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.

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, 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, 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.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shopping, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Sojourn in Sorrento

TRAVEL THERE: PIZZA IN THE PIAZZA

Though I deemed it worth the visit, Capri had been very hot and very crowded.  Now, we had ferry ride back to the mainland.  That’s OK, we all needed a nap.

Better Than Before

It wasn’t a jet foil we took to Sorrento.  It was much larger and all the seating was downstairs. It was pretty much superior in every way you can imagine.  The hordes of Asian tourists we’d had with us on the way to Capri were nowhere in sight and no one, including Bill, was sea sick.  He didn’t take any chances, though.  He closed his eyes as soon as he boarded, so he was the first of us to fall asleep.

Though Bill fell asleep first and stayed that way longer than any of us, he was not alone.  We were all snoozing.  Bill just happened to be the only one I caught with my camera.

Sorrento

Welcome to Sorrento

Like Capri, Sorrento was a bit of a logistical challenge.  There was a small part of the village down by the shore, but the part we wanted, the Old Town was up a pretty steep road.  So, we trotted from the dock to a small square, where we waited while Paolo went for our transportation.  We climbed the hill in a small van and minutes later we were on another small square.

We were whisked from the van to a shopping opportunity, disguised as a craft demonstration, only everyone saw through the ruse.  It was a woodworking shop where they did elaborate wood mosaics.  We stood politely through the demonstration and appreciated the lovely merchandise, but no one in our group had come prepared to purchase a convert-able gaming table or a huge grandfather clock.  The establishment did offer restroom facilities, but our group took care of that on the ferry.

It seemed Paolo was impatient with these “shopping opportunities” he forced on us, but it’s all part of the tourist game and we appreciated access to nice toilets.  Once we were released from the shop, we were given free time for eating and shopping.

The Value of Proximity

Right next to the shop was a restaurant with a nice patio.  We were thrilled to take a seat under it’s awning and relax on dry land.  We ordered up cold Bierra Morettis and hot Napoli pizza.  They served french fries with the pizza, which we thought was weird.  However, we were hungry after our long hot morning and nap, so it didn’t matter.  We compared notes about the cruise so far and had some of the best moments we’d had yet.  I’ve included a video to prove it.

Soon it was time to load up on our bus again.  Our next destination was Pompeii.  I longed for one of those private early morning tours of the site, which avoid the heat of the day and the crush of tourists, but we only had one day in Naples and I was glad I had not missed Capri or my piazza-side pizza in Sorrento.

Enjoy the short video and get a feel for the enjoyable time we were having.  Then come back next week and we’ll look at the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

The Celebrity Edge Cyprus Restaurant

On Board the Edge

TRAVEL THERE: BEST RESTAURANT ON BOARD

The presence of multiple dining opportunities you don’t have to pay extra for was nice and seems to be the going trend on cruises, but I still like traditional cruise dining, where you are assigned to a table and a time for the duration.  We’ve tried the specialty dining you have to pay for and found it to be much ado (and expense) about nothing.  The Celebrity selection of complimentary (as if anything were actually complimentary on a cruise) restaurants was nice and the staff was wonderful, but it just wasn’t the same as having your own table and your own waiter for the duration.

The Menus

In each restaurant the menu is divided up into three sections.  The first selection of meals are specific to that particular restaurant.  As far as I was concerned, they could have done away with the other two sections and expanded this one.  During our first visit to a restaurant, we’d select our favorites from this specialty menu, but when you returned to that restaurant, the menu had not changed.  You’d already had your favorite choice and the others might be items you have no interest in.  So for me, this was a fail.

The second section is Celebrity Classics – meals Celebrity serves across their fleet.  The third section featured dishes specific to the Edge, but available to all the restaurants.  I still would have preferred to have an extended choice in the specialty section.  If they wanted to offer options, then the Celebrity Classics would have fit the bill.  The other choices were unnecessary, in my opinion.

Cyprus – Greek Seafood

We loved the Cyprus Restaurant.  Greek food is a favorite with us, as is seafood, so how could we lose.  Well, a bow renewal bride-to-be can be having a well-served case of pre-wedding jitters, but we’ve already covered that.

Our whole crew had dinner together this evening.  We figured out how our wine programs were going to work and made our way through the menus.  I chose the moussaka as an appetizer.  It’s usually an entree choice, but the Cyprus version is a very small serving, so it would not do as entree.  This is perhaps the best dish I had on board.

For an entree I had sea bass and it was delicious.  The dessert was another disappointment.  We discovered the buffet had amazing desserts, but the restaurant desserts were disappointing, every single time.  By the end of the cruise, we were having all our desserts in the buffet.  This particular meal had some kind of fuzzy chocolate thing with blueberries.  Downright weird.

We were very impressed with the way the Wine by the Bottle program worked, even if we were a little disappointed in the wine selection.  You could have as many bottles going as you wanted and they were available to you wherever you were on the ship.  We never tried to access them in a bar, but it worked well at whatever restaurant we landed in.  The Bagleys paid extra to get the premium wine choices and I couldn’t tell that their choices were any better than our standard program had.

After dinner we all went our separate ways.  Bill wanted to see what the entertainment was like.  The highlight show that evening was a tribute to Whitney Houston.  We’d just watched a documentary on Whitney Houston and while she was certainly a musical virtuoso, I walked away from it disappointed in the life she lived.  Unfortunately, the artist covering Whitney’s songs didn’t deserve much praise for her singing either.  She was a pretty good singer, but not good enough to attempt Whitney’s signature songs.

From there we checked out a performance in Eden.  It was a couple doing gentle covers of Beatle love ballads.  They weren’t too bad, but it was late and the music put us to sleep.  Time to call this one a day!  We arrive in Naples next week, so don’t miss it!