Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ajaccio 12/3/09

We got a gorgeous view of the sunrise over the mountains on the French island of Corsica! Thank goodness I just happened to wake up at 7:15 so we could see it! I had to wake up Natashia so she could see it, too! From our balcony, we had a front row view of the sunrise, and also of the snow capped mountains!

It was a slow morning...we didn't dock until 10:00am, so Natashia and I took our time getting up and ready for the day. At 10:00am, we walked down to the 4th deck and got off the ship. We walked through the port and towards the Town Square. We passed a market on the way, and had fun looking at all the flowers, wines, cheeses, fruits, and veggies that were for sale.


We walked along the coastline and in a couple of minutes, arrived at the old walls of the Citadel. Down in what used to be the moat around the fortress, there was a donkey and a goat. I made a bleating noise to greet Mr. Goat, and an elderly woman standing about 10 feet from me exclaimed, "Oh! Did you hear the goat! He's talking to us!" She thought I was the goat! Hahaha! I didn't want to disappoint her, so I just went along with it! :-P

Beyond the Citadel was the beach! The water was chilly, but beautiful!


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Next, we headed across the street to the Cath├ędrale Notre Dame de l'Assomption. This is where Napoleon Bonaparte was baptized and attended mass as a child.

We meandered through a few of the narrow streets and found Napoleon's House. We did not want to pay the admission fee, so we just took pictures at the front door and went on our way! There are two main shopping streets in Ajaccio that run parallel to the coast. This was our next destination, but we also wanted to find a post office. We stopped in a park on the way, and I successfully asked three young men how to get to "la poste." They gave their answer in French, and I understood it! I was quite proud of myself. :-) Of the three languages in which we had to communicate on this trip, I enjoyed using French the most! Anyway, we found the post office, sent some more post cards, and then did some window shopping. Natashia had certain items that she was looking for, but I had already promised myself that, in order to save money, I would not buy souvenirs aside from the postcards I was sending. When I travel, I am usually quite satisfied to let my photographs and my memories be my souvenirs!
Around 1:00pm, we found a cute little cafe to have some lunch. The owner of this restaurant was very friendly and helpful. He recommended we try a wine that I ended up loving (Moscato), and I had some delicious homemade lasagna and a huge salad...all for only about 12 euros!

After lunch, it was starting to rain lightly. I wasn't interested in more window shopping, but Natashia still hadn't found what she was looking for...so we decided to split up for the afternoon. I went back to the ship, took a long, hot shower to warm myself up, drenched myself in body lotion (don't you just love that?!?!), and rested up a bit while Natashia shopped. Natashia got back to the ship at about 4:30pm. She had used the calling card to call her mom in the port building, so I decided that I would go call my dad before all aboard at 5:00pm. We ate dinner at the Grand Pacific Dining Room. We got there about 15 minutes before it opened, and there was already a line! We requested a seat at the window so we could watch when we were leaving port. We admired the Christmas decorations in the room as we ate. A woman at the table next to us was celebrating a birthday, and she shared her cake with us, so we got a nice little extra dessert! At 7:45pm, we decided to go to Evening Trivia in the Spinnaker Lounge. We ran into Judi and Patsy there and decided to be on their team. I don't remember exactly, but I'm sure we did pretty well. :-) We also met James and William, two guys who were traveling home after two years overseas in the Peace Corp. After trivia was over, we went to talk to Rob "Sugar", the Assistant Cruise Director. He had a contest going on that day...a prize to the person who could guess his real last name. With just two clues, I correctly guessed that his last name is Barker, and I won a Norwegian Cruise Line pen and a free Bingo card! Woohoo! Lol!
We went back to our room to rest. I also called Chad and Scott and left a message that we would love to have dinner with them one night soon. At 10:45, we went to a game called If You Know It, Sing It. I knew it was a crowd participation game, but I was not prepared for all that it entailed! I ended up being a very content observer of the crazy festivities! :-) By that time, the ship was rocking and rolling a bit, and there was a light rainstorm, so it definitely helped lull me to sleep...but not until after some precautionary motion sickness medicine! That night, the storm picked up and the ship started its creaking...a noise that became very familiar to us as we crossed the Atlantic!

See more pictures from "Ajaccio 12/3/09" HERE

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rome 12/2/09

We ate breakfast, as usual, on the back deck outside the Garden Cafe. It was especially brisk this morning, so we ate quickly and then went back in to warm up before heading off the ship. We exited the ship and got on the shuttle bus that dropped us off at the edge of port. From there, it was about a 10 minute walk down the street to the Civitavecchia train station. We rode the hour and a half to Rome, got off at the Rome Ostiense station, and took the Metro to Circo Massimo. When we got to ground level, we came face to face with ancient Roman ruins! It was so neat to see them and think about just how long they have been there!
We walked just a few blocks and came to the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. Very cool!!!
Next we walked past the Roman Forum. It was really neat to see the combination of old and new in the city!
Just a few steps away we found the "Wedding Cake Monument." It is a monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy.
Next, we meandered our way to the Pantheon. We thought we had passed it and were just about to stop and consult a map when we looked up and found ourselves right beside it!

We went inside and got some pictures, and then we found a friendly McDonald's just across the plaza to go to the restroom! We were scheduled to meet Natashia's friend, Luke, in front of the Pantheon at 11:30am. Luke is a seminarian in Rome, and has been there for a couple of years. He offered to be our private tour guide for the afternoon! While we waited for Luke to arrive, what did we do? That's right, we got gelato! This particular place had some interesting flavors... (The blue one is called "Viagra.")
When Luke arrived, he immediately led the way to the Trevi fountain. We stopped briefly to toss in our coins, and then headed to the Spanish Steps. We also got to walk through the first McDonald's built in Italy! Lol! It was really nice to have Luke with us. We moved much faster because he knew exactly where to go without looking at a map. We also felt a bit safer having a man (and a seminarian!) with us! After the Spanish Steps, we took the metro straight over to the Vatican. I knew it would be cool to be at the Vatican, but I was not prepared for how emotional my reaction would be! As soon as St. Peter's came into view, tears sprang to my eyes and I got choked up! It was such a powerful experience!
There was not a line to get into St. Peter's, so that is where we went first. Again, it was such an emotional experience! It is soooooo beautiful! There aren't even words to describe it! And Luke was an AMAZING tour guide! He was so knowledgeable about everything from the floor tiles, to the artwork, to the relics and tombs in the church. It was a priceless experience! Here are just a few of the pictures I took. (I think I probably took 300 in St. Peter's alone!)
After our venture through St. Peter's, Luke took us down into the catacombs. There were tombs of past popes, including Pope John Paul II. Luke also told us about how the existing St. Peter's was built on top of the original St. Peter's that was built by Constantine. You can see some of the original structure beneath the catacombs...if you know where to look! There is a little hole that you can look through, but you have to practically get on your hands and knees to do it! It was worth it, though! Pretty cool! On our way out of the catacombs, we stopped to take pictures with the Swiss Guards and to mail some postcards back home!
By then, it was about 2:30pm, and Luke had to leave us to go to class. We went our seperate ways, and Natashia and I started walking towards the San Pietro train station. We stopped on the way at a cute little restaurant for lunch. Our waiter was adorable...we didn't get his name, so decided to name him Marcello! :-) We caught up with some of our new cruise buddies on the train back to Civitavecchia. When we got to the station, we called our moms, got our last Italian gelato, and then walked back to our shuttle bus stop. We went back to our room to rest, wash some clothes (there was a clothesline in our shower...very handy!), and clean up for the evening. We went to the show called "Colorz." It was put on by the ship's singers and dancers...we were not too impressed. I think years of singing and dancing combined with watching shows like So You Think You Can Dance has spoiled us both as to what real talent is! :-P At 8:30pm, Los Locos Ole performed an encore of just their music in the Crystal Atrium. They stuck around after their performance for an informal meet and greet!




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We went to dinner at Magenta, and then got a little bit gussied up and headed to Bliss Ultra Lounge a bit before 11:00pm. We were already tired before we went, and as a result, we were acting pretty goofy! When we got to Bliss, it was pretty much dead, so we decided to call it a night!

See more pictures from "Rome 12/2/09" HERE and HERE

Monday, December 21, 2009

Florence/Pisa 12/1/09

We had our wake up call set for 5:00am! We heard it, and laid back down. I planned on just shutting my eyes for a few more minutes...but a few minutes turned into an hour! We woke up, got ready, had breakfast at Garden Cafe, and by 7:30am, we were headed off the ship. We had to ride a shuttle bus from the ship to the middle of the town of Livorno. Then, we had to buy another bus ticket at a news stand to take us to the train station. We got in line at the train station and got our round trip ticket to Florence with just minutes to spare! We ran to our platform, validated our ticket, and got on the train in the nick of time!
On the train, we met a woman from the U.S. who had been living in Florence for a few months. She was very nice and gave us some good information about catching the train back from Florence. We exited the train station in from of the church of Santa Maria Novella. We walked East and passed the church of San Lorenzo and lots of street vendors, mostly selling leather.
We passed a little cafe, and the proprietor saw us out taking pictures. He spoke to us in perfect English and asked where we were from. When we told him Texas, he produced a Longhorns keychain from his pocket. He said it was a gift from his good friends who live in Texas. Small world! We continued to walk, and before we knew it, we could see the Duomo peeking out at us above the rooftops!
When we got up right next to it, I was utterly amazed! It was so breathtakingly beautiful...and HUGE!!! I think my jaw was on the ground the whole time we were there! It felt like something out of a dream! I was stunned!


After the Duomo, we headed to Piazza della Signora. This is where the Uffuzi Gallery is, but there are also statues out in the courtyard, including a replica of Michelangelo's David.
It would have been nice to go into the Uffuzi, but there just wasn't time on this trip. Definitely a reason to go back! We continued to walk and ended up next at the church of Santa Croce. The facade looks very similar to the Duomo, just smaller. :-) We headed to the Arno river, and it was so beautiful! Storm clouds were starting to roll in, and it drizzled a little bit, but not too bad. We walked along the river to the Ponte Vecchio. It is the only bridge in Florence to have survived WWII...supposedly because Hitler thought it was too beautiful to destroy!


We went to the middle of the bridge, got some pictures, and then started heading back towards the train station. The rain was starting to pick up, so we decided to stop at a little cafe for some lunch. I got a huge plate of delicious, homemade pasta, and Natashia got a Margherita pizza. We each had bites of both, and they were so good! After lunch, we got our first taste of gelato. I wasn't too impressed with it overall, but it was very pretty to look at and fun to say I had it in Italy!
As we ate our gelato, we walked back to the train station (in the rain!). We looked at the schedule boards and saw that our train was leaving from the platform furthest from the door in just a matter of minutes! We RAN to the other end of the station, went to the wrong platform first, then got to the correct train only to remember we hadn't validated our tickets...so I RAN back to the validation box and RAN back to the train and got on just before the doors shut! Whew! We settled into our seats on the train started our journey to Pisa. We thought it would only take about 45 minutes, but we soon realized we were on a local train, not an express. It stopped in every single little town between Florence and Pisa! If I remember correctly, it took at least an hour and a half to get to Pisa! Once we were there, we quickly walked 20 minutes to the Field of Miracles...where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located! Upon first glance, the tower was much shorter than I had thought. I don't know why I thought it should be much taller...I guess after seeing the Eiffel Tower, anything looks short! Lol! Anyway, we only had time to get a few pictures before we had to run back to the train station.


We got to the train station right as our train pulled away, so we had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one. We were getting a little nervous about our time until we saw that some of the crew of the ship was waiting for the train with us, too! We got back to Livorno Piazza Grande a little bit after 5:00pm, and went to wait for the shuttle bus that would take us back to our ship. When we arrived at the bus stop, a woman from Princess Cruise Line was there. She told us that the Norwegian bus service had ended at 5:00pm! There was a mini crowd uprising because we had been told multiple times that the buses would run until 5:30pm! The woman called the bus driver and told him we were waiting, and he did eventually come back for us! We made use of the time we were waiting by getting more gelato! We made it back to the ship and had dinner at the Blue Lagoon. It is supposedly the place to go for good old fashioned "comfort food"...burgers, fries, chicken fingers, etc. Unfortunately, we were definitely NOT impressed with the quality of the food. Oh, well. After dinner, we went to the Stardust Theater to see "Los Locos Ole" in what they called a "Comedy Flamenco" show. It was hilarious!!! It was three guys playing guitars and singing, but they mixed it with a great sense of humor...lots of physical comedy. It was good fun! After dinner, we ran into our friends, Jonathan and Maureen in the stairwell. We ended up chatting with them for a good while before heading back to our room. Before bed, we ventured back out into the ship to explore a bit. We walked through the casino and then I sent an email home (for $.75 a minute!). Then, it was time for beddy-bye!

See more pictures from "Florence/Pisa 12/1/09" HERE

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cannes/Monaco 11/30/09

We woke up at 7:30am, got dressed, went down for breakfast, and then the ship docked in Cannes, France at 10:00am. We took an excursion with the cruise line to Monaco and Monte Carlo, so we were instructed to meet in the ships theater until it was time to go. Once we got there, we met Judi and Patsy. I had chatted with Judi on Cruise Critic and on Facebook before the trip, but they became good friends during the trip. Once it was time to go, we were hearded off the ship and onto tender boats. The bumpy ride took us to shore where we got on numbered buses for our tour. The drive to Monaco took about an hour and a half. We drove through Cannes, and then through beautiful countryside, passing through Nice on the way to Monaco.
Our first stop in Monaco was on top of the "Rock." We passed the Oceanographic Museum and the Cathedral of Monaco (Prince Ranier and Princess Grace were married there). Then, we moved on to the Palace of Monaco. We had a little bit of free time to wander the area and take some pictures.


We also grabbed lunch at a little deli/cafe nearby before having to meet back up with our group. Our next stop was at the casino in Monte Carlo.
We had some free time there to explore the area around the Casino...shops like Cartier and Louis Vuitton...Maseratis and Lamborghinis parked along the street. We just kept to the window shopping and picture taking!



(Fun with reflections!)

On our way back to the bus, I heard someone calling out my name. It was Chad! He had sent me a message on Facebook before the trip and we had agreed to get in touch while on the cruise. We headed back with Chad and Scott, chatting and showing each other pictures of our dogs while we walked! We drove the hour and a half back on the bus, got back on the tender boat, and reboarded the Norwegian Gem.
Back on the ship, we headed to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. We were a little late getting there, so we missed most of the officers welcoming us onboard, but we stayed for a bit and met up with a lot of the people I had been talking to on cruisecritic.com prior to the cruise.
We also met Andy, our Cruise Director.
We took the opportunity to ask him a question about the itinerary that had been delivered to our room. We noticed that on one of the sea days, the show was listed as, "International Super Group Il Divo." Well, we kinda didn't believe that, so we wanted to ask Andy if it was the real Il Divo. He said that it was!! We were so excited! We vowed to get to the show hours early in order to ensure a front row seat! Anyway, we met Judi and Patsy in the Magenta dining room for dinner, and then went back to our room for a rest. Singin' in the Rain was on one of the limited TV stations we got in our stateroom. Its one of my favorites and Natashia had never seen it, so we watched a little bit of it. We ventured out for a late night snack, and ran into Dawn and Anthony. We talked to them for a while, and then went back to the room to start winding down for the evening. The seas were a bit rough (although it was nothing compared to what we would be experiencing later on in the cruise!), so we took some motion sickness medicine and got rocked to sleep by the movement of the ship!

See more pictures from "Cannes/Monaco 11/30/09" HERE (Album 1) and HERE (Album 2)