Thursday, June 30, 2011

rome, italy

the vatican museum

peters basilica


warren's favorite building :-)

trevi fountain
square by spanish steps

warren's idea, in the most "romantic" part of rome

Monday, June 6th: Rome, Italy

Rome. In a day. Talk about crazy. And exhausting. We were off the ship first thing and lucked out that the shuttle bus left 15 mins earlier than it was scheduled. We caught a train from Civitavecchia to Rome in about 2 mins after arriving and were on our way. We had received a lot of conflicting info from people and Rick, so we took advantage of the 45 min train ride to figure it out.

We decided to start at the Vatican Museum, so we got off at the first stop into Rome. We arrived a half-hour before the museum opened, and there was already a 1.5 hour wait. Then we got swindled. We agreed to a tour that was supposedly starting in 20 mins, where we could skip the line. Turns out by the time we actually got into the museum, it had been almost 2 hours. What a rip. But having the guide was nice. She shared some interesting info, and we moved fast. The place is massive and they suggest 4 days to cover it all. She basically walked us down the main large hall with the sculptures, maps and tapestries.

Then we entered the Sistine Chapel – which was incredible. It was crazy to see work of Michelangelo on such a great scale. Something interesting she told us was a story about a Cardinal not liking something about his work (I think it might have been all the nudity, which fyi clothes were added later to his painting and fig leaves were added to many of the sculptures) and Michelangelo did NOT appreciate. He made one of the faces of a person in hell the face the of the Cardinal. When the Cardinal asked the Pope to have Michelangelo change it, the Pope responded something like, “sorry, I don’t know anyone in hell to help you.” It was just amazing to see the ACTUAL stuff that you see copied all over the world since you were a kid. It was awesome.

We went through a side back door (short cut) to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, where St. Peter was martyred and buried. It was ginormous. Seriously huge. Its difficult because we took pictures of these amazing buildings, but it just doesn’t do it justice. Everything was so grandeur and detailed.

We caught a cab to head over to the Colosseum, where we listened to one of Rick’s walking tours, which made it much more interesting. I cant believe there used to be games to the death, or that they would throw wild animals in with a slave and people would cheer and watch them die. How barbaric. And disgusting. The building itself is impressive to see what is left of it, but I just couldn’t get over what had gone on there.

Next we headed to the Roman Forum, which was right next to the Colosseum. We had purchased a Roma Pass which got us into both places skipping the lines. We didn’t know much about the history of the Forum, so we did a brief walk through then decided to take a stroll down the street to see a sweet building called Victor Emanuel Monument. This was Warren’s favorite building in all of Rome. He loved the statue on the top.

We grabbed another cab to the Pantheon, which is one of the best-preserved monuments in that not much has been changed or had to be preserved since it was built over 1800 years ago. It is a concrete dome, which many other buildings have modeled its architecture after. We thought that the fountain in front was the Trevi Fountain, so Warren filmed me tossing a coin in for good luck. Total tourists, right? Except that it wasn't the Trevi, it was just some random. So we followed our map a few blocks to see the real thing – which was much more impressive. Here we both threw in coins. What? When in Rome!!! Now that line is appropriate :-)

We enjoyed some gelato (I always ordered mente) as we strolled to the Spanish Steps. It is claimed to be the most beautiful steps in Rome, designed in the Roman Baroque style and is considered a romantic spot in town. We took a kissing pic. :-) Men walk around with roses and literally put it in your hand, wedged between your fingers and then ask your beau for money. It was ridiculous. We did not participate, and I always handed it back to which the man would turn really grumpy.

We made it back to the train station to RUN all the way to the track to miss it by 2 mins. We got on the next train 20 mins later and met Eugene and Andy – a gay couple from Miami who ate at a table near us on the cruise. They said they saw us running to the track and followed suit. We sat and talked with them the whole way back. When we got back to the port, pretty Princess had stopped running the shuttle service, so we had to stow away on another shuttle bus and pretend like we didn’t understand when they were shouting, “no princessa!” The bus stopped at the ship next to ours, so we made it back safely and just in time with our new friends.

Friday, June 24, 2011

hi - still here.

yep, i know....i promised a post a day of europe. but this week has been real busy. so for now, here are a couple highlights:

double date hike with the santiagos

part my family came to visit

Elder Davis returned from the cualican, mexico misson

Monday, June 20, 2011

Naples, Italy



amalfi coast


Sunday, June 5th: Naples, Italy

Naples is the most densely populated city in all of Italy. Apparently the garbage men have gone on strike – literally. There is just piles and piles of garbage that lined the streets. Lucky for us, we didn’t spend anytime in Naples. We shared a cab from the ship with a little asian family from LA. They were very frugal – haggled with the cab driver and asked a lot of questions. The 20-year-old daughter was very…anxious. More so than I, believe it or not.

We purchased a round trip ticket to Sorrento, a coastal town about 70 minutes outside of Naples. But first we stopped at Pompeii, a site that contains ruins of a once thriving city. The city was completely buried after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. There were even (casts) of actual bodies that were discovered and preserved by the volcanic ash. The site is HUGE and there was no way to cover it all.

We hired a live guide, which was a cute little old Italian man with an umbrella, and only charged us 10 euro a piece. It made it much more interesting to know what we were looking at. The city seemed very advanced, especially for the time that it was built. There was an entire set of rooms that were designed like a gym, shower, and steam room. The engineering was incredible. It started to rain on us a bit, and our handy “Princess Patter” (daily ship newsletter) did not forecast rain. Whoops. We survived though and made it through our tour.

We got back on the same train to continue on to Sorrento, which is darling in itself and overlooks the Bay of Naples. The town is known for its Limoncello, a tangy lemon liqueur – lemons were everywhere! We had to have some considering it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. “When in Rome”, right? Jk.

Walking through the streets of Sorrento, there are many shops and the Piazza Tasso with a large clock tower. I really wanted to have a nice lunch, so we took a suggestion from Rick and wound our way through the narrow back streets to find a restaurant called Inn Bufalito. It specialized in Italian cuisine with buffalo mozzarella – sooooo good! We started with a Capri salad (yes, the island of Capri is right of the coast of Sorrento, but we opted to head up the coast instead), then ate a buffalo mozzarella pizza, stuffed artichoke/mozzarella ravioli and a jamon panini. Quite the meal. Our server was funny and spoke pretty good English. We were very happy with our choice :-)

We raced back over to the train station to get a bus up the Amalfi Coast. This coast is famous for its dramatic cliffs dropping off to the ocean. It is featured in many movies, like the Italian Job. Rick told us to be sure to sit on the right hand side of the bus for the best views. It is a narrow and windy road, obviously VERY high, and the cliff just drops off to the ocean about a few hundred feet below us. The bus was awesome, because it was like a nice airport bus with HUGE windows, so we had great views. I would squeal every now and then when we got close to edge and imagined us plummeting to our early deaths. But we survived. And it was worth it.

The bus travels all the way to Amalfi Town, but we worried about making it back to the ship in time. We stopped off at a town called Positano, with pastel houses that cascade down the hillside. It doesn’t even appear to have roads that go through it besides the Amalfi Coast Hwy. It was beautiful to look at, but I was getting nervous about missing our ship waiting for the next bus. To Warren’s dismay, we shelled out 50 euro for a taxi ride back up the coast to make it back to the train station.

We made it back to dirty Naples to discover an obese woman with her dress lifted peeing in the street. Ahhh….just another day in the city. Warren was in some serious shock. Then, the biggest shock of all – the BEST gelato of our trip? At the port terminal right as we boarded the ship. Go figure.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

mykonos, greece

just outside the dock

paradise beach


view from other side of the island (dream home??!)

random church

our scooter - best idea of the day!

lunch at alefkandra

yummy bakery we found for baklava

back on the boat, leaving mykonos.

Friday, June 3rd: Mykonos, Greece

I loved Mykonos! When we first boarded the smaller boat to take us to shore, I was unimpressed by what seemed to be a desert beach town with the same colored white buildings. We made our way through the touristy dock and got some directions to a scooter rental shop. BEST idea of the day. We rented one scooter, and used some major teamwork to navigate our way through the windy and very hilly seaside town. And the most awesome part was that it only cost 15 euro for the whole day!

We first headed to a small beach called Paradise. It was interesting. I mean the water is crystal clear blue. To the point that when Warren was swimming laps, he tried putting down his feet to find that it was even 5 feet deeper, but was so clear the floor looked much closer. He said the water wasn’t too warm, but that it was refreshing. Paradise Beach was more of a party type beach, with chairs and umbrellas that you pay for covering the entire stretch of the small beach all the way to the water. I sat in a lounge chair and the guy collecting money couldn’t care less if we paid him. That was awesome.

We got back on our scooter to explore more by heading to another beach (where we encountered some topless women) and then scooted on over to the opposite side of the coast to see the view from the other side of the bay. All the buildings and houses on this side were larger, some with swimming pools, all with amazing views. Ninety percent of them seemed vacant. I began to fall in love with the white and blue house scenery.

I was set on eating a meal in “Little Venice”, so we headed back through the town and stopped at the scenic windmills for a photo op. Our friend Rebekah had recommended a restaurant right on the water called Alefkandra. We ordered tsatsiki, fried cheese balls, chicken souvlaki and a “mixed meat” type lasagna thing. It was AMAZING. I think I need to be visiting more Greek restaurants when we get home.

We returned the scooter and took a stroll through the little town with shops where we happened upon a cute bakery with a dog outside wearing a matching orange bow that coordinated with the shop. There we purchased some baklava bites (6 flavors to be exact) to try later. They ended up being SO sweet, that I could only muster to eat one and Warren had one bite. They are soaked in honey!

Overall, it was a great day. Of course I like any port with good weather and sun :-)

Friday, June 17, 2011

istanbul, turkey

leaving topkapi palace

inside topkapi palace


lunch on a roof top terrace (recommended by a local)

outside the blue mosque

hagia sophia

streets of Istanbul

bridge spanning the bosphorus river that connects asian turkey w european turkey (looking towards european istanbul)

Thursday, June 2nd: Istanbul, Turkey

We got an early start off the boat and chose to walk across a bridge that connects Asian Turkey (where our port was) with European Turkey (where the sites we visited were located). The bridge had at least 100 old Turkish fisherman and the views of Old Town were awesome – definitely a good choice. We walked with a couple from Chile, who were pretty hilarious. They really wanted to get pics on their iphones so they could upload them automatically and really wanted us in some of them. It was sweet, kind of.

Our first stop, the Hagia Sophia, I guess is kind of a big deal. It was HUGE. And beautiful. It is a great example of Byzantine architecture with a massive dome and the inside is decorated with marble, precious stones and even pillars from Ephesus. It's a perfect example of the rich religious and cultural history of the region as it was originally an orthodox basilica, then turned into a mosque. You can still seem some early orthodox icon paintings right next to huge islamic script (the largest in the world). It was a sight to see and pictures did not do it justice.

From the Hagia Sophia, it was just a short walk through a park with a fountain to the blue mosque. There are a lot of Turkish guys trying to sell you info books about Istanbul by telling you it is their gift to you then asking for a donation. They are quite the swindlers…more on that later.

The blue mosque was magnificent to look at from the outside. It is still a working mosque and you can go inside for free. We had to be sure our shoulders and knees were covered, and many of the women had scarves around their heads. The inside was covered with more than 20,000 blue tiles (thus the nick name “blue mosque”) and we walked barefoot on sticky (smelly) carpet.

Next we decided to pass through the Hippodrome, which is basically a square with monuments that people (both locals and tourists) gather to eat and socialize and asked a local guy where to find authentic Turkish cuisine that wasn’t a touristy spot. He directed us to a row of shops just around the corner which was a world of difference from the thousands of tourists just behind us at the blue mosque. We sat on a rooftop terrace where we could overlook a few streets and see the coast as well as a playground of a local school and the blue mosque. The view was the BEST part. Warren ordered a “mixed meat” Turkish pizza (scary) and I had what I think was chicken? It was ok tasting at the time, but the rest of the day the seasoning had a very unpleasant after taste. It wasn’t spicy, just very distinct. Not good. I wouldn’t repeat it.

We then headed over to the underground cistern. Everything was very close together in the Old Town that we could walk to any place in a matter of minutes. We were stopped by a young guy welcoming us to Istanbul and offering us directions to the cistern. He then slyly introduced us to his friend who invited us into his shop – where he claimed we did NOT have to buy a thing; he just wanted to show us warm Turkish hospitality. We told him over and over, that was fine, but we were not going to buy one of his rugs. He was nice at first, kind of a jokester. We sat with him and he made small talk and then had one of his workers bring us bottled water. Oh no. Now we felt a little like we owed him something, I did anyway. Then he starts commanding his worker to lay out rugs asking us which ones we liked, to which we responded we were not going to buy anything, but thanks for the hospitality. It became increasingly uncomfortable as he raised his voice and kept shouting, “name your price, name your price!” after saying they retailed for about 150 euro. We declined multiple times and were trying to leave when he asked Warren his favorite number, to which he responded 13. Then the Turkish man proclaimed, “done!” and had the worker put one in a bag and set it on my lap. Warren was beyond mad. I told him just to pay the guy so we could get out of there. I guess it was part of the “experience”, but it really put a damper on the day as we felt totally scammed and taken advantage of. Warren wants to the burn the rug. We will see what happens.

We eventually made it to the cistern with new water bottles from our new Turkish frenemy. It was cool to look at, and knowing that it was built in the 6th century was pretty cool, but we didn’t know too much else about it. There were some statues with Medusa heads that were supposed to be a big deal.

After the cistern, we made our way to the Topkapi Palace, the former palace of the Ottoman sultans – which was HUGE! It was very ornate, we were blown away that a family (including a large harem) actually had lived in this huge palace with stunning views of the bay. It was so big, and we didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we kind of breezed through it and tried to appreciate what we could. We tried to see some of the jewels, but there were so many people in those particular rooms we really just walked through.

I was adamant about seeing the Grand Bazaar, which is the largest bazaar in the world, with over 60 winding streets, only accessible by foot. I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea, after our rug experience. We only spent about 5 minutes there, which I think was a good idea after hearing the stories from other shipmates that night on how they were swindled and got varying prices on the same item at different stores. The people are extremely aggressive.

We caught a cab and headed back to the port, where we ended up having to jog (sprint) to the boat when we were dropped off. The cruise ship left 2 people in Istanbul and had left 8 people in Ephesus. They were serious about leaving on time! And we did NOT want to fly to Greece the next morning. We made it though!