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Trip Report - E. Med. on Celebrity Equinox – summer 2012 w/ lots of pictures

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This is going to be a super long trip report as I’m trying to include as much detail as I can remember to help cruisers plan. I’m also trying to include as many pictures as possible to help you “visualize” the attractions and the info. Last year when I wrote about my 2011 Alaska cruisetour on Radiance of the Seas I spent weeks just on posting my report and replying to responses:

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1467693

Hope this review with 1-week pre-cruise train tour around Italy, 11-night E. Med. Cruise on Celebrity Equinox and 4-day post-cruise in Rome is informative and helpful enough for those who are planning on a cruise to Italy, Greece and Turkey.

 

There were 2 teacher couples (to be precise, all 4 of us are teachers or have been teachers at some point of our lives) in our party, all in our 50’s celebrating our 25th anniversaries. Though it’s the summer of 2012 (7 months ago) that we went on the East Med. cruise, I gathered that it’s now a good time to start writing this trip report to help fellow cruisers plan and, for myself, to relive the many memorable moments since I am not going anywhere during this March Break.

 

July 16, 2012 (Day 1) – Toronto to Rome

The long-awaited trip to East Mediterranean has finally begun! We were so glad that our 9-hour Air Transat direct flight from Toronto to Rome was cheap (just $1000 in the summer) and on time. The meals were good and the seat was comfortable…way more spacious than most other airlines. As an added bonus, Air Transat offered us a $99 coupon (reg. $384) for Park’N Fly’s Valet Parking for our 22-day trip.

 

July 17, 2012 (Day 2) – Rome to Florence

We arrived Rome just after 12 noon the following day and managed to pass through customs & get our luggage without a long wait. Watch the pickpockets at the airport! My colleague and her DH are Italians and they didn’t use wallets in Italy. Their money and credit cards were all in different pockets of their clothes and bags. They said even if some get stolen, they still had some left. It’s really interesting to see that every time they’re trying to get their money, they had to pull out a whole bunch of papers like receipts, bills and credit cards before they got the right amount amidst those things. After we got our luggage, we split up with them as they were going to a resort for 3 days before joining us in Venice.

 

DH & I boarded the Metropolitan FM1 train from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to Roma Tiburtina Train Station at around 1:15 p.m. By not going to Termini Station we saved €5.50 per person (train fare was €5.50 instead of €11.00 to Termini by the Leonardo Express) and the train journey was 48 minutes long (train to Termini was only 30-minute long). It was a little bit complicated trying to figure out which platform to go to for our train to Florence (Firenzi S. M. Novella) as there were MANY slow regional trains going to Florence. We paid only €9 per person (reg. €39) through http://www.trenitalia.com to pre-book the high-speed train and secured our seats. We thought that even if our flight was delayed, there was only €18 to lose for the 2 of us so it’s better to take a chance than to line up and buy the train tickets upon our arrival. We finally managed to find the correct platform and matched the train number with what’s on our tickets. The journey was fast and comfortable. We arrived at Florence in 1 ½ hours just before 5 p.m. ONE IMPORTANT THING WE HAD TO REMEMBER WAS THAT WE HAD TO VALIDATE OUR TICKETS AT THE TRAIN STATION EVERY SINGLE TIME BEFORE BOARDING THE TRAIN.

 

The fast and comfortable high-speed train at Firenze S. M. Novella Station

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Taking a cab from Firenze S. M. Novella Station to our hotel, St. Regis Florence (Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice 2013 #1 Luxury Hotel in Italy) was only a short 5-min journey for €10.00. My husband & I were celebrating our 25th anniversary so we decided to go luxury on our hotel accommodation in Florence, Venice & Rome. Once we stepped off the cab at St. Regis, we started to be treated like VIP’s. So many different St. Regis personnel greeted us to take care of our luggage, led us to the check-in counter, showed us where we could use their complimentary phone service and where the concierge was. As a Gold Starwood Preferred Guest I was upgraded to the elegant Premium Deluxe Florentine Room (we only paid US$300 for a €480 room) with beautiful Arno River View. The décor and the amenities were totally amazing and you could tell from the pictures below why the St. Regis Florence was rated as #1 luxury hotel in Italy.

 

The warm and home-like lobby of St. Regis Florence

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Premium Deluxe Florentine Room

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Very spacious closet area

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TV on bathroom mirror

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Edited by wismergirl
CHANGE FONT

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July 17, 2012 (Day 2 con’t) – Florence

 

Since it’s already late in the afternoon, we took a cab to start our sightseeing in Florence. Our first attraction was the Accademia Gallery to view The Statue of David. We read from other reviews that the wait time could be over 2 hours so we just went to try our luck since it’s only 30 minutes before closing. Luckily we got there AND THERE WAS NO LINE, we got in and saw the original Statue of David. Lots of security guards were around, making sure that NO visitors would be taking pictures of ‘David’. There were replicas of David in some other places in Florence, like the one in the public square of Palazzo della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

 

Here is another one that was in the courtyard of the Accademia that we saw through the window

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After viewing David, we walked to the nearby Florence Cathedral (Duomo) soaked in beautiful sunset

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Opposite the famous Cathedral is the Baptistery

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Firenze Baptistery’s bronze doors are world-famous

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Our first dinner in Italy was at the Palazzo della Signoria with average food but very romantic atmosphere

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Then we walked to Ponte Vecchio (the famous Old Bridge) to enjoy its beautiful night view

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Perhaps we were too excited so we didn’t feel tired even after a 9-hour red-eye flight. We just went back to the hotel after 11 p.m. and had a good night’s rest. Looking forward to our BIG DAY on July 18…our 25th anniversary!!

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July 18, 2012 (Day 3) – Pisa

 

Another beautiful sunny day…excellent weather for taking a trip to Pisa…first let’s enjoy the beautiful view of the Arno River from our room

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Off we hopped on a taxi outside the Westin Hotel opposite the St. Regis and in no time we were on the regional train from Florence to Pisa. The journey was only 50 min. long and we used our credit card to pay €7.80 per person using the ticket machine at the station. The English instructions were clear and easy to follow. The trains ran every 10-15 minutes and you didn’t have to specify which train you took. We just walked to the platform and took the first train to Pisa. Again, we remembered to validate our tickets at the platform before boarding the train to avoid a heavy fine.

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We were going to take a bus when we arrived at Pisa Centrale Station

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While we were waiting, we talked to a young couple who were also waiting for a bus to view the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then we decided that we’d just share a taxi and each couple paid €5 with tips…a quicker and easier way to go to the Piazza del Duomo rather than standing and waiting under the scorching sun.

 

In 5 minutes we arrived at the entrance of Piazza del Duomo and I was quickly attracted to the numerous stalls along the pavement. I bought a lace fan with drawings of Pisa attractions for €2 and amazingly it lasted for the whole trip before it broke in Rome after the cruise. I thought it would fall apart in 2 days!

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The Leaning Tower, the Cathedral & the Baptistery (aka the Piazza del Duomo - “Field of Miracles”)

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The trip to Pisa would never be complete without the Leaning Tower

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We decided not to pay extra and waited in the long line so we didn’t go up the tower. After spending over an hour there to take photos and walk around, we went to the bus stop across the street and bumped into the same couple that we shared a taxi with. We would have shared a taxi again but a bus just pulled in so we boarded the bus and paid €1.10 each for a single bus ride to the station.

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Wismegirl

 

Finally! Your trip report is what I have been waiting for. I'm doing my planning/research to book a 2014 11 day itinerary from Rome on the reflection. Hopefully the same as your 2012 cruise. So I am so excited to see your review especially the pictures.

 

My wife and I did a 12 day Italy vacation in 2011 by train. Toured mostly the norther part by train (Zurich, Cumo, Italian Rivera, Rome and Venice) The train is the way to go. Returning this summer for 14 days down around Rome and Naples.

 

Can't wait to see the rest of your trip report!

 

Thank you!

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July 18, 2012 (Day 3 con’t) – Florence – our 25th anniversary

 

We got back to Florence just after 5 p.m. and decided to take a taxi for €10 to go to Piazzale Michelango to view the replica of the Statue of David.

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The view of Florence from Piazzale Michelango was also amazing. The first bridge was the Ponte Vecchio and our hotel was by the 3rd one.

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View of Duomo and the city from Piazzale Michelango

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The day being our 25th anniversary, we got back to St. Regis and changed for dinner at the hotel’s award-winning Etichetta Restaurant.

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We were served by the restaurant manager and another waiter and we were also given our personalized menu to take home. They served us with complimentary “Happy Anniversary” dessert.

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There was live piano music at the restaurant but the pianist was way below par. As a piano-major university graduate, I asked the manager if I could play some romantic piano music for my husband while he was enjoying his entrée as “an anniversary gift”. The manager agreed and I played for 10 minutes during the pianist’s short break and when the pianist returned he played like a different person…this time with professional standard!! I was so glad that we finally had some pleasant and romantic live piano music while we enjoyed our dessert. DH (who is also a pianist) said I should have asked to play the piano earlier so we could have REAL music when we started our dinner. The food there was above average, though not the best, but the service was definitely incredible! We really enjoyed our anniversary dinner there.

 

In order to digest the food more, DH suggested more night shots so he went back to the room to change into his comfy everyday shirt and shorts while I still wore my fancy cocktail dress with heels. We strolled along the Arno River bank and took more beautiful shots of the Ponte Vecchio. Here is one of them:

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I LOVED MY SILVER ANNIVERSARY!

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Wismegirl

 

Finally! Your trip report is what I have been waiting for. I'm doing my planning/research to book a 2014 11 day itinerary from Rome on the reflection. Hopefully the same as your 2012 cruise. So I am so excited to see your review especially the pictures.

 

 

Can't wait to see the rest of your trip report!

 

Thank you!

 

I need to go to church now. I'll post more after the service.

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July 19, 2012 (Day 4) – Florence

 

When we first arrived at the St. Regis 2 days ago, we asked the concierge to get us tickets for Uffizi (€11 per person). It’s so worth it to pay an extra €4 per ticket to skip the line. We managed to get tickets for the first entry to the gallery at 8:30 a.m. Though we have visited many world-famous galleries and museums, like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Louvre in Paris & the National Gallery in London, Uffizi was still one that we quite enjoyed and found it worth visiting. One thing not so good being the first guests of the day was that the air-conditioning was not fully on and it was a very sweaty visit. Besides, DH broke his bi-focal glasses and was just wearing his ordinary glasses as a replacement so he had trouble reading about the paintings. He had to take his glasses off and SMELL the description in order to read what’s written. Good job I brought 2 extra pairs of glasses for him, otherwise he’d have to go blind for the rest for his trip!!

 

It took us just over 10 minutes to walk from our hotel to Uffizi and on our way we went past Ponte Vecchio.

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A different view of Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi

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Having spent almost 2 hours at the Uffizi, we still had a couple of hours before our 12 noon train to Venice, so we walked to Palazzo della Signoria to see the Statue of David again.

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Palazzo Vecchio and the statues were worth visiting.

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As we didn’t have breakfast yet, we paid €2 each to get a yummy and warm ham & cheese Panini.

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It’s sad to leave the beautiful city of Florence! Next time I need to plan better so I could visit Lucca & Siena while we are in Florence. Farewell, St. Regis Florence, our favourite hotel in Italy!

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I need to go to church now. I'll post more after the service.

 

What?????? Church???? This is more important! The big guy upstairs will understand.:D

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July 19, 2012 (Day 4 con’t) – Florence to Venice

 

We took the 12-noon Frecciargento high-speed train from Florence to Venice and again paid €9 for each ticket. The journey was only 2 hours long and there was plenty of storage space for luggage on the train.

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We arrived at Venezia S. Lucia at 2 p.m. and started to explore Venice, the MOST INACCESSIBLE CITY IN ITALY!! Despite how much I LOVE Venice as I still find it the most beautiful, romantic and unique of all the Italian cities, my #1 tip would be: VISIT VENICE WHEN YOU HAVE NO BIG SUITCASES. Although I have read TONS of reviews from various sources before I booked the Hotel Papadopoli (an MGallery Collection Accor Hotel), no one ever told me the number of stair steps I had to walk on while making the way from the train station to the hotel! I loved DH even more after that walk as he had to carry both big suitcases as I could only handle the carry-ons!

 

Bear with me while I explain why I chose Hotel Papadopoli instead of the 5-star hotels near St. Mark’s Square:

1) It’s the only decent 4-star hotel near the train station within walking distance (only a 5-minute walk from the station). For all other hotels along the Grand Canal we need to take a water taxi which is very expensive and the journey could be over 30 minutes long. To save time and money, Hotel Papadopoli seemed to be the only choice.

2) I had to pick up my colleague who was on a walking cast and her husband at the train station on the 2nd day that we’re in Venice so it made sense to live close to the station.

3) Our party of 4 had to take the very early 6:55 a.m. train from Venice to Milan for a day trip. Living closeby made it easier for us to control the time without waking up super early.

4) It’s at the end of the Grand Canal, which made it easier to get a good seat for picture-taking on the vaporetto.

5) I had a super excellent deal to pay only €150 per night for a Junior Suite when Accor Hotels offered the promotion with a 50% discount. It’s too good a deal to miss!

 

Here is our huge and beautiful junior suite on the 5th floor

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It also offered a nice view of the tiny Tolentini Canal from the super long balcony which spanned the whole length of the room.

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Upon arrival at the Venice train station, we each bought a San Marco Venice card for €24.90 with a 72-hour Travelcard for €35 plus a round-trip Grand Canal Cruise (€10) with commentary. We should have bought everything online rather than waiting for over half an hour at the tiny & crowded Tourist Info Centre right outside the train station. The staff there had very limited English and their explanation to the different types of Venice cards, museum passes and transportation was more confusing than helpful. I suggest that cruisers should go online and do the research. Basically, we could get the Venice Card from the Hellovenezia red booth right in front of the station. That’s where we boarded the Grand Canal Cruise which ran every 30 minutes.

 

This is the Grand Canal Cruise boat with less than 20 people when we took the 4:30 p.m. trip.

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We could move freely on the boat so we were able to get the best view of the canal.

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Here is the famous Rialto Bridge

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July 19, 2012 (Day 4 con’t) – Venice

 

I need to back track a bit and talk about how we got to the hotel from the station. If I knew before hand that I could use the newly-purchased Travelcard and took the vaporetto (water bus) for 1 stop from Ferrovia (Train Station) to P.le Roma (Bus Station), my DH would love Venice even more! This link shows a very clear vaporetto route map: http://www.venice.nu/vapmap/vapomapLatest.jpg

 

As a civil and structural engineer, DH really liked the look of the very modern huge bridge that spanned across the Grand Canal.

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However, instead of having a ramp, the bridge had nothing but over 100 steps without even one wider platform or landing for pedestrians to stop at the top. As we were each carrying 1 big suitcase and 1 carry-on, we needed to take everything in one go, since there would be no one watching the luggage if we wanted to take a break in the middle. We saw seniors and people with strollers try to use the bridge with great difficulty. Sometimes we saw porters with buggies waiting at the end of the bridge trying to help people with their luggage. DH and I both agreed that the Italians were very smart on job creation!! After that huge bridge, there was a tiny bridge over a small canal with only about 10 steps in order to get to the hotel, so that’s nothing!

 

After checking into the spacious Junior Suite, we needed a shower after the huge workout before setting off to St. Mark’s Square. We were very happy with the location of the hotel, but it’s indeed VERY OLD. The elevator was so small that only 2 people with luggage could fit there, and the doorway was so narrow that if you’re a plus size you need to use the stairs:confused:.

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After unloading our bags, we could literally RUN up and down the huge bridge with no problems to get to the train station in 5 minutes. There we took the Grand Canal Cruise and went all the way to the other end of the Grand Canal where St. Mark’s Square was. The journey took almost 40 minutes. We got off at S. Marco just after 5 p.m. and bought tickets (€6 each) to go up the Campanile (Bell Tower).

 

View of Doge’s Palace and Venice Campanile

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Since it’s late afternoon so there was no line to go up the Bell Tower. The view was stunning and totally worth the €6. We could see St. Mark’s Square.

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After dinner at St. Mark’s Square, we took Vaporetto #2 (fewer stops than Vaporetto #1 so the journey was only 25 minutes long) to get off at Piazzale Roma then walked back to the hotel. Since I was a Silver Accor member, we were offered free drinks at the bar. I ordered a mint cocktail and that was good. DH had some local beer. Having sat at the bar and relaxed for over half an hour, DH was very eager to gather his tripod, filters, lenses and camera to set off for some lovely night shots in Venice. During our hour-long walk, we spent half the time helping tourists locate their hotels. One could definitely get lost in Venice!

 

This picture is my favourite night view of a canal with gondolas

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Especially enjoyed the pics of Florence. Haven't been there yet and have now decided it warrants a visit in the near future!

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Great review, love the photos. We did Florence post cruise last year and it was wonderful.

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post #7 the apt's o nthe bridge over the water , I liked. some others to. Nice write up

 

Thank you! It's indeed very interesting to visit Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge).

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Great review, love the photos. We did Florence post cruise last year and it was wonderful.

 

Glad my review brought back wonderful memories for you! We'd like to go back to Florence some other time to visit Lucca, Siena & other parts of Tuscany.

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Especially enjoyed the pics of Florence. Haven't been there yet and have now decided it warrants a visit in the near future!

 

IMO, Florence is more cultural and less commercialized than Milan or less touristy than Venice.

Edited by wismergirl
grammatical mistake

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July 20, 2012 (Day 5) – Venice

 

Today we visited many of the San Marco museums since we bought the San Marco Venice Card. As the line was not very long to go to the balcony of St. Mark’s Basilica (only a few euros’ extra cost), we decided to do it before visiting the Doge’s Palace.

 

St. Mark’s Basilica

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The view was really beautiful from the balcony and there was a lot to see inside too, especially the golden mosaic.

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The bronze horses (replicas) on the balcony…the real ones were inside the Basilica.

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The visit to Doge’s Palace was very interesting too, especially when we walked past the Bridge of Sighs.

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Grand Canal view from Doge’s Palace

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Gondolas outside Doge’s Palace

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After lunch, we went to more St. Mark’s museums but there was nothing special. We took the vaporetto back to the train station and picked up my colleague & her husband. Now there were 4 of us taking care of 2 people’s luggage so the job was way easier. We bought the 48-hr. Travelcard for my friends and hopped on the vaporetto to Piazzale Roma. They checked into a Deluxe room at Hotel Papodopoli also on the 5th floor and we could help each other take pictures from our balconies. Though their room was smaller than our suite, the room size was pretty big by European standard. The best amenity that I found in the suite was a charging station that could charge our phones, iPad, cameras, laptop and netbook all at the same time. In other hotels we had to use a European adapter for each device and we only brought 2 of those adapters so it took us a long time to charge everything.

 

We took the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square again and had dinner there. My Italian colleague knew how to get yummy but cheap Italian food, so we only paid €30 each for a meal with starter, pasta, entrée, dessert, coffee and wine at Trattoria Alla Scala near St. Mark’s.

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July 21, 2012 (Day 6) – Milan

 

In order to minimize travelling with so many bags and suitcases, and to keep the wonderful hotel deal in Venice, we opted for a day trip to Milan instead of an overnight stay. As Christians, we went there mainly to view The Last Supper. It was also great to visit the upscale designers’ stores where DH bought a well-fitted silk suit. There were €9 tickets only for the return trip so we had to pay €19 for this outbound journey. Our train left Venice at 6:58 a.m. and arrived Milan in 2½ hours. Milano Centrale Station was very clean and modern.

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We had breakfast at Burger King there before buying a €4.50 24-hour Pass for unlimited use of public transportation in Milan. The Metro was easy to use and we first went to Milan Duomo.

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Inside the Milan Duomo

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Then we went to the upscale shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

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As a music teacher, I wouldn’t miss the famous La Scala Opera House, so we walked there and bought some souvenirs for my daughters. We could not get into the main opera house but just had a peek of the foyer.

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July 21, 2012 (Day 6 con’t) – Milan

 

 

From La Scala, we took a bus to Fashion Quadrilatero where the most prestigious boutiques and showrooms were. It’s very easy to know which bus to take as the bus route was posted at every bus stop. The four streets of Fashion Quadrilatero were Via Montenapoleone, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Della Spiga and Via Manzoni. Most of those streets were pedestrianized, making that area perfect for an easy stroll. My colleague bought some leather gloves there and DH bought a designer silk suit for only a quarter of the original price. The stores were very professional and efficient as they prepared all forms and receipts in a package for us to claim tax refund at the airport. The receipts must be over €180 before tax in a single store. We got 18% cash back as tax refund while claiming it at the airport. Another highlight (other than the silk suit) for DH was the beautiful Ferrari driving by. DH felt proud to be able to get a quick shot.

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I wanted to buy some leather goods like shoes, wallets and bags but didn’t have any luck. That gave me a chance to go back soon:p. We took the bus to continue our sightseeing at the Sforza Castle. From Sforza Castle we went to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie for the viewing of The Last Supper that we reserved the tickets through Tickitaly 4 months in advance. We were not allowed to take any picture while inside the refectory where the painting was. I never knew that the painting was actually on the wall of the refectory until I saw it and also learned that later on people put a doorway where Jesus’ feet were. That’s why we couldn’t see His feet on the painting now.

 

The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

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It’s almost dinner time so we took a bus to go back to Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) and had dinner at La Locanda del Gatto Rosso inside the shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. As soon as we entered the mall, there was a huge torrential downpour but it only lasted for about half an hour.

Big thick black clouds taking over the beautiful blue sky above the Duomo

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Amazing reflection of the Duomo after the rain

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After dinner, we took the Metro to get back to Milano Centrale train station and boarded the 8:05 p.m. €9 train to Venice. We got back to the hotel just before 11 p.m. and enjoyed our last night in Venice at the beautiful Hotel Papadopoli.

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Thank you so much for posting this, as I'm planning a trip this summer.

 

Your photos are beautiful

 

DH took most of the beautiful photos. If you see blurry ones, blame me :( !! (like the one for the restaurant in Florence)

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July 22, 2012 (Day 7) – Venice to Rome

 

We woke up to another beautiful day. Since we had a morning to spare before taking the 1 p.m. train to Rome, we decided to take the vaporetto from Piazzale Roma to Rialto Bridge and had breakfast by the Grand Canal. In the picture below you could see the Grand Canal, the breakfast place under the red canopies beside the Rialto Bridge, a gondola and a vaporetto (water bus) packed with people.

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View of Rialto Bridge from where we had breakfast

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It’s time to get back to the hotel, check out and take another €9 train to Rome. The journey from Venezia S. Lucia to Roma Termini was 3 hours and 45 minutes long. As I bought many €9 train tickets, it’s actually cheaper than buying a rail pass. A 5-day train pass in Italy (used any 5 days within 2 months) would cost me €200 but my total train fare was only €70 for 5 days.

 

We used Starwood points to stay at St. Regis Rome which was only 5 minutes away from Termini Station. We were lucky enough to get a taxi van that could take all of our luggage plus the 4 of us. Though St. Regis Rome was also a luxury hotel, we found that the one in Florence was way more superior, especially in terms of service. Here we were also upgraded to a nice Deluxe room but we didn’t feel like VIP’s or welcomed. The front desk staff was too cool and we didn’t feel the friendliness. Nevertheless, to celebrate our anniversary, the hotel gave us a complimentary bottle of champagne and some fresh fruit.

 

This was our room with beautiful décor

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The bathroom with upscale amenities but no TV on the mirror

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Most restaurants in Rome that accepted reservations were closed on Sunday night, so we just took the subway to Spanish Steps and had a walk around before the restaurants opened at 7 p.m.

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After dinner at Trattoria Gigi located on a little side street off the Spanish Steps, we took a night tour on the bus and went to the Colosseum.

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When we went back to the hotel, my friends gathered at our room and enjoyed the complimentary champagne and the fruit. We thoroughly enjoyed our week-long pre-cruise trip, and we were really looking forward to cruising the Equinox the following day.

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Your Hubby is quiet the photographer. Great pics. Love the hotel. Great digs. Can't wait to get back to Rome this summer!

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Your Hubby is quiet the photographer. Great pics. Love the hotel. Great digs. Can't wait to get back to Rome this summer!

 

I'll have more about Rome when it comes to the 4-day post-cruise. Right now I'm writing about Ephesus. I'm afraid you need to wait patiently!

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July 23, 2012 (Day 8) – Rome to Civitavecchia (Cruise Port)

 

It was the first rainy day of our trip. Luckily we didn’t have to use public transport as we booked a van through Rome Shuttle Limousine (€165 for 8 people - €15 cheaper than Rome Cab) to pick us up at St. Regis to go to the cruise port. We used Cruise Critic Roll Call to form this group of 8. As 6 of us stayed at St. Regis, and 2 just walked to St. Regis from the nearby Hotel Quirinale, the van didn’t have to stop at different hotels to pick up passengers, otherwise we had to pay €5 for each extra stop. The ride took about 1½ hours and check-in was easy. Celebrity collected all our passports so we didn’t have to worry about going through immigration at any of the ports. We were given a receipt to claim the passports on the last sea day. I heard that some people refused to turn in their passports so they had to wake up super early and cut short their excursion time in order to complete the immigration process at the ports.

 

Although it was our 1st time cruising with Celebrity, we were able to transfer our Diamond status from Royal Caribbean to Celebrity’s Captain’s Club Elite, so we received many perks like priority embarkation, complimentary pressing of 2 garment items, one complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold), complimentary dry cleaning of 1 garment item, complimentary 90-minute Internet package, access to the Captain's Club Lounge for coffeehouse style breakfast and evening social hour with free drinks and invitations to attend the Senior Officer's Cocktail Party and the Elegant Tea Service event. The above were just the ones that we used and there were also many others that we did not use. For example, complimentary access to Persian Garden…who wants to lie on the hot stone when we were already boiling hot? We found that just having the free drinks before and after dinner saved us $$$. Since there were 2 of us, the above perks came in double so we could send in 2 bags of free laundry and got 180 minutes of free internet.

 

As we already got free alcoholic drinks from the Elite Happy Hours, we found it good enough to prepay for a premium non-alcoholic package of $18 per day which included canned and fountain soft drinks, Evian, Perrier & San Pellegrino water, specialty coffees and teas, frozen drinks & smoothies. The best for that package was we could get an ice-cold bottle of flavoured Vitamin Water on every port day. That proved to be extremely soothing while we were on excursions in extreme heat. Having bought the beverage package, I didn’t bother to ask if Pellegrino water was free while dining at Blu. We just ordered a few bottles for every dinner, regardless of the dining venues. During the whole cruise, I spent over $350 on drinks and DH spent close to $500, so it's great to just pay $200 each for the package.

 

After a quick lunch at the Oceanview Café (the food was actually not bad for a buffet), we went to our Aqua Class stateroom #1535 on Penthouse Deck 11. The room was just an average-size balcony room.

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With added amenities like daily fresh fruit, fresh-cut flowers and different types of tea ( prepared fresh daily with choices of raspberry, jasmine, herbal, green, etc.)

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We chose our room with great care and made sure that they were not directly below the pool with deck chairs scratching the ground or below the fitness centre with people dropping weights. Our room #1535 was on the port side below the acupuncture rooms and my colleague’s #1540 was on the starboard side below the hair salon. We thought it was very important to get quiet rooms for good night sleeps when we had a port intensive cruise. Both rooms proved to be very quiet throughout the day and at night.

 

When we were unpacking, Celebrity sent us complimentary champagne and flowers.

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I thought all Aqua guests got the free champagne but not the rose, so the flowers might be for our silver anniversary??? Since we booked the Aqua rooms for the special spa services Celebrity offered, we did a spa tour and decided to start our relaxation in the spa that very 1st afternoon. I did a facial and a massage and DH had a massage. All services were professional and both of us had a wonderful time there before the sailaway. My colleague & I also made our hair appointments for the 1st formal night and booked a few other spa treatments. I particularly liked the private access for Aqua guests to the Deck 12 spa area using the spiral staircase. It’s very convenient without getting out to the main elevator lobby. We could just wear our bath robes to go upstairs for the spa treatments and didn’t have to bother to change.

 

Being Aqua guests, we could use the Relaxation Lounge (also the waiting area for spa guests) with very comfortable day beds and since it’s located at Deck 11 Forward, being very close to our rooms, we spent some time after the spa to watch the sailaway but the heavy rain blocked a lot of the view. While we were in the Relaxation Lounge, I met another Canadian teacher couple, what a small world! We spent the time before the Emergency & Lifeboat Drill chatting and enjoying ourselves in the lounge.

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As a Captain’s Club Elite member, I received an email a few months before the cruise, offering me a 20% discount for dinner at Murano (reg. $35 per person) on the first night, so I prepaid and the 4 of us had a lovely meal there with above average food, service and atmosphere.

 

The Filet Mignon I ordered was tender and juicy

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And the Crepe Balon Rouge prepared tableside was delicious

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Then we went to the “Opening Night Show” at 9:30 p.m.

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July 24, 2012 (Day 9) – At sea (1st formal night)

 

We had a very busy morning. First we went to Cellar Masters on Deck 4 for the Meet & Mingle at 10 a.m. It’s great to meet the CC friends whom we chatted for so long before the cruise. We also met our private tours’ travel buddies there. Then Celebrity invited us to join the ship’s Honeymoon and Anniversary Celebration at the Sky Observation Lounge (Deck 14 Forward) at 11:15 a.m. The ship’s photographers went around the lounge to take pictures while we danced, ate, drank and socialized. They made a beautiful cake for each couple to pose & take photographs.

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In order to get ALL the hard copies of our pictures taken by Equinox’s photographers, we decided to buy the ship’s All inclusive picture package for $299.95. After paying for the package, the photo staff set up some envelopes for us at the photo gallery and we took all hard copies of our pictures displayed on the shelves to the counter for the sales rep to store them in the labelled envelopes. We would claim the envelopes when we picked up our photo CD. It was a super good move as Celebrity did not have room to post all photos up so cruise guests had to go through piles of photos that were displayed but were removed from the shelves to allow room for new ones. All pics on the CD were very neatly grouped into folders by photo stations & tourist attractions. The quality was not the best but they were just good memories, especially those that were taken on tender boats, at ports and attractions like the Acropolis. Since I got a lot of group pictures at the same location but with different poses, I could also give my travel buddies some of those pictures from my collection. We took home close to 200 8x10 and some 5x7 pictures which worked out to be less than $1.50 for each photo instead of the regular $19.99. We also got a deal to buy 3 DVD’s for $34.95 (Cruise-in-Review, Ports of Call: Mediterranean and the Birth of Equinox).

 

As we were socializing in the Sky Lounge, the Celebrity Life Activity Host announced that there was a couple from Canada who was celebrating their 50th anniversary. As DH & I went to congratulate them, we realized that the lady was a teacher who worked with my husband when he was vice-principal at an Education Centre. What a small world that we met her again after 15 years…not in Canada but in Europe :) !

 

We were late for Trivia so we did not win Progressive Round 1, even though we had 100% accuracy. We were not big fans of buffet so we had lunch in the Silhouette Dining Room. Since we were Aqua guests we always ate at the private restaurant Blu and other specialty restaurants so we did not eat dinner in the main dining room at all. Food quality at lunch was average.

 

We had a lovely afternoon nap before going to scrapbooking at 4 p.m., followed by my hair appointment at the salon at 4:45. The hairdresser was professional, quick and meticulous. She asked about the colour and style of the gown I would be wearing for formal night and matched my hairstyle perfectly to the dress. DH & I took lots of nice pictures from station to station.

 

Before changing into our formal attire, DH & I enjoyed our complimentary daily tea and hors d'oeuvres on our balcony.

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We went to Blu (the open seating restaurant exclusively for Aqua and suite guests) for dinner. I really liked the “Rose” theme. The walls were lovely.

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Even the butter was in the shape of a rose

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The food at Blu was very good (almost as good as Murano’s the night before). The service was impeccable. As I heard from some CC friends that sometimes Tuscan Grille would offer a 2-for-1 dinner, I went nextdoor to enquire about the availability. Unfortunately Tuscan Grille said they were quite booked up for this sailing and was not able to honour that offer. When the manager at Blu knew about this, he was kind enough to offer us a 25% off at Tuscan Grille for the night we’re back from Santorini, saying that the sunset view of Santorini from Tuscan Grille would be most beautiful. We gladly accepted his kind act.

 

After dinner, we went around the ship to take more pictures and the Ensemble Lounge on Deck 5 next to the specialty restaurants was one of our favourite venues on board.

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The show Limelight: The Broadway Dream was better than the one on the 1st night, though it’s nothing comparable to any of the real Broadway shows. Then we went to Quasar to sing Karaoke for an hour before retiring to bed. My friend was very happy about the wide selection of Italian songs there.

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July 25, 2012 (Day 10) – Santorini

 

I was very excited about this first port day in Santorini! We had a beautiful view of Santorini from our balcony.

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Breakfast was at Blu and I really liked their smoothies. They were free for Aqua guests during breakfast time. The best thing about Blu was the open seating and we could go there any time we wanted and there was always a table for us. The only time I had to make a reservation was when we were eating with 4 of our tour buddies for a table of 8.

 

As we checked http://www.cruisetimetables.com (a very important & useful site, check and plan accordingly!!) and knew that there were 3 other cruise ships docking there on the same day, we decided to join the ship excursion SO01 (CA$79.75 per person) - Village of Oia and Santorini Island - to take advantage of visiting Oia first, instead of taking the cable car or donkey to Fira with the crowds. Besides, there was no need to queue up early for the tendering tickets. Some of our friends told us that since all early tenders were for cruisers that had booked ship’s excursions, they waited for a couple of hours to get on a tender, and they could only have time to visit Fira but not Oia. IMO, Oia was more beautiful than the well-known capital, Fira. I was so glad that we booked the ship’s excursion though big group tours were definitely not our cup of tea! Our instruction from Celebrity was that 1 person from our group would go to the Equinox Theatre and get the tender tickets for the whole group from a staff member on the stage, and the rest of us just waited in the Theatre for our tender number to be called. We got Tender #7 and we were called after about a 15-min wait in the theatre.

 

The tender was big and beautiful, like an ancient fishing boat.

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Partial view of the tender boat

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As we got the front seats on the tender, Celebrity’s videographer was there and filmed us waving at him so we could see ourselves on the Cruise-in-Review DVD. After about 10 minutes, we got off the tender and boarded the #7 coach (same as the tender #). It was very well-organized as there were so many coaches waiting there. We were taken to Oia’s Santo Winery to enjoy a few glasses of wine and the beautiful scenery.

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Wine tasting

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Wow! What a view!

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Thank you for this review, I have so far devoured it and will have to go through it again much slower with DH.

 

We are doing a very similar trip this year and it is the first cruise and first time to the Med for my DH, so it is super exciting!

 

Our trip starts 3 days in Venice, then 2 days in Florence, then 11 night cruise Greece, Turkey & Italy with 4 days in Rome to finish. Wow:D

 

Think I can learn a lot from your review.

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July 25, 2012 (Day 10 con’t) – Oia, Santorini

 

We were given some time to explore Oia on our own and DH took lots of amazing photos. It’s so true to say that if you can’t take a beautiful picture in Santorini, it’s because you don’t have a camera.

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This is the landmark of our meeting place after our own walkaround, from there we had to walk back to the parking lot nearby where the coach was waiting.

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The reds and pinks stood out so much amidst the whites and blues

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No one could miss this most-photographed sight

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We bought quite a few Greek souvenirs

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Bye to the breathtaking view of Oia

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Thank you for this review, I have so far devoured it and will have to go through it again much slower with DH.

 

We are doing a very similar trip this year and it is the first cruise and first time to the Med for my DH, so it is super exciting!

 

Our trip starts 3 days in Venice, then 2 days in Florence, then 11 night cruise Greece, Turkey & Italy with 4 days in Rome to finish. Wow:D

 

Think I can learn a lot from your review.

 

Yes, indeed your trip sounded very similar to ours. Great minds think alike!!:D

 

How are you going to Venice? Lots of Luggage? Refer to my Venice posts. That was the city I spent most time to plan on and I still feel my planning was below par. :(

 

Post again if you need further help from me as your planning goes on.

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July 25, 2012 (Day 10 con’t) – Fira, Santorini

 

It’s so important to be on time when you’re with the big tour as the coach would just leave without having everyone on board. Luckily the “late” couple was picked up as we drove past them, otherwise they would have to find their own transportation to Fira (though not far away) and they would have missed the giving out of the cable car tickets in Fira.

 

Our tour basically finished as soon as we arrived at Fira, the capital of Santorini. The tour guide gave out our cable car tickets so we could return to the ship on our own. It was fortunate that since our ship had a late departure, 2 of the cruiseships docked at Santorini had already left, so the wait time for the cable car was only about 30 minutes. We found a map of Fira on our way:

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Then we split up with my colleague who could not walk far with a broken toe and we started exploring on our own. Without the motor coach now it’s MY turn to transport DH’s tripod from one end to the other end of the town while he carried his camera bag containing his Canon T3i camera and a few lenses. He is not a professional photographer but he just likes taking pictures.

 

The view of Fira

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The donkey station where people walked up and down with the donkeys (they were actually mules)

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Some parts of the donkey path were not very wide so it’s not easy to walk down to the shore with the donkeys.

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We could see our ship from Fira

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I’m not advertising for the hotel, I just liked the ship seen from the arch!

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July 25, 2012 (Day 10 con’t) – Fira, Santorini

 

Equinox looked beautiful from the top of the cliff

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Having spent a couple of hours in Fira, we went to the cable car station to meet up with our friends. Each cable car could hold 6 people max and there was a set of 6 cars that moved together. The journey from the top of the cliff to the port took 3 minutes.

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It’s a pity that we missed the beautiful sunset while waiting in line inside the cable car building and the sun set too quickly to allow us to take sunset pictures while at port or on the tender. This was one of the very few we got:

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When we got back, we quickly changed for dinner at Tuscan Grille. Since we got the 25% off, we only paid $90 for the 4 of us. This proved to be the best dinner on board.

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Best Filet Mignon on board

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Yummy Crème Brulee

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After dinner, we went to watch the magic show by Neal Austin, it was quite funny.

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July 26, 2012 (Day 11) – At sea

 

We spent a very relaxing day at sea. As we woke up very late, we had “brunch” at the Silhouette Dining Room. DH swam at the pool and took a nap by the pool on the lounger. I hemmed the pants of the new suit DH bought in Milan and sent them to be ironed so he could wear the suit on the 2nd formal night.

 

DH got a lovely shot of a sailboat from our balcony

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We went to the Senior Officers’ Social exclusively for Captain’s Club members, had a drink at Michael’s Club before dinner at Blu, then watched the A Capella quartet performing at the Entertainment Court. Some of the songs sung by the quartet were good but many times they were out of tune and the balance was not desirable, especially when the harmony was louder than the melody.

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July 27, 2012 (Day 12) – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)

 

Celebrity Equinox’s itinerary with 1.5 days in Istanbul and 1 full day in Ephesus was one major reason why we booked the cruise. DH & I had always wanted to visit Istanbul, the only city in the world that lies in both Asia and Europe. I booked Tour #4 (1.5 days Private Istanbul Tour) for 10 people with Ephesus Shuttle. Each paid US$116. I communicated with Fevzi from Ephesus Shuttle and his responses were always prompt and helpful. I highly recommended Ephesus Shuttle for private tours in Istanbul and Ephesus. Lots of CC cruisers used them and were all happy about their service. The best about Ephesus Shuttle was we could pay for our own tours at their office in Ephesus using different forms of payment not before but after the tours. For those not going to Ephesus could pay the guide after the Istanbul City Tour without going to the office. As the one who started the booking, I was only responsible for the confirmation of the group itinerary but not for others’ payment.

 

Omar from Ephesus Shuttle was our guide and he met us at the Istanbul port on time at 8:15 a.m. He had been in the profession for over 20 years and knew all the tricks of how to see the most in the shortest time…that’s exactly our travel style! His English was excellent and he was very humorous. We first went to the Hippodrome Square where chariot races and riots took place in the olden days. We saw sellers carrying buns or donuts or burgers on their heads:

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Then we walked to the Blue Mosque nearby and had to cover our hair and shoulders using our scarves. The mosque provided big squares of covering for those who didn’t bring their own. We had to take our shoes off and put them in a plastic bag at the entrance. We had to carry the shoes ourselves while we’re in the mosque.

 

Blue Mosque with 6 minarets

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Inside the Blue Mosque

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Beautiful Iznik tiles in different shades of blue

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Exiting the Blue Mosque

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July 27, 2012 (Day 12 con’t) – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)

 

We continued to walk to Hagia Sophia built in 532 AD which, IMO, was more elegant and well-decorated than Blue Mosque.

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It used to be a Christian Church but now it’s a museum with Muslim calligraphy.

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The next attraction was the Topkapi Palace which used to be the residence of the Ottoman Sultans.

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There was a long line to view the treasury, but with Omar’s help we were able to enter as a group at a much faster pace.

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Beautiful view of Istanbul from Topkapi Palace

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July 27, 2012 (Day 12 con’t) – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)

 

Our driver was late picking us up for lunch, so after a 20-minute wait, we decided to walk to our lunch place. There was quite a bit of uphill walk but we got there in about 15 minutes and had a good local lunch at Sefa Restaurant.

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We went to the food counter where the lunch dishes were on display to order and pay for our own lunch. Our dishes were brought to us after they were heated.

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DH ordered eggplant with veggie & rice

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I had chicken and veggie

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The food tasted OK and it’s just different than what we normally eat. After lunch, we continued to walk to the Grand Bazaar but were brought to a carpet store to watch a presentation.

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The salesmen put out over 50 big and small carpets for us to choose.

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We almost bought one but found that the pattern was not very symmetrical, so we didn’t buy it at the end. Nevertheless, the apple tea they offered us was very refreshing.

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July 27, 2012 (Day 12 con’t) – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)

 

We were given over 2 hours to spend at the Grand Bazaar which is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world.

 

The entrance to the Grand Bazaar

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There were close to 60 covered streets. This was the main street which was quite wide.

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This was one that was narrower

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We took a photograph of the map of Grand Bazaar, just in case we were lost & couldn’t find the way out.

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We spent a lot of time at this store to buy many of those ceramic Turkish dishes, kept bargaining until we got 8 small (2”) ones for US$10.

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Then I bought some silk book marks with Turkish patterns or attractions on for US$1 each. There were lots of stores that sold Turkish costumes like these bra and belt sets.

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My colleague bought a black and gold belt to wear for the Turkish Night Out and she also spent a long time at one leather jacket store. They could do instant fixing to the 2 leather jackets that she bought and made them fit perfectly.

 

At 4:30 we made our way back to the carpet store where the van was waiting to take us back to the ship. Arriving at the port, Equinox staff greeted us with ice-cold towels and refreshing cold water and juice. This was a kind act that Equinox did at every single port and we were so thankful to them, especially after a hot, humid and exhausting day ashore.

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July 27, 2012 (Day 12 con’t) – Istanbul, Turkey (Day 1 of 2)

 

One of the cruise highlights for our husbands was the Turkish Night Out where they could watch different belly dancers dance. I paid US$80 per person for Ephesus Shuttle to pick us up at 8 p.m. from the ship for a Turkish Night Out and they took us to Kervansaray Restaurant & Night Club. The food was below average from a fixed menu (everyone there attending the show had the same food).

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The female singer was not up to par, but the belly dancers were very good and they even claimed to have the #1 belly dancer in Istanbul.

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The show with the knives was amazing.

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We left the restaurant at 11 p.m. and took some night shots of the port before boarding the ship.

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This is the famous Bosphorus Bridge connecting Europe & Asia.

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