Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 11th, 2003
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
Our flight to France was called and the last group of rows were announced, which included mom (Dorothy) and me. As we were waiting in line, a man pushing an old woman in a wheel chair, said, "excuse me." We moved out of the way and as he walked by, he looked at Mom and said, "Follow me!" As we did, everyone moved out of our way and we walked straight up to the counter to give our boarding pass. We were the first few on board. Mom said, "Why did he call us?" I jokingly said, "You're old!" So our trip to Europe began!
Mom and I were supposed to travel to China on 2 May, but with the ongoing problems with SARS, the tour company (Smartours) cancelled it only 2 weeks before the trip. I was actually happy that someone else made the decision for us to not go to China. We were still planning to go, but friends and family begged us not to. China will still be around for a future trip. Fortunately, we received a full refund from Smartours.
I had to quickly plan a new trip and did so within 48 hours. I collapsed by the time I was done. I first thought of doing an Italy trip, similar to my last one, but decided that would be too much planning in such a short timeframe: contacting multiple hotels, car rental, train schedules, etc. I thought "how about a cruise?" This would eliminate making multiple reservations and less packing/unpacking. Of course, this whole change also meant a completely different wardrobe: bathing suit for the pool, formal wear, shorts, several pairs of shoes, etc. At least we'd be packing and unpacking only 3 times.
I booked our trip with Cruises Only to sail on Celebrity Cruises. This would be my 7th cruise (8 if you count Greek island hopping). After reviewing different itineraries, we picked one in particular based on two ports: Venice Italy and Dubrovnik Croatia. Another cruise included Istanbul, which I would have loved to visit again, but not at this time with the ongoing war. I had problems getting a room with a window, but after several phone calls and emails to the supervisor at Cruises Only, was able to work things out.
8 May 2003 Thursday: Mom arrived to Maryland on May 1st. I was able to change her airline tickets to fly here instead of LA (for the China trip) and actually got her a $24 credit. I purchased our tickets through Delta, but flew on Air France. I know, it was not the right company to travel with while the war is ongoing and the damn French not being cooperative, but frequent flyer miles have to be earned!
We had a great flight. We've always had good service on Air France. I slept a little, but never as much as I would like. I even tried an over-the-counter sleeping pill, which didn't really help me. I had gotten window seats for the both of us so that we could lean against the window and try to sleep. However, Mom sat in the last row and that seat was several inches away from the window...too far to lean against and sleep. So much for careful planning. Mom sat next to a young woman whose family was from Dubrovnik. Mom said she would send a postcard to her new friend.
9 May 2003 Friday: Barcelona! We arrived early in the morning via Paris. Fortunately the connection was fairly short and we didn't have a long wait for our flight. I picked up some Euros at an ATM machine. I also brought some travelers checks and some cash. We had a tasty, fresh croissant while waiting for our connecting flight.
Exiting the Barcelona airport, we didn't even go through customs - no stamp in our passport! Since our luggage was heavier than other trips, we decided to take a taxi to the old Gothic Quarter to our hotel instead of a bus or train/metro. We arrived on a sunny day and traffic was fairly light. We arrived at our hotel (Hostal Levante) about 30 minutes later. The taxi driver didn't give me the correct change. I was angry with myself for not counting the change slowly assuming he gave me the correct amount. Oh well, I'll have to be careful the next time.
Rooms are never ready before 1pm, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed our cameras and headed out for a while. The port was close by, so we walked over to see the area. I wanted to see if we could walk to the ship with our luggage, but we determined it wasn't doable since the port was huge and we didn't know where the ship would be docked.
We walked up Las Ramblas, a wonderful pedestrian street filled with kiosks, flower stalls, a bird market and touristy shops. Also, there were several "statues," men dressed up as statues. Our favorite was the cowboy and Indian: They would pose as statues waiting for someone to add money to the pot before performing. If someone tried to take their picture without adding any money, they would cover their faces, whistle and point to the pot. One "statue" was of a man reading the newspaper while sitting on the toilet, while another looked like a head on a platter. They were very interesting and part of the ambiance of Las Ramblas. I wondered what their real jobs were?
In our room, we unpacked our things. Our room was very basic: twin beds, small reading lights, a small closet (very few clothes hangers, so we doubled up), desk, chair and a nice sized bathroom with tile floors and large shower. For 60 Euros, it was a deal! The location was great as well, right in the heart of the Gothic Quarter.
For lunch, we found a little restaurant, Garduna, on the back side of the Boqueria, the wonderful Barcelona market place, filled with various food stalls: fresh fish and seafood, fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, olives, etc. Our lunch was delicious! We both enjoyed the broad beans stew with sausage, a tossed salad (the tomatoes were horrible and here we were dining next to a fabulous market), and local house wine. It was very filling, but I finished every bite.
We walked up Las Ramblas to the top end and shopped in the department store, El Corte Ingles. There is a grocery store with a variety of Spanish foods. I purchased Choriso, that delicious spicy Spanish sausage, for Tony.
For dinner we found a great tapas restaurant near our hotel called Mikel Etxea on C. Ferran #15 just off Las Ramblas. It was filled with hungry diners by the time we arrived at 8pm. We waited 15 minutes for a table. We shared one with a group of men from Sweden. Our meal started with house red wine and a plate of cooked pulpo - octopus cooked in a spicy paprika sauce. We also tried several other tapas, which were delicious. I decided this is where we'll bring our new friends the next evening.
10 May 2003 Saturday: This day we visited the Sagrada Famalia, the famous Barcelona Cathedral still being worked on since Gaudi died. I don't think this Cathedral will ever be completed in my lifetime. The morning started with breakfast at a nearby pastry shop. Then we walked around the area looking at ceramics in a couple of stores. I purchased a ceramic toothbrush holder. I wanted to collect different ceramic pieces for my bathroom. We dropped off our purchases and headed to the nearest metro to Sagrada Famalia. We walked to one far end of a park to take a photo of the whole building. The area was crowded with tourists.
It was a warm day, so we found a small grocery store and purchased bottled water, then sat in the shade near the lake in front of the church. We took the metro back to the gothic quarter and visited the museum of Barcelona history, which included an underground area that had been excavated. It was very interesting and reminded me of the one in Naples, Italy.
We had plans to meet some new friends on Las Ramblas at 7pm near the Liceu metro. I met Jeff and others on line at http://www.cruisecritic.com. It was a great web site to get cruise information and to meet other fellow passengers in advance. One nice thing is that Celebrity Cruises hosts a party if more than 25 people register on line. Jeff and I corresponded (along with others) about tours, which we booked on two, and travel suggestions. I decided to get a group together for drinks and maybe dinner so we could meet in person before the cruise.
Next to the Liceu metro, the midway point of Las Ramblas, there is a mosaic pavement design by Joan Miro. This is where everyone would meet. At 7pm we waited to see who would show up. By the time I had left for Barcelona, I had about 12 responses for the evening get together. Jeff and Robin arrived first. He recognized me from my web site, which I had also added their photos along with a few others. Phil and Edith also showed up. We chatted while waiting to see if anyone else would arrive. No one else did. Getting hungry, I led everyone to the tapas place. We got there early enough to grab seats at the bar. Tapas were placed all along the bar and they looked inviting. We drank, munched on the various tapas, and had a good time talking with each other.
After our tapas and wine, we headed to the port to find a restaurant for dinner. It was probably a 20-minute walk but the evening was lovely. Our meal at El Port Vell wasn't the best of our trip but we enjoyed dining outdoors. Next time we'll stick to tapas and other typical Spanish dishes. We all split up saying good-night knowing we'd meet many times again on the cruise.
OFF ON OUR CELEBRITY CRUISE
11 May 2003 Sunday: Since we had plans to board the cruise ship around 1pm, we didn't make any plans for the morning. We had a light breakfast around the corner, then packed our suitcases, stored them in the lounge and headed out for a walk around Las Ramblas. It seemed like all of Barcelona was out enjoying the sunny day. I picked up some souvenirs to use as Christmas ornaments. Being anxious to get to the ship, we headed back to the hotel where the woman at the desk called a taxi for us. Saying our goodbyes, we waited outside for the taxi. It was a short ride to the port and I became very excited seeing the beautiful Millennium. The taxi driver was impressed with its size and I explained with my little bit of Spanish that there were other ships much larger than the Millennium.
At the port, a cruise ship employee tagged our luggage and had them whisked away. Checking in seemed easy until we had to fill out some forms that had been left out of the ticket packet I received in the mail. While waiting in line, we quickly filled out the forms. At the counter, we received our plastic on-board credit cards. No cash for drinks and shopping - we pay with the credit card, which gets charged against our Visa at the end of the trip. It was also used to get on and off the ship through security. All passports were handed in and would be given back at then end of the trip.
We went through security without any problems, had our first souviner cruise photo taken, and boarded the ship. Another photo was taken at the security point, which would identify us each time we boarded the ship. It actually took only 15 minutes from arrival to the port to walking on board the ship. We were greeted by several crewmembers all dressed in their black suits, including two who each held a tray of champagne-filled glasses. It was a joy starting a cruise with a glass of bubbly.
We were escorted to our room, #2131, and were left to finish our champagne and check out the room. Our cabin was lovely with a large round window; mirrors on one wall; light wood paneling, a queen bed, and a small couch which folds out for a third guest; small desk with glasses, a pitcher of water, and an ice-filled bucket, chair, a nice size port window, and a small but decent bathroom with plenty room for our cosmetics. The closet was quite large with an in-room safe, plenty of hangers, and 5 or 6 drawers. There was also a mini bar, which was pricey, but we used it to store fruit and cream since I brought a few mini bottles of kahlua and vodka for my White Russians. There was a t.v., which showed the various ships tours and entertainment on board. Our room was located on the 2nd level, center and low on the ship. It was a good location for us. I found the room to be larger than my previous sailings with other companies. One luxury on board was the twice-daily changing of the bathroom linens. Every time we returned to our room, the bathroom had been cleaned, as well as our bucket of ice refilled.
The ship is beautifully decorated with lovely exotic flowers and plants. The grand foyer had an onyx staircase with backlit yellow lighting and full-length (2 stories) draperies. Each lounge or sitting area was tastefully decorated. The ship had an elegant atmosphere, not stuffy. Smoking was allowed in certain (port side only) areas of the ship. Mom always smoked either on the pool deck or the Rendezvous Lounge.
A buffet lunch was being served on the 10th deck, so we rode in one of the exterior glass elevators to the top, which provided dramatic views as we sailed. Looking at the spread of food, I knew immediately I would have to take the stairs as often as possible and work out at the gym. There were 4 serving areas so the wait in line was very short. Several waiters stood ready to take our trays and escort us to a table. During breakfast, waiters would come along with extra pastries and rolls. This dining area had large floor to ceiling windows to enjoy the scenery of the ocean, including large port windows on the floor where you could look straight down to the water. The glass was a few inches thick and bolted well. We ran into Jeff and Robin at lunch. He had changed rooms and needed to make dining reservations. Deciding that we'd all dine together, we headed to the lounge where we could make new table arrangements. It took a while, but we were assigned to table 561. We asked for a table for 6 and hoped that the 3rd couple would be good tablemates.
Back in the room, our luggage had been delivered. We quickly unpacked since most of our "cruise" clothes had been in the luggage for a few days. There was ample closet and drawer space, which was a nice change to our normal pensions and hotels.
Mom and I spent the rest of the afternoon checking the various places on the ship and writing in our journals. At 7pm we went to the Rendezvous Lounge for a martini-tasting event. We tried 5 different martini's, small portions, for about $6. They were very tasty, varying from the traditional to lemon, to Chambord flavor. Surprisingly, it was just the two of us as well as four others enjoying the drinks. Drinks on board were reasonably priced, but watch out! The bill can rise quickly using the on-board credit card.
We saw Jeff and Robin on deck while waiting for the ship to leave port, which turned out to be a daily routine. Mom was very excited about her first cruise. The only other "cruise" was in 1958 when she first traveled to Europe. In those days, traveling by ship was the basic means of transportation, as are airplanes today. God, that sounds ancient! I had smuggled a bottle of white wine on the ship while Mom brought a bottle of red wine. We had the bottles double wrapped in zip lock bags. I wasn't going to take the chance my clothes. We had a glass of wine while we watched Barcelona disappear from view.
We had the late dining schedule: 8:45pm. I wish it had been a little earlier, but we managed every evening. Our waiter was Frankie (from India) and our assistant waiter was Niel (from the Philippines). Both provided excellent service throughout the cruise. They also went out of their way to make an evening extra special or fun. This cruise had 3 formal nights, 3 informal nights and the rest casual. Our first night was casual. Our table was next to a large window on the second level of the restaurant. The third couple at the table was Anne and Lauren. Jeff entertained us throughout the trip, so much that after the second night, Anne and Lauren dined elsewhere. Now, we don't know if Jeff was the reason they left (they were a little on the stuffy side, at least Lauren was) or they just changed their dinner plans.
Since our dinner usually ended around 10:30pm, we never went to an evening show. It was just too late for us, especially since we had early arrival times at the ports (7am). Most evenings we'd have a drink at the Rendezvous lounge or to a place where Mom could have her smoke. Other times I left her to her smoking while I walk around the ship and stairs to work off some of the calories I ate.
Each evening ended with our bed turned down with a chocolate on our pillows, along with the daily Celebrity Today newspaper. It listed all the activities and events for the next day, the daily dining choices, bar hours, drinks of the day and other shipboard information. I usually skimmed through it and figured out the next day's events. Steve, our room steward, also made Mom's nightshirt into a design on the bed. I kept mine out of sight. I didn't want Steve "playing" with my nightshirt!
12 May 2003 Monday: A day at sea. We had a very relaxing day at sea, sleeping in a little, sitting on the deck enjoying the sun and enjoying the food on board. Our Cruise Critic party was schedule for the late morning where we met many of our fellow passengers (about 55 others). It was great putting faces to names I new from my email correspondence. Soft drinks and cookies were served. I chatted with Mark and Darlene about sharing a taxi to the train station in Rome and maybe touring together. At the end of the party, a group photo was taken in the grand foyer on the stairs. I didn't purchase any of the photos taken on board as I felt they were very expensive.
Following a delicious Thai lunch in the dining room, we attended a wine tasting lecture. I received an invitation in our room from the Captain's Club. I wasn't even a member! However, the card was in my name with the correct room number, so we went. We were served about eight different wines and champagne. Thank goodness we didn't pay for this. The samples were very small and the host was quite boring. He seemed pleased with himself every time he told a joke.
I must write about the food on board the ship. The dining options were amazing: Breakfast can be had in the main dining room (the Metropolitan restaurant), the ocean café, the AquaSpa (all heath foods), and the ocean grill (aft of the ship). Lunch choices were hot dogs, burgers, or pizza and pasta at the Riviera grill, a full menu at the Metropolitan, a buffet at the Ocean café (such as Mexican, Italian, or Chinese buffet); soups, sandwiches and salads at the Ocean grill; healthy choice all day in the AquSpa. There was ice cream throughout the day, sushi 6-10pm, pizza and pasta 6pm to 1am, pastries in the Cova Café di Milano room, and gourmet bites served in all lounges between 11:30pm and 12:30am. Coffee and tea was available 24 hours a day. But if you don't want to leave your room, there is room service. For dinner, we dined in the Mtropolitan restaurant. Every menu was great with three to four choices of appetizers, soups, salads, and entrées. Dessert choices were brought on a tray to select. One option for dinner is the Alternate Dining, where you make reservations and pay a small fee. Jeff and Robin ate there one evening and felt it was not worth it. The last option for dinner is the beautiful, luxurious Olympic Restaurant. There is a $25 fee and reservations must be made in advance. It was the highlight of many cruisers, but we chose to save our money for a special dinner in Venice. Some said the food was fabulous while others said it was just as good as in the Metropolitan dining room. The extras were really the service and the way the food was prepared and served (usually at the table), along with a beautiful setting.
The afternoon was relaxing: Sitting in the sun and listening to the music on deck. Mom found her smoking area on the port side in the shade and that became her usual spot. Waiters came around taking drink orders, while another one passed out chilled cold washcloths to cool off. I even worked out at the gym for almost an hour. There are classes throughout the day and other special events (such as pilates, which is an extra fee).
I was feeling a little hungry, so after showering and getting ready for our first formal night, we headed to the Sushi bar. I sampled a few varieties of sushi, all well made and very fresh. I didn't want too much since dinner was in a couple of hours. Jeff stopped by and we talked about our first port of call: Villefranche and Monaco. We had heard that there was a French transportation strike. We hoped to take a local bus or train to Monaco, but would have to wait after disembarking to figure out the transportation.
Prior to dinner, there was a Captain's welcome cocktail party. We were served wine, champagne and other drinks. It was a relaxing evening with good food and service.
13 May 2003 Tuesday: Villefranche. I woke up early and quickly opened the drapes to a beautiful scene of the port town. I couldn't wait to see the town as well as Monaco. We had a full breakfast at the Ocean café. It was the same food as the other morning buffets. There is a large assortment of fresh fruits, eggs, sausages, pancakes, hash browns, potatoes, smoked salmon or smoked herring, rolls, biscuits, bagels, yogurt, etc. We invited Julie and James to join us, one of cruise critic party couples. After they left, Phil and Edith joined us and we all decided to spend the day together.
We were tendered to port and as we went along, I took several photos of Villefranche. It's an absolutely beautiful port town with colorful old buildings and villas along with sailboats and beautiful yachts in the harbor. A young man approached Phil who told us yes, the strike was on in France, but that we could take his bus to Eze to see his perfume factory. From there we could take a local bus to Monaco. Apparently busses were not running from Villefranche. It was a lovely trip to Eze as the young woman on board explained some of the sights. She even pointed out the area where Elton John and Tina Turner have homes. The tour of the perfume factory was interesting. We learned that perfume bottles should be kept in a cool, dark place and that the bathroom is one of the worse spots to store them. Also, aluminum bottles are better than glass. I didn't purchase anything, but Mom purchased some soaps for her mother. Edith purchased a bottle of perfume.
We had drinks at a café while waiting to see when the next bus would arrive. The woman at the tourist office didn't know when the next bus would arrive, if it arrived at all. I wanted to tour Eze, but was afraid we'd miss the only bus to Monaco. After a while, we decided to take a taxi. For the four of us, it was 35 Euros, which wasn't too bad compared to others that took a taxi to either Monaco or Nice and were charged 60 Euros to 80 Euros for two people! The ride was spectacular as we headed to Monaco: mountains on one side and beautiful ocean scenes on the other.
Monaco was fascinating! Money was oozing everywhere in cars, yachts, villas, clothing. I was amazed at the size of some of the yachts. Flowers were everywhere in gardens, along sidewalks, and cascading over balconies. Our group was dropped off near the Monaco Palace, but unfortunately, it was closed until June. We just missed seeing the changing of the guards. We walked around the area and found a very good restaurant for lunch. In the afternoon, we took a local bus to the Jardin Exotique (http://www.monte-carlo.mc/jardinexotique/presentation_en.html) where we saw many varieties of cactus. Prince Louis II had created this unique garden just over 100 years ago. It sits on the side of a cliff and the walkways lead you down in a zigzag sidewalk. From this area, there are great views of Monaco.
Taking a local bus back to the center of town, we transferred to one back to Villefranche. Although the ship didn't leave port till 11pm, we decided not to visit Nice. I found a small store where Edith and I picked up wine for our rooms. We headed to the port and found an outdoor café, Les Palmiers, and had a round of drinks. Jeff and Robin arrived and joined us. We had a fun time there. Edith and I were able to smuggle our bottles on board without any problems.
14 May 2003 Wednesday: Jeff had organized a tour for Tuscany. He made arrangements with Carla's company, who drove us (Jeff and Robin, Shaun and Toni, Mark and Chris, and Mom and me) to San Gimignano, Florence, and Pisa. Carla picked us up at 8am and we hopped in her 8-passenger van. It was about an hours drive to San Gimignano. I was looking forward to returning there. She would let us off so that we had time on our own. It was nice because we didn't feel "stuck" to a tour guide, but she did provide information as we drove along on our day trip. We walked around the town and window-shopped. A few of us climbed Torre Grossa for some spectacular countryside views. I felt uncomfortable climbing the "open" stairs, but the views were worth it.
Carla stopped the van at the edge of town where we could take photos of the town with its dozen remaining towers. We also had a group photo taken. Our next stop was Florence. It was about 1.5 hours drive, but we all enjoyed the countryside views. We saw farm homes, vineyards, and small towns dotting the hills. Our first stop was at a church (forgot the name but it's above the Piazza Michelangelo) then drove to the Piazza Michelangelo for great Florence city views, including the famous Ponte Veccio Bridge.
In town, Carla dropped Mom and me off near the Ponte Veccio so I could do some damage to my wallet at the jewelry stores on the bridge. Yes Tony, I shopped till you dropped! I ended up with a beautiful necklace and bracelet for my charms. We headed to the center of town, stopping along the way at the outdoor markets. I purchased a silk tie for Tony and Mom purchased an address book covered with a typical Florentine print. Lunch was a simple panini sandwich with mozzarella and eggplant, and a glass of red wine. We walked to the Duomo, visited inside, and then surrounding area. The façade of the Duomo is built of green, red, and white marble. The entryway has tall doors. I am always amazed at the size of the European Cathedrals and wondered how they were built so long ago.
Our time was running out, so we headed back across the Arno River to our meeting point. The last stop of the day was Pisa. I was there in 1990 just before the scaffolding had been put up for repairs and now the repairs have been completed. People can now tour the top of the tower. I wouldn't! To me it still leans pretty far over for my comfort. It was a beautiful sight, but the many trashy kiosks along the side of the road really made for a disappointing visit. I couldn't believe all the junk they sold, from mini leaning tower of Pisa's to leaning coffee mugs. Real tacky stuff. I think most were disappointed in Pisa. I've been there twice now and have no plans to return there again.
Back at the port, Carla got lost. The port is huge and we circled around a bit before finding our ship. We arrived in time, paid Carla (50 Euros per person), and had our group photo taken. It was a great day, but we all would have liked more time in San Gimignano and Florence. Pisa can be left off anyone's itinerary.
Anne and Lauren apparently decided to dine elsewhere, so Shaun and Toni joined the rest of the group. We had a fun evening. Dinner was delicious. I had their pasta with shrimp and vegetables. After dinner, we all sat in the Rendezvous lounge for a drink and a smoke (Mom and Toni).
15 May 2003 Thursday: Livorno. An early morning wake up call, we had a light breakfast in our room. Room service was pretty good, but by the time the meal arrived, the eggs were cold. We met up with Mark and Darlene and shared a taxi to the train station (a total of 10 Euros); and then took the local train to Rome. The ride was about 1 hour, 15 minutes long. Most travelers were commuters heading to work. At the metro, we had a hard time getting tickets from the machines. After 10 minutes of putting coins in and coming back out, we found a kiosk that sold tickets. We took the metro to the Spanish Steps, while Mark and Darlene continued on to the Vatican. We decided to meet back at the train station later in the late afternoon. At the Spanish steps, I met an older Italian man. With my limited Italian, we had an enjoyable conversation. He was visiting with family from Calabria and I tried to explain we were on a ship, not an albergo. I didn't know the Italian word for 'ship'. I was thrilled to be able to converse with him even though we couldn't understand everything. He was sweet and Mom took a photo of the two of us.
Not too far from the Trevi fountain, we stopped for coffee and tea at an outdoor café. We enjoyed the morning watching people come and go. The Trevi fountain was crowded with tourists. It was a sunny day and all the steps were filled with people. We chatted with one couple for a few minutes. They were touring various areas of Italy.
For lunch we had excellent pizzas at Gio Mia. My pizza included ham, artichokes, olives, and cheese. Mom's consisted of sausage, capers, mushrooms and cheese. House wine rounded our delicious lunch. There was a table displaying a wide variety of antipasti, which would have been a meal in itself. If we ever go back, I'd like to share a pizza and a plate of the antipasti. Nearby was the Barbarini metro, so we continued our tour to the Colosseum. I enjoyed seeing the Italian men in their Gladiator uniforms with their helmets and short skirts. We also walked to the Forum, but didn't go in. Mom purchased a couple of cheap t-shirts on the street. I told her not to wash them, they'll probably fall apart.
Back at the station, we met up with Mark and Darlene, took the train back to the port in Livorno, and headed back to the ship in a taxi. We could have walked it, but it might have been too far for Mom. On deck we had drinks while we left port.
16 May 2003 Friday: Naples was our 4th port (four ports in 4 days). Jeff organized a tour to the Amalfi coast. I was looking forward to seeing the Amalfi coast again and shop for some ceramics. It would have been nice to see Tony's relatives, but they would have expected a 2-3 day visit by me. The group met at 8am: Jeff, Robin, Tony, Marie, Shaun, Toni, Mom and me. Our tour guide, Adriano, was very entertaining and funny! I sat up front with Marie, who recently had knee surgery. I also asked Adriano to take it easy while driving around the coast. He complied; however, did he talk with his hands! I was quite nervous. Typical Italian. He reminded me of Peppino, Tony's cousin.
The first of several stops was in Sorrento. We all split up and walked around the town. Mom and I bought a few ceramic bottle stoppers. They were very inexpensive. I bought a soap pump for my bathroom ceramic collection. I also saw some gold bracelets, which were much less than the one I bought in Florence. Oh well, I loved what I bought. Sorrento is famous for its inlaid wood designs. I purchased a jewelry box for my friend June for her birthday. I have one along with 3 inlaid pictures hanging in the living room. They are beautiful pieces of work.
Although it was a sunny day, it was hazy in the distance. Mom and I tasted lemoncello at a small store. The man there was bottling the lemon liquor right on the premises. It's a tasty drink and is refreshing to have in the summer.
Our tour continued onto Positano. Along the way we stopped at two lookout points along the Amalfi coast. We had a group photo taken with the town in the background. The town seems to just hang on the side of the mountain. One slip and it could fall into the ocean. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Ristorante La Cambusa on the beach. It was a steep, windy walk to the water area. Mom and I shared a plate of marinated octopus; then I had their pasta with white clam sauce, which was the best I've ever had.
Mom and I both picked up a few ceramics in Amalfi, another lovely town on the coast. By now, the towns were starting to look alike: they all had beautiful ceramics on display, small shops selling lemoncello and other local products. Some day I would love to purchase a very large ceramic platter to hang on my wall in the dining room. They are very expensive and are wonderful pieces of art.
The final stop was in Ravello. Adriano pointed out Roger Moore's house. He had also pointed out Sofia Loren's house on the coast. I wondered if she was home. It was a steep climb up into the mountains, which had spectacular views of the coast. I was a little disappointed in this town as there wasn't much to see, but I loved all the ceramic shops. I think my favorite town was Positano. We had to drive over the mountain to return to Naples. I was beginning to worry we wouldn't get back in time. It was a long, windy drive and Adriano kept talking with his hands. I definitely needed a glass of wine by the time we got back to the ship. It was a great day and all wished we had more time in each of the towns.
Dinner was quiet as Jeff and Robin made reservations in the elegant Olympic restaurant. Franky and Niel took good care of us. I was even served two entrees: pasta with scallops and shrimp scamp and fillet mignon. I ate the entire seafood dish and a few bites of the steak, which was perfectly done. Franky was all smiles and I smiled back telling him not to do that again. It was just too much food for me.
After dinner, we joined Julie and James and their friends in the Cosmos nightclub where they played bingo. My "good luck" of a bird crapping on my head at the Trevi fountain in Rome helped Dave (and Karen) win one round of bingo. He wanted to split his share with me, but I said, no thanks. However, he bought me a glass of wine. Mom had already gone to bed by that time as it was getting late. That night the clocks were moved one hour forward and I ended up in bed at "1:30am." Thank goodness the next day was at sea.
17 May 2003 Saturday: Mom slept in while I went up for breakfast, then headed to the Rendezvous lounge to listen to Joyce Adamidis talk about her book. She's the wife of the captain of the ship and has been at sea for at least 20 years. She's had an interesting life and was quite interesting to listen to, especially her stories about passengers and crewmates. After the lecture, I spoke with Joyce for a few minutes. She was very nice and willing to talk to passengers. I told her I would love to buy her book, as I'm sure my Mom would too. I asked if she would autograph the books. Yes! She said we could bring them to the Captain's cocktail party that evening.
In the early afternoon, we listened to Dick Morris (political consultant and ex Clinton aide), who was a very good speaker and quite funny. He even enjoyed his own humor. Dick had three lectures on the cruise. We didn't attend the first one (about Bush and Gore); the other two were on the Clintons, and the Presidential election 2004. During the lecture, he asked if there were any Britt's in the audience. Several raised their hands. He said, "Let's give them a nice round of applause" thanking them for their participation in the war with the US against Iraq. Then he said, "I won't ask if there are any French." We all laughed. After, I headed to the deck and sat in the sun for an hour. An hour is enough since the Mediterranean sun is quite hot.
On the ship, there were jewelry sales. One day they had assorted inexpensive watches for sale, while another day they sold costume jewelry, and yet another day of Greek - silver and gold - jewelry. Mom purchased a pair of gold earrings at a very good price.
I received another invitation in the room from the Captain's Club to attend the Captain's private cocktail party. I was beginning to enjoy these little extras on board. I also received a packet of information with a letter stating "Welcome to the Captain's Club. We had a nice time and sat with Mark and Chris enjoying some wine or champagne. This was our second formal evening. After the toast, people started to leave for dinner. I searched for Joyce and she almost ran up to us seeing we were looking for her. She brought us to meet the Captain and chatted for about 10 minutes while the books were autographed. That was a special moment. She was very friendly while the Captain was quiet.
Shaun and Toni joined us for dinner. Lauren and Anne still hadn't dined with us after the first two nights. Jeff was in full swing that night. He had learned that Toni must have plenty of ice in her drinks, so he arranged for Franky to bring her a glass of ice when he brought out a dish. The finale was a silver bucket of ice. That was very entertaining and we all got a kick out that.
I could barely finish my meal. For dessert, which I didn't ask for any, I received a plate with the word "Nothing" written in chocolate. I thought the covered dish was for Toni with more ice. It was cute. A woman at the next table received the same "dessert." The food was great, but too much to enjoy. I went to the room and wrote in my journal before going to sleep.
18 May 2003 Sunday: Santorini. This is one of my favorite islands in Greece and I was looking forward to returning there. We had a long day, as the ship didn't leave the port until 11pm. I would have preferred longer stops in Florence and Rome, instead of Villefranche and Santorini. After a leisurely breakfast, the group headed to the island on tenders. There are three ways to get to the top of Fira: cable car, walking, or donkey. Toni, Mom and I headed via the cable car while Shaun, Jeff and Robin went the animal route. They got to the top a lot faster than we did since most people opted for the 3 Euro cable car ride. I wouldn't recommend walking since it's very steep and I'm sure there are souvenirs from the donkeys. Fira is small enough for a quick visit seeing all the beautiful jewelry shops and other stores. I wanted to have a gyro at Lucky's but I was still full from breakfast. I should have skipped breakfast!
There are two museums in town, which were free of charge this particular Sunday. Various Greek artifacts were on display. We had drinks at a café near the local bus stop while waiting for the bus to Ia. The bus filled quickly and the ride took about 20 minutes. I loved Ia!! It's a lot quieter than Fira and less crowded. It was quaint with its white washed buildings and blue church domes. We had lunch at Thomas Grill, recommended by the liquor storeowner (where I purchased a bottle of Ouzo) next to the bus stop. The food was excellent and inexpensive. It seem that the entire family cooked the meals in the kitchen. One even showed a few of us the fresh fish available for lunch. Shaun and Jeff were amazed at the total bill. The mousaka was excellent, as well as the Taramasalata (a fish roe dip). The house wine was tasty and the total bill for the six of us was 60 Euros. The owner treated us to a shot of Ouzo.
The town was small so we arrived at the end pretty quickly. We could see Fira in the distance, as well as the ship. I had a problem with my camera, so I opened thinking it had never advanced. I was wrong! I was actually a roll of 36. At least I could load another roll and take all the photos again. We ran into Mark and Chris, who found a nice little spot for lunch along with a fabulous view of the caldera. Prices were higher than our restaurant, but I'm sure it was worth every penny.
Back at the bus stop, we ran into Albert and his group of friends. They had rented a car and were driving to the various areas of the island. In Fira, we split up. Mom and I walked up one area where we could take some great photos of the town; then we had wine and fried calamari at Zafora's while watching the sunset. This corner of the town had many people with their cameras ready for the sunset. I didn't find the sunsets as spectacular as the ones in Hawaii. I also heard they were prettier in Ia. While we were enjoying our drinks and calamari, we watched the men with their donkeys walk up the street in a row. It was the end of their workday. Across the way at Kastros, we joined Julie, James, Dave, Karen, and two other couples for a glass of wine. I was getting cold as the sun disappeared, so I went to a nearby store and purchased a sweatshirt. We left the group and went window-shopping. Mom purchased a beautiful gold pendant. She kept asking me if I liked it since I would inherit it.
A quick cable car ride to the port, we headed back to the ship in time for dinner. Again, it was just the two of us. It was an excellent dinner of escargots; cream of mushroom soup; salad; osso bucco with risotto. I didn't always have dessert and when I did, it was usually a sorbet. One evening they served a mango sorbet that was divine!
The ship left at 11pm and Mom and I had drinks while we watched the lights of Santorini disappear. There was a lovely fruit buffet at the pool deck. The people in line for the food were like scavengers. It was a crazy scene. It was as if they hadn't had a bite to eat all day!
19 May 2003 Monday: This was my third, and last, visit to Athens. I've seen enough! From the deck of the ship I saw a protest going on at the port. I couldn't tell what it was about, but they were holding signs. Our usual group walked all the way from the port to the metro, about 45 minutes. The metro is located near the JVC building and to the left of the tallest building in that area. A taxi would have been much faster, but the cars only held 4 passengers and we were a party of 6. We all split up once we got to Athens. Since Mom and I had been to the Acropolis, we headed to the outdoor market. The market is a great place to take photographs. The FDA would shut this place down in a heartbeat. Meats hung on hooks, including pigs heads, whole lamb, and other delicacies. It smelled of meat and those with a weak stomach should skip this sight.
Mom and I walked over to Syntagma Square and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a hot day, so we took our time walking. We found a shady spot and stopped for a few minutes. We planned to meet up at 1pm with the rest, but that didn't work out. They had too much to see. We had lunch near the metro stop and enjoyed delicious donar kebabs. After, we toured the Agora and walked around the flea market. All kinds of junk were on display for sell, but nothing worth buying and bringing home.
After a short stop for a Greek iced coffee, we shopped in the Placa. I purchased a beautiful gold Greek pendent. Toni said she loved when she saw it, better than my winged lion of Venice pendant. We took the metro back and walked to the ship. This time it took only 35 minutes as we "hugged" the closer side of the port. The port area was very busy with traffic and quite noisy.
I had a terrible time with one of the security men when returning on board the ship. All previous days I requested a hand check of my camera so my film wouldn't be x-rayed. Normally after a couple times saying "please!" they would look at the camera and let me go. I know that after 5-6 x-rays, the film can become damaged. This time the security man wouldn't let me hand check my camera. He was very rude and made the situation uncomfortable. I told him that all other days I had no problem getting my camera hand checked. He finally told me to take my lens off and take a picture. That was impossible without the lens being on the camera. So I put it back on after struggling with it and exposed a shot. The idiot didn't look as I did it and had to take another shot. As I did so, I stated, "You're wasting my film!" Finally I could go through. Mom had already given up asking for a hand check. I went to Guest Relations to complain, but they didn't do anything. At least I told them about the rude behavior.
Again for dinner, Shaun and Toni joined us. Where were Anne and Lauren? That turned into a joke for the rest of the cruise. Jeff decided he wanted to collect all his utensils for souvenirs. Franky went along with the joke and brought him a plate full of utensils. It was another fun dinner. That night we all set our clocks back an hour.
20 May 2003 Tuesday: A day at sea. Mom slept in and I had breakfast with Phil and Edith. Jeff joined us with his coffee. I planned to listen to the disembarkation lecture along with the Dubrovnik lecture. That was one port we were really looking forward to visiting. We passed two islands while at sea.
We went to the lectures, but walked out of the Dubrovnik lecture since it was about shopping. We did listen to Dick Morris in the afternoon, though his lecture wasn't as entertaining as the last one. Since it was our last day at sea, I laid in the sun for an hour. It was a great afternoon of relaxing. The pool deck was crowded with sunbathers.
Just before 7pm and heading to the top deck to see Corfu, there was a knock on the door. Steve, our room steward and a waitress brought in a tray with a bottle of champagne and a basket of fruit. The card simply stated, "From Guest Relations." I suppose that was their apology for yesterday's harassment. I opened the bottle and we had a glass while on deck.
21 May 2003 Wednesday: Dubrovnik was a beautiful port. Our ship docked in the area of the new town close to a modern bridge that reminded me of a sail. Complimentary shuttle busses took passengers to the main entrance of the old town. The town is enclosed with very thick walls, which we walked 2/3rds until Mom got tired. From the top of the walls, we had clear views of the town with its red tile roofs and ocean. The town was impressively clean with granite or marble streets and had been re-built very quickly after the war damaged most of the city in the early 1990's. There was a war memorial, which we visited. Inside, many photos of men who died in the war defending their town were on display. Many were quite young.
We had an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Narona on Ulica Kuniceva, probably one of our best meals while touring. We met a woman in the street passing out fliers to the restaurant. There were several side streets, which had restaurants, but unless you walked those streets you wouldn't know about them. A typical meal starts with an aperitif. We were served a plate of goat cheese and fresh baked bread, followed by large seafood plates consisting of grilled squid, shrimp, a small whole fish (bass?), mussels, potatoes and spinach. We had their house red wine, which we liked. The total bill came to 244 Kunas, $38. The restaurant accepts credit cards. Everyone we met was quite friendly. I think tourism is really growing strong in Dubrovnik. Euros are accepted, so we were glad that we didn't have to exchange any money for their Kuna. I purchased a Dubrovnik charm for my bracelet, while mom purchased a pair of earrings. They were of a typical Dubrovnik design.
When we got back on board, we met a few friends on the 10th deck, aft. There's a nice bar there with tables and umbrellas. We enjoyed afternoon drinks while watching the ship leave the port of Dubrovnik.
Fluffy, white terrycloth robes were provided to all the passengers to wear while in the cabin and/or to purchase them. Many passengers started wearing them between cabin and pool. After a few days there was an announcement in our daily newsletter reiterating that the robes be worn only in the cabin. Jeff decided to have some fun and came up with a plan to challenge the "rule." He thought we should wear our robes to dinner on the most formal evening, the Captains gala. I agreed as long as I saw him and everyone else with their robes. I told him he'd have to convince Mom to participate. I put her on the phone and he explained the "plan" stating she was the only hold out. Without hesitation, she said, "sure!" What a good sport! The funny thing was he also called Toni telling her she was the only hold out.
Our evening started by dropping our robes off in Jeff's room, then we went to the Captain's cocktail/farewell party. We enjoyed champagne and music along with the Captain giving a toast in many languages. After, we met everyone in Jeff's room. There was a problem. Mom and I had run into Anne and Lauren earlier in the day and they stated they would be dining with us. Jeff promptly went to the dining room to "remove" them from our table so that Shaun and Toni could dine with us. He returned and said "Anne and Lauren won't be dining with us." They hadn't dined with us for nine nights! Why now? He made arrangements to have them sit at a table next to us.
We donned our robes and upon seeing everyone else's, Mom and I realized our robes weren't fluffy after all. I took a few photos, and then everyone headed to the dining room. Jeff wanted to walk by the Captain's table on the bottom level (4th deck) but I felt that was a little to much since I met the Captain and his wife the other night. Our table was close to the entrance on the port side. We marched in together hearing several giggles and gasps (from those that couldn't appreciate the humor or were snobs who expected nothing but refinement on this cruise) from the other diners. I tossed my camera to Niel, who had an ear-to-ear grin, and had him take some photos. The plan was disrobe in unison and sit down. That didn't work out smoothly, but the whole thing only lasted a minute. We all laughed and had a great evening. We could see Lauren didn't like what we did and later said to Jeff he appreciated being moved. He must have been one of those who gasped at the sight. Franky was worried that he would get in trouble for moving Anne and Lauren so Jeff talked to the host to explain that it was our idea, not Franky's. We certainly didn't want him in trouble for our fun.
We had a delicious dinner. Dinner ended with the usual Baked Alaska parade. All waiters, including Niel and Franky marched in with the dessert. I was stuffed from dinner, but had a small bite of the dessert. It was very good. The grand buffet was at midnight. Mom and I went but didn't have a bite to eat since dinner had ended around 10:30pm. We took a few photos of the fabulous displays of foods with all assortments of meats, seafood, fish, fruits, breads, etc. Everything was beautifully displayed along with several ice sculptures.
22 May 2003 Thursday: Venice! Arrival time in Venice was at noon, so we slept in a little, had breakfast and packed most of our clothes. Up on deck at 11:00am, we waited to watch our arrival in Venice. That was an experience! We quietly and slowly entered the lagoon of Venice, with everyone on deck shooting away with his or her cameras. A tugboat escorted the ship to port. People in small boats waved to the passengers. Jeff later told me he shot about 300 (or more) with his digital camera, went back to his room to upload them on his laptop computer, and back on deck for more photos. He also told me that rumours were spreading on the boat our "robe" event. However, people were saying there were more than the six of us. We were famous! It was great to be back in Venice, my favorite Italian city, and seeing it from above on the ship was fabulous. It was a beautiful sunny day and the canals were busy with vaporettos and other boats.
The gang (Jeff, Robin, Shaun, Toni, Mom and me) headed out and took a courtesy vaporetto to the Piazza San Marco. The Piazza was crowded with people and pigeons. Everyone except I went to the top of the Campanile. I had been up there twice before, so I sat and wrote in my journal. We walked around the area and ended up at the Rialto Bridge. It was Jeff and Robin's first visit to Venice and I think they really loved the city. We had lunch nearby, which wasn't too bad, but not the greatest. I purchased a small gondola pendent for my charm bracelet and a couple of Murano glass candies to add to my collection. We headed south to the Academia Bridge and then split up. We ran into Niel, who had about 3 hours of free time, at the vaporetto. We returned to the ship at 5:30pm for the last evening on board. Our passports were at the Customer Relations desk and we had to pick them up before 8pm.
Back in the room, we finished packing our bags, then headed to the sushi bar for a few yummy bites. Dinner was just the two of us, but Franky and Niel kept us company. The rest dined in town. We had our photo taken with them as they stood behind us looking like James Bond characters with arms folded and carrying a "gun." We chatted with Niel who would be returning to the Philippines in a few weeks to see his new born baby. He hadn't seen his baby yet. Most workers on the cruise have contracts that last 4 to 6 months without any days off. I couldn't imagine that kind of life, but hopefully they made a decent salary with the tips they received from the passengers. We gave Franky and Niel our envelopes with the tips, hugged them both and said our goodbyes. We certainly enjoyed their services and company.
We both had a martini on deck before heading back to the room for our final packing. Everyone's luggage needed to be out in the hallways by 11pm to be picked up, tagged, and delivered the next morning to the terminal. The gang dropped by to say their goodbye. We certainly had a great time with them.
23 May 2003 Friday: Time to leave our beautiful Millennium. It was a sad morning as our cruise ended after 12 wonderful nights on board with 9 terrific ports that we visited. We were scheduled to depart very early, which I didn't want since I knew our hotel room wouldn't be ready for us until noon. The woman at Guest Relations stated we could depart anytime. We got up at 7am and after breakfast in the dining room, we said our goodbyes to Steve, our room steward, and departed around 8:45am.
A shuttle bus took us to the terminal. Our luggage was easy to find since most had picked their up already. We had waited in the wrong line to take a bus to the vaporetto stop at the Piazzale Roma. We found the correct bus and hopped on board. The ride was only a few minutes. We caught the #1 vaporetto after purchasing our 3-day vaporetto pass. Our hotel was near the Rialto Bridge. It was a short 5-minute walk with only one bridge to cross (thank goodness!) to our hotel and down tiny streets. We dropped off our luggage, took our cameras, and headed out to check out the area. I took Mom to the Rialto Bridge and the vegetable and fish market. We saw beautiful white asparagus on display, a man peeling artichoke hearts, and other perfectly grown vegetables. I held back in taking photos since I have several from my last trips.
We had a nice lunch not too far from the hotel on Calle dei Fabbri. The restaurant had a variety of Cicchetti, which is similar to Spanish Tapas. The place was very small and we were the only tourists.
This restaurant can be easily missed with its small entrance and red drapes covering the windows into the dining room. A man at the table next to us stated there was a larger selection of Cicchetti in the evenings.
Mom and I went back to the room and unpacked our things. Our room faced a small canal and was simply furnished with twin beds facing head-to-head with a table and lamp in between and the sink in one corner next to the window. The floor was crooked, so we had to make sure the closet door was shut tight so it wouldn't swing open. There was a step up to the bathroom, which had an enclosed glass shower stall along with tile on the walls and floor. There was also a small t.v. in the corner. It wasn't the prettiest room I've been in, but for 90 Euros, the place was fine for us.
In the early evening we met Gary, Mike, Betty and Sam at the Rialto Bridge. They were Fodorites I met on line. Gary had already posted a message to meet others in Venice for a fodorite get together. We made plans to meet for drinks and possibly dinner. In the afternoon, I made reservations for six at a restaurant near the fish market. The menu looked very good and reasonably priced. I had peeked inside and saw some delicious Cicchetti at the bar along with men having their lunch.
Gary spotted me first. I saw him, but didn't recognize him from the photo he emailed me. The rest arrived, including another couple, Tom and Teresa. Uh oh, I only made reservations for six. We headed to a café near the restaurant for drinks and had an enjoyable time together sitting outdoors. Tom and Teresa left as they had other dinner plans. That worked out well for us. The rest of us went to Ostaria Sora al Ponte. The food was very good, but Gary was very disappointed with his scallop appetizer. He was served only one!! He said it was excellent, but one? My dish was good (shrimp with polenta), but I had to peel them and that was a mess since they were in a thick red sauce. I thought it came with pasta, but it didn't, so I ordered a side dish of pasta. Mom had an excellent seafood dish.
After dinner, we went our separate ways and Mom and I walked around for a bit. We window-shopped on the Rialto Bridge, purchased watches with a Murano glass face, and then we walked in our area. The city certainly quiets down in the early evening.
24 May 2002 Saturday: I wanted Mom to see the island of Burano, a fishing village, which has very colorful buildings. First we stopped at the post office, which is just around the corner from the Rialto Bridge. We walked to the Fondamente Nuove and took a Vaporetto to Burano, passing cemetery island, Murano, and other small islands. Burano is famous for its vivid colored buildings and for lace making. We window-shopped, purchased some small items, and took photos. A wedding was taking place in the main church, so we hung around the large square with the wedding guests until the bride and groom walked out. They were greeted with rice and cheers from all directions. Continuing on, we walked around the small streets and alleys taking more photos.
It was a very hot day. In the center of town, we had lunch outdoors. I had penne arrabiata and Mom had gnocchi with a meat sauce. Most, if not all, of the restaurants were filled with tourists. I would have preferred a local place. While eating, we saw the bride and groom walking down the street kissing those who wished them well. Since it is a small island, I'm sure everyone knew each other, like one big family.
On the way to the vaporetto to go to Torcello, we stopped in a glass shop. A man was making a small glass fish to be used as magnets. I asked if I could purchase it once it was completed and cooled down. Tony and I had purchased a large glass candy on our trip together in 1998. He let it cool down