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.

 

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Getting Our Arizona Fun on Early

Love Field, Southwest Airlines
Early Risers

TRAVEL THERE:  UP WITH THE CHICKENS

So, remember how Southwest Airlines sent me an email with cheap airfare.  To get to our destination with the cheapest fares, we either had to be on a plane at 6 AM or virtually lose the first day to travel.  So, I convinced Bill Arizona was worth getting up for.  Here’s how it went.

There’s Early and Then There’s Really Early

The alarm went off at 2:15 AM.  I rolled out of bed.  Bill rolled out at 2:40.  By 3:15 AM the car was backing out of the garage.  No, it was not fun, but we were determined to make the best of it.

At Love Field, since it was raining, Bill unloaded me and the luggage at the terminal and went off to find parking.  I dragged the luggage into the terminal and stood by it, praying to the travel gods that Bill would navigate the parking lot and get back to me.  Parking lots are not his favorite thing in the world and I didn’t want to start the trip off on the wrong foot.

He returned and we set about trying to figure out what was next.  When you’re flying, there’s always a bunch of people who seem to know exactly what they are doing.  This is particularly true in a Southwest terminal.  Their customers are more like a cult than anything else.  I was frantically trying to read every sign I could see and Bill was watching the crowd.  We sort of captured the rhythm of the system and ended up in front of one of the ticketing machines.

We failed miserably.  The self-help machine treated us just like the infrequent, senior-citizen, not-Southwest flyers that we are.  Somehow we managed to press the right buttons to find our reservations and get our luggage tags, but we didn’t end up with boarding passes.

A Southwest employee quickly identified us as inept and came to our rescue.  With boarding passes she procured, we were able to progress to the bag check.  That’s when we discovered my other ooops.  I had attached both luggage bags to one bag and none to the other.  It was more than early.  It was really early!

Still, this trip made me fall back in love with Southwest, though we hadn’t flown them in years.  Thanks to their liberal baggage limits, we were able to check all three bags, rather than trot around dragging a carry-on.  I had everything I needed for being in transit in a small backpack.   I felt like screaming, “Free at last.  Free at last.”

What Bill really thought about waking up so early

Getting There

In truth, I think we could have slept for another hour, but we didn’t realize that.  For years we’ve been fighting the battle out a DFW.  Southwest can’t get you to the Mediterranean, Egypt and the Danube and international has been our focus for years.  Besides, it’ only been in recent years that Southwest was freed from the Wright Amendment, making flying them from Dallas a better proposition.  I think Southwest will be seeing a whole lot more of us, especially since we’re abandoning the International scene for a while, to catch up on some American destinations.

The flight was blissfully uneventful and arrived on time.  We made our way to the rental shuttle and were delivered to the Alamo facility.  That’s when our luck really kicked in.  There on the appointed row, among Hyundais, and Toyotas stood a Jeep – a Jeep with four while drive! He went back to the attendant and confirmed the Jeep was truly one of our options.

We just knew this was going to be a magical trip.  Sure we’d had to get up early, it was raining in Dallas and we’d had a little trouble at the ticket kiosk, but even with those little hiccups we’d had smooth sailing and we had no reason to think it would change.  One of my blogging friends accuses me of making up our little dramas to make my blogs sound more exciting.  Well, we’ll see, because this trip was breeze – not a single headache to report.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Come back next week and we’ll have breakfast in one of the Phoenix area’s top ten breakfast spots.

DESTINATIONS, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

The What Next of Arizona

Arizona, Sc
Getting Away to the Desert

TRAVEL THERE: AZ MUST-SEE DONE, WHAT NEXT?

The first time you visit an area there are just things you must see and thanks to a great trip early in our marriage, as well as several times passing through AZ, we’d knocked out the musts.  From Monument Valley in the northeast corner to the Grand Canyon in the west, to BioSphere down south and seriously, everything in between, I’d taken care of the must-sees.  So why were we going back?

A Desert State of Mind

We like the desert.  There is a peacefulness that comes from the landscape.  Some people like beaches and others prefer mountains, but I’ll take a desert every time.

Bill made it very clear that he wanted to take it easy, very easy on this trip.  He wanted to play golf.  I wanted to have tea at the Phoenician.  The rest was supposed to be relaxation.  Message received.

Those Free Guides from the Internet

For most trips, the first thing I do is go out and buy a travel guide, but I already owned an AZ guide and it had served me well.  I just needed the latest information, including festivals and events.  The internet is great for that and so are those free travel guides the cities and states will send you.

In the world of free travel guides, Scottsdale has won the prize.  I pored over their guide the moment it arrived and continue salivating over it to day.  It was full of information without being overwhelming and hip without being shallow.  It had great maps and references to online resources that I really cared about.

Phoenix did not fare so well.  It was virtually anonymous, merely a template someone sold advertising in.  I yawned over it and it’s greatest contribution to the trip was some headlines I used in my scrapbook of the trip.  

Sedona’s guide was somewhere in the middle – not as snazzy as Scottsdale, but not as boring as Phoenix.  A map in the center served us during the stay and made it to the scrapbook. 

Wonderful Websites

From various websites I was able to glean a lot of useful information about some art festivals and events that proved to be very helpful in planning the trip.  There were Artwalks, Art Festivals and other Arty things just begging for us to take part.  The trick is not to merely google the city, but google “visit wherever.”

I used the local New Times sites to find the best places to have breakfast.  The internet is also where I found the amazing inn where we overnighted in Sedona.  Thank you, Expedia!  

Playing It By Ear

For those of you who say phooey on all that planning, I’m just going to play it by ear, I say good luck.  I find it is a lot harder to be ready to play it by ear, than it is to plan things out in detail in advance.  This only happens on the first Friday, that is only open one evening of the week, something else needs reservations at least two days in advance.

If you just show up somewhere, without doing your homework, and then try to play it by ear, well, you might have a great vacation, but the chance of you actually getting to see and do the things you were most interested in are slim to none in most cases.

The trick in this household it to be sure I know what’s most important to me and work it in early in the trip, then as the time plays out and the options get smaller, I haven’t missed my priorities.  I work out a list of daily options, focusing on the one time or limited access events.  I don’t get to see everything I want when Bill is playing it by ear, but I don’t miss everything either.

Next week, we’ll start out on our Arizona Adventure.  Please come join me.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

We Can’t Resist a Bargain

Arizona, Scottsdale, Westin Resort
Westin Kierland Resort

TRAVEL THERE: WESTIN MAKES AN OFFER WE CAN’T REFUSE

We’d talked about it.  The Anniversary Cruise had eaten up more than its fair share of our budget.  We needed to give traveling a break.  Then we got the invitation from Westin.  Come take a look at our Vacation Club it said.  Stay four nights for $299 it said.  Had they been offering a trip to anywhere else, the invitation would have gone into the trash, but they wanted us to come to Arizona.

I’m Just Leaving This Right Here

I opened the envelope, read the offer and then shuffled it around on my desk for a few days.  As I moved the offer around on my desk, I started making a case for the trip.  While the Anniversary Cruise had been expensive, I’d done a multi-year cost analysis and we’d stayed within the allotted amount.  We just didn’t have anymore right then.  However each month the travel budgets accrues a little bit…and we didn’t have to make the reservations until September sometime…and then we had a year to take the trip.  It was at least worth running by Bill.

I went down to his office and made a disclaimer, “This showed up in the mail and it was too good to just throw away.  I’m going to put it here in your mail pile and you can take a look at it if you want.”  I think he probably moved it around on his desk for a day or two.  Then he said, “What’s the deal with this trip?  I don’t want to read the whole thing.”  I cheered inside.  The question was almost as good as a rubber stamp of approval.

I explained just how amazing the offer was.  It wouldn’t be our first trip like this.  We’ve been to Hawaii, Branson, Palm Desert and a number of other places, visiting time shares on the cheap.  Bill hates the sales pitch, but he loves the price.  And we love Arizona.  I got the green light.  We discussed potential travel dates and decided on February, because the real estate market would still be cool and we wouldn’t miss a bunch of shoots.  Bill even said, “Why don’t you also look into a visit to Sedona?  We love that place.”

And We’re Off

I called up the Westin, picked our travel dates and started dreaming of desert nights.  But I didn’t just dream.  I went online and ordered up free travel guides from Arizona, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Sedona.  As the guides arrived in the mail I started poring over them, turning down the corner of pages and highlighting the good stuff.

Then one day, out of the blue, I get an email from Southwest Airlines.  We haven’t flown with them in decades and I’m not on any of their mailing lists, but there it was.  They wanted to sell me some cheap air fares.  I jumped on it with alacrity.  It seemed as if the travel gods had sanctioned this trip and were doing everything they could to make it wonderful. 

Come back next week and I’ll share how I put the trip together.

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, 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.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Load ‘Em Up, Head ‘Em Out

Bill and Deb with the nearly checked carry-on

TRAVEL THERE: ON OUR WAY TO ROME

It was time.  We threw our luggage in the car and picked up Deborah with her bags.  We left our car at Park and Fly, rode their bus to the terminal and went through security.  By 9:50 AM we were at our gate for our 11:45 flight to Montreal.  The Anniversary Cruise was really going to happen.

Small Drama at the Gate

I’d never flown Air Canada, so I started off with a clean slate, but it didn’t stay clean for very long.  I sat at the gate with my bestie, while Bill did his usual ramble around the terminal.  I had the new carry-on bags next to me and for a few moments I didn’t have a worry in the world.

Then an airline employee strolled down to where we were sitting and informed me I would have to check one of my carry-ons.  I went into an immediate panic.  The only thing in the carry-ons were our clothes for the vow renewal ceremony.  I knew, should my luggage get lost, I could buy a couple of sundresses and get by, but I couldn’t replace my gown or Bill’s tuxedo.  This whole trip was for the ceremony and I wasn’t going to allow it to be ruined by lost baggage.

I have no idea why this woman picked me out of all the people at the gate.  One carry-on was slightly larger than the other, but the bigger one was regulation and the other even smaller.  Maybe, because it was purple.  Maybe, because I just looked too happy for the surly employee to tolerate.  Darn, I hated to have my travel day ruined so early into the trip.

I decided I was not going to argue with this lady.  I was going to delegate it to Bill.  I told her the bag she indicated was my husband’s and she’d need to talk to him about it.  She made some snarky comment and waddled back to her position behind the counter.  I worked a few more crossword puzzles and waited for Bill to return.

When he strolled up, I pulled him aside and informed him of the situation.  I warned him I would go into full melt-down mode if that lady took away my bag.  I reminded him we had a layover in Montreal, so that was fertile ground for a lost bag.  Later in the trip I would know just how true that statement was, but for now, I was just speculating.

Bill went and talked to the lady.  He fit the bag into that metal contraption that is supposed to identify over-large bags.  The lady should have apologized for upsetting me, but instead she threatened Bill with the flight crew, warning him they would take the bag away when it did not fit.  What was this lady’s problem?

Quick Lunch and a Flight

We needed to grab a meal before we flew.  Deb and Bill opted for Chikfila, but I chose to spend my travel calories on a soft pretzel.  I love them dearly and doing battle with the mean lady had worked up and appetite.

The flight was uneventful.  It was a small commuter aircraft, but the carry-on in question fit up in the overhead bin, just like it was supposed to do.  The whole luggage bit was just unnecessary drama, thank you very much.

Next stop Montreal!  Rome here we come!

 

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

So Much in Rome, So Little Time

Visions of Rome

TRAVEL THERE: BUCKLE UP EXCURSIONS AHEAD

I rarely get the vacation I dream up in my head.  That’s disappointing, because I have such a lovely time up there in my own gray matter, but I usually enjoy what I end up with.  Here’s how the planning for Rome went.

When in Rome or Not

When you sail out of Rome, the port is actually Civitavecchia and it’s not exactly convenient.  It’s not all that far away from the airport, but it’s in the opposite direction from the city of Rome from the airport.  Initially, I had hoped we’d stay in Rome for a few days before the trip.  I planned and planned and re-planned it with the help of Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel.  We worked out a pretty nice itinerary for and outstanding price, but it was still outside the budget of time and of money.

So, I thought the second best option would be a combo of airport transfer with a bit of sightseeing, but it was dicey.  You had to factor in the bus trip from the airport to the city and then from the city to the boat.  After all that was taken in consideration, we would have only have a few hours to see one of the most important cities in the world.  I told myself something was better than nothing, purchased the transfer/excursion package and started investigating what we would see.

They took a whole lot more words to do it, but basically it was a loop around the Colosseum in the bus with a short photo opportunity and then a short stop at the Vatican.  We would have had to stroll several blocks to and from the bus at the Vatican, so at best, we’d barely have time to gawk at St. Peter’s Square and get back to the bus.

Still, the buildings right around the Square have some pretty amazing stuff.  The church holding the Pieta fronts on the Square and the Sistine Chapel is not far away.  Only this is the Vatican.  As soon as they open, huge lines form and you wait hours to get your few moments of grandeur.

I did more research.  There were skip-the-lines tickets you could buy.  Not exactly cheap, but not out of the realm of possibility either.  What put them out of my reach is that they are timed tickets and no one anywhere could tell me what time I would be at the Vatican.  Easy to read in the publications about the shore excursions was the notice that they reserved the right to switch the order of the tour based on crowds.

I was trying to make it all work in my head.  I applied my favorite travel mantra – ‘seeing something is better than ‘seeing nothing,’ but I came to realize I was fooling myself.  I would arrive exhausted from extensive air travel and board a bus.  I’d gaze at some of the most famous architecture in the world and not even be able to get a decent picture of it.  Worst of all, I’d be mere feet away from the Pieta and not even get a glimpse.

Then I thought about arriving at the boat in the afternoon – exhausted even further by the sightseeing and fighting all the last minute crowds every embarkation entails when you board at the end of the day.  We’d miss the Concierge Embarkation Luncheon for sure and I’d miss out on the only opportunity I would have to unpack.  Once I envisioned living out of our suitcases the whole trip, the uber-quick visit to the Vatican didn’t sound quite so good.

So, I cancelled the transfer/excursion and opted for the transfer only package.  I’d see Rome someday, but it wouldn’t be on this trip.  Come back next week and we’ll discuss a few more shore excursions.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

A Year of Antiscipation

Cruise Buddies

TRAVEL THERE: I HAD MORE TO DO THAN WAIT

Excuse my sabbatical from blogging.  I came back from my cruise more than overwhelmed.  I came back, got to work and haven’t looked up since, until today.  Let the cruise blogging begin!

If you’re thinking of cruising, a shift has occurred in the last few years.  After of decades of saving the best deals for last, the cruise lines finally learned they’d been training their passengers to wait until the last minute to book their sailings.  So, a major shift has occurred.  The earlier you book, the better the deal – or at least that’s what they tell you.  Sure, there will always be last minute deals, but you might not like what you get.

I just checked.  To get a room in the same category I first booked, I wouldn’t save a penny if I’d waited until now.  The good news would be that I wouldn’t be spending anymore.  However, chances are, I wouldn’t have gotten the same room, but on a smaller cruise ship, there’s the chance I wouldn’t be going at all.  So what did I do with that 15 months I had before the cruise?  Well, I’ll share some it with you.

Come Cruise with Me

My first consideration in this had been to let our family members know what we were planning and invite them along.  I notified them months before we ever settled on a cruise line.  As we considered our options, we paid serious attention to which cruises would work best with the potentially interested family members.  All that was for naught.  In the end, not a single niece, nephew, sister or cousin joined us.  Once I knew which cruise we’d be on and that there’d be no group deal, I sent out an invitation to virtually ever one on our buddy list.  Several friends had talked a good game when the cruise was mere speculation, but when it came time to book a cabin, most wandered away, some without a word, some with ‘maybe later’ and a few with stated regrets.

In truth, I’d hoped for a heftier guest list.  This whole thing had come out of my desire to stand before our friends and family and renew our marriage vows.  Moving the ceremony from our backyard to the deck of a cruise ship had emptied the party chairs of all but the most faithful and oh, what faithful friends those were.  Let me introduce you to our crew.

The first to sign up, as I’ve already told you, were Jim and Melanie.  What delightful souls they are!  Had they not stepped up and bought their fare the moment we told them which ship, I might be telling you a different tale today.  I will be forever grateful for their encouragement that day.  As a Christian I’ve learned that God often speaks through circumstances.  The message that day was loud and clear.  Come on, book your cruise.  If Jim and Melanie are there, you don’t need anyone else.

But I knew there would be someone else coming along.  From the time I first mentioned the idea of a vow renewal, my bestie, Deb, had planned to be there – backyard, boat deck or the back of beyond.  Deb is always there for me.  When we announced our choice, she was in the middle of a huge life crisis, but life crisis be damned, Deb was going to be there.

And then there’s Viktoriya.  I’ve never had children of my own, but God has filled my life with wonderful people, who mean as much or more to me, as anyone who is actually a member of my family.  Viktoriya is one of those people.  She was literally a lost soul when we met in a class at UTD and I have observed her grow into an amazing woman.  She graciously gives me some credit for the journey she has made, but it has been God that made all the difference.

Then Life Happened 

When Bill first turned my attention away from a backyard ceremony to a cruise, I envisioned the fun we’d have, poring over the ship’s brochure, selecting our shore excursions and choosing our dining venues.  He’d even promised that would be part of the package if I’d do things his way.  Well then, life happened.  Come back next week and I will tell you about that.