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.

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

The Monte Carlo Tourist Train and Me

TRAVEL THERE: NOT THE MONTE CARLO I ENVISIONED

Since travel is my very expensive hobby, rather than something I’ve figured out how to get paid for doing, I spend a whole lot more time dreaming of what I might do, were I to visit a destination, rather than actually visiting said destination.  That’s OK, because I’ve found, contrary to all the hype, doing what you love as a job, does not free you.  It just turns your passion into a chore.  That being said, this tourist train was not the visit to Monte Carlo I’d had in my head.

We Found the Escalator and This Train

In spite of our seemingly endless wanderings, we did find the escalator to Monte Carlo and it dumped us right at the Jacques Cousteau Museum and Aquarium.  Had Museum Girl been in charge, you know what would have happened.  Instead, right across the street was this very obvious tourist train.

I’ll confess, I’ve been on many of these tourist trains in my life.  My mom had a nose for them.  I just haven’t been on any in the last few decades.

In fact, a few years ago, on this very blog, I made fun of the people who rode around Linz, Austria, on a rather uglier tourist train.  I had spent the day visiting the wonderful little town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic and I felt quite superior.

Funny how the fates will pay you back.  Seeing Monte Carlo, from the seats of this very red and white train, was much more “not me,” than being on one in a backwater town like Linz.  I hadn’t spent a lifetime dreaming about Linz.  Monte Carlo was a different story.

Trolleys vs. Tourist Trains

While I have avoided tourist trains, I have been on a lot of free (or at least cheap) trolleys, which are painted just as gaudily as this train.  The difference is, with the free trolley, I’m sitting there feeling very clever for finding free/cheap transportation.

I feel somewhat in control, because I have done my homework and know exactly where the train will be going and where I will get off.  In addition, I am wearing some fashionable ensemble I’ve chosen, rather than running around in my lounging pajamas and a pair of flip flops, that I’d just thrown on for breakfast.  I’m protected from the sun by one of my signature sun hats.  I also have on make-up and am carrying a handbag with all my necessities, including a tour book with a map.

In Monte Carlo, one of the most glamorous cities in the world, I was stripped of all these trappings.  I was about as unglamorous as I can remembering being (outside of my own home), maybe in my life, and I felt it very strongly.  Sure hubby and I weren’t exactly havingone of our best days, but it was nothing compared to my internal struggle.

Laugh All You Want

You, my faithful reader, may be laughing at me right now.  “Who cares?” you might ask, “Get with the program,” you’d advise, “and make the best of it.”

That would have been the reasonable thing to do, but who says humans are reasonable.  I manage to be reasonable most of the time, but this was Monte Carlo.  Who saw me at less than my best mattered not at all.  What did matter to me was that a dream had been shattered and the chance that I’d get a do-over are slim to none.

Sitting with my friends, in an open air restaurant in Sorrento, eating an authentic Neapolitan pizza and drinking an authentic Italian beer – that’s what I live for.  Making our way around Vienna, on our own, and seeing all the things I had on my list – that’s travel to me.  Finding the amazing White River Falls in Oregon, which most people have never even heard of, is one of the favorite moments of my life.

Being stuck on a tourist train in Monte Carlo, looking more like a scatter-brained soccer mom than myself?  Well, that’s travel, too, but I hate it.  The dream I had of Monte Carlo was replaced with the reality I made that day.  It’s true – I went back to Monte Carlo, later in the day, appropriately dressed, accompanied by the CEO of Celebrity Cruises and had experiences your average cruiser never gets, but even so, the red and white tourist train felt like a mistake.  It still does.

To make matters worse, I was at odds with my very wonderful husband who had made all this possible.  One or the other of these conundrums I might have been able to pull off with aplomb, but the two together made my visit to Monte Carlo a low point on my vacation. 

Why It Matters

You may wonder why I am taking the time to tell you all this, especially in my usually upbeat travel blog.  Well, I’m thinking there may be a whole lot of you out there who have a Monte Carlo Tourist Train moment in your memory.  Things were so bad on your very expensive vacation you decide you’d just stay home in the future.  Please don’t do that!

For every amazing, wonderful high point in my travels, there is at least one pretty awful experience that could have turned me off travel forever. In between those two points are many, many mediocre, inconvenient or downright boring experiences.  In other words, if I counted the number of stellar experiences and compared it to the non-stellar, I’d be staying at home the rest of my life.

But travel is in no way like the latest political poll.  It is not the number of good experiences in relations to bad experiences that you have to count.  It is the value of those splendid travel moments you must hold on to.

  • Will I ever forget standing in a bakery, in a small Bavarian town, with some of our dearest friends, watching hail completely fill the streets; when moments before we’d been sitting in the sun enjoying a street cafe?  The answer is no.  The next day we visited Neuschwanstein, and while I enjoyed it, I remember the smells in the bakery better.
  • Or the day in St. Thomas with my bestie, slightly buzzed from banana daiquiris, singing some reggae song about the days of the week, at the top of my voice.  Truly a favorite moment in my life.
  • The list goes on and on and on.

My Monte Carlo Morning was not one of my best travel moments, but it cannot ever negate all the wonders I’ve enjoyed, even if it were multiplied geometrically! Come back next week and I will tell you about my train ride.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Out of Synch Ashore

TRAVEL THERE: LOST IN MONTE CARLO

Everything went great with our spontaneous visit to Monte Carlo, until our tender hit the dock.  To my right, I could see a stairwell leading into the city.  Only, with bad knees, neither Jim nor Melanie wanted to take that route and my friend Deb hates stairs with a passion.  They’d heard there was an elevator/escalator somewhere and we were on a mission to find it. 

The Escalator Fiasco

I have to tell you we spent the better part of an hour looking for that escalator.  I could just feel Bill’s anxiety level rising and the higher his went, the higher mine crawled up the scale.  To boot, I felt like I was wearing my pajamas out in public, which is not good for my psyche.  It’s true I’m vain, but in this case, it had more to do with indoor clothes on an outdoor adventure.

If it had just been Bill and I in Monte Carlo, we would have either gone on to Guest Relations or I would have convinced him to go to the room and get my travel guide or maybe both.  I would have changed into clothes that made me feel a whole lot better about walking around the glamorous city.  There would have been no friends to jump on the elevator with, but I would have also put on a little lipstick and mascara, gotten a handbag with some id and a credit card.  With the basics in hand, I would have felt a whole lot better about venturing ashore in a foreign country.  We also might have made it to our photo studio appointment, which would have made me feel a lot less guilty – or at least cancelled it.

As it was, we were trotting around following a bunch of people who obviously didn’t know where they were going and it made both Bill and I fairly insane.  We wandered around some buildings in the port for awhile and then headed in the opposite direction of the town, as you can see in the picture above.

At one point, Bill stopped and tried to address the situation with me.  He pointed at our friends going away from Monte Carlo, he pointed to the ship and he pointed to the city.  He reminded me we’d paid a whole lot of money for the afternoon shore excursion and he didn’t want to miss it.

I may not have responded to him in the most appropriate manner possible.  I’d sized up the situation and even though it looked as if we were headed away from the city, I felt pretty sure once we crossed the bridge, we’d be going up and would back track to where we needed to be.  While my response probably could have been better, I was frustrated myself.  I couldn’t fix his anxiety and I knew that was the main problem.  I couldn’t fix mine either, and that was another problem.

We carried on, but we were on thin ice as we passed this nice pebbly beach.  Neither one of us was perfectly happy with the situation, though our reasons for it were probably totally different.  Try as we might, we were unable to fix ourselves and make the best of it.  We were just not in synch and having an audience didn’t make it any easier to fix things.

We continued our tour of Monte Carlo with our friends and I will tell you more about that in next week’s post, but I’m done talking about the dissonance.  Next week, as you read about us going through the motions of touring the city, just remember, we could barely talk to each other.  It wasn’t as much fun as it should have been.  It got better, as it always does, but for a while it was distinctly uncomfortable.

 

 

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

Missteps in Monaco

I love to travel, but I’d be the first to admit it can be stressful and falling out of step with your traveling companion is not all that hard to do.  On most of our trips, we can point to the place where things did not go as smoothly as we might have wished.  On this Mediterranean Marathon, Monte Carlo was our trouble spot.

Imprecise Planning

For days now, we’d been working hard on having a good time.  I had anticipated, by the time we reached this mid-point of the cruise, we’d be in dire need of an easy day.  We’d gone back and forth several times on how we should spend the our time. 

For the sake of our finances, I had suggested we just do Monte Carlo on our own, since it was a pretty small place.  Then, perhaps after dinner, we’d check out the possibility of going to the Casino.  Yes, that Casino, where James Bond and various other movie characters so often hang out.

However, Bill always prefers to have a guide for the sake of security.  So, we booked a nice bus tour that would end up in Eze, a medieval hilltop town someone had recommended to us.  Then, we unbooked it, because an evening event was offered that we couldn’t pass up.  We were back to seeing Monte Carlo on our own, if we were going to see it at all.

We decided to play the rest of it by ear, which is always a dangerous thing, but I didn’t know exactly what else to do.

An Easy Morning

Things started out quite well.  We slept in a little, enjoyed the buffet for breakfast and then went on a photo safari.  This is usually one of our favorite things to do on a cruise.  We spend most of our days at sea covering every inch of the ship we have access to, taking lots of pictures and nibbling throughout the dining rooms.

This photo safari started like many others, but we weren’t at sea.  We were moored in the harbor of the beautiful principality of Monaco.  The gorgeous city of Monte Carlo was beckoning to us.  We just weren’t sure what to do about it.

The Dissonance Begins

Suddenly Bill wanted to go ashore.  I wanted to accommodate him, but I didn’t have so much as a brochure or map when he began to pepper me with logistical questions.  All I could tell him was we were supposed to go to the photo studio in about an hour to see our ceremony pictures and that the evening shore excursion would start shortly after 3:30.  He didn’t care about either of those and I didn’t even know exactly what time it was to guess how much time we’d have.

He decided we should go to Guest Relations and see if we could sign up for a shore excursion or get some information.  We were standing at the elevator to go up to Guest Relations when I heard a familiar laugh.  The door opened up and there were all our friends!

Being Spontaneous

Our friends were headed down to catch one of the tenders and go ashore.  Bill and I looked at each other and jumped on the elevator.  About all we had were our room cards.  I had on what might loosely be called lounging pajamas, a pair of flip flips and not even a touch of makeup.  I’d pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  Bill had on standard tourist gear and thankfully had his billfold in his pocket.

I tried to get a message to the photographer that we had been kidnapped, but communication is not easy on a cruise ship.  Back at the room I might have been able to find a number for her, but we didn’t go by the room.  I also had a guide book for Monaco in the room, but it wasn’t doing me much good there.

We were off with nothing that even looked like a plan.  I was immediately aware that we were headed for trouble, but I didn’t know of anyway to head it off.  Come back next week and see how things pan out.

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.

Accommodations, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Bridal Dinner in the Normandie

TRAVEL THERE: THE FUN JUST DOESN’T STOP

It was over.  The Vow Renewal Ceremony I’d been planning for so long was now in the review mirror.  With that behind me I set out to enjoy the rest of our cruise, beginning with dinner in The Normandie.

The Normandie

Dining on the Celebrity Edge was fun.  With four complimentary dining rooms to choose from, rather than the usual one, you had variety, but what you gained in variety, you missed out on personalized service.

The Normandie was touted as the cream of the crop with a French twist.  I can’t think of a single thing that was wrong, besides the anonymity of it all.  We showed up and they had the usual flurry of figuring out our beverage plans.  The menu was divided into the three sections the other menus had.  I don’t remember being wowed by any of the offerings, nor do I have a clue what I actually ate.

Except for dessert.  I do remember dessert! The Aisle to Isle package offered a small cake for the bride and groom, but I had them upsize it to include plenty for everyone.  Like many wedding cakes it was more beautiful than it was delicious.  Fondant makes for pretty cakes, but is there anyone who actually likes to eat it?

The Company

While I might not have a lot to say about the restaurant, the company could not have been better.  I sat there at that table feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.  I feel that way often, but rarely with so many reasons.

We were on an amazing ship, headed to incredible destinations, with the best of friends.  We were celebrating a wonderful 25 year marriage and had pledged to continue to keep the promises we had made so long ago.  I am married to the handsomest man in the world and he loves me, in spite of all my flaws.  And did I mention what great friends I have.

Just as I can’t remember exactly what I ate this evening, I can’t recall exactly what we talked about around the table, but I know it was seasoned with a lot of laughter.  The picture of us all gathered around that table will forever stay in my mind.  The actual photos we took don’t do the evening much justice, but I’m adding them so you can enjoy them.

Turning in for the Night

There’s one more picture to show you before we move on to the next day.  Cruise ship towel animals might not seem like a big deal to you, but among the many cards spread about the room, explaining what things were, what was complimentary and what we’d have to pay for, one card explained why Celebrity no longer entertains their passengers with towel animals.

I’ve written cards and letters like that before.  When we were forcing technology down people’s throats, we used to start all the letters with, “To serve you better…”  Only we didn’t care whether it served anybody better or not.  It was just what we said.  The letters should have said, “Hey, we’ve found yet another way to cut corners, but there’s no way we’re going to pass any savings on to you, so get ready for this new thing we’ve dreamed up.”

Celebrity’s note about the towel animals began with “In order to preserve the planet…”  That’s the new phrase they came up with that everyone seems to buy into.  The towel animals were cute, but it did just sort of become yet one more schitick, and it had lost its luster.  If we had kids, towel animals might be more interesting, but I really didn’t need a new version on my bed every time I returned to the room.

However, with the absence of nightly towel animals and being made aware of Celebrity’s desire to save the planet, we were quite appreciative that they broke their own rules and gave us a couple of swans that evening.

And that’s where I’ll leave you.  We’ll be up early the next morning for Florence, so be sure to come back next week.

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

With a Little Help From My Friends

TRAVEL THERE: THE REST OF THE VOW RENEWAL CEREMONY

Enjoy the slide show, it is formatted for your phone, because according to statistics, that’s where most of you are reading this blog.  The images show you how perfect the setting was, how much fun we were having and how well we all cleaned up.

More Vow Renewal Tidbits

Each of my friends contributed to the ceremony, by reading a verse from the beautiful cards I had made for them.  They kept their card as a souvenir and the cards we read our vows from are in my scrapbook of the day.

Viktoriya read Psalms 37:3-9, which includes my life verse: 

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

My friend Melanie read from 1 Corinthians 13, which is known as the love chapter:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,  does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.

Jim read one of Bill’s favorite verses about marriage, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

A Highlight of the Day

Then my beloved friend Deborah raised her beautiful voice and sang the special song we’d crafted for the day, and she sang it a Capella.  The music was the romantic song most famously sung by Celine Dion, “If I  Fell in Love.”  It was the song Bill and I danced our First Dance to, at our wedding reception.  However, the words were mine and the voice was Deb’s.

When you fell in love / It was for forever / A fairy-tale kind of love

In a restless world / Like this is / Love is ended before it’s begun / And too many moonlight kisses / Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When you gave your hearts / It was so completely / The two hearts became as one

And the moment when you felt that / Magic, wonder, awe/ Is when you fell in love / Always

When you fell in love / It was for forever / A fairy-tale kind of love / Oh, the fairy-tale it never ends

In a restless world / Like this is / Your love began and never ended / And your many moonlight kisses / Are just warmed by the light of the sun

When you gave your hearts / It was so completely / The two hearts became as one

And the moment when you felt that / Magic, wonder, awe / Is when you fell in love / When you fell in love / When you fell in love always

The Reception

To the photographer’s chagrin, the reception did not offer up all the photo opportunities she hoped for.  There was no cake, because I insisted the included cake be served as dessert at dinner.  There was no garter or other silly traditions.  There was champagne, but not as much as I had ordered.  (See, I knew they weren’t getting all the details right!)  They delivered the champagne at dinner, but that wasn’t my plan.

What the photographer might not have known was that I didn’t want her at all.  Bill abhors the whole idea of professional photography on a cruise ship.  You might think this is odd for a professional photographer, but he’s sees it as just another gimmick to pull more money out of his pocket.   I anticipated him having a meltdown over the cost of the photos and I was right, but that’s for another post.

For now, I’ll just invite you to the Normandie for dinner.  We’ll go there together next week.