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Luv to Travel's Med Cruise Report, Part 1: Research, Preparation & Packing

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 Western Med Cruise

PART ONE: Research, Preparation & Packing

 

Dear Cruise Critic Readers,

 

Before we left for this trip, I expressed our thanks to all those who took the time to post their experiences and answer my many questions. Now it’s time for me to “pay it forward” by contributing what I can to help those who have yet to experience their European odyssey. I will do so in a several-part series, arranged by port to help those like me who like to print these essays for inclusion in a binder.

 

My husband and I just returned about a week ago from our RCI Splendour of the Seas Western Mediterranean Cruise. It was the trip of a lifetime. Although we are back to our regular routines again and have adjusted to the 7-hour time change (we are on the Emerald Coast of Florida, in Central Time), we are both suffering from a mild case of the post-vacation blues. After all that we saw and did during this vacation, there does not seem to be much about our ordinary lives that can top it!

 

About Us:

 

We are mid-30’s, married five years with no children. After graduation from college, I worked for several years as a non-profit manager and am now a part-time community volunteer, amateur genealogist and travel buff as my screen name implies. My husband is a Professional Engineer, and for fun a licensed Private Pilot and amateur musician.

 

I must praise my husband for his willingness to be dragged along on these adventures. While I find it stimulating and exciting to travel to unfamiliar places (the more different from home the better!), for him it has tended to create a level of anxiety. This has resulted in a certain phenomenon we have dubbed “The Vacation Monster.”

 

The Vacation Monster is my husband’s alter-ego that manifests a couple days before we leave on a trip, exacerbates in the two hours before we leave for the airport and threatens to ruin the entire experience for me. It’s setting a glass on the table a little harder than necessary, a curt word or glance, a passive-aggressive rolling of the eyes, you get the picture – anything that threatens to prohibit, prevent and spoil romance on what is supposed to be a honeymoon-like atmosphere.

 

We both recognize The Vacation Monster is a product of intense anxiety resulting from fear of being out of control, fear of the unknown and unexpected. As such, we have found we can keep the Monster at bay by being intensely and, some would say, overly prepared and organized (to the anal level!) for each trip so that we can quickly formulate a Plan B when Plan A is interrupted. And, of course, by keeping a generous supply of antidepressants on hand. We have found The Vacation Monster seems to be loosing its hold on my husband as he ages and matures. But, then again, it could just be the drugs. ;-)

 

So, that’s why I initially found it necessary to go to such heroics in overly-preparing for our trips. I found this research to be fun and helped me get excited about the trip.

 

Preparing for the trip:

 

I spent the months prior to the trip organizing a 3-ring binder (which grew to four inches thick!) including tabbed dividers for each port. It was disappointing when my husband didn’t show much interest and barely glanced at my research, but I figured it was just due to his anxiety about the trip. I only mention this because after our first port of call, he was having a terrific time and began reading the notebook on his own to see what was in store for us for the next day! AND, I caught him using phrases like, “Next time we come . . .” So, I may have finally converted him to a lover of travel. It’s no wonder it took a European trip to do it. I do love to travel, even inside the U.S., but there is NOTHING like going overseas to infect someone with the travel bug!

 

Because the four-inch binder was too cumbersome to carry around in the ports, I bought a one-inch flexible poly binder to hold the information just for that day, and we carried it around in my husband’s shoulder book bag which worked VERY well! This information included maps, train schedules, our budget for that day, phrases in English and their counterparts in French, Spanish, and Catalan (the official language in Barcelona, although I got by on my Spanish just fine) and lots of cruise critic posts with parts highlighted.

 

Yes, that’s right! I actually prepared a budget for each day based on the cruise critic posts. Our plan was to pay cash for everything we could, and we didn’t want to run out of cash before the end of the trip, so having a daily plan was a big relief. We found it to be freeing rather than constraining to know in advance exactly how much we needed for each day. I will gladly share our budget here as well as what we actually spent each day.

 

One of the first things I did was type a one-page itinerary with our flight information, hotel information, and the cruise itinerary placing under each port the names of the cities/towns we intended to visit. It was very confusing for me to read the Cruise Critic posts talking about “Pompeii” or “Eze” and not knowing which port it was or how much time we had in each port. So, this helped:

 

Sunday 12:00pm Cruise Check-In - Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas

7:00pm Cruise departs Barcelona (LATE DINNER SEATING 9:15pm)

 

Monday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm Villefranche, France

● Monte Carlo, Monaco

● Eze, France

● Nice, France

 

Tuesday 7:00 am – 6:00 pm Livorno, Italy

Formal night ● Florence, Italy

● Pisa, Italy

 

Wednesday 7:00 am – 7:00 pm Civitavecchia, Italy

● Rome, Italy

● Vatican City

 

Thursday 7:00 am – 7:00 pm Naples, Italy

● Pompeii, Italy

● Sorrento, Italy

● Island of Capri, Italy

 

Friday 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm Valletta, Malta

Formal night ● Mdina, Malta

 

Saturday At Sea

 

 

Sunday, September 1 Arrive Barcelona 8:30 am

Hotel Continental la Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

 

 

 

We bought laminated maps of Barcelona, the French Riviera, Rome and Florence from Barnes & Noble to the tune of $7 a pop, plus the beautiful $25 book Cruise Guide to Europe & the Mediterranean by Eyewitness Travel Guides. This added up quickly and before we knew it, we had dropped 55 bucks (we should have checked eBay first). Rather than carry the book with us, we copied the relevant pages and 3-hole punched them for the binder.

 

Aside from the cruise itself, here’s what we spent before our trip: (ok, some of this stuff wasn’t necessary, but it made the trip more enjoyable – sure added up fast, though!!)

 

$ 86 Airline tix for 2 to Barcelona (we used ff miles and just had to pay the taxes)

$ 55 Maps & book at Barnes & Noble

$ 25 Power adapter converter kit from Wal-Mart to use in Barcelona hotel

$ 20 2 pers. luggage straps w/our name to help us spot our bags (love this product!)

$ 20 Sm. speakers to hook into our portable CD player

$100 4 additional 64mb smartmedia cards for digital camera (eBay)

$ 50 Leather Jewelry Travel Case to fit in safe

$ 8 2 Inflatable pillows for plane (a good idea!)

$ 4 Zippered neck pouch for money, passports, credit cards (A MUST!!!) Wal-Mart

____

$368 Total

 

We have a Travel Check List in our computer which gets fine-tuned with each trip which I will cut and paste here. If you’re already a pro at this, skip this section, but there are some suggestions specific to this trip, and you might see something you didn’t think of. This checklist helps us tremendously in remembering all the tiny details, what to do before the trip, and what to pack in which case (sharp objects in the checked bags, valuables in the carryon, etc.).

 

Before the Trip:

Complete mail hold form

Cancel the paper

Tell the neighbors

Mow the lawn

Make arrangements for the dog

Make arrangements to have someone deposit paycheck

Balance the checkbook

Pay the bills

Go to ATM for cash

Set timers on indoor lights

Turn off hot water heater

Raise temp on A/C unit

Unplug computer

Water plants

Wash the dog

Bring loose objects indoors (we live in Hurricane territory)

Call to confirm airline/hotel

 

Husband’s bookbag backpack carryon: (He locked it and kept key in pants pocket, all our other luggage locks are combination locks which I like better b/c you don’t worry about losing keys)

My fanny pack/purse

Inflatable pillows for the plane (GREAT IDEA – we used these!)

3-ring poly binder with that day’s travel info (another GREAT idea!)

Snacks (didn’t need b/c they fed us so well on plane)

Our plane tix & passports

CD’s (only b/c the cases would be crushed in the luggage; we didn’t listen to them on the plane)

Magazines and a book (which weren’t read on the trip at all)

 

My Fanny Pack/Purse:

Wallet, only necessary credit cards (I had removed everything else)

Tiny keyring-size calculator (GREAT IDEA!) found at K-Mart for $2-3

Highlighters & pens (GOOD IDEA for marking up the daily Cruise Compass newsletter)

Earplugs (GOOD IDEA for plane)

Tiny handheld voice recorder (to make notes for Cruise Critic report)

Sun glasses, hand lotion, chapstick/lipstick (actually used the chapstick – plane air was dry)

 

Small Pullman Carryon Bag:

Cosmetics zipper case

Toiletries case

Jewelry case

Camera bag

Books (We didn’t use these – Delta kept us entertained on the plane with movies)

Travel info binder w/cruise docs & copies of our passports (we also left copies with mom)

Underwear/bras & one sleepwear (in case checked bags are lost and we have to buy new clothes)

 

Cosmetics Zipper Case: (to go in carryon pullman)

Face cream

Eyeliner/mascara

Eye shadow

Lipsticks

Nail polish remover

Nail polish

Cotton

 

Toiletries Case: (to go in carryon pullman)

Bandaids & moleskin for foot blisters (WE USED A LOT OF THIS!!)

Shampoo/conditioner

Shaving cream

Lotion/sun screen

Powder

Toothpaste/toothbrush

Facial soap

Ponds towelettes

Deodorant

Hairspray (inside a ziplock bag)

Travel size kleenex/napkins (YOU WILL NEED this in the bathrooms in Europe)

Travel toilet seat covers (DIDN’T USE this – there were no toilet “seats!”)

Hair brush/comb

Travel cup

Advil/tylenol

Hair accessories/scrunchies

Perfume (inside a ziplock bag)

Feminine hygiene products if necessary

Rx’s

 

Camera Bag (to go in carryon pullman)

Video camera (placed inside a ziplock bag – GOOD IDEA since it rained a couple times)

Video cam charger

Digital camera/rechargeable batteries (& a ziplock for this camera too)

AA charger

Smart media cards

Walkie talkies

 

Sharp Objects Zipper Case: to go inside checked luggage

Nail clippers

Tweezers

Razor

Safety pins container (for quick clothing repairs)

Pocket knife

 

Large pullmans:

Clothes (I planned each day’s outfit in advance and wore everything I packed, no excess here)

Camera collapsible tripod

Travel iron

15-foot extension cord (A MUST on this cruise!!!)

Night light (we had an inside cabin, but didn’t use or need the nightlight; left bathroom light on with door closed)

Plug-in alarm clock (so you know the time during the night w/o pushing a button for the light)

Zip lock bags (a VERY good idea – use to grab some cookies/snacks from the ship to take with you in the ports)

Rain poncho & umbrellas

Curling iron

Swim suits

Portable CD player & speakers

 

These last couple items (the CD player, etc.) were not necessary, but we enjoyed having a portable “stereo” in our hotel and cabin. I had read an excellent idea from another cruise critic poster to select a particular CD and listen to it over and over again on a particular cruise so that every time in the future you hear those songs it will take you back to that trip. It really works! We brought Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable CD and played it over and over in Barcelona and during the cruise while getting ready in the morning and getting ready for dinner at night. We have not listened to it since we returned, but I’m sure the next time we do, it will take us back.

 

Since we both enjoy dressing for our cruises, we didn’t exactly pack light. We checked two bags a piece: one garment bag with tux, gown, etc. and three pullmans, two fully packed and one near empty to allow space for souvenirs to bring home. It’s a good thing we thought to do that.

 

A NOTE ABOUT APPROPRIATE ATTIRE IN THE PORTS:

Yes, it is true that Europeans tend to dress better in public than we Americans. You will not see many people wearing shorts in the ports, and we opted not to do so in the ports (you can’t wear them while visiting churches anyway). IT IS NOT TRUE, however, that you have to avoid wearing jeans and white tennis shoes or anything else that might make you look “American.” My husband took bad advice and left his white tennis shoes at home. In the ports, he was wearing leather dressier shoes and in Pompeii they were soaked, although, thankfully not ruined. Truth is, Europeans themselves dress very American. We saw French kids in the Paris airport playing Gameboys wearing Gap jeans and other such American namebrand attire. And, it is also NOT TRUE that you must wear black and other dark colors so as to not stand out. I wore comfy stretchy Capri pants most days and espadrilles or black Reebok tennis shoes. The espadrilles were comfortable, but because they were new, I needed bandaids and moleskin later when the blisters began. My husband was kind enough to carry my socks/tennis shoes for me in his backpack, and I did switch to them by the end of the first long day in port. I absolutely do not recommend you wear anything but tennis shoes if you plan to walk around the excavation in Pompeii or Ancient Rome. The ground is too uneven and rocky (not to mention a muddy mess if it’s raining) and you will be sorry if you don’t have your tennis shoes. I understand this is the case in Eze as well. And, you’ve probably already read this, but if you plan to visit any churches, no shorts or bare sleeves are allowed.

 

ATTIRE ON THE SHIP:

RCI says seven-night cruises are supposed to include two formal nights, one smart casual night and four casual nights. This Splendour cruise actually had two formal nights and two smart casual nights. (Smart casual means jackets/ties for men.) This wasn’t a problem for us because in addition to his tuxedo, my husband brought a suit, an extra jacket and some ties.

 

A NOTE ABOUT PICKPOCKETS:

We did take the advice about pickpockets seriously which is why my husband did not carry a wallet in the ports, and he now wishes he had not bothered to pack his wallet or driver’s license at all because he didn’t need them and they just cluttered up the ship’s safe. The $4 neck pouch we bought at Wal-Mart worked fabulously. He was able to keep all our money, passports, and credit cards around his neck securely tucked under his shirt, safe from pickpockets. We have read the police have done much to reduce the incidence of theft, and we personally didn’t have any problems or see any, but we were constantly reminded by friendly natives to watch our backs – literally. The ticket agent in Pompeii noticed my husband carrying his bookbag on his back and warned him to carry it in the front. We showed him how we had locked the zippers together to prevent pickpockets from getting anything, and he told us the pickpockets use sharp knives and cut the bottoms of purses and knapsacks. He also said these people are professionals, that it is their vocation, that they leave their homes every morning and tell their wives they are going to “work,” so that made quite an impression. Fortunately, my husband’s bookbag is a very heavy canvas material and the bottom is an even heavier suede sewed on top the canvas, but we were still careful.

 

Incidentally, we had been meaning to get around to writing wills, and especially so after September 11, even though we don’t have any children. Although in Florida if one spouse dies without a will, the other spouse automatically inherits the estate, if BOTH spouses die at the same time without a will, the State of Florida inherits everything. We were not too concerned about plane crashes or terrorists, but thought it responsible of us to write wills and add secondary beneficiaries to our life insurance policies to make sure our parents would be well cared for in the event of a disaster. So, I found a will form on the Internet, and we both completed wills and had them notarized and we added secondary beneficiaries to our life insurance policies before we left.

 

In my trip reports to follow, I will provide details about how we got from point A to point B, links to train schedules, costs, our private driver in Rome & Florence/Pisa, etc. If I can answer any questions about trip research, preparation and packing, please ask here.

 

In gratitude,

Luv to Travel

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART TWO: Travel Day & Pre-Cruise Stay in Barcelona

 

Friday, August 23, 2002 – Travel Day

 

I had arranged our flights from Florida to Barcelona using frequent flyer miles on Delta and had carefully selected our seats making sure we were seated together and in a good location, especially on our flight from Atlanta to Paris which was scheduled on a Boeing 777 with a 2-5-2 configuration. Having made this trip before, I knew we didn’t want to be stuck anywhere in those five seats in the middle, so I reserved our two seats together on the side. We had separate reservation confirmation numbers because we were using two different Delta frequent flyer accounts, which presented our first “snag” on this trip.

 

I didn’t notice until after we had checked in to the airport in Florida and were about to board our flight to Atlanta that our boarding passes for the long Atlanta-Paris segment showed we were not in the seats I had initially selected! But, what’s worse, they did not have us seated together at all! I immediately brought this to the attention of the gate agent in Florida, and fortunately, she was able to reassign us together and print boarding passes, placing us in Row 44, which on that aircraft was one of the exit rows with the most leg room of all, right next to the bathrooms and the flight attendants’ station – we couldn’t have chosen a better location! We found out after arriving in Atlanta there had been a last-minute equipment change for the Atlanta-Paris segment and we would be on a plane with a 3-3-3 configuration. Almost everyone at the gate in Atlanta had to have their seats reassigned and we were about an hour late leaving, but we must have made up the time in the air because we landed in Paris on time.

 

We were as comfortable as possible on the plane for our 8-1/2 hour overnight flight, but we were seated in a section of three people on the left side of the plane, so there was someone next to my husband. So much for privacy, but that’s ok. Having all that leg room made up for it. And, it turned out a blessing to be so close to the bathrooms because I had an upset stomach (probably nerves for having the weight of all the planning on my shoulders). Thankfully, my digestive track was back to normal before we boarded the cruise, but it made for a long and difficult night for me on the plane. As such, I didn’t get a wink of sleep, but with my inflatable pillow, Delta blanket, and my feet propped up on our suitcase in front of us, I was as comfortable as I could hope for. Although we were in the exit row and had the extra leg room, one draw back was the arm rests were stationery and we were not able to raise them (I think this is only true of exit rows), but we really didn’t need to either. We watched the in-flight movie, ate dinner and then tried to grab some shut-eye. My husband was able to grab a couple cat naps. The flight channel that tracks the plane said we were flying at 37,000 feet and the temperature outside the plane quickly plummeted to 75 degrees F below zero. I’m glad I brought a sweater and some socks because I was a little chilly being near that exit door.

 

 

Saturday, August 24, 2002 – Arriving in Paris

 

Deplaning in Paris seemed to take forever! We couldn’t understand the hold-up until we walked off the plane. Instead of walking into a corridor, we stepped off the plane and directly on to a bus that had been hoisted three stories into the air by these mechanical springy legs. That was pretty wild! Once the “bus” was loaded, the “driver” collapsed the legs and we were at ground level again and rolled toward airport. That was very interesting.

 

The Paris airport is huge and the terminals are spread very far apart. After we arrived, we stopped at the customs immigration window where they wanted to see our plane tickets and passports before waving us through. There were quite a few such security checkpoints, so it pays to keep all that stuff handy. When we finally came to a section where we could look at the board for the gate location of our flight to Barcelona, we couldn’t find our flight to Barcelona on the electronic board anywhere, but there was a friendly multi-lingual staff person at the boards to assist. She explained they didn’t have enough space on the boards to list all the flights and told us which gate we could catch our next flight. We marched down the stairs to catch a bus to the terminal. The airport terminals are so far apart, to get from terminal to terminal, you go outside and take an airport transport bus. Just look at the sign on the front of the bus to make sure it has your terminal A, B, C, D or whatever. There is no fee.

 

My husband was impressed with their system and was surprised the airport was not more packed. It wasn’t too crowded at all, but our terminal, which had a glass ceiling allowing the hot sun through, was a little stuffy.

 

Flying to Barcelona

 

Unfortunately, we were not seated together on this next flight either (the Delta agent couldn’t do anything about it because it was an Air France flight), and the Air France agent was unable to do much except put us in the same row. Fortunately, the people in our row were very nice and willing to trade places so we could sit together. Our seat mate from Paris to Barcelona was a blonde young woman our age on her way back home to Barcelona after having spent some time at a friend’s wedding in Seattle, her first trip to the U.S.. She had been traveling all day but was very friendly and eager to share pearls of wisdom about how to get around Barcelona. She asked where we were staying, and when we told her the Hotel Continental la Rambla, her face lit up – her cousin owns the hotel! She told us her aunt who did the decorating likes floral themes, and I told her Frommer’s listed it as their “favorite Budget hotel” and described the décor as “Laura Ashley gone mad.” She told us which Metro lines to take from our hotel to get to Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona must-see and the most unique sandcastle-like Cathedral-in-progress begun in 1882 (Antoni Gaudi took over in 1883) and she gave us the phone card she bought in the U.S. which still had some remaining minutes but would be of no use to her in Barcelona.

 

We never asked her name, but she gave us a very positive first impression of Barcelona and served her city well as an ambassador. We only hope we were equally good ambassadors of our country. We are so very acutely aware when we travel that we are representing all Americans and that people in other countries will formulate opinions about all Americans and make judgment calls based on how we behave.

 

Arriving in Barcelona & The Hotel

 

When we arrived, it was overcast and sprinkling outside. We were impressed with the beautiful shops in the airport and made a mental note that we would buy chocolates there on our way back home to give to family, friends, and neighbors as a thank-you for dog-sitting, watching our house, etc. We were relieved to see all our bags arrive (they were so easy to spot with the personalized luggage straps – love those!), and my husband loaded them on to one of the complimentary wheeled luggage carts.

 

Our first order of business was to find an ATM. We had done a little research before leaving the States and learned we would get the best exchange rate if we used an ATM once in Europe to get our Euros. Our only concern was making sure we found a “PLUS” ATM (versus just one for “Cirrus” cards), but we had checked the PLUS website for ATM locations and knew the Barcelona airport had four PLUS ATM’s. Here's the link for PLUS ATM airport locations all over the world: http://visaatm.infonow.net/bin/findNow?LIST_LIST_KEY=1-10294465680001975457&CLIENT_ID=VISA&PAGE=Airport.html

 

We found the ATM just outside the doors of the baggage claim area, all the way to the end of the hall on the right, in a sort of ante-hall just before you exit the airport. The card worked beautifully. Our Credit Union only allows $500 withdrawals in a 24-hour period, so we withdrew 460€ to be on the safe side, which my husband quickly squirreled away and zipped in his neck pouch.

 

Once outside by the curb, our initial plan was to take the Aerobus bus directly to Placa de Cataluna (the large square at the top of la Rambla where the Metro lines converge) for about 3€ each and walk a ½ block to our hotel, but we were both so tired and we had SO MUCH luggage, we opted for a taxi. This was interesting. The taxi driver did not speak English, but thankfully understood my Spanish so I was able to ask him how much to take us to the Hotel Continental la Rambla, to which he replied about 25 Euros. We were there pretty quickly, probably 15-20 minutes or so, and the driver graciously unloaded all five our bags, and unlike drivers we have experienced in other cities, he was honest enough to give us change for our 30€, but my husband tipped him 5€ anyway, so the total cost was 30€. On our last cruise, while in Ocho Rios Jamaica, an unscrupulous cab driver tried to charge us $50 to take us 5 miles, and when we insisted on another driver, that driver upped the price while we were in the car and conveniently wasn’t able to provide change, so we were a little unsure what to expect in Barcelona and were pleasantly surprised by the honesty and integrity of the drivers there.

 

In any case, our plane landed in Barcelona at 1:30 pm, and we were in our hotel room by 2:30 pm. We were very pleased with Hotel Continental la Rambla and would highly recommend it to anyone: http://www.hotelcontinental.com. You simply can’t beat the location or the price: 66€ a night for two of us in a charming queen room, with all taxes and including breakfast!!! This really is a bargain in expensive Barcelona where 150€ a night is considered a “good deal.” Not to us, though! We didn’t want to blow $300 for two hotel nights (as I am writing this, the Euro and the Dollar are about equal), so $132 for two nights sounded much better to us, since we’d much rather spend money on souvenirs and sightseeing.

 

At Hotel Continental, a buffet breakfast is served each day just off the lobby in their cozy hospitality room adorned with little antique chairs and small tables for 2-4 people with beautiful tapestry-like tablecloths. This little hospitality room, which is open 24 hours for hotel guests, has a corner TV, a bookshelf full of travel books (most in English), a steady supply of coffee & various flavored hot teas, and best of all, a little balcony overlooking la Rambla. We only noticed two other Americans staying there, as the rest of the clientele were young chic Europeans on holiday. The hotel serves a European continental breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, small red tomatoes, breads, pastries, jams, coffee, various teas, etc. from 6am-noon, so if you planned carefully, you could make lunch out of it too, although we didn’t.

 

As far as the décor, I rather like the “Laura Ashley gone mad” look and found our room quite charming, comfortable, very clean, and full of amenities - a safe, fridge, microwave, remote control TV, phone, iron, ceiling fan, and hair dryer, not to mention the most hospitable multi-lingual staff. The wallpaper, sheet and light bed cover have the exact same greenish floral pattern. The light bed cover (which was the thickness of a sheet) was slightly faded, probably just from years of washing, but again, we were very pleased. The mattress was a foam I think, but we were so tired after that overnight flight, we could have slept on a floor! Not that the bed was uncomfortable, certainly not. Just different from what we are accustomed. It was an authentic European hotel experience. There was even a bidet in the bathroom in addition to a toilet (with seat!), and the shower had a flexible head on a hose. Liquid soap was provided next to the sink, and one of the dispensers may have had shampoo, but I’m not too sure, since we brought our own anyway. If you would like to see photos of our hotel, e-mail me at natives@mchsi.com and I will send you some JPEGs.

 

The hotel is situated at the top of la Rambla, the most famous street in Barcelona and a must-see for any visitor. It’s a pedestrian street lined with souvenir shops, street performers, musicians, artists and vendors of every kind – floral, fruit/meat/cheese/wine markets, restaurants – you name it. This ½ mile boulevard stretches to the sea and cruise ship port where you will see the famous monument to Christopher Columbus. Just a flew blocks off the Rambla is the Barri Gotic (the old part of the city), another must-see area where you will find the famous old Gothic Cathedral begun in 1298. The bottom part of the Rambla by the sea is considered a less safe area at night, and the hotel is at the top of la Rambla near Placa de Cataluna which is considered the “safe” part, but we did not feel unsafe anywhere in Barcelona and had no problems.

 

We booked Hotel Continental la Rambla (there is another Hotel Continental location, but we chose la Rambla) over the Internet via their website and received prompt answers to all our questions in English and very quickly, even if it was one o’ clock in the morning their time. One of my questions had been what to do about the fact that upon our return from the cruise early in the morning the following Sunday, we wanted to see Barcelona but would be saddled with all our luggage and hotel check-in time would not be until afternoon. Their answer: they would check our bags in their luggage room and invite us to hang out and enjoy breakfast until we could check-in later! How’s that for hospitality?! (As it turned out, on our return from the cruise, we did arrive early at the hotel, around 9:30am, and they told us to have b’fast while they finished getting our room ready, and we were allowed to check in at 9:45am!) I should also mention they provide a guest computer with Internet access for only 1.80€ for 15 minutes.

 

We could have reserved a room with a balcony overlooking la Rambla for a little more, but had read the street noise can get pretty loud at night while trying to sleep, so asked for a regular Queen room in the back instead. We later peered inside these rooms while they were being cleaned, and my husband said he wished we had gotten a balcony room. Our room had a window which opened onto a sparse covered interior courtyard, nothing to look at, but it was practical because we left the window open to keep the room cool. The ONLY drawback to this place, if there is one, is there is no air conditioning, BUT, that said, we kept our ceiling fan on high and didn’t miss it at all, even at the end of August! The rain had cooled the air and it was in the high 70’s during the highest heat of the day. At night, it was plenty cool enough for us to be comfortable. And, we were especially comfortable with the price.

 

The hotel also offers rooms for families that I believe give you two adjoining rooms, each with their own bathrooms? LauraG from this forum stayed in one of those with her husband and two kids. She’s very friendly, loves to talk about her trip, and will answer e-mails.

 

A little tip if you decide to stay at Hotel Continental: it’s located in two floors of a building, not at the ground level, so to get to the lobby, you take the elevator up to the 2nd Floor (it’s actually about 3 floors up, though, because the building entrance I think was Floor zero). The elevator, which has doors opening to the front and rear, is large enough for two people and all their luggage or four/five people crammed with no luggage. We loaded ourselves and our five bags into the elevator, pressed the 2nd Floor button, and it wouldn’t budge. Took us a minute to figure out that one of our bags had pressed against the back doors and was triggering a sensor. Once we pulled the bag back toward us and pressed the button again, the elevator worked. You exit through the rear doors and turn left where you will see a black door which simply reads with gold lettering, “Continental.” That’s the entrance to the hotel lobby.

 

We had considered trying Priceline for a hotel but had read at http://www.biddingfortravel.com (a sort of insider’s website about Priceline where people share the amounts of their winning or losing bids and which hotels they were given) that some people were unhappy with the hotel they were assigned, the Rivoli Ramblas, because it had been advertised as a four star hotel on Priceline and was FAR from it. The Rivoli Ramblas was pretty close to our hotel. If our hotel had been advertised as a four star hotel, I might have been disappointed too, but I was expecting our hotel to be a 2-star “tourist class” budget hotel and was rather impressed with all the amenities. There are certainly hotels in the U.S. that charge more than 66 bucks a night and don’t provide breakfast, fridge, microwave, safe, iron, etc. like our hotel! Enough said.

 

Exploring Barcelona – la Rambla

 

So, once in our room on this Saturday at 2:30pm, the day before boarding, we were too tired from all the traveling and the lack of sleep on the plane to begin sightseeing right away. We took a nap from 3:00-6:00pm which did the trick and refreshed us enough. At 6:45pm, we ventured onto la Rambla. It was still sprinkling, barely a drizzle really, but we had packed one rain poncho and one small umbrella. Because it was humid, I was uncomfortable in the black plastic rain poncho, so my husband bought a small umbrella for 5€ from a man on the street. Not a bad price, and there were several men standing outside selling these little umbrellas.

 

We dashed into some of the shops and checked out the souvenirs. One that immediately caught my eye was this little gold six-inch tall replica of a saxophone with stand. The craftsmanship was really impressive – the mouthpiece looked very authentic, and even the reed was made from the same kind of wood material as a real reed. I’ve wanted a small replica of a sax for a Christmas tree ornament for a long time, but this was clearly too nice to hang on the tree. The shopkeeper said it was plated with 24K gold and showed us a catalog with other such gold items, including jewelry with this black filigree look to it. We saw this stuff everywhere in the shops on la Rambla. He quoted a price of 75€ and we started to walk away. Not surprisingly, the closer we got to the door, the faster the price plummeted until it had been marked down to 45€. But, we told him we would keep looking and might be back. Further down the street, we saw the same sax in a window but instead of the pretty little stand, it had a little black case replica, and it was only 30€. I liked the little stand better, so we went back to the first store later and tried to buy the sax with stand for 30€, but our price was not accepted. No matter; we knew we would be back on the return trip and there would be plenty of time to souvenir shop then.

 

We had budgeted 20€ for lunch this day, but were not hungry after being fed so well on the long Delta flight over (on which we received dinner and b’fast the next day) and the Air France flight to Barcelona in which we received lunch. But, at this point, my husband’s tummy was ready for some dinner, so we glanced in several windows and looked at the menus of some restaurants posted outside on the street, and he settled on LaBaguetina Catalana, which we later learned is a chain restaurant because we saw others of these around the city. There was no cover charge to sit at the tables inside, so we grabbed the last two available chairs/table. It was not air conditioned, and it was in a tight little area where several were smoking, but we were so grateful to be on this trip, it was nothing to complain about. At the counter, my husband had bought a sausage filled foot-long hoagie, a “Pepsi light” (diet Pepsi), and I just bought a 1.5 litre bottle of mineral water for myself. Our total bill was 8.5€, 2.5€ of which was just for the water, but we kept the bottle and it came in handy later. We filled it up on the ship each day and put it in the backpack for the ports.

 

So, here we are in this crowded little space having dinner among a room full of young hip-looking Europeans, and WHAM!! Out of nowhere was this ear-blasting deafening explosion. People screamed and instinctively ducked, not knowing what it was. Our lights flickered for a few moments and sparks rained down on the street in front of the restaurant. We could not understand the languages of the people around us, but we were pretty sure they were saying the same thing we were: “What the %$# was THAT?!?!?!” In light of September 11, at first we wondered if it was a bomb blast because although it had been drizzling outside, there was no thunder or lightening that we noticed or could hear. Our restaurant’s lights came back on immediately, but the freezer apparently lost power, so one of the workers was on the phone about that. A few minutes later we heard sirens coming toward us, and once we were outside on the street, we noticed all the street lights were out on our side of the street from our restaurant stretching to the top of la Rambla. We saw repair crews and figured the sparks we had seen must have been a transformer blowing up. We are not positive, but think perhaps it was one rogue lightning strike that caused a transformer to blow.

 

We refused to be shaken and walked further down the street, passing a man playing sax under an umbrella; but we were on a mission, in search of gelato (ice cream). I have one word about this stuff: YUMMY!! We loved it; and we consider ourselves to be official ice cream connoisseurs. Their ice cream is different, probably more airy and fluffy, but quite delicious. You MUST try it - several times! - while in Europe. After walking part of la Rambla - most of the stores stay open until 11:00pm every night even Sunday - we went looking for the Hard Rock Café. We had seen the bags everywhere and had asked (in Spanish) one of the other diners in our restaurant where to find it – Placa de Cataluna, the square at the top of la Rambla. Arriving at Placa de Cataluna from la Rambla, the Hard Rock was ½ block to the right. We walked around inside looking at the various paraphernalia (my husband, remember, is an amateur guitarist), but we didn’t feel compelled to buy anything.

 

We walked back to the hotel to relax in our hotel hospitality room. Although the rooms are not air conditioned, the lobby, hospitality room and hallways are. The balcony, which has a small bistro-size wrought iron table and two chairs, was open, but we stayed inside because it was still drizzling. I was surprised to see they were providing pastries at this late hour; it was close to midnight. I had a pastry – they are not sugary like our doughnuts, but it was more like a soft bun with a little powdery sugar on top – and some hot tea and we glanced at the TV, listened to the trumpet player in the street below, and enjoyed the breeze from the open balcony before heading to bed.

 

Although we were in bed by midnight, I wasn’t able to fall asleep until about 3:00am. My husband set his watch alarm for 6:30am, but we didn’t hear it go off, and the alarm clock we had plugged in to the wall using the electric power converter from Wal-Mart was actually losing time! A lot of it. My husband found this curious and consulted the pamphlet that came with the converter, which advised not to use it with electronics but only things like curling irons/hair dryers. My husband later determined our problem was because Spain’s electrical power is supplied at 50 Hz, not 60 Hz as in the U.S. and our converter only takes care of the voltage converting 220V to 110V.

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget Actual

 

6.00 30.00 Ground transport airport to hotel

20.00 0 Lunch

25.00 0 Souvenirs

11.00 0 Metro ground transp for sightseeing

30.00 8.50 Dinner

1.65 Gelato

5.00 Umbrella

_____ _____

92.00€ 45.15€ (A surplus of 46.85€)

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Sunday, August 25, 2002 - Embarkation Day

 

My husband woke me at 8:30am but then let me sleep until 10:30am. I had thought if we had gotten up early enough, we could have squeezed in one of the sights, like Sagrada Familia, but we decided to do our sightseeing upon our return to Barcelona. I took a shower, dressed, then went downstairs for breakfast at 11:00am. Before we checked out, I called the desk clerk to ask what would be an appropriate tip to leave in our room for the maid, because we didn’t want to insult her. The desk clerk would not suggest an amount, said it was not mandatory and that any amount would be acceptable, so we left 3 Euros, not completely sure if this was standard. We checked out around noon then flagged a cab right in front of the hotel at 12:30pm (it’s easy to get a cab anywhere on la Rambla) and were at the pier about 10-15 minutes later. The driver didn’t take la Rambla to get there, but seemed to go a longer way, but he seemed very trustworthy and gave change. With tip, the fare was 15.85€.

 

I should mention the cab prices were a little confusing because the drivers we had didn’t speak English and the meter read much less than the price. When we pointed at the price on the meter with a puzzled look, we think what he was trying to say was that it was extra for two people, or for five bags, we’re not sure which. But, it was still a bargain and a much easier way for us to get around. Initially, we had planned to take the inexpensive Port Bus I had read about which apparently connects the Moll Adossat (the name of our pier) to the Av. Colom (not sure what that is – the Avenue of Colombus?). We never saw this bus and since we were under budget at this point, we splurged on a cab.

 

We had noticed the location of a PLUS ATM on la Rambla the night before and had planned to go there the next day for more Euros, enough for the whole trip b/c we didn’t want to waste time in the ports hunting for ATMs, but we left la Rambla for the ship before our Credit Union’s 24-hour period was up, so we would have to have waited another couple hours anyway. There may have been an ATM at the pier, but we didn’t look for one.

 

The pier porter quickly grabbed our bags and took off without a tip. Husband said he didn’t seem to be expecting a tip, so he didn’t chase after him (shame on us!). Of course, we kept our two carryons with us: the small pullman with our valuables, cameras, jewelry, toiletries, and essential 4” 3-ring binder of research and my husband’s locked bookbag. I was impressed with the pier facility. It was air conditioned and comfortable and there were a couple tables staffed by cruise ship personnel with complimentary cookies, snacks and drinks. There were some souvenir shops there too, and I took advantage of that and bought my first Barcelona souvenir, a Navy blue tee-shirt with “Barcelona” embroidered in gold thread. I had already decided while in the ports if we saw a shirt we liked, we’d better buy it then because there would be no time for comparison shopping and it might not be there later. And, I definitely liked this shirt, even though it was 16€. (Saw the same shirt upon our return in a shop on la Rambla for 11€, and the shopkeeper said he would have sold it to me for 9€. )

 

After browsing the little souvenir shops at the pier, we decided to get in line for cruise check-in. We were in line at 1:10pm, at the counter by 1:25pm, had our boarding photo taken at 1:30pm, and were in our cabin #2587 at 1:35pm! Not bad. A very quick, easy process. I didn’t even notice until we were in our cabin that my key card was missing my last name. I typically use my first name, maiden name, then married name (no hyphens), and they had simply dropped my married name. Talked to the purser on ship later and he said it didn’t matter. I didn’t realize until our return to Barcelona that Hotel Continental had done the same thing and that my actual reservation was under my maiden name. She said in Spain your last name for life is your “family” (maiden) name, that they don’t use their husband’s names.

 

This discrepancy with RCI might have occurred, however, because of my travel agent, SkyAuction.com. I noticed when my cruise docs arrived that my married name was missing, and I contacted RCI who told me to contact my agent. SkyAuction said they would inform RCI and there was no need to issue new cruise docs, that the ship would go by the name on the form I submitted at the pier as long as it matched the record in RCI’s computer and that SkyAuction would be sure RCI corrected my name in their computer. I suppose I could have called RCI before I left to make sure it had been done, but I didn’t think to, and it didn’t present any problems throughout the cruise, so we just left it that way.

 

We were happy with our cabin, a typical inside cabin on the bottom deck #2 in the aft. We noticed on this ship, however, there was another row of cabins in-between the inside cabins on either side of the ship on our deck. I guess those are the “inside-inside” cabins?

 

We decided to explore the ship a little and take some photos. First, we found the King & I dining room, entering the bottom floor (Deck # 4) of this gorgeous two-story dining room, and we found our table assignment #12, a table for eight in a seemingly good location near the window. Incidentally, there are no bad seats in this beautiful two-story dining room; all have a view, and there is a lovely baby grand piano in the center of the landing of the stairs for our dining entertainment. Very classy.

 

We had read we could request a table for two once on board if we saw the maitre D’, so we started looking for him and walked up the center stairs by the piano. While I took photos of the dining room from the upstairs balcony, my husband found the maitre D’ at a podium speaking with a couple other guests, also requesting a table for two. We were unaware there was a line to get to that podium, outside the dining room on deck #5, and it was rather long. While inside the dining room taking photos, I had seen a older woman escorted inside ahead of everyone else and overheard her say this was her third RCI cruise. She was requesting a table for two, and the staff told her, “for you – no problem at all – we will build a table for you!” Then they marked up the master floor plan diagram and created a space for her. I was encouraged by this, and my husband and I decided it might be worth it to wait in the line.

 

It took about an hour to reach the podium, but we each took turns waiting in the line so the other could venture out to explore that deck (the shops are nearby, and although not open, you can window shop). Most of the people were there to try to change from the late seating to the earlier seating. We had late seating, which was 9:15pm and wanted to keep it that way. I asked one of the staff people who was answering the questions of those in line (he spoke several languages) if there was much chance of our getting a table for two, and he told us, honestly, “no.” I kind of wondered what it took, if you had to be a frequent RCI guest, or if you had to grease a palm or two (which seemed a little too cheesy for us to do). I DID notice, that they don’t even speak to you until you hand them your ship’s key card. The card does tell them how many times you’ve sailed with them, and for all I know might contain some additional code telling them how important you are or something, because we didn’t get any special treatment like I saw that woman receive. I don’t know if she slipped a twenty into someone’s hand, or if her status as a 3-rd time guest was what did it, but we received nothing but a frown from the maitre D’ and some lame story about how they would add us to the list if anything opened up and leave a note in our cabin if it did. We took that as a “no,” and excused ourselves to go find the buffet lunch being served until a very generous 5:00pm in the Windjammer Café in the forward on deck 9.

 

Our first impression of the Windjammer was good. We liked the décor and the food (much better than the Carnival ship Paradise’s buffet restaurant). We later learned, as we had also read, that they serve the same food in the Windjammer as in the main dining room. We enjoy the service in the main dining room, but kept that in mind in case there was a night we didn’t want to wait until 9:15pm to be seated for dinner. After lunch, we walked around the pools and were impressed again. The outdoor pool has two covered hot tubs. The indoor pool with retractable atrium is beautiful, hot tubs there too, but the whole room had a strong smell from the chlorine chemicals, so my husband decided we wouldn’t be using that pool. It was beautiful, though.

 

Before we left the U.S., we had contacted the private driver Max Leotta but he was unavailable on our date and offered his brother. The cost was pretty high too, just for the two of us, so we asked Max if he had any parties that might want to share the cost with us. Max doesn’t put people together, so we had made a plea on Cruise Critic.com in search of others interested in sharing a private driver in Rome, etc.. We had almost given up when a poster from NJ answered us. Her family of four was interested. We e-mailed back and forth and talked on the phone, and she made the arrangements for Rome and Florence/Pisa with Executive Limousine Service Rome, Daniele Melaragno’s outfit you can find at http://www.driverinrome.com. Aldo was assigned as the driver for both Rome and Florence/Pisa.

 

We initially decided to team with the NJ family for Florence/Pisa and do Rome on our own, but changed our minds after the Florence/Pisa excursion, and Aldo was flexible enough to let us join them on last-minute notice for Rome (more info on prices, etc. in my later reports). Anyhow, on embarkation day, we made plans to meet her at 4:30pm in front of the perfume shop on the ship so we would know what she looked like. Just as we were walking out the cabin door to meet her, our cabin steward, wonderful woman, Carolina, from Honduras, was knocking on the door to deliver our luggage! Whew! What a relief! I kind of wondered if that little failure to tip the pier porter might result in some bad luck for us, but apparently not (not that we recommend doing that!).

 

We enjoyed meeting our NJ shipmate, and then explored more of the ship before heading back to the cabin to get ready for the show. On this night, those with late dinner seating could attend an early show at 7:45pm. We thought the entertainment was ok. Some posters complained about the pre-show announcements being in five different languages, but they only did it in two languages, English then Spanish, and we didn’t find it bothersome at all. It was a reminder that we had really GONE somewhere, were in a foreign country, and it was really fun to watch the others laugh at the same jokes when told in their language. The entertainment itself was in English. That night’s feature was the Splendour Orchestra, the Friends Duo (a couple of body-builder type guys that do interesting balancing acts with each other’s bodies – no homophobia there!), Dance Affair and the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. We thought the entertainment was good, although it’s not what we were there for. The sound system was the best of all the ships we’ve sailed, the volume was not ear-splitting loud like most, but the singers/dancers were not as good as the Norwegian Cruise Line entertainment staff. Overall, though, it was good and we don’t want to criticize the performers because neither of us could have done a better job! ;-)

 

We had a full table of diners at dinner, all Americans: a male couple that sat close to us that we talked most with that night. And two other heterosexual couples, one of which was there just for that night because they had missed their earlier assigned 6:30pm dinner seating. We enjoyed talking with all our dinner mates throughout the cruise, all very nice people, but on a couple nights (one of the formal nights), we ended up with the table all to ourselves, we presume since the others didn’t want to dress up, so that was nice too.

 

Overall, we were very pleased with the ship and decided it is the nicest of all those we’ve sailed, which isn’t a lot, but made for a nice trip for us. In our opinion, the cabins on the Norwegian Wind are decorated and furnished more beautifully, but we also have had only outside cabins on Norwegian which may have affected our judgment some. As far as the rest of the ship, though, it rivals all the others we’ve sailed.

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget Actual

 

46.85 (Surplus carried over from yesterday)

66.00 66.00 Hotel one night on charge card ($64 converted)

3.00 3.00 Tip left for hotel maid

10.00 15.85 Ground transport hotel to ship

5.00 0 Luggage pier porter tip (shame on us!)

16.00 Souvenir shirt

_____ _____

130.85€ 100.85€ 30€ Surplus, so we’re in good shape

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART FOUR - VILLEFRANCHE: Monte Carlo, Eze & Nice

 

Monday, August 26, 2002 - Port #1 Villefranche (pronounced Via Fronz)

Ship in Port from 10:00am-11:00pm

 

The Ship moored in the Villefranche harbor with the port side facing the shore. What a beautiful, picturesque place!

 

We did not buy any of the ship’s shore excursions during the entire trip, not even the transfers. I read on the CC posts that it’s possible to take a taxi from Villefranche to Nice (35€), then Nice to Monte Carlo (65€) and Monte Carlo back to Villefranche (60€), or that we could take a bus to Monte Carlo for 2.80€ round trip per person. We didn’t want to pay the cost for all the cab rides, and I was not too sure what kind of schedule the bus had or where to find it, so we decided to take the inexpensive train which had a published schedule and website. Besides, my husband loves trains and any chance to ride one. We would do it this way again.

 

So you can visualize where these towns are in relation to one another, this is how they are situated from West to East:

 

Nice Villefranche Eze Monte Carlo

 

The plan was to take the train from Villefranche to Monte Carlo, then back to Eze, then Nice and back to Villefranche, and to make it to the ship in time for our late dinner seating at 9:15pm. I had gone to http://www.sncf.com to get the train schedule for each of those places for August 26th, the day we would be in port. It took a very long time to get this information, because it doesn’t show you a chart but rather, you type in the two locations and then it shows you a few per page. I spent several hours loading and printing each page then compiled all the information on to one typed page for my binder. I tried several different ways to cut and paste the whole train schedule I typed into this post, but it was done in Excel, landscape format, and I can’t get the Cruise Critic page to accept it. Granted, it was the schedule for August 26, 2002 but I thought it might still be the same and you could just verify by spot-checking mine against the SNCF website, so I’ve typed part of it here.

 

One bit of confusion was the Nice train station. There were several different stations listed for Nice on the site, but the one you want is probably the one we took called “Nice Station,” which is the 2nd stop after leaving Villefranche (I think).

 

======================================================================================

 

Villefranche - Monte Carlo Round Trip, stopping in Eze

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Villefranche S M……..10:58 11:42 12:38 13:15 14:14 14:53 16:04 16:40 17:04 17:28 17:49

Monaco Monte Carlo….11:12 11:57 12:53 13:30 14:30 15:07 16:19 16:55 17:19 17:42 18:04

 

Monaco Monte Carlo..14:27 15:01 15:30 16:27 17:08 17:40 18:24 19:26 19:58 20:43 22:20

Eze………………………………………..14:34 15:10 15:39 16:36 17:16 17:47 18:32 19:34 20:05 20:50 22:27

 

Eze………………………………………..14:35 15:11 15:40 16:37 17:17 17:48 18:33 19:35 20:06 20:51 22:28

Villefranche S M……..14:42 15:17 15:46 16:44 17:23 17:54 18:39 19:41 20:13 20:57 22:34

 

============================================================================================

 

Villefranche – Nice Round Trip

--------------------------------------

 

Villefranche S M……..14:43 15:18 15:47 16:45 17:24 17:55 18:40 19:42 20:14 20:58 22:35

Nice Station………………….14:50 15:25 15:54 16:52 17:31 18:02 18:47 19:49 20:21 21:05 22:41

 

Nice Station………………..14:46 15:57 16:33 16:56 17:21 17:42 18:04 18:41 19:07 19:59 21:12

Villefranche S M……..14:52 16:03 16:39 17:03 17:27 17:48 18:11 18:49 19:13 20:05 21:19

 

===========================================================================================

 

 

The ship cannot dock directly on the shore in Villefranche, so they drop anchor in the harbor and take passengers to shore via tender boats. This was the only port on our itinerary that required tendering. What we had read on the CC boards from a couple different posters was that the ship starts giving tender tickets at 9:00am and to get in line early, that #1 tenders (there were about six of these) are for the ship’s shore excursion guests and those leave first, but that #2 tenders get in to port between 10:50am or a little after 11:00am and #3 tenders arrive in the port around 11:30am.

 

Based on that, we conservatively planned to take the 11:42am Villefranche train arriving into Monte Carlo at 11:57am. Of course, that would be too late for us to see the changing of the guards which takes place at the Palace (Palais) every day at 11:55am, but in the event we were lucky enough to tender off the ship sooner, we were going to try to catch the earlier train at 10:58am so we could be in Monte Carlo by 11:12am in time to see the guards change.

 

It’s definitely a good idea to have the train schedule for the whole day with you in case the ship arrives late, or something does not go as planned. What I typed above was only a partial schedule from Aug. 26 b/c I can’t fit it all here, but we did have a back-up plan if not able to make the 11:42am train to Monte Carlo. Rather than waste time waiting for the next train to Monte Carlo which wouldn’t be for another hour, we could have taken the 12:30pm train to Nice and reversed the order for the day, seeing Nice first, then heading for Monte Carlo/Eze.

 

What actually happened surprised us. We were not in line for tender tickets right at 9:00am, but we did hear announcements around 9:15am for those with Tender #1 tickets to report to Deck 1 for transport! I didn’t think even the #1 tenders would begin running until 10:00am, but they were leaving much, much earlier. This was good news for us. Around 9:15am, I got in line for our tender tickets in the Champagne Terrace, that’s Deck 5 in front of the Purser’s desk. It wasn’t crowded at all and there were probably only five people ahead of me. I was so disappointed when I received #3 tender passes, but the woman told me we could go anytime they announced the next tender, that it didn’t matter if they called for #2 passes, that ours would be good. This wasn’t what we expected. Perhaps they were able to get their cruise excursion passengers off the ship already and they were going to let the rest of us start going too.

 

We went back to our cabin on Deck 2 to pack the backpack for the day (notebook, water bottle, change of shoes, camera equipment, etc.) and we noticed there was already a crowd gathering in the Deck 2 aft elevator/stairs area waiting for permission to go downstairs to Deck 1 for the next tender. We figured we’d better hurry, pack our stuff and join this group in line, which I think we did around 9:45am. While we waited with this crowd, I noticed the smell of cigarette smoke. Smoking is not allowed in the hallways or common areas, and some people started complaining to the cruise staff person guarding the stairs. She immediately made an announcement to that effect, so it was strongly enforced. Seems like it was about a twenty minute wait before they started counting us and allowing a certain number downstairs to board the tender, which was really just one of the ship’s lifeboats, not like the huge tender boats they use in Grand Cayman. And, I don’t even remember them asking to see our tender passes. They just scanned our room key identification cards before we boarded. Anyhow, it took a while for us to get loaded and underway, probably around 10:15am by this time.

 

I don’t remember exactly what time it was we finally arrived on shore, my guess is around 10:30am because I remember thinking we just might have enough time to catch that earlier 10:58am train – and that might have happened, if we had only known which way to walk! The laminated map of the French Riviera we had purchased gave city maps for Monte Carlo and Nice but not Villefranche Sur Mer, so I didn’t know where to find the train station, but I wasn’t worried about that because I had read on the boards to just follow the direction the crowds were walking along the shore to the station, about a 15-minute walk. This was not such great advice for us!

 

The Villefranche shore has a sort of crescent shape to it, and the tender dock was on the left. When we got off the tender, we didn’t see any cabs waiting to take people where they wanted to go, but we had planned to walk anyway. We looked at the shore and saw even further to the left from where we were a large crowd of cruisers scurrying up some stairs in a hurry. We headed in their direction and hoofed up all these stairs and slopes and by the time we caught up with them, we noticed they were all wearing bright colored stickers on their shirts and were boarding a chartered bus! It was obviously the people who had bought the ship shore excursions. So, we were lost!

 

We saw a policeman and walked over to ask him which way to the train station. He didn’t speak English, and my husband couldn’t remember from his high school French the word for “train,” so I bent my arms at the elbows and moved them together in a circular motion while trotting forward and mimicking “chu-chu-chu-chu-chu,” It was a sight, but he got the picture and motioned us back down the stairs and pointed in the opposite direction, the direction from which we had come. So, we scurried back down in time to SEE the train parked at the train station on a cliff, far on the RIGHT side of the crescent shore (if you’re in the middle of the harbor facing the shore). So, when you get off the tender to go to the train station, walk to the RIGHT along the shore until you see an obscure blue “SNCF” sign on the embankment wall to your left. It’s very easy to miss this sign and the stairs near it. Walk up those stairs to get to the station.

 

If you want to do what we did and do a round trip on the train to Monte Carlo, getting off at Eze on the way back, you can do this by buying a round trip Villefranche-Monte Carlo ticket. If you want to continue on to Nice after your return to Villefranche, the train only stops in Villefranche for one minute before it continues on to Nice, so to save ourselves some time, we purchased all our tickets for the day in the morning so we wouldn’t have to get back off the train in Villefranche to buy the tix to Nice.

 

My husband bought two round trip tickets to Monte Carlo for 8.80€ total, and two Villefranche-Nice round trip tickets for 5.20€ total. There was a vending machine where we could have bought tickets that took Euros, but since the station had an attendant and the line was short, my husband bought the tickets from a real person. Once people purchased their tickets and came outside to wait for the train, there was a little confusion about which side of the tracks to wait for which train. The side of the tracks closest to the train station was for Monte Carlo, and the opposite side was for Nice (you have to go through a corridor under the tracks to get over to that side – do not walk across the tracks!). Just to be on the safe side, make sure the sign on your side of the tracks says “Vintimille” if you want to go to Monte Carlo (that’s the last stop in that direction) or “Marseille” (I think) if you want to go towards Nice. And, remember to keep your tickets handy after you board. Someone did walk through and validate them (hole-punched them with a tiny special hole-puncher) after we were underway, and we saw a ticket-less young man receive a citation from the conductor who carefully scrutinized his passport, etc.. On the older models, there is no A/C, but we were quite comfortable, in fact, my husband remarked these were the smoothest trains he’s ever ridden and they were on time to the minute, except for one instance described later.

 

Upon arrival in Monte Carlo, use the elevators and escalators to reach the street level. We had planned to take a city bus to the Palace (“Palais” in French), then a cab from there to the Grand Casino and a cab back to the train station. Turns out, the cabs were totally unnecessary, and we were able to figure out how to navigate using the very nice city buses. There is a bus stop right outside the train station on the same side of the street, but we asked the driver stopping there if he was going to the Palais and he pointed to another bus stop across the street. So, when you leave the train station, cross the street and walk down to the left just a little to the bus stop. You can take a #2 bus to the Palais, or a #4 bus to the Casino.

 

The first bus to arrive was a #4, so we hopped on and headed to the Casino first. The cost was 1.35€ each, so 2.60€ for both of us, and it wasn’t far at all. Probably took five minutes to get there. Just make sure the driver knows you want the Casino so he can tell you when it’s your stop because it wasn’t obvious to us.

 

I was very impressed with Monte Carlo. It’s beautiful and looks clean enough that you could eat off the street, almost like Disneyland – not a single weed or wilting flower or unkempt hedge or bush out of place. In front of the Grand Casino are colorful floral gardens with statues and sculptures of various kinds, and there is a botanical garden too with a small fountain-bearing man-made lake and placards for each species of plant. I could have stayed in this beautiful place all day. We mostly just walked around the gardens outside the Grand Casino and took some photos.

 

I know I mentioned our big tripod in my “Part One” report, but I don’t think I told you about the mini-tripod from Wal-Mart we purchased for about $4 or $5 which is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. It screws directly into the bottom of your camera and is convenient if you don’t want to be saddled carrying a large collapsible tripod. Anyhow, it came in very handy this day. In the past when we’ve traveled, because I am usually the photographer, I am disappointed to return home and realize that I went to all these great places, but appear nowhere in the pictures! The few times we have asked others to take photos for us, the photo looks fine on the little screen on the back of our digital camera, but when we get home and look at it on a full screen, we realize that the person taking the photo moved our very sensitive camera just enough to blur the photo. And, it’s not hard to do because we are used to our camera and some of the photos we take are blurred too.

 

We figured out a way to have photos of BOTH of us visiting all these magnificent places – the mini tripod! In Monte Carlo, I used the tripod and set the camera on a ledge or table, had my husband stand in the photo so I could line it up just like I wanted, then I focus, press the timer button and run stand beside him – Presto! Perfect pictures every time! Unless of course, a crowd of people walk between us and the camera, but usually they see we are taking a photo. And, I wasn’t worried about anyone grabbing the camera and running here.

 

It was a beautiful day but hot outside, so we bought some gelato in one of the places near the Casino and looked in a couple shops and bought postcards. We could not help but notice the number of Bentleys driving around here. And Ferraris, Mercedes, etc. I joked to my husband that the Casino probably pays people to dress up and drive these cars around all day to class up the joint, but, in all seriousness, I’m sure these folks are for real. One car that stood out was this little tiny half-sized car (I think called the Smart) which doesn’t appear to have much of a back seat. You’re bound to see them everywhere in Europe. We’re told Mercedes makes them, that they cost about $10-15,000, and they won’t be coming to the United States. It’s a shame because they get great gas mileage and you can park two of them in the space of one car.

 

We had budgeted our 10€ each for the entrance fee to the Grand Casino, but for some reason decided we didn’t want to go inside. We had not planned on doing any gambling anyway and were ready to go see the Palais. But, before we left, we poked our heads inside the foyer of the Casino and my husband was told he would need to check his bookbag if we wanted to go in. No cameras were allowed inside. If it’s any consolation to those of you planning to go inside, the bag check area looked very secure to us, and we would have felt comfortable leaving our equipment here. It’s a large area behind an enclosed desk, so people can’t just wander in there and take your things. And, if you plan to go in the Casino, the CC posters have said there is a dress code - no shorts, jeans, or tennis shoes allowed, and a passport is required.

 

So, we headed back to the street to catch the next bus to the Palais. We did not return to the bus stop where we had been dropped off, but crossed the street and walked to the left to another one where we picked up a #2 bus to the Palais for 2.60€ for both of us. It’s a good thing we opted for the bus. The Palais wasn’t too far, but it’s at the top of this huge steep hill, and it would not have been fun to walk it, especially since time was such a premium!

 

The bus dropped us off at the top of the hill a couple blocks from the Palais. We stopped at the Chocolatier and bought a gift there before walking through narrow streets of shops and restaurants to get to the Palais. We could have bought combo passes to the Palais and Napoleon Museum for 8.00€ each, but we were mainly just interested in the Palais, so we spent 6.00€ each for our tickets which included the English audioguide. The audioguide was great. You just press the button each time you enter a room and it gives you a brief synopsis of what’s inside. This probably took 30-45 minutes at the most and was quite enjoyable. I was surprised how small the Palais was, and the rooms we toured inside. The décor was stately and elegant, though, as would be expected. I believe the only reason we were able to tour part of the Palais was because in the Summer the Prince is not in residence? Am not too sure if that’s the reason. It’s also not air conditioned in there, but we were comfortable enough. They keep the windows open.

 

After that, we stopped at one of the souvenir shops and bought an embroidered Monte Carlo shirt for 16€ and a photo book of the Palais for 10€. Photography is absolutely NOT allowed inside, and they do have surveillance cameras monitoring you, so if you want to remember what you saw, buy the book. There are several to chose from, in various languages.

 

We headed back to the same bus stop where we were dropped off by the Chocolatier, and this time caught a #1 bus back to the train station, which I wrote in my notes goes to the Palais, Casino and Train Station. We had a good view of the harbor and I had read on the boards the Prince’s yacht is easy to spot; it’s the one with the helicopter on back. These yachts were truly amazing. I actually saw two different yachts with helicopter landing pads, but I think only one had a helicopter on it at the time.

 

Our plan had been to shoot for the 3:01pm train, but because we lingered a little longer than planned in Monte Carlo, we were going to catch the 3:30pm train – or so we thought. As it turned out, the 3:30pm train was behind schedule and did not arrive until 3:55pm, so that put us behind schedule getting into Eze. Incidentally, we learned from one of our multilingual American dinner tablemates who had lived in Europe before that Eze is not pronounced “ease” but “ehz” (rhymes with the candy Pez).

 

And, I did read on the CC boards to use the restroom if necessary at the train station in Monte Carlo because it was free and most others are not. We didn’t need to use the facilities, but thought I’d pass that along.

 

It’s a nine minute train ride from Monte Carlo to Eze. The train actually drops you at Eze Sur Mer on the coast, and you must find a way to go up the mountain to the town of Eze. In my notes from CC posts, I had compiled the following information as options:

 

(1) Take a cab for 30€ one way for up to four people (idea: split the cab with another couple, so it’s only 15€ each couple.) While a little more expensive, people who have done this find the cab the more desirable option for time and convenience, plus it takes you all the way to the front entrance of the town where you will find a perfume factory, and there are some good shops up there. This is the option we had planned on doing, but when we arrived, we were the ONLY people getting off at this stop (no one to share a cab), and we didn’t see ANY cabs anywhere near. Another option,

(2) Walk up to Eze, but this was not going to work either because it would have taken us an hour to get up there, and we were short on time as it was already after 4:00pm. I had also read we could,

(3) Wait for a shuttle bus which is 7.60€ one way for two people and would take us close to the entrance of the town, close enough to walk the rest of the way, and we could buy post cards and mail them from a nearby post office on our walk. To get back down to Eze Sur Mer, we could take shuttle bus, a cab, or walk down the Nietzsche path which presents great photo opportunities of the ship but would take about 45 minutes (if you chose to walk the path, wear good tennis shoes as there are loose stones and pebbles and a lot of stairs).

 

I had also read in the CC posts that the shuttle times were posted at the shop across the street from the train and that this is a good place to buy one-liter soda, but when we arrived, the shops across the street were closed. There was an Information Booth that was open, and she said we had a forty-minute wait for the next shuttle. Given the lateness of the hour, and the fact there were no cabs around and no one to share the cost, we decided to just stay by the shore in Eze Sur Mer, have lunch, then hop back on the train and head for Nice.

 

So, across the street and to the left a little ways were some cafes that were open. We settled on the Pizzeria Tartine with the green awning. The menu was completely in French, and there was no English spoken there, but we managed to order a cheese pizza, which was topped with black olives complete with pits, and a couple of waters. It was good, and the bill was 11.50€ including tip.

 

We started walking back to the train station and passed a public restroom. I was curious to see what it was like after reading about these toilets that are mere basins in the floor, like holes in the ground you have to squat over, and sure enough, that’s what it was. The entire floor and squatting area was particularly soiled and dirty so I decided I would wait. I didn’t look to see if toilet tissue was provided, but I had read you’d better carry your own, and based on my other experiences with bathrooms in Europe, I’d say that is pretty accurate.

 

Our original goal was to catch the 5:17pm train from Eze back to Villefranche and then on to Nice, but we had just missed it so waited for the next one at 5:48pm. I wanted to use the bathroom on the train, but when I tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. I never found out if it was because someone was in there and had locked it from the inside (no one ever came out) or if the train personnel had closed it, so again I was put off from using the facilities. The train was on time and stopped in Villefranche at 5:54pm and left one minute later for Nice at 5:55pm. We had already purchased our round trip tickets to Nice in the morning, so we didn’t need to get off the train which was convenient. I don’t remember if anyone ever walked through to validate our tickets; I still have them, and there is no special little hole punch.

 

To be continued . . .

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Part 4 (Villefranche) Continued . . .

 

After Villefranche, there was one stop in Nice, but the stop we wanted – “Nice Station” (on the schedule it might also read Nice Ville, but I know it’s not Nice-Riquier or Nice St. Augustin), was the 2nd one I think. We arrived at Nice Station at 6:02pm and had planned to leave again on the 7:59pm train to be back on the ship in time for our 9:15pm dinner seating, so that gave us two hours to explore Nice. The first order of business, however, was finding a toilet. There were toilets at the station, but the bathrooms looked to be down a long flight of stairs, away from the flow of traffic we were caught in, so we just moved with the crowd and exited the station. My husband spotted a small pay toilet building across the street, so we headed over there. The door said it would be .20€ but we didn’t have any change smaller than a full Euro, so we tried sticking one of those in the door slot. The handle wouldn’t turn, so we pulled the Euro back out and kept walking until we saw a restaurant (on the left if you’re walking out of the train station) called Buffet de Nice.

 

My husband bought a coke there and got change for their pay toilets so I could use one. It was also .20€. This was NOT a good experience. First of all, when I arrived in this uni-sex bathroom, there was someone on the other side of one of the bathroom doors banging on the door to get out! She somehow managed to get locked in there, but I couldn’t open the door without putting my .20€ coin in first. So, I put the coin in and freed this petite elderly woman but was hesitant to fully shut the door once inside for fear of becoming trapped in there myself. I had my 1” 3-ring poly binder with me, so I used that to prop the door open. The toilet itself was not of the “hole-in-the-ground-squatting variety,” but a more advanced “toilet-with-no-seat-straddling kind,” and the floor was wet from God knows what.

 

I know this is terribly judgmental and might border on Ugly-American-speak, but it was truly disgusting, and of course, no toilet paper and no trash bin or any place to dispose of a feminine hygiene product inside the stall. At first I had to figure out how I was going to do this without letting my foot touch the floor. I unlaced my right tennis shoe, and regrettably, the laces did get on that wet floor, then, while balancing on my left leg, I managed to lift my right foot out of my tennis shoe, slide it through my right pants leg and panties then set it right back into the shoe without losing my balance. So now I am standing there, my left leg inside my pants, and my right leg and derriere fully exposed while my pants and panties are wadded up in my hand and as I am struggling to straddle this toilet with no seat and thinking this can’t get any worse when – YOU GUESSED IT – some guy opens the stall door!!!! Needless to say, I was glad to finish my business and get out of there! Thankfully, outside the stall there was a sink so I could wash my hands (no hand towels!) and at least a trash can where I could dispose of said feminine product. UGH!

 

After returning from Mexico twenty years ago, I was thankful for my washer and dryer. After Costa Rica, I was grateful my husband and I each had our own cars, as an upper middle class family there typically shares one car. And, now, I can add to the list my thankfulness for my toilet seat and free public restrooms that provide tissue, door locks and trash receptacles. The things we take for granted!

 

After I had regained my composure and joined my husband, we walked outside the Buffet de Nice and turned left heading toward the Office of Tourism we saw close by. We went inside and it was pretty crowded. There were no bathrooms there, incidentally, not that it mattered now, but we did take a look at a couple brochures and tried to see if the Tourist Bus we’d read about was running. Turned out, because of the late hour, it was already on its last rotation (if we were reading this brochure correctly), which was fine with us. We just thought we’d stop since we saw the tourism office right there. We mainly just wanted to see two things while in Nice: the beach and an outdoor market called Cours Saleya, but we ended up seeing much more because we walked down Avenue Jean Medecin about 17 blocks to the shore. Nice is a large city, and as such there is some urban blight - we saw a couple people lying on the sidewalk against buildings - but overall it was nice. And, there were dogs (on leashes) everywhere which made us smile each time. We saw dogs all throughout our European tour in fact. Also along our stroll to the shore were a few gelato vendors. Yes, we did succumb once again!

 

It was such a relief to finally reach the beach where we turned to the left and began walking along this wide paved area (like Malibu) where people could jog, skate, walk dogs, stroll, etc. And, down below on this cosmopolitan beach full of smooth stones were sun bathers (none nude) and volleyball nets. We strolled this walk for a while then tried to find Cours Saleya. My husband was doing the navigating with our map, so I can’t describe to you how to get there or how we found it, but we turned to the left and walked back into Nice away from the shore and happened upon a sign directing us there. There were not too many shops there; it was mostly outdoorsy café restaurants. But we walked around here and I bought another embroidered shirt for 17€ . By this time, it was time for us to start thinking about finding our way back to the train station. We decided to try to flag a cab, but there were none to be found, so we began making our way back toward the Avenue Jean Medecin. After walking several blocks on the Avenue, we saw a bus stopping. We hopped on and asked the driver if he was going to the train station (he spoke English), and he said no, but that he could get us close to it. So, we paid the fare of 2.60€ for two of us and the driver told us when to get off. It was only about another two or three blocks walking to the train station, and we made it to the train platform about five minutes before our appointed 7:59pm train. You might want to ask an attendant which platform because there are a lot of them and it could be confusing. And, the sign on your platform will say “Vintimille” because that is the last stop in that direction. We could have taken a later train and still made it back to the ship in time for All Aboard, but we wanted to be back in time for dinner. One important note: the schedule said the last tender from ashore would leave 10:30pm.

 

When we made it back to Villefranche at 8:05pm, the sun had set and the ship had its lights on. It was still light enough outside that we could take a picture of the ship in the harbor with all these sailboats with their bare masts, having lowered their sails for the night. It’s a beautiful photo.

 

As we walked back to the tender dock, we saw one getting ready to leave and trotted quickly enough to be the last persons allowed to board. They really won’t wait for you, so you have to hustle. We decided to go upstairs and enjoy the ride back to the ship on the open deck and ended up sitting next to a woman our age who was from a city in NY where my husband lived for seven years. Small world.

 

We were back in our cabin by 8:40pm which was just enough time for us to freshen up, change and be at dinner on time at 9:15pm. Tonight the attire was “smart casual” so my husband wore his suit and I wore a dress. There was a show after dinner at 11:30pm, but that was way too late for us, and we needed to be up early in the morning for Livorno.

 

It was a truly enjoyable day and we are glad we decided to take the train to see as much as possible on our own. Perhaps we might have made it up to the top of Eze had that one train from Monte Carlo not been so late, but at least we did get to see Eze Sur Mer and the mountain cliff from below.

 

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget Actual

 

30.00 - Surplus from yesterday

9.20 8.80 2 RT Train tix Villef-M.C.

10.00 2.60 Cab M.C. Train Station to Casino (took bus instead)

20.00 0 Casino entrance fee (we didn’t go inside)

2.70 2.60 Bus Casino to Palais

10.00 2.60 Cab back to M.C. Train St. (took bus instead)

50.00 0 Souvenirs (various, see below)

0 4.00 Gelato in M.C.

0 1.20 2 post cards in M.C.

0 6.50 M.C. Chocolatier gift

16.00 12.00 Palais/Napoleon Museum fees (we just did Palais)

0 10.00 Palais book

0 16.00 Monte Carlo embroidered shirt

15.00 0 Sharing cab from Eze Sur Mer to Eze (didn’t do this)

7.60 0 Shuttle ride back down from Eze (didn’t do this)

25.00 11.50 Lunch in Eze (late lunch in Eze Sur Mer instead)

4.40 5.20 2 RT Train tix Villef.-Nice

0 2.25 Soda in Nice

0 .20 Pay toilet in Nice

0 2.00 Gelato in Nice

0 17.00 Nice embroidered shirt

20.00 2.60 Nice cabs (didn’t use; we walked & took bus)

_____ _____

219.90 107.05 (A surplus of 112.85)

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART FIVE - LIVORNO: Pisa & Florence

 

Tuesday, August 27, 2002 - Port #2 Livorno

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Ship in Port from 7:00am-6:00pm

 

As you may know from your research, Florence (“Firenze” in Italian) is an hour drive from Livorno by car and 1-1/2 hours by train, so a goodly portion of your time in port will be spent just getting there. Pisa is much closer to Livorno but not too far out of the way that it can’t be visited on the way to or from Florence.

 

 

Our Original Plan

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I had originally planned for us to see Pisa and Florence on our own, without the ship’s tour or a private driver, and I was confident in our ability to do this. We found the train schedules at http://www.fs-on-line.com/home/en/index.html and had mapped out an itinerary for the day. Be sure to use the Italian spelling for the cities you want, and enter the date the European way: DD/MM/YYYY.

 

We planned to walk off the ship at 7:00am, take a cab to the train station and catch the 7:29am train arriving Florence at 9:06am. From what I had read at http://www.frommers.com (a great site for research of any city), most everything you want to see in Florence is within easy walking distance, some attractions just five minutes apart, and you can walk from one side to the other in about twenty-five minutes. We would allow ourselves almost five hours in Florence, walking around seeing the sights, possibly even arranging a walking tour (see the frommers site for companies), and then catching the 2:00pm train to Pisa, arriving there at 3:02pm. We would allow ourselves about 1-1/2 hours in Pisa before taking the 4:42pm train from Pisa back to Livorno, arriving there at 4:58pm and grabbing a cab back to the ship in time for All Aboard at 5:30pm.

 

 

Potential Problems

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Sounded like a reasonable plan, but from what I had read from some of the Cruise Critic posters, some potential problems encountered by those going it alone included:

 

 The ship arriving late and cutting into time in the port because of a dock worker’s strike

 Not being able to find a cab driver willing to go to the train station (you have to get off the ship early to find a cab willing to take you to the train station because many of them hang around in hopes of being hired for the day or getting a fare the full way to Florence)

 Missing important museums, like the Accademia Gallery b/c of long lines (I had read the private drivers have a way to get you in to avoid the lines)

 Confusion about how to get to the Tower of Pisa from the Pisa train station which was not very close; not seeing cabs at the station, and wasting precious time walking from the station to the tower where the lines were too long

 Afternoon train strikes in Italy

 Difficulty (because of the long lines) getting a cab at the Livorno train station back to the ship

 People just barely making it back to the ship in time, some with just minutes to spare

 

Now I did learn it was also possible to make advance reservations online for the Accademia Gallery, which is in my opinion, the biggest “must-see” in Florence because it houses the original David by Michelangelo, and the replicas elsewhere do not BEGIN to rival it or even prepare you for its magnificence. And, I found a site via Google where you can make such advance reservations for the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi for that matter, at http://www.waf.it/museicity/eng/musei_accademia_main.htm. But, I was still uncomfortable about the fact that so many people reported making it back to the ship with just minutes to spare.

 

In July we had a close call in Grand Cayman, where we made it to the tender dock just in time to see the last “official” tender back to our ship leave without us, so we’ve experienced the stress of those few minutes in which you really wonder if you’re going to miss your ship and we don’t ever want to be in that position again if we can help it. Not to worry – we literally stepped foot on board less than FOUR MINUTES before it left, but this experience was still fresh enough to give us pause for Livorno and consider other alternatives.

 

 

Other Options

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Granted, not all the problems listed above happened to each poster - maybe one or two a piece on those I read that experienced difficulties - but it was just enough in light of my Vacation Monster situation to consider wimping out and hiring a private driver. I had also read some people had seen a fleet of vans available at the pier with signs saying $350 for the day, and I considered this, but I didn’t want to plan on something like that without a reservation.

 

I did find a link (on the *************** site) for Livorno Cab Drivers Company http://users.libero.it/mcroy/besttours.htm and I was impressed because, although they are not tour guides, they do speak English, will make reservations for you for the various museums so you avoid the lines, they charge the same price whether you have four or eight people traveling, and their site said (when I checked) they were charging $310 for Florence/Pisa for up to eight passengers. That was pretty good, certainly much better than the ship’s 14-person minivan “Exclusive Pisa & Florence” tour for $345 per-person, but we still thought it would be better if we could find others to share the cost. Of course, the ship offered a lesser expensive Florence/Pisa tour on a large tour bus for $155 per person, but there was no mention of the Accademia Gallery.

 

 

What We Decided

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We made a plea on Cruise Critic.com in search of others interested in sharing a private driver and had almost given up when, less than two weeks before we were set to leave for Europe, a poster from NJ answered us! Her family of four was on our ship and they were interested. We e-mailed back and forth and I told her of my experiences contacting Max Leotta, another private driver service we had contacted about seeing Rome. (More info on that in the next report on Rome.)

 

In the mean time, she had contacted some services and found many were already booked, so she went ahead and reserved for her family the “Exclusive Pisa and Florence” tour and the “Exclusive Best of Rome” tour with Executive Limousine Service of Rome, Daniele Melaragno’s outfit you can find at http://www.driverinrome.com. She said if we wanted to join them, she would see if a larger car was available to accommodate all of us. Daniele’s website says it’s $575 for the Florence/Pisa tour for 4-6 passengers, and $550 for the Rome tour for 5-8 passengers or $450 for Rome for 3-4 passengers (which doesn’t make much sense to me since their costs don’t increase with additional passengers - admission fees are not included in the price anyway.) Anyhow, she said Daniele cut her a break of $75 for her family of four for both tours, so if I understood her email correctly, the four of them could do both cities for $950.

 

We figured he might raise the price to add two additional people, and he did, but only back up to the original price quoted on the website. I told her we would join them for Florence/Pisa, but that we had decided to do Rome on our own. She checked with Daniele, and he added us to the Florence/Pisa tour and would charge $575 for all six of us, but this was still going to save the family money having others to share the cost, and she was glad to add us to their party. When she and I met on board on embarkation day, I told her my husband and I had changed our minds and thought we might want to join them for Rome as well. It was fine with her, so we would ask our driver when he picked us up for Florence/Pisa if it would be ok.

 

Daniele had assigned Aldo as the driver for Florence/Pisa (and Rome.) While I am sure we would have been fine navigating on our own with the trains, I sincerely doubt we would have enjoyed ourselves nearly as much! Having a private driver for the day was much more relaxing, and we would highly recommend doing this especially if you can share the cost.

 

Another aside: Although their website said the “Exclusive Pisa and Florence” tour runs from 8:00am-6:00pm, they adjusted it for us since All Aboard was at 5:30pm. Aldo greeted us earlier, at 7:30am so he could have us back by 5:30pm. He arrived in a white Mercedes van that would have comfortably accommodated eight passengers in addition to the driver. One passenger could sit up front near the driver, then two, two and three in the bench seats in the back. The van is taller than our standard minivans, and it was very easy to get in and out of the van.

 

We absolutely loved our driver Aldo. What a total trip! He certainly kept us entertained during the drive, and we enjoyed a lot of laughs together. He had an opinion on everything – September 11, the Bush Administration, Children in the U.S. having access to guns, Educating children about the dangers of smoking, you name it - and he was delighted to tell us all about it. Although we didn’t share his opinions on most things, we thoroughly enjoyed hearing them and the fervor with which he expressed his views. It was good for us to hear another perspective and one probably shared by many, many Europeans. And, it made for a more authentic experience, being able to spend the day with an Italian host.

 

 

Pisa

------

 

Aldo took us to Pisa first, and this worked beautifully. He was able to take us right to the Campo dei Miracoli, or “Field of Miracles,” the famous square which was nearly empty. No tourists. No lines. Just us and the Duomo, the Bapistry and the Leaning Tower, which was begun in 1173 and took 200 years to build. Although it is famous because it leans, perhaps not as many are aware that Galileo conducted his initial gravity experiments by dropping uneven weights from the top of the tower while developing outlandish notions that the earth just might revolve around the sun! And, I wouldn’t discount the neighboring Duomo; I was immediately struck by the intricate architectural details. It was a good example of the kind of detailed work we would see later in Florence as well. We had beautiful weather that day and I was able to take some great photos. I brought the big tripod so we could have photos of ourselves in front of these fantastic landmarks, and this worked very well. What an amazing place. I am shaking my head as I write this, still in awe of all I saw in Europe and so grateful for the chance to go. Back to the story . . .

 

Because it was so early (I didn’t look at my watch, but I’m guessing we were there before 8:00am), some of the shop keepers were just arriving to open their stores. I realized I had left my camera batteries in the van and went back for them while my husband went with the NJ family to buy tickets for us to climb the tower. We had not planned on being able to do this because the posts talked about the long lines to buy tickets for the tower, and the two-hour wait for your appointed time after you bought your ticket, but there was NO line, so this was a pleasant surprise.

 

What wasn’t so pleasing was the admission fee for the tower which was 15€ per person! When I returned to the square with my batteries and met my husband in front of the tower (the place to buy tickets was in some building to the left of the tower, if you’re facing the tower from the entrance to the square), he told me he had decided not to buy the tickets for us because he didn’t want to pay 30 bucks. I did not want him to miss out since we had come such a long way and told him to go ahead and just buy a ticket for himself. So, he agreed to that. This worked out well for the NJ family b/c they had also been dissuaded by the price (would have cost them 60 bucks!) and learned they couldn’t send the kids up without adult supervision. So, my husband served as the chaperone for the kids (ages 13 and 10 – SUPER kids!), and the three of them climbed the tower. My husband shot video during his ascent of the 300 steps, so I was able to (later) see the strangely worn stairs and could feel the horizon shift as they spiraled around the thing. It didn’t take them long to reach the top. Five minutes maybe? In any case, I’m glad he did it.

 

On our way back out of the square, we stopped by a couple of the little stalls selling souvenirs and I bought a small off-white resin replica, one piece together, of the Duomo, Baptistery and Leaning Tower for 1.10€ with the intention of turning it into a Christmas ornament. I like to have an ornament from the places we visit so we can reminisce about our adventures while decorating the tree. Brings back wonderful memories.

 

 

Florence

----------

 

We returned to the van where Aldo was waiting nearby, and we sped off for Florence. One of the main reasons we had decided to join the NJ family with Daniele’s private driver service was because the website description said we would visit Michelangelo’s original David in the Accademia Gallery. This was the one thing, more than anything else that I wanted to see, and I mistakenly assumed reservations would be made in advance for us to see it. I realized once we were in the van that Aldo was there to take us wherever WE wanted, and WE had to tell him if the Accademia was one of the things we wanted to do. So, no reservations had been made in advance (I imagine they might have been willing to do this, if we had asked ahead of time, but I wouldn’t have thought to ask because the description included it). I asked him if he had a way to get us in and avoid the lines, and he said no but that we could stop by there and take a look at how long the lines were and decide then. This made me a little nervous, but it all turned out ok.

 

We crossed the Arno River and practiced rolling our “R’s.” My husband video-ed most of our tour so we have Aldo’s commentary and can re-live it anytime we want. Aldo explained that these ancient cities were once surrounded by huge walls with large gate entrances. He drove us past the Porta Romana, the entrance to Florence from Rome, before taking us up to Michelangelo Square, high above Florence. There we saw the tarnished copy of David done in bronze. Aldo parked and we all walked to the edge of the overlook where we could view the Florence skyline on the other side of the Arno River. He pointed to some of the highlights: the Fiezole which was the Roman Ampitheatre, a green dome which was the Synagogue of Florence, Santa Croce Church, the Duomo & Bell Tower, Tower of Palazzo Vecchio (city hall), the Uffizi Gallery, and finally the famous Ponte Vecchio (which means “Old Bridge”), before pointing in the direction of the Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), the former residence of the King. He said that Florence was #1 in two things: gold and leather and that we would find the oldest leather school in the world when we visited the Church of Santa Croce.

 

We took a few minutes for photo opportunities at the edge of the overlook and in front of the copy of David, then we peeked at some of the souvenirs offered by the street vendors. I bought an embroidered shirt for 10€ and a tiny resin statue of David on a keyring for 2.50€ which will be transformed into another Christmas ornament.

 

We loaded back into the van, and Aldo drove us into Florence where he dropped us at Piazza Santa Croce outside the 1294 Santa Croce (“Holy Cross”) church, but not before he told us this story. Michelangelo was from Florence and begun his career there, but, he was a stubborn man, insisting on doing things his own way, and he was kicked out of Florence by the Medici family who were in power there. The Pope, who was the king of Rome after the fall of the Roman empire, commissioned all the great works of art. So, Michelangelo went to Rome to work. Michelangelo spent fourteen years by himself creating the Sistine Chapel. The Pope loved him and his work so much he allowed Michelangelo a lot of freedom to express his artistic talents his way and at his price! Michelangelo had found a home in Rome and insisted upon being buried there. And, he was. But, a couple days after he was buried, the Medici family, now eager to claim the famous Michelangelo as a Florentine, sent grave robbers to Rome to extract his body and return it to Florence. Michelangelo now rests in Florence inside the Santa Croce church. Aldo also told us about the other tombs inside, including those of Galileo, Machievelli, and Dante – yes, the same one that wrote The Inferno - although I read later that his tomb is empty because the city of Ravenna, where he died, refused to return his body.

 

And, finally, before we left the van, Aldo told us to look at the Star of David curiously yet prominently included in this Catholic church’s façade. He said this was done because the architect was Jewish. Aldo waited with the van while we paid our 3€ each to visit the Santa Croce Church, which was not crowded. I bought a couple watercolor bookmarks in the gift shop, one of the Florence skyline, and another of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The total was 1.60€. Afterwards, we walked through the adjacent “oldest leather school in the world.” The leather products were beautiful, but we didn’t see bargains.

 

We left in the van around noon and drove to the Accademia Gallery to check out the line, which was not too bad at all, so we decided to give it a shot. Aldo showed us where he would wait for us, and we hopped in line. I spotted a tiny corner jewelry store and my husband saved my place in line while I took a quick peek at Cameos. When I returned, our group decided we would make use of our time standing in line to eat our lunch. There was a deli on the corner near the line and my husband and the NJ mom went to get food for the rest of us holding our place in line. But, the line was moving faster than we calculated, so we choked down our lunch quickly. Our total waiting time in line was probably not more than 20 minutes, and after paying the 7.5€ entrance fee (each), we were inside in no time. I didn’t realize until I read it later that this was the first drawing school in Europe. For us, this was the highlight of the entire day, seeing Michelangelo’s original marble statue of David. We couldn’t have predicted the impact. There are no words; the copies don’t begin to attain the same mystique.

 

Careful, though, if you should take a photo, several Photo ****s will come over and scold you, but they won’t confiscate your equipment. If you even look like you are about to take a photo, they will charge toward you at ramming speed. No photos are “allowed” in there, flash or not, doesn’t matter. I asked one of the ****s (I mean attendants) about this, wanting to know if it was ok if I took a photo without a flash, telling them I could program my camera to do whatever, and they said no. I asked why, and they actually acknowledged it had nothing to do with “protecting” the statue (which wouldn’t be harmed by a photo, flash or otherwise) but involved protecting their “copyright.” In other words, they wanted you to buy the books and post cards in their gift shop, even though you had already paid an admission price.

 

It doesn’t take long to walk through this museum at all, which is probably why the line moved so quickly. We had allowed ourselves 45 minutes once inside, but we really didn’t need this much time. I could have spent all day staring at David, though. Only now that I have seen him do I understand why this statue is so famous. It just has a way of grabbing you, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The muscles and even the veins look so real. The copies REALLY don’t do him justice. One thing we noticed is how large his hands were in proportion to the rest of his body, and even his eyes look so real.

 

We walked back to the van where Aldo was waiting, and he drove us to the Piazza del Duomo where we were dropped off at 1:15pm. He told us to meet him back at the Hotel Savoy nearby at 3:15pm so, in case of traffic, we could allow two hours for the drive back to the ship. And, he did tell us we could go inside the Duomo, but that the detail outside was much better than the art inside, so we just walked around the outside.

 

We had two hours and spent a little time walking around the beautiful Baptistery, Bell Tower and Duomo (the back side is unfinished), where we noticed plenty of artists selling their watercolor scenes of Florence, before cutting through the narrow streets to the right for the famous square Piazza della Signoria (DON’T MISS THIS!), where Aldo told us we would see the marble copy of David. I was not too impressed with this copy after having seen the real thing, but I can’t criticize since I am CERTAIN I couldn’t do a better job! I was not prepared for the other remarkable statues we would see in this open square, and I strongly recommend you do a little research in advance so you will know what you are seeing when you see it. This place is like an outdoor museum, and you will see some remarkable statues like:

 

Giambologna’s 1594 equestrian statue Grand Duke I

Cellini’s 1545 Perseus statue holding Medusa’s head

And, the 1583 The Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna

Ammannati’s 1560-75 Fontana dei Neptuno, or Neptune Fountain

 

Regarding the Neptune Fountain, Frommer’s tells it best:

 

Note the porphyry plaque set in the ground in front of the fountain. This marks the site where puritanical monk Savonarola held the Bonfire of the Vanities: With his fiery apocalyptic preaching, he whipped the Florentines into a reformist frenzy, and hundreds filed into this piazza, arms loaded with the paintings, clothing, and other effects that represented their "decadence." They consigned it all to the flames of a roaring pile. However, after a few years the pope (not amused by Savonarola's criticisms) excommunicated first the monk and then the entire city for supporting him. On May 23, 1498, the Florentines decided they'd had enough of the rabid-dog monk, dragged him and two followers to the torture chamber, pronounced them heretics, and led them into the piazza for one last day of fire and brimstone. In the very spot where they once burnt their luxurious belongings, they put the torch to Savonarola himself. The event is commemorated by an anonymous painting kept in Savonarola's old cell in San Marco and by the plaque here.

 

Of course, we also saw behind the marble copy of David, the outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall since 1322 and its tower. And, we glanced at the Uffizi Gallery. There was no time to see this museum, nor did we really expect we would, but next time we are here, we will definitely be sure to go inside and see Leonardo DaVinci’s Annunciation and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring).

 

We walked along the Arno River to the Ponte Vecchio, the 14th century bridge that survived the **** bombing of Florence during WWII, often the scene of paintings, now lined with bulging jewelry shops, where I again looked at Cameo jewelry but didn’t buy anything. Not enough time to do any serious shopping b/c I was looking for a matching set in a specific style.

 

We took more lovely photos of the bridge, sure to capture also the reflections in the water of the mustard-colored buildings on either bank, then and walked back to meet Aldo in front of the hotel. We passed an outdoor vendor market – a sort of flea market - selling all kinds of things, including leather goods, on the way back to the van and only wish we’d had a little more time.

 

We left Florence at 3:30pm, didn’t have too much traffic, and were back at the ship at 4:30pm, one hour before All Aboard. I would have liked more time in Florence, but we were able to see everything we could have hoped to see in one day and appreciated Aldo’s desire to make sure we didn’t miss the ship. Fortunately, Aldo said it would be ok for us to join them the following day for Rome. We asked how that would affect the price, and he said it would be $1,000 USD for both days for all of us but that he did not want us to pay him anything for the day because he would see us tomorrow morning at Civitivecchia to show us his “home town” Rome. He had talked to Daniele on his cell phone earlier in the day (in Italian of course), and Daniele told him to just collect $1,000 for both days after he showed us Rome, so I think that was even a little more of a break than we were originally expecting. Split six ways, it worked out to $83.33 per person per day not including entrance fees, our lunch (we were not expected to buy Aldo’s lunch), and Aldo’s tip. Still much better than the cruise shore excursions.

 

What a relief to know we could have the private driver for Rome too! We relaxed on deck and listened to the ship’s band as we pulled away from Livorno at 6:00pm sharp. This was our ship’s first formal night. There was plenty of time for me to change into my gown and my husband into his tuxedo before we stopped by the end of the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception in the Top Hat Lounge (which has designated smoking/non-smoking sides) for a little dancing before heading to dinner at 9:15pm. None of our table mates showed up for this formal night, so we didn’t have the chance to ask them what their plans for the day had been and how they fared. So, we don’t know if the trains worked all right for those seeing Florence/Pisa on their own. Although we enjoyed our tablemates when they were there, we didn’t mind having the table all to ourselves this night. There was a Chocolate Buffet just after midnight, but we didn’t stay up for it because we wanted to be up in time to meet Aldo at 8:00am the next morning.

 

I benefited tremendously from reading the Med Cruise reports on this board written by LauraG, Reeder, Sherry, and Cruzqueen among MANY others and just wanted to say thanks and suggest you might want to run a search for their reports too. I don’t know how LauraG found the time to write her reports with four kids at home! And, Sherry’s reports were graciously posted by Reeder, who also contributed fabulous reports as well. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

 

 

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget	Actual		

112.85	     -		Surplus from yesterday	

192.00	167.00		Driver’s fee for today (to be paid tomorrow in USD)
20.00	 16.70		Driver’s 10% tip (to be paid tomorrow in USD)
    0	 15.00		1 Tower of Pisa entrance fee
50.00	     0		Souvenirs (various, see below)
    0	  1.10		Pisa ornament
    0	 10.00		Firenze embroidered shirt
    0	  2.50		David key ring
    0	  6.00		Church of Santa Croce entrance fee (3E’s each)
    0	  1.60		Bookmarks
40.00	  5.30		Lunch
15.00	 17.00		Accademia Gallery entrance fee for two
15.00	     0		Uffizi Gallery Ent. Fee (no time)
    0	  3.70		Gelato
    0	  2.50		More Gelato (yummy!)

______	______
444.85	248.40		(A surplus of 196.45)

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART SIX - CIVITAVECCHIA: Rome

 

Wednesday, August 28, 2002 - Port #3 Civitavecchia

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Ship in Port from 7:00am-7:00pm

 

Rome (“Roma” in Italian) is an hour’s drive or more from Civitavecchia in good traffic conditions, or an hour and ten minutes by train. Incidentally, I had read from another poster that this port is pronounced “Chey-veck-ia” but I believe our driver Aldo pronounced it “Chey-ta-veck-ia.”

 

 

Our Original Plan (which kept changing)

--------------------------------------------

 

I had originally planned for us to see Rome on our own, without the ship’s tour or a private driver, and I was semi-confident in our ability to do this. I found the train schedules at http://www.fs-on-line.com/home/en/index.html and had mapped out an itinerary for the day. Be sure to use the Italian spelling for the cities you want, and enter the date the European way: DD/MM/YYYY.

 

Like I said, that was the ORIGINAL plan, BUT, after all I had read from the other Cruise Critic posters, I determined of all the ports, this was the one which would make the most sense to hire a tour of some kind, either via the ship or a private driver, just because this is a large city, there is too much to see, time if of the essence, you lose too much time trying to get from one place to another, and this was my husband’s birthday, so I wanted to make sure we enjoyed the day and kept the Vacation Monster at bay. The ship’s “Exclusive Best of Rome” tour was a whopping $345 PER PERSON (that’s $690 for two!!!), so I didn’t see how we could justify that, AND I noticed it carried a disclaimer that it might not be possible to visit all the sights listed because of “long lines.”

 

I had read the private drivers have ways of avoiding the lines and thought that might be the way to go, and I had also read groups of six could go for anywhere between $350-$450. So, I did the math and figured if we could find others to share the cost, it would not cost us more than $75 per person. I figured we could manage that.

 

Because I had seen several postings raving about the services of one particular driver, Max Leotta, I thought I would start there, but when I contacted him a few weeks before the trip, he was already booked. His company has two other drivers, though, and he said Fabio (his older brother) would be available for 400 Euros from 8:00am-6:00pm. I asked Max if he could see if the party he had already booked was interested in sharing with two more people and splitting the cost, but he said he didn't know if his other party (of 4 people) would want to share and he didn't like to do that because he'd had problems in the past with people not liking each other, wanting to see different sights, etc.. He again repeated his offer for Fabio. I guess there is no incentive for him to put groups together since he doesn't make money that way, and I imagine some groups might not want to share a driver.

 

I went ahead and posted the messages on the Cruise Critic boards looking for others, then wrote Max back that we would try to find additional people ourselves. He responded that the 400 Euro rate was for two people and that it would be more (450 Euros) if we found another couple to share, adding that Fabio's vehicle was comfortable enough for up to four passengers. He "confirmed" our reservation for Fabio at 8:30am (notice the tour is starting a half hour later than originally quoted) and said we could let Fabio know when we saw him if it would be a party of two or four that he would be at the pier holding a sign with our name.

 

This seemed a tad pushy to me since I was just getting prices and never agreed to book, so I apologized to him for the miscommunication and explained that we would only be able to book if we found others to share the cost. He responded with another e-mail telling me not to worry and not to find others to share our tour, that he was confirming us for a lower rate of 350 Euros for a "full day" tour of Rome from 8:30am-5:00pm (so now he's shaved another hour off the back end of the tour!), and that all he asks is that we tip Fabio and write a good report about their services, not mentioning the special price he gave us. Then he writes that money is not everything, not to be too demanding and that he “wants to be a friend to me!” This did not impress me too much because I thought I had seen posts from others that Max had only charged them 350 or 400 Euros for a party of six? And, based on that, I went into the private driver scenario thinking it would only cost us about $75 per person. Besides, I believe he does not include admission fees in that price, so there was no reason for him to raise the price for more people since it wasn’t costing him anything more.

 

I am certain those who have used Max have been totally satisfied as I have read nothing but accolades, but in my frustration I never responded to his last e-mail. Since no one had responded to my Cruise Critic plea to share a driver, I began doing more research on how we could see Rome on our own without a driver. I bought laminated maps, studied train and metro schedules and stops and even looked into a load of tour companies that do walking tours in Rome for very little money (and avoiding the lines I think), but I couldn’t seem to get the walking tour schedules to coordinate because we wanted to see the Vatican AND Ancient Rome and had to catch a 5:00pm train.

 

In case you want to do a walking tour, here are the names of some of the companies I found and the times I had written down for their tours, which may have changed. You can probably run a Google search for their website addresses. At the Vatican, I wanted to see the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel AND St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Vatican Tour Companies

-----------------------------

 

Enjoy Rome, 12:00pm-3:00pm

Odyssey, 11:30am-5:00pm (including St. Peter’s) or 11:30am-1:30pm (w/o St. Peter’s)

American Express, 9:30am-1:30pm

Scala Reale, 1:00pm-5:00pm

Romeing Tours, 10:00am-2:30pm

Rome Walks, 10:00-2:30pm

 

 

For Ancient Rome, I wanted to see the Forum, Colosseum and Pantheon.

 

Ancient Rome Tour Companies

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Enjoy Rome, 2:30pm-5:30pm

Freedom Traveller 1:00pm-until ? (no reservations required)

Scala Reale, 9:00am-1:00pm (not including Pantheon)

Gotoroma, 2:00pm-4:30pm (Colosseum only)

 

 

So, our plan was to walk off the ship at 7:00am, take a cab for 20€ or walk the 20 minutes to the train station and catch the 7:40am train for about 6.65€ each, arriving Rome’s San Pietro Station (near the Vatican) at 8:27am. We would then walk the 15 minutes to the Vatican, visiting St. Peter’s Basilica first (no charge), hopefully finding time to go to the top of the Cupola (5€ each) for a photo of St. Peter’s Square, buy a few souvenirs at the gift shop at the top of the Cupola then walk around the outside wall, probably another 15 minutes, to the Vatican Museum (10€ each) entrance, taking the shortest path from the beginning of the museum to the Sistine Chapel which is only accessed from the museum. The shortest path if there were no crowds and you walked without stopping to look at anything would probably take maybe 45 minutes? Somebody correct me if this is wrong. It’s a huge museum.

 

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we would mail a couple post cards from the Vatican Post Office then walk 15 minutes to the Ottaviano Metro station where we would take the “A” Line to Termini Station (the main Metro station in Rome) then switch to the “B” Line to the Colosseo stop where we would be dropped directly at the Colosseum. If there was a long line at the Colosseum, we would see if there was a man to the side of the regular admission line organizing a guided group tour in English. After the Colosseum, we would walk past the Arch of Constantine over to the Roman Forum. If there was any time, we would then figure out how to get from there (cab or possibly Metro then more walking) to the Pantheon , Trevi Fountain and other stuff. Then, we would take a cab or Metro back to the Termini Station to catch the 5:05pm train arriving back in Civitavecchia at 6:15pm, allowing just enough time to grab a cab back to the ship in time for All Aboard at 6:30pm.

 

So, it was as couple weeks away from our trip and a plan was in place. I starting fantasizing about what the trip would be like and thought to myself wouldn’t it be cool if I could surprise my husband for his birthday by arranging for him to meet the Pope? Nah! Would NEVER happen I thought. I doubted we would even get to see him from a distance. THEN I found out the Pope holds public audiences on Wednesdays. I glanced at our schedule and realized we would be there on a Wednesday! This sparked my curiosity and spurred me to further research, and I discovered the Pope would actually be in Rome August 28th and that anyone could attend but you had to have advance tickets. Then I found out this could be accomplished via e-mail. I couldn't believe the luck! This was just too good to be true!

 

Then I found out you have to pick up your tickets the day before, which isn't possible since we're on a ship. Oh well, it was a nice thought. THEN I read August 21 & 28, the Pope would not be giving his public audience at the Vatican, but would be doing it from his Summer residence in the country about thirty miles from Rome, and NO tickets were required - anyone showing up in time would be admitted! Again, I got excited and thought this was too good to be true! I checked the train schedule and discovered that we could catch the train in Civitavecchia, change trains twice and make it to this town's train station ten minutes before the papal audience would begin, but figured that would be cutting it too close. My mind wandered again to hiring a private driver to get there, but when I really thought about it, we'd spend two hours getting there (it's on the other side of Rome from the port), and it starts at 9:30am and lasts 1-1/2 hours. By the time we got back to Rome, half the day would be gone, and we'd have to give up seeing something we really wanted to see. And, it's not like we were going to get one of those forty seats in the front reserved for dignitaries who then get to actually meet the Pope afterwards and have a picture taken with him. So, I vanished any fantasies about actually meeting or even seeing the Pope while we were there and started doing some more reading about the sights and studying my map.

 

Here are some great websites I found with lots of general information about Rome. Some info on the last two listed is dated because it was obviously written before the changeover to euros this year, but they are still great sites.

 

http://www.fodors.com

http://www.frommers.com (has good suggested walking itineraries)

http://www.twenj.com

http://www.stuardtclarkesrome.com

 

This last one is unbelievably complete. It details all the major things to see, describes the various parts of the Vatican Museum, provides maps of the Metro, a great floor plan of St. Peter’s Basilica so you will know what you are viewing while there, explains the process for ordering food in a restaurant, and even gives a great list of Italian phrases to know. You will definitely want to spend some time preparing for what you will see. It’s all going to be such a blur anyway because of the time factor, so doing a little homework will help things make sense to you.

 

 

What Actually Happened

-----------------------------

 

Remember I had made a plea on Cruise Critic.com in search of others interested in sharing a private driver? Well, after receiving no responses, I had given up on that. BUT, less than two weeks before we were set to leave for Europe, a poster from NJ answered us! Her family of four was on our ship and they were interested. She had contacted some services and found many were already booked, so she went ahead and reserved for her family the “Exclusive Pisa and Florence” tour and the “Exclusive Best of Rome” tour with Executive Limousine Service of Rome, Daniele Melaragno’s outfit you can find at http://www.driverinrome.com.

 

Daniele’s website says it’s $575 for the Florence/Pisa tour for 4-6 passengers, and $450 for the Rome tour for 3-4 passengers (or $550 for 5-8 people), and he had cut her a $75 break for both days. For her family of four, the cost she was quoted I think was $950 for both days. She said if we wanted to join them, she would see if a larger car was available to accommodate all of us. I told her we would join them for Florence/Pisa, but that we had decided to do Rome on our own.

 

BUT, when she and I met in person on embarkation day, I told her my husband and I had changed our minds and thought we might want to join them for Rome as well. It was fine with her, so we asked our driver Aldo when he picked us up for Florence/Pisa if it would be ok, and it was. I wasn’t sure how that would affect the price, which changes based on the number of people, but he said it would be $1,000 USD for both days for all of us (or $500 per day), so, they only raised her price $50 to add us to the second day, which was still going to save them quite a bit of money, and was a less than the website price of $1,125 for six people for both days, so we were all happy with that. Aldo said to pay him for both days after the Rome tour, the end of our second day with him. Split six ways, it worked out to $83.33 per person per day not including entrance fees, our lunch (we were not expected to buy Aldo’s lunch), and Aldo’s tip. Still much better than the cruise shore excursions. And, a REAL bargain when you factor in all the stress we DIDN’T have that day. Having a private driver for the day was much more relaxing, and we would highly recommend doing this especially if you can share the cost.

 

Rome

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We treated ourselves to a very big breakfast in the ship’s buffet restaurant on the bow then met Aldo on the pier at 8:00am. Having a private driver on this day turned out to be an even bigger blessing than we had imagined because Aldo told us as we headed toward Rome it had been raining and storming there all morning. Fortunately for us, it was mostly just overcast and sprinkling occasionally when we arrived, but it didn’t rain while we were outside the van walking among the ruins, only when we were in the van going from place to place, so that was some terrific luck.

 

Another bit of good luck was the traffic. He said traffic was not too bad because so many people were away on vacation. August is the month most Europeans take their vacations, so we expected it to be horribly crowded. Perhaps the rain kept people away from some of the sights? I don’t know.

 

We enjoyed the ride through the countryside to Rome. We crossed the Tiber River and Aldo told us we were passing through an area called EUR which stands for Exhibition Universal Rome. This was a project of Mussolini in the 1930’s for the world exhibition of Rome, but WWII started, so they stopped working on it and later continued in the 1950’s.

 

We stopped outside one of the four major Roman basilicas, St. Paul Outside the Wall church, where the Apostle Paul is buried. It’s called “outside the wall” because it was built outside the wall surrounding the ancient city of Rome. We could have gone inside, but in the interest of time (and everything else we wanted to see), we just looked at the church and courtyard, which contains a beautiful statue of St. Paul, from the van. My husband zoomed the video cam for a nice shot of the statue, so we were able to view it at our leisure later.

 

Aldo was a wealth of information about his “hometown” of Rome, and we would not have enjoyed this day as much without him – THAT’s for sure! I believe Rome licenses its guides, and I assume, based on Aldo’s narration, that he is a licensed guide, so I carefully transcribed his narration from our video tape and have tried to give you the highlights here. I must caution you, though, that I did not check any of his facts except to look up some words so I was spelling them correctly. If I have gotten something wrong, it might be due to a very minimal language barrier. Aldo’s English was certainly very good, but there is always the possibility we may have misunderstood something he was trying to say.

 

Aldo shared there are two apostles buried in Rome, St. Peter who is of course buried in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, and St. Paul, buried at St. Paul Outside the Wall. Some references I have read say it with much less certainty, offering the disclaimer “is believed to be buried” there. Upon returning home, I read more of my own notebook (from my stuardtclarkesrome website printed pages) that nine apostles are buried in Rome and Rome is not only referred to as the Eternal City, but the Cemetery of the Apostles. The website lists the apostles and where each are buried. Aldo did tell us that both St. Paul and St. Peter are considered the “protectors of Rome” and reminded us how they died. They were both crucified, although St. Peter was crucified upside-down.

 

The next sight was a real surprise. Did you know there is an actual pyramid in Rome? It’s right along the edge of a now very busy street with cars whipping past. It was made in white marble for an wealthy Roman businessman who had traveled to Egypt, which was then part of the Roman Empire. He fell in love with the pyramids and decided he wanted to be entombed in one after his death, and he was - in 13 B.C.! Aldo said Romans never buried people inside the city, which they considered to be for the living (and still do), so this pyramid was constructed on the outskirts. This proved convenient a few hundred years later, just before the fall of the Roman Empire, when the Emperor Aurelian ordered a wall built around the city to protect Rome from German barbarians advancing very quickly from the North and threatening Rome. Because the Romans were in a hurry to construct the protective wall, Caius Cestius’ Pyramid was incorporated into it, which saved them a little time. The Ancient Roman City Wall, which was originally sixteen-miles long, was built in 272 A.D. in just five years. Thirteen miles are still standing. I later read that Cauis Cestius (the dude with the pyramid) was a high-ranking Roman official in charge of sacred banquets.

 

Aldo told us the saying, “All roads lead to Rome,” and said there is another saying “Rome was built on seven hills.” He told us when we were passing one of them, Aventine Hill, and said it was the most expensive, exclusive residential area in downtown Rome. We also passed our American Embassy proudly flying Old Glory. Aldo said there are two embassies from each country in Rome, one for Italy, and one for the Vatican, which is of course the smallest city-state in the world, not to mention one of the wealthiest. This American embassy we passed represents our country to the Vatican.

 

The next stop was Circus Maximus, which was mostly just an empty field with sloped sides where the seating used to be. This was MUCH larger than the Colosseum and accommodated 300,000 spectators! Imagine that! I don’t think there is a stadium today that will hold that many (I checked, and even the Super Dome in New Orleans can’t handle more than 80,000). This was where the great chariot races took place, like the one re-enacted in the movie Ben Hur, which incidentally was filmed in Rome. Keep in mind that Rome was the first capitol of the world and the population of the city alone was 1-1/2 million people, and that was 2,000 years ago!

 

Aldo told us Mussolini had a production studio built south of Rome in the 1930’s called Cini Cita which means City of the Cinema. I’m not sure how it’s spelled; he pronounced it Chini Chita. In the 1950’s and 1960’s when the colossal movies became popular, Hollywood producers and directors made movies there, like Cleopatra, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, etc. As you may remember, some of the actors/stuntmen actually died making the chariot race scene from Ben-Hur. Aldo said because production was cheap and the set designers and costume artists were some of the best in the world, after WWII, the American Hollywood producers came to Rome and stayed fifteen years. It became known as the “Hollywood of the Tiber.” In fact, Federico Fellini, while directing the movie La Dolce Vita (the “Sweet way of Life”) in Rome, coined the phrase “paparazzi.”

 

We saw another of the seven hills of Rome, Palatine Hill which Aldo said was the most important hill of Rome because in 753 B.C. it was where Ancient Rome began. The ruins there are of the Imperial Palace, which was the residence of the Emperor and of course Circus Maximus. Aldo said Circus Maximus was pillaged after the fall of the Roman Empire, when nobody used those public stadiums anymore, and its materials of marble and stone were used to build other things. It was a massive structure, though.

 

Aldo said the only reason the Colosseum was not also completely pillaged for its materials was because the Pope (I read later it was the 16th century Pope Benedictus the 14th) declared it a holy place, believing it had been the place where all the Christian martyrs were fed to the lions. But Aldo said that information was incorrect, that the Christians were actually sacrificed at Circus Maximus, and had the Pope known, he probably would have saved Circus Maximus and the Colosseum would be no more.

 

Aldo explained that in-between chariot races in the Circus Maximus there was a gap in time in which the slaves had to clean up the broken chariots, haul away dead horses, pick up body parts, etc., and during this time the crowds were restless, so to keep them entertained, the Christians were fed to lions. The more blood and gore, the more entertaining it was for the crowds.

 

Our next stop was the famous Mouth of the Truth, a sewer cover posted upright on a wall inside a gate. The cover, which was found during an excavation, has a stone face and was made famous by the 1953 movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn. It is said that if you stick your hand into the mouth of this face, it will be snapped off if you tell a lie. Gregory Peck at some point in the movie places his hand inside the mouth. You’ll have to watch the movie to see what happened to him, but Aldo asked if any of us needed to quiz each other while there!

 

Across the street was a round Roman Temple dedicated to the god Vestal (remember the Vestal Virgins & Cleopatra?), and another temple next to it, Temple Fortuna dedicated to the god Fortune. Both were from the 3rd Century B.C..

 

We passed the Ruin of the Amphitheatre called Marcello (sp? – Aldo pronounced it “Merchellos”) which was not round like the Colosseum but had a half-moon shape with a stage. It was made in 15 B.C. and would hold 15,000 spectators. In the last century, apartments have been built on top of it and inside. It was common to build new structures on top of old ones, adding to them. It was rather interesting to see the way the old and the new blended together. Next to that, we saw the three columns which were what was left of the Temple of Apollo, god of love.

 

Next, we drove to another of the seven hills of Rome, Capitoline Hill where we drove around the Piazza Venezzia and caught our first glimpse of the Colosseum in the distance. We stopped in front of the HUGE white 1885 building, the Victor Immanuel II Monument, also known as the “Wedding Cake,” dedicated to the first king of Italy, the man on the horse statue. While fabulously impressive, I was more curious about the two armed guards below positioned in-between these two perpetually burning flames. Aldo explained the guards are there 24 hours around the clock to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. I wanted to know more about this upon returning home and found this website http://www.geocities.com/beacon4god/unknown.html (which looked pretty reliable):

 

From World Book: Unknown soldier After World War I (1914-1918), officials of the Allied countries found that the bodies of many soldiers killed in battle could not be identified. The governments of Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, and the United States decided to honor the memory of these soldiers. Each government chose a symbolic unknown soldier, buried the remains near the national capital, and built a monument in honor of the soldier. Belgium placed its unknown soldier in a tomb at the base of the Colonnade of the Congress in Brussels. Britain buried its unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey. France buried its unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in the center of Paris, and keeps a flame always burning over the grave. Italy's unknown soldier lies in front of the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy, in Rome.

 

Across from the Monument on this same square were two famous buildings. One was a brown-colored palace, Venice Palace (the sign read “Museum National”). Aldo said this was once the Venetian Embassy in Rome when Venice was its own kingdom, before Italy was united. This palace building became famous during WWII when it was the headquarters of Mussolini’s Facist Body. If you look closely at the little balcony protruding from it, you might recognize it from old black-and-white television footage. It was where Mussolini stood when he spoke to the crowds below and declared war on France and England.

 

If you look to the right, you will see another famous balcony, this one green, which wraps around the corner on the second floor of the adjacent building. This was the Apartment of Letizia Bonaparte, the mother of Napoleon. This seemed strange to us, because we thought Napoleon was French. Not so, says Aldo. Well, at least not initially. He says both parents moved from Genoa to Corsica when Corsica was still part of Italy. Three days after Napoleon was born, Corsica went to France, so automatically the people living there became French citizens. Aldo also said the Bonaparte name originally had a “u” in it that was taken away (I’m not sure where). I wanted to read more about that, so after I arrived home, I found this website with Letizia’s photo: http://www.napoleonguide.com/family_letitzia.htm which suggests the apartment we saw might have been where she lived in retirement, after the fall of Napoleon?

 

We circled back around to Capitoline Hill, or “Campidoglio” and looked above to Michelangelo' s Piazza del Campidoglio, the square with three palaces. These palaces facing the square, the center of the square, and the ramp leading up to it were all designed by Michelangelo. Aldo said the beige colored palace above was the current City Hall of Rome and the Mayor’s house, and the corner of the palace on the right side, the famous Capitoline Museum, famous because it houses pieces of ruins from the Ancient Roman Forum, including the original 180 A.D. Statue of the Emporer Marcus Aurelius on a horse, a bronze copy of which appears in the square. Aldo showed us a fifty-cent piece Italian Euro which depicts the Capitoline Hill statue.

 

To the left of the hill, closer to our street level was a ruin of a four-level condominium house, the Comune di Roma, from the 1st Century A.D.. If you walk close to it and look down, you can see the two lower floors beneath the street level.

 

To be continued . . .

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Part 6 (Rome) Continued . . .

 

It was time for us to venture out on our own without the van, so we departed from Aldo to walk through the Roman Forum, which was once the commercial, political and religious center of the entire Roman Empire, where the Roman Senate and main markets were located. This was just behind these palaces on Capitoline Hill. Aldo told us to walk up the ramp and go through the space between the palace in the middle and the palace on the right, and this would take us to a terrace overlooking the entire Roman Forum, which was not one building, but a collection of them, or rather, their ruins. We then walked down and through a gate (there was no entry fee) where we were able to enter what used to be the center of Ancient Rome. This was amazing. It was amazing that so much was still standing! It was somewhat difficult to fill in the blanks and imagine what the city looked like when it was still intact. We later bought a small 4x6” spiral book with a plastic sleeve cover that had pages of photos depicting the ruins as they are now and plastic see-though overlays showing what Ancient Rome probably looked like before the fall of the Empire. Well worth the 10€, but I wish we’d had the book while we were walking through the ruins so we would know what we were viewing.

 

Somewhere amongst those ruins in the Roman Forum was the place where William Shakespeare depicts Marc Antony giving the “Friends, Romans countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” speech we all memorized in grade school. It’s from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar and is not actually what Antony said, but a guess. If you’re interested in more about the real speech, and the effects it had on the crowd, see http://www.livius.org/caa-can/caesar/caesar_t14.html.

 

So, we walked toward the direction of the Colosseum under the large arch then past the various ruins from the ancient temples and government buildings. Finally, we walked under the Arch of Titus built to celebrate the Emperor’s conquer of Jerusalem, and headed toward the 315 A.D. Arch of Constantine where Aldo was waiting for us.

 

Aldo gave us a brief explanation of the Colosseum before sending us over there for entrance tickets. He said after the Emperor Nero died (the crazy emperor who burned down most of Rome), the new Emperor Vespasian ordered the Flavian Amphitheatre built. Known as the “Colosseum” today, it took eight years to build from 72 A.D. to 80 A.D. and once held 50,000 spectators. He said when the Colosseum opened, the Inauguration celebration lasted 100 consecutive days, around the clock day and night, during which time 5,000 wild animals imported from North Africa were killed for entertainment. Everything from lions, crocodiles, monkeys, gorillas, elephants, giraffes, you name it. He also pointed out the 80 arched entrances which doubled as convenient exits; in the event of a fire or emergency, the entire Colosseum could be evacuated in five minutes. He told us on the 2nd and 3rd floors, there was a marble statue in every arch. Tickets were free, but you had to get them from the Roman Senate, and sections were divided by social class. Each ticket had a Roman numeral assigning the entrance gate, and you could find your gate number by looking above the archway on the first floor where it had been carved above the arch.

 

The original floor of the Colosseum is gone, and the subfloors below are exposed. A new walkway was built two years ago so you can cross the middle and get a feel for what it was like to be in the center of the arena. You can also look down into the lower levels where the slaves kept the animals below until it was show time. There were even elaborate pulley systems used by the slaves to hoist the animals up to the floor level via a sort of ancient elevator.

 

There was not much of a line, five minutes maybe. While my husband waited in the line, I made use of the time to buy some souvenirs from a nearby table. I bought two little resin replicas of the Colosseum and a metal keychain with St. Peter’s Square on one side and the Pope on the other, for 10€ total. I plan to transform all of them into Christmas ornaments. My husband was approached while in line to buy a pack of 20 Rome-themed postcards for 1€ and did so. We were inside the Colosseum in no time; my ticket says it was purchased at 11:20am. It was not crowded, and we did not need much time to see the inside. We walked across the center walkway staring down into the bowels of this place, a sort of “Green Room,” where the stars of the show would wait.

 

We were inside for twenty minutes or so before exiting on to a busy street with cars speeding by. I noticed the subway was nearby and heard some people complaining about difficulties with the Metro. We took some photos of ourselves in front of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine (using or large tripod) and grabbed the opportunity to buy a pack of AA batteries for my digital camera at one of the souvenir stands. I had a sneaking suspicion at the rate I was taking pictures I would run out of batteries by the end of the day, so we bought more. They were expensive, 10€ for the pack of four batteries, but well worth it, because they lasted me all day and into the next. I had been using rechargeable AA batteries on this trip and had to carry a bunch of them with me at all times, changing them out every couple hours on this trip as they died. It was a real pain. At night on the ship, we would pop four at a time into the battery charger until all 16 were charged up for the next day. (My camera takes four at a time) I would turn my camera off after each picture to save juice, but my camera was still sucking batteries dry pretty fast. Anyhow, I couldn’t understand why these non-rechargeable batteries lasted me all day when the other ones (the rechargeables) lasted 1/5 that time. My husband has put a lot of thought into it and thinks it’s because the rechargeables we have don’t have as much initial power and are drained quickly.

 

We met the NJ family at the appointed time back at the van with Aldo and left for our next stop: San Pietro in Vincoli, or St. Peter’s in Chains church. What a strange name I thought, but Aldo explained the church houses the original chains believed to be the ones St. Peter was imprisoned with in 60 A.D., and these chains lie at the alter of this church illuminated in a protective glass case. But, that is not the real highlight here. To the right of the altar is another of Michelangelo’s statues: Moses. Aldo had told us Michelangelo created one statue in Florence (David) and three in Rome (Moses, the Pieta, and Jesus Christ). We had already seen the real David while in Florence the previous day, and we were fortunate to see the other three during the course of this day while in Rome. This church also had a beautiful mural on the ceiling depicting St. Peter’s imprisonment. Outside was one of Aldo’s buddies from childhood, a vendor selling various books and souvenirs. This is where we bought the small 4x6” spiral bound book with the “before” and “after” depictions of the Roman Forum for 10€ and another larger book on Rome & The Vatican for 10€; both books were less than the cover price, and he threw in another pack of 20 postcards, so we felt like we got a good deal. I took advantage of the time in the van on the way to the Vatican to write one of the postcards we intended to mail from the Vatican Post Office which has some kind of special seal. These are considered collectors items.

 

We left there for Vatican City. Once there, as we were driving around the outer wall, Aldo gave us some more historical facts. He reminded us the Pope was the king of Rome after the fall of the Roman Empire, that Garibaldi united Italy’s various kingdoms into one Country (I read this was in the 1860’s), and Mussolini wanted to do something to smooth the relationship between the people and the church which was hated, so in 1929, he signed the Lateran Treaty or Pact declaring the Vatican an independent state. Vatican City is the smallest (and one of the wealthiest) states in the world, with about 800 citizens residing inside. Surrounded by a wall of 2-1/2 miles, it encompasses 44 acres. Since there was little traffic, we drove around the wall, circling an entire country in a matter of minutes! We passed St. Peter’s Square in the process, but Aldo dropped us outside the entrance to the Vatican Museum first. Surprisingly, there was no line!

 

He pointed our attention to the Vatican Museum exit, which used to serve as the entrance as well. Above the door was the symbol of the Vatican (two keys and the crown of the Pope) flanked by two statues. The statue on the left was of Michelangelo and the one on the right, the young boy, was his contemporary and colleague Bernini. To the left of the exit was the new entrance created for the Jubilee year. We entered the Museum and my husband was asked to check the tripod before we entered. They did not make us check the bookbag or our cameras, but if I remember correctly, we did have to send them through a X-ray machine and we walked through metal detectors.

 

I could not remember what time we arrived at the Vatican Museum, so I checked the time stamp on our museum tickets, and it says 12:32pm. This ticket, by the way, has a slick feel and is too colorful and beautiful to throw away. We plan to laminate them and make them into souvenir bookmarks along with our Colosseum tickets and some others we saved. From my reading it was my impression we would receive some kind of guide, brochure, or map when we entered the Museum, but this was not so. We were not sure if we were walking the right way at first, so it was a little confusing. I would have preferred a map. Perhaps we missed them?

 

Our first impression of the museum was WOW. This place is dripping in wealth. Heavy ornamentation, rich reds, golds, deep blues everywhere. No expense spared. Every ceiling is either painted with an ornate mural, or carvings. Nothing is left bare. And, it goes on and on and on forever! No end in sight. We think we took the shortest path from the entrance to the end, the Sistine Chapel. The museum itself was pretty crowded, but the people moved along at a decent pace. We can’t begin to describe everything we saw, it all went too fast, but I am fairly certain we walked through the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Maps, the Apartment of St. Pius V, the Sobieski Room and the Raphael Rooms Of all those, we liked the Raphael Rooms the best. These rooms are one of the must-sees you hear about, and we can see why. These four large rooms are several stories high inside and every square inch is covered with colorful murals. The painter Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1509. Raphael finished three of the rooms before his death in 1520. Even the window shudders themselves are these amazing intricately carved works of art. Oh, and the best part, photography is permitted throughout the museum! Just not in the Sistine Chapel.

 

We were in the Museum/Sistine Chapel for two hours and barely - and I mean BARELY -scratched the surface. I would say what we experienced was more like a sampler. We were there just long enough to know we’d definitely like to go back. The place was littered with artifacts, not all religious, and even some very generous gifts to the Pope from various kings.

 

The Sistine Chapel was all we expected it to be, only more crowded! It was difficult to stare straight up at the ceiling, and I wish there had been enough room to lie down on the floor with a set of binoculars. From what I understand, people used to be permitted to lie on the floor and do just that, but it is too crowded now. The chapel has been completely restored. We never saw it before restoration, but have seen photos, and it used to look like it had this brown film over it before it was restored. There are really no adequate words to describe this masterpiece of Michelangelo. I was already impressed with Michelangelo just having seen his statues David and Moses. But seeing how he can paint – and like THAT - too?!? It is not hard to understand now why he is regarded by some as the greatest artist that ever lived. Out of sheer reverence, I would not have dared to take a sneak photo, and there is no way I could have done this place justice with a camera anyway. We purchased a beautiful high-quality large print of the Sistine Chapel (already rolled up and in plastic) for 8.50€ from one of the souvenir areas in the museum. We just took it to Michael’s for an over-sized custom mat and framing in grand style, to the tune of $350 (and that was at half price w/o the glass which I have to custom order myself and take down there!). We can’t wait to see the finished product. It will be our favorite souvenir for sure!

 

After the Sistine Chapel, I headed for the ladies room. I was pleased with the (complete!) facilities – nice stalls (with seats!), toilet tissue, the works - but hey, this IS the Vatican after all; they spare no expense! I also noticed a huge cafeteria in there, but I think I read it was somewhat expensive. We had not set any specific time to meet the NJ family & Aldo back outside, and we had gotten separated from the family in the crowds (too bad we didn’t give them a walkie-talkie), so I headed for the exit to look for them while my husband quickly mailed two post cards from the Vatican Post Office just outside the Sistine Chapel and went back to the entrance to retrieve our checked tripod. The NJ family was already outside in the van and Aldo was a little nervous about being parked there because he had been harassed by a police officer when he had dropped us off. Thankfully, my husband was only five minutes behind me, but it felt like longer because we were all anxiously waiting and staring toward the exit for his face.

 

Once he was in the van, we drove around to the other side of Vatican City to St. Peter’s Square outside the Basilica. On the way, we drove under a wall connecting the Vatican to a round castle outside the Vatican wall. Aldo said he would explain later. Aldo told us St. Peter’s Square was designed by Bernini, a Roman, famous architect, and Michelangelo’s contemporary. He said the square contained 286 columns made from white Travertine Roman marble. They were magnificent, as was St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world which took 150 years to build (1506-1656) and contains the 2nd largest dome in the world. Bernini designed the front façade, and Michelangelo the cupola and rest of the church.

 

Aldo pointed our attention to the right of the Basilica to a three-story house. The entire top floor is the current Pope’s apartment residence. The windows were closed to indicate to the people the Pope was not in Rome. We already knew he was at his Summer country house.

 

Aldo then pointed out the roof top of the Sistine Chapel and explained how the Chapel is used. When the Pope dies, all the Cardinals in the world come to Rome to convene in the Sistine Chapel. They close the doors, sometimes for days or a month, and they do not come out until they have elected a new Pope. Each evening, the people wait outside for a sign of any news from the chimney. Black smoke means they didn’t find a majority for election of a new Pope. White smoke means a new Pope has been selected.

 

By now, it was 2:40pm. We allowed ourselves thirty minutes to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. We probably spent ten of them walking up to it and back so we might have had twenty minutes inside. There was really no line, just a couple fast-moving security checkpoints. This was clearly not enough time, but there was too much else to see, and we wanted to get a flavor for as much of Rome as we could. This place was one of our very favorites of the entire day and a definite must-see. My husband and I both agree on that. Kind of like St. Patrick’s (in NYC) times ten. Thankfully, photography was permitted inside, so we were able to take a LOT of very quick photos to savor later.

 

Aldo did tell us not to miss Michelangelo’s first statue The Pieta, which he created at the tender age of 25, and was just to the right upon entering the church. It was truly magnificent, and had a different look than David. The Pieta was shiny, almost waxy looking compared to David and depicts a seated Mary holding the lifeless body of the crucified Christ. Incidentally, I understand, now that we have returned from Europe, that David is receiving his first “bath” in 129 years. See http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/09/13/italy.statue/index.html

 

Also on the right side of the church, close to the front entrance, was a chapel curtained off for private prayers. We went inside for a few minutes, sat down, and said some prayers, mostly prayers of thanksgiving for a safe trip there and our gratefulness for the opportunity as well as our thoughts of relatives passed on before us.

 

Once back in the main nave, we were struck by the size of the statues of various people (probably Popes?) in the walls above us, which had to be four times the size of a person. The Baldacchino is magnificent. This is the 4-column baroque canopy which stands several stories high above the center altar. You can’t miss it. The materials for this canopy were stripped from the dome of the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s remains are said to be below.

 

There were also some sarcophagi in the church, illuminated in glass coffins on display. They looked like wax figures from Madam Tussad’s in London, but I understand they are real people. I never figured out who they were, but my guess is Popes past?

 

Oh, and something funny that happened. All day, it had been overcast, raining very little off and on, but whenever we needed to walk outside, it was not raining. As we began walking toward St. Peter’s, the sky rumbled with thunder. I guess I thought that was a little funny, almost as if a cry: “Protestants in the church!” Once we were safely inside, the sky fell! A heavy downpour began, but it only lasted the twenty minutes we were inside. By the time we exited, it had stopped raining again, but the cobblestone streets were very slick. Once outside, on the way back to the van, we passed some Swiss guards that serve as the “army” for Vatican City. Aldo told us their uniforms were designed by Michelangelo. Go figure! And, they are still in style today!

 

Aldo drove us to a little café/deli kind of place so we could grab a quick lunch. The NJ family scarfed down some entrees, but since we had a huge breakfast on ship, we opted for a little gelato to hold us until dinner.

 

Back in the van, we stopped outside the little 139 A.D. round castle with the angel on top, the Castle of the Holy Angel, or Castel Sant’ Angelo connected to the Vatican by a wall. Aldo told us it was originally the tomb of the Emperor Adrian in 137 A.D., but after the fall of the Roman Empire, cosmetic changes were made and it became a refuge for the Pope in case he suddenly needed to flee the Vatican. Apparently, lots of people wanted to kill him. The Pope had absolute dominion over the people and he levied heavy taxes, rich or poor. People who didn’t or couldn’t pay were tortured then jailed. Needless to say, the Pope was not too popular with the people. If he ever found himself in danger, he could run along the top of the wall to safety in the little castle where he would be protected by loyal Swiss citizens living in Rome who were the only people loyal to him. That’s why Pope Julius II founded the Swiss Guards in 1502, and they are commissioned with protecting Vatican City to this day. They comprise the smallest army in the world.

 

During Aldo’s lecture, as we were sitting in the van across the street from the Castle, a motorcycle wiped out and slid a dozen yards on the pavement resting sort of in-between/underneath a car ahead. Thankfully, he was not hurt, but it didn’t even phase Aldo who waved his hands and barked at the rubberneckers to, “Drive! Drive!”

 

We sped off and passed the Palace of Justice made from Roman Travertine marble. We then stopped along a corridor leading to the Piazza Navona square which Aldo told us was once an arena which was flooded with water from the Tiber. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Romans would put ships and boats in there and stage Navy battles to entertain rows of spectators.

 

Next, was the Pantheon, and Aldo insisted we go inside. There was no entrance fee. This magnificent structure from 27 B.C. built to honor the Roman pagan gods is the only Ancient monument in Rome still intact and just happens to be the largest dome in the world. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was converted into a Christian Church. Today, it is a place where famous people are buried: Victor Immanuel II, the first king of Italy, the second king Umberto I, and Raphael the painter. The pink and green granite columns in the front were carved from one block transported from Egypt. What is particularly interesting about the Pantheon is the geometry. Aldo said if you were to open the top of the dome and place a sphere inside, then close the dome, the sphere would touch the top, the sides of the walls, and bottom floor perfectly. The top actually has a small opening, so when it rains, the water comes inside, but there is a drain system that takes care of that. Be sure to take notice of the magnificent (and HUGE!) bronze doors. And, the marble floor is still the original, upon which walked many emperors. Aldo said the outside of the cupola was once covered in Roman bronze, but Bernini used the bronze to create the Baldacchino (the 4- column baroque canopy above the altar) in St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

After the Pantheon, we visited the fountain in the square outside for a few more photos. Some people were feeding the pigeons there. Next, we drove around the corner to an Egyptian Obelisk with Bernini’s Marble Elephant below. From this square, we could see part of the dome of the Pantheon. But, we were there because on this square is the church where Michelangelo’s statue of Jesus Christ is housed. We made a quick visit inside to view this shiny statue.

 

Next we drove to Trevi Fountain. This was one of our very favorite places in Rome. More magnificent than you can imagine, and I’d have to say a definite MUST-SEE! Wish we’d had more time there. Yes, of course, I held a coin in my right hand and tossed it into the fountain over my left shoulder, making a wish, so I suppose this means as the legend says that I am guaranteed to return to Rome. I didn’t realize until later that my husband had not done this also. Ooops!

 

Back in the van, we headed for the Spanish Steps which Aldo was eager to tell us is incorrectly labeled. The steps are not “Spanish” in any way, but they have been labeled so because they are on Piazza di Spagna or “Spanish Square,” named such because the Spanish embassy to the Holy See is there.

Sadly, it was now time for us to leave Rome and head back for the ship. I don’t remember exactly what time we left (my guess is between 4:00-4:30pm), but we were back in plenty of time for All Aboard. My husband thinks we arrived at the ship around 6:00pm, but I think it was probably more like 5:30pm. There was a little traffic on the way back, but not much.

 

On the way back, my husband asked Aldo if he could recommend a Cameo Factory for us tomorrow. We would be doing Naples on our own and were interested in visiting one if there were any close by. He recommended we visit the Apa Factory in Torre del Greco, so we made a note of that for tomorrow. We gave our money to the NJ mom and she paid Aldo at the pier for all of us for both tour days $1,000 even. The NJ folks used travelers checks, and we paid in USD cash for our portion. She included a crisp $100 bill from all of us as his tip, and he was graciously pleased with that. As I said goodbye and shook his hand, I thanked him for sharing his hometown with us and told him it was obvious the love and pride he has for Rome, which I was now impressed is one of the most important cities in the world. He was glad to hear his tour had such an impact. We will never be able to think of Italy without thinking of Aldo.

 

Back on ship, we headed for our cabin and immediately noticed our deck’s hall carpet had been replaced 2/3 of the way while we were gone that day. The old carpet was a pale melon and the new a gorgeous deep hunter. After putting our things away, we headed up on deck while the ship was still at the pier. This was just in time for me to zoom in with my camera and capture a waterspout in the distance! I have seen them before, but I think that was the first time I was able to capture a funnel on film. It lasted only a few minutes then was gone.

 

We were both pretty hungry at this point and didn’t feel like waiting until our 9:15pm dinner seating, we grabbed a nice dinner in the restaurant on the bow while watching the crew prepare the ship to leave the port. My husband noticed they painted the rope guides right after the mooring lines were retrieved, and was impressed with the way they took great pride in maintaining the ship.

 

While my husband was at the buffet, I was able to ask one of the wait staff if they could arrange a birthday cake for him. They normally only do that in the main dining room, but they were happy to accommodate us. About a half hour later, the staff came to our table and surprised him with a little birthday cake with lit candle and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. He has said he can’t ever remember a better birthday. Well, I guess not!

 

Afterwards, I took a peek at the Cameos in the ship’s fine jewelry shop so I could have something to compare with what I would see tomorrow, while my husband watched a quick show in the main lounge at 7:45pm, a multi-instrumentalist Jay J. Downs who could play just about anything on any of his many instruments. Hubby later joined me in the shops and he bought himself a couple of tee-shirts on sale, two for $20. One said “Malta” on it and the other “Monte Carlo.” He wanted to stop by the bar for the “Name that Tune” game, so we did, and somehow, he ended up dancing in front of the crowd with a boa around his neck! It was a blast.

 

Then, we headed for the cabin where we were greeted by a cobra on our bed. Our cabin steward made various “towel animals” and placed them in our cabin. The bed had been turned down with mints awaiting on our pillows. We lied in bed and watched the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding and were laughing so hard we were afraid we might disturb those in the next cabin. What a funny movie!

 

And, what a perfect day!

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget	Actual		

196.45	     -		Surplus from yesterday	

192.00	167.00		Driver’s fee for today (in USD)
20.00	 16.30		Driver’s 10% tip (in USD)
20.00	 20.00		2 Vatican Museum entrance fees
16.00	 16.00		2 Colosseum entrance fees
10.00	     0		Catacomb entrance fee (didn’t visit that)
50.00	     0		Souvenirs (various, see below)
    0	 10.00		2 Colosseum resin replicas, 1 papal keychain
    0	  1.00		Pack of 20 post cards
    0	 10.00		Pack of 4 Camera batteries (AA’s)
    0	 20.00		Ancient Rome/Vatican books
    0	  8.50		Sistine Chapel print
    0	  1.54		Vatican Postage for 2 postcards to U.S.
40.00	  4.00		Lunch – we just had gelato
    0	   .20		Trevi Fountain 

______	______
544.45	274.54		(A surplus of 269.91)

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART SEVEN – NAPLES: Pompeii, Sorrento, Island of Capri

 

Thursday, August 29, 2002 - Port #4 Naples

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Ship in Port from 7:00am-7:00pm (or rather, it was supposed to be!)

 

 

The Plan

--------

 

The plan was for us to see Naples (“Napoli” in Italian) on our own, without the ship’s tour or a private driver, and I was confident we could do it.. I found the train schedules at http://www.massalubrense.it/circum.htm and the hydrofoil schedules at http://www.massalubrense.it/aliscafi.htm and http://www.capri.net.

 

We planned to walk off the ship at 7:00am, take a cab to the train station where we would buy the all-day train pass for 3.10€ each then catch the 7:39am train to Pompeii Scavi (that’s the stop near the Pompeii excavation) arriving 8:17am. We would allow ourselves 3-1/2 hours in Pompeii then take the 11:47am train to Sorrento arriving at 12:17pm where we would have lunch before boarding a 2:45pm hydrofoil for the Island of Capri (which I believe was supposed to take 10 minutes). After visiting Capri for 1-1/2 hours, we would take a 4:30pm hydrofoil back to Naples, which I think was supposed to take 45-50 minutes, so we would have arrived around 5:10pm. We would then immediately grab a cab and ask them to take us to a Cameo factory. I had read there was one about ten minutes from the port but didn’t know the name. We would visit the Cameo factory until 6:00pm then take a cab back to the ship in time for All Aboard at 6:30pm. Like I said, that was Plan A.

 

 

What Actually Happened

---------------------------

 

The ship docked late, around 7:30am, and we were the first ones off at 8:00am sharp. There was a fleet of cabs waiting, but I must warn you, they were the most annoying and aggressive of all the cab drivers we experienced on this trip. We just wanted to go to the train station, which wasn’t far (maybe 1-1/2 miles?), but they wanted to charge us $20! We finally found one who offered to take us for $15 (still a ripoff!), and we relented just because we were in a hurry to catch the next available train, but we did tell him it was ridiculous to charge $15 to take us one mile. He said it was three miles, which of course wasn’t true. Once we were captives, he kept asking us if we were planning to go to Pompeii/Sorrento/etc. because he wanted us to hire him for the day and said he’d give us a “good price.” We couldn’t see how THAT was possible, if he was charging us $15 to take us 1-1/2 miles! And, he was so pushy and annoying, we definitely didn’t want to spend the day with him, we just wanted to get to the train station. This guy just wouldn’t give up, and that was the longest five minutes we’ve ever spent in a cab! We also couldn’t help but notice his meter had conveniently been turned off, so upon arrival at the train station, my husband paid him a straight $15 and no more, well aware he had given himself a generous tip by overcharging us. And we laughed later at the sign we had both noticed in the cab: “Pets 1.60€ extra.”

 

Inside the train station, we noticed an ATM and decided to go ahead and take the opportunity to withdraw the rest of the euros we thought we would need for the duration of the trip. Once at the train ticket window, we experienced a real language barrier. We wanted the all-day pass for 3.10€ , but they refused to sell us one because it was before 10:00am, so we had to just buy tickets for Naples to Pompeii Scavi for 2.10€ each, and the train would leave at 8:39am (an hour behind our original plan), going in the direction of Sorrento. We would get off at Pompeii Scavi. In Naples, they would not let us go ahead and buy train tickets the rest of the way from Pompeii Scavi to Sorrento. This place was a little confusing. When we got downstairs, it wasn’t immediately clear to us which platform was our train. An employee looked at our tickets and pointed to Platform 8, so we got on the train at that platform.

 

While the train was still sitting at the platform, at 8:30am, a man came on the train and told everyone (in Italian) to get off. We just followed the others and moved to the train parked at Platform 6. The train floor was wet, as if it had just been washed, only more water than one would expect after a cleaning. Just to be sure we were on the right train, I asked a woman behind us (in Spanish, because it’s what I know and thankfully, she understood) if this was the train to Pompeii. She nodded yes, so we relaxed figuring we would be underway in a few minutes. Not so.

 

At 8:40am, there was an announcement in Italian to get off this train and move to platform #7. I was able to understand, so we moved again. This train also had wet floors, and some seats were wet too. Fortunately, we left a couple minutes later. We were not underway very long before two little girls around six years old went walking through the train cars begging for money with their hands out. Once they had walked the length of the train, they skipped like little girls do back to the back of the train from where they had come. We noticed lots of graffiti on walls near various train stations we passed, reminding me of the way NYC was twenty years ago. A man walked through the cars and validated our tickets by writing what we think was his initial on them. We counted 21 stops from Naples to Pompeii Scavi. Incidentally, I did read quite a few Cruise Critic posts from people who made the mistake of buying train tickets to “Pompeii” instead of “Pompeii Scavi,” and they wasted time having to walk a long way to get to the excavation.

 

 

Pompeii Italy

--------------

 

Once we arrived at Pompeii Scavi station, because it was raining and we had only brought one of our umbrellas in the bookbag, my husband bought another umbrella for 5€ from a vendor at the train station. By the way, we did notice a deli/café there, but we didn’t need anything.

 

The Pompeii Excavation was much closer to the station than we imagined. Probably not even a one minute walk. Once you exit the train station, walk toward the right, and the Excavation entrance is on the left. The entrance fee was 10€ each and the audioguide 4.5€ each, and I was required to leave some form of identification to rent the audioguide. We didn’t want to leave a passport, so I gave them my driver’s license. I am SO GLAD we rented the audioguides; otherwise, nothing would have made any sense to us at all. We were given a map with exhibit numbers on it and you just enter the exhibit number on your audioguide and then listen to a brief description.

 

Pompeii is fascinating because it was an entire city completely buried in volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.. Not all of the city has been excavated, but what they have uncovered is HUGE. You could easily spend five hours walking all around. We did not find it too crowded at all. We walked all the way to the back to the far right corner to the large Colosseum and adjacent sports complex where archeologists found among other things a “lost and found” sort of bulletin board! I was amazed at how sophisticated this city was. They even had several buffet restaurants with holes in the counters where the hot dishes would rest. We visited a laundry and listened to how urine (because of the ammonia) was used to clean clothing! And, we walked through several very nice homes, some of which still had the ornate tiled foyer floors intact with designs in them. One home still had pots on the stove. And some of the walls had paintings, not hanging on the walls, but painted directly on the walls, and the bright orange and red colors survived. There was a huge temple, and amphitheatres, and a place for measuring and weighing currency in the market. My husband was impressed by the way their streets were arched to handle water runoff and sewage. There were also these steps protruding from the street where you could cross so you didn’t have to step down into the wastewater. This entire city was frozen in time and very well preserved by the volcanic ash. Thousands died. There was an area where we viewed the plaster casts of people whose bodies were vaporized over time but because there was a cavity in the rock where a body had been, the plaster casts were made. There were casts of people, even a dog and a pig, in the strange contorted positions in which they died.

 

One very strong piece of advice if you plan to visit the Pompeii Excavation: wear tennis shoes! It’s rocky, lots of loose stones and can be slippery when wet. We enjoyed Pompeii so much we really hated to leave, but there was a lot more we wanted to see this day. I had remembered from other cruise critic posts that sometimes when a ship gets into port late the captain extends the time. Because we were the first ones allowed off the ship, we were not around to hear any such announcements, so throughout Pompeii, when we saw people we thought were from our ship, we asked if our time had been extended so we wouldn’t rush to get back and find out we had an extra hour. No one we talked to had been aware of any extension, so we had to make some decisions about how we were going to spend the rest of the day. One of the cruisers told us he had heard the hydrofoils are often canceled if there is rain, so we started re-thinking whether we would go to Capri.

 

While returning our audioguides and retrieving my driver’s license, the attendant warned my husband to carry his backpack on his chest, not his back. We showed him it was locked and he said it didn’t matter, that the pickpockets use a sharp knife to cut the bottom out and take the contents that way. He said they are true professionals, they do it for a living and when they leave their homes in the morning, they tell their wives they are going to “work.” He said the police had done a lot to eradicate the problem but that it still existed.

 

In any case, we stopped by the gift shop while exiting the Pompeii Excavation (the exit/entrance is the same area) and bought a plastic overlay book for 11€, showing what the city looked like before and after the volcanic eruption. I wish we had bought this little book BEFORE we entered the excavation; it would really have added to our tour.

 

I stopped by the ladies room before we left and had another “experience.” If you’ve read my other reports, you’ll understand. I had seen a janitor in there with a mop so I knew the floor was wet because it had just been washed. There was, of course, no seat on the toilet. This was another of those “straddle” varieties I had experienced in France. By now I was used to the drill, so it was no big deal.

 

This time my problem was I couldn’t see how to lock the stall door. I hung my purse (with my toilet tissue, which of course was not provided) and my umbrella on the stall door handle. Just as soon as I have slipped one leg through my pants and am in the straddling position above the commode, a woman knocks on my stall door and I respond, “just a minute.” She opens the door anyway and my purse and umbrella come crashing down onto the wet floor. I reached behind me and pulled the door shut again. So much for me and bathrooms in Europe!

 

We walked back to the train station, arriving there at 12:50pm. A train had just left for Sorrento at 12:47pm! But, we would catch the next one at 1:17pm. There was one long two-sided bench in the center of this tiny one-room station, and the bench was occupied in part by a big hairy dog that didn’t appear to belong to anyone. He was just lying there on the bench shaking. A woman sat down and fed him some of her pizza from the deli next door and stroked his hair with her napkin. She left and he waited for the next person to offer him some TLC.

 

 

Sorrento, Italy

---------------

 

In spite of the language barrier, my husband managed to buy two tickets to Sorrento at the Pompeii Scavi train station window for 1.65€ each. We were sure to validate them before boarding the train when it arrived. There was an orange box at the train station and you slide your ticket in while it stamps it. Before we knew it, we were in Sorrento. We used the map provided by the ship and decided to dine at one of their recommended restaurants in Sorrento which was only a five minute walk from the train station. Sorrento is a beautiful place. Cobblestone streets, quaint shops, but all but one we saw were closed, so we didn’t get a chance to peruse the souvenirs.

 

We had lunch at a restaurant called Aurora Pizzeria which serves fifty different types of Neapolitan pizza baked in a brick oven. We ordered two pizzas which we thought would be personal size, but they were much larger! I chuckled at my husband for asking for ice. Sodas are served cold but typically don’t come with ice unless you ask. You can always spot the Americans! They brought us this huge bowl of ice with a spoon. It was funny. My husband ordered a clam pizza, and it was a pizza literally with clams on it – IN the shells! He thought that was pretty cool, so of course, we had to take a picture. Here we are in this Italian restaurant with a big bowl of ice taking pictures of our food. We couldn’t have screamed “tourist” any louder if we had tried! The menu was in Italian, but it did have sections in other languages, and the wait staff spoke English. Two pizzas, two sodas, one dessert and tip came to 30€. I was only able to eat half my pizza.

 

Originally, our plan had been to take a hydrofoil from Sorrento to the Island of Capri and then another hydrofoil from there back to the ship in Naples. But, because our ship was late getting in to port cutting into our time, and it had rained on and off all day leaving us questioning whether the hydrofoils were even running (and we never saw the hydrofoils anyway), we decided not to chance it and headed back for the train station. On the way to the train station, we saw one store open, so we peeked inside. Neat wood boxes and things, but didn’t see anything we couldn’t live without.

 

We decided since there was still some time we would just head back to Naples on the train then grab a cab to a Cameo factory and shop until All Aboard time. Some of the trains running between Naples and Sorrento are “fast trains” that don’t stop at all the stops. We had the train schedule and knew the fast train from Sorrento to Naples would be at 3:26pm (getting into Naples at 4:17pm), so that’s the one we took. Tickets were 2.84€ each.

 

Torre del Greco, Italy

--------------------

 

While on the train, my husband realized the town of Torre del Greco was on the train route, about halfway between Sorrento and Naples. The Apa Cameo Factory our Rome driver Aldo had recommended was there. We decided to be spontaneous and hop off the train at that stop instead of going all the way back to Naples right away. We had no address for this place and no idea where to look. We thought we might just get lucky if we started walking from the train station, and I guess you could say we did.

 

We happened upon a tiny jewelry store and asked for directions to the Cameo factory. He spoke no English but was kind enough to draw a map for us, and we were not too far. It's on the road that goes up toward the Autostrada (or was that road the Autostrada itself, I’m not sure), at the bend in the road, and the place is pretty big. A city bus going in our direction stopped near us while we were walking uphill, so we figured we would save time if we hitched a ride. No English spoken, but we were able to decipher from the driver this bus didn’t accept euro coins, but only those passes. The driver kindly let us off no charge at the next stop and didn’t seemed bothered by us at all. It helped us get further up the hill toward the factory, so it was kind of fun. We enjoyed viewing all the Cameo jewelry. The pieces are beautiful, and the staff very knowledgeable (they speak English). While there, I learned the names for the different kinds/colors of cameos:

 

"Cornelian" is the traditional orangy-rust color you always see

"Agate" is the blue

"Sardonyx" the brown

And, they have "Mother of Pearl" and "Pink" versions too.

 

I was looking for something very specific. I wanted a matching Cornelian set (pendant, brooch, ring & bracelet) in a gold filigree setting, but the filigree is not a popular style right now, so I wasn't able to find what I wanted at the factory. But, they do have a TON of Cameos to choose from. Fortunately for me, I was able to find some beautiful pieces in the ship's fine jewelry store (more about that in the next report). I did grab a business card from the Giovanni Apa Cameo Factory, and they have a website http://www.giovanniapa.com if you want to check it out; maybe you can contact them via email for better directions from the train station: info@giovanniapa.com.

 

We found our way back to the train station in Torre del Greco and discovered our tickets were not accepted in the turnstile. We were not sure if we could use them. We had purchased tickets in Sorrento for Naples but had spontaneously gotten off at Torre del Greco. We just wanted to hop back on and finish the trip to Naples, but somehow their system knew and rejected our tickets. I wonder if tickets are only valid for a certain period of time after they are purchased and if this was the reason they would not go ahead and sell us all the tickets we would need for the day while we were at the Naples station in the morning. Or, perhaps tickets can only be used once, not allowing for any "stopovers." It was no problem. Train tickets are so cheap anyway. We paid 1.55€ each and were on our way.

 

After boarding, we met some Americans from our ship already on the train who said they had planned to take a hydrofoil back to Naples but the hydrofoils had been canceled for the afternoon because of the rain. They had to RUN to catch the train to Naples and just barely made it. It did not make much sense to us canceling the hydrofoils because of rain because they are covered, but we were relieved to hear we’d made the right call earlier. How awful it would have been if we had taken a hydrofoil to the Island of Capri that afternoon and then were unable to get back to the ship!

 

We were all talking about the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding[/i} everyone had watched in their cabins on the ship. This one honeymoon couple we met thought it was hysterical. As the train passed through various tunnels, it got a little chilly inside, so I was glad I had a jacket.

 

We told the others about our experience trying to find Cameo factories in the area, and the woman sitting in front of us said if we had asked her she would have told us where to find them, and she said there were several very close to where we were in Pompeii. What a strange thing for her to say, I thought, thinking now why would I have thought to ask you when I’ve never seen you before in my life? I later learned she was the ship’s port shopping consultant!

 

We decided upon arriving at the Naples train station we would share cabs back to the ship and we warned the others of the unscrupulous cab drivers we had experienced at the pier that morning (trying to charge us $20 to go 1-1/2 miles!). We shared a cab with the honeymoon couple and the driver quoted a price of $7 for ALL of us to go back to the ship! So, we split the cost with the other couple and were delighted to see that not all the cab drivers in Naples are dishonest.

 

Before dinner, I stopped by the ship’s fine jewelry store to peek at the Cameos again. I asked if there would be Cameos in Malta tomorrow, and they said yes, but that the exchange rate was murder. I decided to wait and look for some in Malta first.

 

At dinner, we had the opportunity to talk to a couple who had taken the hydrofoil that morning to Capri. Because of the rough surf (which didn’t look too bad really) people were vomiting all over! Blowing chunks left and right! I think they said the majority of the passengers were sick. That explained a little better why perhaps the hydrofoils had been canceled for the afternoon. I think if the weather had been good and if the ship had not gotten into Naples late, then yes, we probably would have gone to Capri as well as Pompeii and Sorrento.

 

There was a toga party poolside at midnight, but we did not go, retiring early instead. We were pretty tired from several straight days of major traveling. We were looking forward to an easy day tomorrow with a quick stop in Malta for a few hours, thankfully, in the AFTERNOON. So, we were really looking forward to sleeping in!

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros):

 

Budget	Actual		

269.91	     -		Surplus from yesterday	

10.00	 15.00		Cab from Naples port to Train Station
 6.20	     -		2 “All-Day” Train Tix (unable to buy)
    0	  4.02	 	2 Train Tix, Naples to Pompeii Scavi
    0        5.00		1 Umbrella
20.00	 20.00		2 Pompeii Excavation entrance fees
10.00	  9.00		2 Pompeii Audioguide rentals
50.00	 11.00		Souvenirs (Pompeii book)
    0        3.30		2 Train Tix, Pompeii Scavi to Sorrento
25.00	 30.00		Lunch in Sorrento
17.00	     0		2 Hydrofoil Tix, Sorrento to Capri (didn’t go)
22.00	     0		2 Hydrofoil Tix, Capri to Napoli (didn’t go)
19.80	     0		Cab to a Cameo Factory (didn’t take cab)
20.00	     0		Misc. entrance fees Sorrento/Capri
    0	  5.68		2 Train Tix, Sorrento to Napoli
    0	  3.20		2 Train Tix, Torre del Greco to Napoli
______	______
469.91	106.20		(A surplus of 363.71)

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART EIGHT – Valletta, MALTA & Day at Sea

 

Friday, August 30, 2002 - Port #5 Valletta, Malta

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Ship in Port from 1:00pm – 6:00pm

 

 

The Plan

--------

 

Since there was so little time in port, and I had read on the Cruise Critic boards that you can see Malta by hopping a city bus for 50 cents and riding all over, we had no specific plan for Malta. We were just going to wait for the little brochure/map they give you on the ship, take a look at the suggested sights to visit, and wing it. One thing I did want to do was check out the Maltese jewelry crosses and look for Cameos too. Since the other ports had been so intensive with little time for real shopping, Malta was also going to be our chance to buy gifts for family.

 

 

General Information about Malta

------------------------------

 

The port brochures provided by the ship said the Island of Malta, sixty miles south of Sicily, is 17 miles long and 9 miles wide. Valletta is Malta’s largest city and has a population of 350,000 people. The official language is Maltese which comes from Arabic and Phoenician backgrounds, but most people speak English. German is also commonly spoken as are Italian and French, and the Maltese language is comprised of many words in those languages. The dominant religion is Catholicism, and architecture is European with Arabic influences. Its history dates back to 3000 B.C. and it boasts amazing diversity having been under Phoenician, North African, Roman, Arab, Norman, Turkish, French, Spanish and British rule! In 1964, it finally became an independent republic but is now part of the European Union.

 

Although the brochure said the currency is the Maltese Lira (LM), sometimes referred to as a “pound,” the ship’s fine jewelry store staff told me US dollars are accepted as well. Of course, the recommended shops accept credit cards or traveler’s checks. One brochure said shops are generally open from 9-1 and 4-7 daily, but closed Sunday, and another brochure said the shops are open when the ships are in port, some closing in the afternoon for siesta. Crafts include lace, silver filigree jewelry, brass door knockers, pottery and blown glass. Many shops will accept other currencies, but change is given in Maltese Lire. The staff in the ship’s fine jewelry store told me the exchange rate is not too good there.

 

The brochure warns about the cost of taxis and suggests passengers negotiate a fare in advance. Old restored city buses from the 1950’s are available at the main bus terminal in Valletta, just outside the main city gates, but they do not accept foreign currency. ATMs and banks are available in the center of town, and there is an American Express office on Zachary Street. The town center is three miles from where the ship docks, about a 40 minute walk uphill including 128 stairs, but there are some souvenir shops located at the pier.

 

Places to see include: the 1578 St. John’s Co-Cathedral; the 1574 Palace of the Grand Masters; National Museum of Archaeology; National Museum of Fine Arts; Upper Barrakka Gardens; Fort St. Elmo; and beyond Valletta, the old towns of Mdina, a walled city functioning for more than 3000 years, and Mosta, where a church dome was smashed with a WWII bomb that landed on the floor but never detonated. This was considered a miracle and the bomb is now on display in the church’s museum open 9-12 and 3-5 except Sundays.

 

 

 

What Actually Happened

---------------------------

 

We did allow ourselves to sleep in a little and had brunch in the buffet restaurant on the bow, the Windjammer Café. We really enjoyed our breakfasts in there. We thought the food was terrific, and I liked the variety offered. One thing that caught my attention was the baked beans provided with breakfast. Perhaps this is a European thing, but for me it was a great idea. As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I am always hunting for sources of protein, and I thoroughly enjoyed having beans along with my morning eggs. And, these were not the BBQ baked beans you see at home with pieces of pork included. For the couple weeks after returning home, I opened up a can of Bush’s vegetarian baked beans and had some with my bagel each morning.

 

After breakfast, we went back to the cabin to pack our backpack for the day. We wanted to be the first ones off the ship to maximize our time in port. And, we had also read to be on deck when the ship goes into port because it’s beautifully scenic. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and we could see the Island in the distance. As we headed to the deck, I told my husband I was so glad today was going to be a short day in port and I was looking forward to our day at sea tomorrow to relax by the pool. At that moment, the captain’s voice came over the intercom. He said the winds were 40-50 knots and he was not going to chance trying to take our ship into the narrow harbor entrance! After returning home and re-reading my notebook, I realized there had been other Cruise Critic posters saying their ship also did not make it to Malta, so I suppose this is somewhat common. We went out on the (very windy!) deck and took some photos of Malta as we passed it on our port side. I was able to use my zoom lens and get some shots of the harbor entrance.

 

So, it would seem we were going to have two days at sea instead of one. Although we were a little disappointed, this suited us just fine. We headed for the ship’s jewelry shop and liberated them from some of their Cameo jewelry. They had a pretty nice selection and good prices, and we were way under budget on this trip thus far, so my husband scrutinized the brooches and pendants and selected what he thought were the best, most detailed ones. We bought a huge traditional Cornelian Cameo brooch/pendant in a sterling silver filigree setting, and we put together a matching ensemble of Cameo teardrop-shaped pendant, bracelet and ring to the tune of $444 for all. The cruise staff said the jewelry was made and purchased in Naples, so I am content, and I have received MANY compliments on this ensemble since returning home and am wearing it now as I type this! If you’d like to see a photo, send an e-mail to me at natives@mchsi.com. I’ve already sent it to another Cruise Critic poster who was very interested in buying Cameo jewelry in Italy. Of course, I was originally in search of Cameo jewelry in a gold filigree setting, but I just wasn’t able to find anything like that. I was pleased to see it in silver.

 

We then changed into our swimsuits and headed for the outdoor deck pool where we had to tie our towels to the chairs so they didn’t blow away. I quickly found my way into one of the hot tubs and was later joined by my husband. There was a Canadian gentleman in there with us, quizzing we Americans on Canadian geography. I was proud of my husband’s knowledge in this area, and the Canadian seemed impressed that my husband could not only name the province (Ontario) of his hometown Ottawa but knew that it was the capitol of the entire country.

 

We really didn’t do much this day, just vegged out by the pool and watched the “Men’s International Belly Flop Competition” orchestrated by the Cruise Director. My husband thought this was hysterical. It was fun to cheer for the various competitors from different countries. The man from Barcelona was a sure winner and a real character too!

 

This was also our second formal night, so we had plenty of time to get ready for dinner. We had eaten such a late breakfast that we skipped lunch and instead gorged ourselves at the afternoon snack buffet with all kinds of cakes, cookies, chocolate sauces, whip cream, and soft serve ice cream. Shame on us! I must interject, however, that I didn’t gain a single pound on this cruise; in fact, I think I might have actually LOST a pound. We did get a lot of exercise from all the walking, so that neutralized the effects of all the yummy gourmet food on board.

 

That evening after changing into our formal wear (my husband is always so handsome in his tuxedo!), we went to the King & I dining room for dinner. The first formal night, none of our other four dinner companions showed up, so we had the table to ourselves. This night, one of the couples attended, so we had a fun conversation with them. After dinner, we danced in the Top Hat Lounge during their Big Band Night. OK, yes, we’ve taken formal dance lessons together before. Did it help us? Probably NOT. But, we have fun anyway. When that ended, we were just not quite ready for bed yet because we had slept late, so went upstairs and danced in the disco before retiring to our cabin where we were greeted by an armadillo towel animal and mints on our pillows. Our cabin steward, Carolina from Honduras, was excellent. Very professional and friendly. We were impressed with the entire crew.

 

We were not expecting to stay up longer in our cabin to watch a movie, but at 1:00am, the movie A Beautiful Mind began, and we couldn’t turn it off after we started watching it. Excellent movie.

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Euros & Dollars mixed, which are about the same anyway):

 

Budget	Actual		

363.71	     -		Euros Surplus from yesterday	

10.00	     0		Malta ground Transportation(didn’t go)
20.00	     0		Malta tours/admission fees (didn’t go)
50.00	444.00		Malta Souvenirs (Cameo Jewelry instead)

______	______
443.71	444.00

 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 31, 2002 - DAY AT SEA

-------------------------------------------------

 

We already had one unexpected full day at sea because we were unable to visit Malta, so we had a good idea what to expect on this day, our scheduled “Day at Sea.” We used the opportunity to take some photos of the ship and explore more of it. We found the library, which was very nice, and read the daily NY Times Digest flyer with news from home while there. We perused the art littered throughout the lobby for the art auction, but didn’t attend.

 

Our tablemates had told us during dinner the night before of the wonderful lunch buffet they discovered in the King & I Dining Room, so we decided to give it a try for lunch and were pleasantly surprised. At 1:30pm, we attended the half-hour Spanish Lesson offered by the ship to prepare passengers for Barcelona. I guess they didn’t see the point in trying to teach us Catalan (the official language of Catalonia/Barcelona), because most people in Barcelona speak some Spanish.

 

Afterwards, we suited up and treated ourselves to another afternoon on deck by the pool. My husband actually swam in the pool which was a little too chilly for me, and he said it was salt water, which we had read. The pools were drained each night and replenished in the morning with fresh sea water. It was a beautiful day, blue skies, nice and warm and less windy than the day before.

 

As we dressed for dinner that evening, we prepared all our tip envelopes for the cruise staff, since this was our last night on board. We had budgeted in advance for the tips and brought USD in cash that we stored in our safe. Part of that included a $20 tip for the Maitre D’, had he been able to “find” a table for two for us, but he never did, so we kept his tip.

 

We had also budgeted for spending on the ship – souvenirs, photos, etc., which of course was charged to our ship account. We didn’t buy any of the ship’s photos and opted to buy souvenirs instead. That night before dinner, we stopped by the ship’s stores and my husband bought himself a leather belt for $10, then we bought two embroidered RCI polo shirts, a pair of embroidered RCI swim trunks and a scarf for $61.50. I also found a pewter Christmas ornament of the ship for $6.

 

We said our goodbyes to our fabulous wait staff at dinner, Fabio from Portugal and his hilarious assistant from Hungary (can’t spell his name correctly, so I won’t try). We were the only ones at our table showing up this last night, and we noticed there were quite a few empty seats throughout the dining room. We sincerely hope those people not in attendance took care of their wait staff tips in advance. They are so professional and work terribly hard to earn those tips. They are not subject to our labor laws and most days work from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night. End of sermon. 

 

During each day of the trip, because we found we budgeted more than we actually spent, there was a surplus that we carried over to the next day which was evened out yesterday when we bought the Cameo jewelry. So, we went into this day at sea without a surplus, but no deficit either. We bought what we wanted to buy in the ship’s stores and surprised ourselves later when we discovered we were still within our budget! We have only tried this idea of having a budget on vacation once before (for our W. Caribbean cruise earlier this Summer), and we liked it so much, we decided to do it for this Med Cruise and all other vacations to follow. We found it freeing, not restrictive, because we both do love to shop and spend, and this way, we didn’t have to worry that we would get in over our heads and put ourselves in debt misery upon our return home. And, if we decided to break our budget (which was always a possibility!), at least we would KNOW we were doing it. As you will see below, we left the ship with a small surplus to carry over to our post-Cruise stay in Barcelona which will be detailed in my next report. So, stay tuned . . .

 

 

Today’s Budget totals (in Dollars):

 

Budget	Actual		

    0	     -		Surplus from yesterday	
20.00	     0		Maitre D’ tip
50.00	 50.00		Head Waiter Tip
30.00	 30.00		Assistant Waiter Tip
50.00	 50.00		Cabin Steward Tip
100.00	     -		Misc. Spending on Ship (see below)
    0	 10.09		Sodas (throughout the week)
    0	 10.00		Men’s leather belt
    0	 61.50		2 polo shirts, trunks, scarf
    0	  6.00		Pewter Xmas ornament
    0	 20.00		2 tee-shirts (purchased earlier in wk)
______	______
250.00	237.59		(A surplus of $12.41)

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SPLENDOUR TRIP REPORT: Aug. 25, 2002 W. Med Cruise

PART NINE – BARCELONA Spain Post-Cruise

 

 

Note: We also stayed in Barcelona Pre-Cruise, so if you want to read ALL our Barcelona information, with a full description of our hotel and what we did, be sure to read my Pre-Cruise report as well.

 

Sunday, September 1, 2002 - Port #6 Barcelona Spain

----------------------------------------------------

 

Disembarkation Day

 

As you can imagine, we HATED to leave the ship. Made me think of another cruise critic post I had read in which the man joked that he hid under his bed but they found him! He begged and pleaded, but they still made him leave.

 

This was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean, so I don’t know if this is typical of them, but we liked the fact we were allowed to select our disembarkation time in advance. We had filled out a form earlier in the week requesting the 8:00am time slot, and we received colored luggage tags to that effect. Disembarkation went very smoothly, and our color was called on time. We, however, lingered a little longer and didn’t actually leave until closer to 9:00am. I had read the lines for the cabs were horrendous, up to two hours waiting time, but this was certainly not true for us. Yes, the lines looked a little long, but the cab cue was plentiful, and it probably didn’t take fifteen minutes before we were underway for our hotel. There were plenty of pier porters available to help in getting luggage to the cabs, so we opted for this and my husband gave him the change in his pocket. I understand we could have taken a bus to Placa de Catalunya which was right by our hotel, but my husband didn’t want to fool with all our luggage. We did see the bus, though, and it did have a place for the luggage. It was the same kind of bus the rental car companies use to transport their clients from the airport to the rental car places.

 

It was a gorgeous day in Barcelona. Nice and sunny and blue skies, a welcome contrast from our earlier pre-cruise visit there, so today would be a good day for sightseeing and photos. We decided we were just going to take it easy and not rush around trying to see everything, but we managed to see a great deal at our leisure.

 

We arrived at the Hotel Continental La Rambla around 9:30am, expecting that we would leave our luggage in their baggage room and officially check in later. They had told us prior to making the reservation we were welcome to leave our bags with them and have breakfast in their hospitality room then sightsee before our afternoon check-in time. But, when we arrived, the friendly multi-lingual desk clerk informed us if we wanted to wait fifteen minutes, we could just go ahead and check into our room! So, we waited in the hospitality room and by 9:45am, we were in our room, on a different floor from last time. This Queen room was just as charming as the first, and we were both pleased we decided to stay there.

 

After getting our things situated, we headed out for some sightseeing. First stop: La Sagrada Familia, the famous sandcastle-like church designed by Antoni Gaudi who died in 1926. It was begun in 1882 and is still a work in progress. To get there from our hotel, we took the Metro. It was SO easy! We just walked across the street and down the center of the pedestrian part of la Rambla toward Placa de Catalunya until we reached the stairs for the subway, not even a half city block. We went downstairs and found a ticket machine where we found a helpful, friendly multi-lingual attendant. We planned to use the subway to get around so we bought one T-10 ticket for 5.60€ good for 10 rides. The attendant told us the ticket would not expire until they raise the ticket prices next year, and that multiple people could use the same ticket. All you do is put the ticket in the turnstile, and the first person walks through. Then you put the ticket in the turnstile again, and another can walk through, and so on.

 

We took the Line 3 (green line) toward CANYELLES (not Zona Universitaria) and got off at the Diagonal stop where we changed trains to the Line 5 (blue line) toward HORTA (not Cornelia) and got off at the Sagrada Familia stop. This placed us right at the church. It was as magnificent as we imagined, although, surprisingly smaller than I pictured, but it is by no means small. We took a ton of photos then perused the vendors across the street and bought a scarf and some keychains to be turned into Christmas ornaments. I was able to use my Spanish with the vendors no problem. I even asked for directions to our next stop, La Pedrera, in Spanish, and the scary thing – I understood the answer! I guess three semesters of required college Spanish didn’t all go to waste!

 

Before heading back to the subway, we walked through the adjacent park with duck pond and took a few more photos. What a beautiful place! We took Line 5 (Blue line) in the CORNELLA direction and got off at the Diagonal stop placing us on Passeig de Gracia, a famous street in the Eixample Zone (the “x” is an “sh” sound, pronounced something like esh-shem-play if I remember correclty), the Shopping and Business District. About two blocks South of this Metro stop on Passeig de Gracia, we viewed the most famous apartment complex in Spain, another Gaudi original, the 1910 modernista La Pedrera (also called Casa Mila ). This was an interesting wavy building with unique iron balconies and a funky sort of rooftop. Even the pavers on the street outside have their own distinct pattern.

 

And, I should mention we kept noticing these curious colorful lizards everywhere- shiny ceramic tile-type lizards in the store windows (the stores were closed in the Business District while we were there on Sunday), lizard souvenirs in the shops on La Rambla. Lizards, lizards everywhere. This would make sense to us later.

 

From there, we wandered around looking for another Gaudi house, the Casa Batllo. Our map showed it to be on Carrer de Mallorca, a street right off Passeig de Gracia, but we never found it there so we wandered back to Passeig de Gracia to look for lunch. We did get to see more of the area, though, and we chuckled at a street sign advertising the American movie Hombres de Negro II (Men in Black II). My husband later noticed there were TWO Casa Battlos on our map! The one we didn’t look for was right there on Passeig de Gracia near Carrer d’ Arago, and we think that was probably it. The ironic thing is, this is where we picked up the Metro after lunch, so we must have walked right by it and didn’t know it!

For lunch, we walked down Passeig de Gracia checking out the many tapas restaurants. Tapas, by the way, are little Spanish appetizers or snacks eaten before dinner but can certainly suffice for an entire meal. There were all kinds of varieties. Little breads with cheeses, olives, and all kinds of concoctions, things that looked like squid and other seafood. They must have thought I was a little dingy taking photos of their food behind the glass counter, but it was so unusual I just had to! I had read in another Cruise Critic post that if you see little bread tapas with what looks like spaghetti noodles on top, beware – it’s not! – but rather some kind of seafood. And, I did see just that. Strangely enough, we skipped the tapas and settled on a restaurant called Kansas (of all things!) where we sat inside and ordered a couple of pasta entrees from the menu. It was good and our total bill came to 20€ including tip.

 

After receiving such excellent nourishment, we were ready to make the trek to Parc Guell, (pronounced “Park Way”) another of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces. We took the Metro Line 3 (the green line) in the CANYELLES direction and got off at the Lesseps stop. It's quite a hike from this subway stop to the park, probably a 25 minute walk mostly uphill, but there were signs directing us the entire way. We actually passed a Blockbuster Video with neon “abierto” (open) sign in the window. And, of course, as was the case throughout the Mediterranean ports we visited, there were dogs on leashes everywhere.

 

By the way, I read a post somewhere on the Europe board suggesting a different subway stop in which the walk is just as far, but mostly downhill. I can't remember the name of the stop, but in looking at the subway map, I think it must be the Vallcarca stop, also on the green line, one stop further down from Lesseps. It wasn’t too bad a walk for us. We just were not expecting it and got a little frustrated that every time we walked another couple blocks only to be met by another sign directing us the way to the park, rather than the park itself. If we did this again, we might get off at the Vallcarca stop and walk downhill to Parc Guell, then walk further downhill to catch the Metro again at the Lesseps stop.

 

Parc Guell was originally intended to be a subdivision, a neighborhood of sorts, but it was never finished and thus turned into a park. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever seen. On a cruise to Alaska earlier this year, I met a woman who had been to Barcelona who told me about Gaudi, and she said many people consider his work to be “gaudy.” While that’s certainly true, and I didn’t expect I was going to like the park, I really did. It’s part Disney, part retro, part glossy cracked bathroom tile. There are strange cartoon-like castle spires at the front entrance, a gift shop (of course!) where we found a nice bookmark of Sagrada Familia, and this center outdoor decorated staircase where we found – you guessed it – the tile lizard! This was a sort of fountain and there were a ton of tourists taking turns having their pictures taken with the lizard.

 

Above was this unusual looking roof supported by tons of large columns. We could hear music coming from there and assumed it was piped in, like Disney, but not so. We found a live classical guitarist up there, playing passionate music. His guitar case was open and inside were his CD’s on sale for 12€. We only listened to one or two tunes before we decided to buy one and he graciously autographed it for us in-between numbers. His name was Ernesto Nebuloni and he was quite talented. We have listened to the entire CD since returning, and it really takes us back to Barcelona. What a cool, spontaneous sort of souvenir.

 

But, there was more. We walked up more steps and found a wide-open area above that roof overlooking Barcelona. The crescent open area was lined with palm trees and picnic tables and more trails and paths throughout the park. We were pleasantly surprised and glad we had made the trek there. LauraG wrote in her post that she wished she had brought a picnic lunch there. Still full from lunch, we were not hungry, but I can see why this would have been a good idea. Not to worry, though, if you don’t bring any food, there is a snack/bar restaurant below.

 

After the park, we walked back downhill to the subway, took the green line in the ZONA UNIVERSITARIA direction back to the Catalunya stop, walked back to our hotel to drop some things off and make a pit stop before heading back out to walk La Rambla. We were thankful for the perfect weather. It was such a beautiful day. We passed several more street musicians, even a man playing a piano right in the middle of this pedestrian boulevard! Of course, there were American institutions on La Rambla, such as Dunkin Donuts, and some hamburger places too like McDonald’s and I think a Burger King. We thought those places seemed rather out of place. We again browsed several of the little souvenir shops lining La Rambla, mostly looking for a little 24k gold-plated saxophone replica we had seen pre-cruise, and we found it. My husband was able to buy it from Souvenirs Trio for 43€, so I was happy with that. Their original asking price was 75€. After our purchase, the clerk commented that Americans are rich and that he works 14-hour days (9am-11pm daily) for 700€ a month. I responded by inviting him to move to the United States, telling him that everyone is welcome, to which he grinned.

 

Before we had left the States, I had conducted quite a bit of research and had learned about the Sardanas or dances held in the squares in front of various churches at various scheduled times throughout the year. We were not going to be in Barcelona for very long, and it was my hope we might be fortunate enough to be there during one of these scheduled dances. I couldn’t believe the luck because according to my research, there would be one this day! See this webpage for the schedule: http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/turisme/exp/ing/ap08-33.htm . I included in our itinerary for us to be at Placa Sant Jaume (pronouced “Jow May”), the Square of Saint James, just off La Rambla at 6:30pm. To get there, we walked about halfway down La Rambla and made a left on Carrer de Ferran. In the Sant Jaume square, we also found the Palau de la Generalitat and Ajuntament de la Ciutat government buildings, two beautiful works of architecture themselves.

 

Sure enough, this group of people, mostly senior citizens, showed up in the square and chairs were set up for the live twenty piece band of trumpets, trombones, oboes, cello, etc. At around 6:45pm, the dance began. It started out with a few small circles and grew to more and larger circles as people joined in. While we have “line dancing” in the U.S., this is sort of like “circle dancing.” Everyone is performing the same steps together, sometimes holding hands, raising them together, moving in toward the circle then back away again, always shuffling their feet in unison. It was such a privilege to be there!

 

Volunteers combed the crowds for donations, and we contributed a couple euros to support their events. Upon doing so, the woman placed little red circular stickers on our shirts so we would not be approached by the other donation-seeking volunteers.

 

Afterwards, we walked down a narrow street toward another must-see in the Barri Gotic (the old, Gothic part of town), the Catedral Barri Gotic begun in 1298. On our way there, we passed an accordion player in the street who looked to be college-age. And, we discovered this secluded interior garden square where we found huge beautiful white geese wandering around inside an iron gate. There were church candles burning in the garden terrace area. From there we made our way to the front of the Gothic Cathedral where mass was taking place inside. I’m so glad we took the time to find it – the cathedral was striking, and we were permitted inside, even during mass.

 

Inside this monolithic church, which had to have a ceiling eight stories high, was a large television screen with a live feed of the ceremony for those seated in the back, like what you would expect at a Billy Graham Crusade or a rock concert. There were huge black gothic wagon-wheel candle chandeliers probably ten feet in diameter lining both sides of the outer nave and ornate gold altars probably a few stories high along the sides. And, of course, the glow of white church votives in their red glass holders. Somewhere near the Cathedral is the Palace where the King & Queen of Spain welcomed Christopher Columbus with a large banquet upon his return from America.

 

After visiting the Cathedral, we started walking back toward La Rambla, but cut through the Placa Reial first on Colom Avenue. This square was breathtaking with its tall, tall palm trees, some say the tallest in all of Europe? The sun was starting to set, so we continued making our way down La Rambla toward the sea to the Monument a Colom (Christopher Columbus Monument) by the sea. We noticed several government buildings near there – the Govern Militar, Commandancia de Marina, and Duanes. There were vendors across the street from the Monument, towards the water, and we walked around gazing at their wares. Lots of nifty antiques – REALLY old ones, not like what we have in the States.

 

On our way back up La Rambla, we walked on the other side of the street (on our left side) about five blocks, and we found Palau Guell, a mansion built for the Count Eusebi Guell by Gaudi between 1885-1890 which is now the Museum for the Performing Arts. It was on the street Carrer Nou de la Rambla, just off La Rambla on the left, and it was difficult to take a photo of the entire thing because of the narrow street. We also saw about halfway up La Rambla on this same side the 1847 opera house Gran Teatre del Liceu, now a theatre, which was destroyed by fires in 1861 and 1994 but rebuilt each time. About four blocks up from that was Mercat de la Boqueria which was closed. This is the large fresh produce market dating back to 1914 and one of the world’s most complete; we had the pleasure of perusing this during our pre-cruise stay in Barcelona.

 

By now it was time for dinner, so we scouted La Rambla restaurant menus strategically placed outside their doors to entice passers by. We settled on Taverna Vasca Restaurante and had an unusual but delicious one-and-a-half hour meal. It was a little pricey, but since we were doing well on our budget, we splurged and ordered several sodas, a couple appetizers, entrees and a dessert. Our waiter was for the most part multi-lingual. He brought us two large pieces of toast with a spicy mayonnaise spread. We liked that. My appetizer was white asparagus tips with several sauces, and my husband’s a spinach quiche. For dinner I ordered a baked spinach and cheese cannelloni that was very good, and my husband had cheese cannelloni. Our dessert was at the suggestion of our waiter, layered ribbons of ice-cream drenched in chocolate sauce with whip cream. It was similar to the ice cream cakes at Baskin Robbins, and was an excellent choice.

 

After dinner, we walked the center of La Rambla some more, looking in the various newsstand bookstores for a book on Barcelona. We found that and some postcards too before retiring to our hotel. This day could not have been more perfect. We enjoyed Barcelona tremendously and felt very safe everywhere. The city is clean and pedestrian friendly and the Metro is a cinch.

 

We walked back to our hotel and decided to send a quick e-mail home to my mother who would be picking us up at the airport in Florida tomorrow. The Internet rate at Hotel Continental La Rambla was outstanding, 1.80€ for 15 minutes. The screen froze after a few minutes, so the desk clerk rebooted the machine from under the counter and let us start over. Afterwards, we sat in the hospitality room and listened to musicians on the street several stories below. Before heading off to bed, we gave the desk clerk our T-10 metro ticket which still had two rides on it, and he was very appreciative.

 

This day had gone beautifully for us, like the other days on this cruise, and was pretty relaxing, certainly slower-paced than our day in Rome. Of course, there had been a few other places in my notes that we might have seen had we rushed around: the Picasso Museum which is purportedly free on the 1st Sunday of every month and has a nice gift shop; the Font Magica Fountain display around 8:30pm (I suppose this is like the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas); and the Flamenco Show at Cordobes on La Rambla (I discovered them among a list of Flamenco shows on the Internet at http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/turisme/exp/ing/ap08-324.htm ) but, some people had said the Picasso Museum ranks a little lower on the priority list than the things we saw, and I thought the Flamenco Show was too pricey (later confirmed by the Barcelonan woman we met on the plane there). We also never made it up to Monjuic, but we did pass it in our cab from the airport on the way into Barcelona pre-cruise, and we had a nice view of it from the ship and the funicular (cable cars) leading up to it. I would liked to have made it to the fountains, but we didn’t really know where to look for them, so maybe we will see them next time.

 

 

Today’s Budget totals:

 

Budget	Actual		

12.41	     -		Surplus from yesterday	
    0	   .82		Pier porter tip
    0       14.00		Cab, pier to hotel					
10.00	  5.60		T-10 Metro ticket good for 10 rides
50.00	     -		Souvenirs in Barcelona (see below)
    0	  9.00		3 keychains, 1 scarf
25.00	 20.00		Lunch
    0	  4.00		Gelato
    0	  1.20		Bookmark
    0	 12.00		Ernesto’s CD
    0	 43.00		24K gold sax replica
    0	  2.00		Sardana donation
55.00	     0		Flamenco show (didn’t go)
30.00	 58.83		Dinner
    0	 12.07		Barcelona book/post cards
______	______
182.41	182.52		(WOW!  We “evened out” without trying!)

 

 

 

 

Monday, September 2, 2002 – Travel Home Day

---------------------------------------------

 

We left our maid a tip (3€), checked out around 7:00am and paid our bill for 67.80€. (1.80€ was for the Internet use the night before). We had no problem hailing a cab (20€) directly in front of the hotel around 7:15am, and we were at the airport by 7:45am. There were no problems checking in with Air France for our 9:25am flight to Paris. We had made a mental note to buy chocolates in the wonderful stores in the Barcelona airport for our family and neighbors. We did this (27.35€), and bought more chocolates in the Paris airport stores as well (12.76€). Of course, we ate a couple chocolate bars ourselves on the flight home! And, we wrote some post cards in the Barcelona airport and mailed them from the Paris airport (2.76€ postage for three postcards to the U.S.)

 

The Delta flight from Paris to Atlanta was at full capacity and the woman in front of me lowered her seat for the entire journey. It wasn’t that bad, though, because I was still able to lower my tray, and I was kept continuously entertained by the three movies we watched back to back: Show Time with Eddie Murphy and Robert DeNiro; Spiderman; and Scorpion King with The Rock. Our flights were on time, and we arrived safely in Florida not too exhausted, but still “high” off the experience of the entire trip. We can’t wait to go back to Europe!

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Well, folks. That's it - all the reports from our Med Cruise in 2002. I doubt I can answer any questions now, because I don't remember much of the details anymore. Hopefully, your questions were answered by the reports, but please feel free to use this thread to share information with each other.

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WOW , outstanding report, I guess this will either answer everyones questions forever or make them think of others that you may have missed. Thanks for the review, I have just printed it for reference.

 

Andy

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This was like a dream come true for me! My daughters and I are going to be on the same cruise (minus Malta) in October and this has everything we need to know.

 

Thanks so much.

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Great Post with lots of great info. Taking this cruise next year so all of this info will be very useful.

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A must read for all Med cruisers except maybe for the SilverSea group and even then..

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Thanks! Looks like quite a few people are still asking for my reports to be emailed to them, and they don't realize everything is posted right here. Maybe if we can keep this post on the first page of the website, it will help.

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I had read your report courtesy of Cruise Junky.This gives me an opportunity to thank you for your generosity in sharing your experience. It's much appreciated.

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Thank you so much for such a wonderful report. We are hoping to do the same cruise in 2006 and I am printing out all 71 pages so that we can refer back, so once again, thank you for taking the time to write all of this....I am sure it will be most helpful.

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