Saturday, July 25, 2015

The rest of the day in Toulon

After the  market, we walked around for awhile longer and then made our way back to the shuttle bus.  I really loved Toulon and wish we'd had more time there! This was our only stop in France and I would have liked to have seen more of the country.  My parents were stationed in Chaumont when they were first married, and I lived there for part of my first year of life.  Mom has told me stories of our time there and we did go back to visit when we lived in Germany in the 1960s but I don't remember a lot of that trip other than visiting our former landlady's family and everyone calling me "Jane Marie."  Maybe one day I'll get to visit the site of my babyhood again.  :)

Toulon, France

After we got on the ship, we were directed to the buffet to have some lunch and wait till our stateroom was ready. We got some food and grabbed a table that had a napkin and a fork on it, but we assumed that someone had left and it just hadn't been cleaned off yet.  As we were sitting down, a guy approached and we realized he'd been sitting there and was returning with more food.  We apologized and started to leave but he said no, why didn't we join him?  His name was Palle, from Denmark, traveling alone and liked meeting new people, so we stayed.  His English was great (he said most Danes speak English) and we enjoyed chatting with him.  He was traveling as far as Copenhagen, where he'd get off to go home.  He said he'd cruised on Costa several times and always had a nice time.  Yay, our first friend on the trip!

Not too much later, our cabin was ready and we went to check it out. It was nice, fairly roomy and about comparable to what we've had on Celebrity, so no complaints there. Well, the only thing was that someone had stuck a wad of chewing gum in the peephole in the door and apparently no one noticed it to clean it out.  :)

We went to a meeting of English speakers with the "English speaking host," Jon, from the UK.  He basically just explained how things worked on the cruise, talked a little bit about shore excursions and said we could let him know if we had any questions or issues.  There were not very many people at the meeting so we weren't sure how many English speakers were on board, but no big deal!

That night we went to dinner and found we were assigned a table with two other American couples. At first I had mixed feelings--it would certainly make conversation easier, but it also took away our opportunity to meet people from other countries and maybe make some other friends!  I guess I will give these couples aliases--let's call the first couple Doug and Barb--nice enough, though more conservative than us (go figure), from NY originally but now living in the south, retired.  The second couple I'll call Vinnie and Suzie, originally from Chicago, now in California; he's still working.  We had been chatting with Doug and Barb when Vinnie and Suzie came in, looked at the menu, and loudly declared there was nothing on it that they could eat.  Vinnie stated that he didn't eat anything but beef, no veggies, no fish, etc.  They were also annoyed that we had to pay for water or drinks at dinner (which I thought was a little ridiculous myself but I wasn't about to make a big deal of it.)  They got up in a huff and went off to find the buffet. In my head, I was thinking, "Uh-oh, no buffet!" This is one thing we'd heard in advance about Costa--no buffet at night so you either have to hoard food in your room, skip dinner, or go to their little pizza restaurant and pay for a pizza, salad and dessert dinner.  Or go to one of the specialty restaurants that are more pricy.  After a bit, the two came storming back into the dining room, very upset that there was no buffet.  They called over the Maitre' D and insisted that he find them something they could eat. They demanded steaks and French fries, and the poor guy complied. They then sat there gloating as they ate their special meal. Oh, yeah, they also brought back some ice water with them and poured some powdered tea into it.  SO we were off to a great start with our table mates, don't  you think??  Rich and I were appalled at their behavior and embarrassed for them and for even being seen at the same table with them.  And their attitude continued about EVERYTHING else.  Actually the woman was fairly quiet but the guy bloviated on and on about any topic. I wish I could remember all of the outrageous things he told us he'd done in  his life.  He was SO full of himself, and really did not give a *$%& about what anyone else thought. We should have requested a table change right then and there but we did not.

But on to more pleasant things!  Our first stop was Toulon, France.  We did not sign up for a tour because we like to wander around on our own, so we took a shuttle bus from the ship to a drop off point in town.  It was a little chilly but we enjoyed walking along the strand by the water for awhile and then stopped for a nice little lunch.

 We then found the largest, liveliest, most beautiful outdoor market we've ever seen!  The interesting people! The gorgeous fruits and vegetables!  The fish! The cheese! The flowers!  We were in heaven!

 Too bad we were not allowed to take any of this goodness back onto the ship, except for a couple of sealed jars.  After saying "buon giorno" for a week, I had to remind myself it's "bonjour" in French.  :)  The market was one of our favorite things on the trip.  I could just imagine stopping by to browse and pick up everything we needed for dinner if we lived here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Savona and Cruise #2

In order to get to Savona, we had to take one train to Genova and then catch a commuter the rest of the way. I'd reserved tickets online and we could just show our printout to board in Rome, but the instructions stated that we had to print out our passes at the terminal in Genova and get them validated before boarding train #2.  No problem, right?

But first, we caught train #1 at Termini Station. By now, third time, it was old hat. Well, except this time we were hauling all our luggage!  When we took the train to Florence and to Naples, we were able to buy food and drinks on board. On those trips, a staff person came around with a cart and we got some water, snacks, etc., so I wasn't too worried about rushing out of the apartment without eating much.  We got onto the train without any trouble and got our luggage situated.  We were cruising along when I began to wonder when the food cart was going to come by.  Well, you've figured that out--there wasn't one.  It was five hours to Genova and I was parched and hungry by the time we arrived but I was sure we'd have time to get something in the terminal before boarding the next train.  Wrong again!  We had to wait in a very long line to get our tickets printed out and at first the clerk tried to charge us again because he wasn't sure about the online purchase.  This was finally worked out with our limited Italian and his limited English and some smiling, pleading, pointing and gesturing with only a couple of minutes to spare before the train was due to leave. I asked him if we were going to make it and he acted very casual about it, sure, no problem. We still had to stop at a machine and stamp our tickets to validate them, then find the proper platform for our train.  Hurriedly, we put some euros into a vending machine and got a bottle of water.  Lugged our bags onto the train, where they had to perch in front of us.  Luckily, this ride was only another hour.  Unluckily, I had managed to buy mineral water instead of plain water and I really can't stand the taste of it.  I made myself swallow some of it just to quench my thirst but I was so disappointed after wanting a drink of water so badly!

We had assigned seats on the first train, with a rotating cast of characters sitting across from us as people got off and on at various stops.  There was a young man who looked very fidgety and kept getting up, walking to other cars and coming back. At one point we thought he had disembarked altogether because he was gone so long, but then he showed up again and sat back down. I was trying very hard not to be paranoid but I have to admit I kept wondering what he was up to.  You know there are so many "incidents" any  more.   I know that's a terrible commentary on myself and the way of the world and I really do not want to travel scared, but it was a little disconcerting.  We also sat next to a pleasant young woman who was busy reading and an elderly man who just wanted to talk in a loud voice, mostly to the pleasant young woman because Rich and I couldn't communicate in Italian.   :)  The second train was open seating and I was a little worried it would be super crowded and we wouldn't be able to find seats or cram our luggage in, but we were fine.  It actually was not all that full.  One thing I noticed on both trains was that young people and young adults were super kindhearted to their elders.  It was very heartwarming to see someone jump up without being asked and help an elderly person push a bag onto the overhead rack or get something down for someone or give up a seat. And it was all done with such a sweet attitude, no resentment or rolling of the eyes or judgement. 
We arrived in Savona and hailed a cab to take us to our hotel where we were overnighting before catching our cruise the next morning.  The hotel was within walking distance to the ship dock, so that was handy!  It was getting late and we were starving so we took off on a little walk to find something for breakfast/lunch/dinner.  We weren't really in the mood for fish (or at least I wasn't) and that seemed to be what the majority of the eateries near the hotel were serving. Eventually we settled for a little pizza/falafel place and got pizza.  It was okay but not wonderful.  As we paid out, the guy gave us some really sweet but extremely tasty Turkish tea.  We probably should have had the falafels.  :)
 Savona is a pretty little seaside town. Christopher Columbus' father came from Savona and Columbus spent most of his youth here.  He also reportedly lived here later and farmed while writing about his journeys.  There are a couple of houses associated with the Columbus family but we didn't have time to do any real sightseeing.
 "At the entrance of the Old Dock, the fourteenth-century Leon Pancaldo Tower, also known as the Quarda Tower, is the remaining part of the old city walls facing the sea.  All the inhabitants of Savona simply call it the “Torretta”, which means “little tower;" it’s regarded as the symbol of the city and its picture appears on almost all the products and souvenirs of Savona. The red and white flag of the municipality of Savona waves on the embattled corona; on the fa├žade looking out to the stretch of water of the harbour, there is a marble statue of Our Lady of Mercy, patron saint of Savona, to give comfort to all the seamen." -- From the Savona Guide.
 Apartments and laundry
 We had a pleasant evening and didn't have to be at the ship till noon time the next day so we didn't have to rush.  After gathering up our bags, we walked over to the terminal and joined the waiting throngs in our assigned numbered group.  Eventually our number was called and we advanced to the check in area to wait in another long line.  When we finally got to the check-in podium, we handed over our tickets and our passports to the crew member and stood there while she studied our passports and studied our passports, and looked through each page of our passports before finally saying, "I am trying to find the page where you entered the country.  When did you come to Italy?"  Ooops.  Do you remember when I said a long time ago that we just walked off the Celebrity ship in Civitavecchia (near Rome)?  And how no one checked our papers and no one stamped our passports?  Yeah. That.

We had a brief moment of panic thinking they were going to deny us boarding.  We explained we'd come in on another cruise ship and that no one was there to stamp passports.  We got the feeling that she kinda knew what we were talking about; we could just imagine her thinking "Oh, those dolts in Rome just don't do their jobs!" She said she had to go talk to Security and left us standing there for a bit, while other people behind us were obviously wondering what was going on and getting a little annoyed with the delay.  Fortunately, another crew member started waving them over to a second podium while we stood there sheepishly.  We didn't do anything wrong, we promise!

Eventually she came back, gave us a pink boarding card and told us to hand our passports over to Security at the next station.  We weren't really sure why we had to hand over our passports but we realized later that they had confiscated everyone's who wasn't European.  Whew. Dodged a bullet and we were off on cruise #2 on board the Costa Luminosa, bound for Stockholm with lots of port stops along the way.

Costa is an Italian cruise line and we'd read mixed reviews about it but this was the only ship going to the ports we wanted to visit and ending up in Stockholm, where we could easily get home to Alaska. We decided people are just complainers and Americans are used to being catered to, and we would be different,  and it would be great! We were interested in seeing how the Europeans cruised as opposed to the "American way" and were determined to be open minded and accepting of the differences we found.  We started out with a positive attitude and excitement about our fun 16 days on the sea. This was soon to be tested.  :)