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Our Serenade Story - Review Oct 10 - 22 Med Cruise

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So excited to hear about Livorno and will be anxiously awaiting your posts! Thanks again for the info on the tender tickets for Cannes. I guess I won't stress over it. I provided the link on our very active roll call so I am sure you will have a great many people following. Thanks again for doing this review. :)




Dolfans from Miami

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First a few details from Livorno

While doing my research I came across Rome In Limo, I'm sure most of you have heard of them. After looking at many other companies as well, this is the one I settled on for all of our Italy stops. I initially booked them for only the 4 of us (we weren't sure at that point if we were doing any tours with family) but after looking at the cost we decided sharing the tours was a good idea. We added my sister and her husband and my parents to this tour for a total of 8. RIL was very responsive to emails and questions and they were great about dealing with my dad's mobility scooter.


I bought the tickets to climb the tower of Pisa online prior to our cruise. RIL gave me a link to their website but it is also easy to find with a search. They do have a very restrictive time window that you can buy the tickets though. I watched daily until our date came available and was able to get the tickets without issue. They were 18 Euro per person.


We chose not to visit the Accademia in Florence. We made this choice because there was a special exhibit that was causing an increase in the normal ticket price. You could not buy just a regular admission. Since we would only be there a short time (essentially just to see the David) we decided we would rather have extra time to spend in town.


We ate breakfast this morning in the dining room. We were a little pressed for time but it worked out okay. We were able to eat and get off the ship to meet our guide by 8:00am.


Now on to the review.



Day Two; Port Two

Lovely Livorno


Our next stop was Livorno, Italy, which is the stop for Pisa and Florence. Seth was almost euphoric about visiting the Leaning Tower in Pisa and could hardly stay in his skin. On this trip we had a larger private tour with Sarah's mom and dad, Mike and George Anne Brown, and her sister and her husband, Christopher and Micah Bluto. Mike, Sarah's dad, has horrible arthritis and is wheelchair bound. This poses several obstacles when it comes to touring. He found a really cool travel scooter that was light weight and offered very impressive maneuverability. And, it folded up and sat neatly in the back of the van. I will discuss how successfully he was able to tour as the story progresses. We met on the pier and walked out of the gate to meet our new guide for the day, and up to that point I thought the day was cloudy, but when we met Elizabetta, I know there is nothing but sunshine and lollypops in her life. She met us with a smile that would impress a Texan, and a bubbly personality that would shame the finest French Champagne. The best description I can use would be a fiery volcano who loved to laugh. She was the stereotypical Italian, who spoke with both hands, even if she was driving. With her spontaneous outbursts of "Mama Mia!" we discovered that Elizabetta was going to be a hard act to follow. She gave us a tremendously detailed description of Italian politics, history, and current events, and made the tour an absolute delight. We would continually laugh when she would tell a joke and crack herself up. She knew exactly where to take us for our tickets, she knew when and where to pick us up, and she gave great advice on how to enjoy our tour.


She took us to her home town of Pisa with great enthusiasm and pointed out facts that only a local could possibly know. She built our anticipation of the tower so much that I almost felt as though I needed a cigarette once we finally got there, and I don't even smoke! She kept telling us that we were ahead of the barbarians who were on the larger bus tours, and that we would have the place to ourselves for at least an hour. She was right! The route we drove took us around the block from the tower and she paused as the tower came into view and we excitedly snapped photos through the glass windows. Seth was about to come unglued! Elizabetta rounded the corner and suddenly we were face to face with one of the most remarkable works or art ever constructed.


On the journey Elizabetta told us the process the tower endured in its construction, and you have to imagine the quintessential Italian telling the story for its full effect. It went something like this: "So, when he realized that his a'tower was a'leaning, and that it mighta fall a'down, they said STOP a'building it. And then it a'sat there. And then another architect said he knew how to a'fix the problem. So, he made the columns shorter on the side that was a'leaning, and made the columns a'longer on the side that wasn't a'leaning. And it helped, so they finished the tower. But now, do you know what a'shape it is? It's a BANANA!" and she laughed as if it was the first time she told the story. She told us that modern day engineers knew the tower would eventually fall down, so they started correcting the problem. And they did a good job. And then the Italian government told them not to correct it too much, because it was famous because it was a'leaning. So, they stabilized it where it wouldn't fall and left it alone. It's quite safe to visit and climb.



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And now we were standing in front of a truly magnificent masterpiece. It is hard to imagine that the tower was almost 950 years old and that it was just right there! When we first approached the tower, it was from the leaning side, so we didn't see just how much it actually leaned. When we started circling the tower we saw just how imposing the slant was. I have trouble believing that it didn't fall down!



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The scroll work on the tower was incredible, and the art work fashioned into it is almost impossible to describe, so I won't try. Just look at it yourself when you get there! My publisher and I decided that we would take some publicity shots while I was in Europe, so I took a newspaper from home and had my photo reading it in front of the tower. If you're from a small town they will print that photo in the newspaper, and it will be great advertisement for my new books! We also took the obligatory shots of us holding the tower up, or of pushing it over. Caitie didn't quite get the idea at first. But we finally got her posed in the right direction!



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Our tickets to climb the tower were for 9 o'clock that morning, and it was perfect timing. We had walked around the tower, took our photos, and were able to climb the tower before the hoards of barbarians arrived. The climb was not as daunting as I imagined it would be. Although, I freely admit it was a bit disconcerting when you got the leaning side of the spiral staircase. The marble steps were very worn and slippery, so take your time and step deliberately while you climb. Take your time! Ha! There are nearly three hundred steps, so you will be taking your time. Plus, there had been a passing shower earlier that morning, so some of the steps were wet. Just don't get in a hurry! When we arrived at the top, I was shocked to see that the tower was completely hollow. It is a cylinder with a fancy suit of armor! The tower, of course, is a bell tower, and we meandered around the top for a while and then we realized the guard at the top was stepping out of the center of the tower and was making her way to the edge. I asked if the bells were about to ring and she told me that it usually rings every 15 minutes, but not every time. She told us that if we wanted to hear it ring, to wait a couple of minutes. If it didn't ring, then they forgot to do it. So, we waited. After a couple of minutes it was 9:17, so we concluded it wasn't going to happen and we began our descent. Thirty seconds later the bells rang and we were both relieved and disappointed. It would have been loud if we were there when it happened. So, if you see the guard getting out of the way, take your cue.



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I have arthritis in my knees and this was a very tough climb!




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The bells at the top



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Now we must go back down (it has just under 300 steps)





Mike wasn't able to climb the tower, and there are no elevators to the top. Instead, he and George Anne tooled around, checking out the church and the baptistry while we made our ascent. Other than climbing, the area was very wheel chair accessible. Oh, and there are restrooms on site. And they were free.




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Look at the narrow sidewalk, that red dot under the green tree, that's my dad!

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When we were getting back into the van I asked Elizabetta where the second leaning tower of Pisa was, and for the first time she frowned and announced that I ruined her surprise! Most people don't know about the second tower, and very few tourists get to see it. Only private tours have the flexibility to fit it in. She took off and drove us through some winding streets and then proudly announced that her beautiful town had two towers that were doomed to fall. The second tower was built in the 12th century and didn't have the sparkle and shine of the famous tower.



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Elizabetta then took us to Florence and told us many funny and fact filled stories along the way. As I was looking at the countryside, or what I thought was the countryside, I recognized that nothing looked like the rolling hills of Tuscany. You know what I mean? The hills you see in paintings? Everything was flat and...well, flat. And Texans know flat. I was disappointed. Elizabetta then offered to deviate from the course for a few minutes and she would drive up a hill that was nearby and we could take some pictures. (Remember how you need to trust your guide?) By then the clouds had lifted and the rain was finished. As we parked on the hilltop, we were the only barbarians anywhere around, and we were alone the entire time. What we saw was perfect. The clouds lifted again and the sun peaked out, and we were in the heart of the rolling hills I so desperately wanted to see. A vineyard stretched out along the hills, and on the distant horizon you could see an old church and a bell tower. The warm Tuscan colors were splashed across the building we could see. The yellows, oranges, and reds were dancing across the landscape, completing the vineyards with the very image of Tuscany. We were enchanted! Italy had cast its spell.



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We then arrived in Florence and our love affair with Italy was fully consummated. I have never been to a more charming town. It was complete with the narrow winding streets, ancient Roman history, and all the bright colors of Italy. There were many barbarians, but I never felt oppressed, and we were never really crowded. Except for the Duomo, but I'll get to that in a minute.



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Elizabetta took us to a hilltop in Florence (Piazzale Michelangelo) that overlooked the city. Holy cow! Florence is a beautiful and majestic place. I have travelled extensively, and I've been to some incredible towns, but Florence is a special place. We could see cathedrals and domes scattered along the horizon, and the infamous Ponte Vecchio where the Arno River passes through town. The old city wall meanders along the valley below, completing the image.



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Oh, there are also restrooms at that lookout point. And I suppose this is a good time for me to offer a diatribe on bathrooms for good measure. I seem to remember it costing .70 Euros to enter. There is an attendant standing there with a mop. The very second you exit the stall, he or she immediately cleans up behind you, and they may or may not be there while you conduct your business. You aren't really paying for a bathroom. You're paying for a CLEAN bathroom. And that, my friends, is worth a lot! By the way, the men's restroom is the kind where there is only a hole, not a seat. The women's has a sit down throne. There were only a few places where there were no formal toilets, in fact, and the other was in Athens. So if you were worried about that, you can relax. There was never a toilet that was horrible. And, some were self cleaning. So, if you enter a toilet that is dripping wet from top to bottom, it is because when you close the door to exit, a blast of water drenches everything. It can be quite startling if you don't know about it. Only once did I experience a bad bathroom incident, and that was a self inflicted wound that almost caused a riot at Vatican City. But that is reserved for tomorrow's story.

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A great review thus far Sarah! My GF is itching for a trip to Europe one day. Hopefully, we can do something similar to your trip.


BTW, I'll let the "Middle Age Drama Queen" know you referenced her review. She's a friend on that social media site that shall not be named! :D


I'm quite certain she will be flattered!

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From that hilltop, Elizabetta took us into the heart of Florence, and dropped us off a stone's throw away from the Duomo. She told us to take an hour and then we could all meet back at her location. She was very worried about Mike being able to get around on his scooter, so she wanted us to reconvene to ensure that he was being taken care of properly. We walked a block to the Duomo and staggered in our steps. The Duomo is a magnificent work of art, and a cathedral with few rivals. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is the main church of Florence. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style, and is faced with marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white. It has incredibly detailed and intricate scroll work and sculptures adorning it from the ground all the way to the dome. I kept trying to capture it by camera, but it was too vast to do so. And which part do you take a picture of? It was magnificent! The church is actually a basilica, is one of Italy's largest churches, and the dome was the largest in the world until the modern era. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.


Well, we certainly wanted to enter the church, but I was dismayed when I saw the line of barbarians waiting to enter. The line was long. But it was moving. So we got into it. While I'm standing in line, let me tell you of your two options when you visit the Duomo. You can take the free, self guided tour and stand in line to enter the church. Or, you can pay a small fee (8 Euro, I think) and stand in line to climb to the top of the dome (two separate lines). I've heard it is a magnificent thing to do, but we opted to stay on the ground. After all, we had just climbed the tower in Pisa, and our legs were jelly. Plus, Mike was on his scooter (there is a separate side entrance for those with mobility issues. Elizabetta made sure we knew where this was before we left her). The wait to get into the Duomo was actually very short. We only stood in line maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and most of that time was spent marveling at the gorgeous facade of the church exterior. And once we entered the Duomo..., well... it was simply magnificent. The church is ornate. And the tile work in the floor alone is worth visiting. Elizabetta told us that the Duomo was so ornate and so awesome that the church had to cover up a lot of its artwork (also some had been stolen and some were removed to museums), because it was too distracting to people trying to worship. Man, it must have been overwhelming before, because it was still magnificent in its current, toned-down state. The domed ceiling was painted by a contemporary of Michelangelo. Well, I could go on and on



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This is the corner where we were dropped off, you can see the Duomo ahead. And if you turn right at that corner you see ahead you will run right into Piazza della Repubblica (where there are some great restaurants).



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By the way, once we were inside, there was plenty of room for everyone. It wasn't crowded at all. AND, you do have to be dressed appropriately for the church. No shorts that reveal your knees, and no swim suits. You know the drill.


After we left the Duomo, we met Elizabetta, who told us that we had 3 hours of free time. We decided to split up as a family group and we could all do whatever we wanted. But eating was the first thing on our radar. We all ended up at the same restaurant in Piazza della Repubblica which is an extraordinary place to eat. I cannot remember the name but it was across the Piazza from Caffe Gilli, which is an historic restaurant. Had I known about it at the time we would have probably eaten there! You will recognize the Piazza by the big carousel in the center, and let me tell you, the food was incredible.



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Piazza della Repubblica



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Sarah and the kids each ordered a pizza, and I ordered the lasagna. I will give a tutorial about ordering pizza in Italy later on, so I won't focus on that right now. But let me tell you, pizza in Florence is painfully good, and, even though it's nothing like American pizza, it is just as tasty. And the lasagna, well, holy cow, and thank God Columbus brought tomatoes back to Europe! Add the bottle of wine we shared...it was a great meal. And it only cost about 55Euro for the four of us. Another bonus about this place was the Wi-Fi access. We were able to connect our phones to their server and take care of some business. I checked to see if the government shutdown was over, which it wasn't, and Sarah uploaded a few shots to Facebook. I was even able to connect with my family in Texas via Face Time for a few minutes. But, it was really early in Texas, so I accidentally woke them up. It was about 5AM there!



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Margherita Pizza



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Pizza with spicy salami, Pizza with tomato & basil, lasagna, wine



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Pizza with ham & mushroom


Sorry about Pictures of half eaten food...we were very hungry:D

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Once we finished this fantastic meal, we walked to the nearest gelato place and gave Italy its fair shot at impressing us. It was good, but so far, St. Paul was the best. Then we walked down to the Piazza della Signoria, which is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is the town hall, so to speak. The Piazza is rather unique in that it is the home to dozens of statues, one of which is a copy of Michelangelo's David. Many famous statues inhabit this square, and all of them are incredible. Most were sculpted in the 1500s. The original David is kept at The Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, AKA "Academy of Fine Arts of Florence". We intended to visit the Accademia, but they were hosting a special event which would have cost many more Euros. We decided that it was more expensive than we wanted to spend. But, we did get more free time to wander around Florence, and that was a priceless exchange.



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A copy of the David that stands where the original stood.


At this point, our family group hit a snag. Mike needed a bathroom, and in his scooter he was having a hard time accessing one, as most of the restrooms were downstairs. So, Sarah went with him to find him some relief that didn't involve a fine for indecency, and I took the kids to look for souvenirs. The kids and I walked a couple of blocks down to the Ponte Vecchio, which is an historical bridge which crosses the Arno River. It was built in the early Roman days where the Via Cassia crossed at the narrowest point. Throughout the millennia that followed, the bridge had shops built onto it, many of which were food service stores, such as butcher shops and restaurants. Apparently the smells on the bridge were offensive to the Medici family who crossed using a corridor built into the top, so an ordinance was passed that only jewelry stores could occupy the shops. And we're not talking about cheap gold, either. You're gonna spend some serious cash buying something on that bridge. And there were scores of barbarians looking for a place to spend their money.



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Walking towards Ponte Vecchio



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There were a few quiet streets



We did manage to find an accessible bathroom for my dad. We walked back towards the Duomo from Piazza Signoria and there is a shop called Coin it has very nice restrooms that are free and accessible.


Seth wanted his snow globe, and Caitie was looking for a trinket box of some kind, and I had my eyes open for a magnet and some local art. We found it all very quickly. In fact, all of our small purchases were made at a souvenir stand just off the bridge. The kids picked out their items and I reached into my pocket only to realize that I had given all of my money to Sarah at lunch. But where was she? So, we walked the few blocks back to the Piazza, but they were nowhere in sight. We trekked back to Ponte Vecchio and found Micah, Sarah's sister, and I borrowed enough cash from her to pay for our souvenirs. Sarah was still a no show. Apparently she was having trouble finding Mike a bathroom that would work for him. But while waiting on her to return, I found a couple of artists who were painting on the street. I bought one small water color for 15 Euros, and a really nice acrylic for 25 Euros. By this time our group had reassembled and we were once again under the love and protection offered to us by Elizabetta, who had one more stop planned for the afternoon before shuttling us back to the ship.

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The Basilica di Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, and is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about a half mile south east of the Duomo. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Dante, and Rossini, thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories. If you're into dead people, or, more accurately, into visiting the tombs of famous dead people, then you will really dig the graves found in Santa Croce, all jokes about necromancy aside.


There is an entrance fee to visit this Basilica and Elizabetta asked us if we were interested in it before taking us here. The fee was 6 Euro per adult and the kids were free.



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Basilica di Santa Croce



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Leonardo da Vinci (Elizabetta was distressed because his tomb is so plain!)



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When we finished our tour we used the restroom facilities at the church and loaded up into the van so Elizabetta could return us to our ship. She had promised at the beginning of the day that she wouldn't talk to us on the return trip, just so she wouldn't excessively annoy us on the way back. But, Mike was sitting in the front seat, and the two of them kept exchanging stories and laughing. It helped make the 40 or so minute drive back to the ship pleasant. By this time, we had spent two intense days of port calls that were both physically and emotionally draining. Our "culture-ometer" was full, which made us tired. We were looking forward to our evening dinner and then bed time. So far, the evening shows on the ship were less than interesting, so we would retire fairly early.

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About this time we received a blessing from Mike and George Anne. They insisted that one or two of their grandchildren spend the night with them in their room as often as possible. This helped us tremendously. As we mentioned earlier, our room was distastefully small, and sending one kid to their stateroom made ours more bearable. Every night the kids would swap back and forth, allowing us much more use of our very crowded room.


A couple of thoughts about Florence before I take you to Rome... Florence is a wonderful city, and it has all the charm and grace of any European city, and it is a beautiful place to visit. We marked Florence as a place we dearly wished to return to some day. And by God's grace we will make it back there. If you're into wine, you might like to know that this area of Tuscany holds very high and restrictive standards on the wine making process. Chianti Classico is their trademark product, and it is a wonderful dry red wine to drink with steak dinners, or with pizza and lasagna. To ensure that you are receiving a Chianti that meets those high standards, look for the seal on the bottle that has a red rooster on it. Only wines made to these local standards are allowed to carry that seal. My time in Florence was meaningful in other ways as well. During WWII, my grandfather crossed the Arno River, but under much different circumstances. I remember him telling us about their invasion of Italy, and how they fought on the very same ground that our ports visited. The Italians hold no ill will against the Americans, and often speak critically of what the Germans inflicted upon their beautiful cities. But, time heals all wounds. Over half of the barbarians touring the cities were German, and that speaks highly of the Italians' ability to overcome their past.


Mike was mostly successful with his scooter in Florence. He had access to anyplace he wanted to visit, his only issue being bathroom breaks. Overall, he faired very well. Let's see how well he would do in Rome.



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Our wonderful Elizabetta!


We got back to the ship between 4:30 and 5:00. We went to the room to drop off our things and freshen up a bit then out to the Schooner Bar for a pre-dinner drink. The kids would usually stay in the room or head to grandma's room and just meet us in the dining room for dinner. Dinner was apparently unremarkable because I don't have any pictures. We also skipped the show because we were exhausted and knew Rome was coming...


Compasses for Day 3 (Livorno, Italy)



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A few last thoughts on this stop, Florence/Pisa turned out to be one of my favorite place of the whole trip. I desperately want to return. I want to do some wine touring in Tuscany and spend days (not hours) walking around Florence. I want to visit the Uffizi and Accademia galleries....one day :)

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Before I take you into Eze, let me pay homage to a particularly enjoyable and informative review of Serenade and the Med. In preparation for our trip, we read the review posted by a woman who calls herself the Middle Aged Drama Queen, and her review is awesome (check it out here). You should check it out. Well, she refers to the other tourists as barbarians. It's funny, and she includes herself and her family as part of the barbarian hoard that invades Europe. It's all in fun. And now, back to our story...





Thank you for the shootout - and for the compliments. You didn't have to do that. (I'll send you the check later.)


Seriously, though, LOVING your review. It's taking me back to our own trip, which seems so far, far away now.


Okay. Carry on. :)

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Sorry I've been away for a few days. Had a pinched nerve in my shoulder and sitting at the computer wasn't the best treatment for it. It's feeling better now so I will try to get Rome posted this evening! And maybe get the sea days posted as well.

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Before I take you into Eze, let me pay homage to a particularly enjoyable and informative review of Serenade and the Med. In preparation for our trip, we read the review posted by a woman who calls herself the Middle Aged Drama Queen, and her review is awesome (check it out here). You should check it out. Well, she refers to the other tourists as barbarians. It's funny, and she includes herself and her family as part of the barbarian hoard that invades Europe. It's all in fun. And now, back to our story...





Thank you for the shootout - and for the compliments. You didn't have to do that. (I'll send you the check later.)


Seriously, though, LOVING your review. It's taking me back to our own trip, which seems so far, far away now.


Okay. Carry on. :)


Hey Sherri! :D I so loved your review that I printed it out and made my hubby take it to work and read it! The kids even read it on one of our road trips. It was a great help in planning our own cruise. Thanks for stopping by and saying hi!

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Time for Rome! A few thoughts before I begin with the hubby's narrative. The previous days we had tried to squeeze in breakfast in the dining room before we would head out for the day. This seemed a little rushed so this day we opted for room service on the balcony. It was a great choice and we repeated it many times for the rest of the cruise.


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One of the kids had spent the night in the grandparents cabin (YAY for grandparents on the cruise) so there were just 3 of us to get ready that morning.


Our tour was once again booked with Rome in Limo. The gave a 50 Euro discount off each tour if you booked at least 3 with them. I believe for the 8 people it was 550 Euro. I booked the tours very early in the process and at the time they had a promotion for prepayment so I had prepaid for all of the RIL tours ahead of time.



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(All of the Private Tour vehicles waiting for their passengers! As you can see they are just off the ship.)




We didn't know it until well after we booked the cruise but we were in Rome on a Sunday (Wah Wah:(), which means the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel would be off the list. If you are looking at planning a trip to the Mediterranean, please look at what day you will be in Rome! Since we couldn't visit these two places we chose to go to the catacombs instead (there was no need to book these tickets ahead). I did purchase my tickets for the Colosseum online and will comment on that further when we get to that part of the story. Enough for now...on with Rome.:D

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Roman Roaming


The next port was Civitavecchia, Italy (savita vekia) which is the port that services Rome. We were really looking forward to our day in Rome, and, once again, Seth could hardly stay in his skin for excitement about visiting the Colosseum. This tour had me and my group of four, Sarah's parents, Mike and George Anne, and Sarah's sister and her husband, Chris and Micah. Our guide's name was Octavio, and he was a friendly, professional man who spoke very softly. But what he lacked in volume he made up for in knowledge. He was a wealth of information and never seemed to tire of us asking what are probably dumb tourist questions. I enjoyed his random observations such as, "Those hills over there were probably the first settlements of the Etruscans." I'm really into trivial details like that.



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A statue in the port city.



He intended to take us first to the Colosseum, but he immediately changed his plans when we asked if we could fit in the catacombs. It didn't matter to him, but we had to stop there first and then proceed to the Colosseum. He did mention that it might be busy by the time we got there, though. As you get closer and closer to Rome, you see no end of ancient walls, old watch towers, and aqueduct ruins. I was determined to get up close and personal to some of those ruins and examine them. I'm simply amazed that something could stand for more than 2,000 years, when I can't seem to get my bedroom door to stop squeaking. We arrived at the Catacombs of St Callixtus, and the tours were guided in whatever language you spoke, and they left every few minutes. It cost 8 Euro per adult/ 5 Euro per child (so 26 Euro for our family of 4).



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017 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

Some of the grounds around the catacombs


While we were waiting for our turn to enter the catacombs, I spotted an old building near the restrooms. It might have been small, but I'll bet it played a significant role in history. I walked over to it and placed my hands on it, finding that emotional connection that comes with personally and physically interacting with a piece of history. How many other people had touched this small building over the last 2,000 years? Had Julius Caesar himself leaned upon these very stones? Had gladiators possibly breathed their dying breaths in this very soil? I saw a placard on the building and, in my limited Italian, read, when the building was erected, in Roman numerals, no doubt. MCMXXIX. Let's see, when a C comes before an M... What the?!?! That small shed was built in 1929? I was emotionally connected with a tool shed that didn't even see WWI? Moving right along...



030 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

The entrance to the catacombs.

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Our turn came to tour the catacombs, and I have to say, it was an incredible place to visit. The words cryptic and labyrinth are the only true description that actually instills the proper image. We saw frescos that chronicled the desperate lives of the 1st century Christians, and marveled at how they developed codes to avoid the Roman authorities, and how they preserved their faith through the worst prosecution the Christians would ever face. Despite all they endured, their tombs were celebrations of life rather than the sufferings of meaningless deaths. Our guide even let us go off trail for a moment as we crawled over a dirty wall and emerged in a tomb in another corridor. The only reason he allowed us to do that was because we were a small, private group. Cool stuff! Our guide reminded me of an Italian version of James Spader. I'll let your imagination take you where it will... Unfortunately, Mike was unable to enter the Catacombs (he was expecting this), as they are most definitely not wheelchair friendly. He spent his time wandering around the rather lovely park that surrounded the catacomb entrance, and though he was disappointed, didn't seem to be too upset by his limitations. The kids absolutely loved the underground tour, and all of us were very grateful we took time to visit the Catacombs.



039 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



043 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



053 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

The exit...lots of stairs to get in and out!


As we were getting back into the van, I asked Octavio if he was familiar with the La Bocca della Verità, which is a sculpture at the church of Santa Maria and is thought to be from a first century AD fountain. It has an open mouth, and it was believed that if one told a lie with one's hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. It was also made famous by the movie, Roman Holiday. It was also featured on one episode of Castle. When I asked Octavio about it, he shook his head sadly. "I was saving that as a surprise for you." Great! I have a knack for spoiling tour surprises. When we arrived at the sculpture, there were so many people standing in line and pretending to have their hands bitten off that we were forced to skip it. Too bad. Now we will never know if I'm a liar.:rolleyes:

Edited by inmanfamily
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Okay, now it's time to go see the Colosseum. Octavio loaded us up and before we knew it, we were driving through some magnificent arched gates and we entered the old part of Rome. We were driving on Appian Way, one of the earliest roads ever built, dating back to 312 BC. And I suppose this is the proper time to get it over with: this road did lead to Rome.



163 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



160 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


Now we were in the heart of the historic district, and emperors really did travel this path. Entire armies marched down this road as Rome continued to advance with each passing year. And, our guide pointed out, Sophia Loren also passed this way.



166 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


We drove along for a moment gazing from one ancient building to the next. There was a church from the 2nd century AD, here was a wall built in 100 BC, and then we turned a corner and there it was. The Colosseum was suddenly right in front of us, and the pavement wrapped around it like it was always intended to do so. Cars and scooters flew past it like it was a sycamore tree on Main Street back home. But Octavio paused a moment and let us appreciate what was happening. He then circled around and he hurriedly parked a hundred yards from one of the most impressive historical sites I've ever seen. We climbed out of the van and simply marveled.



083 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



086 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


I looked around and tried to imagine what life was like when this masterpiece was constructed. I allowed my mind to drift and I activated my imagination. I envisioned Roman soldiers standing on the cobble stones, their presence both seen and felt. It was so real to me. I watched as one soldier, a centurion, in fact, turned from his companions and lifted his cell phone to his ear and drew deeply on a cigarette. Wait a minute! Those weren't the product of my fertile imagination; they were re-enactors who posed for photos. But, it was a nice touch!



087 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

Apparently, I took a picture of the guy smoking a cigarette instead of the one talking on his cell phone. I guess I should consult the writer next time!


We had pre purchased our tickets, so Octavio told us which line was ours in order to visit the site, and we headed out with a full hour to see as much as we could.


Okay, ticket purchasing...Rome in Limo gave us a link to purchase tickets. The link provided was the one the was on the Colosseum website as well. For months before the cruise, when you went to the site and put in that date it showed no events available. I finally contacted RIL about it and they said if I was unable to buy tickets online that the driver would know where to take us to get tickets without having to stand in line. I knew that there were other websites where we could secure tickets but these sites charge several Euros extra per person for processing even for the kids (who enter for free). About two weeks before the cruise, I got on the colosseum website again and they had changed the link for ticket purchase, I tried it and it took me to a new site which worked! I was able to purchase tickets for us online which made entry into the site much better!

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At that moment we realized why Octavio mentioned that it might be crowded and that we were no longer ahead of the barbarians. Holy sardines packed in a tin can, Batman! I had never seen that many people in all my life, and I've ridden the subways in Mexico City, where they hire people to push on passengers butts to press them into the car so the doors will close. Every person in the European Union was trying to press their way into the Colosseum at that very moment, and the entrance was completely overwhelmed by a sea of humanity. In actuality, there are three lines for the entrance to the Colosseum. There is one for those who need to purchase tickets on the right. There is a line for those who have already purchased tickets in the middle, and the third line if for large tour groups. But there was no way to tell where the lines were because every person on the planet, and all of those who were yet to be born were packed in so tightly that no one could move. I'm not a crowdy kind of person. I like things to be simple. We stood somewhere near the crowd trying to figure out just how to get inside that building. I turned around for a moment to see if there were any signs telling us where to be and when I turned around again, my family group was gone. Every last one of them. And I was all alone in that ocean of barbarians. And I was deliberately wearing a bright orange shirt so I could be easily seen! In the distance I could hear Micah yelling my name, but I wasn't sure where. Finally, I saw her waving at me, and I was immediately grateful that Mike Brown had at least one tall child. I began wedging myself into the crowd and bullied my way through several thousand people until I was caught up with my family group. It was at that moment that I said, "I can see now why the gladiators were so willing to kill people." We continued to press our way to the scanners that would read our tickets and grant us entry. After several more minutes of pushing through, we finally made it into the Colosseum and discovered that it was worth the pain to do so. Take a tip from me: pre-purchase your Colosseum tickets. It will save you a ton of time.



093 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

Walking up to the entrance was not crowded at all...I'm sure there are days when it is much busier.



095 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



092 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

Arch of Constantine...the half that wasn't covered in scaffolding...



089 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

That's our guide Octavio in the jacket. I'm checking my watch to make sure we make it out in time. Although, he did give us a cell phone to call him when we were ready to be picked up.



098 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

The "sea of humanity" we fought our way through....do you see three lines here...



101 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

Whew! Finally made it inside...and boy, it was worth the effort!

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The Colosseum is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture for a reason. It is the largest amphitheater in the world, and it was built in only 10 years, and was completed in 80 AD. It had a series of tunnels and chambers that allowed the gladiators and animals to come and go without being hindered, and it had the first retractable dome. Well, sort of. There were retractable canvass shades. It was supposed to have a seating capacity of around 80,000 people. I can attest to that, as all of them were standing in there with me. I counted twice to confirm the number.



113 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



111 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


If you want to become emotionally invested in a piece of Roman history, this will fit your bill. Try to imagine the crowds swelling into the stadium to watch blood and gore, all in the name of Rome. Here on these grounds, countless Christians were sent to be slaughtered for refusing to worship Caesar. Here, on these grounds, countless bulls, lions, and tigers were slaughtered to entertain the masses. Here on these grounds, the gladiators fought, hoping that they would eventually win their freedom and be released from slavery. And one little tidbit of information: Most gladiator battles did not result in the death of a warrior. Many were allowed to live if they fought valiantly and were honorably defeated. It was more common for a gladiator to live to fight again than it was for him to be sacrificed. Okay, enough reminiscing, back to the tour...



108 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr



102 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


We stumbled across a small space that surprisingly had no one standing in it, so we seized the moment and we all took turns posing for family photos.


104 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr


We then fought our way around the outer ring and even managed to work our way to the second level, which was a little less crowded. We ambled around a few more minutes, but we were tiring of the competition for real estate, and decided that we had seen almost everything we wanted to see. Really, an hour was plenty of time, even considering how long it took us to get in the gate. I swore to never return, but Sarah insists that when we DO return, we will take a tour that is exclusive to the restricted areas where the public is not allowed. Those tours explore the underground walkways and the subfloor of the stadium. She is right, of course. When you go, pay the extra for that tour and don't fight the crowd. They even have their own entrance!



116 by inmanfamily4, on Flickr

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