Friday, October 14, 2005

Euro Trip - day#6; at sea

We slept in until almost 10am. It was great! We put on our swimsuits and headed to the lido deck. Grabbed a quick brunch bite at the buffet, and then just lounged on the deck in the sun. It is only about 70 degrees outside, but in the full sun (yes, another clear gorgeous day) it was very relaxing. After an hour or two we headed back to our room. We gathered some things up to do a load of laundry. $2 to wash, $2 to dry and $1 for soap. While the laundry was going we watched another movie in our room and got ready for evening (it is the first formal night). We headed to the photo store of the ship. Our 512MB memory card for our camera was already at 488MB…and our cruise had just begun! They sold compact flash cards, so we bought a 256MB (they didn’t have any 512MB)….we wanted to make sure we got all the pictures we wanted on this trip. We browsed the other stores on ship…and Jen lost $10 n the quarter slots at the casino.

Next stop…Pizzeria…Dustin was craving some pizza! We also went back to the pool deck to watch “phantom of the opera” on the big screen jumbo-tron. Then back to get some formal shots. Since tonight was the captain’s ball it was lobster for dinner! It was funny to see the wait staff carry away the empty lobster tail shells when they cleaned up.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Euro Trip - day#5; Naples

Wow! Apparently our wake up call didn’t work. Jen checked her watch and it said 8am! She jumped up and said, “Is it really 8am? Get up!” We were suppose to be in one of the lounges at 8:30am for our Naples tour! We both showered and got dressed in 15 minutes, we then ran to the breakfast buffet and ate in 10 minutes. We made it to the lounge at exactly 8:30am….talk about a morning!

We hopped on a bus and headed to Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that covered Pompeii. We drove up a very windy road, and we could see the entire coast of Naples. There were lots of stray dogs and at one point a dog was lying in the middle of the road, and he didn’t move for us. So after we stopped and honked the horn for a bit, he finally left. Our guide said the dogs like the heat the cars leave on the road so they lay on it as cars pass. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the volcano base. We had to walk up to the top by taking all these switchbacks (3000 feet up). The entire journey was at a 40-45 degree incline. We had to stop several times to catch our breath. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the top. We had quite the view once at the top. The volcano didn’t look too deep, but is currently is inactive, so the entire thing is filled with ash. You could feel the heat emanating from it. Some areas smelt like sulfur. They used to have a chair lift to get to the top, but in the 1970’s the volcano erupted and destroyed it, so all that remains was the cement base. Looking down from Mt. Vesuvius you could see where the lava had flowed last time the volcano was active. Some parts were still “smoking” due to the heat. We even found a few dogs lying near the top to feel the warmth. The walk down only took us about 15 minutes, but felt more dangerous as you are walking on rich soil and rocks. With that very steep incline it was easy to slip.

Our bus next took us to a “camio” shop. We thought they sold inlaid wood artwork…but it turns out it was more of a jewelry place…old antique looking stuff. We just used the restrooms (they were clean, but again no toilet seats).

Our next stop was Pompeii, and entire city back in 79AD was covered by the eruption of the volcano Mt. Vesuvius. We were surprised how much had already been uncovered, and they are still digging up part of this city today! Most of the city and buildings were intact since they made everything out of stone, brick and marble. The wooden roofs were burned away from the lava. They even recovered some bodies and plaster impressions of places where they found bodies. They said that the lava didn’t kill the people; it was the deadly gases from it that killed the people first. We saw a theater, a bath, courtyards, stores, and a “rich mans” palace. The roads were still intact with huge cobblestones, you could even see where chariot wheels had worn down the cobblestones in the streets. They also uncovered a meat/fish market where they found the building walls still painted inside and fish bones where they stored the fish.

The drive back to the ship was pretty quick. We were back about 3pm. We went to the lido deck for some fish and chips, we also finished off the rest of our anniversary cake. We were going to go back ashore (ship didn’t leave until 6pm) for a second look at the city, but we could see everything so much better from the top deck of the ship. There was a castle right across the street from the port, and another one on top of a hill near the port. We got some pictures and then laid down on a deck chair on the back of the ship and fell asleep. We woke up about an hour later and grabbed a pizza (there is ia 24 hour pizzeria on the ship!) and just watched the people on the ship, and the other ships at the port. Our ship left port about an hour late (7pm)….one of the tours was late getting back. We headed back to our room to shower (again) and get ready for dinner. Dinner was good….Dustin had escargot! After dinner we headed to a show. It was called “welcome aboard” where we met the activities director (John). John was absolutely hilarious. He invited 8 guests on stage and found ways to make us all laugh by introducing the guests. The show went late and we were up until 12:30am…that is a miracle for us!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Euro Trip - day #4; Rome

Today is our 4th Anniversary! We woke up, got ready and went down to the lobby for our normal breakfast. Dustin said he was tired of salami sandwiches and he wanted eggs….I think we are looking forward to the food on the cruise ship

We packed as much as we could in our big black suitcase so we would have less luggage to haul to the train station. So of course it weighted a ton! Dustin was a trooper, he hauled that big suitcase up and down several flights of stairs to the train station. He says we are throwing it away when we get back! We arrived at the airport and found Carnival, we purchased our transfers to the ship and got on a nice ride in a comfortable air conditioned bus to the port (about a 1 hour drive). We started chatting with a couple who was deaf. The wife was deaf, the husband communicated between all of us. They were from New York. Once again Jen wished she knew sign language.

We arrived at the port and they had things streamlined so well. We didn’t have to wait in any lines. The ship (Carnival Liberty), was absolutely beautiful. It is brand new (July 2005). There are bathrobes in our staterooms, feature pillows, down comforters…and it is one of the largest staterooms we have ever stayed in. There are plasma screen TV’s throughout the ship (included a huge movie screen over the pool outside), and the TV in our rooms are very interactive. You can look up the dining menu, purchase excursions, pay per view movies and view your bill from the TV in your room.

We survived our life jacket drill…and then sat back and watched the movie “guess who:…we were tired.

Dinner was delayed to 9pm today. We were excited to find out who we were sitting with at our dining table. We walked into the room to find we had a table for 2…just us for dinner for the cruise. At the end of our meal our waiters Claudio and Anner came out with a chocolate mousse cake and sang “Happy Anniversary” to us. We both turned bright red, as there were a couple hundred people in the dining room watching us. The cake was really good!

We got back to our stateroom about 11pm and it sounded like a disco in our room! There was some show going on in a lounge below us. You could hear everything. Our bed even was vibrating due to the bass of the music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Euro Trip - day#3; Rome

We slept in a bit more today, 8:30am. Headed downstairs for our normal breakfast, and then headed out to find the metro (subway) to visit the Vatican area. We couldn’t figure out where to find the Metro A line. We found the Metro B line, but not A. We found an information booth and got directions (Jen was a bit frustrated). Who would have thought Metro B was in front of the train station and Metro A was in the basement of the train station. The metro was hot and smelly. Everyone told us to watch out for pick pocketers…we can see why! You are literally crammed in the metro. It would be easy to steal from someone. We got off on our stop and walked to St. Peters Basilica. There was a huge line of people to get it, turns out it was to go through security. After about 20 minutes we made it in. We had never seen a “church” this big….and so much decorations and gold. They had some type of mass going on. We even saw pope John Paul II…they had him on display (we couldn’t tell if it was really his dead body or some wax body made to look like him).

We then got in a separate line to climb to the dome of St. Peters Basilica….we waited an HOUR! Our feet hurt so bad after standing that long. We had the choice of paying 7 euros for an elevator ride ½ way up, then 350 steps to the top or 4 euros for all 550 steps. We decided to get a work out and only pay the 4 euros. Man oh man, did we choose wrong. After a few breaks we made it to the top. It was beautiful, especially when on the roof you could see the entire Vatican city. On the way down we snuck onto the elevator. Dustin’s knee was hurting (only going down steps…weird, eh?). By now it was 2pm and we were starving. We munched on some beef jerky as we walked to the Vatican museum to see the Sixtine chapel. We got stuck behind another long line (this one moved faster), and realized the museum was only open for another hour and a half! We rushed through everything to get to the Sixtine Chapel Room. It was packed with people inside. The staff of the museum went around telling people to be quiet and yelled at people when they took pictures. The room was painted everywhere and it had been preserved nicely, the colors were very bright.

Afterwards we headed across the street for lunch/dinner at a pizzeria. We wanted to go to the Castle of St. Angelo before calling it a day. When we arrived at the Castle there were tons of moving trucks and movie costume trailers around. Apparently they closed the castle for the day and were filming a movie. Dustin was very sad…he wanted to see the inside. We decided to walk around the area. It sits right next to the Tiber River, and the scenery was beautiful. We saw another “freak show”, this guy was standing outside the movie trailers in a suit and an umbrella. He kept growling and making faces, then would walk a few feet and do it again. We sat on a bench and watched him a bit until he finally left. Then we noticed a dog park behind us. We must have spent 30 minutes just chilling on the bench, taking funny pictures and watching the dogs (there was an Akita!).

We headed out and grabbed some gelato. On our way back to the Metro, we found some street vendors in a plaza. We stopped and looked around. We found a nice silk tie for Dustin for only 5 euros…a tie like this in the US would cost at least $30, we got it for $6! We then headed to the metro (we found it easily this time!).

After getting off the metro we walked to our hotel…tried to get money out of an ATM, but only one of our cards worked. So once back at the hotel Jen called the bank and they had no blocks on the card…so better luck next time!

Our last night in Rome….

Monday, October 10, 2005

Euro Trip - day #2; Rome

What a beautiful day! When we checked the weather before we left it looked like we were going to be rained on in Rome…not today! Beautiful clear blue skies. We woke up about 7:30am, got ready and headed down to the lobby for breakfast. Salami sandwich with cheese for Dustin, and a sweet roll for Jen. Then our journey began. We found a supermarket right across the street from our hotel, and bought some bottled water. They had “naturale” and “fizzamente”. We bought one of each because we really couldn’t tell if there was carbonation in the “fizzamente”…boy were we wrong! About half way through the day we just tossed that bottle (half empty).

Our first stop was the Colosseum, it was almost a mile walk or so. We found someone giving tours in English (more likely they found us), it was an extra 8 euros each….but turned out to be well worth it. We got lots of history info, and we didn’t have to wait in the LONG LINE to buy tickets. We learned that only 1/3 of the original Colosseum stands today. The Romans took apart the other 2/3 to use the materials for other buildings. Right outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, very nice, lots of detail. A short walk later we toured the Roman Forum (no not Vegas style). Lots of old buildings with columns, arches, and domes. By this time we were getting hungry, about 1pm. Leaving the Forum we walked through the Plaza for Campidoglio. There were some nice fountains (Jen made friends with some pigeons), and a huge statue with a man on a horse (which seems to be quite common in Europe). A group of students were getting a lesson from their professor….we are so glad to be done with school!

Remember the big white building that looked like Caesar’s Places we caught a glimpse of yesterday? It is actually a monument for the “unknown soldier”. After WWI they buried an unknown soldier at this site and the building was dedicated for the reason. The building was originally built in 1890 for the king of Rome. We walked around….we weren’t as interested in Italian war stuff as much as we are interested in American war stuff.

It is now 2pm and we are still starving and have to use the bathroom! We jumped into a restaurant, ordered some diet coke (4.5 euros a glass!) and Dustin had lasagna (wasn’t very good…very bland), Jen had ham and cheese calazone (very yummy)…Jen attempted to use the restroom…but after waiting in line for 10 minutes, they closed it to be cleaned….apparently there wasn’t any toilet paper either. Jen held it.

Now that we were re-energized, we set out for the “sacred area” which turned out to be old ruins in a park area. They had it fenced in so people couldn’t explore. We did count at least 10 cats just lounging about on the ruins. The cats in Rome are bigger than US cats…they look beefier. Next Jen snuck into a pizzeria to use the bathroom. But same story…no toilet seat and no toilet paper. She couldn’t hold it….we grabbed napkins from the tables and she just hovered….mission accomplished.

Next stop Pantheon. Now this place was cool. All the famous kings and artists were buried here. A magazine vendor next door had an Italian Maxim…Dustin purchased it for his collection. Just down the street was the plaza Navona. It was a big open courtyard with three fountains (one of the fountains was being repaired/restored). There were lots of art vendors in the courtyard displaying their work. We found a lovely little piece for us. On khaki canvas , this man painted the Colosseum in black and white. We bought it to remember our trip by. There were lots of “freak shows” (that’s what Dustin kept calling it)…people standing in costumes and when you put coin money in their cans they would do something. We got some pictures and watched for a bit on a bench.

We tried to make our way home, but got a bit lost and ended up at “Spanish Steps”…a site that was on our list to do sometime. Unfortunately it was under construction, so they had the whole thing covered up so we couldn’t see anything. Now we trekked back to the hotel probably a 2 mile walk (bringing our daily total to 6 miles or more!). We had to rest a bit at our hotel and massage our feet…they hurt!

The desk man at the hotel referred us to a great little restaurant down the street, it looked like and old castle. The owner was at the door to greet us and took us through he restaurant and kitchen to the outdoor patio to eat….they even had a guy playing the guitar and singing while we ate. Dustin ordered king prawn and it came with the head, eyes and tentacles. He had fun tearing them apart and telling Jen he was going to suck the juice out of the head. We ordered tiramisu for dessert and it was the best we have ever had! It was homemade with lots of cream and chocolate mousse with very little espresso.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Euro Trip - Day#1; traveling

Flight from Austin to Chicago wasn’t too bad! Jen kept busy playing on the PSP, while Dustin slept. In the bathroom in the Chicago airport the toilet seats were covered in plastic liners. You wave your hand, and a new liner covers the seat! Wonder if that says something about the people in Chicago?!

Flight from Chicago to Rome was LONG! 9 hours. Dustin was glued to the PSP. The lady next to Jen had her shoes off and it smelled. The meals (dinner and breakfast) were actually pretty good.

We arrived at the Rome airport 45 minutes early at 7am. We had to wait 20-30 minutes to go through customs and another 20-30 minutes to get our luggage. Outside the airport terminal is where we got on the “Leonardo Express” to the Rome Termini station. Since our luggage was so huge and heavy we took up 4 seats for the two of us. Then as the train was leaving two random Italian women started talking to us (in Italian) and pointing to our bags….so Dustin put our bags in the walkway (now completely blocked by our luggage) and away we went. Later we found out there were actually luggage racks to store your luggage on the opposite side of the car we were on.

When we arrived at Termini it was quite a walk to just get out of the station! We had written directions from the hotel on how to reach it from the train station. We quickly found out that street names are not as clearly labeled in Italy than in the USA. After a while we found the street names engraved on the buildings that were street corners. Most of the stores were closed as it was Sunday morning about 10am. We actually walked past our hotel; the names are not labeled very well. The lobby of the hotel was very tiny. We hauled our stuff up one flight of stairs to get to the lobby. Check in time wasn’t until 2pm, and it was 10am. So the hotel let us leave our luggage while we went out exploring. They even gave us a city map. We just decided to start walking with no particular destination in mind.

We ran in the “piazza della Repubblica:” with a beautiful fountain in the center of the street. Behind the fountain was a church called “Santa Maria degril Angeli”. It was designed and built by Michael Angelo. Since today was Sunday, they actually had some sort of mass going on. We were amazed at the painting on the walls and ceilings. There was a huge organ, and a zodiac calendar on the floor (two holes in the wall that allows the sun to shine in on the calendar to tell the correct day…pretty cool). Next we headed down the street a bit to a museum that had a bunch of restored roman statues. The floor below the museum looked to be excavated, but they wouldn’t let us down to take a look.

We started walking down random streets and found a huge horse statue in a park. Turns out it was “Giardini del Quirinale”. Jen wanted to chill on a bench but they were all wet (we think it rained the night before we arrived and most of the park was in the shade). We continued down the road and found the “Quirinale”. It was ope to the public today, and cost us 5 euros each to get it. They had an orchestra doing a concert, and this huge mansion with a courtyard had all the rooms open for exploring. They wouldn’t allow pictures, and there were guards everywhere. There were over 16 rooms in this building…each one had a different purpose. Most of them were for the wife of Napoleon. There were beautiful chandeliers, rugs hanging from the wall with detailed religious designs, and of course some very old furniture!

When we left, we followed a tour group out of the courtyard. They lead us straight to Trevi Fountain, by far the most beautiful fountain ever. The place was packed with tourist, throwing a coin over your shoulder into the fountain was suppose to represent your promise to return to Rome again….of course we took our turn tossing in a coin.

By this time we were getting hungry! We passed a good smelling pizzeria and stopped. Jen got a slice of tomato and cheese, and Dustin had ham and cheese (no pizza sauce?)…our first Italian experience. Of course we got some gelato for the rest of our journey.

We followed the road through some souvenir shops and street vendors. He only thing we bought was a Rome 2006 calendar. By this time it was almost 2pm and we were absolutely exhausted (we had been up over 24 hours). We decided to start heading towards our hotel…and stumbled across this huge building…it looked like Caesar’s Place in Las Vegas. Our map called it “Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II”. We sat in the shade for a break and could see the Colosseum! We headed back to the hotel.

Our room was ready, we were on the 2nd floor at Hotel Lirico. We had to take the elevator up one floor. The elevator was so small; it barely fit us both with two suitcases. Dustin was surprised how small the room was…probably the same size as a cruise ship stateroom. The shower is tiny. We found one electrical outlet and Dustin immediately plugged in the PSP to recharge. We unpacked a bit and took a 4 hour nap!

When we woke we asked the hotel for a good place to eat dinner. They recommended El Barocco”. A family owned Italian place. Dustin had spinach gnocci’s and tiramisu. Jen had spaghetti and strawberry gelato. We headed back to the hotel, watched some Italian TV (some funny comedy sitcom, we didn’t understand the words but figured it out by gestures) and just chilled.