Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mediterranean Cruise Day Ten: “Oh-reeg-een-AHHHL-ay”

Entering the port of Messina at sunrise, with mainland Italy in the distance

Today would be our last port on this long 12-day cruise – Messina, Sicily. We met our group of six others at the coffee bar at 7:45 am and found our driver, Guiseppe (Joseph). We had pre-arranged for a tour of Castelmola, Taormina and Messina. We all got in the van, expecting an actual tour, but Joseph didn’t say a word the whole way to Castelmola, which was a one-hour drive. We all started asking questions, which he answered only with yes/no, and then eventually just started making up our own tour and giggling.

Castelmola is a beautiful town on the very top of the hill, overlooking the sea and Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe. It was tiny, but lovely. We climbed a ton of steps up to the castle ruins. 

Main square, Castelmola

When we came back down, Joseph had put out cannolis for us. While we ate pastries, I told him that my family was originally from Calabria. He asked where and I told him Longobucco, a village above Cosenza. He said “you are an oh-reeg-een-AHHHL-ay” (an original, from Italy). I explained that I was 5 generations removed from Italy, but that I had visited the village from which my great, great grandfather had come. From that point on, Joseph and I were best friends. He decided to give the tour – but only to me.

“Jennifer, try these fresh cherries.”
“Jennifer, do you want to see an amazing overlook of the sea below?”
“Jennifer, this church houses the bodies of WW2 soldiers and every Sunday they ring that bell to honor them.”
“Jennifer, go inside this church and look at the ceiling.”

The rest of the group was not amused.

That is Castelmola, way up in the top right corner, up on that peak. 
Taromina in the foreground.

Ancient Greek Theatre with Mt. Etna in the background

We went to Taormina and walked around independently for a few hours. We hiked to the top of the Greek Theatre, which was built in 300 BC. Adam said it was “constructed for ancient comedians Laurel and Harticus.”

View from our lunch table

Italian cat

We stopped for lunch in one of the narrow alleyways that wind up staircases above the village and had a pizza. Then we stopped for gelato in the main square. The banana gelato was fantastic. We ate it on our way back to Joseph’s van, while also window shopping.

Joseph took us to an overlook just outside Taromina, to see the beach resorts below. It was stunning!

Back in Messina, we stopped at the WW2 memorial church with it’s giant bell (Campana in Italian!) and had a great overview of our ship below.  Then we went to the Cathedral of Messina, built in the 1100s. Joseph was right – the ceiling was fantastic. He also told me that recently, a 14-year-old boy on a bike had been hit by a city garbage truck and died. There were still funeral flowers and candles lit inside from when the entire city came together to mourn the boy at the cathedral. So sad. I had to relay this information to the rest of the group, since Joseph only spoke to me.

We had an early back on board time, so we played both music trivia and general trivia on the ship. We came in second place both times. Second place is great though – because you still win yellow raffle tickets. We had no idea what would become of all our yellow tickets we had been stockpiling, but we were excited to redeem them on the final day of the cruise, which would be tomorrow.

We watched sail away on the lawn club, then went to dinner. That evening, we watched the Elysium show in the main theater. I usually avoid cruise ship theater productions like the plague. But this ship’s talent was actually very good. Especially the aerial acrobats! Adam even liked it, so that means it was REALLY good.

Later that night we went to the ‘70s disco party. The cruise director joked that it was for people 70 and older (because that was most of the ship). It was fun nonetheless. Even 70 year olds know the Y.M.C.A.!

Tomorrow: Last sea day as we head towards Spain


Monday, May 30, 2016

Mediterranean Cruise Day Nine: Sea What I Did There?

This is the real color of the Mediterranean. No filter!

Today, there would be no port. Thank goodness, because our legs are really sore after yesterday!

We had breakfast in the main dining room so that Adam could have eggs Benedict. We raced down there, thinking that breakfast ended at 9:30, and just made it. We sat down and realized that it was actually only 8:30 because the ship clock had jumped back one time zone while we slept. Oops.

My favorite art piece on the ship. Here Comes The Sun, spanning 4 decks.

We couldn’t find chairs at the pool, so we went up to the lawn club, which was much quieter anyway. Adam laid out on the grass while I blogged a bit. Then we watched the hot glass show, which is my favorite thing on the ship.

For lunch we went to the Bistro on 5. There is a $10 per person charge, for all the crepes you can eat. I had a spicy steak crepe, while Adam had a Mediterranean chicken crepe for our main dishes. Then I had a Nutella, banana, pistachio crepe for dessert, and Adam had a milkshake. We talked about how Europeans don’t know how to make milkshakes – there’s little to no ice cream – just flavored milk. And then we realized that maybe they DO know how to make milkshakes and we are the ones doing it wrong, since nobody needs 1500 calories worth of ice cream in a glass.

Pool deck (above) and library (below)

In the afternoon, we went to the solarium again to read, swim, and take naps. Then I went to men vs women trivia (the women won, obviously) and Adam went to play poker. When we met back up, he told me he had bought me a present. I thought it was going to be the captain’s hat – but he had purchased two really pretty crocheted shawls from the ship gift shop because I am always cold. Awww. He’s a keeper.

That evening was formal night. We were really over the “prom poses” the photographers put us in, so we went rogue and did funny poses instead, including The Robot, Pulp Fiction, the Dip, etc. I think the photographers hate us.

We call this "Running To Escape The Titanic"

We played Port Side vs Starboard Side Wheel of Fortune, and our side (Port) won. But we were bored with organized games, so we decided to play Pub Crawl Poker with the deck of cards Adam bought in Greece. We would go to 5 different bars, and at each bar, after we finished a cocktail, we each drew a card. At the end of 5 bars/drinks, whoever had the best hand would win a 10 minute foot rub. I drew a 2, then a 7, then a 9. I thought I was screwed. But then I drew another 7 and another 9 – and pulled off a win! Yay!

After 5 cocktails, I fell into bed and passed out. The foot rub would have to wait.

Tomorrow:  Our last port – Messina, Sicily.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mediterranean Cruise Day Eight: Santorini -- Is This Real Life?

I was kind of dreading writing this post about Santorini because I’m not sure I can find the words to even do it any justice. Adam and I are cynics and curmudgeons, if you haven’t noticed. Yet we both agreed that Santorini is without doubt THE most breathtaking place we have ever been.

We woke up, grabbed buffet breakfast, and headed to deck 4, where we had to get tickets for a tender ashore. The line went fast, and we got Tender Boat 16. By 9:30, we were aboard and grabbed the first seat near the exit so we could run straight to the cable car station and buy tickets to the top.

That's Fira, way up atop the cliff

Santorini’s two villages, Fira and Oia sit on the edge of a cliff. The island is crescent shaped because it used to be one giant volcano that blew its top four millennia ago. The center, once the lava was out, collapsed and filled with water. So the villages are built on the edge of what remains, and looks down into the caldera, or collapsed volcano center. That means when you get off the tender boat, you must figure out how to get to the top of that very high cliff. You can either walk up the stairs (not a chance), take a donkey (I felt bad for the donkeys), or take the cable car for 5 euros (sold!). We waited in line, again, to buy tickets and board. But thanks to our Amazing Race skills, it wasn’t too bad. We were at the top by 10am. WOW. I mean honestly, just WOW. Our cruise ship looked like a Matchbox boat down in the caldera and the village of Fira tumbled down the cliff side like thousands of spilled sugar cubes.

We hadn’t seen anything yet. We found the taxi station (RUN there, Santorini has very few cabs) and hopped in a cab to Oia, 25 minutes away. We passed the backside of the island, with vineyards and farms along the sea – also pristine and beautiful. By 10:45, we were in Oia, which was the Greece of my dreams. My eyeballs couldn’t even take it all in. 

We wandered off the main tourist path into the cobbled lanes that wind down the cliff and found magical photo opportunities around every bend. We saw donkeys picking up luggage at hotels, happy dogs and colorful flowers everywhere. We walked all the way to the very end and climbed up to the view point. The sea was unbelievably blue against all the white buildings.

The view from our lunch table

We stopped for lunch at a place called Lotza, with a view over town and the caldera. We chose it purely by smell. The cinnamon honey smell wafting out was amazing. I had chicken souvlaki in honey and mustard. Adam had a greek-spiced hamburger with melted feta and pita. He said it was the best lunch he had ever had in his life. The view was stunning and the food was delicious, which made for a memorable experience.

After lunch, we walked the main drag and I bought turquoise pottery and a painted donkey bell Christmas ornament. The jewelry here was unlike any I have seen before. The bead work was incredible.

But about those views...

Sadly, it was time to head back to Fira. We caught a cab, which we shared with another couple from LA who told us they had spent an entire week here, exploring the island on four wheelers.

Back in Fira, we had some frozen Greek yogurt and did some wine tasting. The local wine tasted like raisins, and not in a good way. We passed on buying any.

It was time to head back to the ship. I thought of buying a chain and attaching myself to the nearest tree, but Adam promised we would return one day and spend a week here.  The line for the cable car was RIDICULOUSLY long. It was the easiest way for 2800 people to get down the cliff to the tender boats. So we decided to take the stairs. How hard could it be? We would be going down! Um….

It is 596 steps down, and they are slippery, uneven and each step angles downward. I was wearing sandals with no traction. My toes kept sliding off the front of my shoes. About halfway down, I thought I was going to die. It was hot, smelled like donkey poop, and I kept losing my footing. I had to hold onto Adam so I wouldn’t fall. But it was too late to turn back, so we trudged on. When we made it to the bottom, both of our calves were quaking. Santorini should consider installing a giant slide instead.

After visiting a half dozen Greek isles, we decided that Greece can keep the rest of Greece. But Santorini is a treasure. Even with all those steps.

Back on board, I needed to soak my legs in the hot tub in the solarium. There I met Julio from Cuba and had a great long conversation about visiting there last December.

We ate in the dining room, then retired early so we could wake up and watch the Cavs win their way into the NBA finals. It truly was the perfect day.

Tomorrow: Fun Day At Sea!