Saturday, July 16, 2011

Del-Ahhh-ware



We've been in Delaware for six days. It is so nice to kick back and relax with my parents and the kids. We've managed to squeeze in a few activities besides the beach and pool.

Suzanne, Zach and Liam were down here with us from Sunday to Wednesday. PopPop treated the kids to a deep-sea fishing outing. The half-day trip 'netted' no fish! Maddie was the only one to catch a fish, but it was too small and had to be thrown back in!







On Thursday, Maddie and Tori rented a waverunner and had a ball. It was the first time for both of them. They returned to the house all smiles, determined to do it again soon!





Every year James orders fresh seafood from the Pikes Place Fish Market in Seattle, and has it shipped to my parents house. He wasn't on hand to enjoy it this year, but Tori gladly filled in for him!



On Friday, the girls had their long-awaited visit with Auntie Karen! It's a mutual love-fest and always a fun time. We hit the beach for most of the day and then shared a family dinner here at Mom and Dad's house. I was happy to see Karen recovered nicely from her car wreck - looking healthy and fit. It was nice to sit and talk for hours with my friend of 30+ years...







I'm very excited to report that on Monday I will be going wedding dress shopping with my beautiful Goddaughter, Katie. I'm a bit overwhelmed by how quickly the years have gone... diapers to wedding dresses. I am so honored to have this experience with her. Her Mom, Nancy, is a dedicated teacher who is attending a seminar that day. We'll meet her for dinner on Monday night and hopefully have some real contenders to share with her! I'll post photos of the shopping spree, hopefully on Tuesday. Until then...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sorry - No Pictures!

I can’t believe that I’ve only had the ability to update the blog once since we set sail. Internet access is spotty – that’s to be expected, I guess. We’ve tried to hit up all the free WiFi spots in the various ports we’ve visited, but carrying the laptop around gets a bit cumbersome. So, now that it is the evening of our last port visit, I’ll try to play catch-up.

We departed Malta on July 1 and sailed for Palermo, Sicily. Our original itinerary included a stop in Tunis, Tunisia. There is a huge, exotic souk in the center of Tunis that was I was looking forward to exploring. However, with the unrest in many Northern Africa countries – Tunisia being the first in the early part of this year – our port call was cancelled and Palermo was the substitute. I was very excited to visit Palermo. I had done all my reading and found that there were many of the ‘mercados’ that I love visiting. I love getting a taste of local life and the markets seem to be the best place for that.
We were warned that Palermo was an ‘iffy’ place. One step onto the wrong block in town could put one in a dangerous situation. Instead of exploring on foot, James and I opted to take the kids on a three-hour car tour that was supposed to hit most of the major points of interest. That “three-hour tour” thing should have been our first clue that we were on an ill-fated journey.
We hopped in the cab and the first thing I said to the driver was, “The kids really want to visit the catacombs, could you please take us there first?” (Of course this was done with lots of hand gestures and my very limited Italian) His reply was “Catacombs close at noon,” (it was 11AM) “I take you up the mountain.” Not a great start.
We visited the Shrine of Santa Rosita, which is literally built right into the side of the mountain. It was beautiful, and offered incredible views of the city below. From there, we visited the opera house. The steps of the opera house are where the final scene of the Godfather III film took place. (I tried to talk the girls into posing for a picture sprawled out on the steps like Michael Corleone’s dying daughter, but they just wouldn’t accommodate me!) We continued on to the beach – again, just beautiful. White sand, azure blue water, lots of fat guys in Speedos. The next stop was The Duomo (cathedral), which didn’t disappoint. Its architecture is a mix of Moorish and Italian renaissance, with touches of Spanish and French influences. It was fantastic.

We were nearing the end of our three hours and it became apparent that the kids were not going to get to see the catacombs. Our final request was that we visit a Mercado so the girls could get a shopping fix and I could find some interesting subjects to photograph. Our driver pulled to the side of the road, showed us where the market was and gave us walking directions back to the ship. Tour Over!! James said the driver made a ‘typical foreign cab driver’ point of letting him know he wanted a tip. James also said that he responded with a ‘typical American’ gesture of giving him a lousy one! All I can say is that the market was not the one we were hoping for and that Palermo looks a lot better from a cab. It is a really dirty city. I’m glad we got to see it, but I don’t think we’ll be looking forward to returning anytime soon.
I was able to post a few photos on Facebook from our visits to Naples, Rome and Florence. Naples was great because we met up with our Virginia friends who are stationed there. It was a great reunion. We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon at a pizza restaurant, thereby ticking off one item on the teenagers ‘bucket list’… Pizza in Napoli!
We spent a majority of our time in Rome touring the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. This was our third visit to Rome, but Hailey and Liam had never been. So, the Vatican was a ‘must see’. We also made sure that each of the kids had a chance to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain – ensuring that they will one day return to Rome. The weather was a bit overcast, which made it an ideal day for all the walking we did. It was a long day though.
Florence was a total bust. It is such a beautiful city but it was jam packed with people. I counted 6 different cruise lines that were directing tours around the city. The lines were so long for every major attraction that we didn’t have time to tour the Duomo or Santa Croce. Heartbreaker. Most cruise ships dock at Livorno, which is about an hour train ride from Florence. Our ship, however, docked further up the coast in La Spezia. It was a 2.5-hour trip each way to Florence/La Spezia. We were up at 6AM and returned to the ship at 7:30 PM. In between, I think we walked about 20 miles! I was also terrified of losing Josie in the crowded streets.
After Florence, we were ready for a slower pace. Our stop in Corsica was the perfect remedy. Ajaccio, Corsica is one of the loveliest places we have ever visited. (It helped that my French is outstanding compared to my Italian!) The shopkeepers were friendly and very kind. We visited the outdoor market, which was just perfect! Butchers carving meat right off the bone for customers, children working along side their parents, and all took the time to explain their offerings. The city was so clean and the scenery was breathtaking. It was like taking a step back in time to a gentler way of life. James and I were really happy to just walk around and learn about the city through its monuments and lovely townspeople. Just a great experience.
Today, our final stop was Villefranche, a lovely little town that sits between Nice and Monte Carlo. James and I left the kids behind on the ship and took a short tour to the hilltop village of Eze, followed by a wine and cheese tasting in Nice. Perfect fit for us – given James is the wine drinker and I am all about the cheese! Both the wines and cheeses were made locally in Provence, so we learned a lot about the local culture while drinking/dining in a stone wine cellar that was over 500 years old!

We returned to Villefranche , grabbed the kids and walked around town for a bit. I made my second purchase of the trip when I found a lovely, locally produced ‘Country French’ tablecloth. I also picked up a few hand embroidered, monogrammed, lavender sachets. I was really happy to have found such nice mementoes of our trip.

So, we have a day at sea tomorrow (Friday) and we hop our flight home out of Barcelona on Saturday. I’m looking forward to being with my parents on the East Coast. We’ll be visiting with family and friends for the next two weeks. Can’t wait to have my Mom’s cooking!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We're At Sea! Valetta, Malta



Internet access is really limited here on board, not to mention very slow. I've posted a photo album in slideshow form with captions to explain what's going on.

The kids are having a great time. They took a 4x4 tour of Malta yesterday and returned to the ship very happy and a bit sunburned. Their driver, Allan, was "awesome". James and I roamed around checking out the historic sites. Josie stayed on board at the Oceaneer's Club where she has made many friends. It's open from 8AM - midnight and I think Josie would stay there the entire time if we let her!!

We've just docked in Palermo, Sicily and we're headed out in about 30 minutes. First stop, chosen by the kids, is the catacombs. We're told there are still skeletons there, unlike other catacombs which have evacuated their residents!