Thursday, June 14, 2007


Here are links and info for the tours and port transportation we used:

Venice - Doge's Secret Itinerary (15 Euros each; tickets thru they also sell tickets; 3-day Transit pass 30 Euros each

Dubrovnik - Took ship's shuttle to Old Town; walked City Walls (accepted Euros)

- Rented car for 40 Euros at Spiridakos Rent a Car

Athens - Cab to Metro station (15 euros) then train to Athens (3 Euros each for all day pass); Acropolis tickets 12 Euros each (gets you into many other museums)

Naples - with Marcello - 600 Euros for 8 plus 100 Euros for guide at Pompeii (entrance tickets to Pompeii 11 Euros each)

Rome - with Maurizio - 600 Euros for 8 plus 120 Euros for guide at Vatican (entrance tickets to museum 13 Euros each)

Florence - Cab to Pisa train station (with picture stop at Leaning Tower) for 75 Euros; train from Pisa to Florence 13 Euros for 2 adults, 1 child; train from Florence to Livorno 15.25 Euros for 2 adults, 1 child; 20 Euros cab from Livorno Centrale train station to ship

Villefranche - Bus to Monaco (1.30 Euros each one way); train from Monaco to Villefranche (2.40 Euros each one way)

By Request - Our Cruise Voyage Map

Saturday, June 9, 2007

From Gondoliers to Segways: Last Stop Paris

Paris and Back to Reality

The underlying theme of any vacation that has you moving from place to place is transportation.

Cars, Taxis, Gondoliers, Vaporettos (pubic water busses), Tender Ships, Buses, Cruise Ships, Trains, Subways, Shuttle Vans, Eurostar, Big Planes, Smaller Planes and finally a Segway.

The only modes I think we missed were prop plane and broom.

Paris was a pleasant surprise. My fear of the French had driven me to attempt to research as much of the culture as time would permit. Alex and I took 20 hours of French language classes as well. Many thanks to our great French teacher, Benedicte!!!!

Here's the link to the Alliance Francaise du Nord du Texas who put us in touch with Benedicte:

Either this research and study made the go trip smoother, or the reports of French terrorizing Americans is highly overrated. We found everyone we met to be extremely kind and more than willing to help. Perhaps the effort to communicate in French first made the difference. Most conversations would begin in French, but in most cases by the time we'd exchanged our 2nd set of sentences, the response back to us would be in English and we’d complete the conversation in English. At least their question wasn't in English, "what do you mean?", everyone appeared to understand me. I did find it especially gratifying when I could buy train tickets or breakfast all in French. Our trip in on the Eurostar was fairly uneventful. Given we left at night, and the darkness fell quickly, we might have missed the 20 minute trip through the chunnel if it wasn’t announced. The trip was fast and smooth. Security measures require much of the same check in procedures as on a plane (X-ray and metal detectors), but the process still seemed a bit more civilized then at the airport. This is the way to go from London to Paris. The beauty being that you go from the center of London to the center of Paris. We prearranged a taxi at Gard du Nord given that we were arriving close to midnight and we weren’t sure what to expect. We overpaid for the privilege and next time we’d just hit the taxi stand and save $50 Euros. A short trip to the Hilton welcomed us with an upgrade to a “relaxation” room. I few jets in the tub and a couple of bottles of salts and creams count as “relaxation”, but the room was nice.

The next morning we walked to the La Defense station right outside our hotel. The morning began with Alex making a discovery. Even tough there was a McDonald’s they had no hash browns…but he found a new love. Pain au Chocolat. Basically a chocolate croissant, but he was very gratified to find he liked a local food. He even brought 3 of them with him for the trip home. The metro system is as easy to use as advertised. There are many stops, so you are never far from where you’d like to go. Our first stop was the Musee D’Armee (Army Museum). Alex was in history heaven. The museum has a very large collection of weaponry dating from the 10th century forward. They had several rooms dedicated to WWII with lots of uniforms and artifacts on display. We took the tour of Napoleon’s tomb. This is a little guy with a big ego. His instructions for burial were executed several years after his death, but he got his way. His tomb is made of the same royal red marble of the Roman Emperors and family we saw at the Vatican and is placed in the room, so that you must lean over the railing and “bow” to him to see his tomb from the 2nd floor and look up to see it if you are the first floor. His tomb is in a beautiful church, originally the reserved only for personal mass of the French monarchy.

The next stop was the one I was most looking forward to on the trip. The Musee D’Orsay. Another opportunity to view in person the hand of Van Gogh. This visit did not disappoint. Several stunning examples of the mad genius at work; vibrant and beautiful as always. The museum itself wasn’t very crowded (based on the horror stories we had read about), but were happy to have our Paris Museum passes ahead of time and skip the very long line for tickets. A quick lunch at the museum café was just what we needed to recharge our batteries. Even this little cafe had fantasic food. After a stop back at the hotel to change, we made our way to the south leg of the Eiffel Tower to meet up with our Segway guide. After quite a long walk to their shop (next time we’ll ask to meet them at the shop directly) we took our short Segway class. They were a big scary at first, as it is a bit like balancing on a log, but within 5 minutes you are zooming around like you have been doing it all your life. We had a great 5 hour tour all around Paris with a stop at a café for the obligatory Croque Monsieur (basically a grilled ham and cheese, apparently a French delicacy, but yummy none the less). It was quite surreal to be doing Segway doughnuts in front of the Louvre, but we have the video to prove it. We ended the night watching the hourly twinkling of the lights on the Eiffel Tower. The monument is much more beautiful at night. The next morning we started the day with a visit to the Opera Garnier. My son was quite surprised to find inside the grand staircase from Phantom of the Opera. He walked up and down singing “What a way to run a business”. I love my kid! He had to go find the "Phantom's Box" and have his picture taken in front. The highlight of the visit was the view of the Chagall ceiling. Unexpected and beautiful against the neo-baroque architecture of the building.

The rest of the day was spent hitting the highlights, Notre Dame, a quick boat ride down the Seine and walk down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. We made long walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We had planned to take the elevator to the top for the view, but we found after arriving that the monument was closed for a ceremony for Vietnam (or as they called it Indochina) War. We had hoped to stay for the ceremony but it was going to be too late for us to get back to catch our Eurostar train back to London.

Paris was very beautiful, but after several days of walking the city streets, it almost seemed too beautiful. The continuity of style created by Haussmann, under the direction of Napoleon III, creates one beautiful vista after another. It needs a bit of "character", a bump in the nose or a crooked grin. I think you must live in the city for a few weeks to really uncover the true gems.

The only city in the US that I can even compare it to would be Washington, DC. Given the time the founding fathers, especially Jefferson spent in Paris, you can see the influence when it came time to create our Captitol. Also, let's not forget the original architect of DC was Pierre L'Enfant, a frenchman.

We arrived into London quite late again, and had an enjoyable visit with our London driver to the spartan but servicible Travelodge outside of Gatwick.

Luckily we arrived early to the airport, as the baggage belts were all down at the check in counters. We were trapped in a sea of baggage and people as they brought luggage cages on trolleys to deal with the mounting piles of checked baggage. We actually ended up waiting on the ground in the plane an additional 2 hours while they made sure all the bags caught the plane. After the long flight home, we were quite happy to be home. Our house seemed mansion like after spending so much time in fairly cramped quarters. We ran out for Mexican Food and marveled at the wide open spaces and huge vehicles in our parking lots. Yup, everything is bigger in Texas. I’m sure Dallas would be just as interesting and foreign to the people we met in Europe.

Sitting back it’s hard to take in all we have seen. This cruise really gives you the highlights of the history of the western world. It was a perfect vacation; giving us both a great appreciation of the beauty of the rest of the world, while at the same time making us fully appreciative of the blessings of our home. God bless Texas!

That’s all for now!

Mickie, Frederick & Alex


Frederick and Alex on Segways in front of the Louvre

A Texas Alex in Paris...

Alex Paris

Monaco: Disneyland for the Rich and Famous


Ok, I admit it, we went to Monaco just so we could say we’ve been to another country. We didn’t have any expectations for this port. We should have went to Nice, but we had to get that virtual stamp on our traveling passport. I’ll spare you the details but nothing went well on this stop. This city makes San Francisco seem like the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's one giant posh StairMaster. Here is where the transportation system is unreliable. The bus was 45 minutes late and full to the brim when it arrived. We decided to take the train back and instead of running every ½ hour they ran every 2 hours. We shopped in a mall that had Dolce and Gabbana sneakers for 3 year olds. The chandelier in the photos is from the mall. We saw an actual Maserati dealership, not every day you see a gaggle of Maserati’s in one place. This place looked like Disneyland for Paris Hilton or Donald Trump. We walked by the casino and the other obligatory stops and got out of dodge. The train was crowded; I climbed up on a ledge by the door to overcome my claustrophobia. When the train did stop, no one would move to let us off, we had to push our way off the train. I guess this is why we are called pushy American’s …..we have no choice unless we want to stay on the train forever. So not many pictures at this stop. The Disney Magic was in port with us, so I snapped a few pictures of this beautiful ship. We met a few of their passengers on the bus stop and they all had great things to say about this vessel. Interestingly, none of them had their kids with them, they all wanted to stay on board in the kids program.

Speaking of kids program’s, I can’t say enough about Celebrity kid’s program on the Millennium. Alex couldn’t wait to get back to the ship get back to the program. He said it was much better than Princess in terms of the actual space for the kid’s, the things to do at the space and the involvement of the counselors.

We had a day at sea and then it was off the ship at Barcelona. We had a big travel day head of us, flight from Barcelona to London, 1 ½ hour cab ride from Gatwick to Waterloo Station, 3 hours on the Eurostar through the Chunnel and then a cab to our hotel. I’ll catch you up on Paris next.


Leaning Tower of Pizza and Olive Garden Inspiration

Pisa and Florence

Ok, this is why you come to Italy, to see the leaning tower of Pizza………No No Pisa. Come on, you’ve all made that joke as a kid, admit it.

Today we decided to be risk takers. In spite of all the ship's warnings about the unreliable Italian trains, we took the risk and took the train to Florence. It’s an 1 hour 45 minute train ride from the port of Livorno, but weighing the $600 for the 3 of us for the ship's tour, we decide we’d spend the money we are saving on a flight to Monaco if we miss the ship. We’ve done every port on our own and saved huge piles of money. I say the ship's tours are for people with more money than brains and time to do the research. We were told that 85% percent of cruisers take the ships tours. That seems high, but I guess that’s ok by me if they are making oodles of money off them and not me. We caught a cab to Pisa, had him wait 5 minutes to get pictures and then had him take us to the train station. We got right aboard the train to Florence. Pretty countryside, it looks like Napa Valley. Once at the Florence train station we stopped at the obligatory Mc Donald’s to stuff Alex with enough chicken nuggets to sustain him through the day. This is the city of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Their stamp is everywhere and of course that medieval Kennedy clan the Medici’s, they had a hand in the city as well. The Duomo or the cathedral they built amazing. The size and intricate multi colored marble work that covers the entire structure is not possible to grasp in photos. It is right in the heart of a crowded city, so getting any distance or perspective to take a decent photo is difficult. This is the city where Michelangelo’s David lives. The shopkeepers who cater to the tourist trade have a good time putting his nasty bits on anything, aprons, teeshirts and underwear. This is very embarrassing to an 11 year old. I offered to buy Alex the underwear at every corner, but he wouldn’t take me up on it.

The best part of the day was the trip to the Cathedral Santa Croce. Inside Bad Bad Leroy Brown is buried, no...... but they do have Galileo and Michelangelo entombed there. Some serious brain power there.

We walked our legs off in this city and made it back to the train station, just in time to catch the 2:30 train, on time and back to the ship without a hitch.

After spending 5 total days in very different parts of Italy, you walk away with an understanding of how even today, Italy is held together by only a political system. This isn’t something that was apparent to be prior to going there. As a country, Italy is younger than the United States (1871). Still today everyone who lives seems to truly identify themselves by the region they live in and not their country. I don’t think even Texans have this level of regional loyalty.


Alex strikes again.....

Alex Florence and Pisa

Roma: Heaven to Hell in 5 miles

Vatican to the west and Coliseum to the east

After a good night sleep we shared another tour this time to Rome. It is not possible to see Rome in 7 hours, but we tried. Our guide allowed us to cut the mile long line to get into the Vatican and spend some time in St Peter’s. Am I supposed to feel guilty about cutting lines at Catholic HQ? I guess it’s true, the first shall be last and the last shall be first….as long as they have a good tour guide. (Whew, no lightning bolts, I always hoped God had a sense of humor as well.)

I was not prepared for the feel of awe and inspiration that overwhelmed me when we entered St. Peters. It is stunning. We definitely want to come back and explore the museum further. We had hoped to see the Sistine Chapel, but we were not sure it was going to happen. (no pics allowed there). Our guide also managed to get us a look inside as well. It’s hard to enjoy it as it is very crowded and the guards expect silence. Of course with 200 people packed in like sardines it doesn’t happen and every 5 minutes the guards clap and yell silence. It felt like kindergarten. Every painting at the Vatican is the live version of the ones in the old gilded bibles. All instantly recognizable. You can spend days in the Vatican Museum and still not see it all. Catholics do know how to put on a show.

From the Vatican we made our way over to the Pantheon. Originally rebuilt in its current form in 125AD, it was remodeled in the 2nd century. This building was significant because it was the first Roman temple to be open to the common people. You aren’t prepared for the size of the columns or how well preserved it is. Even though all of the marble façade was seized by the Pope to front churches, the beauty of the structure still exists. It was saved as it was converted to a Catholic Church in the 7th century and still serves in that capacity today. It is the best example of a Roman Temple in existence today.

We all hopped back in to the van and took a ride over to the Trevi Fountain. It’s pretty and it’s famous and the history behind bringing water to the city with ancient technology is interesting, but it merits about 10 minutes of your time. This is what we gave it and then moved on to more important things………..LUNCH!

We went to traditional lunch spot for Roman office workers. It was Saturday so the restaurant was just happy to have customers. I must say again, Italians know how to do lunch. I’m getting used to this wine with every meal deal. There really is something different in the flavors. It could just be an expectation but everything tastes exceptionally flavorful, even if it is very basic.

We had a few hours left before we had to leave to make the hour drive back to the ship; (don’t want to be left behind!). Our driver took us to the Coliseum. There was a national ceremony earlier in the day, so we were happy it was open. Again with the brick, I never expected the coliseum to be made of brick. It’s an impressive structure considering when it was built. I’ve been to a lot of stadiums in my life and you can easily see the layout in this one and imagine the crowd flowing through the public spaces. It’s still hard to imagine a society with so little concern for human life, but who knows where we’ll be in another 300 years. Perhaps they started with Reality TV as well.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Italy in 3 days

Whew!!!! Sorry to have been away so long. We have been going for 3 days straight, 6AM to Midnight each day. No, not complaining, just explaining!

Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Rome, Pisa and Florence in 3 days. We are a pretty tired bunch, but the history we have experience cannot be measured.

Three really amazing days. We shared a driver with 5 other people who took us on a tour down the Amalfi coast. Every town had a name of someone I knew or an Italian restaurant I have been to, Constiglione, Positano, Sorrento…etc…… It was like the Waterbury, Connecticut Italian Festival on steroids. (This is where I grew up)
Southern Italy, Naples and the surrounding area is the Italy we all are familiar with. This is the area of pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and the mafia. There is good reason for it. 40 Million Southern Italians have immigrated to the US in the past 100 years. A good 20% must have moved to Connecticut. Our driver said everyone who lives there has someone in their family who as moved to the US. His family is in Jersey, but surprise. It’s crazy and crowded but fun. The views along the road that traverses the coast were stunning. A mix homes taken over for tourism and homes of locals who have not yet sold out. We had lunch atop the hill in Ravello overlooking the ocean. The food was out of this world; mozzarella, antipasto and pasta like I’ve never tasted. The Italians know how to do lunch. It was a meal that we will always remember.

Just a quick insight our guide shared with us. He spent much of the day lamenting how chaotic the government is, and how they have done little to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Everyone here lives day to day, with no care for tomorrow. We went through a toll booth and he asked us to watch the meter. First it said 1,90 Euros, the driver paid and it quickly went to 1,50 Euros. The deal is that larger van’s must pay the higher price, but it is at the discretion of the collector to register the charge. The collector collects the 1,90 then rings it up as 1,50 and pockets the difference. All day, every day. Everyone knows it happens and it is just accepted. This was just one of the many examples he shared of the culture. So many things make so much more sense now.

We made our way to Pompeii in the afternoon. It was quite hot. Fascinating, but I had hoped to see more of actual life. Most spots were just empty shells as everything had been moved to the museum. I think next time we will go to Herculaneum as it is said to be more well preserved. Alex loved it and was allowed to bring back some pumice stones from Mt Vesuvius. What was surprising was how much brick was used. Even many of the columns were made from brick and then covered with bakeries. A stop at the bakers shop and at some of the wealthy homes made the trip worthwhile. Our driver said there are cities under all the area towns, but no one wants to find them as the no longer have access to that land, it becomes an archeological site.

It’s time to get ready for dinner. I’ll catch you up on the rest of the trip later on. I’ve got the Rome and Florence photos ready so I’ll post them as well and get you the details later.

Amalfi Coast


Here are Alex's shots from the day....

Alex Amalfi and Pompeii