06 June 2013

Day 3: La Spezia: Pisa

5 June 2013

After yesterday’s high-intensity day of sightseeing in Nice and Monaco, we decided to take things a bit easier today.  We previously had signed up for a 11.5 hour day consisting of guided tours of Florence and Pisa starting at 7:45 a.m., but instead switched to a 5.0 hour visit to only Pisa leaving at 8:30 a.m.  The extra 45 minutes in the morning was a big improvement, allowing us to enjoy a nice breakfast in the Parrot Cay restaurant before taking off.

The bus ride to Pisa through the Tuscan countryside was beautiful, with numerous views of mountains, farms, and pine trees.  However, still recovering from the day before, we slept through most of the ride!  Pisa itself is a fairly small, attractive city where nearly all of the buildings are old Tuscan architecture (colorful facades and shutters).  After arriving at Pisa, we were loaded onto a little train (or “tschoof tschoof”), really a tram that shuttled us to the old city.  High walls surround the old city, and located in the middle is a square where the leaning tower stands, along with the cathedral and separate baptistery.  All of these buildings are quite beautiful and elaborate – the facades are covered with intricate carvings and other details.  

Some interesting facts we learned about the leaning tower of Pisa:  

The leaning tower is really just the bell tower for the cathedral, so while it is the most famous of the buildings today, it was much less important in prior centuries.
The leaning tower is not the only leaning building in Pisa.  The cathedral and baptistery, as well as several other buildings we noted, also are leaning (though not to such an impressive extent).  The buildings lean because, when they were built long ago, Pisa used to be located by the sea where all of the soil was quite soft, resulting in numerous leaning buildings.
The square served all religious needs from life until death, starting with the baptistery, then to the cathedral, then to the hospital on one side, and finally to the above-ground graveyard on the other side.
Lots of stories about Galileo we previously learned by watching Empires:  The Medici before coming here.

After listening to our local tour guide “explain you everything” about the tower and other buildings (in great detail), we wandered around the nearby shops and restaurants.  Unfortunately, most of the shops were tourist-oriented (selling little leaning tower statutes) or local-resident oriented (selling batteries and wrenches), rather than the types of shops we might be interested in.  Another downside of Pisa – there werenumerous highly aggressive vendors wandering the streets attempting to cajole people into buying watches, umbrellas, jewelry and other stuff.  Perhaps we are hardened by living in the DC area, but we were way better at giving off the “back the heck off” vibe needed to deter the vendors from bothering us.  Other tourists got repeatedly and aggressively bothered though.

After returning to the ship from Pisa, we ordered room service and took a break while Gwen struggled with her hair (if not mentioned already, Gwen got a terrible haircut before the trip that makes it virtually impossible to put up her hair).  After feeding, we set out for La Spezia, the town where our ship had made port. We had good shopping success here, bringing back a nice bottle of wine to share with our dinner friends, green pants for Gwen (who has been searching for them for a while), and some other souvenirs.

We got back from La Spezia in time to change, start a couple loads of laundry in the machines on our deck, and get to dinner.  As usual, dinner was lots of fun, as our dinner friends this time around are very easy to talk to.

Last for the day, we finished up our laundry, which took a while due to a backlog of people looking to use the dryers, and got ready for a busy day in Rome tomorrow.

Villefranche : Nice and Monaco

3 June 2013

After relaxing yesterday, today was practically work!  Our Port Adventure into Nice met at 7:30am, so we were up at 6:30, thanks to early morning room service breakfast.  Villefranche does not have a place where cruise ships can dock, so we had to take tender boats from the ship to shore.  Once ashore, we were met by a guide who led us to a queue of busses waiting to take each group on their adventures.  We got a bit of a late start because of some trouble with one of the tenders, so our time in Nice was cut a bit short.  Luckily, T and I had visited Nice on our honeymoon, so this wasn’t too much of a disappointment.  Also, in place of the flower show and market that is usually in the central area, Monday is antique market day in Nice!  We used our hour of free time to peruse the market’s wares.  Ranging from old, but still functioning sewing machines and typewriters to furniture to clothing, the market was a feast for the eyes.  We took lots of photos, but only bought a few decorative wooden buttons.  Before boarding the bus, we decided to buy one of our favourite foods in France, a mini baguette sandwich slathered in butter, this time with salami and cornichon pickles!

Next up was Monaco, the second smallest country in the world (after Vatican City).  The first stop was the rock of Monaco, where we were supposed to visit a cathedral, but we ditched our group in favour of shopping.  We found ourselves another ginormous sandwich, this time on a long ciabatta roll with brie, cheddar and tomatoes.  We were searching for our favourite chocolate shop, Jeff de Bruges, but discovered that there was not a branch in Monaco.  Instead, we stopped in at the Chocolatier ofMonaco which is also a tea house.   We enjoyed cups of tea and bought some to bring home.  Afterwards, as we headed back to the bus, it began to rain.

The rain increased traffic somewhat and it took us some time to get to our next stop, Monte Carlo.  Monte Carlo is home to the famous casino and Formula One racing, which occurs on a track that winds throughout the streets instead of a traditional track circuit.  By the time we reached Monte Carlo, it was raining in earnest.  We walked to the casino with the rest of our group, but decided to forego the line and went off to explore the area on our own.  We saw some of the most expensive seats in the bandstand for the Formula One race; €2000 for 2 hours!  The race occurred just about a week ago (24-30 May), so they are in the process of breaking down the “track.”

After about an hour of wandering (and a €20 umbrella purchase), we headed back to the bus, somewhat soggy for the trip back to the ship.  Last time we were in Nice, we shopped a cute little outdoor artisan fair just outside the port terminal.  We had hoped to see it again, but the venders had packed up due to the weather.  Instead, we enjoyed a “first dinner” of tea and salads in our room, courtesy of room service.

Dinner was the show dinner at Animator’s Palate, where the restaurant transforms from black and white sketches to full colour images over the course of the meal.  We topped off the day with two desserts, one from the menu and one Mickey Bar, a “secret” item.  After another late night chat with our new friends, it’s finally very late/early and we have another early morning tomorrow!

Day at Sea

2 June 2013

Today was our recovery day.  After the time change and lack of sleep, we slept in until about noon.  We managed to make it to bruch-fast before it closed at 1pm.  Full of food, we headed right back to our room for a nap!  Finally around 3, we were ready to consider ourselves awake and found chair in the sun by the pool to continue our relaxation regimen.  The only productive accomplishment of the day was finishing, assembling and distributing our fish extender gifts.  Here’s a photo of one of the gifts we received:

In Nice, France

After a long travel day and a recovery day at sea, T and I are in the beautiful city of Nice, France.  We are taking photos and will post more later!

Vamos a España!

31 May – 1 June 2013

Packing for this trip was more rushed than usual.  Maybe it was because T was working up until an hour before we left for the airport or maybe it was because I hadn’t had enough time to fully mentally prepare for our voyage.  It could also have been because we were only getting about 5 hours’ sleep each of the three nights before travel day.  We also discovered our camera simply wouldn’t turn on (even after an overnight charge) about 2 hours before we needed to be at the airport.  That triggered a very last minute trip to Target to buy 2 new cameras (luckily both were on sale, and many thanks to Vi for putting the last one on hold for us!).  At the time, I wasn’t sure why I felt I needed to buy 2, but I had that “just in case” feeling.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time (thanks to Brudder for being our personal door to door taxi service!) which was good because everyone and their cousin seemed to be flying today.  We wound our way through seemingly endless lines at security, but made it to our gate with about and hour to spare.  We had lunch at Potbelly, which was good because on top of the lack of sleep, neither of us had been eating particularly well this week as we tried to prepare for the trip!

While having lunch, I realized that we had forgotten our Secret Mickey gift at home.  On Disney cruises, you can sign up for small gift exchanges called Fish Extenders and Secret Mickey.  Fish Extenders involve groups of cabins semi-secretly leaving each other small gifts throughout the cruise.  Secret Mickey is like Secret Santa.  Weeks ago, I had planned out and procured our gift which was going to be a travel scrapbook binder that could be filled along the cruise.  Luckily, I had finished all of our Fish Extender gifts (fabric cup wraps, wristlet pouches and I-Spy treasure pouches for little ones) and had remembered to pack all those things.  We decided to get something for our Secret Mickey in one of the ports and attach a not saying we’d like to send their real gift after the cruise is over.  We’re hoping they’ll think of it as a way to “extend the magic.”

The flight from Dulles to Heathrow was relatively uneventful except that due to my allergies/nasal issues, I had a very stuffed up nose and couldn’t sleep the whole flight.  The next flight, from Heathrow to Barcelona was worse because we were both super tired and trying to sleep when I suddenly experiences fairly severe sinus pressure/pain which didn’t dissipate until after we landed.  Luckily, it was a short flight.  Once we saw our first DCL contact person, things started to look better already!

Unlike on our honeymoon cruise, our single checked bag made it safely and was whisked away by DCL to appear in our stateroom later.  Checking in at the port and making our way onto the ship was relatively quick and speedy.  By the time we made it there, our room was already clean and we were able to go and start getting settled right away.

We spent a little time unpacking and getting a little sun on Deck 9, then showered and headed to dinner.  This time, we were seated with two other young couples and became fast friends.  After dinner, we stayed up chatting until the wee hours, even on very little sleep!