European cruise photos

So when I was trying to find that photo of the pizza Erin and I ate in Italy, I kept searching for my blog posts about our trip. After some fruitless searching I had to ask myself if it was possible that I didn’t actually post anything about it. Apparently I kept it all to myself! Maybe I thought the blog wasn’t supposed to be about travel at the time, or maybe I posted about it on my work blog, which I had back then.

We took the cruise in June of ’07, to celebrate Erin’s masters degree, and because her grandmother had left her some money that we wanted to use to take a trip together. So, we booked a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean, starting in Venice and ending in Barcelona. We planned excursions, sometimes two a day for every day that the ship wasn’t at sea. We were not going to miss a thing!

The first problem came a couple months before the trip when the back pain I’d been having for years became so unbearable that I had to have surgery. Blessedly, I had a quick recovery and was able to do everything I wanted to do. It was just a little stressful there for a while. Then, the day we left we had a total disaster with our flights. We started in Kansas City and went to Chicago. When we got there to board our flight to Germany, they told us that it had just left. What the hell? We thought we were early. Well, it turns out that Lufthansa had changed the time of that flight, but no one from the airline or Princess told us, and we never thought to check. So we were stuck at O’Hell, waiting on standby for a flight to Europe during a very busy travel time. We waited for 9 hours and finally gave up and got a hotel that we had to pay for. We tried to find our luggage but only came up with one suitcase, which was a little unnerving.

The next morning we went back to the airport and got back in line, thinking we would have to change our flight to the next stop on the cruise. We found some seats and had our luggage moved to that flight. But at the last minute they said they could get us on a flight to Germany so we would just make it to Venice in time for the cruise to leave. Yes! Unfortunately, we would have to leave right that second to make it on the plane. So you better believe we ran through that airport. Right as we got to security, dreading the long lines, some security person opened up another line and we raced through. It felt like some kind of miracle. We were running with our shoes in our hands as they were calling our names for the flight. That was seriously insane. I have a pretty big fear of flying, but I was so happy to get on that plane I didn’t care.

Up all night, but relieved to be getting on our last flight.

The sad part was that we were late getting to Venice. By some miracle our luggage made it through all those transfers (and we almost lost it again in Italy), but we had to skip all of our excursions in Venice. Basically we drove to the boat, got on, and left. But that was the last time we had any worries on that cruise. It was absolutely spectacular.

The water was unbelievably blue. We had perfect weather every day. We sat poolside while people brought us cocktails.

The ship was bigger than the Titanic, I think, and almost brand new. If I can ever afford that kind of vacation again I will most definitely take it.

Our monstrosity of a ship, spotted from land.

After we left Venice, our first stop was Athens.

The Old Olympic stadium.

It was hot, dry, and had the worst parking conditions I’ve ever seen. Maneuvering this enormous bus around tight corners, our bus driver actually got out at one point, moved some construction cones, and drove around them.

We saw the Acropolis and many other ruins.

Unfortunately, the Parthenon was under construction, at the time.

It was the first time I’d seen an olive tree or an orange tree (which seems funny now).

After our tours we had some free time in the city so we wandered around and got an ice cream cone. As we were standing outside of this building, all the sudden a bunch of police officers started clearing everyone out of the building and closing off the street. I guess I shouldn’t have said we didn’t have any more worries because it turned out to be a bomb threat! But at that point everything pretty much rolled off of us. It was a little chaotic while we tried to find our tour guides, but we made it back OK.

Next stop: Turkey. We started in Kusadasi and then saw the house where the Virgin Mary had lived.

I saw my first fig tree.

Then we toured the ruins of the city at Ephesus.

It was pretty incredible the level of technology they were able to achieve with what they had at the time.

This sign cracked me up.

After that we went to Istanbul. Got a beautiful view of the city from a distance.

Teenagers are the same everywhere.

You know what else is everywhere in Turkey? Cats!

We toured the Hagia Sophia, which is just beautiful.

I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but I was desperate to use the bathroom, and after waiting in a very long line had to use one of the scariest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. I think I’m scarred by that experience!

But I loved Turkey, and would love to go back. Not only is it this fascinating mix of cultures, but the beachy vacation spots are just as beautiful as anywhere else in Mediterranean Europe but a lot less expensive.

Later that day we got to tour a rug factory, where we bought tiny Turkish carpets. The rugs are so expensive, it was all we could afford. But they aren’t really my style anyway, so I can appreciate the little square I have as a souvenir.

Before we left Istanbul, we got to go through the Grand Bazaar and buy some pashminas and a soccer jersey. That place is absolutely gigantic. We definitely wished we had more time there.

But we had to get back to Greece. Our next stop was Mykonos.

It’s definitely a gay hot spot (as Club Ramrod confirmed), but it seemed family friendly as well. It was certainly the Greece I had imagined with all the whitewashed buildings and little churches.

I could have stayed there a long time — it was so beautiful and relaxing.

In fact I would really like to be there right now. Sigh!

After Greece we went to Naples. We took a harrowing drive, then hiked to the top of Mount Vesuvius and looked down into the volcano.

The belly of the beast.

Then we took a tour of Pompeii.

Again I was fascinated by how well preserved the history was there.

They still had bread ovens, brothels, intricate tiles, and ruts in the road where cart wheels wore them down.

Naughty, naughty!

After Naples we went to Rome.

It is pretty much impossible to see Rome in a day, but we sure tried. We actually got a jam-packed experience by picking the Angels and Demons tour (all the places from the book). We had this adorable tour guide that had the uneviable job of keeping us, and the other long-winded tour guide, on task.

Our view through most of Rome.

Better view!

The long-winded tour guide.

We managed to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, and still have time for a pasta lunch and gelato.

Note to self: Remove dorky tourist gear before taking photos. 

I was really blown away by all the artwork, the architecture — the fact that I kept recognizing things from my art history classes and there they were in some tiny dark church.

I think I was just totally overwhelmed that day. You really can’t describe the feeling of seeing something like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy or The Pieta in person.

I would love to go back with Mike. I think for a history buff (or a foodie) Rome is the ultimate.

After Rome we went to Pisa. I really loved it there because it felt like exactly what I imagined Tuscany to be like. Sunflower fields, wineries, bikes with baskets on the front.

One funny thing: We had to ride in this tram thing around Pisa, and at one point our tram scraped into the side of some guy’s car and dented it. He was so upset, of course, and he and our driver were screaming at each other in Italian. By that point we just had to laugh.

We saw the leaning tower, which was cool and somewhat scary. Then we got to tour this beautiful winery called Varramista. I was very jealous of whoever got to live there.

They also make olive oil there — I bought a sampler, of course. We had a tasting with bread and cheese, too.

Our last stop was in France. We went to Aix-en-Provence, which is really pretty and has this great outdoor market.

I remember I ate a yummy risotto with peas, and we ordered rose because that is the specialty in that region. (I can’t believe I did not photograph the food! My, how times have changed.) I wish I could say my many years of high school French paid off, but I was too intimidated to use it much.

Then we drove to this tiny town called Lourmarin.

We bought pretty French tarts and walked around the little alleys. It was so picturesque.

We had the option of staying in Barcelona and doing some excursions there. But I think by that point we were exhausted and out of money. So we basically just went to the airport. Thankfully our flights home were completely uneventful. And of course I went back later for my honeymoon.

It was definitely one of the best trips of my life, and it totally opened my mind to just how much there is to see out there in the world. We basically just checked off a bunch of tourist stops. Imagine how much there is to see beyond those. So even though I hate to fly I will still keep doing it because I can’t stand to think of missing out on all there is to see. Life is too short not to see as much as you can.