Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Week in Rome

Before our trip, I'd made arrangements with a guy named Stefano to pick us up at the port and drive us to Rome.  The port is about an  hour and a half from the city.  Originally, we had tickets to attend the Pope's weekly audience, which only happens on Wednesdays, and the Wednesday we were arriving was our only chance to go.  The audience was at 10:30 in the morning so we knew we'd be in a time crunch. Stefano suggested he pick us up at 7:30 and was willing to drop us at the Vatican and then come back and get us. My mom got our tickets arranged through her church but they had to be picked up the day before we arrived in Rome so Stefano graciously agreed to get them for us.  Meanwhile, I got an email from the property manager of the apartment we'd rented in Rome saying he was a little worried about our schedule, and did we know how early we needed to be at Vatican Square in order to see the Pope?  Of course, we had no idea! I emailed the nuns who were providing the tickets and got a nice little automatic email back saying they'd respond in two weeks. Ooops, that was too late. So I did some research online and sure enough, it was recommended that everyone arrive by 7:30 AM, then you had to wait in line for hours before getting seats.  So suddenly this did not seem like the best idea after all.  I wasn't sure Mom could handle waiting in line for hours in the heat (or if the rest of us would even want to!), and there was really no way we could be there by 7:30,  so we cancelled.  Although I am not super religious, I am pretty impressed with this new Pope and wouldn't have minded seeing him,  but it did not appear to be in the cards.

We'd already made arrangements to be picked up early, though, so we decided to keep our disembarkation the same and paid a little extra to get into our apartment before the usual check in time.  Since we were leaving the ship before the scheduled exit times, we had to haul our own luggage and try to be off by 6:30 AM. UGH. I am not a happy early riser!  But we managed to do so and walked off right in time to meet our driver.  People had told us that disembarking in Civitevecchia was a little strange because no one seemed to care, no one checked passports, you just walk right off the ship into the parking lot, and that's exactly what happened.  We did not imagine that this might come back to haunt us later!  (Stay tuned for that story!)

I'd been corresponding with Stefano for months and he always sounded like he was picking us up himself even though I knew he had  a "car service."  But in one of our last emails, he started referring to "the driver." I asked him who was coming and he said it would be a guy named Marco.  I was kinda sad not to meet Stefano after all of our chit-chat back and forth but, okay, Marco it is!

We found Marco pretty quickly and he helped the six of us and all of our luggage get loaded up.  Although he was a nice enough person, it sure was a LONG drive to Rome with someone who did not seem the least bit interested in talking with us!  We would try to ask him a question and he would just answer yes or no or as briefly as possible.  I'd been practicing some Italian with an online course but I quickly realized that I knew nowhere near enough to carry on a conversation!  And his English was no better than my Italian. Well, maybe a small bit!  (Disclaimer: I don't think anyone should feel obligated to speak English to make American tourists more comfortable.  We should be the ones trying to adapt to whatever country and whatever language we find ourselves surrounded by.   I am referring more to the fact that he didn't seem to want to talk with us, and, of course, pronoid that I am, I always think that people will love us and want to chat us up. LOL).   Anyway, he did perk up as we got into Rome and pointed out a few sights on the way to the apartment.

First he had a phone call from our "greeter" Daniella, who needed us to pick her up at a metro stop and take her with us to the apartment.  We pulled over and Daniella ran up and got in the car.  Her English was great and she was helpful in answering questions on the way to our apartment on Via Angelo Brunetti.  The apartment was in an older building on a quiet side street just around the corner from the Piazza del Popolo--great location!  It had a very small, old elevator that creaked and groaned and lurched its way up to the 4th floor where we were staying.  We were warned not to overload it or it would stop altogether!

Daniella showed us around the apartment and demonstrated the  use of some of the appliances that were different from what we're used to in the US.  For instance, the dryer did not vent out the back, but had a water well that accumulated water from the clothes as they dried.  We had to empty the water throughout the drying sessions, which took forever!  My joy at having a washer and dryer after all those days on the ship was somewhat tempered by the fact that both washing and drying were an hours-long event.  I understand these are more environmentally friendly but I have to admit I am spoiled by my US washer and dryer.  :)

We had three bedrooms so Mom and Barb shared one, Vesta and Brenda shared one, and Rich and I had one.  There were also two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a nice sized living room with a dining area.  I didn't actually get too many photos of the inside but here's one of Mom, Barb and Brenda in the living room, and one of the hallway.

It was a nice place and we enjoyed our stay!

So, anyway, we had tickets to the Vatican Museums with a 1 PM entry time which we'd purchased when we still thought we were going to go see the Pope. Although there was some discussion about changing our tickets to an earlier time, we never did anything about it and decided to just keep them as they were (mostly by default).  We asked Marco if he could come back at noon and get us and he agreed.  After lugging our stuff into the apartment and resting a bit, we walked around the corner, got some lunch, and wandered around the Piazza del Popolo  before Marco came back.

 It's amazing that you can just walk amidst so much history everywhere you go!

The Vatican Museums were huge and had many hallways going in many directions.  We definitely did not have time to see everything.  I loved all of these ancient artifacts, though.

Busts, statues and representations of many rulers, nobles, and ancient gods filled rooms and hallways. Rich quipped that he was getting a little tired of seeing so many penises, as most of the statues were naked and pretty  much right in your face. LOL  No prudes, these folks!

 Mom and me

 Various heads!

We were winding our way inside to the Sistine Chapel when we came upon a huge flight of stairs,  so we left Mom sitting on a bench as Rich and I continued.  I didn't think it would be much further and we'd be "right back," but it took forever, with the crowds, stairs, hallways, and turns.  We finally got there and it was packed.  We could hardly move, there were so many people crushed up against each other.  No photos allowed, either.  It was smaller than I expected, but impressive, of course.  It then dawned on us that the trek was basically one way and everyone was going out the back door.  I was scared we would never be able to find Mom if we left out a different door and had to work our way back...since by then we had no real idea where we'd come from.  Luckily, the Italian guards respect their mothers so all I had to say was something about my "elderly madre" waiting for us and they agreed to let us backtrack.  Of course, then we had to fight the big crowd coming down--I felt like a salmon swimming upstream!  Made it back to Mom, and thankfully she had not given up on us and ventured out on her own.  Good deal!

By then we were exhausted and caught a cab back to the apartment. The other three had taken off on their own since they were faster walkers and wanted to see EVERYTHING!  :)  I think they figured out the metro that day and rode it back to our place. 

That night we went out to dinner at a restaurant nearby and toasted to our first day in Rome! Isn't life grand!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Finishing up our cruise

After 13 days of on-board fun, we were winding down and getting ready to disembark in Civitevecchia, Italy.  But first, a few more cruise memories!

Rich went to a martini tasting one night while the rest of us were at a show. He said this guy was pretty amazing, pouring several glasses all at once!

Yummy pastries
Looking down at several levels
This reminded us of the Chihuly glass exhibit we saw in Dallas a few years ago, but not sure if it was the same artist or not.
One of the many seating areas around the ship where we could sit and read, chat, relax, and/or have something to drink.  Also notice the art work in the background. I guess art auctions are a thing on ships but we don't quite get the appeal.  :)
Crew member cleaning the deck on a rainy day
We had to find and photograph this sculpture for extra points in trivia.  :)
Our lovely and hard working room attendants, Jenefer from Trinidad/Tobago and Devin from Jamaica.  They were super!
Barb and Mom enjoying the deck

 More yummy food
 Dennis and Judy
 Mom and me
 Our dinner group
We both coincidentally wore black and red  :)

This cruise was really lots of fun.  The officers, crew and staff were all super friendly and the ship motto was "happy crew, happy passengers."  I've never been around so many pleasant, outgoing, willing to help with anything people.  Kudos to Celebrity for excellent training (this will come up later when we compare our Costa cruise!)  The food ranged from good to excellent every day, with lots of choices and different items to choose.  We didn't do too well in team trivia, but had a good time playing.  :)  I came within one number of winning a bunch of money at bingo, darn it!  All in all, a great time!  Off to Rome next!

Saturday, June 6, 2015


We weren't quite sure what to do in Alicante so we decided to ride the hop on/hop off bus completely around the circuit and then get off the next time around at the places that seemed most interesting. It was nice and warm and a beautiful day for riding on top and taking in the sights.  Vesta and Brenda above; Judy, Barb and Mom below.
After riding around, we got off at the Santa Barbara Castle.  It's one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe and covers the summit of Benacantil Mountain. Originally built by the Moors in the 10th century, the castle received its name from the conquest of King Alfonse the Wise on December 4,  1248 -- Saint Barbara's Day.

Looking down from the castle to the city and water below

We did quite a bit of walking and climbing through several levels

Our friends Judy and Dennis (Dennis looks like he's doing a Steve Martin impersonation with an arrow through his hat)

Wall and icon
 Mom stayed below while the rest of us climbed, then we all joined her for a drink and a chat
Enjoying the sunshine!

Alicante was not our favorite stop but perhaps we didn't do enough research to find other interesting things to do.  Barbara and Brenda were fast walkers and liked to try to see everything so we split up and agreed to meet back at the bus stop.  At the appointed time, the rest of us got in line, the  bus came,  but I was reluctant to leave without them. What if they came after we left and then stood there waiting for US?  I am always a little overly responsible! We decided to stay till the next bus, though some of our party were convinced that Barb and Brenda had already left without us.  This is when you need cell phones that work in other countries!  Whew,  finally they came down the hill just as the next bus was pulling in.  We had thought about stopping in Old Town on the way back but we weren't sure where to get off and ended up exiting by the ship's shuttle bus. At that point, we were ready to return and call it a day!