23 September 2007

Last stop, Naples: Sorrento and Pompeii

Well, Pompeii sucked. No, not Pompeii itself – just our experience. But I’ll get to that.

We got up bright and early to catch our tour to Sorrento peninsula and Pompeii. First, we went to a cameo factory in Herculaneum. Then, we drove on to the peninsula, to a farm where they grow olives and press olive oil, grow lemons, and make mozzarella. We tasted some of the mozzarella made on their farm after a tour of the grounds. Then we drove into Sorrento town and had an hour and a half of free time – which was the highlight of the day. Ryan and I just wandered around the town, stopped for a couple of cappuccinos, watched the ocean for a bit.

Then we drove to Pompeii. And that’s when it really got lame. To begin with, our tour group consisted of one tour guide and forty lemmings. Pompeii was insanely busy – our guide said a typical September day would bring 12,000 to 15,000 visitors. So there were people all over, and we didn’t have the headsets that many tours have in busy places like that, so there were forty of us cramming around this one guy who didn’t talk loud enough (how could he with that many people?) and didn’t have much interesting to say anyway. And to top it all off, we only had about 90 minutes there. Which was just not enough time for us to really see anything. However, it was cool to be there, and see it in person.

Tonight we are packing ourselves up to leave our cruise. It has been an interesting experience, and we’ve had a good time. It will be hard to get back to real life on Wednesday, though. Tomorrow morning, we’ll catch a train back to Rome to stay until our plane leaves on Tuesday morning. After this post, we will “go dark” so we won’t be posting again before we get home. At some point in the week after we get back, we’d like to get a few more pictures online, so check back again. And in the meantime, thanks for joining us on our travels!

sunset over naples, italy

22 September 2007


Amy in Santorini

A bar in Fira, Santorini

Santorini. Wow. Santorini was definitely a highlight of the trip for both of us. We started the day with a boat ride to the volcano, where we hiked to the top. It was quite a hike, but the views made it so worth it. All around us, the rock was dark lava grey, with red where there is iron, and yellow where there is copper. And it smelled like sulfur. There wasn’t a big crater at the top, where we could look in and see molten lava or chuck in a beautiful maiden or anything, but there were multiple faults/craters along the way where the stinky steam escaped. From the top of the volcano, we saw the next island over, where we would be swimming in the hot springs!

We hopped back into the boat for a few minutes, then they stopped outside a little inlet and told us to jump in. They said to wear life jackets if we couldn’t swim, but my doggie-paddling worked just fine, thank you. And the cute Greek boy in the wetsuit was our lifeguard. We swam 50 meters or so into the inlet, as the water got progressively warmer and greener. The rocks nearby the water were red (from the sulfur?) and there were bubbles where the springs came in. The water wasn’t really hot, from mixing with the cold ocean water, I suppose, but the guide told us there was about a 10 degree difference. Anyway, it was a fun experience, to swim in volcanic hot springs, in the Mediterranean Sea!

After changing into not-wet, not-sulfury clothes, we took a tender boat to the port, where we caught a cable car up the side of the cliff, to Fira. Fira is absolutely gorgeous – the city and the views. We just wandered around, through the touristy shopping areas and the residential areas, and found a little café with a view, away from the crowds. We had a very Santorini lunch that was wonderful. After wandering around for a few hours, we paused behind an outdoor bar that was set into the cliff, everything white with ocean blue accents, and contrasting orange flowers. I said to Ryan, “They really know how to do beautiful here, don’t they?” which is, of course, exactly what he had been thinking. We were already talking about how we’d love to come back and stay just in Santorini for a week! (Stephie – we found the perfect place to finish your senior pictures!)

Well, it may be bedtime. Tomorrow we have a nine hour tour of Sorrento and Pompeii, so we should get some rest. Hope you are all well, thanks for the comments, looking forward to seeing you!

Stephie, hope this life jacket picture will suffice.

21 September 2007

Kusadasi & Rhodes: welcome to paradise

What an incredible last two days! We woke up at 6am on Wednesday to make our 7:30 excursion time after very little sleep. We’re pretty sure that we were served regular coffee on Tuesday night, after we ordered decaf. Amy rolled over at about 1am and asked me in a very normal volume voice whether I was still awake. I was. Not very quality preparation for 3 miles of walking and ninety degree heat. However, it ended up being an amazing day.

We arrived at Ephesus (Efes) early enough in the morning that the heat was not too much of an issue. The crowds weren’t terrible yet either. We had a great tour guide from Turkey who explained to us that Ephesus was the oldest and best preserved archaeological city site in the world – or something like that. Oz also told us later that he received his masters degree in American studies at university near Ankar, Turkey. However, he has never been to America, so we gave him our contact information is case he ever made it to the United States, which he is planning to do. Back to Efes. It was interesting to see the conglomeration of Roman and Greek architecture, indicating periods of occupation. Some carvings were in Greek and some were in Latin. We had fun reading some of the Latin stuff. We had a brief hour and a half tour of the main points of Efes, but the information and ruin remains were priceless. The lowlight of Efes had to have been the painfully cheesy interactive “day in the life of Ephesus” performance, a special treat put on especially for cruise tour groups. “Roman aristocrats” walking out to men “playing trumpets.” A juggler. A “gladiatorial exhibition.” And a fire eater. At the end of the tour we filled out a survey; the “performance” received a very low score from both of us.

After Ephesus, we drove out into the middle of nowhere to see Miletus, a contemporary of Ephesus. We saw a Roman theatre which, as always, is amazing. There’s not much that makes you feel…smaller, more temporary, than walking under an arch that has been standing through 2000+ years on an active faultline, with no cement.

In regards to both Ephesus and Miletus, archaeologists are still unearthing more ruins: the stadium in Ephesus, the gladiatorial burial ground in Ephesus (which the government is still in the stages of buying the land from a farmer whose land contains the ruins), and portions of the ancient port in Miletus. Maybe when we go back in 30 years, we will be able to see some of these ruins!

Then we had a traditional Turkish lunch at a restaurant in Didymus, which means twins, named for Apollo, god of light and music, and Artemis, goddess of fertility. It was a buffet, including many salads and hot dishes, including something that felt like it was biting my tongue when I ate it. It was fun to get to try such a variety of fare. After that we visited a temple of Artemis. This stuff is so old.

At the end of our tour, we went to a carpet store and saw a demonstration of how Turkish rugs are made. It’s amazing. We saw a 4x6 rug that took one girl, working five hours a day, 28 months to complete, and another rug, 10x13 feet, that took two girls working side by side 40 months to complete. In spite of the convincing the salesmen, we did not max out our credit cards to purchase one, although they were very tempting and extremely beautiful. From there we walked through the shops of Kusadasi, and got annoyed with the ravenous sales pitches of the shop owners. When we walked right past one shop, politely ignoring the shopkeeper’s pleas for us to look at his “cheap gifts for cheap friends” and he called after us, “you are stingy man,” we decided we were done looking at their wares, and made our way back to the ship. Except for this insult, we thought Turkey was quite beautiful, and would love to visit again, soon.

Yesterday, Thursday, we left early to see the island of Rhodes after our smallest, shortest breakfast: a caramel roll and yogurt. We brought coffee and a muffin on the bus. Real coffee this time, from the coffee shop, not the fake, see-through stuff from the free coffee and juice corners.

We drove up a mountain to a medieval church that was the strategic lookout for Ottomans during a period of their occupation pre-world war one and for the Germans in world war two. Rhodes was also an important port during Roman times. For us, the medieval church and its surrounding views were great for pictures!

Our descent from the mountain brought us through some housing developments in Rhodes. Houses are about half as expensive to build as they are to buy. So said our Rhodian tour guide. Greeks still use a dowry system for their children. Before a girl gets married, her parents build her a home to live in and the couple move into it after they get married. The husband has no claim to the home in case the marriage does not work out. Thus, the wife is not left out on the street. And the girl’s parents live with them when they are old.

Then we made a stop at a jewelry store/museum filled with copies of replicas of original jewelry. We’re pretty sure it was just a souvenir stop.

Our last stop before lunch was at Kalithea, which literally means great view. It’s true. Kalithea boasts 7 kilometers of beaches and was the site of movie shoots in the 50s and 60s. Our specific stop was at a spectacular swimming hole, which was, again, great for pictures! The water is so blue and transparent. Truly gorgeous scenery.

The tour bus dropped us off near the boat, but we were excited to explore the streets of Rhodes before we sailed away to Santorini. Rhodes was truly a highlight for both of us as we spent the next three hours walking the streets, taking pictures, and perusing the quaint little shops. It was quiet and Mediterranean beautiful.

Today we’re headed off to the volcanic island, Nea Kameni, and then to the thermal springs of Palea Kameni where we will be swimming during the morning. Should be another amazing day.

Please feel free to comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Dad, hope your back feels much better. We're thinking of you and praying for you.

Stephie, congrats and good luck!

18 September 2007

Athens and Mykonos

We are getting ready to go to dinner, but thought we’d write quick first. We’re in a lounge listening to a woman with a gravelly voice singing… well, I guess it would be called lounge singing.

Yesterday. Athens was very fun. We started with a tour of the Acropolis – the Parthenon. It was amazing to see The Parthenon in real life. It was hot and the crowds were awful (Ryan wanted to be sure that I said that there were one billion people on the top of the hill), but I think we got some good pictures. Speaking of pictures: We apologize for not posting more pictures. The internet onboard is very slow – slower than dial-up. And at a lot of cents per minute, we haven’t wanted to take the time to upload them.

After the Acropolis, the bus drove us around the city to see some more sights. Athens is really just a huge city – 5 million people, in fact. But at the end of the tour, we had an option to ride back to port or to spend a couple more hours in Athens. We wanted to stay, so they dropped us off at Constitution Square, which is near an area called the Plaka. The Plaka is the old part of town, once we got past the jewelry stores and souvenir shops, we found some amazingly charming, winding pedestrian streets. It was beautiful and terribly romantic. The only unfortunate thing was that we realized after we got there that we hadn’t brought a credit or debit card, and didn’t have much cash. We were told that the way back to the port was to take a taxi for 15-20 euro. We decided to try the metro – with a short train ride and a little extra walking, we found our way back to the ship for 1,40 euro. We felt proud. So we had enough to buy a couple gyros!

We were exhausted last night, after a long day of walking in the sun. Since we don’t eat dinner until nine, we get done each evening at almost midnight. So we decided to get room service last night. Hey, it’s all included!

Today we anchored at the island of Mykonos. Right away, we got on a boat for the island of Ancient Delos. Delos was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and is now an amazing site of ruins. We saw houses and temples and a theatre. It reminded us of Ostia Antica near Rome, where we went last year. It was beautiful and sunny and I think we got some good pictures. We took the 30 minute boat ride back to the port, while Ryan talked to a man we had met who is on his one-year sabbatical from the University of British Columbia where he teaches art history. He is spending the year on cruises – seeing the sights, doing research, and giving art lectures on the At Sea days.

When we got back to Mykonos town, we had about an hour to walk around through the town. You know the pictures of Greece that you see in travel brochures and magazines? That’s actually what it looks like. Beautiful, white-washed walls with brightly painted doors and shutters. They built the city with winding narrow streets as to confuse invaders, so it’s easy to get wonderfully lost. I can’t imagine living in a place that beautiful.

Well, it’s almost 9pm, so we’re going to sign off. We are really having a blast – we’re even enjoying this cruise business! Dad, happy birthday tomorrow! I love you and hope you are enjoying your dvds. :)

We miss you all, and hope you are enjoying low-80s temps like us!

16 September 2007

Sicily and a day at sea

Happy birthday to Kimberly! I wanted to call you last night, and was planning on it, but then I found out that it’s $8/minute. And I love you and it would be fun to talk to you, but I’d rather take you out for dinner or something when I get home. Know, however, that we were thinking of you yesterday, and praying for a lovely birthday day.

After writing yesterday morning, we got off the boat in Messina, Sicily, at about 12.30. We hopped on a bus, which took us up toward the volcano, Mt Etna. An hour and a half of driving brought us to a baron and baroness’s summer mansion and winery. There, we were greeted in the garden with appetizers of bruschetta, olives, meat and cheese, as well as a white wine from their vineyard. Then we proceeded into “the stable” for a traditional lunch of their rustic recipes, as well as tastes of a few more wines. The food was amazing. Macaroni with zucchini, a tomato salad, semolina bread, roasted potatoes, a romaine salad, sausages, and some other things I’m forgetting, all pretty much drenched in the best olive oil ever. We finished the meal with caffe and almond cookies with a name that translates to something like “sheet of paper.”

After, we looked around the winery and took some pictures of the beautiful vineyard where they grow, according to our tour guide, “special” grapes that are black because of the volcanic ash-soil they grow in. Our tour guide was funny – she was Sicilian and she kept saying things like, “I have to tell you something” and “I will tell you” and “I’m not joking” and her only adjectives were “terrible” and “wonderful.” We also drove past the village where the wedding scene in The Godfather was filmed.

Back on the ship, our dinner was again amazing. They have assigned seating for dinner, and we are at a table for four with a couple from Canada. I was not excited at first, because I didn’t feel like spending my dinners for 10 days making small talk with the same two people. But we’ve actually had a lot of fun with them. They’re from Quebec and speak French, but both of them speak great English, too. Last night they explained to Ryan what gazpacho was, and we discussed all the American TV shows they watch. It’s interesting to meet so many people who only speak English as a second language, and then to spend all of our time talking to them in English – because it’s the only language we can communicate in! It’s rather humbling… and makes me feel kind of ignorant.

I have decided this: If I am ever offered a movie role for which I need to gain a bunch of weight, I will just go on a cruise. Here’s the secret: multiple courses. You see, when you sit down for a meal (when you’re not really that hungry to begin with because you just had an amazing grilled onion cheeseburger and French fries 45 minutes ago), and you look at the menu of all the fancy foods, everything looks good. Plus, you figure, “I don’t really need to order something from each of the five courses, but I’ve already paid for it.” So you order an appetizer, a salad, a soup, an entrée, and a dessert. You tell yourself, “I don’t have to clean my plate each course.” But the reality is, you do. Because it’s there. And even when the appetizer and the soup have made you feel full, the salad still comes. And you figure, “Salads are healthy.” So you eat it. And then when the entrée comes, you don’t feel like you can just not eat this big entrée you already ordered. And then there’s dessert. Do I need to explain that? When someone offers you tiramisu, you don’t just turn it down. I don’t know – I guess I’m hedonist at heart.

We have been at sea all day today. Which was fun, because Ryan and I stayed up way late last night, wandering around the ship and talking about how much it would suck to fall in (I’ve been obsessing about this). Plus, we had an hour-ahead time change over night. So we got up this morning, went to breakfast (omelet for him, eggie benedict for me), then went back to bed until noon! We literally have done nothing all day. We lay by the pool and baked ourselves – stupid. Tonight is “formal night,” which should be interesting. We will definitely be less dressed up than some of these other people. In fact, a couple just walked by me, in a floor-length gown and tuxedo.

Tomorrow we’re in Athens, and we’re super-excited to see some of Greece. Although we realized that we don’t even know how to say hello and thank you in Greek. Hope everything is well at home, we miss you!

15 September 2007

thoughts on cruising

We are on our cruise! To back up… after writing on Thursday, we walked to downtown Rome to meet my friend Matt and his fiancée Valentina for lunch at a vegetarian Indian restaurant, called Bibliothe. It was decent food – rice with a curried-ish sort of veggie dish that tasted sort of like buttered popcorn. Hmm. We were with them for a couple of hours, and then Ryan and I went to the Pantheon to see if we liked it any better this time, and I stopped for a cone of gelato with three flavors: blueberry, melon, and something with marsala. Then we went to Trevi, because we hadn’t seen it during the day. It was packed, as were the Spanish Steps. I guess there are more tourists here in September than in October. For dinner on Thursday night, we went back to Trattoria der Pallara, where we ate on our last trip – the place where you eat whatever they serve you for the four courses. We got back to the hotel around 1am.

When we arrived in Civitavecchia Friday morning, we had no idea where we were going, so we just followed all the other people dragging luggage. We stopped for lunch at Pizzeria de Bafone and split a grilled veggie antipasto and a peperoni  pizza (which is roasted peppers). After a few wrong turns lugging all of our bags, we found the shuttle to our ship. Checking into the ship felt a bit like herded cattle.

We found our room, which really is pretty nice. Very clean, and a comfy bed with nice soft, crisp sheets. It’s amazing how dark it is in here in the morning without any sunlight – we could have slept all day! Haha: in compliance with international regulations, we had a “muster drill” at 5.15 last night. It was bizarre. We all put on our life jackets and gathered in a lounge before pretending to get on a life boat. While we were sitting in the lounge in our bright orange vests, and I was trying not to feel claustrophobic, I said to Ryan, “ah, yes, this is the luxury they talk about with cruises, no?” It was also then that we realized that every single other person on the ship is 2-3 times our age. Which made us wonder how strenuous our “strenuous” shore excursions will really be.

At 6.00, we went up on deck to watch ourselves depart. There was a band playing and everyone was excited. We took some pictures and watched the sun set. We went back to our room and unpacked, which was very exciting, and got ready for dinner – it was casual night. Dinner was amazing. We got the executive chef’s suggested menu, including, in order: a mushroom pastry appetizer; a bowl of fancy tomato soup; a fancy, yummy salad; some kind of fish (South African cape hake or something like that) with spinach, potatoes, a tomato and a citrus-y hollandaise-y sauce; and amazing crème brule for dessert. With coffee. Yes. My very own crème brule that I didn’t have to share with anyone. We started the meal with about nine forks and sundry other silverware, and actually used it all! We walked around outside for a little while and came back to our cabin feeling sick from all the rich food. Since we don’t eat dinner until 9pm, it was pretty much time for bed anyway.

This morning, Saturday, we got up and went to the breakfast buffet. Then we hit up the “waffles made to order”. We’re really starting to feel like hobbits. Meal after meal after meal. And we haven’t even been here for 24 hours. And we certainly haven’t taken advantage of every meal offering we’ve had the opportunity to eat.

Cruises are funny. Not only do they make you eat a whole lot, but you can’t sit in the same spot for more than five minutes without at least three people stopping to ask if you want something from the bar. It’s amazing to me that we don’ t have to turn around once an hour to pick up someone who fell overboard. And if someone did fall overboard, you know they’d get a cramp because of all the food they just ate. That is, if they could even hold their head above water. There are also a lot of stairs – that combined with the intermittent moving of the ship seems like another major hazard after you’ve had a few pina coladas. I’m just saying.

But all in all, we’re having a lot of fun! We’re going to be spending five hours in Messina today – it’s supposed to be around 85 degrees. And we’re excited to see another part of Italy. We realize we won’t probably take advantage of many of the evening offerings – a 70s and 80s dance party just isn’t really our cup of tea. But a cup of tea on the panorama deck sounds lovely, thank you.


14 September 2007

we're here!

yes, we made it. and all in one piece, with the exception of our suitcase (which apparently found itself in the middle of a airline-sponsored tug-o-war match, which clearly ended in a tie, with a leg of ryan's pajama pants waving in defeat through a seam.)
we just checked out of kennedy hotel and are on our way to termini to catch our train to civitavecchia to catch our boat! yay!
hope all is well at home; we'll write again as soon as we can.

11 September 2007

Our Mediterranean Itinerary

**In Rome, we will be 7 hours ahead of MN time; in Greece, we will be 8 hours ahead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Northwest Airlines (KLM) 46
Depart Minneapolis: 7:00pm
Arrive Amsterdam, Netherlands: 10:15am

Wednesday, September 12
Change planes. Time between flights: 3hr 20min
Northwest Airlines (KLM) 8389
Depart: 1:35pm
Arrive Rome, Italy: 3:55pm
Check into Kennedy Hotel, Rome

Thursday, September 13 – Reacquainting ourselves with Rome!
Friday, September 14 – Board cruise ship by 6pm
Saturday, September 15 – Sicily (Messina), Italy
Sunday, September 16 – At sea
Monday, September 17 – Athens (Piraeus), Greece
Tuesday, September 18 – Mykonos, Greece
Wednesday, September 19 – Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey
Thursday, September 20 – Rhodes, Greece
Friday, September 21 – Santorini, Greece
Saturday, September 22 – At Sea
Sunday, September 23 – Naples, Italy (Pompeii)
Monday, September 24 – Arrive in Rome, check into Milo Hotel

Tuesday, September 25
Depart Rome: 10:20am

Northwest Airlines (KLM) 8389
Arrive Amsterdam: 1:00pm

Change planes. Time between flights: 2hr 35min
Northwest Airlines (KLM) 55
Depart: 3:35pm
Arrive Minneapolis: 5:40pm