Mediterranean Cruise

Conquering Rome’s Sights

We had a long bucket list to check off and very little time to do it. With so much rich history to offer in Rome, how were my aunt and I ever going to see it all? We only had 24 hours to see Rome before our cruise ship took us on a much longer journey in the Mediterranean sea.

So far, we’d spent over 13 hours flying from California to New York to Rome when my aunt and I were shuttled directly to our hotel – the Golf Parco de’ Medici. Our room wasn’t quite ready yet, so instead of relaxing, we left our bags at the desk, freshened up with a change of socks and splash of water in our faces in the hotel bathroom, then caught the bus to take us further into town.

My aunt and I were dropped off across the street from the TeatrodiMarcello, which was

Vatican City in Rome Italy
Vatican City in Rome Italy

surrounded by other buildings that were also hundreds of years old and full of such history. Unfortunately, I wasn’t recognizing any of them, so I felt like an idiot. But, after walking roughly an hour (using our map frequently) we found the Vatican peeking over other equally old and older Roman buildings. We entered St. Peter’s Square, Piazza San Pietro, and found ourselves in Vatican City – a whole new country, though the smallest in the world. The feelings are almost overwhelming, though it’s hard to describe with the distraction of sweat dripping in my eyes. We would’ve gone into the Sistine Chapel, which resides right next to the Vatican, but there was a large line/ miniature mob waiting to get in, and we were limited on time.

Making a wish at the Trevi Fountain
Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain to return to Rome

Next, off to see the Piazza Navona. But first, we were in desperate need of some gelato to cool down from the misery of the heat; I had pistachio, my aunt had mint (both were sooo good). We passed the CastelSant’Angelo. It wasn’t on the to-do list, but there is something monumental to see everywhere you turn in Rome, making the journey just as enjoyable as the destination.

The PiazzaNavona was cluttered with scaffolding, and the Trevi Fountain (FontanadiTrevi) wasn’t working, but at least it still had water for me to steal. I intend to put the water in a vial on a necklace. (Is that bad?)

The Pantheon was smothering in historic feeling, crowds, and heat. God, the HEAT! Unfortunately, it was impossible to stand under the dome for long, but it was amazing to stand amidst such history.

Roman ruins in Italy
Roman ruins in Italy

Back in the heat, we headed to the Vittoriano (very impressive, not sure of the history, though), then the Coliseum (Colosseo) and the Forum (Foro Romano). I have to admit, although Roma has much to see, I found it unfortunate to see the gutters filled with garbage alongside the streets of monuments like the Coliseum. And, to be honest, getting to these last places was a bit whirl-winded because of our desperation to get out of the heat. We even skipped the Spanish Steps since we were so dead tired. I felt like a monkey, dragging my wrists to the ground from exhaustion. Sad to say, with my fatigue and the heat of July, the day felt almost like a dream.

The Colosseum in Rome Italy
The Colosseum in Rome

We sought to conquer the sights of Rome, but the city fought back! We challenged ourselves in blistering, dripping, energy-draining heat after being jet-lagged from 13 hours of flying. Rome has been marked with each generation, from ancient imperialists’ buildings to modern graffiti-writing Romans. I can’t blame the city for giving us a hard time.

At a quarter to four (Roman time), we surrendered. Our sweat-soiled white flag was raised and we headed back to the hotel for cleaning and much-needed sleep. Apparently, the wonders of Rome cannot be seen all in one day… unless a person is well-rested and not combating heat, maybe.

The French Riviera

Coming in second only to Vatican City, Monaco ranks as the smallest country in the world. And, since France is on the boarder, my aunt and I also took a shore excursion to Eze and Nice (pronounced niece) when our boat docked. Although Monaco is not part of France, the citizens speak French. The extent of my French vocabulary only goes so far: thank you (merci), hello (bonjour), and good-bye (aurevoir). So, my aunt did all the talking for our French-speaking excursions.

The storybook town of Eze
The storybook town of Eze

Our first stop was in Eze, which was probably the most beautiful city I will EVER see. Its stone homes and shops are practically embedded in the hills and rocks, overlooking a gorgeous country mountainside. It was indescribably beautiful. I took so many pictures and video I nearly killed my camera’s batteries. If only I could retire in Eze, I would feel as if my life had become a fairy tale with a true happy ending. Really, the best word to describe Eze is “storybook.” I was actually sad when our tour bus had to move on to the next French city.

Eze hillside in France
Eze hillside in France

The city of Nice was nice. Our tour bus drove around the streets a bit and passed the bluest beach I have ever gazed on. And I live in California, so that’s saying a lot. Then, we walked around the city on our own. Nice left me with the impression of a much cleaner and classier French version of somewhere like Santa Cruz. By “French version” I mean the architecture, flowers, and outside market that differed so much from American culture.

Unfortunately, some stops are just not long enough. We only managed to buy a cheeseburger at McDonald’s since we were too rushed to get anything local and authentic. At least it happened to be the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had at a fast-food restaurant.

I also got to experience the public restrooms situated on the Nice boardwalk. My aunt and I had to each pay a 20-cent Euro to an out-of-shape, over-tanned, middle-aged man sporting a red Speedo, who gave us a single napkin (which could barely wipe nose) to use the toilet. To top it off, the bathrooms were so hot and stuffy that my entire skin was suffocating and sticky when I finally left the bathroom. At least I got an interesting story out of the whole ordeal.

With no time left in Nice; we had to run back to the bus before it left without us. We

Fortress in Nice France
Fortress in Nice France

returned to our port in Monaco (technically, we weren’t really at port; we were “tendered”: taken from our ship by a small boat to shore -I slowly learned all these nautical terms). We then roamed around the city on our own again, and since Monaco is also partly built into the hillside, we were worn out by the end of the afternoon from climbing so many stairs. Stairs upon stairs, upon stairs, upon hills, upon hills… Our legs were quivery by the time we got back to the boat. My aunt and I were laughing at our own determined shakiness. The exhaustion was well worth it, though.

Monaco is beautiful in its richness. It is obviously a well-to-do city: it’s clean, and even though old buildings/villas sit next to new ones, they somehow compliment each other by how well they are kept up. I am not a city girl, but I wouldn’t mind being a Monegasque: living near the sea, enjoying pastries (I had a delicious apple tart), and buying exquisitely designed trinkets in adorable little shops (a doily-type fan and a purse). That is one impressively fancy little country. Only 0.8 square miles! And, it’s gorgeous.

 luxurious casino of Monaco
The luxurious casino of Monaco

When we got back to the ship, my aunt and I put on our bathing suits and sun-bathed on the deck by the pool. I also soaked my feet a little bit in the cool pool water, in hopes of soothing the blisters I developed and have been ignoring since our excursion into Rome. Luckily, I only remember my pain at the end of the day, when I’m no longer enraptured with the sights. Unfortunately, the pool was not quite warm enough to swim in. Oh, well; it was still enjoyable. It’s great to relax after a long day of walking.

Besides, we needed our rest since we had to get up early for tomorrow’s excursion: Florence and Pisa!

Beautiful Barcelona

Even a seemingly bad day can turn into an unforgettable one when visiting Barcelona. Originally, my aunt and I had done research for which lines to take on the metro, but our boat took port in a different area, which threw off our entire day’s itinerary, leaving us feeling quite lost. Our maps and schedules were of no use, so our first option was to hop on a bus to Christopher Columbus’ monument, and we took it. We did not know where to go after that. When Spain hands you lemons…

Feeling dejected, hot, and lost, walking down Las Ramblas, trying to figure out what to do, we looked around at what the big city had to offer. Dogs were roaming without leashes; kiosks were selling fluttering pigeons, nervous bunnies, colorful fish, squawking chickens, and furry ferrets that were oddly inviting. Vendors were also selling gorgeous variations of flowers, souvenir shirts and posters. The scents from the heated streets, various vendors and incredible sights were like a circus for my eyes. Eventually we stumbled upon an information post, and finally our day had direction again.

Castle bridge in Barcelona Spain
Castle bridge in Barcelona Spain

Testing out our poor Spanish skills, we asked one girl how to get to the Picasso Museum. She smilingly gave us a map, marking the streets with a red pen for guidance. I noticed her ignoring the other tourists who stubbornly spoke in English ONLY. That’s a good tip for anyone traveling in a foreign country: do your best to speak their language. Even if it is broken with bad grammar, most locals appreciate your effort.

From then on out, my aunt was guiding me along (like every other city we visited), following the map to the museum by foot. It was wasn’t the Metro trip we’d planned, but it walking may have been even better. The tour guide marked a nice route, allowing us to see the side streets and alleys of Barcelona, built with old stones and bricks, similar to those in Italy and France (European style). By walking, we got a better feel of the beauty that encapsulates Barcelona, and found additional gems that were not even on our to-see list, like the Cathedral, or Catedral – an exquisite sight.

We eventually found the Picasso Museum, and it really was not that far. The museum showed the numerous stages of Picasso’s work; of course, I could not take pictures in the museum. I’m not really a Picasso fan, but I do admire his diversity as an artist much more now – he was always changing his style and testing out new methods of representing his work.

After the museum, we decided to finally brave the Metro, which we got the hang of

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain

pretty quickly (much less confusing than New York’s subway). Good thing too, because it took us to La Sagrada Familia. We didn’t go in the church, but the outside was breathtaking enough with the cave-like details and miniature sculptures covering the entire unfinished church. I’d never seen so many tiny details on the outside of a building. Goudi’s work is absolutely amazing. Truly awing.

Next, we were back on the metro and we even used the teleferic – carts hanging from cables, high in the air (Eeek!). The teleferic took us up, up, up the high hill (or small mountain) to the Patronato del Castillode Monjuic – a castle! We even had a fabulous Spanish lunch with wine, chicken, pasta, Spanish rice, and patatasfritas (fried potatoes) in the castle! How will I ever enjoy lunch any other way? What better way to have lunch in Spain? Not to mention that it was relatively cheap. And to top it all off, after lunch we went to the top of the castle where there is a magnificent view of the entire city of Barcelona. Full of good food and breathtaking scenery, I could have cried. I truly felt blessed to have experienced such a wonderful afternoon.

 

When we finally took the teleferic back down to earth, we continued exploring, walked through some gardens, and happened to find the MuseoNacional (National Museum). We would have gone in, but after stopping at several shops, having lunch, and using various forms of transportation, we were low on Euros.

Since the Barcelona mall was across the bridge from our boat, we browsed around there a bit before heading back. Though I like the Spanish mall, it was still a little too American to impress this tourist. A mall is just a mall, I guess.

Eventually our aching feet begged to rest, and we needed to relax before dinner. I was beat, but incredibly satisfied with the day’s events.

Irresistible Italy

Well, our last port, last excursion, last full day on the cruise, and we’re docked in Naples, or Napoli as the locals call it. Our tour bus first took us into Sorrento, which is an Italian city on the coast in the hills – my favorite location.

We were first taken into a gorgeous, but pricey shop that does wood-inlaid work. Then we had two hours on our own to explore Sorrento, which was not enough time at all. Like the other Italian cities, there were old buildings and alleyways, some unkempt, some not; however, the streets seemed much cleaner than other cities, and cooler since we were up in the hills. We spent our time shopping for limoncello, which Sorrento is renowned for, and looking for clothes… and bathrooms. The one good thing about going home is that I would no longer deal with a lack of bathrooms, or squat over large bowls without seats in a confined space. That has been our one problem in Europe.

Back on the bus, I was able to enjoy the drive back to Napoli more than when we drove

Sorrento coastline in Italy
Sorrento Coastline

from there in the morning. I was so tired earlier that I could not keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy the rocky ocean view, olive trees, or Mt. Vesuvius – I cannot believe that I missed taking pictures. It was such a beautiful drive, though the curves in the road did nauseate my stomach a little bit. (I am such a wimp!)

In Naples, our tour ended after seeing a cameo shop, and that is where we parted from our group. My aunt and I were hungry and desperate for a pizza, which is the specialty of Napoli – all of our tour guides raved about the them. So, we dropped off our shopping goods on the boat and headed back out in the city on our own.

There was a pizzeria just across the street from our boat, and boy was it Good! No, I take that back. “Good” does not do it justice… the pizza was incredible! My aunt ordered a classic marguerite (cheese, sauce, and basil) and I ordered one with mushrooms and ham. The pizzas were huge. I’d say about 12 inches in diameter. But, we did them justice, as the pictures will show. We shared them and ate with a knife and fork just like the Neapolitans do, making sure to roll the portions we cut. The crust is softer and thinner than most Americans are used to, and the sauce is runnier, but so much tastier. I will never be satisfied with another America pizza again. I am now ruined for life.

My aunt and I practiced a little more of our Italian at lunch. A man from the restaurant came and asked how the pizzas were and where we were from. He was friendly and even spoke in some English to us. Actually, a couple other people were quite friendly to us in Naples as well, like at the bookstore. The owner was trying to give us quick lessons in Italian while we made our purchases. Once we got passed the traffic without losing a toe, the Neapolitans were some of the friendliest people we met in Europe.

Did I mention there was a castle across the street from our boat’s terminal? Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go in; we had to get back on board the ship and pack for tomorrow.

My aunt and I kept saying how strange it would be to not see old buildings, monuments,

Neopolitan alleys Italy
Neopolitan alleys

and castles at every turn. How odd it would be not to hear people speaking in foreign languages and accents, and not to enjoy a four-course meal every night on the boat (we were so spoiled on the boat). I think I would even miss the narrow roads and crazed drivers of Europe.

Of course, going home had its pros too. I can appreciate the riches of the California coast, knowing it is just as beautiful as any countryside I saw in Europe. And, I looked forward to relaying the adventures of my trip.

Having traveled so far has shown me that the world is not as big or impossibly distant as I once thought it was. I look forward to making my next cruise just as memorable and educating as this one. A person learns more about the world when she experiences it, as opposed to just observing it.

My Italian Stomach

My aunt and I had a practically perfect day in Italy. Our boat docked in Livorno, but since that is an industrial port city, there was nothing but crates piled upon crates where we docked. So, we had to take a bus on a shore excursion to Florence and then Pisa.

Santa Croce museum Florence Italy
Santa Croce museum Florence Italy

Florence is an incredible city, so rich in artistic history and culture. It is probably the only big city I have ever wanted to live in. Our tour guide took us all over, showing us the Monumentale di Santa Croce first. This church had tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Dante (although Dante’s tomb was empty, it stood as a monument of dedication to him). I would have taken pictures inside, but no flash was allowed and I couldn’t figure out how to turn mine off. So, I only got a shot of the outside of the Santa Croce.

Afterward, we saw the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fioro, which was beyond impressive. I couldn’t even stand back far enough to get a full picture of the marbled cathedral. Directly across the marbled building were the shiny golden baptismal doors that have different scenarios on each panel. It is too bad my camera couldn’t pick up all the details.

the Duomo
The Duomo

Further along, we came upon one of the greatest sights I have ever seen – the replica of Michelangelo’s David. I had goosebumps when we came upon him standing in the piazza (square). He may not have been the original, but he is the exact duplicate the Italians put in the exact place the original initially stood. The real David has been placed in the Acadamia for protection, and I understood why after seeing the duplicate of David smeared with dirt and covered in bird droppings. I was in awe nonetheless, and my experience was enhanced when I saw the other famous statues in the piazza: a bronze by Donatello of Medusa’s head being cut, The Rape of the Sabine Women, and others that I was unfamiliar with, but still impressed by.

Our tour also took us passed a museum that contained art by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, as well as many others. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the museum. I wish we could have gone in, but I was grateful for what I had so far seen.

Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence Italy
Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence Italy

Before we stopped for lunch, we passed by the Ponte Vecchio bridge (the only bridge that wasn’t destroyed in World War II in Italy). It is amazing how much history one city can hold.

Lunch was included in our tour. They took us to a little restaurant in a tiny alley, which served a very authentic Italian meal – four courses with red wine! However, my aunt and I didn’t pace ourselves and we got full too early in the meal. So, we skipped out after the first two courses, which were penne in tomato sauce and pork loin with fried potatoes – simplistically delicious! We learned later on that we had only missed out on salad and vanilla gelato.

We only had a little time left before our tour group had to leave for Pisa, so my aunt and I rushed to the piazza to take pictures of the sculptures since we hadn’t had time with the tour guide before. Afterwards, we walked down the picturesque cobbled streets and alleys that make Italy so famous and pretty. We bought some souvenirs and gelato (I am never too full for gelato). I had lemon and my aunt had chocolate chip vanilla – sooo good! My goal is to try a different flavor in every Italian city.

In Pisa, we were driven to the Field of Miracles where the leaning tower, another duomo, and a baptistery were. These marbled white buildings were so beautiful sitting against the green grass while tons of people leaned in the same direction to take a picture with the leaning tower. Yes, my aunt and I were amongst that same crowd.

Putting my feet up on Pisa in Field of Miracles in Italy
Putting my feet up on Pisa in Field of Miracles in Italy

Alongside the field were countless vendors with leather handbags, some of which were illegal, apparently. My aunt and I were walking passed some African vendors selling leather purses when suddenly, a dozen individuals folded up their wears in their mats in less than two seconds (no exaggeration!) as a police car drove up. The police didn’t chase though, so I guess the vendors weren’t in too much trouble.

We had to return to our bus shortly after that wild scene. Our beautiful day in Italy had come to a close. On the boat we had a fancy dinner of salmon, seafood ciupino, and halibut. It was pretty good, but the boat’s dinner could not compare to the authentic Italian cuisine we had had earlier. I must have an Italian stomach, I guess.

Spanish Sight Seeing

Palma de Mallorca is a beautiful island of Spain, although my aunt and I did not get to do much while we were there. The one draw back of cruising is that sometimes the amount of time you spend in one port is cut short. We made the best of our brief excursion anyway. We took a City Sight Seeing bus, sat on the top level, had the wind blow in our faces while we got nicely tanned, and observed the wonderful sights of Palma. The great thing about the bus is that we saw so much in such little time, which was perfect for our limited time. I felt like I had a thorough tour of the various sections of Palma. Once we bought our tickets, we were given headphones as an audio tour guide, and maps that showed where all of the stops would be.

Palma de Mallorca Spain church in passing
Palma de Mallorca church in passing

There were numerous shops and large stores all along the old-fashioned streets of Palma. Driving up some of the hills, we even saw a castle, Castell de Bellver, and the Poble Espanol that was like an ancient Spanish village within a kingdom. However, most of these stops, except for a few shops, were solely viewed from our seats on the bus because we hadn’t enough time at this particular port to explore as much as we wanted. If we had had enough time, the bus would have allowed us to get off and on at any of the stops.

It is a lot harder to take good pictures when in motion, so I didn’t get to take as many shots on the bus this day. Oh, wells. At least I got a shirt and had the best club sandwich ever at a little café for lunch. My sandwich had grilled chicken, bacon, and the perfect amount of mayonnaise, too. There’s something about the simplicity of these cafés that make the food so delicious. Even a simple sandwich is so much better in Spain.

My aunt and I returned to the boat before 4:00pm since the ship would be leaving port at 5:00pm. Our whirlwind tour of Palma was over.

How to Beat Africa’s Sun

Africa is the third continent that I have been on with my cruise travels. The boat’s tour took us to the country Tunisia, where the natives speak Arabic. Although my aunt and I docked in La Goulette, we had excursions in the cities of Sidi Bou Said (see-dee boo sigh-eed) and Carthage.

Blue doors in Africa
Blue doors in Sidi Bou Said, Africa

Carthage contains ruins left by the Romans, which were awing to walk through. Feeling like I was walking through history is something hard to describe, which was essentially walking around broken bits of old buildings… still impressive, though.

Sidi Bou Said, our next stop, is made up of white homes with blue windows, blue gates and extravagantly decorated doors. The blue and white reminded my aunt of Greece. Our tour guide told us that the white is supposed to repel heat and the blue repels bugs. Sidi Bou Said is lined with numerous markets stretched along the dirt paths, which are run by very pushy vendors who made the atmosphere a bit uncomfortable for my aunt and I. We later realized that we hadn’t seen a single native woman or child. Strange, huh? That may have added to our uncomfortable feeling in Sidi Bou Said.

Blue and white with market Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia blue and white with market

It was very hot in Tunisia, which we expected – we were in Africa after all. It was a dry heat, though, which is quite different from the humidity we had experienced in our other ports along the Mediterranean. Our 4½-hour tour was just long enough. Having venders constantly calling at us, waving wears in our faces, and walking in the stifling heat was just as much as we could take for one day. We took some video of the blue and white homes and the ruins, but if there was anything else that I missed then our tour guide failed to mention what we were looking at. He wasn’t all that thorough.

I bought a couple of souvenirs from the shops that were affiliated with our cruise line. These vendors were directly outside of where we were docked, and they were not pushy. The items sold at port actually had price tags, too, so we did not have to haggle with the venders, which is customary in Tunisia. I guess I’m just too Americanized to negotiate over the price of a scarf. The best souvenir I brought home with me is the stamp on my passport that says “Tunisia.” I don’t care if I sound like a hack; my stamp is “priceless.”

My aunt and I were starving by the time we got back to the boat because we didn’t eat or drink anything in Africa. (We were previously warned not to consume anything if we did not have the proper inoculations…) So, we grabbed some roast chicken from the boat’s endless buffets for lunch, and headed for our room to nap. All that sun really wore us out. So we bid each other “good night”… err, afternoon – it was only 3:20 in the afternoon. Boy, that sun really beat us down.

Sicilians in Italy

I am a little unclear about what is a province and what is a city in Italy, so bear with me. Monreale is within Palermo, and Palermo is within Sicily, which is part of Italy. However, Sicilians do not necessarily consider themselves Italian. Well, now that everyone is confused, let me tell you about the day me and my aunt had in Sicily.

Our tour bus first stopped in Monreale, which was situated up in the hills (I love those kinds of provinces… err cities). Our tour bus had to drive up a winding road to get to the town. Monreale reminded me a little bit of Eze because of its location, though it’s not quite as storybook-like. The buildings were old, but not ancient. We were taken inside a beautiful cathedral that had gorgeous mosaics and paintings with gold flecks.

Outside of the cathedral, there were older women taking charge of their children and grandchildren as they sold their wears on tables to us tourists. My aunt and I walked around Monreale for a little bit by ourselves, picked up a couple of souvenirs (a paper mache mask for me, and another fan for my Mama), then our bus was off to Palermo.

Church in Monreale Italy
Monreale Italy church

There was yet another church to tour in Palermo, which was also very pretty, but afterwards my aunt and I split from the tour group and were grateful to explore on our own and get a better taste of the city (pun intended). First off, we found a place for lunch. Instead of pasta, we both had a different form of chicken and potatoes. My aunt’s chicken was roasted and her potatoes cubed, whereas my chicken was flattened and breaded while my potatoes were balled and, I think, pan-roasted. We both enjoyed our meals very much. I love Italian cooking.

HPIM0606
Mall ceiling

After lunch, we walked along the streets looking at the shops and being wary of the traffic. There are pushy drivers in Palermo; the cars, horse-driven carriages, and scooters were in charge of the city, not the pedestrians. I’m certain there were some Sicilians laughing at us crazy American girls as we screamed once, maybe twice, running for our lives crossing the street. There weren’t any stoplights for pedestrians!

My aunt and I stopped in a couple more shops, but the only things we bought in Palermo were various flavors of limonciello (a lemon liqueur), a peach gelato to share – sooo good – and a pair of sunglasses for myself. I can now say, “I bought these sunglasses in Sicily,” which is probably the kind of statement I am going to be making about all of my purchases from this cruise.

 

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