Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
I posed a question to my Facebook friends asking them if a friend was planning a trip to Paris and she had five full days in autumn to spend there, what would they tell her to be sure to see and do. I find that when exploring a new destination that one of the best resources is to ask people who have been there to share their highlights and experiences which often lead to sites and events that one might otherwise miss if relying solely on guide books.
In the first morning, over a dozen people responded with some great ideas – some I have heard of but don’t know much about, and some that I’m going to have to Google. Here’s what they have offered so far*:
Notre Dame – and don’t miss the gargoyles
Versailles – and don’t skip the gardens
Arc de Triomph
Boat trip down the Seine
A day in the countryside
Cite des Sciences et l’Industrie
Savor the food – paninis and crepes from the street carts
Ice Cream shop near Notre Dame that sculpts the ice cream into the shape of a rose
* I exempted the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and Disneyland Paris from the question because these are things we know we would want to do. DH visited Paris as a teenager but his opportunity to go to the top of the Eiffel was cancelled due to lightning. And just like you can’t go to London without a visit to the British Museum, the Louvre is a must-do for us. And if you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you’ll understand that Disneyland Paris is non-negotiable!
Have other places someone should be sure to visit while in Paris? Or things to do that one might not think about at first glance? Share them in the comments and you may see them featured in a future blog post!
Monday, September 30, 2013
I was thinking today about what direction I’d like to take this blog now that we’ve pretty much exhausted the “what we did, what we saw” portion of our summer 2013 adventure. I’ve been putting together our photo book at Shutterfly, and while there, I paused to look through our photos from 2010 when we spent several days pre-cruise in London before sailing from Dover. I’ve posted before about how important it is to have some pre-cruise days when traveling a far distance to allow for adjusting to the new time zone as well as giving your luggage time to catch up with you if there were delays. But I haven’t written about spending some days either pre- or post-cruise somewhere besides the departure port. Because we were already spending a month on vacation, staying in Barcelona pre- and post-sailing made the most sense for us, but for some of our fellow passengers, they extended their 12-night cruise and spent several days in places such as London, Paris, and Venice.
Because we have been to London and Venice, and even though we would like to go back, if you all are in agreement, I’d like to turn our attention to planning some days in Paris. We don’t have a date in mind, but we do know we want to make it over there at some point in the not-too-distant future. We have some local area friends that we’ve talked about taking a river cruise with in Europe and think that when we do that, would be a great time to spend several days in Paris either before or after. And because I like to have time to research places, now seems as good a time as any to start!
Jusqu'à la prochaine fois…
Thursday, September 26, 2013
This week, the Costa Concordia was raised from where she laid on her side for these long months. Reuters captured the raising in a time-lapse video, shared here.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Monday, September 23, 2013
When we decided to sail with Disney Cruise Line for their Mediterranean itineraries in summer 2013, we did so thinking that there might be a chance they didn’t return to the Med for the 2014 season. We needn’t have worried because there are a variety of cruises available next summer, ranging from 4 nights to 12 nights with departures from Barcelona and from Venice. And her ship will be stopping at some new ports including Catania, Italy (Sicily), Katakolon, Greece (the gateway to Olympia) and Corfu, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini in the Greek Isles.
So if you’ve been thinking about a Disney Mediterranean cruise, particularly with stops in Greece, you might want to see what they have available. And if you don’t already have a travel agent, we’re happy to recommend the ones we have used for years now.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Friday, September 20, 2013
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
In summer 2007, we sailed with Disney Cruise Line to the Mediterranean as part of their inaugural season. Since I’m posting Rome photos this week, I thought I’d delve into the photo archives for a peek at some of the things we saw then. The thing about the Eternal City of Rome is that their really really old stuff doesn’t change much.
This photo is from our inside tour of the Coliseum, July 2007. If you ever get a chance to tour inside, it’s well worth it!
Monday, September 16, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Saturday, September 14, 2013
There are several sites online that will assist in fare watching and provide alerts based on whatever criteria you select. For us, because we knew which flight we wanted and which dates we needed to travel, we did our own fare watching by checking the airline site directly. But if you have choices for where to fly from or you don't mind having a connecting flight either before you leave the US or somewhere in Europe, the travel sites do a good job of helping you accumulate the data you need to make a decision about when to purchase.
I looked today to see what airfare for a comparable flight would be if we were traveling next summer. The price quoted today is about $75 more than this time last year, and over $130 more than we ended up booking for. We did book our June 2013 flight in September 2012 but only after watching the fares for several weeks, so when we saw a dip in price, we grabbed it. Much like playing slot machines, once you've purchased your airfare, you shouldn't keep checking in case a much better deal comes along, but I couldn't help myself and did follow our flight's cost for several more weeks. It turned out we bought at the lowest point and had the satisfaction of being able to get our choice of seats on the plane as well as crossing flight arrangements off our list of things to do.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
After the events of 9/11/2001, people were concerned about the safety of traveling. The travel industry took a bit of a hit as plans were changed or even cancelled, and it took a while for it to recover. But I’m so glad it did because traveling is such a part of our lives and I would hate to have missed out on the wonderful opportunities we’ve had to explore new places.
DH and I have always enjoyed traveling together. In fact, one thing that was important to both of us before we married was whether our travel styles were compatible. Was I a luxury resort and spa kinda gal? Was he a toss a few things in the back of the truck and wing it kinda guy? Did my mother warn him that I live by the “have toothbrush, will travel” motto? Did his parents instill a love of foreign travel and adventure in him?
As it turned out, we have similar travel styles. We both like to go, but we like to know where we’ll be. You won’t find us heading off without a destination, and since having kids, that’s become even more important to us – that we know there will be a hotel, campsite, or relative’s guest room / floor waiting for us at the end of the day. We like to spend our days exploring, but we like to have some days to just do nothing, just doing that nothing somewhere besides home!
I think that’s why we enjoy cruising as much as we do. It satisfies our need to know where we’ll be, it gives us time and opportunity to do explore and to do nothing. We have seen a lot of places via cruise ship / excursions. While this blog has focused on our time in the Mediterranean, we’ve also been blessed with the opportunities to cruise in Northern Europe (Baltic), Alaska, the Bahamas, and both the Eastern and Western parts of the Caribbean. We’d like to go to Hawaii and Canada and New Zealand and Australia and … well, you get the idea. But in addition to places we can see from a sea-bound ship, we are looking forward to opportunities to experience river cruises where we can venture further inland and explore at less frenetic pace.
Every time we embark on a trip, whether by land, air, or sea, I stop and think about the people on those airplanes a dozen years ago. Were they on their way, or heading home? Did they have a bag full of souvenirs and memories, or were they full of that anticipation you feel at the beginning of an adventure? And I pray for our safety and the safety of others around us as we buckle our seatbelts or stand at our safety drill posts. Because no one should have to go through what those people did. Twelve years ago today, they were confirming flights and packing their bags. Twelve years later, we remember them.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Wednesday marks the 12th year since the horrible tragedies of September 11, 2001. This week, we are dedicating our blog posts to the men, women, and children who died or lost family members or loved ones as a result of the plane crashes or as part of the rescue and recovery work.
Our world changed that day, and every time we travel, we see the effects of the events of that day. We recently spoke with someone who hasn’t flown since before 9/11 and were thinking of the differences in air travel compared to before. From how you pack and what you can (or cannot) bring in your carry-on bag to what you can (or cannot) wear through airport security, the rules have changed. While the rules and regulations may be a nuisance for passengers, I think we understand the reactiveness to the situation. It has taken over a decade of adaptation and tweaking to find a balance between being reactive and being over-reactive. And while it’s not there yet, every time we have flown, we notice subtle changes in the TSA screening protocol. For example, last month we noticed signs that said passengers age 75 and older can leave on their shoes and light jackets through the security checkpoints. And kids under age 12 can leave their shoes on now, too. We even noticed in one airport that the TSA security checkpoint had a “family line” so that parents and children could go through the screening area as a group.
So while there is still the nuisance of having to check a bag if you want to bring your full-sized toothpaste or shampoo, or having to pay exorbitant prices for bottles of water or soda once you’ve passed through screening areas, it’s good to see some changes that make that part of the trip a little easier.
As always, it is a good idea to check the TSA’s website for any updates to security guidelines. It’s better to know what to expect before you get to the airport than to have to throw something away you wanted to keep.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Since I’ve been looking through our “Ancient Greece Art” photos, today’s picture is from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. This piece is Statue of a Sphinx, made of pentelic marble. It was found in Spata, Attica, and is one of the earliest known Archaic Sphinxes and dated about 570 B.C.
This is one of many important pieces you can find in the museum. We found this to be worth the time and if we had not had a scheduled excursion, we would have still found our way to the museum.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Our older son is taking AP Art History this year. While we were traveling around, I thought how some of the things we would see in Florence would likely be things he would cover in class, but he is getting an early start as their second unit is on the Art of Ancient Greece.
His teacher provides 20+ images for each unit that they will study, and from this unit, there are several pieces of art and architecture that they will be covering that we actually saw! Here are a few of them.
How cool is that? I love when school work and vacation come together!
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
At some point on our first excursion in Monaco and France, I lost my sunglasses. I know I had them even though it was an overcast day, but the next morning when I was searching for them before heading to Cinque Terre, I couldn’t find them. I looked all over the cabin, double-checked my day bag, and searched through everything. The best I could determine is that they fell out of my day bag on the motorcoach on our way back to the port from Eze. You can’t really see them, but I zoomed in and checked that my sunglasses are in the outside pocket of my day bag right near my hand which is on my camera case. This photo was in Eze.
A lost pair of sunglasses might not seem like a big deal, but in the Mediterranean, you want to have sunglasses; the sun is bright and sometimes very intense, especially as you head further south. Because I wear glasses, I use the “fit over the glasses” kind of sunglasses to give fuller coverage than just those that clip onto my lenses. Fortunately, our younger son uses the same kind of sunglasses, so I was able to occasionally borrow his when he was staying onboard, but our photos show where I was squinting in the bright light, to the point where my eyes are nearly closed. So much for getting a family photo we can actually use for our holiday cards this year.
I should be glad that I didn’t lose a pair of prescription sunglasses; my Solar Shields are $20; the prescription lenses would be so much more! And if anyone was going to lose them, better me than one of the kids for me to fuss at all month. I kept thinking I would pick up another pair, but I managed to make it through without them. But my thought is to go ahead and buy two pair when I get around to replacing them, especially if we’ll be traveling where I can’t get to my usual stores. Then I’ll have a back-up pair.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Friday, August 30, 2013
Photo taken in Dubrovnik, July 5, 2013
Thursday, August 29, 2013
As we neared the end of our Florence and Michelangelo tour, we stopped by the Baptistery of San Giovanni to admire what Michelangelo called The Gates of Paradise, the gold doors crafted by Lorenzo Ghiberti from 1425 – 1452. One of the boys commented that he was hoping we would see it because he had watched a video about the doors in his AP European History class which means he knew more about them than the rest of us.
We couldn’t get close enough to get a full picture of the panels on the doors, but hopefully you can see enough to identify the scenes depicted. From the top left, moving across:
A. Adam and Eve
B. Labors of Adam, Cain and Abel
D. Abraham and Isaac
E. Jacob and Esau
F. Joseph and Benjamin
H. Fall of Jericho
J. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
This is another of the places where we had a quick stop in Florence that warrants more time to admire. But since that’s not in our immediate plans, we’ll have to travel there virtually. The Museums of Florence website has a fuller description of the history of the Baptistery and its beautiful doors as well as detailed photos of each panel. Definitely worth the look.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
We had such limited time in Florence and there was so much to see that I knew there was no way we could do the city justice. When we got back to the ship late that afternoon, I felt underwhelmed by our tour even though we actually saw quite a bit; I just couldn’t process it all. But as each day passed and I looked at our pictures, read over material we had from the cruise line and our tour guide about Florence (or Firenze as the Italians call her), I realized that we saw quite a bit more than I thought we had, even though most of it was externally. Also, with the crowds, there was much externally we didn’t get to see.
One thing about Florence is that while there are many museums, there is much to see outside of the museums. One example of that is Piazza della Signoria where you can see many statues including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. You may exit from Piazza della Signoria through the not-quite-a-courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery and stop to admire the statues of famous Renaissance artists on display.
As you pass under the bottom of the U-shaped Uffizi Gallery exterior, you’ll come alongside the famous Arno River which divides Florence and tourists cross via the Ponte Vecchio. We were there on a busy Saturday in June and because of the crowds, our tour guide walked us near the bridge but didn’t take us across it even though that was supposed to be part of our tour. However, we did linger long enough to take some photos of the Arno River before heading off to the Accademia di Belle Arti Museum to see the original David.
The longer we’ve been away from Florence, and the more I’ve read or seen references to this Italian city, the more I am certain that I would like to visit Florence at a less busy time of year. Our guide suggested that for those interested in making a return trip to the city, the winter months, while cold and dreary, are some of the best times for viewing the museums.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
We got our 2014 Calendar in the mail yesterday that I made using photos from our trip. It was super easy to make; the hardest part was picking out which photos to use. We look forward to reliving our trip each month as we turn the pages. In addition to adding your own photos, you can personalize any of the dates with birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, even future vacation days!
If you’re looking for something to do with your vacation photos, you might want to look at photo items like calendars, books, cards, even household items. A friend just put some photos on a coffee mug from his Whale Watching trip to Alaska.
I have only used Shutterfly for photo books and now, a calendar, so I can’t attest to any other company, but our experience with Shutterfly has been positive. Click here to learn more about making your own calendar at Shutterfly. (We are not affiliated, just satisfied customers.)
Monday, August 26, 2013
While in Malta, our tour guide suggested that we make sure to try a local snack known as pastizzi. The pastizzi is a pastry filled with either ricotta cheese or mushy peas. You can find these from local cafes or street vendors, and they cost less than a euro a piece. We bought ours to try from the snack stand in the Upper Barracka Gardens before heading back to the ship. While it was tasty, I don’t think we’d have to have one every day. But they are definitely worth the try; we had a ricotta one.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
We were there on a Sunday so we couldn't go into the cathedral in Monaco. We had to rush through the palace in Monaco which was a little disappointing as I would have enjoyed a bit more time to look around, but we were hoping to catch the changing of the guard so some of our rush through was self-imposed, never mind the bazillion other people in the groups they had enter at the same time. And when we exited the palace, there were so many people in the courtyard that we wouldn't be able to see anyway. The garden was beautiful and we enjoyed walking through. The day was overcast so our photos aren't as stunning as sunlight would allow. We found a place to eat pizza for our lunch, not really what we would have chosen for a lunch in the French Riviera, but we had limited time and were afraid a sit-down cafe would take too long.
Monte Carlo was mostly closed as well with just a few places open - the Casino, which we didn't enter as we weren't appropriately dressed for even entering the lobby, plus the boys were too young, and the cafe beside the casino where we went to the walk-up window for the most expensive gelato of the trip. The shops were all closed and there wasn't much time to venture away from the Casino area.
By the time we got to Eze, the clouds were beginning to accumulate which just added to the whole overcastness of the day, but we trudged on. The boys were beat by then and wanted nothing more than to go back to the ship, but we had another hour plus of "free time" in Eze. We trudged around the village which was pretty cool and had several shops (open) and lots of winding paths. The views were lovely, and the village was quaint, much like you might expect. After we descended from the village to the bus parking area, we found the tourism office had free wifi and a nice place to sit. I've made sure to post about this every time I've written anything about our time in Eze because if we had known about it from our reading pre-trip, I would have parked the boys there with their electronic devices and internet access and they would have enjoyed the break and allowed DH and me to spend a little more time poking around the shops.
The town of Villefranche is easily walkable and on our second cruise, DH and I spent part of the day doing just that. There is free wifi for a 20 minute increment in the terminal area where the tenders drop off and pick up. You'll see a lot of cruise staff using it - in fact, that's why I even noticed it was there. The train station is a 10-15 minute walk from where the tenders drop off - the signage is clear for which way to go.
I think Villefranche is the prettiest of all the ports we stopped at.
You can find our photos from the French Riviera portion of our trip in our Photobucket.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Grocery shopping is quite different in other countries than where we live in the US. Or at least it seems that way in the cities that we visited in Europe. I thought perhaps it was because we were visiting large cities, but we found similar shopping experiences in smaller towns and villages as well.
What’s different is that while we often have “one stop shopping” where we can buy meats, fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy, eggs, canned items and convenience foods all in one super-store, we noticed that in the areas we were, there was the butcher shop, the bakery, (and no, not the candle maker – LOL), the fruit and vegetable stands, the fresh fish right out of the water. We noticed that people would shop on their way home in the evenings, picking up only what they needed for that night’s dinner. Everything was so fresh.
So when we did encounter a store that was reminiscent of a US grocery store, we had to go inside. We looked for familiar items as well as to see what was “strange” to us. There was a fresh meat area, fresh cheese and dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits. There was even an area where you could get fresh herbs and spices.
I’m not much of a cook so I don’t know my herbs and spices, but I thought these looked cool. I took pictures of them thinking I would Google them when we returned to see what they were, but my Googling didn’t turn up an answer. So, dear readers, if you can identify these for me, I will be ever so thankful. Leave your answers in the comments.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
The boys started back to school this week and they each have a full load of courses - and the cool part - to me, anyway - is that they each have two classes that relate to our Summer 2013 travels.
Both boys taking Latin 2, picking right back up where they left off in May. Our visits in Pompeii and Rome relate to their class as they will be studying not only the language, but the culture and history of civilization.
The older one is taking AP Art History. We spent some of our time in Florence looking at works of art and statues that may be covered, and as he's beginning the class, I've learned that architecture is also included as part of what they are studying. We definitely saw a lot of architecture on our trip.
The younger one is taking AP Euro History, which the older one had two years ago. While we were on our trip, the older one occasionally pointed something out that he had learned about, either through reading, lecture, or video, in the course, so we know that his brother will have some moments to reflect on our summer while studying.
What the beginning of the school year means for me is that while I may want to post each day, the reality is that there will be days I don't get one written. My intent is to continue posting related to traveling, particularly about the ports we have visited, or cruising, with some other topics from time to time. We hope you'll stay with us.