that. More tomorrow! Good Night and Love to All! Cindy :o)

Andy and Cindy are "Crewsin'"!

Welcome to our blog! We will try to add daily updates about our trip of a lifetime. Check back here to read highlights from our travels.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus, Turkey

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

Corfu, Greece

Corfu, Greece

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy

Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy