Archives for the month of: July, 2008

Sunday was a nice quiet day at sea and our Cruise Compass (the newsletter for the ship) said: “A day at sea can only mean one thing – big fun!” Well, we weren’t looking for big fun, we were just looking forward to a relaxing day on the deck, reading and visiting with each other. We took some time that day to check our e-mails because we were reminded that we would soon be going back to reality and it was better to find out what was going on than to wait until we returned.

The day got off to a leisurely start. I walked around the Promenade Deck in the morning and met Carol and Marjorie for breakfast in the main dining room. As you know from the earlier postings, we were very glad to be able to eat in the dining room rather than in the buffet line. Because it was a day at sea, there were a number of activities scheduled. We went to a few of them but, as I said, we really were looking for a nice quiet day. One of the things we did go to check out was the Olympic Belly Flop Competition. I guess I should clarify when I say we, Marjorie wasn’t interested but Carol and I thought it would be pretty funny and it was. Some of the other activities that day included a yoga class, a tai chi class, a beginning Spanish class, the movie “Evan Almighty,” digital camera tips, a ping pong tournament, a secrets to a flatter stomach class, “who says you can’t cook” cooking demonstration, family bingo, beginner piano lessons. That gives you a sense of the many activities offered that sea day.

It was a wonderful day spent reading, dozing, chatting, and just enjoying the beautiful ocean view and quiet down on the Promenade Deck. Not many people sat there because most people tended to sit up by the pool area. The pool area tended to be noisy with a band and the bars, but there was a pretty regular group of folks who came down to the quiet areas. Everyone respected the fact that we were all there for the quiet. It was a very, very relaxing afternoon.

That evening dinner was formal and we took a formal portrait together, the three of us. There were a number of evening activities, including a mini rumba dance. The show that evening was entitled “Tango Buenos Aires” and it was very fiery, sensual dancing. It was great. We really enjoyed that performance. The movie, “The Bourne Ultimatum” was also showing that night, there was a Texas hold ‘em poker tournament, and the disco had the Rat Pack music hour.

We didn’t attend any of those other things, but we did go to something called the “Battle of the Sexes” game show in the Colony Club. The Cruise Director’s staff solicited people from the audience (men against women) and we thought it was going to be a battle of wits. I was tempted to go up but I’m glad that I didn’t because it turned out to be cheesy things like having to sit on a balloon or pass a balloon to somebody else or a spoon or those kinds of silly games like that. We watched, but didn’t participate. Later that evening we watched the karaoke superstar search. I think I told you before that karaoke on the ship was no different than karaoke locally, that is it can be pretty awful and pretty amusing but there were some surprisingly talented singers. That was a lot of fun. After that we turned in because we knew the next day we had an excursion in Naples.

Day 9 we arrived at Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and the main port of Athens. The night before we watched the preview show and learned that one of the highlights of Athens was shopping. Since we hadn’t done too much serious shopping on the trip so far, we decided to shop in Athens. In fact, we had selected an excursion entitled “Ancient Athens, Plaka and Shopping.” Our excursion book described it as: “Designed for guests who would like a more leisurely visit to Athens, your city drive will take you from Piraeus to Athens covering the main points of interest (both ancient and modern) as your guide provides interesting commentary. First stop will be the pedestrian zone of the Acropolis where your guide will give you a short explanation of the Acropolis and Parthenon (exterior only). From the scenic view, you will be able to photograph the famous Acropolis which stands in the distance on a rocky hill high above Athens. From there you will re-board your coach and go see Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Constitution Square, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Parliament, the Academy, the University, and the National Library. At the end, at the conclusion of your orientation drive, you will arrive at the most suitable point for entering Plaka. Plaka is a maze of cobblestone pedestrian streets with shops, boutiques, souvenir stands and flea market stalls.” We were to have about an hour and a half to shop and that sounded just fine to us. Because our excursion was only four hours long, we each had time that morning to check e-mails, and I completed my morning walk around the Promenade Deck again. Carol and Marjorie stretched out for a little while and read a book. There was a nice leisurely pace to the day.

At lunch time, we went up to the Windjammer Café because unfortunately the formal dining room was not open. As I may have mentioned before, our preference was to go down to the main dining room for meals because there was much less chaos and it was much quieter. We liked the service rather than having to elbow our way through the buffet. We didn’t have that option, so our tactic was to go in to the buffet area, grab a light salad and then go out and sit in the quietest area adjacent to the buffet dining hall.

After lunch we went ashore and boarded our bus for our excursion to Athens. Driving through the city of Athens, I was taken with it. I’m not really sure what it was, it just felt very comfortable. I felt at ease in the city and it seemed somehow oddly familiar even though I had never been there before. It’s certainly somewhere that I’d like to return to visit. It was nice, frankly, to sit on the bus and get a tour of the city. Our route wound up and around a hill with beautiful views of the Saronic Gulf. Suddenly we came around a corner and there was our first view of the Acropolis. It was from a distance, but it still was a magnificent site. I know I’ve said this before in the previous blog entries for this trip, but it’s very difficult for me to express how amazing it was to see all the many sites on this trip that I had read about in books and seen on television or in movies. Each port reinforced the feeling that we truly picked a fabulous vacation for our joint 50th birthdays.
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We arrived at Santorini, Greece, another of the Greek Isles. Now I’m going to give away the punch line up front here. Santorini for us–not so much. Neither of us would return there, but more on that later. The description of Santorini from the Daily Cruise Compass (which I mentioned before was our little daily magazine) said, “Black sand beaches, crystal clear waters and white washed villages that cling to volcanic cliffs make the island of Santorini a wonder to behold. Santorini’s spectacular caldera is a vestige of what was probably the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history, believed by some to have been caused by the disappearance of Atlantis. Make sure you stop at a Santorini wine producer and enjoy a glass of wine” (that part looked promising). We were excited about Santorini, but as I said, “Hmm, Santorini for us, not so much.”

We tendered over to Santorini where we boarded our excursion which was entitled “Pyrgos Village with Mezes and Wine.” It was to be a three hour and thirty minute excursion and we thought that was great because that way we had time to explore on our own afterwards. The night before, we watched the video and it told us “whatever you do, don’t take the donkey path.” The donkeys go from the bottom by the dock up to the top (Fira Town) where the shops and hotels are located. The donkeys have been doing this for centuries and they “own” it… it’s theirs. Apparently, the path was very smelly and slippery and the donkeys play with each other along the cliff. That’s all we needed to hear. We’re not risk takers. One of the passengers on the ship was a little girl whose family decided they did not want to wait for the cable cars to come down, so they walked. As she walked down the donkey path, her sandal got stuck in donkey… well you know. And as she took the next step forward, her foot stepped into… yep you guessed it. She was still crying when we later came across her and her family. We decided that the video had, once again, given us very good advice.

So back to our excursion . . . we boarded a bus and it took us up to the village of Pyrgos, which was a small village that had once been the capital of the island. The view of Santorini from the bus as we climbed the hill and arrived at Pyrgos was really beautiful. The climb up was a little hair-raising though, because the roads are very narrow and twisty-turny and as the bus turned a corner it would cross over into the other lane. The other traffic would stop and let us by, but we thought, “One of these times somebody’s going to come around that corner and cream us.” Fortunately everybody knew the rules of the road. We were very glad that we hadn’t opted to do it on our own, for example by renting a car, because neither of the three of us could have handled that driving or would have wanted to.

Remnants of a Venetian fortress overlooked the village. I have to say that was very, very beautiful. There was also a historical monastery in the Profitis Illias area. The excursion book said that it was closed to tourists, but in fact when we got up there we were able to get in. We took a little time to explore it and it truly had the feeling of a sacred space. Coming down from the monastery, the views of the caldera, our cruise ship and the villages below were spectacular. Once we came down from Profitis Illias, we went back to Pyrgos, a traditional village with old houses and the remains of the Venetian Capital.

It was a hot day again and on our walking tour we climbed up, up, up, but the views were worth it, with the white-washed buildings, the blue sky, the various colored Bougainvillea and all the small churches. It was a postcard picturesque and a photographer’s dream. Our guide explained to us that there were small little chapels all over the island because many of the men who live on Santorini had been or were sailors. They would build these chapels to pray for safe travels and for their safe return. Many of the families owned small, private family chapels and they were beautiful. As I’ve said, it was very much postcard picturesque. I was surprised because it was not at all how I had pictured the Greek Isles. I’d pictured them as fishing villages with boats and nets– more quaint– not bright white with the blue roofs.

After that walking tour we indulged in one of our favorite activities, eating and drinking. We went to a place called Pyrgos Tavern, appropriately named after the city of Pyrgos, where we had a delicious snack. Now I have to point out it was a bit early in the morning, maybe 11:00 a.m., but that didn’t stop us from indulging. We had tomato fritters, fava puree, cheese pies, meatballs, local cheese, tomatoes, and olives. Our cheerful waitress also provided us unlimited wine. It was early, but what the heck, while on vacation, might as well enjoy. It was a nice place, clean, with excellent service, and unlimited wine. Need I say more?

We returned to the bus which headed into Fira Town the shopping district which housed a beautiful cathedral. Rather than shop, we decided to walk around and take pictures because there were so many beautiful vistas. After that because of the heat, we decided to stop and have a little bit of lunch. We went to a restaurant with a great view of the ocean, but terrible food and terrible service, which began our issues with Santorini. It started when couldn’t even get anyone to come to our table to take our order. Once they’d done so, it took a very long time for our food to come. No one never once came back and asked us if we needed anything and our servers had an attitude about collecting our money. That was not a good start.

But more than that, as window shopped the stores in Fira Town, the shopkeepers acted as though they could care less that we were there. They were very disinterested in asking us if we needed anything or if they could help us. Our experience was very, very negative, but what we were later told is that the shopkeepers were very upset because of the number of cruise ships docked there all at once. They preferred it when tourists are spread out over the week. Whatever the issue, the three of us decided that Santorini would not be on the top of our list of places to return. The incident that capped our feelings about it, even though it was beautiful and even though we got great pictures, was this. As we were waiting in the hour and twenty minute line to board the cable car to go back down the hill, we got some cool drinks. There was a pile of garbage and so Marjorie added her cup to the pile of garbage. Well, a shopkeeper came out and yelled at her to remove her cup because that was his pile of garbage and he had the right to have his own garbage, which we thought was, well, garbage. To make a long story short, Santorini, no thanks. We found it to be snotty and unfriendly based on our experience. Maybe we caught it on a bad day.

We were very happy to get up to the front of the line to take the cable car back down to board a tender to the ship. Even I, who have a pretty strong fear of heights, felt it was worth it to experience the cable car. The cars seated six people and I kept thinking, “I hope we are not over the weight limit with our six people.” We invited two skinny people to get in to make sure that we would be fine with the weight limit. I faced backward looking up the hill rather than looking down and that was fine. It was over sooner than you knew. Carol, the engineer in the group, was very calming for the lady sitting next to me also had the same anxieties. Carol talked us through the wonderful engineering feats of the cable car and why we were safe, and that helped a lot. From there, we stood in a thirty-minute line to board a tender. When we got up to the front of the tender line, we saw a table with cool bottles of . . . nope, they had run out. It was torture because we thought there was an oasis, but it was dry. We asked them about it and they said, “Oh, we’re bringing some more cups from the ship,” but by that time, we had boarded the tender.

After dinner, I don’t think there was a big show in the theater. From 8:00-9:00 p.m., the Royal Caribbean singers performed an evening of jazz. That was awesome. If you’re like jazz standards, you would have enjoyed that performance. It was very relaxing after a long hot day in Santorini (never to return). Later that evening we went to watch the “Love and Marriage Game Show” which was a hoot. The activities crew selected newlyweds, people who had been married 10-20 years, 20-30, all the way up to 50 years to participate in a game show similar to the newlywed game. It was hilarious. The couple that won had been married more than 20 years. The questions were quite personal. I can’t believe that people went on stage and shared their business like that, but we were glad they did because it was very entertaining.

Some of the questions were things like “What’s the most unusual place you and your partner made whoopie?” The winning couple’s son was in the audience and he looked to be about 12. The husband said, “Yikes, I don’t want to answer this because my son is out there, but it was on the balcony of our cabin,” The crowd went wild and the son stood and jumped up and down. It was pretty funny. The couple who had been married 60 years was asked the same question. The husband said “in the hammock” and when the wife returned to the stage she said, “That wasn’t me. That must have been somebody else,” and the crowd went wild again. I have to admit, it was pretty funny. It was surprising how much personal information those passengers shared, but we were really glad they did because we really enjoyed it. Following the game show there was a pool side toga party, but we decided “Hmmm, not so much,” and we went to the disco for a little while but then turned in early. That was o.k.; we’d had a pretty full day.

We were already in Kusadasi because we docked there the night before. The exciting thing about Kusadasi (besides being Turkey, which I think is an absolutely fabulous place to visit) was the fact that we would get to go into Ephesus, which has a lot of significance in the New Testament. It was really exciting to be able to go there and to walk the streets that the Apostle Paul walked. We were pretty excited about that. Our excursion was entitled “Highlights of Ephesus with Lunch.” You might have noticed that we tended to favor the excursions with food. What can I say? Our excursion departed first thing in the morning, so we got up early and went to breakfast in the formal dining room (because what fabulous girl turns 50 without being pampered?!) Enough said.

The description of the excursion was a, “tour designed to offer two major sites, the House of Virgin Mary and the City of Ephesus, with lunch. Driving from the pier through the Turkish countryside, you will arrive at the House of Virgin Mary where the blessed virgin is reputed to have spent the last years of her life. The site became famous after the travels of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. Outside is the fountain of our lady, providing the faithful water from the holy fountain, then you’ll take a 20 minute drive to the entrance of the ancient city of Ephesus that was built on a small hill with the entrance located at the top of the hill and the exit at the bottom.” So, off we went and were looking forward to it.

Our tour guide that day was great. On our ride up to house of the virgin, there were lots of olive groves. There was a little restaurant as you entered the area and a well that was fascinating because the opening of the well was dug in the shape of a key. I later learned that actually it wasn’t a well, but a baptistery with a keyhole shape. From there we walked uphill and saw a statue of the Virgin Mary climbed to what is reputed to have been her last home. Currently, a very small chapel occupies that space.

Outside of the house, there was a wire mesh wall in which the custom was to stick tissues and to say a prayer, which would be granted. We each took out a tissue and stuck it in the wall. Afterwards we walked to the Fountain of Our Lady, the water from which was said to be holy. Our tour guide gave us each a bottle of water, a map, a little Roman coin from the time when Ephesus was thriving, and a little clay water canteen. The idea was to take the canteen and fill it with water from the fountain. I just thought, “There’s no way I’m going to get that water home in my luggage and blah, blah, blah.” But I have to say that my friend Marjorie filled up her little clay jug and did just that. I felt really bad that I hadn’t done that because now I have an empty clay jug that really doesn’t mean anything to me. It would have been pretty nice to have water from the fountain. Anyway, I digress.

We headed back down the hill from the Virgin Mary’s house and then proceeded to the City of Ephesus itself. To walk in Ephesus where St. Paul once walked was a surreal experience. Now, I need to tell you it was incredibly hot that day. There was no shade and everything was dusty and dry, but it didn’t matter because to me it felt like reliving or at least experiencing what the folks who had once lived there might have experienced. It was pretty amazing. Our tour of Ephesus was quite long. Our tour guide was smart, she had an umbrella. Needless to say, we hadn’t thought about protecting ourselves from the sun in that way, but we did have sunscreen on (all three of us) and our bottle of water and with that we ventured forward.

As we entered the City of Ephesus, our tour guide told us that it would be a long, long walk and that was fine. As was true of an earlier excursion, we had the earpieces that were synchronized with her. She had a little microphone, the kind that you wear around your ear that wraps around front of your mouth. With that we could hear her even though there were many other tour groups around us. The first thing I noticed was how even though we were looking at ruins, it was clear that there had been a thriving city. We came to a rather large amphitheater and we were told that it was the place where the elite met to discuss the issues of the day. Right after we passed that, we saw a group of nuns and I thought, “If we’re hot in our tank tops and shorts and skirt, they must really be hot!” But we knew why they were there, too. We walked along with our tour guide and we could clearly discern the streets, including the columns had once served as street signs. Every now and then our guide would stop, let us take photos and catch our breath, and look out over the hillside. We saw the carvings on the pillars, written at street level to identify the business and houses. The long view of them was striking. Ancient walls covered with vegetation showed the tenacity of life as well and the tenacity of man’s creations. The walls still stood after all of those years. As we approached the library of Ephesus, we caught our breath. Even though there were throngs of tourists there, they did not detract from the amazing view coming down the hill towards the library.

On the way to the library we were able to see colorful mosaic tiles in the floor. The reason they hadn’t faded in all these thousands of years in the sun is because the tiles were made out of different types of material so that it wasn’t painted, but in fact the material itself held the colors in the mosaic. We saw homes from long ago as we continued our walk to the library, and the pillars along Hadrian’s way. As we continued walking, we came across a latrine and it’s pretty clear what it was designed for. We were able to take pictures of the long view of one of the main streets of Ephesus.

At last we arrived at the library of Ephesus. What an amazing site!. The library at Ephesus was one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. There were between 12,000 and 15,000 scrolls housed there in the Grand Library of Celsus in Ephesus. It was designed by the Roman architect Vitruoya and it was built in the memory of Celus Polemeanus who was a Roman Senator, Governor of the Province of Asia, and a great lover of books. He was buried beneath the ground floor in a lead container inside a marble tomb. A corridor behind the North wall leads to the vault. If you want to read more about the library of Ephesus, take a look at .

From the library, our tour continued past a very large coliseum . Unfortunately some of the members of our group got lost in there for a little bit including two teenagers who were with us. Our tour guide told us that there are still concerts held in that space and I thought how amazing it would be to be there in the evening with a cool breeze watching a performance there. Pretty amazing.

At just about at the end of our tour, we went to, what I would call an incredibly cheesy staging of supposedly Roman fighting or something. It was super corny. I felt a little bit of sympathy for the actors in their very hot costumes, but not too much sympathy as we had to stand there and pretend to be interested. Quite frankly they held up our tour since most of the folks in our tour group watched, while the rest of us were ready to leave and to get another bottle of water or get out of the sun. The “play” was there for tourists and that was great, but definitely if you’re there without a tour group, I would say it’s on the “skip list.” We exited Ephesus shortly after that cheesy show. Near the exit there were all kinds of vendors and we all stopped to buy some souvenirs. Then it was back on the bus to return to Kusadasi.

Once we arrived in Kusadasi, it was time for- well, yes, foodies- lunch and we were thrilled about that. We ate lunch in what looked like a train museum. It was called “The Wagon” and right next door was a minaret form which you could hear the call to prayer from the mosque. Lunch was absolutely fabulous. If you like Mediterranean food, you would have enjoyed this – fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, grilled chicken, very well seasoned grilled beef patties, all kinds of wonderful salads, and cool bottled water. It was delicious. Afterwards we had Turkish pastries. After lunch the bus dropped us off at the area right near the docks in Kusadasi. We had the rest of the day until the ship departed to wander around, so we went shopping. This was our first real shopping outing, but we were a little bit hot, so we weren’t the power shoppers that we usually are. We did manage to do a little bit of damage to our pocketbooks.

A couple of funny stories about our shopping spree. First of all, when we got off the bus we were very dusty because, as I told you, it was very dry, windy and dusty in Ephesus. I had some very flat plain black walking shoes on that were covered in the white dust of Ephesus and as we were walking past a shoe store, a vendor said to me, “Oh lady, your shoes, they are so ugly and they are very dirty, too. Please let me sell you some shoes.” We started laughing like, “Wow, that is maybe not the best approach to selling shoes,” – to tell a customer that their shoes are ugly and dirty, but we got a pretty big chuckle out of that. Then later, as I was by myself (my two compatriots had wandered off to look in different stores), I had meandered down a very narrow shopping passage and the vendor came out and saw me looking at shirts and said, “Hello lady, you don’t like that color? No problem, no problem. We have 1X and 2X. We have every size, every color.” Again, it really tickled me because it’s just not quite the flattering thing to say to someone who is thinking of themselves as “Fabulous at 50.” But he was so enthusiastic that it really tickled me. The last story about our shopping excursion is that the vendors targeted Marjorie and I saying, “Oh Beyonce’s soul sister, hey, come see what we have.” We enjoyed goofing off with them.

From what I’ve seen of Turkey (very limited I admit), I love it. I love the people. They’re warm, funny and colorful. I just love it. After shopping a while, we decided “Whoo, we’re pooped,” so we headed back to the ship. Walking back, a fish vendor offered me a ride on the back of his motorcycle. Our ship wasn’t leaving until 11:00 p.m., so he said, “Oh, come party with me. I’ll bring you back to the ship,” but I just didn’t think it was the wisest choice to make. I did get to take a picture in his fish stall. My friends teased me saying, “You can go with him if you want to, but you’re going to come back smelling like fish,” which again was not the most enticing thought.

We found a lovely little restaurant right by the water with a lovely view and there we ordered Turkish beer and appetizers. It was a great way to cool down and relax after a fun day in Kusadasi and Ephesus. Back on board, we headed down to dinner. This was our second formal night on the cruise. For each of the formal nights, we also took a formal night picture. As we ate our fabulous meal for “Fabulous at 50 women”, we looked out the window and said goodbye to fabulous Kusadasi. It had been a fabulous day. After dinner we went to see Bernard Waltz. He was described as Australia’s winning entertainer and he played a lot of classical piano music. I’m not going to call any names, but I’ll just say that two in our party nodded off during Mr. Waltz. They found him more than very relaxing. After his performance we headed up to the casino (believe or not) with Marjorie and she tested her luck there. Later, there was a nostalgia trivia game (we passed on that) followed by dancing to the hits. We went up to the disco and not much was happening, so we called it an early evening. That was day seven of our cruise and it dawned on us that day that we were more than half way done and we were very sad about that. But we all agreed that we were absolutely fabulous at 50 and that we made a very wise decision to take the our fabulous cruise.

To get to Mykonos, we had to tender over. Mykonos is a Greek Isle with a beautiful blue sea, blue sky and white-washed houses. However, when we arrived at Mykonos, the wind was so wild and high that the tenders were banging against the ship. That morning, I walked, Marjorie played bingo, and Carol read a book. We all met for lunch in the formal dining room because our Mykonos excursion was an afternoon one.

When we looked out the window and saw the tender banging against the ship and I said, “I don’t care what is going on, I don’t want to see anything that badly. I’m not going out there and I’m not getting on that ship.” And in fact, that morning, the Captain had warned us about how high the wind was. There was complete agreement within our group, “Nope, we don’t want to see anything that badly,” and we decided we would stay on the ship. Well, about that time, the Captain came on the intercom to say to all the passengers that we would not be going to Mykonos because the conditions were too dangerous to board the tenders, the winds were too high. He’s decided that it was just not worth the danger to the crew and the passengers. That was fine with us because that meant, “Woo hoo!” another day at sea to laze around and do well, not too much.

So, after lunch we put on our bathing suits, stopped and got some pina coladas, and went up to the top deck with our books. But the wind was too high so we left the top deck and we went downstairs to deck 5 (the promenade deck) which had an overhang. We were able to sit out there for the rest of the afternoon, reading, dozing and watching the sea. It was absolutely fabulous. We later learned that apparently a number of passengers were completely outraged by the fact that they couldn’t go to Mykonos. Our thought was to put all of them on a tender and let them go, but of course that’s not very nice to say.

The Captain came on a little bit later in the day to say that he had worked out an arrangement for us to go to our next port early to make up for the fact that we wouldn’t be able to go to Mykonos. Our next port was Kusadasi, Turkey. For those of you who’ve been blog readers from the very beginning, you might remember that one of the earliest positing detailed my trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I have very warm feelings about the Turkish people and Turkey as a country, and have to say that I was very, very sad about the bombings that occurred in Istanbul this summer. I am keeping the people of Istanbul in my thoughts and prayers as they weather the storm of that horrible tragedy.

Back to Mykonos and not being able to dock . . . the Captain came on board and said that he had obtained the right to enter the port of Kusadasi, Turkey early that evening so that folks who were stir crazy, not including the “Fabulous at 50” crew, could get off the ship and go into Kusadasi that night. Opting to stay on board the ship and enjoy the extra day at sea, we got dressed for dinner. After dinner, we went to the evening show, which was entitled “Now and Forever.” It was songs from Broadway and it was pretty fun. I really enjoyed that show. The show featured the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers and I tell you, they went through all the different Broadway shows. I have to confess, and I know some are going to poke fun, my favorite was the songs from Mama Mia. We were dancing, singing and having a good time! Welcome to middle age, you’ll be there one day, too.

After that we went up to the request hour at the disco, danced a bit, requested a few tunes, then we went down to catch a game called “Name that Romantic Tune.” We weren’t very good at it, but that was o.k. because there were a many current songs about which we had to say, “o.k., I don’t have a clue.” We were thinking (I was at least… I won’t speak for my two compatriots) that the game would focus on the old standards, but there’s romance from every decade and well, I have to admit, we didn’t do too well on the recent decade. We needed the help of a youngin’ to win. The waiters, who were much younger than us, had mercy on us and gave us hints, and in fact answers, but we didn’t want to cheat, so we didn’t yell them out. After that humiliating experience ;-), we went to Karaoke Star Search which was quite remarkable, for a number of reasons. Then we walked out on the deck and watched all the people who were going into Kusadasi and coming back and that, in itself, was a very entertaining site.

Today was a day at sea, which meant rest and relaxation. Not that we didn’t enjoy everything we had seen, but we were ready for a break. That morning, I got up early and walked the promenade on deck 5. You have to do it early because if you get up at 8:00 a.m. or later, sections of the deck were blocked off for maintenance. By getting out early, I could walk the entire length of the ship and look out at the sea in peace and quiet. For some reason, the only people who were up on the promenade deck at that hour were two or three smokers and members of the crew who were making cell phone calls.

Our first at sea day was also the first formal night. The sea days were the fullest days of activity. There were plenty of things to do such as the 9:00 a.m. “walk a mile with the captain and officers,” but by that time I had already done my walking. Plus, the walking deck was located on the top level, called the sports deck, and it had a really short track. The fact that there were people running and sunning, made for a mess. It was much more fun to walk the quiet of deck five. Let me give you an example of some of the other activities.

The casino was open all day beginning at 9:00 a.m. The spa offered services such as acupuncture, steam room, sauna, and teeth whitening. The fitness center was open from 6:00-11:00 p.m. The activities crew offered bingo and family beginner karate class. There was a Fisher Price activity center called “royal babies and royal tots” featuring storytelling, creative arts, play and music. The British hostess conducted a British history trivia context. In addition, there was a belly dance class and men’s sexy legs competition. Caricatures were also available, and we sat for one once we were all dressed up for formal night. Speakers offered a historical lecture on Roman history through archaeology, gourmet cooking, and wine tasting. Anything you could think of was going on that day including a ballroom dance class, an informal bridge session and a number of movies including “The Game Plan” and “Dan in Real Life.”

As I said, that evening was the formal evening and so we got dressed up. Before dinner the Captain formally welcomed us aboard during a reception with champagne from 8:00-9:00 p.m. (and I gotta say that Captain Zini was a hottie). Hope it doesn’t sound sexist, but he really was a hottie. One could have one’s picture taken with him from 8:00-9:00 p.m., but we didn’t do that. We just admired him from a distance and then we went to dinner.

After dinner the show that night in the main theater was Ranotto Pagliari. He was described as an international singing star and entertainer. I’m sorry Ranotto, but he was sort of a cheesy classical singer/comedian. We weren’t really crazy about it and I’m not going to call any names, but some folks in our party actually fell asleep during the show. Later that evening in the Colony Club we watched a game show entitled “Who wants to be a Royal Caribbeanaire?,” which was pretty fun. We thought the questions were pretty easy, but we didn’t volunteer to be participants. Instead, we critiqued and enjoyed. After that, we went and sat in the piano bar for a little while and visited with some of the folks we had met on the cruise and then it was time for bed because the next day we were going to tour the island of Mykonos.

We arrived in Civitavecchia at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. I was so excited to be in Rome, well we really weren’t, because Civitavecchia turned out to be quite a ride from the center of Rome. And, as we found out later that evening, the traffic could be terrible. In fact, 2 or 3 buses of excursions were very late arriving to the ship because they got caught in traffic. All I could think of were the wonderful romantic movies set in Rome, “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Roman Holiday,” and I had a feeling of excitement and romance and beauty and history all rolled up into one. We got up that morning early because we had an all day excursion and we had to depart the ship early. Fortunately the minstrel dining room (which was the main dining room) had early breakfast hours in anticipation of the fact that so many people would be leaving the ship early for the all day Rome excursions. We had a nice relaxing breakfast and then headed up to the theater to depart for our excursions. The procedure for departing were as follows: all the people who were going on excursions for the day would go to the theater and they would tell you your excursion number. For example, say our excursion was entitled, “A Taste of Rome,” so everyone going on excursions would go to the theater and then they would say, “Those of you who are on Taste of Rome, please come forward” and you go up and you’d show them your tickets and they’d give you a bright colored sticker. It might be lavender or orange or green or whatever and it would have a number on it and everybody with that same number would sit in the same area and would then disembark at the same time. It was very organized and then everybody would just go right to the bus for that particular tour.

Our tour, “A Taste of Rome” was a 9 hour and 30 minute tour and it was described in the tour book this way: “This tour is designed for guests who would like a limited guided tour with free time to explore Rome at leisure. The tour begins with a drive through the Etruscan countryside. Once in Rome, you’ll be dropped off at a designated point to explore or shop on your own and have fun in the eternal city. Visit one of the highlights of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, one of Christendom’s most significant churches. Construction began in 1452 on the site where St. Peter was buried. During the next 200 years such famous masters as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini worked on this design and created an unparalleled masterpiece. It also describes St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedral, a masterpiece of classical architecture and the coliseum, an enormous amphitheater where gladiators, Christians and wild beasts once battled to the death.” That gives you a sense of what we anticipated seeing on our excursion. One of the things about the excursions is they’re subject to vary because so many people are there during the summer that the sites get crowded. Sometimes the tour guide will change the order of the sites that we would see. The guide might reverse the order of the tour, skipping certain sites and coming back. We didn’t have any problem with that because it was so, so hot (and when I say hot, I mean it’s really hot) that we were not really excited about standing in long lines anyway, so we thought that was just fine. Because the ride was such a long one, we stopped at the equivalent of a truck stop, it was kind of fun because everything was different. I know that sounds really silly, but I think it’s neat to go into a place and everything’s in a different language. One of the fun things in the store was a revolving rack that had a bunch of American music on it, but it was an interesting mixture of music, like Barry Manilow and Aretha Franklin and Travis Tritt. It’s kinda fun to pick up the papers and think, “I don’t have a clue what that says!” I know, I’m a geek. There was an opportunity to buy cold drinks and things like that and to make a pit stop or to get a cup of coffee and a roll, so everybody poured off the bus and we took maybe a 15-20 minute break there.

We were then back on our way to Rome and we arrived about a half an hour later from that stop. It was, for me, sort of a dream come true and an amazing experience to be in Rome because I had always wanted to see it. I had all these images of what it would be like. As we pulled into the city, I just clicked away on the camera. What’s so fascinating about Rome, similar to when I visited Paris, is how striking the old is versus the new. There were apartment buildings and bustling traffic, and right in the middle of all that was something that was so old that you knew that folks had built it thousands of years ago. I couldn’t help but think that the cobblestones we walked on, people from other millennia had walked on. I know I keep using the word amazing, but it really was an awesome experience. Marjorie had never been before either and she felt the same way I did, and Carol said that even though she’d been before, she was really struck by the beauty of it.

Our first stop on our excursion was the St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedrals and the draw of St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedrals was the fact that it contained a statue of Moses. I have to say that upon entering the Cathedral, I was awestruck. The art was simply amazing. It’s just hard to really say how amazing the Cathedral was. The statue carved by Michelangelo of Moses is very famous, the majestic bearded figure is holding the 10 Commandments. We stayed there about 20 minutes to take photographs. The carving in the marble is so lifelike and realistic that it really is a marvel at how that was done so many years ago. I felt the same thing about the paintings because of the incredible beauty of them and the detail. What I didn’t realize at that time was that St-Peters-In-Chains though beautiful, paled in comparison to the places we would later see. It was just a beautiful experience.

On to the Coliseum. When we pulled up in front of the Coliseum, I just felt struck with a sense of wonder at seeing one of the amazing marvels of the ancient world. Some of the tours were to go inside the Coliseum, but ours simply stopped there and gave us time to walk around the outside. But that was enough just to get a sense of the size and the grandeur of it and to think about the things that took place there. It was just amazing. There were hordes of people and it was super, super hot. There was a group of college students who were dressed in togas as well as guys dressed up in ancient gladiator garb and took pictures with tourists. I want to say it was two Euros to take a picture with them, but we just stood back and took their picture from a distance. We weren’t interested in being hugged by a sweaty gladiator. We wandered around the Coliseum and our tour guide gave us a lot of history about the various pieces of the Coliseum that had been reconstructed and some of the more important events that had taken place there and we were free to wander for half an hour. Very close to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine. The Arch was dedicated in 315 AD to celebrate Constantine’s victory three years before over his co-emperor Maxentius. Our tour guide explained that most of the medallions and the statues and the relics on there were scavenged from earlier monuments. It’s another very striking structure really near the Coliseum, in fact, less than a block away.

I have to say I’m a kind of picky when I take pictures. I don’t mind people in the background, but somebody’s face right in the foreground is irritating, but of course given the throngs at the Coliseum, it was very difficult to get a clear shot. But of course, our bus driver was so awesome, that he violated I don’t know how many traffic laws to get really close to the Coliseum. We all had to run and get on the bus and he would pull off before the police came. All of us were very grateful to get quickly back on the air-conditioned bus without a long trek.

If you are interested in going to Rome to see the Coliseum, there’s a website called and in that it says, and boy this is really good advice, “If you go in the summer time be sure to take water and to wear sunscreen. There’s no protection from the sun and it can be brutally hot and it says, believe me, you’ll be glad you brought water with you” and we were. One of the things that we really liked about the tour company for that excursion was that when we got on the bus, we each had a bottle of water and that was awesome and boy were we glad to have it. For a little bit about the history of the Coliseum and a 360◦ tour, see

After we boarded the bus, we were on our way to the Vatican and the views from the bus were also pretty striking. One of the things we passed while on the bus was the Castel Sant’Angelo, considered one of Rome’s most famous landmarks. It is also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum. We arrived across the street from the Vatican. There was an amazing view looking at the front of St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the most important churches in all of Christendom, at least according to our tour guide. You can see, if you look closely at the picture, each one of those individually carved figures on the top. It was pretty amazing. I know I keep using things like amazing and astounding, but it really was awesome and amazing to see these things in person. We were standing at the outside and looking at the statues around the top right there in St. Peter’s Square. We saw the Vatican guards about whom there is a great deal of history. They were pretty interesting to see. We couldn’t help, though, but feel sorry for them in their uniforms. They looked pretty hot. They are also known as the Helvetians. As we stood in front of the Basilica, I could only think about all the times I had seen news clips with the Pope’s Easter or Christmas message and to stand in that spot! Again, it was pretty awesome. One of the best things about the “Fabulous at 50” cruise was getting to go to a lot of the places that we had always wanted to go. This was truly one of the highlights for me. I must say that one of the places I most enjoyed visiting was Rome and I would love to go back and spend an extended stay there. We entered the Vatican with our tour guide who had was pretty cool little headphones. The devides picked up our tour guide’s transmission so that even though there were tons of tourists and many tour groups, we would set our dial on a certain channel and then our tour guide could talk to us as we wandered about and took pictures. The artwork in the Basilica was just something to behold. You had to wonder, or I did wonder, how those ceilings were carved in such elaborate detail, given the lack of technology or the tools, it was just a site to behold and I took a plenty of pictures. I could not help but be blown away by the details on the ceilings, in addition to all the sculptures and the frescos, just looking up at the ceiling and particularly where the light came through. It’s truly a holy place, I do believe that. Outside of the Basilica there are carvings of both Peter and Paul. The statue of St. Peter that stands outside in St. Peter’s Square holds a long sword in his right hand and his left holds a book and he has a pointed beard and on the book, the inscription in Hebrew is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”, the text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In the right hand of the statue of St. Peter he holds the keys which is the symbol of the power promised to him by Christ in Cesaria Phillipi. In his left hand is a scroll bearing the words “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven” which is based on the gospel of Matthew 16:18-19.

After that we were free to see Rome on our own, so we took off with lots of energy (amazing, lots of energy, given the heat). As we walked across the Tiber for lunch we also saw some of the other sites of Rome. I took a number of pictures of street scenes including a close up of Castel S’ant Angelo which I’ve mentioned before. Our tour guide had given us a little map and told us the best routes to walk. The bridges were not simple bridges. On each bridge were carved elaborate figures as though they were standing guard stuck in stone. We then arrived at the Piazza Navona where we saw the Fountain of Neptune. We were really hot and really tired and really hungry and we thought about eating, but then we decided that the restaurants there were very expensive, and in fact our tour guide had warned us that if we would just walk on we would get to places that were much less expensive. She gave us a very interesting tip: she said if you want to know if you’re being overcharged look at the price of bottled water and it should be no more than 1½ Euros. If it’s more than that, you’re being really overcharged. She said it’s really a place for tourists and that you could get much better food, more authentic food, and much less expensive food if you just continue to walk further. So, walk we did, despite the fact that we were tired and hungry and grouchy, and we did find some very reasonable restaurants. We sat down and Marjorie had a Roman pizza and Carol and I had salad. I had cannelloni and Carol had some ravioli. After that we said, “OK, ladies we have to get a plan.” We only had probably about an hour and forty-five minutes before we had to be back to the tour bus. Now my two “Fab at 50” buddies were feeling the effects of the heat and the humidity and they were just thinking “There’s no way we’re going to do it.” But it’s important if you’re all the way in Rome from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see the things that are important. So, I ran over to a cab driver (and by the way that was a rare site because the taxis were on strike that day) and asked him how much he would charge us for one hour to see those sites. He told us that the ride, in a cool air conditioned cab, would be 40 Euros and we thought $20 a piece was definitely worth it. So we hopped in the cab.

Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain. There is a lot of lore around the Trevi Fountain and so many people had talked about it, including our tour guide. Now I mentioned earlier that every evening there would be a video that would show about the sites of the next port and provide tips about particular destinations. It mentioned the Trevi Fountain so we had to go there, or at least I thought we really should go there. And since we had our air conditioned cab, it was a lot better. The Trevi Fountain is described on a website, so I’ll let you look at that, but it was incredible. There’s a lot of lore around it and our tour guide had told us that everyone goes to the Trevi Fountain to toss in coins. That came from a very famous art film apparently that was made in Italy. If you know what it is, please write in and comment. You can help me. My memory is not that good. Anyway, if you throw in one coin, it means that you want to return. If you throw in two coins, it means that you want a new romance and if you throw in three coins you’ll have a divorce, so given that I was torn about that, I took and threw in one coin to come back and two coins to come back with a new love. We’ll see what happens. No matter what, it was definitely worth getting to see, just incredibly beautiful. Again, very, very crowded but we managed to get some great pictures, then it was back into the cab and we were on our way to the Spanish Steps, another famous site in Rome. At the foot of the Spanish Steps is the famous Baraccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. The Spanish Steps are named after a Spanish ambassador who lived in the square above the steps. They are done in a Roman Baroque style and there are 138 steps. They were built with French diplomat Etienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi in 1723-1725 linking the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See and they are a must see for tourists. There are lots of beautiful shops around there. It’s also a place to sit and hang out if you’re in Rome. There were plenty of people sitting there to have conversations and just hanging out. After that, it was back in the cab and as we drove I snapped a number of street scenes. Then our driver took us to random places before heading back in the cab again to get back to our meeting point for the bus pick up. Lots of street scenes again and then we jumped out and went into a little gift shop to do a little bit of souvenir buying for Rome and I bought my mom a beautiful silk scarf. We didn’t buy too much from there, but mainly used the restroom, got some Italian ice, and waited for the bus to show up. I have to say that we were in a lot better shape than a lot of our fellow cruise passengers. Of course we had a wonderful air conditioned cab for the last hour and a half of our excursion where other folks had been hoofing it around in the heat and humidity on foot. So we were fresh and ready to go and everybody else was pretty tired and pooped out.

We were very much looking forward to the third day because after the break neck pace at which we toured the day beforeAnd they call this room service! in the hot sun, we were ready for something a little more relaxing. Because we had to leave our ship early, we ordered room service, which we woofed down and then went to the theater to await in disembarkation with the other folks in our tour group. This day we were arriving at Livorno, Italy and from there it was easy to get to Florence and Pisa, but we had selected something a little more relaxing which was a wine tasting in Tuscany excursion. That just sounded great to all three of us. I remember there’s a movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun” and the setting was just beautiful so I was excited about being able to be there myself. I have to say that this whole cruise was a dream come true because I had never been to any of the places that the cruise docked and it just felt incredible to be standing in those places. Even though our tour guide the day before had us on a forced mThe Hills of Tuscanyarch through Nice, Monaco, and Monte Carlo, just to be there was amazing. It was places you had seen on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” or in “James Bond”. I know that the movie “The Transporter,” (I believe at least the second one) looks like it was set in that area, the French and/or Italian Riviera.

We were looking forward to wine tasting in Tuscany described in our excursion book as traveling through the Tuscan countryside and visiting a small vineyard that produces wine, which made the region famous. Wine is never in short supply on Italian tables. The country produces some fine wines and Tuscany is the place where wine is tradition. It goes on to say,A Beautiful Field of Sunflowers “driving through the Tuscan countryside, you will admire the soft rounded hills, the medieval architecture of the village, and the silver green of the olive trees mingling with the dark green of the cypress trees.” How awesome does that sound? That’s what we thought, too!

We left on what was to be a four-hour excursion. We got off the boat and boarded our tour bus and departed on a very relaxing drive through the Tuscan countryside. That was one of the biggest draws of this excursion. It was absolutely beautiful. On our drive out to the farmhouse in the Italian countryside, we passed fields of sunflowers which I didn’t realize were grown there, rolling hills, very old homes kind of like almost something that came out of a fairytale, and medieval looking churches. We finally arrived in the rolling hills in the countryside of the farmhouse we were to visit and there were tomatoes growing in the yard, a fabulous vieLook at all the variety!w, a very idyllic setting, and of course vineyards. We entered into the winery which really looked like it was a building attached to the house and we saw the vats where the wine was stored and the daughter of the family gave us a description of how the various wines were made. The tour wasn’t very long, but it was pretty neat just to learn about wine making on a small scale. One of the most fun parts of this excursion, as you might imagine was the actual wine tasting itself. There were a number of sliced meats, something similar to salami but without the peppers, salami and ham and all kinds of cheeses and breads and olives and then on the table were various bottles of the wine. One of them was called Trebblano and another one was called Montecradoblanc. All the wines available from the small winery were on display in the dining room area where we had our wine tasting and our snack. After our wine tasting we were free to wander the estate for a little while and then back on to the bus for the ride to the cruise ship and back through the countryside.

On the way back to the ship, because it had been such a relaxing day and the views of the countryside were so beautiful, a lot of the folks on the bus tended to take a littleViews from the ride nap. It was just too fascinating, so I felt like a compulsive picture snapper, but it was just so amazing to be there that I wanted to capture all I could of that experience. We didn’t buy any wine because we didn’t want to have to deal with taking it home in our suitcases because as you know there’s so many restrictions on the amount of liquids you can take on to the airplane.

That evening we had made reservations to experience intimate Italian dining (in the words of the cruise ship) at Portofino. On the cruise ship you could have the regular dining and I think I mentioned before you could go upstairs and have the buffet. They also had two specialty restaurants, which had a $20 additional fee to eat there, but promised to offer an upscale meal and exquisite service. We decided to try the Italian restaurant while we were in Italy and in fact the meal was fantastic. I’m really frustrated for the foodies out there that I didn’t keep better track of the food, but you couldn’t take the menus out of the dining room and I didn’t have any way to keep track of all the various meals we had. For the next one, I will probably just take a little notepad and jot down some notes because part of the fun of cruising is the fabulous meals that you have on ship. Click here for an example of a menu from Royal Caribbean on international sailing. Every day when you got the little daily planner that I mentioned before, it would tell you what the dress was for dinner, so it might range from casual, smart casual, formal, like that. Well we set the standard that we always wanted to be smart casual at the very least, so we looked very spiffy as we went to dinner at Portofino’s.

Anyway, back to the story, we went to Portofino’s for dinner and it was absolutely fabulous. By the way, everyCheers! evening you could tune in on the TV in the cabin and watch a video about port and shopping information for the next day’s port, so what we would generally do is turn that on as we got dressed for dinner so we would know what to expect the next day, what kind of things to look for, and even what things to look out for. It was a very helpful way to prepare for the next day because our next day we arrived at Civitavecchia, and from that port we were going into Rome, so we really wanted to be prepared for that trip.

That evening there was a Salvador Dali art exhibition, a show by a guy named Gorony Thom and he was hilarious. He was sort of a comedian juggler and when we looked at his posters we thought, “Oh, boy, lame” but it really wasn’t. He was hilarious and we had a lot of fun with his show. He really was a hoot. After that we went to play a game called the “Finish that Lyric” game show up in the Colony Club at 10:30 p.m. and there was also dancing with the hits that started at 11:00 p.m. up in the disco, and karaoke fun time at 11:15 p.m. Karaoke was, as karaoke is anywhere, pretty amazing and for the most part pretty awful and pretty funny. We then realized we had a long day ahead of us in Rome, so we headed down to the cabin to get some rest for the next day.

Just to give you a sense of some of the activities that take place on the ship, we of course didn’t go to all of these: there was a gathering for solo travelers, a Pictionary tournament, they showed the movie “Harry Potter 5” in Spanish as well as the “Bourne Ultimatum,” there was British TV trivia for the passengers who were from England, a honeymooners reception, a digital camera sale, and an adult shuffleboard tournament that evening. There was always a lot to do and as I mentioned before, starting at 5:30 p.m. there were nine different varieties of music available to passengers.

Today we arrived at Villefranche, France. Villefranche is a small, coastal town, located in the Welcome to Villefranche!heart of the French Riviera, which stretches from St. Tropez to Menton on the Italian border, and includes the cosmopolitan towns of Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo. The Riviera, often referred to as the Côte d’Azur, has beautiful beaches and pleasant climate, and it is a major tourist resort. The hill-sides surrounding it contain many small, fortified towns which still retain much of their medieval character. There’s different ways that you leave a ship to go into see the various places. One is to tender over and a tender is a small boat that holds mA View of the fortified townsaybe 60 people (I don’t know, I’m guessing). That is where the port is not big enough for the ship to come over. The other way is where the ship docks and you just come down the main way and walk right on to the pier.

As we got into the tender we sat upstairs and we had met a young lady named Claudia and as the four of us sat there and took in our first real day at sea, all I could think was how amazing it was to be there and how very, very beautiful the scenery around us was. Every day the cruise ship would put out a little mini newspaper with the day’s activities called the “Cruise Compass” and it described our stop in Villefranche as the gateway to the one of a kind French Riviera home to Monte Carlo and Nice, shaded by jagged moA view of sailboats from out tenderuntains touching the blue shores. The French Riviera offers sunny beaches, sophisticated resort cities, quaint red roof villages and spectacular views. We had selected an excursion and the excursions are little day trips that you take from the ship that are sponsored by the cruise ship and they take you around to see various places that are in close proximity to wherever it is that you stopped for the day. We had picked for this port theStreets of Nice excursion entitled, “Nice, Eze and Monaco.” It was fabulous. We very much enjoyed that excursion.

We started out in the morning by going to Nice. Nice is just 3 miles from Villefranche and is known as the capital of the French Riviera, its main attraction being its location, right in the middle of the Côte d’Azur. In Nice we did a little bit of touring on the bus and after a while we parked the bus and we got off and we were able to go to the flower market there. Nice was incredibly beautiful. It was easy to know why the rich and famous love to winter there and the description of the excursion said that it is one of the favorites of the jet set, so we spent about half A View from Ezean hour walking around the flower market. The flower market was incredibly beautiful and it had all kinds of food, fare, art and pastries.

We then got back on the bus and headed for Eze. On the way to Eze we stopped and got some beautiful, beautiful pictures from the mountain road on the climb to Eze. Eze is a charming medieval village that is perched on a cliff 1400 feet above the Mediterranean and the views were spectacular. Looking back over Villefranche and Beaulieu. You have to walk through the village on foot because it had very narrow cobblestone streets and on those streets, they sort of twisted and turned up the hill and were very steep by the way, and there were little restaurants and shops and galleries Accordian Playerand that was pretty neat and on the top was a beautiful garden. You had to work to get there, it was quite a hike, but when you got up there the views from the top were just spectacular. You could come down from the garden and there was a very beautiful old church there and then after we came all the way back down to the bottom, we had lunch in a little restaurant named Du Chevat Blanc and inside there was a guy playing the accordion and he just kept hanging out at my table. He was pretty funny. He sang songs that he thought I would know, but of course I didn’t know them or they weren’t my favorites. He was very sweet. For lunch we had wine (therThe Cathedral where Princess Stephanie was marriede is wine everywhere) and cheese and olives and then we had sort of like a stewed chicken and a pastry for dessert.

From there we boarded the bus and went to Monaco and walked around Monaco for a little while. Our tour guide took us to see the church at which Princess Stephanie was married. We also saw the homes of some of the royalty. We went into a beautiful little garden area around the Rock of Monaco, the wall city overlooking the sea. It was really cool.

From there we went to Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo is 6 miles from Villefranche and it belongs to the Principality of Monaco and is governed independently, although the way of life is distinctively French. Known as the play-ground of the rich, it is famous for its wealth. MonLook familiar??aco is ruled by Prince Rainier III, a direct descendant of the Grimaldi family, who has reigned since 1275. In Monte Carlo we saw the Grand Casino and there was like a little sculpture garden in front. It was amazing to be in Monte Carlo because I never thought I’d be there. All I could think of was the James Bond movies where he would go and gamble at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. We didn’t go in because we weren’t gamblers, but I have severalCute outdoor cafe' where we took a pit stop pictures of the outside of it. It was very clear that this was the playground of the affluent. Unfortunately, it was so hot and everywhere where went that day was uphill and it was a very long excursion- eight hours and thirty minutes. By that time, the crew was cranky, so we went into an outdoor café that had a mister and had Italian ice and also some cold drinks and just caught our breath a little bit. We then walked back down and got on the bus and from there we rode back to the dock and took the tender over to the ship. It was a full day and a really, really neat day.

When we got back to the ship we were hot, sweaty and tired and we couldn’t wait to shower and get dressed for dinner. We went to dinner early that evening. The evening’s entertainment was The American Drifters in the Main Theater and also that evening there was a movie entitled “The Game Plan,” a digital camera demonstration, dancing to the hits in the disco, and a Majority Rules game show in the Colony Club.

We asked the night before whether we could hire a driver to take us around because we only had so many hours in the day before we had to be on our cruise ship. The cruise ship was to depart at 7:00 p.m. and you had to be on by 5:00 p.m. and we wanted to try and see some of Barcelona before we left. We had left a note for the morning clerk asking whether we could hire a driver, so Friday morning we were awakened by a call from the front desk informing us that to hire a driver for three hours, it would cost us $450 US dollars, plus $80 US dollars for any hour that went over and $23 for the driver’s lunch. We opted to learn the metro instead, but then we found out that we could walk to what we really wanted to see. We also found a lovely little restaurant on the main floor of the hotel and sat down and had breakfast. Our waitress was a delightful young lady who told us how much she loved gospel music and that there were large popular well-attended gospel concerts all over Barcelona. To our surprise and delight she even sang “Oh, Happy Day” for us, so we were off to a very special start that morning. The breakfast, for the foodies out there, had ham, cheese, croissants, scrambled eggs, sausages, quiche, all kinds of breads, fruit, peach, orange and pineapple juice, yogurt, and cereal. As you can imagine, we were good to go once we finished eating breakfast.

Roman Wall and Defense Towers

Roman Wall and Defense Towers

We took off walking and just photographing interesting street scenes, there was just so much to see. One of the first things we came across was an old fort. There’s a picture of it, along with the sign in front and it says, “Roman Wall and Defense Towers” and we took a number of pictures there. And, you know me foodies, I took a picture of the little sandwich shop across the street. We then saw a great massive cathedral under construction and we came across the equivalent of a Spanish flea market and in the back of the flea market was a group of guys playing a guitar and singing and that was pretty fun. After that, we continued up the street and we found a pretty neat souvenir shop, so we did a little bit of souvenir shopping (actually I didn’t buy anything) and Carol and Marjorie found good things to take to the people back home. We headed on our way after purchasing souvenirs. It was so marvelous being in a city so old and the architecture was amazing. At one point we came across a building with, I don’t even know what this technique is called, but it looked like there were women in a Greek style carved into the outside of the building. We also came across a store called “Very Cheap” and I thought that was pretty funny, and a statue of a very stern looking man with a pigeon sitting on his head, which was pretty funny. It was then time for the first serious shopping stop. We went into a purse and leather goods store and I have to tell you that Marjorie loves purses, so she purchased a purse. It was pretty. It was black and white and it’s kinda hard to describe. It’s really pretty, though, and unique, and on we continued on our meander. We ended up bumping into the University of Barcelona and we went inside and took several pictures there and boy did it have the feel of a campus. Even though, of course, we were in a totally different culture, a campus is still a campus.

I have to say thanks very much to my two traveling companions because I’m sort of the geek who likes to go and visit other schools, even on vacation. Anyway, after leaving the University of Barcelona, we set out to look for the Gaudi Buildings and Antoni Gaudi was an artist whose work is very elaborate and it is from his name that the word “gaudi” is taken, so having never seen those we set out to do that. When we arrived at the first Gaudi Building, there was a small crowd outside taking pictures and it was immediately apparent why they are so fascinating. It’s really hard to describe. You can see the pictures here in the blog and I think I’ll let his work speak for itself. Say this, it certainly is distinctive. After we saw the smaller Gaudi works, we headed out to see Barcelona’s most famous sight and that is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. That name means the church of the holy family and it was designed and partially constructed by the master architect who I mentioned before, Antoni Gaudi, and it later became his most famous achievement. He spent 43 years of his life working on this incredible project beginning in 1883 working until the day of his death on June 10, 1926. Gaudi designed it with the intent of creating a 20th Century cathedral using visual symbolism to express the many mysteries of faith. His plan had three facades symbolizing birth, death and the resurrection of Jesus. Work on the church continued after Gaudi’s death and it continues today. The current design is based on a combination of reconstructive versions of Gaudi’s original plans that were lost in a fire and modern adaptations. It was an incredible sight to see and I’m not sure the pictures that I have really capture it, but they at least give you a sense of the cathedral.

After seeing the cathedral, yikes, we were short on time! We had arranged for the front desk to call a taxi for us to take us to the cruise boat and we were about 10 minutes away from the time we were supposed to meet the taxi. There was a taxi stand around the cathedral, and we hopped in a taxi and directed him to hurry back to the hotel where our taxi was awaiting to take us to the cruise ship. We had to order a mini van to fit all of our luggage to go to the cruise ship. Our taxi driver was very gracious about our last minute arrival and cheerfully helped us load all of our luggage into the mini van taxi. Now I know some of you are wondering or “tisk tisking” at the fact that we had so much luggage, but in our own defense, our entire trip was 14 days, the cruise was a 12 day cruise which meant you needed day gear and nice attire for dining. There were also three formal dinners during the course of the cruise, so quite frankly that was a lot of stuff. Anyway, I just had to say that in our own defense. As I said, we liked our taxi driver, he was very cheerful. When we got in the cab we took it as a good omen when the music he was playing was a Barry White CD. We just cracked up laughing and then we sang all the way to the ship, so when we arrived at the dock we were in the best mood ever and the taxi driver got a nice fat tip and he even sang with us. It was a hoot! What a good omen for what our journey would be like.

Now if you might recall, I told you that we had trouble printing Marjorie’s sea pass, but that was no problem because she had completed the on-line process and she was sharing my cabin and so we were able to pull up her records and we were on the ship with our sea pass in no time. For those of you who haven’t cruised, the sea pass is a little card that serves as your ID card every time you get on or off the ship. It is like the size of the cards that hotel doors have, it opens your room door, and it’s also your charge card for everything on the ship. There’s no cash used on the ship, except in the casino, which really wasn’t our issue. You use your card to buy drinks or to buy whatever at the shops, so all you need on the ship is your sea pass. What happens is that when you register on-line, you register a credit card and everything you buy is charged to your credit card, so it’s kinda convenient, but you better not lose it. So, as I was saying before I digressed, we got on the ship very easily and then you had to wait for your luggage to be delivered so we decided to go and have a late lunch. We went up to the Windjammer Café on the 11th floor of the ship and is very casual dining with a buffet style dining area. I have to tell you that we tended to prefer the dining room and to haveThe Windjammer Cafe food served. One of the reasons is because the Windjammer Café tended to have a large number of young children and teens who reached and grabbed and also it tended to be really hectic when there were a lot of people up there. If you just sat down and had your lunch and ordered off the menu and had it served, that was a lot quieter and a lot nicer. Anyway, that wasn’t open, so we went to the Windjammer Café and we had a light lunch and we went back down to our rooms to explore the cabin and to begin to unpack our many, many outfits. I forgot to tell you that the name of the ship was the Brilliance of the Seas. It’s a Royal Caribbean ship and our cruise was a 12-day Mediterranean cruise.

After we got our suitcases and had finished unpacking, there was a sail away deck party and we went up for that and then we had to run downstairs and hurry and get our life jackets for the life boat drill. The lifeboat drill is pretty dreadful. It’s necessary, I understand it, but it’s always yucky. What you do is you go in the closet, you take out a life vest. Each cabin has life vests that are numbered with the number of the cabin and then you go up to the promenade deck, which on this ship was deck 5, and you stand in the sun while the captain reads the instructions for an emergency and how to get on the life boat. The other problem is that you have to wait until all the guests in your staging area show up and there’s always some folks who don’t show up on time for the drill and we have to stand there and it was pretty hot that day in that hot icky sweaty life jacket. I know that it’s important to do and had we needed it, we would be glad that we had gone through the drill.

After the drill we went downstairs, took showers and got ready for dinner and we had opted for what is called the “my time” dining which means that we could eat at any time from 6:30-9:30 p.m. We did that because the length of the excursions, which are the trips at the various ports, differ depending on what we were doing that day and we wanted the flexibility to change our dining hour. We went down to dinner and foodies you are going to kill me, but I did not keep records of the fabulous meals. Let me just say that at each meal, there were at least six appetizers, six entrees, six desserts, as well as salad and soup. It was fine dining indeed.

After dinner, we went up to the Pacifica Theater, the main theater on the ship, for a welcome aboard show and that was really fun. On the cruise ships, they have Vegas/Broadway style shows with dancing and singing, comedians, and magicians. We even had some hangul dancers. Every night there is a show and the first was sort of a welcome aboard review and it was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed it. Afterwards, we went up to the disco for the Motown hour and it was kind of lame so we left. There weren’t very many people up there and the music was not that great. We walked downstairs and went to the Colony Club, which was another one of the nightclub areas, and they had a karaoke kickoff and that was hilarious. We got to watch everybody sing karaoke and then we went back up to the disco for the 4th of July bash and there was champagne that night. That was a pretty full first day on the ship, and we went to our room to rest for the next day.

Here’s a little bit about the ship and what was available. There were a lot of venues for music and dancing, so for example, there was music by the pool with a group called the Tropical Duo, which was a steel drum player and a guitarist. There was a group called The Souled Out Show Band. We called them the SOLD, sold out because they were terrible the whole time. We didn’t go back to see them. Then there was a Graces High Society trio, which was a little string trio. There was always a dj on the discotec and there was something called the Venus Duo, which was a guy who played sax and a pianist, so there was something for everyone in terms of music on this ship and that wasn’t even everybody, but there was also a piano bar.