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June 2007 Archives

June 1, 2007

Disney Med Cruise: Beci Mahnken - Naples -The Long & Winding Road

May 29, 2007 - Today we arrive in Naples Italy . As the 3rd largest city in Italy , its home to 1.5 million and one of the best, yet worse shore tours I have ever been on. I'll get to that in a minute.

We awoke just in time to see Mount Vesuvius on the distance and a tall masted ship in port as we worked our way into the berth. It was a beautiful day around 72 degrees in the am with a few gray rain clouds off into the distance.

Ok.. before I continue I need to be honest that the worse shore excursion part is actually from one perspective - mine. And further I must preface this to include the fact that I am not really scared of many things, but heights is a phobia I will admit to.

So, to continue. When you first get the long awaited list of available shore excursions you make a date with your significant other and/or family to figure out what you are going to do when you cruise. Chris and I did just that and normally we both find something we both want to do together. This time Naples offered us different options we both wanted to do conveniently packaged in one nifty 9.5 hour excursion.

Chris wanted to experience the Almalfi Coast and I wanted to wander the ruins of Pompeii so we opted for the Amalfi Coast Drive and Ruins of Pompeii tour. Looking at the description it sounds like it will be a peaceful drive along the coast to view the unique architecture and natural wonders along the coastline. In reality it was a very large bus winding its way over the mountains via a very tiny road that was lucky to have a straight area for more then half a football field or so at a time.

Deb & Linda joined us on this journey and we managed to add some new friends, Chuck and Tony as well. Poor guys - eerrr I mean lucky guys - just happened to be in line with us as we got our bus assignments and we talked them into sitting with us too.

First of all, hats off to the driver who was able to maneuver that 50 passenger bus as if it was a 2 seater sports car even when the road narrowed to spots where only one car could pass. (yes, when I said tiny road, I meant it).

We winded our way up the side of the mountain from the port to the top of the crossing where the Guide, Gino, announced that we were almost to the Almalfi Coast where we would see the most beautiful sites including sheer cliffs that range up to 4000 feet high. as we went over the crest of the mountain, sure enough, he wasn't kidding. My heart was beating so fast and between the sheer height , the drop offs and the winding roads , I couldn't help but think I was on a thrill ride instead of a transfer to see one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. (If I could just open my eyes first!)

Instead of trying to interpret what I saw between my tightly clinched hands over my eyes, I will let Chris blog about the ride itself which I'm sure was breathtaking. (Further proven by listening to the gasps of people as we made our way up and down the mountains. While they warn you about possible motion sickness on this tour, I would also caution anyone who has a heights issue too.

When we arrived at Amalfi, we had about 40 minutes of free time to wander the village and we decided to tour the Cathedral of the Amalfi which has some origins back to 596 AD and also is the resting place of head and other bones of St Andrew, Jesus' first disciple. Wow"

We boarded the bus and drove another 20 minutes to a hotel where lunch was served. Including wine of course.

After lunch we were on the way back towards Naples with a stop at Pompeii . This was of great significance to me. I was a Mt St Helens survivor of sorts- while I wasn't on the Mountain itself, I was camping on the south side of Mt Rainier just north of the volcano when St Helens blew and ended up walking in ash up to my hips and stuck in the icky goo for several days. That's another story in itself.. so I digress. To continue, I have been very intrigued by Pompeii and the fate of the people who perished in the tragedy back in 79 AD. We toured the ruin and saw the streets complete with visible grooves in the stone from carts and chariots. Our guide Gino was a member of the archaeological team that helped unearth parts of the ruins back in the early 1970s so was full of information to share about the lives of the people who died here. As the rain started to fall on our out door tour, we moved a little faster through the site then I would have liked, but we did manage to see some of the original artwork and tiles that have been uncovered, along with a few of the bodies that were in the positions of their last moments and with expressions that provided an eerie glimpse into what that horrific day was like. That was truly an experience of a lifetime.

Tomorrow we arrive in Olbia, Sardinia Italy .

June 4, 2007

Disney Med Cruise - Chris and Beci at Pisa! 6/3/07

Today we took a short tour to Pisa. to visit their famous School of Architecture. But first, in case you were afraid this was all business and no fun, let me introduce you to one of our dinner mates.

We pulled into port early, as always, and with a little help from our friends Mark and Reed we proceeded to get hooked up with the smallest tour, and headed out toward Pisa.

If your goal at this port is to get a taste of Tuscany, like in Under the Tuscan Sun, don't go to Pisa. It is on the industrialized coastal plain. That's not to say that there isn't anything worth looking at on the way to and from Pisa. There are lots of quaint old villas and little villages sitting on the tops of the rolling hills. There are also some amazing quarries in the hills where most of the marble used for building and sculpting in Italy was mined. There are now hundreds of marble cutters sprinkled throughout the region, and if you've got any Italian marble in your home there is a good chance it came from this area.

Once we arrived at Pisa, we had to park the bus about a one mile walk from the town square. The last quarter of a mile is covered by hundreds of swindle-vendors. Three T-shirts for 10 Euros type, except here it's one T-shirt for 10 Euros. Or one umbrella (it was raining yesterday, off and on) for 5 euros.

The square at Pisa is lovely, and all the "keep off the grass" signs keep it from being swarmed with people around all the buildings. The tour was short, and covered the famous tower (Torre Pendente), the less famous but far more beautiful Duomo, and also the Battistero where they perform baptisms.

Once you've done the tour, you're left with being a silly tourist, and holding up the tower and such. We spent a good 45 minutes posing with Mark and Reed and muttering under our breath at the other tourists who walked into our frame. Mark has all of our good shots on his camera, and Beci has yet to get them from him (slacker).

June 10, 2007

Cruising the Med - Montserrat Monastery (Barcelona) On Your Own

Many of you have requested details on how we traveled on our own to Montserrat! The simple answer is we had Gary the Guide who had done extensive research. He was awesome! Gary has offered his notes for those of you who want to try it yourselves.

Keep in mind, this is one person's suggestion. Your experience may vary. Do the research before you go!

Montserrat Monastery (just outside Barcelona)

Do it on your own - Step by Step - by Gary the Guide

The following is my step by step guide to traveling to Montserrat Monastery on your own.

I will assume that you are staying at a hotel within walking distance of a Barcelona metro stop. If you are not, or are not comfortable with using a metro system you could take a cab to Placa Espanya. The trains run hourly to Montserrat at 36 minutes past the hour, first train is 8:36am.

1. You need to get to Placa Espanya, this is where the FGC suburban line R5 departs.

2. Barcelona metro is very easy, cheap, quick, clean. While we felt safe using it all day and into the early evening hours, use caution and be aware of pickpockets! All lines are numbered and signed in color code. For example, the 7 of us who did Montserrat on our own were all staying about 500 feet from line 4 (linea 4), yellow colored on the metro map, stop named El Maresme Forum.

3. All metro lines are signed for the direction of travel towards the ends of the line from where you are standing,

For example at el Maresme Forum - the line travels towards Trinitat Nova, or La Pau. To get towards the city we traveled in the direction of Trinitat Nova, signed as Direccio
Trinitat nova.

Link to tmb official metro site -- www.tmb.net/en_US/home.jsp

4. After arriving at Placa Espanya, look for the FGC station. This is an underground station. It is linked by a passageway from the red line (linea 1) metro stop. There is also an above ground entrance signed with a blue on white background sign that looks like an intertwined f and c.

5. Go to the information booth and ask for a ticket to monistrol de Montserrat. I would strongly recommend the TOT MONTSERRAT type of ticket. While it is the most expensive, it includes roundtrip train, rack railway, 2 funiculars, lunch in the self serve cafeteria, museum, - which is just about all there is to see in Montserrat. There is a staff person outside the booth who can assist with the automatic ticket machine, although his English was limited on our trip day. I would recommend paying with cash (EUROs) as some of our party had difficulty with
credit/debit cards. It is about 34 Euro per adult, not cheap, but still cheaper than the Disney excursion price.

Link to fgc site
www.fgc.net/accesible/eng/viatjar/oci.php

6. Take the R5 train towards Manresa. Trains are very clearly marked, and are signed with the train number. This is an end of the line station so the platforms are marked well.

7. Get off at Monistrol de Montserrat. It's about a 55 minute train ride; about half is outside the urban areas in countryside. You want the next stop after montserrat-aeri. You will see the cable car and the monastery on the left, facing direction of train travel for several minutes before this stop, it's the 12th stop from Barcelona if the train is making all the stops

8. The rack railway (cremallera de montserrat) meets the train, transfer across the platform, about 20 minute ride up to the monastery.

9. You are there! Reverse the train order to return to Barcelona. The rack trains leave the monastery about 6 minutes after the hour, and are timed to meet the Barcelona trains. I believe last train is 5:30pm so don't stay too late. Check fgc timetable for the last train back to Barcelona. Remember all trains are timetabled in military/24 hour clock style, IE: 0836, for the first train of the day

A brief word about the cable car. I made a mistake while leading our group and thought it was included in our tickets. So imagine my embarrassment when we got off at monistrol de arie, and found we had to pay another 5 euros each to take the cable car, or wait an hour for the next train to go 1 stop further. We elected to pay the euros and take the e ticket cable car. BE ADVISED, this is a European style cable car, which means it's pretty well up in the air for awhile, so anyone with a real height issues might want to skip this. I loved it because it gave me a real appreciation for the labor and commitment of the monks and craftsmen who built that far up the mountain.

Montserrat is a very spiritual place and occupies a special part of the heart of the people of Cataluña. Please respect this and do not be the ugly American tourist. Cover knees and shoulders in the basilica, and no flash photography inside either.

Monsterrat Photos from Deb's Blog Entry, Part 1
Monsterrat Photos from Deb's Blog Entry, Part 2

There are many other pictures and sites available about Montserrat via a google search of Montserrat monastery.

Gary the guide

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June 29, 2007

Cruising the Med - Oblia by Chris

This may be the one stop on the trip that you've never heard of. Sandwiched between Naples and Rome, Olbia is a side trip to the island of Sardinia. It's the closest you'll get to a day in the country on this trip without renting your own car and driving off on your own for the day (which is possible).

We decided to take Olbia as a rest day. In retrospect, I wish I had stuck with my original decision and done the kayaking trip, but my day wandering the town was quite enjoyable none-the less.

A cruise ship with a Giant MOBY I woke up to the sight of the competition parked across the pier from us. A cruise ship with a Giant "MOBY" on the side, along with Tweety, Sylvester, Bugs, Daffy, and Taz.

Turns out that Moby is one of the large Italian Ferry companies servicing central to northern Italy. The Fantasy, (along with its 15 or so sister ships including the Moby Magic) cruises between the ports of Sardinia, Corsica, and the mainland of northern and central Itally.

Also out on the pier was a welcoming reception from the town of Olbia. They had a live band playing traditional Sardinian music and a huge tent full of local foods, all staffed by some very friendly locals. For some strange reason I didn't take a picture of that. Brain fade. Maybe I did need a break that day.

oblia2.jpg

Olbia is basically a small town. No sky-scrapers (one 14 floor apartment block), no giant cathedral, just people living and working. It is full of little shops and restaurants. Olbia feels like a small town on the island of Sardinia should feel.

oblia3.jpg

There are plenty of quaint streets and little squares in the old part of town. I wondered those for most of the day, and ended up finding - shockingly - an old wooden Indian in front of a pizzeria at one point.

Here are some more pictures from my day.

oblia4.jpg

oblia5.jpg

oblia6.jpg

oblia7.jpg

oblia8.jpg

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About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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