Doug & Heather's Voyages

Join us as we travel the world...or at least that which can be reached by cruise ship.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Barcelona

Got off the ship at about 7:45 and were in a cab to Hotel Regina almost immediately. Checked in, but no room available (of course), so we checked our bags and headed off to the Metro to Sagrada Familia. Walking out of the metro station and looking up at the most amazing building I've ever seen. As you look closer, the amount of detail put into the building is astounding.

We made our way around to the front and found out there was a big line to get in. Ran into some people from Palmdale in front of us in line who said they couldn't even get in yesterday afternoon because the line was around the block. Good thing we made this our first stop or we might have missed one of the best parts of the entire trip. Since we were so amazed by the building, we decided to get the Audio Tour as we went through. This gave a lot of background information and really helped understand the sculptures on the front and back. These show the story of the Bible in various scenes. The Temptation scenes are sculpted in a very modern, blocky, style while the Nativity is more traditional with soft curves and realistic figures.

That didn't prepare us for the inside which is beautiful with stone tree figures throughout. While the Gaudi influence led to the word gaudy, once you get a close look at Sagrada Familia, you realize it's not gaudy but incredibly beautiful and practical. I've never seen a building designed with such clear emotion and devotion.

After this, we took the long trek out to Parc Guell which is also designed by Gaudi. Not as amazing, but still very beautiful. From there, on to look at some more interesting buildings and lunch.

After lunch, we took a walk down Las Ramblas and kept our eyes out for pickpockets while enjoying the street performers. Then off to Casa Mila including an interior tour. This one is also pretty amazing, built as an apartment building. The most striking thing is the attic with it's hundreds of brick arches as well as the terrace with sculptures on the roof which are all functional as chimneys and stairwells. By this time, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel to rest for the rough day of flying tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hob Nobbing with the Big Wigs in Monte Carlo

Today we stopped in Monaco. The plan for the day was to walk the Formula 1 course which was a lot of fun. We got to the top and were heading down before realizing we didn't get to see the Casino. So we headed back up by some stairs. It turned out we had walked right by it without realizing which building it was. Oh well.

Very beautiful town, but quite expensive. Heather saw a sign for ice cream for €8 and they had Grand Prix t-shirts for €18 which is about $25.

Today is, sadly, the last day of the cruise. We disembark tomorrow morning in Barcelona and have the day to see the sights there before flying home the next morning.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pisa doesn't taste as good as it sounds...but it's fascinating.

The trip from our port, Livorno, to Pisa is a little bit rough. The ship didn't provide regular transportation from the ship to the train station, nor do they let you walk out of the port yourself. We had to get a shuttle to Piazza Grande and we walked from there. Don't trust the Google Maps measurement tool. It said we would walk 1.4 miles, but it was definitely further than that. After that hike, we got to the train station and had some real fun. Heather's favorite part of this trip is always using public transit (see how happy she is?).

A quick 15 minute train ride and we were in Pisa, a mere 30 walk to the tower. The tower, like the Coliseum in Rome, is quite spectacular when you first see it. Fortunately, we had booked tickets for 12:40 for a tour because when we went up to the ticket window, the only tickets were for 2:40 (about 2.5 hours later). Unfortunately, we had to wait in a horrible, hot, ticket line to get our pre-purchased tickets. There isn't really much to do in Pisa other than this, so the crowds just built around the Field of Miracles…oh well, gave you something to look at once you went up the tower.

The tour was short, but pretty exciting. Walking up the steps is an experience in itself. Especially when you get to the final steps before the bells which are on a small spiral staircase. The view from the bell level is stunning and scary with no platform for walking along them, just 4 steps up to the level where the bells are hung, which were the only flat area on that level. From there you take a nice path up some more steps to the very top. It's a little creepy being up there, but the view was fantastic…I was scared even to hold the camera out over the edge.

Hot walk back to the train station and a nice 15 minute ride on the train back to Livorno. Once in the Livorno Centrale station, we were dreading the last walk back to meet our shuttle, so we caught a bus. Easy to do, but getting the tickets is a little difficult, had to go into the train station to a Tobacci shop to get them. €1 each and it was the best purchase we've made in all of Europe.

Oh yeah, another picture of food for Kim...

Sadly, the end of the cruise is drawing near. One more port tomorrow, Monte Carlo.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We Came, We Saw and We Conquered Rome

Wow this was a day. We were able to get seats on Princess' "Rome On Your Own" trip which got us to Rome via tour bus and traffic was quite light, so that turned out very well. The trip dropped us off at a spot just off of Saint Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) which we hadn't really even planned to see, so that was good.

Being the adventurous type, we made our way to the Metro and seemed to be the only ones going that way as they were pushing a HOHO bus to take people around the city. We dropped into the dark metro station and bought some all day tickets and onto the train headed to Termini station which is the cross roads for the two metro lines. We got off there and switched to the other line which takes you to the Coliseum which was our first stop. Having researched endlessly, we knew to wait in the short line at the Forum to get the combined tickets then headed over to the Coliseum.

Once at the Coliseum, we were able to bypass the tortuous lines and got right in…surprisingly without any kind of security screening. The Coliseum is simply amazing to step into. The sheer size and relative preservation of it is astounding to witness first hand, even after seeing many of the pictures. Avoiding the Gladiators trying to take pictures with you, we made our way into the Forum. This was nice, but not as spectacular as nothing is labeled, so you can't really tell what everything is. Took pictures of everything, so someday we can figure out what those are.

It was really hot coming out of the Forum, so we got some Gelato and continued on the tour. First stop was at the ruins where Julius Caesar was killed, frankly not much to see, just a hole in the ground covering a square block and some homeless and urine smells. It was really cool to see, however. From there, up the street, we saw the ruins of the Agrippa Roman Baths which are now part of a more modern building. Next was the Pantheon. This was a beautiful building and the entry into it as you realize what you are seeing with the sun shining through the hole in the top is worth the visit. Rafael's tomb is located here, under glass, although the building was built by Agrippa, long before Rafael was born. This is the oldest, continuously used, building in the world.

From there, we walked to Trevi fountain. However, along the way, we passed Hadrian's Temple, which was actually the front of a more modern building that they kept up. Also we saw the Marcus Aureleus Column which has a spiral relief of his life story carved into the marble all the way up the tower. Trevi Fountain was being closed because there was a crazy old man climbing on it. We stuck around for awhile to see what would happen as the police climbed into the fountain to bring him down. Unfortunately, I was so caught up in video taping what was happening, that we couldn't really enjoy the fountain. Heather and I both got our €0.10 pieces into the fountain by hurling them over the amazed crowd, so it looks like we'll be coming back sometime.

Tried to see the head of John the Baptist at a church, but it was closed, although we could see through the door and it was very beautiful inside. Then to the Spanish Steps. We were probably the only tourists that sat on the steps for less than a minute…but we had to get going. We also filled our water bottles at the fountain and the water tasted pretty good…we'll find out if it was potable in the next 24 hours, I guess. (You can play Where's Heather? in this picture)

Another metro ride back to Piazza San Pietro, some Pizza at one of the few places that were open, and affordable, then a quick tour of the Piazza which is stunning in architecture and in size. Also made our way across the Tiber looking for Piazza Navona which we didn't find…had to get back on the ship.

All in all, it was a really good day. Tomorrow is Pisa.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pompeii and Pizza, Neapolitan Style

I think today was the hardest day so far, although the weather has cooperated and was much more pleasant and less humid for us. In the morning, we headed to Pompeii and it was absolutely amazing. More than any of the other ruins we've seen, this place has the feel of walking through a real ancient city.

The city was destroyed by ash and rocks from the Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D., basically freezing everything in time. Still in tact were the mosaic floors, frescoed walls and even some of the people. Amazingly, when the site was excavated, there were rocks with hollow sections inside containing human bones. These were used as a cast and made into statues of citizens in their final moments. The expressions of fear on their face and their body positions reveal just how terrifying the eruption was. At the time, Vesuvius had not erupted for 800 years, so they had no idea that it was a volcano.

Walking through the city we saw shops, houses, even the red light district complete with a "menu" of frescoes on the walls. The thing that amazed me most was the roads which were dotted with "cat's eyes" or reflective pieces of stone which would keep them illuminated at night. The streets even had cross walks where pedestrians could step across without having to step directly in the street where all kinds of much from the horses would be hidden. (In the picture of me, Vesuvius is the peak on the left.

After Pompeii, we took a bus ride through Napoli to the a pizza restaurant (here are more pictures, Kim…Margareta Pizza, Italian Beer and Tiramisu).

The last stop was the National Archeological Museum which has the original mosaics and frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum (another city destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 A.D., although it was covered with lava flow and mud rather than ash). There were also a lot of amazing statues of huge proportions. Our favorite thing on the trip was the floor mosaic outside one of the Pompeii houses which has a picture of a dog and the slogan "Cave Canem"…I guess Bessie's reputation precedes her.

Found out when we returned from our tour that the trains into Rome are going to be impacted by a strike, strong unions make strong industries, I always say. So we are booked on a Rome On Your Own trip which will take us by motor coach into Roma and we'll do the same tour…too bad it's more expensive than our original plan.

Picture it...Sicily, 2009


On our last sea day, we sailed through the Strait of Sicily in the evening. It was formal night, so we were dressed and headed to the top and front of the ship for the sail through. The wind was ridiculous there and you could barely walk to the front, although once at the front, it wasn't as bad, but holding the camera still was a feat. The shot of the cape is the very tip of the boot of Italy.

Tomorrow is Pompeii and Naples. Since I'm sending this one rather late, that one will be up shortly as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mykonos is Too Darn Hot

Apparently we were here on the only day during the year where there is no wind. That made for an extremely hot and humid day, so we didn't spend a whole lot of time. We had originally booked a tour to nearby Delos island to view the ruins of the birthplace of Apollo. However, we've seen plenty of Greek and Roman ruins on this trip, so we cancelled it.

Mykonos is a neat little town and it would have been nice spending more time exploring. We did walk many of the streets and saw the windmills and had a really good local meal at a place called Sakis. At Kim's request, here are some pictures of the food.

We looked for the bar where Aunt Robbie and Uncle Paul spent time, but couldn't find it. The closest we came was a place called Sunset Bar instead of Sundown Bar. Oh well, we have some video of the area, so maybe that will bring back some memories for them.

After lunch, we went back to the ship for a dip in the pool. Finally made it up to Movies Under the Stars for a showing of Mama Mia! The concept is great with them bringing around popcorn in the beginning and milk and cookies at the end…the movie not so much. The music was good, we just couldn't stand the "Woo Hoo" girls. Tonight they're showing Frost/Nixon…which I really liked, but I don't think it's good for that atmosphere.

Today we're at sea heading over for Italy, so probably won't blog until tomorrow night (here…what is that, yesterday noon in the U.S.?).