Italy Blog

Tony & Mary’s Mediterranean Adventure

Mary and I decided to go to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We found out that Carnival Cruise Lines was launching a new ship. We decided to splurge and book the Penthouse Suite.

Cannes France

Itinerary

These are the ports that we visited

Liberty Penthouse Suite

This is a view of the Penthouse Suite.

Penthouse Suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows with a door that opens to a private balcony, two twin beds that convert to a king-sized bed, sitting area with TV, VCR, minibar, minifridge, sofa, safe, closet, dressing area, and a private bathroom with shower, whirlpool tub, and hairdryer. Square Footage: 345 sq ft Balcony Square Footage: 85 sq ft

September 29, 2005

Made it to Italy! We are sitting in a bar using an Italian keyboard… Very odd. We had an uneventful trip. We are going to dinner and then to try to tell our bodies that it is OK to go to sleep at 7:00 in the morning.

More from the ship tomorrow.. Tony & Mary

Day One

OK… We made it to the ship. We had a Town Car pick us up at home. We took Mister Toad’s Wild Ride to the airport. What the …? We were in no hurry. We got to the airport and kissed the ground.

When we left San Diego we were told that our flight was delayed 1+ hours. They told us that in order to make the connection in Dallas that we would need to take an earlier flight. This flight had no First Class seats so we would have to travel with the ‘regular people’ – Crap! We hate regular people.. Wanna buy a snack pack for $5? Hey, bite me!

OK we get to Dallas and decontaminated ourselves in the Admiral’s Club. Next, 6 cowgirls carry us on a magic carpet to the next leg to London – Gatwick. Business class on a Boeing 777, pumpkin raviolis, life is good! At Gatwick we transfer to a First Class flight to Rome on a 737?? OK, we arrive in Roma.

This airport was designed by Ozzie Osborne. What a mess. All we have to do is walk to the Hilton Rome Airport via the bridges. We make it after a few wrong turns. We got to the Hilton at about 7:00 P.M. I had stayed awake as much as I could to try to thwart the onset of jet lag. Mary can sleep through a war so she will be OK.

We went downstairs for dinner. We had caprese and a margarita pizza. Unbelievable! The best that we have had.. In a hotel!?! This will be a great trip. We took a 6 hour tour on the way to the ship today. First we had to walk back over to the airport to meet the bus. After an hour of walking around we finally found the tour desk. We were off to the Vatican City. We went through The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Church and Square.. This was kind of spooky after just seeing the new Pope being elected. This was an awesome place.

On to the ship. Holy crap! You can see this thing from many miles away. 3,000 passengers. This is going to be an incredible cruise. Mary started to fade quickly so we went to the pizzeria for a quick bite after touring the ship. Mary went to bed so I tried out the in-room whirlpool. Very, very nice. This room has 3 closets, a 12 foot sectional, a dressing area, and a bathroom, with a Jacuzzi tub and what I thought was a drinking fountain. Mary told me that this was really a place where I could deep clean my facial pores. Look here.

Tomorrow is Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

Ciao for now, Tony B

Man.. The Italian women are molto bella!! Hot hot hot!

Day 2

We had to get up early for our tour of Sorrento, Positano and the Amalfi drive. We drove through Naples, past Mount Vesuvius to the town of Sorrento. Sorrento is an awesome little resort town on the cliffs to the South of Naples. They have a bunch of grand hotels overlooking Vesuvius and the island of Capri. Here we shopped and had a great lunch.

Next we headed out to the Amalfi Coast. This reminded us of the California coast near Big Sur only more beautiful. The roads are very curvy, something like 1000 curves. We were in a 50 person luxury motor coach. There apparently are very few driving laws in Italy. Scooters speed in and out of traffic like torpedoes. In most places there is not enough room for a car and a bus to go in different directions (much less 2 motor coaches) – All of the coaches have scratches all the way down the sides. In some places we met head on and one driver had to back down and back up. When we had a clear road the driver would fly around these corners. Some women in the back would look over the side and scream. It was awesome!

The Amalfi Coast is home to the rich and famous. Positano is a vertical town. There is only one street. The locals get around using stairs. This is just a breathtaking area. My favorite was the Town of Amalfi. It sits down at sea level and then the shops wind their way up the hill. Mary and I had some gelato and then sat at a café on the water for some liquid refreshments. We were people watching when I notice our bus was full of people. Our guide, Rosario, was in front of the bus waving his flag screaming “NUMBER FOUR!!! NUMBER FOUR!!!” – We thought he said 3:30 but he had said 3:20.

Here is the picture that Mary took 30 seconds before – Click Here OK, back on the bus we headed to Salerno and then back towards the ship.

Once back on the ship we sat out on the balcony and watch Vesuvius as we sailed south. We then went to the Silver Olympian Room for dinner. We had a really good meal and then went to see a show in the main showroom. We didn’t make it back to the room until after 1:00 in the morning. I can’t believe that Mary stayed up that late.

Tomorrow… A day at sea as we sail south through the straights of Messina, Sicily, past Mount Etna, around the boot of Italy on our way to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

More later.. Pictures: Here

Day 3

We woke up to find ourselves sailing through the Straights of Messina. We had breakfast and watched Mount Etna as we passed by. We spent the day sailing around the ‘boot’ of Italy. The day was very relaxing and uneventful.

Last night dinner was one of two semi-formal nights. Crap! I should have had my picture taken so that I could have replaced the horrible picture on the about us page on http://A-Z.com – Looks like I just saw the Holy Ghost! We dine at a table for four and the other people are very compatible with us. We had a very good time with them. After dinner we went to the 10:30 Vegas-style show. Mary fell asleep so I herded her back to the suite and then went out.

I watched the rest of the show and came back to the cabin. I put my ‘key’ in and the door wouldn’t open. What the?? I went to the Purser’s desk and she told me that my ‘key’ must have become un-magnetized. She burned me a new ‘key’ and wished me a good evening.. OK, I get back to the door and nothing happened.. I knocked but I knew that you can’t wake someone up who is in a coma. After 30 years I know this well. OK, back up to the Purser. She doesn’t know what is happening. We call the cabin.. Remember, it is hard to wake someone up from a coma. Nothing… She calls the Room Service Manager to meet me at the room. By the time I get down (up??) the 4 flights she is waiting. She puts the key in the door and nothing. She tells me that the door is locked from the inside. They can’t open it unless I know that it is an emergency. OK.. I wish her well and bid her a good evening. Fine time for me to decide to stop taking Prozac.. Chicks…

I remember that Top Gun is playing on the 270 sq. FOOT outdoor big screen. I headed aft, calling the room on each white courtesy phone along the way. I finally left a voice mail for my dear bride, got a soothing beverage, grabbed a blanket and went out and laid on a chaise lounge and watched Top Gun. Still a great movie. At about 02:00 the movie ended. I started back to the room, found a white phone, no answer.

I found the soft-serve ice cream machine. They have these miniature cones to make you feel good about it. Screw that! I found a humongous cereal bowl and did some serious testing of that machine. After the worst case of brain freeze EVER I continued on the stateroom. I use every white phone along the way. I got to the door, nothing! I pounded, nothing! Back to the Purser. I come around the corner and she says “Oh My! You’re 7288 right?” “That’s me!” She picked up the phone and dialed 7288. She says “are you Mrs. Beecher? – Please hold for a moment” and passes the phone to me. I said in my most gentle fashion “Sweat wife of mine, please kindly unlock the security lock on the door” (Cleaned up for the feint of heart people reading this. OK, 02:30 I am safely back in the room.

The good news… The next day is possibly the best day I have ever had with Mary. She did everything possible not to piss me off ALL DAY!.

That is it for this long, long day. Tomorrow is Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Pics from today are: Here

Day 4

Day 4 finds us waking up at sea. We went down (up? Whatever…) for breakfast and prepared for Venice.

Coming into Venice was breathtaking! It was about 1:00 when we could see Venice. The ship is taller than all but the highest towers. The view from the ship is wonderful. The people on shore were taking pictures of our ship. It must have been quite a sight. We came right up to St. Marks Square before turning towards the dock.

We got off the ship and headed to the Piazzale Roma square to pick up a vaparetto (water bus) to take us to St. Marks. A vaparetto holds maybe 75 people. There were about 100 on ours. We took the 82 express which only stops at a few stations along the way. We went through the Grand Canal looking up the little ‘streets’ where gondolas and motorboats were wondering. The Grand Canal, like most things Italian, is crazy! Little boats dodge the vaparettos, gondola drivers yell and shake their fists at each other. Totally nuts.

Our first stop was the Piazza San Marco (St. Marks Square). It was like being in an Italian movie. The pigeons (flying rats) were everywhere. Ten’s of thousands of them. People were buying a bag of ‘rat food’ for 1 euro and walking out in the middle of the rats. These things would go crazy and get in people’s hair, line up on their arms and flap like crazy. Gross!!

It was too late in the day to get in the line to get in so we looked around and started walking in no particular direction. We found a little trattoria (restaurant) and stopped for pizza and a drink. You sit on a table outside and watch life happen. We always picked places where most of the people were locals. At one place an Australian couple were waiting for the check (which takes forever) and were very impressed when I spoke to the waiter (they are busy and refuse to look at you) and said “Mi scuzi, il conto, per favore” and pointed to the couple. Bam! The check was produced. Hero worship, I love it.

It was starting to get dark so we decided to head in the general direction of the ship. It was at least a mile away but we were in no hurry. We were taking in the Venetian life. We had a little light rain but who cares! Every once-in-a-while we would look at the map and try to figure out where we were. When that failed, and it failed often, I would just walk up to a local and in my best Italian ask them where is whatever. They would fire back a bunch of words at a very rapid pace. I would nod my head and wait for them to point. I would smile and say “grazie” and Mary and I would head out in that direction,.

Venice is the perfect city to just get lost in. You can walk through a walkway not much wider that your shoulders and then it opens into a local square. Awesome! Well we found our way back to the ship and went to the cabin and passed out.

Day 5

Today we got up early and headed out. We took a vaparreto to the Rialto Station, walked over the Rialto Bridge and ended up at the Rialto Market. Oh my! Fresh everything, fish, veggies, meat, dead chickens, cheese. I want one of these near my house. I was looking at a huge pile of shrimps (that is what they call them) and realized that they were moving. Now that is fresh!

We found a local cafe for ‘un caffe’ and a pastry. We stood there and ate like the locals. My caffe (espresso) must have had the caffeine of 6 regular cups of coffee. I was supercharged.

We hopped on the vaparetto and cruised down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. There we went through the Basilica and Doge’s Palace where we saw the Bridge of Sighs. This is a bridge going to a prison. It is said that you would hear the sighs of the prisoners as they got their last view of the outside world. We then decided to find our way to the Sal Polo district.

We wandered (and wondered) around finding many great sites. All of a sudden we came upon Campo Di Santa Margherita. This is a medium sized square where mostly locals hang out, There was a trattoria, fish monger, veggie stand, bread store, bank and grocery store. This is the perfect place to live. We ate at the trattoria and watched life in the square. The fish monger was done for the day and then as if on request a ton of very well behaved sea gulls came in. This lady threw the fish waste out to the waiting gulls. As we left, I approached the fish monger and asked (in my perfect Italian) “Where is an ATM?” She looked at me life I was nuts and said “Bankomat??” I said “si! si!” She then pointed to the bank that was 3 feet behind me. Mary is still laughing.

Well it is time to say Arrivederci, Venice. As soon as the ship left the dock is started to rain like crazy. We sat on our deck and watched Venice move by. It was a very sad moment. This is a city to return to again and again. It was a tearful time as we left Venice behind. I have been having some bad cramping in my legs. I can’t imagine why?? I am in such great physical shape! Well Mary went up and made an appointment for my fist ever massage. Well that was a great thing. I may have to get another one soon.

That is it for today. We had dinner and went to bed.

Day 6

Ah! Another fun day at sea. We woke up late, went to breakfast and people-watched. Mary had a massage and returned as a jelly fish. I went to a show by the cruise director. His name is John Heald. He is reported to be one of the best in the industry. He is a Brit with a bawdy sense of humor. Whenever he does a presentation he makes you cry from laughing. This ship is very fun.

We had a very special dinner tonight. We had pizza from the pizza bar, a tuna sammich from the deli, French fries from the fish and chips joint and a Caesar’s salad. We took it back to the room and enjoyed it with a bottle of Chianti. I left to go slay some ice cream. I was successful. Today was a very relaxing day.

Tomorrow is a big day, Sicily, Taormina and a walk on an active volcano, Mount Etna.

Ciao for now

Day 7

I woke up today as we were coming through the Straights of Messina and into the port of Messina, Sicily at daybreak.

Mary and I almost missed our bus tour today. We found out that if you do not put the actual room service order ON THE DOOR they will not deliver breakfast to you. By the time we realized it we rushed up to the buffet and stuffed the backpack with food to eat on the bus.

It was raining a bit today which added to the charm of Southeastern Sicily. Our first stop was Taormina. This is a town that was founded in 304 BC. The feature site was the Greek Theatre. This is an amphitheater that sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the seaside. We learned that the Greeks excavated to make theaters while the Romans built up like the Coliseum.

As we were walking through the ruin’s Mary stopped and looked at something small. She said “Look! It looks just like a little slug with a shell?” I told her that here in Sicily they call them snails… Sheesh… Chicks…

We left Taormina and headed up a mountain to a great restaurant for a nice pasta lunch. I met a retired man who needed to get a life. He was taking pictures of everything. The food (he made his wife wait until he took a shot of each course), any sign, the steps, bugs, dirt… His wife just sits there and knits. He takes over 500 shots a day and then goes back to his cabin to edit them in PhotoShop. Hmmm…

After lunch we headed up to Mount Etna. It sits around 11,000 feet. This was like walking on the moon. This is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. We went to the bar (Italian for coffee/sandwich/saloon). There we tried a taste of a lava red liqueur called ‘Taste of the Mountain’ – It was like firewater. Mary took a snooze on the way down the mountain.

There was a bad accident on the only road back to Messina. We were one of two busses that the ship was waiting for. We got back on the ship and by the time we got back to our cabin and out on the deck the ship was starting to move. Good thing that we were on a Carnival Tour since they have to wait for all Company Tours to get back. If you are on a private tour you get left behind and have to find your way to the next port on your dime.

The Captain had a special treat for us; he altered his course to sail past the island of Stromboli. Stromboli is a VERY active volcano. You can see it spewing boulders out into the sea. It is about 2 hours out of Messina. As we sailed in that direction we could see lightning storms in about a 180 degree span. Mary and I now understand how the ancient Romans believed that it was Zeus throwing lightning bolts. You could see the lightning hit both the ground and the sea. It was incredible. Without warning we were in the middle of the storm. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane and then all Hell breaks loose. The wind kicked up, it rained buckets, but the bad part was that we had to abort our close pass by Stromboli. We were still able to see the volcano and the glowing crater. We had dinner on one of the covered decks and watched the storm. It was then off to bed in anticipation of a very well needed Day at Sea.

Day 8

We slept in today and woke up to a very sunny 75 degree day. We started out by going up on deck for breakfast. The food has been very good. You can have a made-to-order omelet or eggs if you don’t want the cafeteria style food. Next we went to the Morning Show. The Cruise Director, John Heald, introduced most of the supporting cast that run this ship. These guys really work 7/24. When we get back to Rome bright and early on some day 4 days in the future this crew has to prepare the ship for 3,000 new guests who will start coming on at about 2:00 P.M. After 19 years at sea John is going into semi-retirement. He will be doing a few cruises a year. My guess is that he will relieve some other CD’s so they can have some time off. If you ever have a chance to be on a ship with John Heald you should take it.

After lunch we went to an Art Auction. There were people spending ten’s of thousands of dollars on Rembrandt’s and other famous art. There were a couple of pieces under $1,000 that we seriously considered but eventually passed on. They deliver these to you!?! I never knew that a cruise was a place where serious art collectors hang out. We watched one lady by a boatload of art. Well, I had to leave the auction early. It seems that my chemistry test which included 1 veggie burger, 1 dinner plate of hot crispy fries and 3 glasses of free Champagne were not in a happy place. Nap Time for Tony. Well after my nap I have recovered enough to enjoy Tapas in celebration of our visit to Barcelona tomorrow. After that we joined some new friends for cocktails and then went to dinner. This was the second and final ‘formal dinner’ – Once again I forgot to take a picture of me in a tie to replace that morbid picture on http://A-Z.com on the about us page.

Off to bed…

Day 9

I woke up in time to watch us dock in Barcelona. It is a beautiful day! We decided to do our own thing in Barcelona.

It is Sunday and it is supposed to be a quiet day (right…) We got off the ship and took a taxi to our farthest our destination the Sagrada Familia & Gaudi Museum. This place is very hard to describe. If you have seen Cirque Du Soleil then you have an idea of the weird beauty. When we get back I will put some links in. This is a work in progress. There are spires… well just too bizarre and fabulous to explain. They estimate that this will be completed in 2030. On site is also the Gaudi Museum. Here you can see many of his works on paper. Gaudi was very innovative; he tied ropes together and weighted them down. He then tied strings between the ropes. When he was done he would put a mirror under it and you can visualize how the top of a dome would look from the inside. It is very hard to explain…

From there we walked a dozen blocks to La Pedrera. This building was completed in 1910 again by Gaudi. This is a famous building that you may have seen. There are no straight lines on it. The windows and ledges defy the laws of gravity. The roof is really cool and weird. There is also a perfect replica of a 19th century Barcelona flat. This is a must see.

From here we took another taxi on a zig across town to the Parc de la Ciutadella. This is a huge and beautiful city park. We started at the Arc de Triomf which is the grand entrance. Inside is an awesome fountain, man-made lake, birds, statues, and museums. Many of the locals were out enjoying a Mediterranean Sunday in the park.

We then hiked into the old city. The first stop was the Barcelona Cathedral. They were filming some Ben Hur type movie complete with swords, horses and evil looking men. Inside, the Cathedral was great. Overwhelming actually. We stopped at a café on the Cathedral Square for lunch and a rest.

I have given up on their language. In Italy I can translate in my mind to my limited Spanish and then put a twist on it. I figured that Barcelona would be easy. Well, these people are not Spaniards they are Catalonians and proud of it. They speak Catalan which is kind of like Spanish with a French coating. I just gave up and used the point and grunt method. It worked for me.

We finally started heading in the general direction of the ship. We went to the far end of Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s most famous street. There are shops, people dressed as everything from ancient warriors to Bart Simpson, and food.

We finally made it back to the ship for a quick nap. Tonight the Captain threw a party for people who have sailed on Carnival before. We had a great time and then went for dinner at about 8:30. We managed to stay alive long enough to take some pictures of the Grand Buffet at 11:30. Wait until you see the photos.

Off to bed!

Day 10

Here is something to put on your must-do list. Wake up, throw open the curtains and find that you are looking at the French Riviera. We were just coming into the harbor in Cannes, France. It is a beautiful day and you can see forever.

Today is a treat because we can’t bring this behemoth of a ship into the dock. We have to anchor and take tenders in. Once we got to the dock we boarded our bus to Monaco and Monte Carlo. The guide took us through Cannes and showed us the highlights since we would probably get in too late to have any time alone there. No biggie because Monaco and Monte Carlo were great.

We saw the snow-capped Alps on the way there. When we passed though Nice the guide told us that locals go to the Alps in the morning and ski and then come back and go sun bathing in the late afternoon. A little later she told us that we were leaving France and entering Monaco. Monaco was great also. We started in the old town. The old town is less than a square mile. It sits high on its own mountain overlooking Monte Carlo. We went to the Palace and watched the changing of the guards. After that we went to a local café for lunch. Mary had a glass of wine and I had a beer. He asked me if I wanted a large beer. “Sure” I said… Well here comes this beer glass the size of Mary’s head. I have the picture to prove it. I also took a picture of the glass with me but my head is even larger that this glass bucket-o-beer.

After lunch we took the bus down to Monte Carlo. Ah the life of the rich and famous. We started at the Casino. We took the tour and soon found out that the rich and famous are obviously playing in a ‘private’ section of the Casino. Outside there was a display of the cars that were valet parked, Bentley’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Rolls Royce’s. It was unbelievable. I am a big Formula 1 race fan. We were able to drive and walk on the same roads that they race on. All of the yachts of the rich were right there where the race cars zoom past. Our bus parked right at the exit of the tunnel where they race. I tried to get a picture of it but the cars coming out of the tunnel all thought that they were in the Grand Prix.

We made it back to the ship, had a quiet pasta dinner and came back to the room.

We started packing tonight. A was a very sad thing to do. We do have what we hope to be the highlight of the trip to look forward to tomorrow, Tuscany!

Picture Tease

I have to run to our final dinner on the ship. We still have 2 days in Rome. I put together a picture page as a teaser. Click here

Day 11

We get off to an early start today. Sienna and San Gimignano are about 90 minutes away. Much to our surprise we are not on one of the Mercedes Benz 50 person buses. We are on a small bus that holds 14 people. A very good sign of a fun day ahead of us. We are met by our guide, Elleanora and the driver Aldo. We pile on the bus and we are off. We docked in Livorno which is a very busy port. Not much else goes on here. Elleanora is from Livorno and tell us all about it. We then got out of the industrial area and headed out into the countryside.

Our first stop is Sienna, a beautiful place. This is much bigger than I expected. We are told that it used to be more populous than Paris and London. The Black Plague took care of that. We are sitting in the front seat and I notice that Aldo has to pay 100 Euro to gain access to the town! For 14 people? He tells me that San Gimignano is only 30 Euro.

Once in town we have a hard time getting where we want to go. It seems that there was a demonstration going on. We found that this is very common, someone is always protesting. We walked around the Piazza del Campo, a huge plaza where they hold the horse races between the local districts. We stopped at San Domenico where St. Catherine’s head is on display (??) We walked through the streets taking in the daily life in Sienna.

Next stop was a winery near San Gimignano, Tanuta Torciano, where the owner gave us a class on wine tasting. He paired wine with food. This winery was founded in 1720. They have a warehouse in Chicago and gave us a great deal on buying their wine.

The next stop was San Gimignano, where 14 towers still stand. You can see the hill town from very far away. This is the Tuscany that I was expecting. We went to the main square and found some excellent gelato. We then wandered around the streets until it was time to get back to the ship.

We had our final dinner with our new friends and then went to the cabin to finish packing. This was very sad. We had to have the luggage in the hall by midnight.

Day 12

The crew worked all night to get the luggage organized. They were ready to take it off, sort it and place it in a logical order. I woke up at around 04:00 and saw lights. We were pulling into Civitavecchia. I watched as they had a symphony of fork lifts pulling the luggage cages off and into a huge tent. It was very organized. We were placed in 29 different groups. We were in group 28; we knew that we would not be called until around 09:00.

We went up to our last breakfast and then went back to our balcony and watched 3,000 people leave the ship in a very organized fashion. They called our number and we went down to deck 0 to disembark. We found our luggage right next to the number 28 sign and went to the number 28 bus. This bus was for people staying over in Rome at the Visconti Palace Hotel. It was about a 90 minute ride. I dozed since I got up so early.

We got into the hotel around 10:30, it was chaos. There were people checking out and waiting to get on our bus to start their adventure. These were some time zone zapped souls with blank looks on their faces. At the same time there were plenty of Ugly American’s who could not understand why they could not check into their rooms at 10:30 in the morning. Sheesh! I might have to do a rant after this.

Mary and I left our stuff with the bellman and hit the road. We opened the map and started walking. Rome is amazing, the traffic is crazy. The streets are very tight and because of this there are many, many scooters. They are like torpedoes. I watched the locals and realized that people trying to cross the roads are free game. I also noticed that if you keep your head high and cross they will not aim for you. If you look at them you are a target. I warned Mary to do exactly as I do with no delay or no question. This was difficult for her at first. After the first couple of crosswalks she just shut up and did as I did. It is amazing, you can be crossing at a dedicated crosswalk with a ‘walk’ sign on it and traffic will honk their horns and shake their fists at you to get out of their way. Too much caffeine I think.

We visited Piazza Del Popolo and hung out on the Spanish Steps and watched people for a while. We walked down Via Condotti, Rome’s most expensive shopping street. We then stopped at a local bar for a tonno crostini (tuna sandwich) and a caprese crostini (fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich.) After lunch we walked forever to get to the Pantheon. This is Rome’s most complete ancient building. It was built in AD 118 – 125. What a beautiful place! There is a square in front of it, the Piazza del Rotunda, it started to rain lightly so we stopped at an outside café and had some bruschetta and people-watched.

We decided that we should head back in the general direction of the hotel to check in. We passed through a huge plaza the Piazza Navonna. At some point during the day we also went to the Trevi Fountain. Back at the hotel the impatient people had checked in and gotten out of our way. We checked in and went to the room. The room was nice, not as nice as our Penthouse Suite on the ship but Roman nice. It had tall ceilings, maybe 15 feet. The doors had to be 10 feet tall. It had another one of those porcelain drinking fountains, face soaking appliances like the ship had. We found out that if you do not put your ‘key’ in the master light switch that the lights will go out in a few minutes. That took a while to figure out.

We decided to find a local place for dinner. We walked around the Prati area just 10 blocks east of the Vatican City and found a restaurante. The door was locked but they let us in. It was about 7:30, the true Romans do not eat until about 9:00. They put us at a table that was reserved for a 9:30 sitting. We had an appetizer of smoked fish with a main dish of salmon ravioli for me and pasta with shrimps and truffles for Mary. We realized that we were very under-dressed. This was a place where the well-bred local business men had their dinner. We managed to get out before the locals saw us. Then it was back to the hotel to rest our tired muscles.

Day 13

Our last day in Roma!

We decided to make it a big day. The doorman called a taxi for us. We got in and asked him to take us to the Colosseum. He said that there was a demonstration and he could not get there. We said “to the Forum” – Same story. I looked at the map and pick a place, Campo del Fiore, where there was a large outdoor market. As we went in that direction the driver was reading a device on his steering wheel that gave him updates. He told us that the demonstration had moved and that he could get us close to the Forum.

We started at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an impressive place at the top of Capitoline Hill. This overlooks all of Rome. From there we walked past the ruins toward the Forum. At this point we heard a loud noise in the distance. We could see the demonstration. It was lead by a huge contingent of policemen. There must have been 50,000 people or more protesting something. They seem to take turns, today the mechanics, tomorrow the transit workers. They bang on drums, blow whistles and make the loudest sounds possible. This was going down a main street and we could see at least a mile of people.

We hung a right and went into the Forum. We wandered around the ruins for an hour or so. So much old stuff! As you leave the Forum to the South it spills on to the plaza surrounding the Colosseum. We passed on the Colosseum for now and looked for more food.

We saw a show on the Food Channel with Giada De Laurentiis. She recommended a trattoria called Il Bocconcino. There were mostly locals eating here. We had yet another wonderful meal.

We had an adventure trying to find San Clemente, a church that dates back to the 2nd century BC. We finally found it and wandered through the lower levels. After that it was of to The Colosseum. It is everything that you imagine. You can just imagine the slaughter that happened here. This was inaugurated in AD 80. We then walk ON the Circus Maximus, the remains of an amphitheater dating back to the 6th century BC. I kept looking back to make sure that chariots from Ben Hur were not going to run us over. We then crossed the Tiber River and meandered through the old town of Trastevere.

We managed to get our second then third winds and kept going. We came upon the Castle Saint Angelo when we knew that we were just blocks from the hotel. Just then I heard all the breath in Mary’s lungs go away. I turn and see the most magnificent site. It is twilight and in front of us is this HUGE building. Mary looks at the map and says “It is the Basilica di San Pietro! I wish we knew about this, I would have loved to see it!” I tell her that the translation is ‘St. Peter’s Basilica’ and we saw it a couple of weeks ago. That is the Vatican. It is hard to explain the beauty of The Vatican at twilight with all of the lights on. It is stunning.

Mary was starting to feel real bad by now. It seems that all the people coughing and sneezing on her have taken its toll. I decide that if we go back to the hotel she will never leave. I decided to stop in at a Trattoria for our final Rome dinner – pizza Margarita – grilled cheese (not a sandwich – just grilled cheese!) – insalada mista.

It is time to get Mary back to the room. Our driver will be here at 05:15 in the morning.

Day 14

Way too early! 04:30 – the alarm in the TV, the phone and the clock that I put in the bathroom all go off. Crap…

It is time to start the beginning of the end of our Roman Holiday. There is no traffic in Rome at o-dark-thirty. We get to the airport with plenty of time. We go to the counter for Business Class and wait. I finally ask the woman at the next desk and she tells me that it isn’t open. She has seen us stand there for 10 minutes. This is a hint to the level of service that we are going to be receiving from Iberia. I ask and receive a pass for their ‘lounge’ – we head up to the lounge; it is decent, free espresso and munchies. The hotel that we have been staying in did not have Internet service so I was feeling a severe case of withdrawal pains. I go over to the computer but there are no signs. I go to the reception desk and inquire about the Internet access. She tells me “It is free but it doesn’t work. We are changing systems and don’t know how to use this one” – Stinking Iberia…

It appeared that the plane was late. Iberia tells you nothing; they just wave their hands and yell at each other. They never made an announcement; they just changed the board showing that we were going to leave late after we were already 15 minutes late. We were finally on our way to Madrid. OK, so we only had a short layover in Madrid. We get of and realize that we have a LOOOOOONG way to go to get to our next flight to Chicago. We were doing the O.J. Simpson thing but had to go through 3 or 4 security checkpoints. At one point we stopped to talk to and Iberia woman with a clipboard. We told her where we were going and she said “That is far, you had better hurry!” – Crap! I was hoping to have time to spend my last 20 euros but we rushed on the plane and sat there for 20 minutes waiting to push back. Stinking Iberia…

OK, we are on an Airbus 340/600 airplane. This has become my favorite over the Boeing 777. I especially like the 4 engines over the 2 on the 777. Business class is very nice. The seats do a full recline to a flat position. American Airlines still has much better Business Class service though. We had the rudest flight attendant ever. Maybe she just hated Americans. The rest of the crew was decent but this witch was nasty. She came by and slammed down the plate with the nice hot towel. She returned 45 seconds later and grabbed them back. At one point she actually grabbed a glass of wine out of my hand and took it away. I guess it was time to do the dishes. This was going to be a very long 9+ hour flight.

We finally made it to Chicago. Here we had to collect our bags, go through customs and re-check our bags. No hurry since we had a 3 hour layover. We waited and waited. Finally no more bags were coming out. They told us that that was all the bags. Any missing bags would be sent on the next flight. There is only one flight a day from Madrid to Chicago, great… I see the positive side and tell Mary that this means we don’t have to schlep our bags and they will be delivered to our front door some day.

We now have time to spare. We are back in the U.S. We are back in American Airlines care. We head off to the Admiral’s Club for some rest. Ah! CNN, Internet access, food and friendly people. Life is good.

Our last leg is on an MD-80, not my favorite. At least First Class has nice seats. We finally land in San Diego and there is a driver there holding a sign that shows “Beecher” – We are home. We had to check in with the baggage people to file a claim then it was off to the Town Car for the ride home.

One of our fears about the trip was that one of our cats, Misha, was not going to live through it. She has congestive heart failure and the vet doesn’t know what her life expectancy is. We open the front door and Mia and Mocha are there to greet us. I went to the kitchen to look for a note from the company that came in twice a day. While I am reading the note Mary walks in holding Misha. It seems that she was resting in a back room. Life is good, the kitties are very happy to have us back. Some day our luggage will show up. For now we need to stay up as late as possible to get back into this time zone.

Day 15

We are home! We received a call from American Airlines saying that our luggage is on a plane from Chicago to San Diego and will be delivered tonight. They called at 9:30 P.M. and tell me that they will be here between 11:30 P.M. and 1:30 A.M. How very considerate… I warn them that it may take a while to wake me up. Mary certainly won’t be waking to the door bell. They show up at 11:30 P.M. with 3 out of 4 bags. Oh well…

Mary and I woke up in the 4 o’clock hour. We just said “screw it” and got up. Our final bag showed up this morning. This is our final vacation day; tomorrow it is back to work. We had a great time. I will post some pictures soon.

The lost day – Dubrovnik, Croatia

I seemed to have forgotten to list our day in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I was thinking that there was a day missing in the Blog but never took the time to research it.

The 4th day of the cruise was spent in Croatia. This is a beautiful country. In late 1991 until May of 1992 Yugoslavia sent in more than 2,000 bombs and guided missiles. These people beat the crap out of each other. We were told that after the war all of the repaired buildings had red brick roofs. As you look around you see that about 80% of the buildings have red roofs. It is very sad. The U.N. came in and quickly rebuilt the city so that tourism could restart.

We stayed inside the walled city. Our time here went quickly. We did manage to see the Pile Gate, Sponza Palace, the Monasteries, the Rector’s Palace, The Cathedral and Treasury and the Aquarium. We had lunch at an outdoor café and people-watched. We spoke with people who took tours out into the countryside and we were told that it is incredibly beautiful.

Someday we would like to return here and spend some time.

Leave a Reply