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The following is the text of Amy's trip reports to Bay during her Mediterranean cruise in September 2009. As you can see, it's probably more than you'd ever want to know about one person's vacation, but there are some funny bits here and there, and if you've wondered how snarky and stuck up Amy can get, the answer lies within. Enjoy!

Yay! Free WiFi at hotel! (Once I got them to give me a name and password that work.) Time for trip report in bullet form! If I write all this down in narrative form I know I will fall asleep and break the keyboard.
  • Atlanta to Paris flight: Not bad. Had two seats by the window with Paul, no third seat. Comfy! Had two meals. I forgot they feed you on international flights! Movie was Star Trek. Nice! I slept through it.
  • Loooong time in Paris. Got Euros. Got Diet Coke. Got herpes. Wait, maybe not.
  • Paris to Barcelona flight: Got on board and got stuck. Sat at the gate for an hour or so and the pilot was too honest. "We had a small mechanical error on the way here and we're just waiting for the mechanic to sign off on the repair." Umm, if it took him an hour to sign off on the repair, then how big was the problem?
  • Took train from Barcelona airport to center of city. Instead of $70 for a taxi, it was about $10 for the train. Yay!
  • Found the hotel. Oh, I did good on the hotel. They upgraded us. Look for Gran Hotel Havana in Barcelona. It's listed as Silken Gran Hotel Havana some places. See the clock on the front? We're over the clock. We got us a big terrace. Dang, I did good on this one.
  • Crawled to nearby restaurant Divinus. They have tapas, but we had a warm goat cheese salad, Paul had veal lasagna, and I had chicken and veal paella. Good. So good.
  • Showered. Stank less.
  • Slept. A lot.
  • Got up today and went out to find the metro. First priority was to find Sagrada Familia cathedral, but didn't make it to the metro station before we figured out we needed food. Found a Chinese restaurant and had a wonderful, big, multi-course meal.
  • Went to the Metro station and made our way to Sagrada Familia. Wonderful! There was a huge line to go inside, though, so we decided to admire it from outside and go find other wonders to explore.
  • Heard, but didn't see, a major car accident. Many ran to look. I turned away.
  • Bought art. Ahh.
  • Admired first Quaker parrot of the day. Once I saw one, I saw a million. They've taken over the city.
  • Took a bus tour. Went to the next stop, Park Guell. Wow. Oh, wow. Mosaics everywhere. Guitarist in the middle of the hall of columns playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Beautiful beyond words.
  • Back to the bus. Long story short: Decided to skip some of the other stops we would have liked to have made and go to the Maritime Museum. They have a restored Spanish galleon that they rescued from the mud of the harbor and restored. Paul saw a documentary about the restoration and wanted to see the real thing.
  • Oh! Fell down steps! In public! Unhurt but embarrassed.
  • Caught bus to try to get back to hotel, but didn't quite make it. Buses stopped at 8:00, so we got to Playa de Cataluna and then walked to restaurant Divinus. Yep, same as previous night. This time had tapas: Russian salad with tuna, chicken salad with apples and pineapple, Spanish omelette, prawns with garlic, codfish a la chef, and potatoes with spiced meat and sauce. Can't adequately describe any of these, but they were all wonderful. Had a bottle of a delicious white wine named Sumarroca blanc de blanc, which I loved. Much like a pinot grigio. Yum! And then Paul forced me to eat tiramisu. I enjoyed it, but I didn't want to.
  • Back at the hotel and once again stinky. I'll take care of that, get some sleep, and go on a cruise tomorrow!


Cruise Day One!

Eeeeeeeeeeeee! Call T Pain 'cause I'm on a boat! We got up this morning hungry and remembered too late that Spain is closed on Sunday. Yes, that's a bit of an overstatement, but in terms of the procurement of breakfast we were up the creek. So we hurried ourselves to the ship knowing that we're booked in a suite and so can break the rules and go aboard early. Which we did.

This time we're in a penthouse suite, and it's...nice. Really, it's nice. We get the concierge and the butler. We get the fancy coffee machine. We have room for a dining table and a pretty big bathroom. But we're spoiled by having been in the owner's suite a couple of times. We don't get three bottles of booze. We don't get unlimited Diet Cokes. We don't get a bag of rocks to throw at the other passengers. (OK, we never got that, but we did fantasize about it a little bit.)

One of the privileges of staying in the suites is that you can have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's steak house. My first meal of the day was a risotto with monkfish, which was fabulous. Paul had steak and potatoes and declared them excellent. I had banana cream pie with chocolate garnish and Paul had a scrumptuous looking chocolate and espresso brownie concoction.

We checked out the ship. The layout is familiar from other NCL ships. Did a little window shopping, found the restaurants, and made sure when the martini clinic is -- Monday at 4:15. I'm all about attention to important details!

We came back to the room and just hung out for a few hours. Our suite is at the front of the ship, so we have a terrace facing forward. We actually took a nap in the shade on the terrace, and the temperature was perfect. I was surprised at the absence of bugs and the low number of seagulls. We decided on shore excursions, choosing some less expensive tours in Malta and Florence, but we made sure to book a tour of Pompeii when we're in Naples and we decided the Sistine Chapel is a priority. It can be done since these are pre-booked group tours, but it took a while for me to come to the conclusion that I wanted to spend the money. In the end, it was based on Vegas show prices. For a long tour that includes a masterpiece, I can pay as much as a good seat at O, right?

So. Terrace. Nap. Planning. Enjoying. And then the neighbors arrived. Oh, I do hope they only got drunk and loud to celebrate the first day. They thought they were very funny and they laughed accordingly. Cross your fingers for me and everyone else with a suite on the front of the ship.

We had the butler bring dinner to the room...just so we could say something like "we had the butler bring dinner to the room."  Paul had a mixed salad with walnut dressing. I had onion broth with beef ravioli. Good start! My entree was the leg of lamb. This was not the fabulous lamb that I had on NCL before. Oh, well, guess I'll just have to keep trying lamb dishes! Poor me! Paul had a pasta and beef ragout. Also great! I had a vanilla bean souffle and Paul had a chocolate something. Again delicious! (Notice a trend here?)

Sorry I'm not better at describing food. I can appreciate it pretty well, but I'm not great at saying why. You'll just have to take on that task when we go on our cruise! Got your passport yet?

Tonight: A full moon on the Mediterranean. Warm breeze blowing and calm seas. Ahhhhhhhh.

Tomorrow: Martini clinic!!!!! And some other stuff.


Life Jacket Follies

OK. So. The crazy life jacket exercise.

Every time you start a cruise you have to attend the mandatory muster. (That's what makes it mandatory.) And most normal people don't have a problem with that, regardless of whether they've cruised before. Most people understand "Go here. Listen. Put on your life jacket. Do all of the above if we sound the kooky whistle. K thx bai." Our muster station was in the Stardust theater, along with hundreds of other people. If the ship goes down, look for the people in the theater 'cause that's where most of us will be. But we had a seat in the upper level and had a good view of the people in the orchestra seats. I don't think they've instructed us this way before, but this time they said "Please come to the muster station *carrying* your life jacket. Don't put it on." And so we did. And so did they. And when they got the part about "OK, *now* put on your life jacket," chaos ensued. Paul and I were already well versed in how to put on a life jacket, but you have to understand, these life jackets were made in Japan by origami experts, and so they only fold together one way and when they come apart, it's not necessarily very intuitive how you would put them on. And it was EXTREMELY entertaining to me and Paul to watch the one area where the people simply couldn't put on their life jackets. It was a pocket of people. Most everyone figured it out, but in this one section people were sticking their arms through the neck hole, putting it on backwards, trying to step into it. It was so comical. And they were loud about it. They were displeased that they couldn't figure out how to put on the life jackets. They got downright mad at their life jackets. And we got the giggles. So, again, if the ship goes down, look for those people as jetsam, not flotsam.

I know there was something else I meant to tell you, but I haven't remembered it yet. Other tidbits.
  • A very brown, Indian-looking man by the name of Elvis showed us to our room. The concierge thought it appropriate since we're from Vegas. I told him I doubted that that was what his mama named him since I work with Vikas and Mamun and Manish.
  • We saw a riff raff get turned away from the fancy restaurant today. I felt bad.
  • I think you should work for the NCL writing staff. They write like you do sometimes. The TV menu has the current time with the caption "(not that it matters)". Today I had a message from the spa in my TV mailbox about today's sales. Once I deleted it my mailbox said "You have no messages. Boo hoo."
So far today:
  • Woke up. (That counts as an accomplishment on a cruise.)
  • Remembered something I needed to tell someone at work. Sent an e-mail. Chastised myself.
  • Went to breakfast at Cagney's, where we saw the hoi polloi turned away. Had salmon frittata and Paul had crab cake and egg benedict. The unwashed had to go eat mueselix in the buffet.
  • Bought a $10 watch with hopes it lasts through the cruise.
  • Wandered around until we found a lecture about Julius Caesar. Gutsy guy.
  • Came back to the room.
  • Remembered to write to you.
More to come!


Day Two or
We're in Malta so it must be Tuesday!

Quiz time. Ask yourself: Where is Malta? Could I point it out on a map? What do they have in Malta? No, not milk balls, silly. They do have crosses and falcons, and they can proudly lay claim to the fact that a beloved classic musical was shot there. Popeye, that is. Was shot there. Whence the memorable line "He's large" came. Yeah. So, anyway. (Oh, and Gladiator was shot there, too, so that's cool.)

We had an 8:30 call for our shore excursion. That may be early. I don't know anymore because I'm about 73 time zones away from where my body thinks it is. We had breakfast in the room, which I always love and which we'll be able to do when we're sailing the Caribbean! Eeeeee!!!! And, too, they had the mid-cruise laundry sale today, in which they offer to clean for $25 as much as you can fit into a laundry bag. So we wadded our clothes up as tight as we could get them then we stomped on them and crammed them into the flimsy paper bags they gave us in hopes that we couldn't fit more than a couple pairs of socks in there. Suffice it to say I got my $25 bucks worth. I actually put two pairs of jeans in a separate bag because they were $6 each and took up too much space in the "all you can fit" bag.

And then we hied ourselves down to the Stardust Theatre, where we giggled briefly about people who are unable to don life jackets, and we were soon on our way to our luxury motor coach with stickers on our shirts identifying us as group 16. Oh! And as you know, they generally try to take your picture with some costumed character or critter at each port so they can sell you the pictures at exhorbitant prices later. The character for this port was a knight in shining faux-armor, who greeted us with a charming "Buenos dias." We were highly amused by this. I hope the picture turns out!

The tour we chose was entitled "A Taste of Malta" and promised sightseeing, a glass factory (eeee!), a winery (EEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!) and jewelry shopping (*faint*). Malta is monochromatic. All the buildings were made from sandstone that was carved from the island itself. There's precious little graffiti and the houses are just so dang Mediterranean. The houses all have names and most have religious figures or tiles affixed near the door. Today was a public holiday in celebration of (if I understood the guide correctly) the birth of Mary and (a bonus celebration) the defeat of the Turks a long time ago. We went to a church and peered in the door before the congregation arrived. Wow. Just wow. We got pictures. We checked out picturesque countryside and went to Dingli Cliff. Another wow. I'm sure this location has been in movies before. Just a sheer rocky cliff with a lone sandstone chapel at its peak. Stunning.

Then we went to the glass factory. Oh, Bay. I do love the glass factories. I picked up a few goodies and got more pictures. Then off to the winery. It was so quaint! First of all, the vineyard is on a World War II era British airfield. (Malta was under British rule until 1979.) The building where the tasting was held was new but was built in traditional style with a courtyard and terraces and balconies and...just so beautiful. We had a wine tasting on an upstairs balcony and a brief lecture about tannins and grapes and climate and all that good stuff, all while a remote controlled airplane club stole the show with barrel rolls and loops behind the lecturer. I wasn't crazy about the red wine we tasted -- a little too astringent for me -- but the white was lovely and dry, so we bought a bottle. And, of course, without reference notes I can't remember the name of the winery or the wine. I'll tell you later, but I don't know if this is available in the states. It's a small winery, and I can't imagine them shipping much product outside the country. (Added: The winery is Meridiana Wine Estate, and the white we tasted was Fenici 2008.) Anyway, once they got us boozed up, we were off to the jewelry store! Malta is known for filigree work, so I took a look, but really it didn't strike my fancy. I'm not the lacy filigree type, I guess.

Back to the ship, where I presented my boarding card and purse and wrapped bottle of wine. The first security guy looked at the wrapped bottle and winked. "Is a souvenir?" I obediently said, "Yes!" And he waved me on. The second security guy, though, was a stick in the mud and he made me hand over the wine. Boo! I bought a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisee the other night at dinner -- OMG! I have to tell you about Le Bistro! -- and I normally pay about $15 for that. It was $46 on the ship. Yikes. Wish I could bring my own wine on the ship, but I can see why they confiscate it. They must make half their profits through booze sales! I'll be tanking up at the Captain's to-do tonight and let him pay for the drinks.

I've just introduced two more topics, so let me make sure to cover them! We had dinner at Le Bistro last night. I had a small plate of seared scallops that almost melted in the butter and garlic. Fabulous! The main course was duck confit. I could tell this was a very happy duck in life. It was the kind of duck that wagged its happy little duck tail and floated weightlessly on the water. And he fell right off the bone and was utterly scrumptious. Paul had salmon. I guess it was good. I think he may have said something, but I was busy communing with my duck. And then we had the chocolate fondue. This is another necessity of the NCL cruise. One must go to Le Bistro and have the chocolate fondue at least once. Heavenly. Just sublime. This Was A Good Meal. And I was cute, so that was nice, too.

The other new topic is that we're going to go meet the Captain tonight. (Maybe he'll give us the bag of rocks.) This captain is another one of those shy captains, but I know he has a personality because (a) you can see in his formal portrait that he has a big tattoo on his arm, so he must have been a bad ass at some point, and (2) when the loud neighbors were being very loud as we left the first port, the captain came to the front of the bridge (right above our room, y'know), and pointed at them and made the drinky-drinky sign. He's got them pegged.

Now I'm going to go get ready for the evening's activities. Captain's Reception at 7:00 followed by Teppenyaki dinner at 8:00. Oh! And there's a magic show tonight, so we may go to that. I might prefer the flamenco guitarist in the lounge, though. We shall see.

P.S. The band on the $10 watch broke. It didn't last 24 hours. :(


Day 2.75 to 3.75
The magician, Naples, and Pompeii


You asked if I always get to meet the Captain. Not always. We have gotten to meet him the last few cruises because we've been in suites and got invited to the Captain's reception. Captain Frank is a shy captain, though, unlike Captain Lars on the Alaska cruise. You couldn't get away from Captain Lars. He wanted to be our buddy. Captain Frank just wants us to behave ourselves and not mess up his ship. We got our picture taken with him, so we'll check that out in the photo booth tonight and see if he was holding up devil horns behind our heads.

We had reservations at the Teppanyaki restaurant last night and sat next to a lovely Irish couple. They had the best story at the table because they were the last ones on the ship. We were all supposed to be on board at 6:30 on the day of embarkation, but their flight was an hour late and then they paid a mint for a taxi from the airport to the cruise terminal, and then (like us) they went to Terminal B, which is what the paper said, but that was a Royal Caribbean ship, so then they turned around and chased their taxi and thank goodness because their passports were on the back seat! But they really didn't expect to make it onboard because they were much later than 6:30! But then they did let them on! This is their first cruise. I won't be looking for them on another cruise.

Then we went to the magic show. I was really starting to doubt whether I wanted to go because I had heard by this point that the magician was Italian! And he speaks 7 languages! And he's so funny! And his assistant is so glamourous and beautiful!

The magician stank up the joint. The show started with the cheeeeeesiest display I've seen since Hans Klok embarrassed himself and Pamela Anderson in Vegas. It was a bad sign when we started with a stage already set with three boxes. I do not enjoy magicians who put things in boxes and then get them out again. This magician put his girl in a box and squished her with a vise. Then he put her in another box with a separate compartment for her head and then he took her head off. (I think that one would be more entertaining if blood had come pouring out of the little head box when he removed it from the rest of her.) I was begging to leave before the opening number was halfway done, but Paul insisted on staying. He said it would give me material for my trip report. You be sure to thank him for that, OK? I almost convinced him to leave during the overly dramatic straitjacket escape (to the Theme from Rocky, no less), but he made us stay 'til the end. (I suggested we see if the magician could get out of a life jacket.) All in the interest of the trip report. Oh! And those 7 languages? This magician thinks his best trick is to say everything at least four times -- English, Spanish, French, and German -- as rapid fire as he can. I am not impressed.

On to Napoli! We have a 1:30 tour to Pompeii, so we decided to tour the port on our own for an hour or two. This was a mistake. I'm scared now. The moment we left the cruise terminal, we were greeted by a gang of aggressive taxi drivers. It's true what they say about Italians talking with their hands. And I thought they might hit me. And I insulted one man, apparently, because he really, really wanted me to go to Pompeii with him or go get a cameo with him or buy a bus ticket or a tram ticket or something, and I just kept saying "No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you." When we came back to the ship, he saw me and said "Well, I hope you found what you were looking for!" Speaking of which....

I didn't find anything of interest near the cruise terminal because I'm scarred for life. I have walked in Naples. I have crossed the street in Naples. I have breathed the air in Naples. I'm sure the whole city isn't like the "shopping district" near the port, but one really does take one's life in one's hands when crossing the street. Many, many fast cars. Very, very few red lights. Angry, angry drivers and frightened, scurrying pedestrians. I crossed one road by finding someone who looked like he hadn't yet been hit by a car and glomming on to him. When he went, I went. Never mind that there was a Peugeot bearing down on us at 80 mph. I knew that non-dead Italian man would get me safely to the other side. About that shopping district: There were many clothing stores with interesting fashions. There's a Disney Store and a Timberland and a Foot Locker and lots and lots of purse stores. Oh, and white belts for men. And persimmon pants for men. Which I actually saw on a man. With a sweater tied around his neck. I promise I am not lying. There was just nothing in that shopping district that I was interested in. We caught glimpses of ancient walls, but I suspect the port area is not representative of the city.

Off to lunch and then to Pompeii! More later!

And now it's later. We went and grabbed a quick lunch in Cagney's -- just burgers and fries. Then we were off to our luxury motor coach with our wonderful Italian guide who spoke  with an accent straight out of a cartoon. "We're-a leavink the center of-a Napoli now. You-a see the towering-a peaks of Mount-a Vesuvius on-a ya left-a." I loved her very much. Seriously, I enjoyed her commentary and enjoyed her accent. It was genuine and natural and was a delightful reminder that we're in friggin' Italy. This is not a drill. That's the mountain that explodes every so often and wipes out cities. The bus ride was not nearly as exciting as I thought it might be. They don't allow pedestrians or scooters on the highway, so we didn't have any target practice at all.

When we got to Pompeii we stopped first at a cameo studio where they actually carve the cameos. This is a regional specialty, and I was keen to get one. I examined a number of them and narrowed it down to a dark one (sardonyx, perhaps, as opposed to carnelian? I'll have to research this more). The image is a girl in long curls with flowers in her hair and a little bird flying to her. Wonderful keepsake of the trip!

And then we were off to see Pompeii. I don't think I can do justice to how impressive these excavations are. We walked down rough stone streets past hundreds of businesses and homes that have been excavated. One home was set up to allow tourists to just walk right in and see how a typical home was set up. Bay, there are still vivid frescoes on the walls, and there are many walls with etched designs and fresco paintings that you could just walk right up to and touch! I was pretty stunned at that. I really thought they would have everything roped off and would have pictures outside showing you what was inside. Nope. We walked into the spas and saw the mosaics and frescoes and statues up close and personal. We went through the brothel and admired the erotic paintings on the wall that served as a menu. (I think we have the picture for this year's Christmas card!) Terra cotta gutters that had carried water from the roofs to the street were just sitting there open to the public to touch. Sadly, there was some graffiti. There was some vandalism. But for the most part everything was left intact and I'm really, really glad we decided to take that tour. It was surprisingly long and detailed, and I think some of our fellow tourists were a little stunned at how much walking and exertion was involved. We walked up one street and down another and over paving stones and into and out of buildings. We got our money's worth.

Tonight we have no set plans. Might enter the blackjack tournament. Might go to the main dining room. Might see what the "Name It, Sing It" contest is all about. I wonder if that's a "Don't Forget the Lyrics" type thing. If so, I would suck at it.

Tomorrow: Rome! Yaaay! At 7:30 a.m.! Booo!!!!!! Paul's skeptic buddies have a bet going that he will be struck by lightning the moment he steps into the Sistine Chapel.

P.S. The loud neighbors are tiring. But they're still finding the energy to make noise now and then. The Captain did send me a basket of fruit, so I wonder if that's meant as a substitute for the bag of rocks. I heard the Germans next door saying that the loud neighbors chatter like monkeys. I like the Germans. They're well behaved.


Evening report!

First I lost two rounds at the blackjack tournament. I told the dealer I was from Las Vegas and that Steve Wynn and I are likethis and that he'd never work in my town. He didn't seem scared.

Then we went to dinner at Tequilla, the Mexican joint, and had fabulous quesadillas and Southwestern spring rolls and lobster (!) tacos and ribs! Ribs as we watched Italy go by! Imagine that! And we had margaritas. Ole!

And then we went to the Spinnaker Lounge and played "Name It, Sing It" in which they played the intros to various songs and we were supposed to name the song and then everyone on your side of the room was to sing it. Paul carried our entire side of the room. He let me do "Dancing Queen," but I didn't know the words to Sweet Caroline, Sweet Home Alabama, or pretty much anything else. But I did a helluva "lalala."

And we both had two more peach martinis. Wheeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

We're going to Vatican City tomorrow to atone for these sins. Pray for us.

I won a koozie! (And Paul won a water bottle! Woooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)


Day...something. I forgot.

Today I woke up at 5:30 a.m. My body argued vehemently that this is supposed to be a vacation, but my brain countered that this would probably be the one and only chance I would have to set eyes on the Sistine Chapel, so shut up, body, and move your ass. The brain won. I showered and did my hair in time for the butler to come with breakfast we ordered last night. I do love starting the day with a butler serving me breakfast on a white tablecloth while I sit there in a t-shirt and my birdie pajama pants with curlers in my hair. Now, that's class. (*snort*)

We made it down to the Stardust Theatre by 7:30...along with what looked like about half the ship. We thought we had gotten this expensive, exclusive, for big spenders only tour. (Actually, there are some like that, but they cost upwards of $1,000 per person, and I'm not made of money.) There were at least three busloads of people on this same tour we got. I just looked it up to make sure I wasn't mistaken about the price. I'm not bragging because apparently everybody and his brother thinks this is a reasonable price, but we paid $260 apiece for those tickets. I mulled that over a long time before deciding to buy. Apparently I'm just cheap. Everyone thinks that's a bargain!

We all ambled toward the buses. This is when we met Angry Mean Woman. I didn't hear a nice thing come out of this woman's mouth all day. She was about 70 and was with her husband and her daughter and son-in-law. As we approached the stairs she said, "I should've stayed in bed. Can't we take the elevators? Where's my husband?" Those were the ones I caught, but I heard several other angry sounds from her that morning and throughout the day. She was angry. She was mean. I'm glad she wasn't with me. When we were looking for tour group members later in the day, I thought she was missing. I speculated that they had held her back so they could do an exorcism on her.

We hopped on the bus and managed to snag seats right up front, so we had a great view during the drive. Civitavecchia is about an hour and a half from Rome. Our guide was Maria, the driver was Salvatore, and the art expert who guided us through the Vatican was Giuseppe. So, for those keeping score at home, that means our tour was run by Mary, Joseph, and the Savior. Sounds like the right team for the job.

The drive itself was through beautiful countryside, and it didn't seem like it took an hour and a half to get to Rome. We all received little iPod-sized radios and crummy headsets -- NOTE: BRING YOUR OWN HEADSETS! I cannot emphasize this enough -- through which we were intended to hear the tour guide. Pretty nifty system. The guide can save his voice and not disturb other groups, and everyone can hear, no matter how far they are from the guide.

Before we knew it, we were stepping out of the bus and making our way past hoards of people waiting to go into the Vatican Museum. A couple of things quickly became clear. (1) Those little guide-listening radios were nearly useless, and (2) Giuseppe really didn't care if he lost any of us. He was all about the art. Angry Mean Lady was very angry and mean about both of these revelations, and I can't really blame her too much on this one. Giuseppe had a little yellow paddle with our bus number (6) on it. But he rarely held it above shoulder height, so it was a challenge keeping track of him. Forget art appreciation. I was watching for the little yellow 6 paddle so I didn't get bus left. (Heh. Bus left. Shades of elementary school.)

I've spent so much time talking about the trip, I haven't left much time to write about the wonders we saw. There were halls and halls filled with sculpture and paintings and tapestries and frescoes. There were fantastic detailed mosaics in the floors. There were breathtaking domes and ceilings. And of course the Sistine Chapel was beautiful. I wish I could have enjoyed it with a few hundred less people. It was amazingly crowded in there. Still, I stood right under God and Adam and I just drank it in. It's so big. It's so moving. And the Final Judgment painted on the end wall of the chapel is equally stunning. In addition, there were beautiful works of art in St. Peter's Basilica. I've seen La Pieta so many times in art books, but it's just stunning in person. And mosaics and stained glass, and more Michelangelo. It's just an overload of wonders.

We went to a souvenir shop. We went to lunch. We went to the Colosseum. It was colossal. We didn't get to go inside, but we took lots of pictures outside.

We drove back to the ship and there was a lot of snoring on the bus. I wish I had worn a pedometer. We walked for hours and hours. We scurried out of the way of traffic. We wrenched our necks looking for a little yellow paddle. I'm exhausted.

Steak dinner tonight at Cagney's. Comfort food. Meat and potatoes.

Wrote report. Will sleep now. Believe it or not, I left out a lot. We're off to Florence and Pisa tomorrow! Everybody lean!


OK, this isn't going to be a proper trip report, but I'm going to give the bullet points a try.

  • Today's excursion was Florence and Pisa.
  • Our tour guide looked just like Tina Fey/Sara Palin.
  • Did I tell you how crazy Italian drivers are? They're crazy.
  • 95% of cars here are European: Fiat, Peugeot, Mercedes, Audi, Renault, Citroen, Mini, Smart, etc. Bunches of Fords, a few Chevrolets, a couple Toyotas, and a Nissan.
  • Florence is absolutely amazing. We viewed the outside of Mary of the Flowers church, which was just overwhelming, and the baptistry, which was equally impressive. The dome on the cathedral is inexplicable. How did they put that up? How do they do without flying buttresses? How many people gave their lives for that dome?
  • We walked to the Old Bridge, the only bridge in Florence that Hitler left standing. The walkway of the De Medici family is still in place over the shops. There used to be butchers on the bridge, but the royal family complained about the smell. Gold doesn't smell, so now it's covered with jewelers.
  • Witnessed two people bite the dust falling from cobblestone sidewalks. Tourists spend all their time looking up, and they don't see upcoming irregularities in the pavement because of the crush of people.
  • Saw the replica of David outside the city hall. The actual David stood there for hundreds of years, but it's been moved to a museum. Saw lots of sculptures that I'm going to have to look up and give names to. Gawked a lot.
  • Went to the Sacred Cross Church and saw the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo. Wonderful art everywhere you looked.
  • Florence = Art + leather + gold. I need to spend a week there. We rushed through so quickly, and there was so much more to see. My impression was that Florence is filled with art in a natural way. It grew with art, as opposed to the Vatican, which took some art from here, some from there, and brought it all together in one place.
  • Ate at a restaurant called Palazzo Borghese. Look it up. It's a real palace. I tried to buy postcards, but they were too cheap and I had bills that were too large. It really was spectacular, though, and I enjoyed their wine better than the place in Rome. Very Chianti-y.
  • Bought a gold chain and gold earrings. Gold in Italy has to be 18k. It's the law.
  • Got on the bus. In sitting down, my foot got out from under me and my shin flew violently forward and came in contact with the seat in front of me. It really felt like it was going to be a bad bruise, but later when I looked at it I found that blood had seeped through the skin. Ow! No, seriously. OW!!!!!!
  • Went to Pisa. There's a tower there, in case you haven't heard. There's actually a church and a baptistry there, too. But that's just about all there is in Pisa. And a jillion souvenir shops.
  • And gelato. The tiramisu gelato is good. Just FYI.
  • Got a kick out of the "keep off the grass" police. He has a whistle that makes people scurry.
  • Bought a bunch of souvenirs today. Art + leaning towers + beads + pottery + gold. Italy owes me.
  • Rode back to the ship. Tried not to snore.
  • Had a 7:00 reception in the courtyard villas. These guys are good salesmen. The courtyard has a private pool, private hot tub, private sun deck, and hammocks. Paul wants to sail in the courtyard villas next time. This is precisely why they had a courtyard reception. Thank you, NCL.
  • Ate in the main dining room for the first time. The service was lacking and there was a screaming child to accompany dinner. I'm making it sound worse than it really was, but it was a little disappointing.
  • Came back to the room and tried to write a trip report. Failed.
  • Went to the Second City show at 10:30. This was a good group! Had two peach martinis. This was a REALLY good group!
  • Came back to the room while Paul went to the chocolate buffet. He brought me chocolate. Aww.
  • Wrote a trip report in bullet form!

Tomorrow's stop is Cannes. We don't have a shore excursion scheduled, so we'll go ashore at our leisure. I'm betting five bucks we don't go ashore. Any takers?

So much more to tell! Running out of energy to tell it!


Day 6. The Last Day

Today I slept in. I didn't get up until 8:00. Woo! Luxury! We didn't have a shore excursion, so we meandered to Cagney's where we could sit with the upper crust. But we had failed to check the schedule and discovered the hard way that Cagney's closed early today. We had to go to (gulp) the buffet. We've walked past the buffet before, but we were frightened by the sound of fistfights within. For the first time this cruise we braved the buffet...and it wasn't bad! Of course, we didn't hit it at its busiest, but the design of the buffet on this ship is better than the design on other ships we've been on. Others had one long counter surrounded by cafeteria-style tables. The buffet on this ship is made up of multiple stations and the seating is set up with 2- and 4-person tables. Hooray! And they've added an open air station at the back of the ship, so we ate our sausage and eggs outside in the shade enjoying the lovely morning on the French Riviera.

We then made our way to the tender boats. This is the only stop on this cruise that required us to take tender boats. They got out of synch somehow and we wound up waiting in line with about 200 people. The crew wouldn't let the line go straight because that would take it into working areas of the ship, so the line tried to double back on itself, but then you know what happened when the tender boat finally came. Right! The people who were supposed to have been doubled back refused to walk *away* from the long awaited tender boat. No, they took the opportunity to break line! Nothing makes for an angry mob faster than mass line breaking!

We were eventually sorted out and no one was killed on the way to the tender boats. The boats were crowded and hot, but it wasn't a terribly long trip, and we got to look at great big yachts on the way! Alas, none of them had names on them. I wanted to fnd names and look them up to see who owns them. Once off the tender, we meandered toward Cannes. We found that Cannes is one great big restaurant. Seriously, there are streets that have nothing but restaurants. Many, many tables under outdoor awnings. And none of them were open. We stayed past noon, and only a few opened.

We wandered up and down a few alleys and looked into some shops, but nothing was calling me. We perused a flea market that was set up in the square. There were plenty of antiques and treasures, but again nothing called me. That was especially disappointing because it was a good chance to get something that had a history in the region, not just a plastic tchotchke.

Miscellaneous comments: French drivers aren't as crazy as Italian drivers. People in Cannes love their dogs. Most of the dogs are of the pocket-sized variety. Shopkeepers have dog beds and water bowls outside their shops. I noticed the first Honda and the first Chrysler I've seen in Europe.

We didn't stay long in Cannes. At this point I just want to rest, but we had to go ashore so Paul could put his feet on French soil. When all is said and done, Cannes is not terribly different from other beach towns. I wish we had had another sea day somewhere in there so I could have gotten a bit of rest. I'm sure I would have found more to love about Cannes if my eyes were less bleary and my bones were less weary.

We took the tender back to the ship and went to Cagney's for lunch. I got the scalloops with risotto for the second time, and it was still excellent. We came back to the cabin and are getting a bit of rest. Must pack. Must dine. Must return to life on terra firma. Don't wanna. Gotta.


The Final Report


I decided to whip out the computer and try to put together some more thoughts from the last month and a half that I've been gone. (That's about right, isn't it?) So I'm coming to you from an altitude of  36000 feet, traveling 528 mph, according to the nifty computer on the seat back in front of me.

Let's see...I think I gave you a quick recap of Sunday in Barcelona. They dragged us off the boat kicking and screaming. One thing we've learned about customs in these European countries is that if you look harmless, they just stamp your passport and wave you through. That was the case upon getting off the boat and was the case again today when we came through the airport. I remember customs guys being a lot tougher when I was a college student. I probably looked more dangerous then, right? No, I don't think I ever looked dangerous.

Anyway, we caught a taxi to the hotel, but we were mighty early, of course. We checked our bags in with them and decided to take the bus tour again. There were three bus routes and we had only taken a total of about 1.25 routes, combined, since we switched from one route to the other. I had really wanted to go to the Miro Museum on Montjuic, and so we did. When you look at those geometric, abstract, weird figures in primary colors, it's odd to think that while he was painting those, flappers were rouging their knees. He was doing his thing in the 1920's, and it's surprising he gained recognition. Really interesting looking at his work, though, and I'm glad we went.

Before I proceed, let me back up just a bit. We bought our bus ticket from a kiosk at Las Ramblas, the main shopping and pickpocketing drag. Turns out there are also booths on Las Ramblas selling birds, ferrets, reptiles, and fish. Don't know if that's only on Sunday, but there were at least four booths selling little animals. Made me sad that they were being presented as an impulse purchase.

Back to our story (can you tell that last paragraph was added in?) -- We continued on the bus route for a while and stopped in Port Vell, the old port, which was spiffed up very nicely for the 1992 Olympics. There's a mall that could easily be picked up and plopped down anywhere in America, and no one would ever know it was a transplant. Oh! And we noticed that there's a lot less public-proofing of facilities in general in Europe. The mall was on the water and there were parts of the pier that had no guard rail. Clumsy people drown in Europe. We stopped at a bistro for lunch. I can't remember what Paul had, but I had pasta and the oddest pesto I've ever had. It was penne pasta (OK so far), pesto (quite nice, actually), bits of potato (umm, what?) and green beans (WTF?).

There were arts and crafts in the open market, but I was about shopped out at this point. I've gotten to the point where I ask myself "Where am I going to put this?" and if I can't answer that question, I don't buy it.

We hopped back on the bus and headed for the Baria Gothic. I didn't do enough homework about this area. It looks really interesting, and I bet it's even more so when it's not a Sunday. We did gawk at some lovely Gothic architecture and we perused yet another flea market, this one specializing in antiques. My impression is that they have a whole lot of silver over there. All the antique markets have mounds of spoons and salvers for sale.

We walked back to the hotel from there, and enough time had passed that our room was ready by then. Got our keys, got our bags, got to the room. This was a fair sized room, nicely appointed. The mattresses were pretty hard, which wasn't a problem for me, but Paul didn't care for them. No terrace. Boo. Guess I was spoiled by the first hotel and the room on the ship.

I got connected and checked e-mail without worrying about a time limit and then we both crashed for a couple of hours. I was worried that Paul would be disappointed that we effectively lost half a day of sightseeing in Barcelona, but he, too, was feeling the effects of going non-stop for a week and a half, and so he didn't mind using that time to rest. Whew!

We did wake in time for dinner and went to a tapas restaurant. We tried to go back to the one we had been to a couple of times before, but I got turned around and couldn't find the thing for the life of me. We finally decided to make do with another one near the hotel. It wasn't quite as nice, but what we needed was sustenance, and they did have food, which was all that we required.

Back to the hotel, slept like a log that was worried the wake up call wouldn't happen. There are no alarm clocks in Spain or on cruise ships. I set alarms on my iPod and cell phone, but I wasn't very confident about either. In the end, the iPod alarm worked, the cell phone didn't (because I had it on mute), and the wake up call did happen. At 5:00 a.m. Which shouldn't exist, at least not as a waking up time. We scurried around showering and packing and all that kind of stuff, and that's when I found out the hair dryer in the hotel didn't work. So I'm sitting here on a plane looking like dirt. No, seriously. People cringe when they look at me. It's bad. But at least I don't smell, so that's good.

We got downstairs, checked out, and had the hotel call us a taxi. ("You're a taxi!" they cried in unison.) Told the driver to take us to the airport. He rubbed his little hands in glee and asked if we knew which terminal we needed to go to. I told him we were going to Delta. His eyes twinkled. "That's terminal one!" And we sped off into the Barcelona sunrise.

You know what's coming, right? No, the traffic was fine. But terminals one and two of the Barcelona airport are about 47 miles from each other. (Slight exaggeration for comic effect.) And you know that the furthest terminal from downtown Barcelona is terminal one, right? And you know that Delta is at -- all together, now! -- terminal two! So we paid more than we should have and we had to take a ten minute shuttle back the 47 miles to terminal two. We got our boarding passes, we got a stamp on a piece of paper so we could get some tax money back, and we went through the stringent security screening, which consisted of a guy looking at us and deciding we didn't look like we could do anyone any harm. (Just try to break line in front of me, though, and I'll get out my bag of rocks!)

We got to the gate and had a small breakfast. Paul spotted some little sandwiches on baguettes and decided not to buy one so early in the day. I haven't heard about anything else since. "We'll have to go back to Barcelona so I can get one of those sandwiches," he said to me not too long ago. I guess that's as good a reason as any.

We got on a plane. We flew for ten friggin' hours. We landed in Atlanta. I turned on my cell phone, and, as I told you, it lit up like a Christmas tree. "OMG!" it squealed. "You wouldn't BELIEVE what's been going on!" And it retrieved approximately 763 Twitters that mostly said "I'm going to lunch now," or "I don't like smelly airline passengers," or "Someone threw a rock at me from a cruise ship." Turns out the cell phone was just overly excitable. Nothing truly notable had happened. And would you believe I didn't have a single voice mail?! That's because the only people who ever call me are you and Paul. And you both knew where I was. Ergo, no voice mail. Hmmph.

I'm now on a plane wending its way to Las Vegas. I'm tired. I'm not particularly hungry. I'm ugly as a mud fence. And I have seen several wonders of the world and eaten exquisite cuisine and played and laughed and frolicked and generally acted like a giddy teenager. As soon as my body recovers fron the exertion, I think my soul will be somewhat refreshed.

Wish you'd been there, too. You would've made it even more fun!