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: