Saturday, August 27, 2011

No means no

As I sit here awaiting the arrival of Irene... I'm taking some extra moments of my life away from the overwhelming news about the storm to re-visit an outstanding trip. And for those of you who are wondering... the way reporters respond to hurricanes in NY is just as bad as it is in Florida with the exception that some of them have no idea what they're talking about. I heard a weatherman discussing how amazing the waves would be and that the real professionals should take advantage. Moron.

I digress...

Our next visit was to Ephesus and what a coooool place to go too! The history, the beauty and detail of it all was simply outstanding. Our tour guide was pretty great too. Very well informed and had a nice presence about him. We were one of the first groups to arrive to this ancient city. For those of you who don't know, only about 15% of the city has been excavated and it was all underneath a parking lot for buses. I'm hoping to go back one day and see what else they manage to dig up in the coming years.

The most memorable parts of it were the theatre, library, and the toilets. I have to start with the toilets. They were basically holes lined up very close to each other on what looked like a very uncomfortable slab of marble. I imagine that the people were very thin and that during the winter that marble was quite chilly. I wonder if there were bets going on about people sticking to the seats some how? Also, there is no privacy with these things. You could be sitting there doing your business and reading your neighbors newspaper with him. Not that they had news papers but you get the idea.

The library was very big with impressive columns. It seems like there may be more then what we saw as the depth of the building wasn't too extensive. Regardless, it was very cool to look at.

The theatre is an interesting place. It's said that that's where Paul spoke to the Ephesians. Makes sense being Ephesus and all and that the theatre hasn't been used much since except most recently for an Elton John concert. Another cool aspect of Ephesus is that portions of the floor were made up on mosaics. Very pretty!

Along our tour there was this mini performance, not in the theatre but behind the library. It was... um... pretty awful. 15 minutes of this mini-play put on by the locals which I thought was sweet. They're out there every half hour performing no matter the temperature (did I mention how hot it was that day?). But worthy of a Tony nomination? I think not.

After our tour we headed back to the port of Kusadasi where we were given a carpet demonstration and sent on our way to shop. This is basically where it all went down hill. Though we were promised to be given space in a pressure free zone of buying, the promises were not kept. Sharks is the best way to describe them. They made you feel like you had to buy something and would continually pull things out until you bought something. Pretty bad customer service if you ask me. So we decided to leave and hit up the local areas. Bad choice on our part because it was far worse than the carpet shop. If you looked at all at their merchandise they tried to get you to come into their store... and if you made eye contact... forget it. They would follow you down the street begging you to look at what they had. Good price, good price. Each new little shop we walked by the men outside would say "hello" followed by a plead to come inside their shop. It was so annoying that I honestly got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. They would say "hello" and I would respond "No" and put my hand up to stop them. Though funny to look back on now... at the time it was frustrating. Would've spent a lot more money there had they not been so pushy.

Back to the ship to have dinner with our dinner buddies and a night of fun! :-)


PS-favorite moment in Turkey was seeing this store.

PPS- Meet the richest camel in all of Turkey. One Euro and you can take your picture with him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mounta Etna

We started our day in Sicily watching the ship pull into the port and seeing Calabria across the water from where we were. Kind of cool seeing as how the Italian side of my family is from there. I waved at the land and then at the man driving the cute little tug boat guiding us in... he waved back... Calabria didn't. After a quicky breakfast we boarded the bus and started our 2 hour journey to the volcano. This was the excursion I was most excited about. Under the description it said we'd be walking along where the volcano last erupted AND there was a canoli tasting. I think it was the canoli tasting that sold me. The bus ride was... intense. I believe these drivers went to a school most likely called "how to drive as close to oncoming traffic, up narrow roads and as fast as possible without crashing" school. During the ride our tour guide was giving us information about Sicily and of course Mounta Etna. That's how she said it... with lots of emphasis on the "a" in Mounta Etna. If I had a dollar for every time our tour guide said "Mounta etna" I would've been rich by the end of our excursion!

We had a quicky stop for picture taking before getting to our destination... I think it was an excuse to wait for more traffic for the bus driver to dodge... he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

Once we got to the volcano site we had 2 options. Walk the half hour hike up to the higher portion of the volcano or do the 15 minute one and shop a bit. Well duh... we chose the 15 minute one. It was pretty steep too... at least more for mom than me and there were lady bugs EVERY WHERE!!! You couldn't walk off the volcano without a shirt full of them. Here's how high we went:

What's funny is that opposite of us there was that half hour hike up the volcano... it's sad to say but watching people walk down it was pretty amazing. Most of them had to do it at a run because it was so steep... many were falling down.

Here's mom happy she made it to the top!

Once we made our way back down we decided it'd be fun to finally eat that free cannoli. I'm not surprised it was free. I'm not saying it tasted bad... not at all... it was excellent! It was just... really small!

After downing the cannoli and juice we did a bit of shopping. There was outstanding honey truck there... he had every kind of honey you can think of and kept giving us free samples. It was perfect! Other than that, our time at Mounta Etna was pretty uneventful. It was however, amazing to be at a volcano site and see smoke coming out of it. Not something I've really seen before aside from at a far distance when I stayed in the Andes in Ecuador.

Driving back was nice because we made a stop by the water in a little town whose name I can't remember for the life of me. It was very pretty though and we had some very nice photo opps!

When we arrived back at the ship we had just enough time to freshen up and meet up with our awesome dinner friends. Have I mentioned yet that the food on the ship is quite good! What I love about dining on a cruise is that you can try everything or ask for seconds and it's not an issue at all. There was another show tonight... I reluctantly went. I thought it was going to be the ships performers who like I said previously... really sucked. The show was really wonderful though! Some group they brought in for the night with Latoya Jackson singing. She was okay... the guys who were singing with her were great though! I actually enjoyed myself!

We returned to the room to find a cute little towel animal and completely passed out! Something else I love about cruising... the ship rocks you to sleep. :-)


PS- Mount Etna erupted this past July... go to this page to see video!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drama, Drama, Drama

After leaving Florence and heading to the port in Civitavecchia we thought that our dramatic adventures were over. We were... slightly wrong. First of all, we had spent the entire trip up until then riding in very nice trains. This train had a LOT to be desired. No real AC, very dirty... I'm talking dirtier than a NY subway dirty, loud and just over all a very uncomfortable ride. We spent our entire trip looking at this sign:

Obviously this made me laugh for numerous reasons one of which being... when people get stuck in between the doors in Italy... is their natural reaction to try and hump the doors in order to defend themselves?

We spent the night in a very nice hotel which had the one thing I would've given just about anything for and that was a TV that converted every channel to any language you wanted. We could finally watch channels other than CNN! Don't get me wrong... being updated on what's happening in the world is wonderful but listening to that one man who rang a bell every time he thought he made an important point was torturous! The night was uneventful, we did our hair and relaxed... there is an amazing picture which I would never dream of putting up on here... simply because I've seen the wrath of my mother...but it is blackmail for both us. All I'm saying is, it's amazing what Ambrose hair looks like when it's not straightened.

The next day we woke up early and headed towards the ship. Finally we could settle in a place for longer than a few days and really relax (and work on my tan lines)! The first thing we did once we checked in was searched for food. It was 11:30 and I was completely starving! We spent a good amount of time there since we couldn't get into our state room until 1 and mom spent a nice 10 minutes texting Sam & Mike that we were on board and doing great!

The stateroom was lovely. It had 2 beds, a couch and of course our very own balcony. It was perfect! There isn't too much to do on a cruise when you first get on. You can tour the ship and try and remember the key places you'll want to revisit (dining areas, pools, theatre) so we spent a good deal of time in our room just settling in. As we were doing this I heard what to me sounded like a very loud monkey. The curious individual that I am I decided to see what all the commotion was and went onto the balcony to see not a monkey but several people in an altercation. About 4 travelers (2 men, 2 women--one of the women is the monkey voice), several Royal Caribbean staff and even more Italian Police. It looked to me like one of the travelers was insulted, pushed, bothered (who knows) by the ship staff. Good judgement by them too seeing that one of the men looked to be drunk. The women were escorted onboard and the men were put in the police car. Not exactly the type of situation I'd ever want to be in. Going to jail in a foreign country would probably be just as scary as someone banning all the worlds flat irons for hair (and that's REALLY scary).

At about 5:00 we were set to start our journey but 5:00 came and went and the ship wasn't moving. 5:15 and still nothing. 5:20 I walk out to the balcony and there is yet more drama happening below. It looks like there is a family trying to get on the ship. An older man and woman with a very young girl (14 or 15 maybe). The girl seemed frantic about finding a piece of paper and when her luggage was brought out from the ship she ran towards it screaming saying she knew where it was. But it wasn't there. I felt so horrible for them all. It seemed that the ship was being held for them but by 5:45 we still had yet to leave. Then... a car drove up... it was a police car. At first I thought that they were coming to deal with this family and their lack of papers but as the car got closer I realized how wrong I was. The guys who had been arrested earlier were being brought back to the ship. Because of them we waited until 6:00 to leave... a whole hour behind. If you're a cruiser you know that means the ship has to go faster which also translates into more rocking and on the first night a rocking ship is not fun!

Taken just before dinner:

Dinner time! We were placed at a table with, I have to say, the BEST group of people ever! There was Carol and Michael... a couple celebrating not only their anniversary but also Carol's birthday! They're from Pennsylvania so naturally I relate to the north east connection... the both of them were very sweet and incredibly welcoming! Then there was Dee Dee and Sharon... a mother/daughter tag team like us enjoying their time together! Dee Dee who I later learned was on her break from being deployed in Iraq. All of us had cruised before except for Sharon (I think Dee Dee had... now I can't remember) so as the cruise was rocking Sharon was telling us how whoozy it was making her. Now you have to understand. When you're on a cruise the table you're placed at can either make or break you. You either have the greatest people to sit with or the worst. I knew the second that Sharon said she was worried that the rocking on the ship was going to make her head fall into her soup that we had scored the good table! All of us laughed, of course... how could you not see that as funny and even funnier was when she went to leave the table. Now I need to preface this with the fact that I love this woman... she is very near and dear to my heart... she has spunk and pizazz and lots of style... all of which she expresses in her walk. A very hippy walk that lets you know she's in the room and you'd better take notice! This walk mixed with the rocking on the boat was amazing. She worked it out of that room... swaying to the left... then swaying to the right. It was... amazing and a moment I'll never forget!

Later that night we went to see the show that they put on. *sigh* okay... understand that I'm a broadway snob and I am incredibly opinionated when it comes to seeing people perform. I'm gonna do all of us a favor and not sugar coat this. It. Was. AWFUL!!! OMG... where did they get these performers!!?? Honestly I didn't even clap. I know some great singers who have been performers on cruises... kids who I went to school with. These guys on this ship just had everything to be desired. Then there was a juggler... well mom hates jugglers just as much as she hates Conan O'Brien... and she really really hates him. She gets this look of disgust on her face whenever he's on TV... actually it cracks me up because I love him but I digress...

After the performance from hell we ran into Dee Dee and Sharon who were heading to the same thing we wanted to go to... a game show called Finish That Lyric. Sounded fun enough. I wasn't gonna do it but my excuse is that Sharon made me do it and I'm sticking to that! It was totally rigged. The first round Sharon just stood there after the song dropped out... Dee Dee screamed from the audience "sing woman!" (another outstanding moment for me--very funny) and nada. She was out. I lasted I think 2 more rounds and then the girl running it chose the most random song... there was no way on Earth I was getting it. C'est La Vie!

As we were very tired and going on an excursion to Sicily the next day we decided to turn in. So far though the cruise was looking very promising and I was really looking forward to an adventure on Mount Etna the following day!

Taken just after dinner from our balcony:

A close up:


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baputta Boopee?!

I realize it's been quite some time since I've blogged but in my defense I just spent the past 3 weeks directing a summer musical theatre conservatory with 24 kids with the end result being a performance of 2 shows, Aladdin and Beauty & the Beast. It was a LOT of work but also an incredibly great time!

So here we are... in Florence! The hotel was some what off the beaten path which was a bit of a downer... it's always nice to be right in the heart of the city however there was some kind of fashion show going on so not only were hotels pretty much booked but the prices for rooms in the city were insane! Our hotel room had MUCH to be desired... including space. We had no where to put our luggage. Granted we might as well have packed for 5 people but I digress... Luckily we were able to change rooms the next day to where we could at least have a bit more space.

There were some very amazing things about Florence... one is the shoes and did I luck out in getting the most amazing pair of heels! I simply love them!!! The next was food. Thanks to our good friend Rick Steves we went to a place that I imagine if it were nighttime would've been scary to walk to. Hidden in a narrow ally but a restaurant where all the locals hang out. We had the most amazing meal! A ministrone soup... cold... since it was hot outside. It was so good! Then the kicker and the meal that was the best thing I ate the entire trip was a gorgonzola chicken. Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I never finish a meal. Ever. I just don't eat all that much but when the food is this good... I don't stop eating. Not only did I finish mine but I had a few bites of mom's too since she got the same thing. I loved it so much that I asked the manager if the cook was single and if so could I propose to him? Well he wasn't single... but he was nice enough to come to our table and give us the recipe!!! I can't wait to try it once I get home in the next few weeks!!!

We managed to get into the Accademia Gallery where we met David... whose hands are abnormally large considering the size of... everything else. There was also time spent looking for leather wallets and things like that... but they were quite pushy and if there's one thing I hate... it's people who try and push me into buying their stuff. It's annoying. All in all... Florence was okay. The Duomo was beautiful of course... there's no question about that. But compared to Paris and Venice... I just wasn't into Florence. As we left we figured it was a pretty uneventful visit to Florence (minus my amazing shoe purchase) until...

Our cab driver must've already had a horrible day because when he picked us up at the hotel to take us to the train station he seemed pretty disgruntled. After putting our bags in the car and all of us in and ready to go he immediately raised the price on his meter. So naturally I looked at mom and said something along the lines of "I wonder why the price has already been raised". Well Grumpy not only gave us an explanation but he pulled over and yelled at us about it. Then continued to drive to the train station muttering to himself in Italian. I would like to point out that this man was not exactly what you would call attractive. Think of a slightly taller version of Danny Devito with a mix of Dick Cheney. ... yea... you understand now. So when this guy would intensely stare at women as he drove I would sit in the back seat and laugh. He definitely didn't hide it and it got to the point that while he was muttering under his breath I was muttering how he didn't have a chance in hell with these women.

We arrive at the train station and low and behold... the price for the cab ride went up... again. This goes on the list of things that I didn't like about Italy... they constantly took advantage of Americans... especially with cab rides. So we questioned him again and Grumpy decided to start yelling at us. He even called over one of his cab buddies to translate. Yelling is all fine and dandy but the second he stepped in my mothers face it was pretty much over. Now as we all know... there are universal signs and words that everyone understands. For instance the word "no" or waving to say hello or goodbye. I would venture to say that flipping the bird and using the f-bomb rank among them. So I'm using both of those lovely gestures towards Grumpy, he's yelling in Italian and doing all these crazy arm gestures and mom is telling him at in a very loud and authoritative voice to go commit a physical impossibility. It was an outstanding moment in mother/daughter history... tag teaming against this horrible excuse for a man because he over charged us. Not only that but all of the Florence train station was witness to this act. Turned heads were every where... and the big kicker... the part that makes this moment so monumental is that as we were walking away I looked back (just in case I had the opportunity to share with him my favorite birdy gesture again) and saw a nun. That's right folks. A nun had been witness to the entire event. Immediately I thought it might be a good idea to genuflect to her... but the moment past so I let it go. I like to think that the argument sounded a bit like this:

All in all, the food, the shoes and the mother/daughter tag team made Florence fun! Finally finally finally... we're off to the cruise!!!


PS-I saw this amazing saying in a bathroom stall at the Accademia... I just had to take a picture of it!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fried Fish, please!

I had been looking forward to arriving in Italy pretty much the entire trip... so when we got to Venice (despite the fact that it was raining)... I was thrilled!!! There is something incredibly special about this place... even in the rain while taking the water taxi to the hotel I knew this. It has this kind of indescribable beauty about it. It's mysterious and alluring and simply captivating. When we arrived to the hotel... the elevator-less hotel... we were wiped! Lugging luggage is not a walk in the park.... especially when the hotel manager tells you dragging it up step by step is not allowed.

Our first priority was to eat. I believe I was way past starving at that point... and for those of you who know me... I'm not a happy person if I don't have food in me. We spoke to a few people in the lobby and they said there was a good pizza place that the manager told them about so when we asked her (the manager) she literally walked us there. The best pizza I've ever had in my life (up until that point)... and to make it all better the name of this place was "Pizza Planet". That's right! Just like the fun zone in the first Toy Story movie. We couldn't believe it. To make things better toward the end of our dinner a large party came in... all local Italians... and it was hilarious watching them! After we ate, Mom suggested we go to St. Marks Square. The sun was just setting and the colors in the sky were perfect. As soon as we set foot in the square I started crying. It was SO beautiful! I've never seen anything like it!

I should mention that when we booked our hotel they said they were giving us a room with a view along the gondola route. Well they were right about the route... but the "view"... it was our neighbors laundry line... whites in the morning... darks in the afternoon.

The next few days were spent walking, shopping and eating. We took our Rick Steves book with us every where and at one point we decided to go to a demonstration of how they make the murano glass. Our good friend Rick told us to just show the shop owner his book and he'd take us to a free demonstration. So we walked in... held up the book... and the look of recognition was instant! It was pretty cool... and their selection was beautiful!

Food in Venice was... alright. If we didn't go to the places that Rick Steve suggested we were mostly disappointed. For lunch one day we didn't have the book so we decided to trust our instinct and go to this particular whole in the wall (since past experience has already taught me that those are the best bets). They didn't have a menu in English (already a good sign) so the waitress read aloud to us our options. As soon as she said fried fish we were in! It sounded perfect! Maybe 10 minutes later she comes out with this very big plate of fried fish, fried squid, fried crab and fried anchovies. In a state of shock we just looked at each other and after a minute or so decided we needed to fix this. There was no way we would eat it... okay I take that back... not that we wouldn't eat it... it's just it was SO much food and we literally only wanted the fish. We called the waitress back to us and told her our dilemma and she said in her thick Italian accent, "I don't understand... this is fried fish". Well we couldn't argue that... they fried practically the whole ocean for us. After lots of hand gestures and some very bad italian on our part we got what we wanted. To their credit... it was very good! So moving on... for dinner that night we decided to go to a Rick restaurant... followed the map... walked a bit and where did we end up? The fried fish restaurant!!! We were already embarrassed about the afternoon so decided to just keep walking.

The other fun part about Venice was mask shopping. We some how managed to find a few shops where they personally made the masks... you could smell the glue and everything. They were SO beautiful. One of the shops we stumbled upon the man made the masks there but also had all these costumes to go with them. He said they use it for a big masquerade party that they have in in Venice in February... I'd give just about anything to go to it!!!

Honestly, deciding what to buy was kind of difficult... but you know how you just know something belongs to you? I had that with the 2 masks I got... especially the one below.

All in all, I really loved Venice. Don't think I could ever live there... but I KNOW I'd LOVE to go back some day!


Monday, June 27, 2011

Just a quicky

Hello everyone!!!
So as Im sure you can imagine things on this trip have been pretty outstanding! Its left me with basically no time to do any blogging however... when we get back to the US next week Ill be adding in all the locations that have yet to be discussed... as they are definitely worth putting in the blog. Needless to say... we are having the greatest time!!!

lots of love your way,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

"Let's start from the very beginning... a very good place to start"...

That's right folks! Salzburg. So arriving in Salzburg kind of... sucked. When we arrived it was raining and coming from the amazing, magical town of Fussen to bad weather, a very cramped hotel room and not really having an idea of where we were was difficult. Not only that. We had a few guests in our room when we got there. At least 4 spiders.. maybe more and they were apparently thinking that it was their night in the room and not ours. It wasn't until we went for dinner and walked to a restaurant that the hotel recommended that we got our barrings. Getting there we had to walk through Mozart square which is just breath taking and in moms own words thats where we got his balls. Now don't be so perverted! It's chocolate and they're delicious. We're savoring them still! (Get those minds out of the gutter!)

We had the greatest ghoulash that night and when we got back to the hotel we told the staff about our room visitors. Honestly I wish you all could've been there to see what we did. First of all, this room... the shape is indescribable. It's not a rectangle, square, triangle... it's some where in between all of those. And small! So when the staff said it was safe and we could go back I almost felt that we were walking into a scene from that movie Arachnaphobia. We stuck together and slowly tip toed into the bathroom (where the spiders were living), eyeing each part of the ceiling, floor, tub... making sure they were all gone. At any moment you felt that one of them would just pop out in front of your face. It was very funny.

The weather report for the following days said that it would be raining so we prayed pretty hard that it wouldn't. The next day it seemed like we were heard. It was gorgeous! Sunny and not too hot. Kind of perfect really. We went for a walk in the morning (though brief... apparently ghoulash and my body don't agree with each other). Took a horse and buggy ride around the old town and I have to say... the horses leading this thing were incredible! Black Fresians. Google them... just stunning animals with good dispositions... at least the ones we were with. People were taking pictures of them left and right. The man who was driving us around gave us information along our way and I had to stop myself from laughing because he sounded just like Hanz and Franz from the old SNL skit. At any moment I felt like he was gonna to say "and I vant to pump (clap) you up".

The moment mom has been waiting for the whole trip came shortly after our buggy ride and that is the Sound of Music tour. Listen... I know how ridiculous it is... believe me. But it was actually fun in a very quirky way. Our guide was an interesting fella... he would hit the microphone before he spoke every time and start every sentence with "Soooooo". Made us chuckle. We visited the gazebo that the song "I am 16 going on 17" was filmed in. They won't let any one inside because apparently an 80 year old woman broke her leg while reinacting the scene by skipping from bench to bench. Hope she hade fun at least!

Then we saw the real Von Trapp home... then the back of the home that they used to film the scene where the kids fall in the water with Maria after a day in the city wearing drapes. However, nothing was more beautiful then the hills! We drove up into the country and saw hills and lakes that were all apart of the opening scene of the movie with the title song. It was incredible. They also had a summer tobagen that I got to go on. It's kind of like a bobsled without the side railing to keep you from falling. It was a lot of fun! Our last stop was the church where the wedding scene takes place. The outside was very pretty but the inside... I don't know. I need to watch the movie again because the inside of this church we went into was creepy. All the statues were very dark and the altar was dark as well. I didn't stay in their long because I didn't like the way it felt. But again... the outside was great!

The very best part of our Salzburg stay was visiting the cemetary in St. Peters Monestary... the one that the Von Trapp family hid in after the performance. This place... there are no words. It's spellbinding. I have some great pictures of it but even the those can't capture the details or the holiness of it. Each grave was different and beautiful. There were lots of flowers every where... not one grave didn't have some kind of flower or plant purposefully in front of it. It's the way every cemetary should look. Most of the graves had steps in front of them that you could kneel at to pray and the ones behind the iron gates had alters for loved ones and sometimes full families in one plot. I just can't even begin to accurately describe it all but know that it's been placed in the top 5 of beautiful areas we've seen so far (and that's a hard list to make).

All in all Salzburg was a pleasant stop along our way. The next stop is the one I've been looking forward to the most. The one that I've been dreaming about my whole life. Italy... and even better... Venice!

I hope everyone is doing well and we're both sending lots of love your way. Please please forgive any spelling errors. Mom's computer doesn't have spell check for blogger... and unfortunately I'm just too lazy to look things up. I'm sure you understand.


PS- We are sick of CNN.