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May 12, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Our Bags are Packed and We're Ready to Go...

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...but whether or not we are leaving on a jet plane remains to be seen. Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano with the name that looks like a random collection of Scrabble tiles, has been disrupting air travel in Europe again this week - this time in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. The Atlanta->Barcelona flight that we will be taking was canceled on Monday and Tuesday...we only hope that it will be flying on Wednesday as scheduled. According to BBC the winds are blowing the ash cloud north and west now, so that's at least the right direction.

We hope to be on our way by the time you read this...wish us luck - I hope to be writing again soon from Barcelona.

EDIT as 5:30 p.m. Eastern: Laura and Lee are on the plane to
Barcelona! Yay!



May 14, 2010

Dinner at Steakhouse 55

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Having wound up this year needing to make last-minute reservations for Mother's Day, I settled on Steakhouse 55 for the very good reasons that

a) They give an AP discount,
and
b) They still had reservations Sunday afternoon.

Steakhouse 55 is located in the Disneyland Hotel, just off the Lobby and next door to Goofy's Kitchen. Renamed from the old Granville's restaurant, the title and decor is supposed to be a callback to 1955, when Disneyland opened and Hollywood was still hanging on to its glamor days.

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The lighting is subdued and the walls are covered with large black-and-white photos of famous celebrities laughing and eating at what might be the Brown Derby (you can see the edges of some of the trademark caricatures in some of the photos) or what might be some other posh eatery. The booths are deep with high backs that call back memories of Lucille Ball peering over at William Holden.

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The cuisine is straight steakhouse fare, as might have been expected. Nothing too fancy or surprising was served, but what was presented was largely well prepared.

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Actually, one of the things I was most impressed about was the bread -- it was served piping hot from the oven and was as soft and crusty as you always hope french bread will be.

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A few of us ordered the prix fixe menu, which came with a small, but respectable, Caesar Salad.

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The Spring Greens came with candied pecans and a raspberry vinaigrette that was appreciated particularly for the fresh berries that dotted it.

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The petite New York Steak on the prix fixe menu was actually the only one that came with its own side dish -- garlic and herb smashed potatoes. It was perhaps a trifle underdone for the medium rare I ordered, but not to the point where I expected it to start mooing and chewing its cud, as is sometimes the case in restaurants.

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This was the 12 oz. Roasted Prime Rib -- we couldn't imagine how big the 16 oz. would have looked.

Then we had the seafood--the Broiled Atlantic Salmon...
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...and the Halibut Steak.
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So the problem with eating in a group is that, unless you're willing to stick your fork into other people's dinner, you're dependent on the input of others as to how the food was. All anyone said about the fish was, "I liked it! It was really good," despite my gentle insistence that it wasn't going to make compelling reading.

In addition to the main dishes, we also ordered sides of sauteed mushrooms, green beans, and broccoli. Of the three, the mushrooms were definitely the best, being a seasonal assortment cooked in a red wine sauce, and the broccoli was definitely the least inspiring, resembling and tasting just like a large, minimally seasoned crown of broccoli.

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The desserts came at last -- I thought the prix fixe Seasonal Tart was very good, with rhubarb/strawberry filling and a crisp crust topped with caramel ice cream. The colorful swirls were fruit-flavored, although I always find it awkward to try to scrape sauce like that up off the plate without looking like you may start licking it clean at any time.

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The only other dessert we sampled was the creme brulee, which came with collated cookies filed neatly in a candy ribbon. The top might have been harder, but I usually think that unless the sugar is melted into a sheet of glass the width of safety windows.

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Ultimately, I think my opinion of the restaurant was that it was a nice place to have a reliably good meal. The menu choices aren't going to wow anyone as they would at Napa Rose, and the steak is probably not quite as good as at the Ruth's Chris Steak House down the road on Harbor Boulevard, but the prices are probably a good $10-$20 cheaper per person. The atmosphere inside of understated elegance and nostalgia is charming, although I can't help but think children might find it a little on the unstimulating side.

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With its ties to the Old Hollywood of Walt's time, Steakhouse 55 will make a nice counterpoint to the new and future theme of "Disney's California Adventure." Actually, if they wanted to remake it again into another replica of the Brown Derby, it doesn't seem as though it would take much -- and would provide a themed eating experience that doesn't revolve around Princesses or Characters for a change.

May 16, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Barcelona Days 1 and 2

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(Sorry for the delay in posting this -- we didn't have free internet access at our hotel, and I was too cheap to pay 12 Euros for it. But now we're on the ship -- internet isn't free here, either, but we'd already planned to pay for it.)

We made it to Barcelona! We were fortunate and the Barcelona flight went on as scheduled on Wednesday. Long flight (about 9 hours), but fairly smooth. This was the longest flight I'd ever been on, and the biggest time change (nine hours -- the most I'd done was three!), so I wasn't sure how that would go, but it was OK. Neither Lee nor I slept much on the flight, and maybe that's a good thing -- since it was daylight when we arrived in Barcelona we've been up all day (just a short nap), so I hope that means we'll sleep tonight.

Getting through Customs in the airport was easy - we'd completed the "Embarkation" form on the plane, so all we had to do was turn that in and get our passports stamped. The bags didn't show up very quickly so baggage claim took a LONG time, but of course the good news is that our bags DID show up, so we have everything we need now for our cruise -- we're here in Barcelona AND we have our luggage!

The Disney representatives were waiting for us when we exited Baggage Claim and soon we were on our way to the hotel. I'm glad I wasn't driving... narrow lanes and lots of cars and motor scooters - and if you're a pedestrian, watch out for the cars because they aren't going to watch out for you!

We are staying at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, and fortunately our room was ready when we arrived at about 10:30. We have a king-size bed and sort of an ocean view -- partly blocked by a couple of buildings.

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There's a big mall across the street, and we were told they had lots of
restaurants so we went over there about 11:00 to find something to
eat. Ended up eating outside at a place that was still serving
breakfast. Lee got one of their skillets - broken eggs, Iberian
ham, and potatoes. "Broken eggs" are not the same as scrambled
eggs - these appeared to be more like hard fried eggs that had
been cut into 1/2" pieces. And the potatoes were actually french
fries! It was really a huge serving, though. I had the cheese and
Iberian ham plate, which came with two kinds of Iberian ham plus
pork loin. Several people before this trip told me the ham was
really good, but I wasn't all that impressed --it was mostly like
pancetta. I'll take a Honey-Baked Ham any day. :-)

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Lee went back to the room to take a nap but I decided to wander around for a while. In addition to the mall I found a big park the next block over from our hotel. It had this huge "sculpture" that looked like a roller coaster track to me. But there were also lots of water, plants, and even some kids play areas -- it was very nice.

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I took a short nap myself when I got back, and then we got ready to head out for some sightseeing. Just a couple of minutes before we were going to leave it started pouring rain - up until then it had been a pretty nice day - just some patchy clouds. So we decided to bring our umbrellas with us, though by the time we left the hotel the weather had cleared up again.

Our hotel is in the "newer" part of the city and not so convenient to most of the tourist areas, but there's a Metro station about 1/4 mile away. And we've been very pleased with the Metro so far - plenty of maps and easy to figure out how to get to the station you want to go to.

Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia, a church designed mostly by Antoni Gaudi, a famous architect known for his lack of square corners, among other things. Gaudi died in 1926, and the church still isn't finished -- it's not scheduled to be finished for another 30 years or so! Other architects and sculptors have picked up where he left off. It's pretty interesting-looking. You can go inside, but there was a long line for that (and a charge) so we didn't do it.

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Next we tried to go to Parc Guell, but the directions we had in our free tour guide were totally wrong (had us get off at the wrong
Metro stop!) and we ended up backtracking a ways before finally figuring out how to get there. It's a fair distance from the Metro Station, too - ~1.2 km. But it was interesting to walk around - lots more Gaudi stuff here, including a house that he lived in and the two "Hansel and Gretel" pavilions.

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Unfortunately we didn't get to see these from the front because it
started to pour down rain, and even with our umbrellas we were getting pretty wet by the time we got around to the front of the park.
Here's the view from the front of the park in the rain, though.

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Of course by the time we trekked the 1.2 miles to the Metro Station the
rain had almost stopped, and by the time we rode the Metro back to our hotel the pavement was dry and you couldn't even tell that it had
rained! We were getting pretty tired by then, though - in addition to
getting almost no sleep we had done a lot of walking. We enjoyed what we saw, though.

For dinner we went back over to the Mall again and just picked up a
couple of sandwiches - we were too tired to want to make much of a big deal about dinner, and besides, we'll have 11 nights of good eating on the ship! We had some nutella gelato (me) and a waffle with bananas and chocolate sauce (Lee) for dessert, but unfortunately by the time we went to head back to the hotel it was POURING rain again - thunder and lightning, too. And we hadn't brought the umbrellas this time. After about 20 minutes it finally slowed enough that we could walk back to the hotel without getting too wet.

Not sure what we'll do tomorrow - kind of depends on the weather. It's supposed to be showery again. I'm really hoping to get a good night's sleep tonight.


Barcelona - Day 2

We slept well, but it started off as a rainy overcast day. Breakfast
was included in our hotel stay, so we went down there about 8:00. Nice breakfast buffet - in addition to more European dishes like cold cuts, pastries and grilled tomatoes they also had eggs, waffles, and sausage. Nice selection of fruit. I was amused that the information on the back of my cereal box was in 8 different languages! That meant they had to use REALLY small print, though.

It was still raining after breakfast so we lazed around the room,
reading and napping. It was actually quite relaxing, and we still had
some sleep to catch up on. By about 2:00 the rain had stopped and
we had woken up enough to venture out, though our first stop was
the Disney Cruise Line desk in the Lobby, where we were able to
check-in for the cruise - we have our Keys to the World cards now, so we can skip all of that at the terminal and only have to
go through Security. Nice.

We took the Metro downtown to Plaza Catalunya - aka Tourist Central. Wow. LOTS of people. It had turned into a nice day, though, so there were some good photo opportunities. This is the Font de Canaletas.

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We walked all the way around the Plaza before figuring out which way was Las Ramblas (we should have just followed the crowd of people). Las Ramblas is known for its bird sellers, artists, flower shops, restaurants, and performers, and we saw all of those.

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It was very crowded, and there were lots of people smoking - I'm just
not used to that in America. Yuck. We walked down to the Columbus Monument - the light was such that the backside of Columbus was lit, so this is a photo from lower down on the back side - I guess that's Queen Isabella?

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We decided to try to find the Barcelona Cathedral after that. We took a narrow side street and we did end up getting there pretty efficently - Lee navigated us very well considering there were no street signs and no good directions! If you're a new resident in Barcelona I'm not sure how you would find *anything*, especially in the old part of town. And I would never want to drive here - we would be on what we thought were walkways that were actually roads!

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Unfortunately the Cathedral is undergoing renovations, so a lot of the
front is covered in scaffolding, here's part that isn't, though.

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We weren't late enough for entrance to be free (from 1:00-5:00 it's 5
Euros, and we were too cheap for that), but here's a picture of all of
the ornate carvings that are just over the entrance.

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That was really all we had planned to do, so we kind of wandered after that. Found a couple of pieces of the Roman Wall, which surrounded the entire city back in the days when it was first colonized by Rome.

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Then we wandered back down to the waterfront, and pretty much went all along the shoreline all the way back to our hotel, which was three miles or so, we think - none of our maps have any scale on them! Found this sculpture near Parc del Port Olimpic.

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And Lee found this structure to climb in one of the many park areas
along the beach. The beaches looked really nice - lots of parking,
restaurants, restrooms, etc. We even walked by a skateboard park! For a city this size Barcelona seems to have a lot of open spaces and parks, but with pretty much all of its residents living in high rises I guess that's essential. Even though the day had turned cloudy and cool we saw a lot of moms in the parks watching their kids play.

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We went over to the Mall again for dinner at a Tapas-type place - this
one had pre-made tapas on toothpicks. You served yourself, and then you were charged by how many toothpicks you had on your plate at the end. We also had a pitcher of really excellent sangria - it was made fresh with lots of oranges and even chopped apples in it. I enjoyed the fruit almost as much as the wine. :-)

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I don't think we'll have time for much of anything tomorrow - we are
supposed to be in the lobby at 11:15 to catch the bus, and our luggage has to be ready by 8:00. But we should have time for a walk around the nearby park, if nothing else.


May 17, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise Day 1 - Embarkation and Sail Away

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Saturday, May 15 - Embarkation Day!

Neither of us slept well - jet lag, I guess - I tossed and turned and
occasionally dozed until I finally fell asleep about 4:30, which would
be about 7:30 p.m. at home - and that's a little early, even for me.

Our bags that were going to the ship had to be packed and ready to go by
8:00, but we made that with no problem. There was a big medical
convention going on in the hotel, so when we got down to the dining room
about 7:45 it was *packed* - a far cry from the relaxed, quiet breakfast we
had yesterday. A nice conference atendee invited us to share her table -
there were no empty tables at all. And the food was pretty picked over,
too - especially the pastries. It cleared out at 8:00 when the
conference started, at least, though that didn't help the food supply.

It was a beautiful day with blue sky and sunshine, but it wasn't very
warm. Lee and I decided to take a walk up the "diagonal" towards the
main part of town. it's kind of a cool idea - huge walkway/bikeway
in the middle, lined with trees, with streetcar tracks and car lanes
on both sides.

We thought this was interesting - we'd never seen a gas station just on
the side of the road in the middle of the city like this!

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We walked all the way up the diagonal to this interesting-looking
buiding - the Agbar Tower. It was a couple of miles to the
hotel.

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On the way back we went into Parc del Centre del Poblenou, which had a
bunch of sculptures in it. It was a nice walk, but it was interesting
to contrast walking around this new part of Barcelona with walking
around the old part yesterday.

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At about 11:00 we went downstairs - we were supposed to be down there by
11:15 and our bus was leaving at 11:30. They gave us a "fastpass" that
we could show at the port, so that upon going through the Security check
we could go straight to the ship, since we were already check in, had
our Keys to the World cards, and had signed our lives away. :-)

The bus left promptly at 11:30, and then turned around and came back to
the hotel and sat on the other side of the street for about 10 minutes -
apparently someone had missed the bus. They got on and we were on our
way - the drive to the port was fairly short - 15-20 minutes. From the
bridge we caught our first view of the Magic - she looks kind of small
next to those other ships, though.

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There was a 5-10 minute line to get through Security, and we had to show
both our passports and Keys to the World at various times, but it was
definitely shorter for us than for the people who had not already
checked in. We had our photos taken and then walked on-board the ship -
yay!!! The trip is really about to begin now!

We went to have lunch at Parrot Cay, but it was full and there would be
a 10-15 minute wait so they sent us to Topsider's instead. That's where
we ate on embarkation day during our first cruise. It was not too
crowded, though it filled up as we sat there. They had a nice buffet of
salad fixings, peel-and-eat shrimp, some yummy potato leek soup and hot
entrees like fish, steamed vegetables, rice, potatoes, etc.

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They let us into our stateroom areas at 1:30 - it was a relief to get in the
stateroom and drop the stuff we'd been carrying around for the last
couple of hours. We're on deck 7, starboard side, just about midship.
We will be celebrating Lee's 50th birthday on this cruise (even though
it's not until next month), and our travel agent, Coleen from Mousefan
Travel, had arranged birthday decorations and a cake for him.

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This stateroom is a Category 5, so in addition to having a veranda it's
also a little bigger than the Category 9 we had on our previous cruise.
We have an extra storage "chest" that we didn't have before.

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I know one thing that we couldn't get good information on before the
cruise was the dining attire and dinner themes, so here they are:

Saturday, Barcelona, Spain
Menu: Let the Magic Begin, Attire: Cruise Casual

Sunday, Day at Sea
Menu: Prince and Princess, Attire: Formal

Monday, La Valletta, Malta
Menu: Restaurant theme: Animator's Palate: Show Dinner

Parrot Cay: Island Dinner
Lumiere's: French Dinner
Attire: Cruise Casual

Tuesday, Tunis Tunisia
Menu: Restaurant theme, Attire: Cruise Casual

Wednesday, Naples, Italy
Menu: Restaurant theme, Attire: Cruise Casual

Thursday, Civitavecchia, Italy
Menu: Master Chef, Attire: Cruise Casual

Friday, Day at Sea
Menu: Villains, Attire: Semi-formal

Saturday, La Spezia, Italy
Menu: Pirates IN the Caribbean, Attire: Cruise Casual,
Pirate

(Shouldn't that be Pirates in the Mediterranean???)

Sunday, Ajaccio, Corsica
Menu: Flavors of the Mediterranean, Attire: Cruise Casual

Monday, Villefranche, France
Menu: Captain's Gala, Attire: Cruise Casual

Tuesday, Day at Sea
Menu: Till We Meet Again, Attire: Cruise Casual

We thought there were two semi-formal nights and not just one, so we'll
probably get more dressed up for one of our dinners at Lumiere's or for
the Captain's Gala.

Where was I...

We of course did the mandatory life boat drill at 4:00. The Sailaway
Party was delayed about 15 minutes because another afternoon shower came
through Barcelona (I thought the rain in Spain stayed mainly in the
plain!). And our luggage finally showed up after that - it was a bit
damp on the outside, so it was obviously outside during the rain.

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The Sailaway Party was at 4:45, but our actual port departure isn't
until 9:30 - not sure why it's so late! We'll miss it since we'll be at
dinner, which starts at 8:30. Hopefully this cruise won't be like our
first cruise, where we were almost always some of the last people out of
the dining room every night. I don't like eating that late, but because
we have so many long port days on this cruise we chose the late seating
(fewer kids that way, too.)

It's kind of chilly out on deck tonight - breezy, too. And we're not
even underway yet!

We just got back from the show in the Walt Disney Theatre: Welcome
Aboard: Let the Magic Begin!
. Brent is our Cruise Director again
this time. We didn't really learn anything that we didn't know, but
figured we'd check it out.

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Oh, speaking of things we didn't know...Disney has provided a very nice
Mediterranean Cruise Guide in each stateroom. It has information
on each of the ports, including language, tipping customs, local
beverages, social conventions and area cuisine. Also information on
some of the recommended sights. I wish I'd had this BEFORE the cruise.

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So now we're back from dinner. It was the Let the Magic Begin
dinner, which for us was in Animator's Palate. We are at a table with
two other couples - one from the UK and the other from Texas. We had a
good time getting to know each other. But, guess what, we were the
next-to-last table to leave the restaurant. Sigh.

Dinner was pretty good - I'll probably wait and do an entire cruise food
blog after I get back. One of our dining companions was having bad
luck, though - first the server brought her pinot grigio when she'd
ordered chardonnay, and then her risotto wasn't completely cooked and
was crunchy and not creamy.

For me the standout was dessert - I had the no sugar added Chocolate
Truffle Cake, and it was really good. Lots of dark chocolate but fairly
light, and whatever non-sugar sweetener they used they were not
heavy-handed with, so it was not too sweet.

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Our cabin steward, Geronimo from the Philippines, introduced himself to
us before dinner - when we got back we had our first towel animal!

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At Sea day tomorrow.


May 18, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 2, At Sea

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Sunday, May 16 - Day At Sea

We both did not sleep well again. Part of the reason is because at about
2:30 a.m. we started hearing this loud, booming noise, which sounded
like something big and heavy was crashing into the hull of the ship. It
was intermittent - sometimes we'd get three in a row, and then nothing
for 10-15 minutes. But it was very loud. I think I finally really got
to sleep about 5:00, and even then the noise hadn't stopped.

We finally got up around 7:30 to a sunny day but rough seas (8-12'
swells). We decided to go out and run on the promenade deck.
Running in rough seas - that was kind of entertaining! Especially
when we were either in the bow or stern of the ship where there was
more motion. It was a nice morning for running, though - only about
62 degrees and a cool breeze.

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After our run we grabbed a quick (but healthy) breakfast at Goofy's
Galley - yogurt and fruit parfaits and fruit - though I had a small cinnamon
danish, too. :-)

Our character breakfast was this morning but it was at 9:45 and we
wanted to attend the DVC Member session at 10:00, and couldn't do both.
We had a great time at the DVC Member thing, though. They served us
(free) mimosas - yummy. We sat at a table with another couple, Jane and
Guy, and had fun talking to them. In addition to presentations and
videos of the new things, there were also prizes for trivia questions
and such. They divided us into teams of about 12 people each -
each team named after one of the 7 dwarfs. Lee was chosen as our
Team Leader, and got to wear the "Doc" lanyard (because he looked
smart!). We got points (alas, not DVC points!) for doing challenges -
sometimes it meant answering questions, and sometimes it was showing a
DVC member card, a Disney Visa card, or trying to name all 10 DVC resorts
in order (no one got that right!). At the end it was down to us and one
other team, so they asked us a trivia question: name the geyser at
Wilderness Lodge. I'd done my homework and had read the AllEars FAQ
on Wilderness Lodge, so I knew that it was Firerock Geyser, and so we
won. (The DVC people were surprised that I knew that. :-) )

Afterwards we had brunch at Lumiere's. We had both forgotten that the
portions at Lumiere's aren't really that big, of course that meant that
the serving sizes of the Denver Omelet and French Toast were fairly
reasonable, though I could have used a little more to eat. But I'm sure
I'll make up for it later - like at dinner tonight!

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We asked at Guest Services about the noise in our cabin (which was still
on), and also asked our cabin steward, who told us that the noise was
from waves hitting the ship broadside. It sure sounds like metal on
metal, though!!! (But as I write this later in the day, now that the seas
have calmed a little bit, I haven't heard it at all in the last hour or
so I've been in the cabin.)

Back in the room we took a short nap, then went to Dr. Glen Dolberg's
(the guest lecturer on board) presentation on Naples, Pompeii, and
Herculaneum. That was fairly interesting - he talked about the history
of all three, and of course the burying of Pompeii and Herculaneum by
Mt. Vesuvius, and had some suggestions on sights to see in Naples.
Prior to his presentation the guy in charge of Port Excusions talked to
us about what will be coming up in Tunis, Tunisia, and some of the
things we will be seeing there.

Dr. Dolberg had a lecture on Malta earlier in the day that we missed,
but it's showing on one of the TV channels, so I watched it later. Kind
of interesting - all about the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller,
the history of Malta, and even a bit on the Maltese Falcon.

We had a relaxing afternoon - I went to the spa to get my nails done
since it's formal night tonight, and Lee went up on deck to sit on the
sun (he said it was warm in the sun) and read.

Lee went to the Twice Charmed show, and I was dressed in my long formal
dress and ready by the time he got back. We went down to the atrium and
got some professional photos taken, and took a couple of the free drinks
the waiters were circulating about with. We saw three of the senior
crew members standing and talked to them for a while, and that was
interesting. We asked why our departure from Barcelona had been
scheduled for so late (9:30) - it's to give the passengers who only
arrive in Barcelona that day more time to get to the ship and hopefully
make sure their luggage arrives, too. Apparently there were two
passengers that had flight delays and were walked onto the ship at 9:20!

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Dinner was the Prince and Princess menu, and it was pretty
awesome - much better than last night. It was in Parrot Cay, which
isn't really my choice of setting for a formal dinner, but it was fine.
They are two for two on chocolate desserts for me so far this cruise -
I had the Prince Charming Chilled Chocolate Souffle tonight and it
was really good - even better than the truffle cake last night. Yum.

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Back in our room Lee was wondering why there was no longer an empty
hanger for his dinner jacket in our closet - and this would be why. :-)

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Geronimo found a good use for my sunglasses, too.

We've been told by two different crew members that we should not miss
our arrival into Malta tomorrow morning - that the morning light on the
rocks and water is just beautiful. I hope we sleep a lot better tonight -
at least the seas are calmer and we aren't hearing that banging noise so
far tonight. But I still think I'll set an alarm just to make sure we
are up by 7:30.

So tomorrow is Malta - our first port day on this cruise!


May 19, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 3, Valletta, Malta

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Monday, May 17, Valletta, Malta

Finally a good night's sleep - no banging on the hull or body clock
issues other than not getting to bed until midnight because of yet
another late dinner (a bit after 10:30 last night).

It's a good thing I set the alarm for 7:30, because I was asleep - dreaming
of taking a photo of a beautiful purple flower for Lisa, one of the
AllEars photo bloggers. (Why I would be taking a photo for her I have
no idea!)

Anyway...the people who told us to make sure we saw our arrival in Malta
were right - it was absolutely beautiful in the morning light. And we
could see it right from our veranda - good thing, because we were
just at the mouth of the harbor when the alarm went off, and hadn't had a
chance to get dressed. This photo does not do it justice at all.

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They spun the boat in a 180 degree turn before docking, which gave us
time to dress quickly and go up to deck 10 while we docked, since after
the turn our room was no longer facing the city.

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We didn't have a tour scheduled, and just planned to wander around the
city on our own, so weren't in a hurry to go anywhere. We had breakfast
at Lumiere's again - a different and more extensive menu than they had
the day before. They sat us at a window table with another couple, and
we enjoyed visiting with them as we ate. I had a made-to-order omelet
and Lee had the Beast's Secret Tower, which was stacked french
toast with grilled pineapple and strawberry coulis. He must have liked
it since he never even offered me a bite :-) We really had an
excellent server (Genesis) and assistant server (Slobodan) - we
connected with them much better than with the two that are assigned to
us in our dining rotation. Oh well.

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At about 10:15 we got off the ship and headed into Valletta. At the
information station in the terminal they gave us a better map than we
had gotten on the ship, and since this one actually had the scale of the
map on it (unlike the maps we got in Barcelona), we could see that
nothing was really that far away. It was an easy walk (though uphill)
to the City Gate, though we had to pass the gauntlet of taxi drivers,
tour bus organizers, and horse-drawn carriage drivers who were all
trying to get us to use their transportation instead.

I've never seen so many tour buses in one place as we saw in the area
next to Triton Fountain just outside the City Gate. Apparently the
buses are rather famous, since we saw lots of postcards that featured
the buses!

It was an absolutely beautiful day today - mostly blue sky and a high of
about 75, though there was a cool breeze off the ocean all day, so I got
chilled if I was in the shade too long.

I'm sorry there aren't more photos in this report - I took LOTS of
pictures, but it takes a long time to upload them to the blog, so I'm
not going to include too many of them.

We wandered down Republic Street, which is pretty much the main
drag. Apparently in Malta all of the buildings are required to have
limestone on the outside, even if it's just a facade. It sure looks
pretty, though seeing a Burger King in a building like that seems just a
bit out of place! One of the most famous sights in Malta is St.
John's Co-Cathedral
, so that was our first real stop.

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From the guide brochure: "St John's Co-Cathedral is a unique monument of
international importance. It owes its rich history and artistic
heritage to the fact that for over 200 years it was the conventual
church of the Order of the Knights of St. John."

Entrance was 6 Euros, which wasn't too bad, since it included a
self-guided audio tour as well. Since it is a church, visitors were
asked to respect that, and dress appropriately (shoulders and knees
covered, though shawls were available), and no stiletto or narrow-heeled
shoes (to protect the marble floors). And absolutely NO flash
photography - and in several places photography of any kind was
prohibited. One of the Custodians chastised Lee for using a flash, when
it was actually the guy standing behind him. Also, they asked that all
backpacks and handbags be carried either in front of you or in your
hand, so that you didn't inadvertantly bang them into the delicate
walls.

The whole thing was decorated in the ornate High Baroque (which they
pronounced Barack) style, which is just too ornate and gaudy for my
taste. Lots of beautiful paintings and sculpture, if you like that kind
of thing.

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I don't know what this is supposed to be, but it reminded me of the flying
carpet in Aladdin...

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On the floor were these elaborate inlaid marble tombstones, dedicated to
various knights. I don't think they are actually buried there, but they
didn't really say.

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The audio guide was very informative, but a little too long-winded at
times - some of the accounts just went on and on and I stopped listening
to several of them.

Apparently the main attraction at the church is a painting by Caravaggio:
The Beheading of Saint John. Not surprisingly that was in an
area we where we were not allowed to take photos. Caravaggio was a
Knight of St. John's, but he was somewhat of a bad boy and was
eventually expelled from the order - but obviously they kept the
painting!

Our next stop was the Grand Master's Palace and Armoury. This
was 10 Euros each to get in - and not nearly as good a value as the
Cathedral. It was a very nice collection - but armor and shields and
helmets and weapons all start to look pretty much the same after a
while.

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The second part of this tour (also included in the admission) was the
State Rooms, now home to the Maltese Parliament. The hallway is
quite magnificient - beautiful marble inlay on the floor, and colorful
frescoes overhead. We had to climb up a narrow winding staircase to get
there - it reminded us of climbing up a lighthouse tower.

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After the Palace we walked all the way to the end of Republic Street,
which brought us to Fort St. Elmo, which is now the Police
Academy. There was a warning outside that there was shooting going on -
and we heard some of it. We found some stairs that went down towards
the water, and ended up staying on that "low road" all the way around
the fort, passing by various bastions (gun/cannon batteries, I assume,
though of course none are there now).

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I mean, why else would they call it "BOOM"? :-)

It was really quite pretty down there, and we saw very few other
tourists - though there was one guy sitting out on a point with his
laptop!!! They put wireless access points in the strangest places these
days! :-)

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Once we back in the main streets again we went over to the Siege
Bell
- this is actually a monument to the Siege of Malta during
World War II, from 1940-1943.

Up the hill was the Lower Barraka Gardens. Really a pretty area
with lots of benches - and lots of tired tourists taking the opportunity
to sit for a while.

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Further up the hill was the Upper Barraka Gardens - apparently
this was originally the private garden for the Italian knights, who
trained there. On our way there we ran into three of the Disney
Vacation Club guides that we met yesterday - they were out enjoying the
sights in the city, too! We later saw Ignatius, our server, and he was
headed into the city as well. It's really nice to see that the crew
enjoys the ports, too - I think just about everyone we have talked to
has told us about something they want to see in at least one of the
ports.

We made our way back to Republic Street and out the City Gate again,
then back down toward the ship. On the way down the hill we saw a
familiar face - Jeff Spencer, a friend from the old rec.arts.disney.parks
newsgroup days. He and his wife and kids are also on the Disney Magic!
(Yes, you can all start singing That Song now). It's amazing who you'll
run into halfway around the world...

Back on the ship we headed up to deck 9 for a (very) late lunch, since we
hadn't eaten since breakfast. Had some pizza from Pinocchio's, and I
made a salad out of the fixing's bar at Pluto's - Lee just went ahead
and got a salad from Goofy's Galley, where Slobodan, our assistant
server from this morning, was working.

It was a great port day - we really enjoyed just wandering around part
of the city on our own and being able to get out and walk.

We pulled away from the dock just a few minutes after our scheduled 6:00
departure time. The evening light on the other side of the island was
almost as beautiful as the morning light.

Lee went to the gym and ran on the treadmill (the bow of the track on the
promenade deck was closed because we were leaving port and they were at
work up there!) - he said that once we actually got out in the open ocean
that staying on the treadmill became a challenge. :-) We have "rough" seas
again, though I don't think the motion is as bad as it was on Saturday
night, and I haven't heard any "banging" yet. Things are starting to creak
in the cabin again, though.

Tonight's dinner was at Lumiere's, with their usual restaurant menu. Our
servers had it pretty easy tonight - their other two tables didn't show at
all, and there were only four at our table since one couple went to Palo
for dinner.

I like Lumiere's, and we had a very nice dinner. The food came out a little
quicker, too, so we were done by 10:15 for a change. I had another good
chocolate dessert - I actually ordered Lumiere's Sweet Temptations,
which includes three small desserts, and the chocolate mousse was quite
good (as was the creme brulee), though last night's cold chocolate souffle
has been my favorite so far.

Tonight's towel animal is an elephant - again wearing my sunglasses. I think
we need to leave some other props out for Geronimo to use. :-)

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Tomorrow we'll be in Tunis, Tunisia. We don't arrive at the dock until about
8:30, yet we are supposed to meet at 7:45 for our shore excursion. That's
not very long from now, and we need to have time for breakfast somewhere in
there!


May 20, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 4, Tunis, Tunisia

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Tuesday, May 18 - Tunis, Tunisia

I still had a hard time getting to sleep - I think it's still jet lag.
No matter what time I get up and what time I go to bed, my body still
thinks that midnight is still just late afternoon, and much too early
for sleeping. It's getting a little better every day, though - so last
night I really fell asleep about 3:00, instead of 4:00.

Of course that meant 6:45 came really early this morning. Even though
we weren't supposed to dock at Tunis until 8:30, we were still supposed
to meet for our tour at 7:45.

One thing to be aware of with Tunis - it's the only port on this cruise
where you must have your passport to enter the country. We also had to
fill out a landing card - half of this they took when they stamped our
passports, and then we gave the other half to an agent before we boarded
the ship at the end of the day.

We beat the crowd to Topsider's for breakfast, and it was pretty good,
though we both wish we'd known BEFORE we went through the buffet line
that they will make eggs and omelets to order. Oh well - we'll know for
next time. We pulled into the harbor about 7:20, and we were docked by
7:35. The approach into Tunis wasn't nearly as scenic as the arrival in
Malta yesterday, however, we had quite a reception committee to welome
us to Tunis - both camels AND Carthaginian warriors! It was kind of
exciting to be on a second new (to me) continent this trip, since we
were in North Africa.

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For our day in Tunis we had chosen to do a Disney port adventure -
figuring that in a place that's VERY foreign to us, they will take care
of us and make sure we get back to the port on time! It was a pretty
ambitious tour, though - Carthage, Medina, the Bardo Museum, and Sidi
Bou Said. There were at least six buses full of Disney guests doing
that particular, tour, though. We were bus #5, but our guide Yussef must have
taken a back road or something because we ended up getting to all of the
major stops first, which was nice.

(Speaking of bus #5, throughout the tour Yussef would call out things
like: "#5, come to me, please", "#5, #5, this way", and we had to keep
resisting the urge to say "Number 5 is alive!" :-) )

Our first stop was Carthage. This is a residential area now, but
it was originally settled by the Phoenicians. There were three Punic
Wars between the Romans and the Phoenicians which the Romans eventually
won, and they leveled Carthage and built their own city there. Not
being satisfied with native stone they brought in marble from Italy and
two other kinds of stone - one from Egypt and the other from some place
I don't remember. I don't know how they transported tons of stone around
like that - they didn't exactly have huge cargo freighters back then!
Over the years much of the stone and marble columns has been hauled
away and used to build OTHER buidlings, but there was one fairly
extensive section of Roman ruins that has been preserved which includes
the Tophet (a cemetery for children) and the Roman baths. The most
extensive part is the baths, and we had about 30 minutes of free time to
wander around there.

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It was another beautiful day, though quite windy which made it a little
chilly if you were in the shade.

Carthage was pretty close to the ship, but our next two stops were in
the city of Tunis, and we had about a 30 minute drive to get to
the first one, the Medina. The Medina is the old city, built by
the Arabs, which is walled with some arched entrances into it. Lots of
narrow streets. Our guide pointed out the doors on some of the house
entrances, and told us how the decorations on the door can reveal
something about the residents - whether they are Muslim, Christian,
Jewish, Berbers, etc.

The purpose of this stop was to allow people to go shopping in the souk,
the covered market, which held absolutely no appeal to Lee and me at
all. We made one quick pass down one street, with shop keepers urging
us to come into their shops (though fortunately they all took a simple
"no" for an answer - we'd heard that sometimes they will physically try
to drag people in), and that was enough for us - we found a way outside
into a much more modern area next to the Ministry of Finance, and waited
there until it was time to go back to the designated meeting place in
the souk. A couple of the people in our group were a little late in
coming back but Yussef was able to round them up.

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Back on the bus for a trip to the Bardo Museum. This was the
king's palace before Tunisia became a republic in 1957. Now the museum
houses a huge collection of mosaics and other artifacts (mostly Roman) that
have been excaated in the area. There were lots of other tour groups in
there and it was kind of chaotic, and we went through it pretty quickly.
Though that was ok - on our own we probably wouldn't have spent much
more time than that. All of the mosaics and headless and armless
statues started to look the same after a while.

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This was in the floor on the ground floor near the entrance - it's
actually a baptistry (for full-immersion water baptisms), but I agreed
with the woman on our tour who suggested it was an early Roman jacuzzi. :-)

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I'm not sure why they arranged the tour this way, but after that we went
BACK over to Carthage, which was about 25 minutes away. Though it gave
us a chance to take a short nap, which was nice! We stopped at a
restaurant where they served us a snack - we were the first group to
arrive, so didn't have to wait for another group to get through first.
They had a couple of kinds of sandwiches, phyllo pastries, and fresh
fruit along with bottled water and cans of soda. It wasn't lunch, but
it was enough to get us through the next couple of hours - it was about
1:15 by then and the bus had left port at 8:30.

Right next to the restaurant were some fairly extensive ruins of the
Roman aqueduct that had brought water to Carthage from the Atlas
Mountains about 50 miles away. That was a pretty impressive
construction project considering they had no heavy equipment to do any
of it - those Romans were highly skilled engineers.

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Our last scheduled stop was Sidi Bou Said (or Sidi Bibbidy Bobbidy
Boo as Lee keeps calling it). This is on a hill near Carthage, and is a
very picturesque Moorish village known for its white and blue houses.
You can paint your house any color you want as long as it's white with
blue trim. (First the requirement for native stone facades on the buildings
in Malta, today the white and blue houses in Sidi Bou Said - who knew that
Homeowner's Associations originated in the Mediterranean?)

It really was quite beautiful, though. Yussef showed us the mosque and
the street with most of the tourist-type shops on it and then let us do
our own thing for close to an hour. Lee and I wandered all the way up
the hill past the shops and into some of the residential areas. Some of
those places have beautiful views of the Med looking towards the Atlas
Mountains. There's lots of colorful bouganvellia growing on the walls
and around many of the doors. It was very pretty and we enjoyed the
chance to walk around. I bought a few postcards but that was all I got
in the market. We were meeting back at a shop that sold dates, so we
got some dark-chocolate covered dates to snack on. Those are actually
very good - in addition to the dates they have some pistachios and
almonds, too.

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We made one last unscheduled (but very brief) stop at the North Africa
American Cemetery
, where about 2,800 American soldiers from World War
II are buried. It was really quite beautiful, and very well cared for,
but a sad memorial to a very tragic period of history.

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The Magic was supposed to leave at 4:00, but a lot of the buses were
running late. We didn't get back until about 4:10, and the ship finally
left port just before 4:30.

For what it's worth, my review of the tour. It was a pretty long day -
we left the ship about 8:10 and didn't get back until 4:10. There was a
fair bit of walking - but in the places we had free time you could choose
how much or how little you wanted to do. Our guide was pretty good,
though I think he could have told us a little more about the history of
some things like Sidi Bou Said - like WHY is there a Moorish village
there? But he spoke excellent English and was knowledgeable and
personable. I really did not enjoy the stop in the Medina at all - I was
very uncomfortable there. But I hate shopping, and even more so when
someone is trying to get me to buy things. The Bardo Museum was ok, but
I wouldn't go out of my way to do it. I really enjoyed walking
around Carthage, and wish we'd had more time there, and the time at the
aqueduct was just about perfect. I enjoyed seeing Sidi Bou Said and
walking around there taking pictures. If I had to do it again I would
choose just to see Carthage and Sidi Bou Said, and skip the other two.
One thing I wish they had provided was some tourist guides - I think
most of these places probably had some kind of guide or map that guests
who weren't on tours would have received, and that would have been
informative - especially since I'm trying to write this report without
the benefit of being able to look everything up on the Internet!

Dinner tonight was at Animator's Palate, and was the "Show"
dinner where the walls change color. There were again only four of us
at dinner, though tonight the couple who went to Palo last night joined
us. And our servers had a second table of four also - but they still
only had 8 people instead of 12 or 14, so dinner went pretty fast.
Tonight's dinner was pretty good - not the best menu we've had on this
trip, though. The Double Chocolate Fudge Chocolate Cake was good, so I
still have yet to be disappointed in a chocolate dessert on this cruise,
but it was my least favorite.

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On our way back to our stateroom we saw Mickey greeting guests in the
Atrium, and for a change there was NO line so we had our picture taken
with him.

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A new towel critter tonight - I really liked this one. I wonder what
Geronimo would do if I didn't leave my sunglasses out, though. :-)

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The seas were pretty choppy after we left Tunis, but they calmed down
significantly during dinner, so hopefully we'll have a restful night.

Tomorrow is our stop in Naples, and that will be another looooong port
day, though at least we don't start until 9:00. But I expect we won't
be back to the ship until at least 6:00. Still, I'm looking forward to
climbing Mt. Vesuvius and visiting Pompeii - I hope it won't be too cold
on Vesuvius - I've been warned to dress warmly!


May 22, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 5 - Naples, Italy

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Wednesday, May 19 - Naples, Italy

I think we both slept pretty well - the seas grew much calmer during the
night. We got up just a bit before 7:00 - we weren't to Naples yet, but
could certainly see the Italian coastline.

Our tour wasn't meeting until 9:00, so we decided to have breakfast at
Parrot Cay. It's a buffet in the morning, and the selections were similar
to Topsider, though it's a little nicer because they seat you at a table
and a server brings your beverages. Breakfast was pretty fast, and we were
done by the time we started to enter the port of Naples ~8:00. I think
nothing is going to live up to the spectacular port entrance into Malta -
in some ways it's too bad that we got spoiled by that as our first port,
since I don't think anything else is going to compare.

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Mount Vesuvius was shrouded in clouds, though we hoped it would clear out
before we got there, otherwise we weren't going to see very much.

The tour we had booked today was a hike of Mount Vesuvius followed by a
walking tour of Pompeii. They were quite efficient in getting us going -
we met at 9:00 and we were on the bus pulling away from the dock at 9:15.

Our first stop was a little gift shop/snack bar about halfway up Vesuvius
(or Vesuvio, as the Italians call it). The main reason for the stop was
that they had restrooms (or toilettes, as they call them), since there were
only very limited facilities at the top, Even at this place there was one
unisex restroom with only three stalls, so our 10 minute stop became more
like 25 by the time everyone made it through.

The road up to the mountain was steep with lots of hairpin turns - quite a
feat to manage in a full-size bus, but our driver obviously had done this
many times and knew what he was doing. We made it to the parking area at
the top by about 10:30, and were on the trail not long after that. One
thing to be aware of...there are people handing out walking sticks at the
beginning, but what you can't really see (and they don't tell you, of
course) is that you are expected to leave a tip for the use of the stick
when you give it back.

The trail was wide and not really that steep, but there were lots of rocks
that tried to trip us up. Not surprisingly Lee and I blew by most of the
people in our group, though we weren't actually the first ones to the top -
there was another couple who beat us. But they'd started at the front of
the group, and they were about half our age. That's our story and we're
sticking to it. :-)

I say we were among the first to the top, but that's not quite right -
because we were part of a guided tour we had to stop at the souvenir stand
(yes, they sell souvenirs up on the mountain - at three different places
along the trail, actually!!!) that's near the crater and wait until the
rest of our group showed up (which took a good 10 minutes), and then we
went on with our guide - this was the guide provided by the National Park,
and not either our regular tour guide or our Disney Port Adventure guide.

She took us to a couple of places along the edge of the crater and tried to
point out various things, but the mountain was still in the clouds and fog
was swirling in the crater. Sometimes it cleared enough for us to see
something, but it wasn't a very good day - though I guess it was better
than it had been a couple of days before when it was raining! It wasn't
that cold - right around 60, I think, so I was comfortable in just long
pants and a windbreaker. There were people on our tour in shorts and
t-shirts that seemed to be warm enough!

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Our guide let us go and we walked to the end of the trail that goes around
the crater - that probably goes a little more than halfway around it. And
there was yet another souvenir stand at the end of the trail!!! Doing
pretty good business, so I guess there's a reason for it.

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Soon after we turned back the weather started to clear a little bit, but
not enough that we could really see that much below us. But by the time we
got back to the bottom of the trail the weather had cleared and there was
lots of blue sky and sunshine. Sigh.

On the way down we caught up with Hilde, our Port Adventures guide. She
isn't a hiker, so was a little worried about being on this particular tour,
but she did just fine, and we had fun talking to her throughout the day.

We were supposed to all be back at the bottom to meet our bus by 12:10 -
and the bus had to park quite a ways down the road so we had another 5
minute walk to get to it. There was one couple that was 20 minutes late,
though - which didn't make all the rest of us that were sitting on the bus
very happy! That's a problem with these large tours...just herding so many
people around and keeping track of them takes a lot of time, and the delays
caused by the inconsiderate people who don't keep track of the time add
up and take time away from the tour - and from the rest of us who WERE on
time.

On the way down the mountain we had one very close encounter with a bus
that was coming up - the road must have been particularly narrow in that
spot, and they squeezed by us with maybe four inches between the two buses.
We weren't sitting on that side, but those who were said it was really
close! The sides of the mountain were covered with lots of vegetation and
flowers - it was really beautiful.

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We got about 2/3 of the way down when our bus developed some kind of
transmission problem and stopped. Our guide phoned in and arranged for
another bus to come pick us up - our bus driver was able to get us the rest
of the way down the mountain where we met the new bus, but that delayed us
another 30 minutes.

We drove to Pompeii where we stopped for lunch (included in the tour) at the
Ristorante Lucullus. This was fast and efficient and surprisingly good!
They first served us an antipasti plate with prosciutto, and mozzarella.
Then we had two kinds of pizza, and then a slice of lemon cake for dessert.
We sat with a young couple from Orlando, and had a very nice time chatting
with them. They served us a bottle of the house red wine with lunch, and
it was very good - between the four of us we finished it.

From there we were close enough to walk to the Pompeii site. Wow. I really
didn't know what to expect from Pompeii - I guess I was expecting to see
more ruins like we saw in Carthage yesterday, and not a relatively intact
city covering such a large area! It's really amazing, and amazing what
they have been able to learn about life in the 1st century A.D. (Pompeii
was buried in 79 A.D.)

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It was sunny and warm in Pompeii - at that point I wish I'd worn shorts or
crop pants - it was probably in the mid-70s, but felt warmer than that in
the sun.

We visited one house that was unearthed in a very intact state, and were
able to see the frescoes that had been painted on the walls. It was a
pretty good-sized house!

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One of my favorites was this mosaic at the entrance to another house -
apparently the first known "Beware of Dog" sign.

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We saw a lot of red bricks in some of the walls and wondered if that had
been part of some kind of (modern) restoration, but our guide told us that
there was a huge earthquake in Pompeii about 12 years before the eruption
of Vesuvio, and the damage from that was repaired with brick.

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She told us lots of other interesting things, too - which I really don't have
time to write about here.

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Unfortunately because of the people and bus delays we had lost an hour of
time, so instead of a 2 hour guided tour with perhaps some free time, we
had only 90 minutes and no free time at all in Pompeii. That was very
disappointing. Though maybe not having free time was a good thing - it
would be easy to get lost in Pompeii - or to lose track of time. I'm so
glad we saw it!

We had a little bit of free time outside to do some souvenir shopping -
the couple we had lunch with had told us about the yummy lemon ice they
served there and we both got cups of that. It was tangy and sweet and very
refreshing.

Late in the afternoon Vesuvio came out of the clouds and I took this picture from the bus on the way back.

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We were back in the bus about 4:45 and back at port at 5:15 - exactly 8
hours after we left. It was a long day, though, and we were pretty tired.
And it's going to be an even longer day tomorrow when we go to Rome.

Lee got a load of laundry done in between naps (surprisingly there were lots
of free machines - unlike last night).

I didn't want to eat so late tonight since we have to get up early
tomorrow, so I went up to Topsider. I was surprised to see one of our
normal dining room companions there, and she invited me to join her. Her
husband wasn't feeling well, so she decided not to go to the dining room.
She told me they'd spent the day with our other tablemates on the island of
Capri, and that they were planning to eat in Naples, so it sounded like Lee
was going to be eating by himself. :-(

I went up there to keep him company for a short time while Geronimo was
doing his evening turndown service in our room, and sure enough, he was all
by himself. But Ignatius and Nathan were spending as much time with him as
they could, (Ignatius even had time to sit down and chat with him for a while)
and he enjoyed his dinner.

Kind of a scary towel critter tonight! :-)

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We pulled out of Naples promptly at 9:00 - a late departure, but it's a
short trip to Civitavecchia (CHIH-vi-ta-veck-ee-a) which is the Port of Rome
even though it's about 35 miles to Rome from there.

Long day tomorrow - I guess the good(?) news is that we have about an hour
each way on the train so we'll have the chance for a nap. I'm not looking
forward to getting up to be ready for a 7:45 meeting time, though!




May 23, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 6, Rome, Italy

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Thursday, May 20 - Civitavecchia, Italy (Port of Rome)

Slept well for a change - just not long enough. We were already docked at
Civitavecchia (CHIH-vi-ta-veck-ee-ah) when we woke up at about 7:00. Lots
of people with early tours today (or just wanting to get off the ship
early), so Topsider was pretty crowded when we went up there for breakfast.
We ended up sitting outside - it was a brisk morning - low 60s with breeze,
and was a little chilly outside. But it looked like it was going to be a
beautiful sunny day!

We had chosen the Jumping Back into Eternal Rome excursion, which would
take us to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and St. Peter's
Basilica. Of course there's way more to see in Rome than those sights, but
you have to start somewhere, right? And we didn't feel comfortable with
trying to do it on our own.

Transportation logistics were more complicated today - first there was a
bus ride to the train station, and then a non-stop train ride into Rome.
And we had multiple guides, too. Our first guide, Giovanna, was with us from
the time we got on the bus at the ship until we returned to the ship that
night - she compared herself to a sheepdog at one point. She certainly
spent a lot of time trying to round us up!

The train ride to Rome was fairly scenic - we went by lots of open fields
with flowers and cows or crops. Lots of beautiful red poppies gave it a
splash of color. The trip into Rome took about 50 minutes - I spent some
of that time napping. We got off the train at the San Pietro station, and
then boarded the bus where we met our second guide, Barbara. (And she
really rolled the r's when she told us her name! Barrrrbarra) She was the
one who did all of the narration, and spoke very good English, very easy to
understand.

Our first stop was the Colosseum (Colosseo). Though we passed by
many beautiful buildings and fountains along the way - and got our first
taste of what it's like to be driving around in Rome. Those people are
crazy!!!

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Just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. Once again,
I am not going to be able to show you nearly as many photos as I would
like...it was really incredible, with so much to see all around us!

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Because we were with a tour we went through a special (and much shorter)
line to get into the Colosseum, rather than having to wait in a huge line
like so many other visitors. Barbara told us a little bit about it, and
then gave us about 20 minutes of free time - though most of us spent the
first 5-10 minutes of that in line for the Toilettes. So we did not have
nearly enough time - really only enough to climb up to the observation
level and take some photos looking down and across. It's amazing what a
massive structure this is, and all built of travertine with no mortar to
hold it together. Also amazing that they still use this for concerts and
shows.

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It looked like we had lost some people but Giovanna eventually rounded them
up - but that delayed us, of course. Back on the bus we drove to a point
somewhere near the Trevi Fountain, and then walked several blocks,
risking life and limb at some point at street crossings, to the fountain.
Tons of people there, though actually not as crowded as it can be. Wow...I
had no idea that this was so huge! It was really great to see it.

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While we were waiting for our group to gather together again, an Italian
man came up to our group (Giovanna obviously knew him), and took a black
rectangular piece of paper and some scissors out of his bag and asked me to
face sideways. Then, in about a minute, he produced a very nice silhouette
of my head and handed it to me - absolutely free, and in fact he turned
down a tip! He then did most of the rest of the members of our group -
even continuing to do them as we walked along the sidewalks towards the
Pantheon, which is how he did Lee's. We called him the Michelangelo of
scissors. :-) He never asked for anything, never tried to give us a card to
come see his art or anything like that. I should've asked Giovanna about
him - "Who was that smiling scissors man?"

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Next was The Pantheon. Which was originally a monument to all of
the Roman gods, but is now a church. Unfortunately half of the front of
the building was covered with scaffolding - for renovation and cleaning, I
guess. We did not have very much time in here - maybe 5 minutes as Barbra
pointed out some of the features and talked about the sculptors (Rafael, I
think, and maybe Bernini).

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The most striking feature of the Pantheon is the huge dome - it's the
largest unsupported dome in the world, or something like that. And it has
this huge hole, called the Occulus in the middle.

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We walked to the Piazza Navona where there's another large church
(St. Agnes?) which has three Caravaggios in it. We didn't go in, though.
Somewhere in between those two stops we ran into Hilda, who had been our
Port Adventure guide the day before - she was touring Rome on her own.
(And we saw her as we boarded the ship tonight - she was one of those who
was welcoming guests back.)

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We walked another 5 minutes or so to our bus (we could see St. Peter's not
that far away), and then we drove to the restaurant where we were having
lunch, which mostly involved sitting in traffic for about 30 minutes. It
wasn't that far - even as a group we could've walked it in a lot less time!
That was very frustrating to me.

It was about 2:00 by then, and we had lunch at the Opera Restaurant. We
received bread, an antipasti plate with bruschetta (yummy!), pancetta and
salami, and lasagna. The lasagna had meat sauce, so I got penne pasta with
tomato sauce instead. There were both white and red house wines on the
table (both excellent) and we had pieces of tiramisu for dessert. It was
really a very good lunch.

After lunch, even though St. Peter's was in sight of the restaurant, we
walked BACK to the bus again.

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Though at least we got to walk along the Tiber River and see the Castel d'San Angelo (made famous by Dan Brown in a couple of his books).

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It was a fairly short bus ride to St. Peter's Square, but we were getting
short on time - we were supposed to be leaving there by 4:30 and it was
already about 3:45. The square is HUGE, with buildings and marble columns
around about 2/3 of it. We got in line to go into the Basilica - we had to
pass through a security check for that. While we were in line some rain
drops fell on us - Lee says we had been sprinkled with holy water. :-)

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It was about 4:00 by the time we finally got into the Basilica, so Barbara
had to give us "The Tour of the Basilica in Fifteen Minutes or Less". Sigh.
It was really incredible...so enormous, so many beautiful sculptures.
After St. John's in Malta I was sort of expecting more of the same - gaudy
and overdone - but this was nothing like that at all. I'm not even sure I
can put it into words. Just the scale of it was incredible - I had no idea
it was so large. But I really wish we'd had a lot more time here - 15 minutes
was FAR too short a time to do anything more than quickly wander around and
take a bunch of pictures without really knowing what I was taking pictures of.

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There was the Pieta, of course, and the statue of St. Peter, and the dome
of the basilica and lots and lots of paintings and sculptures and mosaics.

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All too soon Barbara and Giovanna rounded us up and herded us outside
again. We had about 15 minutes to hit the "official" Vatican gift shop
(which, more importantly, had toilettes) before it was time to walk back to
the bus again.

Oh, our Port Adventures guide today was Ben - we'd been telling him that he
was very visible all day because of the color shirts they wear, but we
noticed that a lot of the walls around St. Peter's Square were painted the
color of his short, and he blended right in - camouflage. So here's a wall
holding a Mickey sign. :-)

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We were supposed to catch the train at 5:00 and it was getting REALLY close
to that - Barbara told us to run once we got to the train station, and our
bus driver made a left turn on a red light right in front of another bus.
Yikes. But we made the train, which actually didn't leave for another 5-10
minutes after we boarded, as more Disney tours got on board. It was packed -
they were having to search around for seats for some people.

Another 50 or so minute train trip and we were back in Civitavecchia, and
then another 10 minutes by bus to the ship. It was 6:30 by then and we
left at 8:15, so it had been a long day. Lots of tired people returning to
the ship.

Goofy and Donald were greeting guests as we boarded, though.

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Geronimo had taken advantage of our being gone so long and had already
performed the evening turndown service in our stateroom, so Dino greeted us
when we returned.

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We actually got to see a nice sunset tonight!

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Dinner was at Lumiere's. Considering the very long port day I was
expecting the dining room to be fairly empty, but it was pretty full, and
our table was fully occupied. The menu was Master Chef, which
I believe was relatively new, and it incorporated specialties from various
Disney restaurants, like Citricos, Yachtsman Steakhouse, and Flying Fish.
It was pretty good. (One of our tablemates noted that the steak was
advertised as USDA, which, considering the current beef supplier is in
Europe, doesn't seem like it can possibly be correct.) My dessert of the day
was the Triple Chocolate Terrine. I enjoyed it - not the best I've
had on this cruise, but it's in the top 3.

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It's a day at sea tomorrow - thank goodness, because I think an awful lot
of us are tired after four port days (two of them quite long) in a row. I
know I'm tired, and am very much looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow,
now that it seems I can finally sleep normally again. It's not that far to
La Spezie, so I guess we'll just float around, or go very slowly.

A few thoughts about today's tour...it was very frustrating to me because
we spent so much time in the bus when we could have been walking from place
to place and seeing more things. I think that in total we spent more time
on the bus than we did at the sights we visited. But Disney didn't offer any
kind of walking tour, and I didn't know enough about any of this to try to
book something of my own - I'd definitely do things differently on a return
visit.

(I was able to include a lot more photos in this blog than I expected - our internet connectivity has been generally not too bad on this cruise - I probably just jinxed it by saying that, though!)


May 24, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 7, At Sea

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Friday, May 21 - Day at Sea

Day at sea! Day to rest and relax! Oh joy! We slept in until 8:00, it was
wonderful!

We were never moving very fast throughout the night, but at about 9:00
the ship stopped moving, and has been floating the rest of the day. The
seas are very calm, and we had blue sky and sunshine all day, with a high
around 75. I don't think it gets any better than that!

Short blog entry today because there's just not much to tell! I got up and
ran a little over 4 miles this morning, then had breakfast at Topsider. Lee
had breakfast there earlier, and he went running this evening instead.

We went to the guest lecturer's presentation on Corsica, which was actually
more of a history of who was in power in the Mediterranean at various times,
since whoever rose to power seemed to conquer Corsica fairly early on. :-)
It was pretty interesting.

I had a hot stone massage this afternoon...ahhhh. I fell asleep for a little
while, even.

Unfortunately Lee had to do work on a presentation for work, but at least today
gave hime some time to do that - he also had time to relax and nap, too, though.

Not many pictures today, either - poor Dino was drooping this morning when
we woke up - or maybe he was still sleeping. Geronimo perked him up when he
did the morning service, though.

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Tonight is semi-formal night, with the Villains theme. So we have a new show
in the Walt Disney Theatre called Villains Tonight, and then a
Villains-themed dinner in the dining room. And villains doing character
greetings in the lobby tonight. Should be fun.

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The show was great - we both really enjoyed it. I think they should make it
a permanent show instead of just for the special longer cruises. I loved
seeing so many of the villains - Hades, Pain, Panic, Yzma, Kronk, Scar, Cruella,
Hook, Dr. Facilier, Ursula, Iago, Jafar, the Evil Queen, and Maleficent.

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Dinner also had a Villains theme, and some of the menu items were named after
the villains, like Cruella De Vil's Sangria Bisque, Hades Oven-roasted Tom
Turkey Breast, and Ursulas Grilled Ginger-Lime Swordfish Steak. For dessert
I had (big surprise) The Villains Chocolate Ending - Ignatius knew what
I was going to order before I even told him. :-) It was pretty good.

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We had a fun dinner - Nathan kept us entertained with some games - he would
make some kind of a pattern with crayons, and tell us what new pattern we
had to make, but with only moving some number of crayons. We enjoyed that -
he said he has more of them.

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Dinner went long again, though, and we ended up missing the Villains Ball
in the lobby. Late seating strikes again.

Tonight's towel animal is a really great-looking elephant - which means I'm not
sure what it was we had on day 3, but it wasn't an elephant!

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We dock at La Spezie tomorrow morning, for our day in Florence and Pisa.
We have an early meeting for our port excursion, though - 7:15!!!


May 25, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 8, Florence, Pisa

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Saturday, May 22 - La Spezia, Italy

Very long day today - left the ship at 7:30 a.m. and didn't get back until
almost 7:30 p.m. It was a good day, though.

The weather continues to be just spectacular - we have really lucked
out, since we've had a couple of the tour guides tell us that it was
raining two days before we arrived. It's been sunny with lots of puffy
white clouds and a little warmer every day - at least mid-70s today in
Florence.

So...today we had booked the tour of Florence and Pisa. What we didn't
realize was how far it was to Florence and Pisa from La Spezia. And
travel logistics were further complicated because we have to use a
tender to get from the ship to the pier. They are large tenders,
holding about 200 people, but still, by the time you load them, take the
10-15 minute ride to the dock and then unload, it's a good 30-40
minutes. We were on the bus and on our way by about 8:15, but were a
little startled when our guide, Lucia, told us it would be about 2-1/2
hours to Florence! Yikes. Fortunately it didn't take that long - we
were in Florence and off the bus by about 10:30, and that included a 20
minute stop at a rest area about an hour after we left the port. Lucia
told us that it was Saturday, so there wasn't much traffic in Florence,
and I'm sure that helped.

Like yesterday in Rome, we had one guide who stayed with us all day
(Lucia) and another who conducted the tour of Florence (Silvia). She
was an older lady - appeared very much your stereotypical Italian
grandmother. She spoke excellent English and kept us moving along,
which I really appreciated.

This was a walking tour - we did not see the bus again until we boarded
it to go to Pisa. We were pretty happy about that! And we covered a
fair bit of ground, though as usual we didn't have enough time. We
started off next to the Arno River. I believe this photo is looking
towards Piazza de Michelangelo. (Another nice thing about this tour is that
they gave us maps of the areas of Florence and Pisa that we would be
touring.)

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From there we walked to the Santa Croce church, which is where we would
be meeting at the end of the day. There's a statue of Dante there,
also. Silvia told us that lots of famous people were either born or
lived in Firenze (Florence), like Dante, Galileo, Michelangelo and of
course the Medici family.

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Next we were off to the famous Ponte Vecchio - which means "Ancient
Bridge". Really a beautiful sight, though.

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At the Piazza Signoria there are a whole bunch of sculptures, including
a full-sized replica of Michelangelo's David. We didn't see the
real thing, but even the replica was impressive.

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We passed other things that I don't remember on our way to the plaza
where the big church and bell tower are. The church is called the
Duomo, which means House of God.

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There's also a Battistero (Baptistry) there. The original doors
were made of gold, but those are in a museum now - the current doors are
replicas, made of bronze and gold plated. Really very detailed!

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It was almost 1:00 by then - time for lunch. Which was at the Palazzo
Borghese
, which was once a palace and is now a restaurant. But still
decorated like a palace - it was very ornate and elegant inside. Huge,
and full of large tour groups like ours having lunch.

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Lunch was the best we've had on one of these tours (and all of the
lunches in Italy have been very good!). It was five courses -
bruschetta followed by two kinds of pasta: cheese ravioli in tomato
sauce (excellent) and penne pasta (though they called it macaroni) in a
vegetable and meat sauce. Then we received a plate with potatoes,
vegetables, and some kind of meat with gravy. For dessert there was
tiramisu. Again, red wine was available on the table, as well as
bottled water, and it was very good.

We had some free time after lunch to do some more wandering around on
our own before meeting in front of Dante's statue to walk back to the
bus. So we ended up with about four hours total in Firenze: 2-1/2 hours
for the guided tour, about 1-1/4 for lunch, and 20 minutes of free time.

In some ways I think this was the best tour that we've been on - they
kept us moving along very well and showed us lots of different things,
but these were the least personable guides that we've had. Not that
they were poor guides, because they did their jobs well, they just
weren't very much fun - missing the personal touch.

The drive to Pisa was a little over an hour - an awful lot of us took
the opportunity to take a nap - I know I slept for most of the trip.

Lucia handed out maps and told us a bit about Pisa and where we were
going. Again, we had a decent walk from the bus parking lot to the
Piazza di Miracoli - though we passed the famous Leaning
Lamps of Pisa
on the way. :-) (That was Lucia's little joke.)

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Once we reached the Piazza di Miracoli Lucia gave us free time - we just
had to be back at our designated meeting spot in 50 minutes. And
honestly, that was really enough time - unless you're climbing up the
tower (which you need a reservation to do, and even then it's a 30
minute wait) there isn't that much to do unless you take the tour of the
church.

We really had a picture-perfect afternoon for it - beautiful blue sky
with some white puffy clouds. We hadn't realized that the tower has
other buildings nearby - when I've seen photos of it it has always
seemed to be standing by itself.

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Of course we HAD to do the obligatory "holding up the tower" pose. :-)

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It was 5:35 by the time we had our entire group together at the meeting
point, and close to 6:00 by the time we were driving away on the bus.
We were not the last Disney bus to leave Pisa, but I think there was
only one behind us. The last tender was supposed to be at 7:00, and the
one we were on left after 7:00. There was going to be at least one more
after that. It was 7:30 by the time we were back on the ship. Very
long day.

It was also Pirate Night. I really don't understand the scheduling of
that because it was such a long port day. We had a number of families on
our tour who had the early dinner seating - which they missed because our
tour was a long one. (And it was supposed to be long - I don't think we
were even due back until 6:30.) Certainly they didn't have a lot of time
to get dressed up in any pirate gear!

We didn't actually see too many guests dressed up beyond wearing a
scarf, though there were a few who were dressed up (like we were).

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On the way out of port we passed by the Cinque Terre, which are
five villages that are kind of built into the coastline. Very pretty in
the late evening just before sunset.

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The pirate dinner menu is different since the last time we had it, but it
was still a good dinner. For a change I did NOT have the chocolate dessert -
I had the meringue "pirate chest" with fruit in it. It was really good.

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There were four of us for dinner again and we had a good time. Our
servers were hustling trying to get us out of there a little earlier
because the pirate party on deck started at 9:45, though the fireworks
weren't until 10:30. We made it out of there by about 10:10 and went up
on deck. It was very breezy up there, and I only had a light wrap, so I
was shivering - Lee, my knight in pirate attire, wrapped his arms around
me and that helped. Nathan had told us the best place to watch the
fireworks was aft starboard, and that's where we were. It's a short
show, but it's just very cool to see fireworks from a ship!

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After the show we saw Hilda again, dressed in her pirate costume - not
too long after that she was up dancing on stage.

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Tomorrow is Corsica, and it will be a MUCH more relaxing day - our tour
doesn't start until 8:30, and is back by 12:00 or so. We need the rest!




May 26, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 9, Ajaccio, Corsica

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Sunday, May 23 - Ajaccio, Corsica

We woke up to another beautiful morning, and were already docked in Ajaccio.
Ajaccio is the capital of Corsica, and is located on the west coast of the
island. The name is pronounced in several different ways, depending on who
you talk to - even our guide said it two different ways! Ah-JAH-chee-oh was
how it was pronounced on ship-wide announcements, but our guide called it
either Aye-YA-cho or Aye-JAX-yo.

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We didn't have an early tour, plus it was a short one, so we were looking
forward to a day of relaxing a little bit more, since the previous two days
(Rome and Florence) had been SO long.

Our tour was called "Country Train and Snack" - it took us up into the
mountains to Col du Cricheto, then we rode a train to an overlook of
Lake Tolla, followed by a snack of local types of sweets.


Our guide was Malika, a native of Corsica, who apologized for her poor
English, but we thought she did just fine. She was very nice and we
enjoyed her company. We got on the bus and drove about 45 minutes, first
south along the coast, enjoying some lovely views of beaches and coastline,
and then we turned east into the mountains. I had no idea that Corsica had
mountains - in the northern part there is one about 9,000 feet high! There's
places they can ski during the winter. We could still see snow on some of
the higher peaks.

The drive itself was beautiful - so many green fields and trees and lots and
lots of wildflowers - and I love flowers.

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We stopped at a little restaurant at Col du Cricheto, which is where the
"train" was. The train was actually just a tram with the front car made up
to look like a train engine.

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After a quick restroom stop we got on board,and it took us up a road about a mile or so, to a point where we could look over on Lake Tolla. Malika told us this is actually a man-made lake, and used to generate hydroelectric power.

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We had about 15 minutes to wander around up there. I enjoyed seeing and
taking pictures of many different kinds of wildflowers that were new to me
and very different from what I've seen in the U.S.

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Malika pointed out the chestnut trees to us, and the chestnut pods that
were all over the ground. The Corsicans produce flour from the chestnuts
and use it in cakes, cookies, bread, etc.

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Once we arrived back at the bottom we had our snack - there were a couple
of kinds of sweet breads and two kinds of cookies, all made with chestnut
flour. The canellettas, which were like a shortbread cookie, were
especially good. They also had carafes of a wonderful red wine - it was
just a little bit sweet and paired very well with our snack. (There was
bottled water and juice available also.)

The drive back was just as pleasant as the drive up - actually maybe a
little better since the light on the mountains was better. (I'll leave out
the part about the baby in the seat behind us that screamed for about 15
minutes - the parents really tried to quiet him down, but it was just one
of those things.)

We were back at the ship by about noon. We went back aboard and grabbed a
quick lunch, and then went out to wander around the city. Unfortunately it
was Sunday, so lots of things were closed - including the tourist
information kiosk. I was hoping to get a map. We wandered around the
harbor and out to the sea wall. You can see what a beautiful day it was!

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Since we didn't have a map we wandered around - hoping to find the
Maison Napoleon (Napoleon was born on Corsica), but didn't find it,
though we found a lovely square that had a statue of Napoleon and his four
brothers. Did a little souvenir shopping, too. Very few people on Corsica
seem to speak English, unlike in most of the other places that we have
visited, and neither of us speaks French beyond "merci", "bonjour" and "au
revoir".

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We went back to the ship around 4:00, and the ship sailed just a little
after 5:00.

Of all the places we have visited on this cruise, this is the one that I
really fell in love with, and would most want to come back to. For a
relatively small island it had a wide variety of different terrain from the
beaches to the rolling hills to the mountains. There's a large national
park in the middle of the island - Malika was telling us that there are
multiple hiking trails that go across it, with huts to stay in along the
way. Everything from a two week trek that that goes diagonally across the
island to three to seven day hikes that cross at other narrower places.
Though I'd definitely have to learn some French before returning here -
it would be very difficult otherwise. And you don't want to be on Corsica
in July and August when apparently the highs approach 120!!! Whew. But
it was absolutely gorgeous at this time of year. Have I mentioned the
flowers??? :-)

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Dinner tonight was Flavors of the Mediterranean. The appetizers
were really good, though I was disappointed in what I selected for my
entree - there were several others that also looked good. Dessert was a
flourless chocolate cake that was very good, though lighter and moister
than a lot of them are - I think there was some cheating going on. :-) Or
maybe just some Disney magic in the kitchen.

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Tonight's towel creation was a rabbit. Looks like a happenin' hare wearing
the sunglasses, doesn't he? :-)

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It was really a wonderful day!

Tomorrow should be another "easy" day - we'll be in Villefranche, and our
tour isn't until 2:00, so we have all morning to relax or do whatever.




May 27, 2010

2010 Mediterranean Cruise - Day 10, Villefranche, France

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Monday, May 24 - Villefranche, France

Actually it's Villefranche-sur-Mer, if you want to get technical about it.
Pronounced Vill-eh-FRAHNSH, or VEEL-frahnsh, depending on who you talk to.

Another absolutely beautiful morning - "picture-perfect", as Brent, our
Cruise Director, is so fond of saying (they've been giving him a bad time
about that, apparently). But it's true - we have been so fortunate with
the weather on this cruise!

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I got up a little before 7:00 and went to do some laundry before the
laundry room got busy. Went out and walked on deck while waiting for the
washing machine to finish. Jane and Guy, whom we had met at the DVC event
on our first at sea day, were there doing laundry, too, so we chatted for a
while - they were on the same tour this afternoon that we were on. Really
nice people.

As usual, the washing cycle was fast, but drying the laundry took more than
twice the time - they really need to have more dryers than washers. That's
one of my few complaints about this ship - they need more laundry rooms.
Jane and Guy told me they waited four *hours* to do laundry one evening
because things were so backed up. Yikes.

After the laundry was finally done Lee and I went to Lumiere's for breakfast.
Similar menu to what we'd had the other morning. I opted for fruit,
yogurt, and toast, while Lee had the Lumiere's Candle, which included
French Toast, a Belgian Waffle, and Buttermilk Pancake.

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Villefranche was another port where we had to use tenders to actually reach
the pier. We wanted to go into town and wander around before our tour, but
would've liked to return to the ship for a little while before our tour -
but tendering made that very difficult. We decided to go into town but
take everything (like our tour tickets) with us just in case we stayed on
shore that whole time.

Once we reached Villefranche we got a map at the information desk which had
a walking tour of Villefranche on it. The map was in four different
languages, including English - it was just about the only thing that we saw
in English all day! Many other signs were in French, Italian, and maybe
Spanish, but not English.

The tour took us to a couple of churches, including St. Michael's, which is
another church in the Baroque style.

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The instructions on the map weren't very detailed, so we ended up going
down to the beach when we didn't need to. Yikes, the beaches here are
covered with pebbles and not sand at all - that didn't look very
comfortable! But there were lots of people out there. It was a Bank
Holiday in France, which meant that most people were off work and school -
and also meant that a lot of the shops were closed and bus and train
transportation were running on a much more limited schedule.

Eventually we got back on the "correct" route and went over to La
Citadelle, which is the old fortress. Now it's got museums (closed for the
holiday), the town hall, and police headquarters.

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There were some beautiful gardens there, too.

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It was about noon by then, but we hadn't finished the walking tour - we
either had to go back to the ship for a quick lunch, or finish the tour and
find something in town - we decided to do that, and avoid two more trips on
the tender. So we walked over to the Port de la Darse, though there
wasn't really much to see there. It was a nice walk along the coastal path
until we got to the actual marina area, and there it was all docks and
small shipyards and fairly industrial. There was another rocky beach there
that was quite popular, though.

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Back in the main part of town we found a small boulangerie along Rue du
Poilu and bought a couple of sandwiches for 4 euros each. On wonderful
French bread - they were really tasty. Our tour had previously taken us to
a very nice plaza with some benches and a fountain and trees and so we went
there to eat our lunch. We still had about an hour before our tour - Lee
got some banana (yuck!) gelato and we sat on the wall by the water for a
while.

Jane and Guy were also on our tour and we met up with them - they managed
to get us the four seats up front on top of our double decker bus which was
wonderful - we had the best view of the scenery from there since we could
see forwards and to the side!

On the ship they had advertised this tour as "Nice and easy, wine and
cheesey" - it was Eze (Ehz) and Nice (Niece) with a wine and cheese tasting
in Nice. It started at about 2:15. We actually had to drive into Nice to
get to the high road that would take us over to Eze. Eze was a walled
medieval city, built when the Moors started invading the local area.

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We had to walk up a lot of steps to get there, and even within the city there
were steps leading to small shops and the upper levels of the place. All
built of stone. Very picturesque. We only had about 20 minutes of free
time, unfortunately - so no time to get all the way around the city or do
any shopping - and there were lots of interesting-looking shops that were
actually open even though it was a holiday.

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We drove back to Nice, but this time we drove past the port and saw a lot
of the fancy yachts, and drove past the (rocky) beach, and past the casinos
and parks and churches and fountains. I really wish we'd had time to walk
around on our own here - there were lots of interesting things to see.

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They parked the bus near the old part of the city and we walked from there
to the wine cellar where we were doing on our wine tasting. This really
WAS a cellar, and we had to go through a rather narrow and not very tall
door (even I had to duck) to go downstairs. Apparently this was originally
part of a monastery. The lighting inside was really nicely done.

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They served us three wines, a white, a rose, and a red, each accompanied by
some bread and cheese - goat cheese, blue cheese, and camembert. The wines
were all very nice - I think we both especially enjoyed the rose. (There
were kids on the tour, and they had grape juice for them.)

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After three glasses of wine we staggered out of the cellar and back to the
bus. Our guide, Corinne, was thin and fairly petite and she was downright
giddy on the way back. :-) It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

But as usual we were running late - we were supposed to be back at the pier
by 6:00, but it was closer to 6:15 - and then we had to take the tender
back to the ship. Lee and I really wanted to see tonight's show, which was
the Crew Talent show, and it started at 6:45. We were pulling up to the
Magic right about then, but fortunately we were near the doors and were
some of the first people off the tender. Lee went straight to the theater,
though I made a quick stop at our stateroom to drop things off, and
fortunately the show started a little late so I didn't miss anything.

It was very good - there are some very talented crew members who are not
actually part of the entertainment staff. There were two singers who were
just as good as any who are on staff. I think we saw 8 different acts,
including a couple that were just for laughs. (I'm not sure I will ever
forget the sight of Brent, our cruise director, and two other officers
lip-syncing an aria from The Three Tenors from behind a podium. When they
stepped from behind it near the end we could see they were all dressed in
pink tutus!)

Geronimo took advantage of our being gone all day to do the evening service
on our room early, so we returned from our excursion to find today's towel
animal. (We'd left Lee's spare pair of glasses on Sharky when we left for
the day - don't they make the turtle look very intelligent?)

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Dinner tonight was The Captain's Gala. Attire was listed as Cruise
Casual, but everyone at our table (and many other guests as well) went
semi-formal. Unfortunately, except for dessert, this was my least favorite
dinner - the menu just did not appeal to me at all. (The featured dish was
lobster tail, which I don't care for.) But dessert helped redeem the
dinner a little bit - it was Warm Chocolate Lava Cake. Which was
very good - made with excellent chocolate, but it was only just barely warm -
it would have been even better if it were hotter.

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There was also a dessert buffet in Lumiere's tonight - but when you've just
finished eating dinner at 10:30, a dessert buffet that starts 45 minutes
later isn't very appealing.

This was an excellent day thought it ended up being a lot longer than we
had expected - we really thought we'd have more time on the ship.
Tendering made that very inconvenient, though. But I'm glad we had time to
wander around Villefranche.

Tomorrow is our last full day - a day at sea. I can't believe the cruise
is almost over!


May 31, 2010

2010 Disney Magic Mediterranean Cruise - Days 11-13, At Sea, Barcelona, Home

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Tuesday, May 26 - Day at Sea

A last day at sea! Hard to believe that this is the last full day of our cruise - it certainly doesn't seem like we've been on the ship for 10 days already.

Another beautiful morning with fairly calm seas. I got up and went running on Deck 4 - it was a lot easier than it was on the morning we had rough seas! Not very many people out and about yet, either.

We went to the lecture at 11:15 on Barcelona - learned some things about Gaudi and his style. Two words: Catenary Arches! (A catenary arch is the curve produced by a hanging chain or rope when supported only at each end. Though Gaudi used inverted catenaries, mostly.) The lectures have been pretty interesting, and I've learned a fair bit about the ports! We missed two of them, but they have been running them on channel 228 on the stateroom TVs. Unfortunately I haven't managed to catch the first 20 minutes of the one of Villefranche - it's always starting just when I have to go
off someplace else!

We had lunch at Parrot Cay - it was a seafood buffet today. It ended at 1:30, and we got there about 1:10. The servers seemed more concerned with getting people out of there so they could tear down the buffet and set up for dinner than they were with doing any serving - ours never came back to our table to ask if we wanted refills on drinks or anything. (Not our regular server, and definitely the worst service we've had on the cruise.) The buffet itself was ok - though the clam chowder wasn't very good - the piece of clam were tough and stringy. This photo is of Lee's plate - I found the combination of banana cream pie and sushi to be, um, interesting.

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I spent some time in the spa, but otherwise most of the day was spent packing our bags. since they were supposed to be out in the hallway by 10:00...which meant that we had to get them put out before we went to dinner. So sad to be packing!!!

Dinner was the "Till We Meet Again" theme, with the procession of the chefs with their flaming Baked Alaskas and the servers waving their flags. They actually were pretty quick with everything tonight - we were done with our entrees by 9:30, and I think we were out of the dining room not much after 10:00. We said goodbye to our tablemates, since none of them were planning to come to breakfast in the morning. They were a fun group of people.

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Dessert tonight was (of course) the chocolate one - Chocolate Decadence - Ignatius pretty much doesn't even ask me any more. :-) Though tonight's special was the Baked Alaska. Lee was the only one who ordered that one.

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There was a special character celebration in the Atrium at 10:30, so we went to see that. They had a whole bunch of characters and some of the actors from several of the shows come out and greet guests and pose for photos, then they did a little "goodbye" thing. I don't remember that from our Caribbean cruise - but we might have just missed it because of yet another late dinner.

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Our final towel animal was this snake - hmmm...what does that mean, saving the scariest one for last? :-)

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Wednesday, May 26 - Back to Barcelona

The ship was docked by about 5:00 in the morning, though passengers couldn't get off until 7:30. They wanted everyone off the ship by 9:15.

Our breakfast was in Parrot Cay. It was sad leaving our stateroom for the last time...but all good things must come to an end, right?

Breakfast was rather subdued, though it was pretty busy - and of course having everyone's carry-on bags cluttering up the area between the tables doesn't help. We said our final goodbyes to Ignatius and Nathan - Nathan is hoping to get onto the Wonder when it comes out to California to do the Alaska cruises, so maybe we'll see him there. (He got to offer us fresh ground pepper one last time!)

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We tarried a little bit, but they kept making announcements basically just telling everyone to "get off the ship!", so we went out the gangway and back into the terminal. We found our bags without too much trouble and then boarded the bus that would take us back to the Hilton for one more night. (The bus was playing Disney's "We're going to the port" video with all of the characters getting ready to go on the cruise - we thought that was just cruel!!!!)

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They had us to the hotel by about 10:00 - our room was ready so we were able to just drop off our bags and head out into Barcelona again. I wanted to visit Parc Guell again, since we'd gotten rained out the first time. It was a beautiful day today, and pretty warm, too - mid 70's, but it felt warmer in the sun, especially when we were doing all of that walking uphill to get to the park from the Metro station, and then walking up hills and steps within the park. It was still very crowded, though, but at least I got to see the "dragon" (which we think looks more like an iguana) this time.

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There were also LOTS of performers in the park - we saw musicians playing everything from Chinese silk music to guitars to hammer dulcimers, and even a didgeridoo! There were also lots of people dressed up posing for pictures - one guy dressed as a caveman seemed to be quite popular.

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On the way back to the Metro station we stopped and had lunch at a cafe - had a margarita pizza that was pretty marginal. But it gave us some energy, and we were pretty hungry by then after a lot of walking.

Ahhh...but there was MUCH more walking to come!

We took the Metro to the Paral-lel station and then the funicular that took us up onto the lower slopes of Montjuic (Mont-zhew-EEK). Apparently most people take a tour bus from there but we walked to the top to the Castell. Lots of stairs going up - between Montjuic and the metro stations we climbed a lot of stairs today! The signs to the Castell left a bit to be desired - we got most of the way up and our route that had been so well-marked was suddenly not marked at all. We had to do some backtracking and even scrambling up a hill, but we eventually got up there.

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Very nice view though it would have been a lot nicer if it wasn't so hazy. We noticed that throughout the trip we never really had very clear skies any place that we were.

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We could see the Disney Magic docked at the port terminal, and we were very sad that it was going to sea without us! It just didn't seem fair somehow.

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In the "Visitor Center" at the Castell we bought a map for 50 cents, which had all of Montjuic on it, since we wanted to walk over to some of the areas they used in the Barcelona Olympics.

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At least this time we were going DOWN hill most of the time. :-) We walked past the Olympic stadium.

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And past the art museum (but didn't go in).

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Unfortunately the Magic Fountain wasn't performing - we found out later that it's only at night, and even then it's only Thursday-Sunday at this time of year, so it's something we should've done one of our first two nights here. Oh well...we'll know for next time.

When we were here before the cruise I'd seen someone carrying a Valor Chocolates bag, so we'd asked at the hotel where the shop was, and were given an address near Plaza Catalunya. Alas, we didn't find it, but we did find the Casa Batllo, another building designed by Gaudi, with lots of those catenary arches.

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Took the Metro back to the Diagonal Mar area - it was about 6:00 by then and we were pretty tired. But we went back to the mall and got another pitcher of Sangria from the same guy who had made it for us before, and that tasted really good.

No towel animal to greet us when we returned to our room tonight. :-( But there was a nice sunset.

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Thursday, May 27 - Home

This was a VERY long travel day. We had an 11:20 a.m. flight, and the shuttle picked us up a little before 8:00. Traffic getting through downtown Barcelona was pretty bad - it took us about an hour to get to the airport! But we still had plenty of time before our flight. When we checked our bags they asked us who had packed them, if they'd been with us since they were packed, if anyone had given us anything - questions they no longer ask in the U.S. And she also asked us what kinds of electronics we had, and if any of those had been repaired or used by someone or otherwise out of our control.

While wandering around the airport we saw the entire Spencer family - never saw them on the ship at all, though!

Boarding the plane took a long time because they had to ask the same "has this been out of your control" questions about our carry-ons as we all boarded. The flight to JFK was quite smooth, and the winds were favorable so it took less than 8 hours.

We landed a little early and got through immigration and Customs ok. We lucked out a bit with Customs - our bags came out relatively early (and on this trip my bag showed up first *every* time - that's very rare!), so the Customs line wasn't too long when we got in it - but we looked back a few minutes later and there were lots of people behind us.

So, now we had about 4 hours to kill until our flight to San Diego. We had to go through Security again, and that line was rather long, so we were glad we weren't in a hurry! JFK really isn't a very nice airport, at least not most of the part that we were in - very crowded and congested. If I have a choice I won't go through here again.

We got something to eat, and then found one of those charging stations in a relatively quiet part of the airport and plugged in for a while, and I wrote a fair bit of this blog.

Our flight was supposed to board at 6:20 and leave at 7:00...but we didn't make that. And even with the original schedule we were supposed to be on the taxi way for 45 minutes before we took off! But then there was a thunderstorm, so they wouldn't let us push back from the gate at all...we finally took off after being on the plane for about 2-1/2 hours. (They did give people the option of getting off the plane before we pushed back from the gate, but no one took it - there weren't going to be any other flights to San Diego at that time of night!)

We lucked out and didn't have anyone in the window seat - good thing, since the reading light over the middle seat didn't work, and I would not have been happy if I couldn't read for that entire time! So I moved to the window. It also meant we could put our backpacks under the middle seat and stretch out a little more. We both slept a little bit, but not much. Got into San Diego at 11:45 instead of 10:40, and made it home about 12:30. Over 26 hours since we'd left the hotel.

It was nice to get home and sleep in our own bed, though it's going to take the body clock a while to adjust to that 9 hour difference - we went to bed at about 1 a.m., but I was awake and finally got up at 5:15 in the morning and Lee wasn't too much behind me.

It's a long weekend with the Memorial Day holiday, though, so at least we'll have a few days to catch up on things before we have to go back to work on Tuesday.

I'll have some final thoughts on our cruise (and of course the all-important food blogs!) still to come.

I wanted to thank all of you who commented on the blogs - I'm sorry that I haven't answered personally, but internet access on the ship is not that fast. I will try to get to some of the questions now that I'm back home.


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About May 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in May 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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