ART, TRAVEL

The Phoenix New Times Breakfast List

TRAVEL THERE: F`A-ME CAFFE HEADS THE LIST

In a number of cities, like Phoenix and San Luis Obispo, they have a great little publication called New Times.  The same company publishes other entertainment magazines, like the Dallas Observer.  I have discovered they have very reliable restaurant recommendations, so if I am going to a city or town that has New Times, then I always take advantage of their online publications to plan meals.  Phoenix is one of those towns.  I knew we’d be getting in there early and would want some breakfast, so I googled “best breakfast Phoenix” found the New Times site and chose a spot. 

The Laid Back F`a-me Caffee 

Bill navigated his way out of the Alamo rental lot and I programmed the GPS to take us to F`a-me Caffee.  It was just an upscale cafe in a strip center.  On our own we would have never found it and that would have been a great loss, so thank you New Times.  We took this photo at about 9 AM.  Apparently, that was during a lull, because by the time we left, the place was hopping.

F`a-me was the perfect place to relax and have a bite between our flight and our day of sightseeing.  We started with a coffee for Bill and a hot chocolate for me.  A little later we ordered, French Toast for Bill and a Croque Madame for me.  In a word, DELICIOUS.

We loved the service.  It was friendly, but without chirpy people telling you their name, chatting you up and trying to rush you through a meal.  After we had eaten, I presented Bill with our choices for the day.  The Westin wasn’t available to us until after four and it was getting close to 10. My vote was the Celebration of Fine Art, a three month art show in its thirtieth year, held in big white tents.  That sounded good to Bill and we headed off to continue having fun.

The Detour

I confess, I’m very structured.  I like having a solid itinerary and sticking to it.  Bill is very fluid.  He thrives on not having any itinerary at all.  I have discovered if I will just let him flow from time to time, we’ll be more likely to enjoy the things we do together.  Drives me a little insane, but the current of his flowing river is a lot stronger than anything I can offer up, so I’ve learned not to let myself get drowned.

The F`a-me Caffee was mere minutes away from the Celebration of Fine Art tents.  When we got there, Bill asked if we could just drive around a bit and I said, “Of course,” even though every ounce of me was straining towards the white tents of the Celebration.

I would say we entered a very upscale section of Scottsdale, but I think that’s about the only scale they have there.  This part of it was known as Airpark, because it was near Scottsdale’s regional airport.  Driving along we passed the TPC Scottsdale Golf Course, which still had signs up for the Waste Management Phoenix Open from the week before.

Then suddenly, we were in a sort of design district, with lots of consignment stores.  To his credit, Bill did ask if it was OK to stop, but I wonder if I’d actually been able to keep him from doing it.  We probably killed an hour browsing through the consignment stores and I will confess that I enjoyed it.  This was prime merchandise and the staff just let us browse.

Eventually, we hopped back in the car, made our way back to the big white tents and visited the Celebration of Fine Art.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

The Last Day of Cruising

Palma de Mallorca, Tapas Walking Tour, Beewi Tapas Bar
Spanish tortilla mushrooms in a sauce patatas bravas and a typical Mallorca sweet cake at Beewi in Palma de Mallorca

TRAVEL THERE: TAPAS TASTING IN PALMA DE MALLORCA

Confession, this is where my travel journal ended.  For some reason I happily journaled all through the trip and just quit after our day on the French Rivera. Another confession, while I blogged about most of this trip in the weeks right after the cruise, life got busy and I took a break that lasted longer than I anticipated.  So eleven months after the cruise, here I am finishing up the last few posts of this trip.  Glad you are still with me. 

Large Storm in a Small Teacup

While traveling is fun, it is also tiring and while traveling with your friends has a lot of benefits, after the trial by vacation we’d been on, it was time to go home.  Everyone needed some personal down time, but it was still a few days away.

One of the things that got my visit to Monaco off on the wrong foot was a scheduled meeting with the photographer.  Bill hadn’t wanted to have a photographer at the vow renewal ceremony in the first place, because he thinks the onboard photography thing is a racket – one that charges entirely too much.  However, the photographer was non-negotiable.  Since he didn’t want the photographer there, he really wasn’t interested in a meeting with them to look at the photos and when it conflicted with his desire to go visit Monaco, well, Monaco won.  I’m so ruled by the things that I am supposed to do, that I wasn’t able to blow off the appointment with as much aplomb as he was, especially since there was no way to contact her and let her know what was going on.  We just stood her up.  I felt bad for the photographer.  She was just trying to do her job.  

Eventually, she got in contact with us and I was able to apologize.  The appointment was reset for this day.  If we had gone in Monaco, then we would have gone on our own and quite possibly would have said thanks, but no thanks, except for perhaps a few as gifts to our friends.  As it was, we ended up with the whole crew of us in the very small space of the photo office and not everyone was on the same page.  It was also the very last moment.  If we didn’t make a decision right then, there would be no photos for anyone.

The photos were beautiful.  The price was astronomical.  Some folks thought that I should have every single one.  Bill was paralyzed with sticker shock.  I just wanted it to be over.  We arrived at a compromise that wasn’t quite what anyone wanted, but we moved on.

The Shore Excursion

Everyone went their separate ways after the photo storm.  We knew we’d be seeing each other at 2:15 for the Tapas Walking Tour.  The meeting place instructions changed and even after we started gathering on the pier, there seemed to be some sort of question about where we were supposed to be.  I think our crew was almost as ready for us to go home as we were.

The good news was our guide was somewhat better on this day.  She loaded us on a bus and delivered us to  Bellver Castle.  It was really just a photo op with a great view of the harbor.  From there, they parked the bus and we set out on foot.

Our first tapas stop was El Pesquero, a sea-side patio restaurant.  The food was delicious and the patio was amazing.  I personally could have just stayed there and been perfectly happy.

El Pesquero was in the shadow of the old cathedral, so our walking tour began there.  We passed lovely plazas and canals along the way and then we arrived at Beewi.  Beewi was just a small cafe with nothing much to recommend it, besides the food and what they served was delicious.  Deb and I agreed the view in the cafe was also quite nice, if you like to look at handsome Spanish men.

Next up was Es Rebost where we were able to order whatever we wanted.  I went for something with beef, since we hadn’t had any of that yet.  Then it was time to head back to the boat, where an absolute delight waited for us.  Come back next week and see what I mean.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Music, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Visiting Monte Carlo’s Prince’s Palace

TRAVEL THERE: THE GRIMALDI’S PRINCE’S PALACE

Black SUV’s whisked us from the Yacht Club to the Palace.  That’s probably the last time I’ll be able to say something like that about my own travels, so perhaps it was worth the splurge.  Since we weren’t actually VIP’s, they parked about a block away, near the Cathedral and we strolled over to the palace.

Visiting the Palace

Virtually anyone can make day visits the palace during the summer and fall, as long as it’s not Grand Prix weekend.  However, the tourists are shuffled off at closing time.  We had after-hours access, which means we went to the same places, just at a different time.

The Grimaldi’s were gracious hosts to us cruisers.  We didn’t see any of them, but they gave us the run of the state apartments and provided some very nice young ladies to act as guides.  The run of the state apartments did not include taking any pictures, so to see what we saw, you’d have to go to the website.  My general impressions were the apartments showed a great amount of good taste, a good bit more than some of the gaudy displays of some state apartments.  However, they were at the same time smaller than most I’ve seen before.

For Americans, this palace is almost a must-see, because evidence of our own American fairy tale, Princess Grace of Monaco, is in plain sight.  Having just watched a Hallmarkish commoner-meets-and-marries-a-prince movie last night, I know we are still very much in love with the story of this lovely lady.

Photo Opportunities

Before and after the tour we were welcome to take photos of the outside the palace.  The red carpets and kneelers are not part of the every day look.  They were setting up for some kind of religious ceremony and around the corner at the cathedral there was a lot of activity, so no telling what that was about.

All that was left was to get back into our SUV’s and travel back to the ship.  Our day in Monte Carlo was over.

Grabbing a Show and Dinner and a Show

Back on the boat, Deb, Bill and I went to Hype with Marcus Terrell at the Theater.  We weren’t much impressed.  His greatest asset was volume, but he was surrounded with lots of energetic gyrating dancers.  Nothing as fascinating as Hot Summer’s Night we’d seen a day or so ago.

After the show, it was time for dinner and all of us met for dinner in the Cosmopolitan.  It was the same menu they had offered for their embarkation lunch.  This is the weakness of their dining plan.  Sure you have a variety of dining rooms, but once you’ve eaten in one, there’s no reason to go back.  That’s probably because they are trying to encourage you to drop a few bucks in their specialty dining rooms, but with all we’d spent already, that wasn’t happening.

Our companions were ready for bed when the meal was over, but Bill and I wandered into the Club and saw an acrobatic show called Mirage.  It had some good parts, but their tricks all began to look the same after awhile.

Still not ready to call it a night, I pulled the daily newsletter out of my purse and unfolded it.  They had something called the Color the Night White Party happening on the Resort Deck, so we decided to check it out.

I don’t know about you, but I am just about done with the whole White Party thing.  Isn’t it time to let that one die a natural death?  The Edge was trying to jazz it up some, with a variety of colorful lights, but as you can see, it’s a pretty dead scene.  I must not be the only one tired of White Parties.

I think if there had been anything else to do, we might have continued to wander, but it seemed the ship was rolling in its sidewalks – unless you wanted to sit in some bar and rack up some beverage billing, so off we went to bed.

The next day our stop was Cannes.  Come back next week and I’ll share my favorite shore excursion with you.

ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Monte Carlo Redux

TRAVEL THERE: DOING MONACO RIGHT

While I may never get a chance to undo my unglamorous daytime visit to Monte Carlo, I did get to have some time in the city without regrets.  In fact, I traveled to the Prince’s Palace in a caravan of black SUV’s with the CEO of Celebrity Cruises.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Join me for this very fun shore excursion.

Opportunity Knocks

Our originally booked shore excursion in Monte Carlo never really had the Museum Girl Stamp of Approval.  Then one day, not long before the cruise, I got an email informing me of new events aboard our cruise ship.  The CEO of Celebrity was going to be on board and there were going to be special events just for her.  I’ll confess, I’m not a very good groupie, even of people like Samantha Brown that I adore.  I’ve seen her in person, but I wasn’t willing to stand in line to meet her personally.  I don’t go to concerts.  I don’t collect autographs.  I don’t buy sneakers based on a celebrity spokesperson.  So, the idea that I had the opportunity to meet a corporate big wig meant virtually nothing to me.

However, when said corporate big wig can provide me with access to something I would like to do, that I’d have no access to otherwise, well then, said big wig has my attention.  So, when Celebrity invited me to a wine tasting at the Monaco Yacht Club and a private showing of the Prince’s Palace, well OK, I’m in.  The price was a bit of an ouch, $304 per person, but I was still holding on to $151.20 of on board credit, so with Bill’s permission I booked it – as did the rest of my crew.

Meet Me at The Club

The Club on Celebrity Edge wears many hats.  At night, it’s an uber-cool disco that plays host to various entertainment, including acrobats.  During the day, it serves as a meeting place for shore excursions.  For this very special event, The Club was our gathering spot.

I could tell right away this was not going to be your run-of-the-mill shore excursion.  No brightly colored stickers, guides with signs or earpieces for this shore excursion.  Instead, we were given attractive metal badges in the shape of the Celebrity “X” logo.  Ours were orange.  I don’t know about everyone else.

From The Club, we made our way down to the tender-loading area and on to the port. No wandering around lost this afternoon.  Instead, we were shown to our celebrity-worthy, luxury black SUV.  

The Monaco Yacht Club Wine Palace

So, they had me at Yacht Club and sealed the deal with Wine Palace.  The Celebrity website said, ” Revel in the late-afternoon sunlight as it illuminates the terrace of the Wine Palace of the Monaco Yacht Club.”  I want to tell you it really was a lovely event, but I also have to tell you that whoever wrote that sentence had never been to the Monaco Yacht Club Wine Palace.

I imagined a lovely open air terrace, in the harbor of Monte Carlo, with the salt-flavored breeze lifting my hair from my shoulders.  Waiters would wander among us offering tasty tid-bits while a sommelier offered sips of wine.   What I got was a small two-story wine boutique with not so much as a balcony.  It was a nice wine boutique, but I have no idea what it has to do with the Yacht Club.  It is, however in the same building, so what do I know.

After I let go of the picture they had drawn for my imagination, I was able to have a very special time, but I do wish I hadn’t had to do the mental exercise.  Things got better from this point and I want to tell you about it, so come back next week.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Tourist Tales of Monaco

TRAVEL THERE: SCENERY TO DIE FOR AND A CASINO

There’s a reason Monte Carlo is a playground for the rich and famous.  Everything is pristine, beautiful and very, very expensive.  I rode along in the tourist train, eyes wide open, taking pictures as fast as I could with my phone.

Gawking at the Other Half

All the boats are yachts and all the cars dreams on wheels.  Beautiful people stroll along the streets with tiny little well-groomed dogs and chat with one another in shady cafes.  It is not crowded.  Normal people can’t afford to be there.

The train left their parking area across from the Jacques Cousteau Aquarium and first wandered down a hill past the harbor where all the yachts were docked.

The streets wound around the harbor offering spectacular views, like this shot Bill got of our ship.  I rode along, primarily people watching and not paying too much attention to where we were, because Bill had informed me we’d be staying on the train and hurrying back to the ship.  That was fine with me.

Quick, Get Off the Train

Suddenly, Bill was impatient with me, because I was not getting off the train.  I thought all that had been decided.  I knew our friends were getting off to go to the casino, but I failed to see what that had to do with me, since I was under the impression we were going to stay on board.

Things had changed and I hadn’t gotten the memo.  Soon the whole crowd was standing on a sidewalk deciding what to do.  Without map or guidebook I didn’t have a clue.  I was just there.

The crowd trotted off and we followed.  Come to find out, we were headed to the Casino.  I hadn’t wanted to be in Monte Carlo in my lounging pajamas in the first place, but I really had no desire to go hang out in the Casino during the day with all the tourists.

I had hoped we’d get all dressed up and visit the Casino in the evening.  I understood there was only a slim chance of this, but it’s what I wanted.  I’m still allowed to dream.

The Casino

We went up the stairs, had our bags checked and entered through a bunch of fancy glass doors.  The lobby is all about giving tourists someplace to hang out so they can say they have been to the Casino in Monte Carlo. It is also the only place the tourists can go.

Here it is.  This is what it looks like.  The building is absolutely gorgeous, but you can’t see it for all the tourists and the giant gambling display.  I couldn’t help but wonder whether the beautiful people glide past this in the evening or they just have the display up during the day.  I guess I’ll never know for sure.

The Rest of the Tour

After wandering around the lobby, snapping a photo I shouldn’t have and taking a potty break, we went back outside, waited for the tourist train and rode back to our starting point.  Finding our way back to the infamous escalator was easier than finding it in the first place.

At the dock, the tender loading station was set up with beautiful flowers, cold washrags and lots of fruited water.  In spite of my chagrin at being on a tourist train, looking my worst and my disappointment at being a tourist at the casino instead of a patron, I still have to admit, it was a gorgeous place.  Enjoy these photos and come back next week for a different sort of look at Monte Carlo.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Trudge, Trudge, Trudge; Sweat, Sweat, Sweat; Rinse & Repeat

TRAVEL THERE: FLORENCE, THE HARD WAY

“Mommy, I’m not having any fun anymore!”  That’s what I felt like saying, only my mommy wasn’t there.  In fact, I lost her several years ago.  I thought she’d be so pleased I was getting to visit Florence, but I’d gotten to the point where all really wanted to do was hang out at the pool.

No Pool!

Remember way back at the Boboli Gardens when everyone was hungry and little grumpy.  Yeah, well, we’ve been stomping all over the place since then.  We’re all drenched in sweat and lots more hungry than we were on the other side of Ponte Vecchio.    

Guide lady kept trudging ahead of us, complaining about the heat and waving herself with her “12” sign.  The shore excursion I’d been so excited about had turned into a march through Hades.  We’re trudging around all these teeny tiny backstreets, sweating like pigs and trying to ignore the grumbling in our stomachs.  I’m still mad I didn’t get to see the Boboli Gardens.  If we’d gotten lost in this maze, I think we’d still be there.  Things were not pretty.

Piazza Santa Croce

Then suddenly we were in familiar surroundings.  We were near the spot  where the bus had let us off.  Sitting at my desk, looking at a map of Florence, I can track the places we went that day.  What I can’t figure out is how the guide turned it into such a miserable hike.  It’s only about 300 yards from the Piazza della Signoria to the Piazza di Santa Croce.  Not much more between Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Pitti.  I’m telling you we walked a lot further than three football fields to get from Signoria to Santa Croce.  It’s like when you’re in Vegas and you can see the sign for where you are going, so you decide to walk, only to find out it was miles away.

Guide lady cued us up in front of a trattoria.  We filed inside and obediently sat where we were told.  Finally, we had gotten a break.  The food was good.  Fresh pasta, a pork dish, potatoes and wine in a wine glass that kept getting filled.  For dessert we got panna cotta.  Some were disappointed, because tiramisu had been promised, but not being a fan of coffee, panna cotta suited me just fine.

With an attitude adjusted by copious glasses of wine, I was ready to make the most of the rest of my day in Florence.  I probably should have visited Santa Croce, but we’d passed a Pinocchio store on our way to the restaurant and several wanted to visit.

According to guide lady, there was supposed to be some sort of demonstration at the galleria next to the trattoria before we boarded the bus.  Like good little tourists we lined up for it.  Again, I should have gone to Santa Croce, but when your hot and a little sleepy from wine, you don’t always make the best decisions.  As you might have guessed, it was a thinly veiled shopping opportunity.

We were all ready to get back to the boat when we boarded the bus.  We went back the same way we came and the view hadn’t gotten any better.  If you go to Florence, I heartily recommend the Palazzo Pitti, but figure out another way to see it, besides taking the Renaissance Vacation.

Enjoying the Evening

Back on board, Bill and I cleaned up and went to the best entertainment we experienced on board the Edge, Hot Summer’s Night.  It was a “Cirque de Soleil” style romp, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream.  So very glad we caught it, but sad others missed it.

This was the evening some in our party were having dinner up on the Magic Carpet with the CEO, so it was just Bill, Deb and me, having dinner in the Cyprus Restaurant.  Really a nice meal.  The others enjoyed theirs, too, so it was a delicious meal for all of us.

After dinner, Bill and I headed down to the theater to see the Love and Marriage Game.  Perhaps you remember that Bill and I were contestants in a similar game on the Vision of the Seas back in 2018.  I was very glad to be on the other side of the stage this time.  I still can’t believe we shared some of our secrets with an entire cruise ship.  The Edge version was much the same.  They must all go to the same school for this stuff.

Next it was time for bed, because Monaco was the next day.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Bummed About the Boboli

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S TOO HOT?

If I am being honest and I always like to be, I have to admit the opportunity to see Palazzo Pitti was one of the highlights of my life.  I didn’t realize just how much I was going to love it.  I still regret not seeing the David and the Uffizi Gallery, but the Pitti was pretty amazing.

Heading Outdoors

That’s how I was feeling as we abandoned the Palazzo for the  Giardino di Boboli However, something was happening around me that was going to put a dent in that.  When we disembarked our bus on the edge of Florence’s Old City, it was still the cool of the morning.  It got less cool as we tramped around the city and by the time we got to the Palazzo, we were grateful for the air conditioning.

As we strolled through the Palazzo, the temperature had strolled up the thermometer.  As soon as we entered the garden we were in a stifling hot day.  I wished that the guide had started here, but it was too late for regrets.

We were all taking pictures of the amphitheater at the edge of the gardens when our guide announced it was too hot to see the gardens.  Talking about hot, I was ready for a melt down.  Sure I was happy to have seen the Palazzo Pitti, but I’d given up Michelangelo’s David for this garden and she thought it was too hot. If I hadn’t dumped the guide in the Palazzo, then this was certainly the time to walk away.

Being part of a group that is traveling together gives things a different perspective.  If Bill and I had been alone on this one, I think I might have dumped the guide and the shore excursion.  Bill would have balked, because it was getting time for lunch and he’s a little wary of striking out on our own on foreign soil.  However, this was the Boboli Gardens she was so casually dropping from our itinerary and I was upset.

Off We Go

The rest of my group was all for dumping the gardens.  While I just might have been able to convince Bill to play truant for the balance of the day, after canvassing the others I realized I was in the minority.  I adjusted my attitude and followed the guide out to the Ponte Vecchio.  Not only did we have the scalding heat to contend with, but while we’d been enjoying the Pitti Palace hundreds of tour buses had been belching their passengers into Florence’s Old City and it seemed as if most of them were hanging out on the bridge.

This was the photo opportunity we were promised earlier in the day, but our guide either forgot or didn’t care.  She was speed-walking across the bridge and Bill was none to happy about it.  Every time he lingered to get a photo, he’d look up and see a sea of tourists but not our guide with holding up her sign with the number “12.”  He was none to happy.

Piazza della Signoria

Bill and I managed to keep up with our guide, but only barely.  Once over the bridge, we trotted a few more blocks and found ourselves in the famous Piazza della Signoria.  People who had watched the Medici mini-series (like me) knew immediately where we were.

Guide lady did allow generous time for picture taking in the piazza, but by now it was really hot and we were really hungry.  I was all out of sorts, because I hadn’t gotten to see the Boboli.  Florence was not anywhere close to being  my “most memorable vacation yet,” but everyone else was as hungry and hot as I was.  Not much cheerful chatter was going on.

The day is far from over, but I’ll stop today’s post here.  Come back next week for the rest of Florence.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Pitti Palace is No Pity Party

TRAVEL THERE: WANDERING THROUGH THE GLORIES OF PALAZZO PITTI

For a family which dominated a city for so many years, it’s amazing that nothing is named after the Medicis.  Whatever something was called when they took it over, and they eventually took over almost everything, from the Cathedral to government offices, they continued to use the name the building already had.

In the Palazzo Pitti

Entering the Palazzo was like turning back time.  The rather mundane exterior gave way to so much interior glory that almost a year later I am still trying to wrap my mind around it.  Magnificence is everywhere.  What would be the highlight of the collection in your average museum is just a whatnot on a sideboard at the Medici’s home.

What I am trying to tell you is that every surface, every floor, every wall, every ceiling – absolutely everywhere you look is something glorious.  We started out in some huge hall with larger than life tapestries.

Soon after we were wandering through the hall you see above.  Then we went through gallery after gallery after gallery of some of the most amazing paintings, sculpture and decorative arts you might ever have the opportunity to see.

You have to remember, I’m not exactly a neophyte in the world of art.  I’ve been to the Louvre and the  Jeu de Paume (before its impressionists works were moved to the Musée d’Orsay) in Paris.  I’ve seen all the major museums in London, like the British Museum, the Tate and the Victoria and Albert.  I’ve been to Ludwig’s castles in Germany and palaces throughout Austria.  I’ve spent days in the Cairo Museum and strolled through the Gettys a number of times.  I’ve made pilgrimages throughout the US to see the great houses of the rich and famous from Mt. Vernon to the Biltmore to Heart Castle.  These only scratch the surface and still the Palazzo Pitti blew me away.

This was somebody’s private home.  This was their private art collection.  They weren’t kings or popes or even emperors (with the exception Peter Leopold).  Most of them were Cardinals and Grand Dukes.  Just as they managed to live incognito in Florence without having everything named after them, they lived in this amazing palace as grand dukes and controlled the world without claiming title to it.

Absolutely Awestruck

The good news is, for a little while it didn’t matter that we had a lousy guide. I just wandered through the rooms trying to take it all in.  Though our guide didn’t have much to say, she did sort of usher through the Galleries, always reminding us we had more things to see.

I should have just asked our guide what time we needed to be at the bus and dumped her for the balance of the day.  Nothing else she drug me past in our tour of Florence was as amazing as the Palazzo Pitti. But that’s hindsight.  Though loving every minute of the Palace, I was also very excited about seeing Boboli Gardens.

The gardens are what’s up next, so come back next week and find out what happened there.  In the meantime, I will leave you with these glorious images from Pitti Palace.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Livorno to Florence

TRAVEL THERE: THEY LOST ME AT LIVORNO

This wasn’t my first cruise, so I am aware of the fact gateway cities can be pretty disappointing.  As a disappointment, Livorno did not disappoint.  The day got better, but never as good as I hoped it would be. 

“90-Minute Drive Through the Beautiful Tuscan Countryside”

Newsflash: the highway we took to Florence didn’t take us through the beautiful Tuscan country side.  It was a highway.  We could have been circling Detroit.

Though the Celebrity site did not tell me specifically to be expecting an ultra-luxury bus, the shore excursion I picked was a Celebrity Discovery Collection Event.  According to Dallas’ Celebrity rep, these tours were worth the extra you paid to be a part of them.  Perhaps he didn’t intend to give me the impression I should expect more in every aspect of the tour, but we had a more luxurious bus in Cancun.  The Celebrity vehicle was adequate as tour buses go, but I wished for my Cancun Passion bus.

Our first stop was not Pitti Palace as advertised.  Instead, it was a convenience store. Apparently, we needed a pre-Florence potty stop, so the alarms started going off in my head.  Things were going downhill fast.

The pay phone is just a little bonus.  They have them all over the place in Europe.  Try finding one state-side.

So, riding along in our adequate bus, we soon figured out our guide was no Paolo.  We’re not sure whether she just left her personality at home that day or she simply didn’t have one at all, but after the charming and erudite Paolo, she was a real disappointment.

“Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti.” 

Well, I’ve already told you about the first stop and it was no Palazzo.  Our next stop was not a Palazzo either.  We’d obviously arrived at some lovely place in Italy, but it was not the Pitti Palace.  No, we were about to hoof it to the Pitti Palace via the rest of Florence.

Initially, this “stroll” wasn’t so awful.  It was nice to stroll among the picturesque by-ways of Florence and when she wasn’t running off and leaving all of us, our guide did have a few salient facts to share with us.  We stopped by the Uffizi Gallery and even though we didn’t get to enter, it was fun to learn it was once the home and workrooms of the Medicis and charming to see the artists setting up.

After a little more circuitous wandering, we came to the famous Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River.  The guide who had been strolling through the city, as if we had hour to linger over every detail, suddenly picked up the pace, at the point I would have been happy to amble.  She assured us we’d get more time on the bridge later.

Though we knew she was no Paolo, we had not yet learned she was untrustworthy, so we continued to trudge along behind her.  Then suddenly, with no kind of signage or gates to tell us, we were at Pitti Palace.  It was a sort of odd palace.  Right in the middle of things, no gate, no moat, just a multi-story facade, and while it was imposing, it was in no way magnificent.

I’ll leave you here for today.  Once inside, Pitti Palace makes up for it’s rather dreary exterior.  Come back next week and we’ll explore the wonders of Palazzo Pitti together.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Libraries, Museums, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Florence Fascinates

TRAVEL THERE: FLORENCE WAS GREAT. TOO BAD THE SAME THING CAN’T BE SAID FOR THE RENAISSANCE VACATION

There is no one more susceptible to great marketing than someone in marketing.  Our shore excursion to Florence is a perfect example of that.  The photos and the copy sent me on flights of fantasy no walking tour of Florence could have, especially with the below par tour guide we were assigned to that day.

What It Should Have Been

The Celebrity website said, and I quote, “Florence, Italy is the birthplace of The Renaissance, and the site of your most memorable vacation yet. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, a profusion of poets, painters, sculptors, and architects flooded into Florence and produced the era’s most groundbreaking artwork. Departing from the port of Livorno, your excursion in Florence begins with a 90-minute drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside those legendary artists once traversed. Your first stop takes you to the decadent Palazzo Pitti. Also known as Pitti Palace, this architectural marvel is one of Florence’s signature monuments. The Palatine Gallery lies on the first floor, and contains a broad collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. Its most iconic piece of art is likely the portrait of Maddalena Doni by Raphael in 1506. Next, you’ll visit the Boboli Gardens. While accurate, the Boboli Gardens are more than your standard garden. Boboli is actually one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence. The park boasts sculptures, fountains, centuries-old oak trees and more. As the garden that inspired European royal gardens like Versailles, there are few better examples of “green” architecture in the world. From here, your vacation in Florence takes you to Piazza della Repubblica, the most beautiful town square in the Tuscany region. This brief respite offers the opportunity to wine and dine before continuing onward to the Signoria and Santa Croce Squares.”

What I Imagined

I envisioned a luxurious bus ride through a gorgeous landscape.  I assumed the bus would drop us off in front of the Pitti Palace.  I hoped we’d have hours to wander all the galleries of the palace and then wander some more through one of the most beautiful gardens on earth.  I was sure we’d need to stroll around a little bit to get to all the sites mentioned, but what’s a little walking, right?  Besides I was so laser-focused on the Pitti Palace it was all I could think about.

What I Gave Up

Florence is a city you would needs days and days to see properly.  The list of must-see attractions is daunting.  Take the Uffizi Gallery for instance, one of the most prominent art museums of the world.  Then there’s Michelangelo’s David, housed in another museum you’ve probably never heard of, but a piece of art I’ve wanted to see all my life.  And the Duomo,  famous as one of the most important cathedrals in the world, for the history that was lived there, for the artworks housed there, but most of all for its miraculous dome.

With all this to look forward to I allowed myself to be distracted by some great marketing.  Don’t get me wrong, Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens are magnificent by any standard, but what they were selling me about the shore excursion isn’t what I got.

So, come on back next week and I’ll tell you how it went.