OUR MEDITERRANEAN VACATION 06SEP12 – 16SEP12Our passports and Eurosare ready for 2 nights inBarcelona, Spain and a 7-day Western Mediterranean cruise! Nicki & Chris will be on “holiday” with us!
Thursday, 9/6 ORD to CDG to BCN via Air FranceWhere is everybody?(O’Hare terminal 5) We were on the road at 10:50am to drive to the parking facility to leave our car, then shuttle to the airport for our flight. We were very pleased with Air France – the flight, the foods and the service. Delta on the way back, however, not so much. We flew overnight over Nova Scotia, near Iceland, over Ireland & the Celtic Sea before landing in Paris where we changed planes for our connecting Barcelona flight. Security for the inter-European flight thoroughly checked Carol’s carry-on luggage.
Friday, 9/7BarcelonaWe’ve arrived!Carol was veryglad she woreher back braceeven though itand her handswere dustedfor bombresidue bysecurity! A private chauffeur with a black Mercedes sedan drove us to our hotel.
Our first views of Spain’s 2nd largest cityand the capital of Catalonia included a surprising hillside cemetery dotted with evergreens; LOTS of scootersdarting in and around heavy traffic;bicyclists; and old & new buildings landscaped with palm trees.
We had a few hours until anupper room would be ready, so we caught up on messages and explored the immediate area.
European Union; Spain-Civil Ensign; Catalonia; W
Sculptures created for the 1992 Olympics are foundthroughout the city, such as the copper colored Barcelona Fish in the former Olympic Village area.
Our ‘Wonderful’ room was true to its description.We learned that one must ‘call’ for ice. Oh, and the Bentley’s checked in behind us. Really!
Beach viewfrom 20thfloorwindows Carol couldn’t resist napping in the sun in front of the window with its unobstructed views of the sea, the commercially vibrant Barcelona Port and the entertainment area in Port Vell with its many yacht enthusiasts.
The infinity pool - where the swimming pool seems to meet the sea - never had anybody swimming in it while we were there. Lots of people drank cocktails in loungers around it, some of them beingtopless young women (according to Jim). Getting to the beach was easy…
Hotel Miramar Hotel, gardens and terrace Tree base/root
Carved faces in the stones On our sunset beach walk we were surprised by a mangy rat eating breadcrumbs on the fishing pier!
The trendy Eclipse Bar on the26th floor didn’t appeal to us. This is the entrance. Stock picture of 20th floor hallway and the inside the view in front of the elevators
Carol stayed in touch with Nicki using the free Wi-Fi & Internet. Here she’s making dinner reservations for tomorrow.Looking up and through the skylight
Saturday, 9/8 85o Barcelona At the complimentarybuffet, Jim drankEarl Grey tea with milk & sugar – a first!
Lobster sculpture ‘Gambrinus’ over Passeig de Colom Christopher Columbus points toward America. It was made for the 1888 World Surrealist Exhibition. sculpture Barcelona Head by American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein
The Old CustomsHouse with winged sphinxes on top Port Authority Building It was only a 30 minute walk to La Rambla, the touristy pedestrian walkway.
We thought the area was exceptionally clean.Prior to our trip, we were cautioned to be wary ofpickpockets in this area. A pet store!
Placa de Catalunya, where we’ll board a double-decker bus for a hop-on hop-off narrated city tour
There are many unique buildings and sculptures in Barcelona!
We got off the bus to walk uphill to architect Antoni Gaudi’s Parc Güell, a famous gardencomplex of mosaic and stone built around 1914.
Everyone wants to touch themosaic lizard fountain atthe entrance of the park!
Wild parrot and its matedoing a little nestoration Lizards, wild parrots, lively music and a palm tree that looks like Side Show Bob from the Simpsons show
It doesn’t matter whatcountry you are in, there is always a line for the women’s restroom! Stone ceiling in the restroom
Back on the bus… This is one of Barcelona’s most iconicstructures, the Sagrada Familia, a basilica that Gaudi devoted his life creating that remains under construction today.
We awoke to another beautiful day in the 80s! We enjoyed the buffet, saidadios to our Spanish server and visited the beach one last time before meeting our private sedan to take us to the ship, which was already in port.
Participants were wearing pink caps at this early morning swimming event. Good bye, Barcelona. We had fun!
We had express boarding because ofCarol’s walkingstick. No wait! Unusual arrangement: The toilet is on the other side of the hall opposite the shower. The tiny sink is within the desk below the TV. There is minimal space on the sides of the bed.
After stowing our clothes we need to find our wayaround the ship and prepare for the mandatory Life Boat Drill at 4:30pm.
We’re celebrating with left-over Cognac from AirFrance and cake & coffee from the buffet. We’ll go tothe Sail Away Party at 5pm on the Pool Deck and the Spice H2O Beach Club and look for Nicki & Chris.
Found them! Time for a little R&Rafter planning our evening. Outside is a big screen TV with a small pool below it where Nicki is swimming.
Popcorn & a movie The screen is used for Wii games, too.Chandelier in the 3- story atrium
Dining under the Spiegel Tent and ring-side for an entertainment extravaganza to celebrate our 35th & 5th anniversaries!Nicki was chosen to be in “the orchestra” during an unforgettable bells performance directed by the Cirque host!
Getting goofy after a latesnack at O’Sheehan’s Pub
Sunrise behind Mount VesuviusTuesday, 9/1184oNaples, Italy
All of us are on an excursion to Mount Vesuvius andthe ancient city of Pompeii which was buried by thevolcano’s eruption in AD 79. But first, we stop at acameo factory for a shopping opportunity. An interesting building along the way… He’s carving cameos out of shells.
After the bus drops us off, we’ll hike up a steep gravel path about 550 yards to the crater!
Nicki & Chris hiked ahead. Jim watched over Carol whose back surgery is in 2 months! Carol made it to the top without mishap, but didn’t fair as well on the way back down. Jim bought her a lava necklace to remind her of the experience.
Evidence of an old lava flowLichen is first to grow on lava.
Looking into the volcano with its rivers of lava
Crevices in the rocks within the crater still exude fumes and heat!
EnjoyingCoca Cola Light (Italy’sversion ofDiet Coke)during our scenic drive to Pompeii
We saw olive trees,churches and signs, some familiar and some not, on our way to the ruins.
Time for a snack and restroom break before entering Pompeii
Only a portion of the famous city has been unearthed. Pompeii was a thriving city teemingwith privileged rich people and ordinary slaves. We are able to imagine their lives, homes and places of work during the days of the Roman Empire. Below, a lizard watches our entrance.
Believed to be evidence of a carry-out restaurant
Our guide points outthe ancientcart ruts in the city streets.
Architects signed their excavations with plaques on the walls. The top right sign is believed to be a political ad sponsored by a brothel. Ornate columns and frescoes are well preserved throughout.
Erotic art frescoes in a brothel apparently provide inspiration! Yes, that’s apenis! Phalluseswere believed to be symbols of power and capable ofwarding off the ‘evil eye’.
Victims’ remains have been preserved by a special casting. The bodies’ positions give evidence of death from exposure to the volcano’s deadly gases before beingcovered by 20 feet of ash. It was a sobering experience for us to see these remains.
The DJ playedAmerican pop music. We attended the $10 blowout sale but didn’t buy anything.
We met Nicki & Chris at thesupper club for dinner. We had a good laugh when Carol was trying to decipher her menu after she was given a German menu by mistake.
After dinner we all went Nicki Christo HeadlinersComedy Club to listen to the dueling pianoplayers, Howlat the Moon.
Wednesday, 9/12 On our way to Rome! The Porta San Paolo is part82o of the defensive walls built around Rome in 271-275ADCivitavecchia, Italy by Emperor Aurelia. Pyramid of Old Streetcar Cestius built 18 –12BC Commissioned by dictator Benito Mussolini as part of his efforts to rebuild Rome in the Fascist regime Part of the ancient Roman aqueduct system
Our walking tour begins… Ancient Roman columns incorporated into a modern building wall
Legend holdsthat if visitors throw a coin into thefountain theyare ensured a return to Rome. Carol threw in two coins!
In our free time we shared agelato and purchased a souvenir water color to remind us of the streets of Italy.The blue earphones and receiverswe are wearing allow us to hear our guide’s live commentary.
And we’re walking… Santa Maria Church and Trajan’s Column Completed in AD 113, Trajan’s Column depicts Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars.
The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument honors unified Italy’s first king. A museum to theunification and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its eternal flame were added later.
Ruins of the Forum, a plaza central to Roman socializing and politics
We ate lunch in a basement restaurant just steps from theColosseum! Sign made out of mosaic tiles Having a cappuccino, a traditional coffee of Italy
After lunch we walked to theColosseum and wondered if we’d see Nicki & Chris who opted to take the train in and visit the Colosseum on their own. (We didn’t see them.)
Part of the Colosseum was destroyed by an earthquake in 847 and its rubble was used for the construction of later monuments, including St. Peters Basilica.Emperorsentertained thepublic with free“games” . TheColosseumaccommodated55,000 spectatorswho could enterthrough 80entrances.
Construction was started by EmperorVespasian in 72 AD. It was completed in 80 AD a year after his death.
The Temple of Venus Castel SantAngelo was initially a mausoleum but was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle. It is now a museum.
Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of the eight stone bridges the Romans are known to have built over the Tiber between 200 BC and AD 260.
Our next stop is Vatican City, the smallest country in the world. One of the famous It is surrounded by Rome. Swiss Guards of the Vatican and the Pope
Statue of St. PaulThis is the line to go in St. Peter’s Basilica. It wraps further than the picture shows! There are also a few clothing Our group status gave us priority checkpoints. Local custom requires that knees and entrance and we were able to avoid shoulders must be covered – and they DO enforce it! the 2 hour line and walk right in!
The Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano is considered the center of Christianity. We were just glad that Hell didn’t freeze over when Jim entered it and stood in the nave! The bronze Baldacchino canopybeneath the dome rises 95 ft. abovethe Papal Alter where only the Pope celebrates mass. The ancient tomb of St. Peter lies below the altar.
St. Peters has the largest interior of any Christian The Tribune - Altar of the Chair of St.church in the world, holding 60,000 people! There are Peter -was created to enclose the 45 alters and 11 chapels within the church. wooden throne of St Peter. The alabaster center window has a dove in its center. A statue of St. Helen honors her discovery of the "True Cross“ on which Jesus was crucified.
Michelangelo designed the dome and only worked on part of it before his death. It spans nearly 140 feet and rises almost 400 feet above the floor.The Pietà depicting when Christ was placed on his mothers knees after the Crucifixionwas sculpted by Michelangelo in 1499. This was the only work Michelangelo ever signed. He later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands.
Looking up into a peripheral dome, Our Lady of the Column
Thebronze onSt. Peter’sright toes is worn down bycenturiesof pilgrims touching them.
An Egyptian obelisk (without hieroglyphics) A Papal View of known as “The Witness” was brought to Rome Vatican City and St. in AD 37 by the Emperor Caligula and moved Peter’s Square here in 1586. In 1817 circular stones were set to mark the tip of the obelisks shadow at noon making it a gigantic sundial.The Papal Apartment – The top two rightwindows are the study and bedroom of the pope. The colonnade has 4 rows of 284 columns and 88 pillars symbolizing the gathering of Christianity‘ and is topped with 140 statues of saints. If you stand in one of the two centers of this ellipse - marked by two white disks shown here - you only see a single row of columns.
Public Phones Gas Station River cruise ship Crew members welcomed us at the Roma Cruise Terminal with clapping, lemonade and hot towels. Yes, a pizza vending machine!
“Lost Locos Ole!” is an adult musical comedy featuring We invited our new friend Valerie to sit 3 macho Latinos who use parody, slapstick, Flamenco with us. She was a solo traveler fromguitar, ping-pong balls, and raunchy humor in their act. England who was seated with us at theCarol became a big part of the show as she “caught the Cirque Show.amorous eye” of one of the Latinos. He nicknamed her Maria and she was eventually married off to “Carlos” (from the Chicago area as well). People recognized “Maria” later in the cruise! Before bed, Carol iced her ankles using waterproof camera bags.
Today’s early motor coach tripThursday, 9/13 is in the Tuscany region for a 73o photo stop at Miracle Square in Pisa and shopping/exploring Livorno, Italy in Florence. Nicki and Chris are on a different excursion. US Military Base, 1954
Tour guide giving usour instructions Polizia PISA, ITALY The shutters open upwards. We’re on our own for an Lawn Mower hour. Wow, even the curbs are marble! Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome according to legend
Pisa Campanile, the freestanding bell tower known asthe Leaning Tower, has been leaning for over 840 years.
Begun in 1173, it took 344 years to build the tower in stages to allow for settling in the sandy soil. It is almost 13 feet off center. Carol is testing We don’t the know whatfountain this is - water. maybe a support or a drill that was used to remove soil for leveling?
Construction of the Duomo began in 1064. Much of the inside wasredecorated after a fire in 1595. The building, as haveseveral in Pisa, hastilted slightly since its construction.
(l) Battistero (Baptistry)(r) Campo Santo (Cemetery) The Pisa Baptistry represents a transition from Romanesque to Gothic style. Construction started in 1152 but wasn’t finished until the 14th century. Thesecond and fourth tiers have pointed, not round arches. The Campo Santo, built 1278-83, is a cemetery fornoble citizens of Pisa and is rumored to have been built where the Crusaders placed the soil they had brought from the Holy Land.
Piazza del Duomo or Campo dei Miracoli, Field of Miracles, wasbuilt outside the main city center but within the still-preserved city walls built in 1155.
On our way to Florence!We will have about 3 ½ hours to shop and explore.
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a Medieval bridge famous for itshanging shops over the river Arno.
During WW II, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge across the river Arno that the fleeing Germans on 8/14/1944 did not destroy. There have been stores on it since the 13th century, but in 1592 Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge because of the stench caused by butchers,fishmongers and tanners.
The Bargello (center), a formerbarracks and prison, now an art museum, dates back to 1255.
The town hall Palazzo Vecchio (center) is a fortified palacethat was built for the wealthy Medici family.
The Duomo’s (Cathedral ofSanta Maria del Fiore) trademark dome is now a symbol of Florence.
The 13th century Franciscanchurch Basilicadi Santa Croce(Holy Cross) is the burial place of Galileo, Machiavelli,Michelangelo, Rossini and many other famous Italians.
Fontana del Porcellino There are many statues in Florence!We didn’t have time to see the Davidwhich is in a museum.
Post manWe bought a leather jacket and handbag! Painting over graffiti on the walls
After dinner we joined Nicki & Chris to watch the Newlywed Game. None of us Music videos were playing on volunteered the outside screen until the to be thestart of the “Newlywed Game”. contestants!
Friday, 9/14 78o Cannes, France French RivieraIn the elevator
We didn’t take the Little Train or bus tour. We chose instead to do our own walking tour ofCannes and caught the earliest tender into port. We’ll meet Nicki and Chris later.
Late night WhiteHot Party led by the cruise staff wearing wings.(Carol opted for bed instead.)
Saturday, 9/1580o Saturday, 9/15 80oMarseille, France Marseille, France Our excursion takes us from Marseilles, the 2nd largest city in France, to Avignon, a small but prosperous town whose destiny changed in the early 14th century with the exile of the Popes toFrance. Then we will drive to the village of Les Baux de Provence.
Pont dAvignon (St. Benezet Bridge) is amedieval bridge over the Rhone in the townof Avignon popularized in a French children’ssong dating back to the 15th century aboutpeople dancing on the bridge. Carol learnedit in French class. Sur le pont, dAvignon, lony danse, lon y danse…
History Lesson: The 14th century Popes’ Palace is the biggest medieval Gothic palace in Europe and subject of The Papal Schism, a split within the Catholic Church from 1378 - 1417 when two men simultaneously claimed to be pope... In 1377 the cardinals elected Pope Urban VI to hold court in Rome, but regretted their decision and elected Pope Clement VII who established a rival court inAvignon. A diplomatic crisis ensued that divided Europe. After their deaths, Roman Pope Boniface IX and Avignon Benedict XIII maintained their rival courts. Secular leaders eventually recognized the Roman line and dismissed the two Avignon popes who are now known as antipopes.
Les Baux de Provence flies the Catalonian flag as well as its own.There is a Provencial language that is spoken in addition to French.
Thirty years ago, Prince Ranier IIIand Princess Grace visited Les Baux, along with their son Prince Albert who became the Marquis des Bauxand was given the keys to the town.To celebrate this event, the town hasput together an exhibition of photos of Princess Grace.Apparently, the Grimaldi family backin 1642 helped Louis XIII beat off theSpanish and were rewarded with Les Baux and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The Grimaldis’ palace there was requisitioned during the Revolution but they have kept the titles.
Old chateau fortress at the top of the village
We used the self-cleaning restrooms for .50 Euro each.A centuries-old kitchen area of the fortress
Provence is well known for its fierce andcold Mistral winds. Le Mistral clears and dries the atmosphere in the region, leaving the sun to shine some 2800 hours per year. With it comes thecicada, a lucky symbol of the Provence. It means summer is here. They don’t sing when it is cloudy. The colorfulcicadas hanging outside the shop below even make the cicada sound.
Our guide said France is a bigger supplier of olive oil than Italy.Olive Tree
Nestled to the west of the Alpilles mountains are grape vines, olive trees and cypress trees. VanGogh, Gauguin and Cézanne came to Les Baux to paint these panoramas with their chalky whitelimestone outcrops on bauxite hills. The mineral Bauxite, used in the production of aluminum, is where the village takes its name. This region also grows peaches and nectarines.
The sheep were once walked to the French Alps at the advent of summer to graze onrich pastures. They aretransported nowadays.St. Victoire mountain,on the right in Aix-En-Provence, was paintedover 70 times by Paul Cezanne.
Our guide said that white horses with shorter legs were bred to get through the marshy fields in the Provence. She also said France produces the best hay for horses and stallions.
This famous fortress built in 1524 was immortalized byAlexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo as the prisonwhere the novel’s hero, EdmondDantes, was incarcerated before ultimately escaping.
Our last evening on“holiday” together. So hard to say goodbye!