Pisa and Florence, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next stop on our cruise was Livorno, a port city close to Florence and Pisa. We took the opportunity to see both cities during our short day!

Leaning Tower of Pisa Florence, Italy

We booked another ship-offered cruise excursion. The excursion was essentially transportation to both cities. Once we were dropped off in Pisa and then again in Florence, we were on our own. There were no guided tours, but we were okay with that.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The first stop was Pisa. I’m not sure why, but I was kind of gearing myself up for disappointment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I think that I was probably wondering if it was going to be overhyped or just not that interesting, or like way overly touristy.

Well, perhaps I just set my expectations low, but I was really blown away by it! As our bus approached, I snapped this picture from the road. Already I was like, wow, that looks pretty cool!

View of Leaning Tower of Pisa from the road

I didn’t know that there were other impressive structures near the Leaning Tower (this whole area is called “The Field of Miracles.”) Everything leans there, because the ground was just too soft for anything to remain straight.

In the foreground, the round building is the Baptistry. Behind that is the Duomo, and then behind that is the Leaning Tower. Although the leaning is not as dramatic, the Baptistry and Duomo also lean!

Baptistry, Duomo, and Leaning Tower of Pisa

It was somewhat crowded, but not too terribly, so we could actually walk around at an enjoyable pace and not be stuck in huge crowds.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

And of course, everybody haad to do the classic “hold up the tower” pose!

People in pose holding up Leaning Tower of Pisa People in pose holding up Leaning Tower of Pisa

Ken and I included!

Ken holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The details on the structures were so gorgeous!

Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa Details around the Field of Miracles and Leaning Tower of Pisa

We walked around and took a TON of pictures. We had such gorgeous skies that day!

Closeup of the Leaning tower of pisa Colorful buildings next to Leaning Tower of Pisa Duomo next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa Baptistry next to Leaning Tower of Pisa

And, let us not forget to point out that McDonald’s has the ability to infiltrate any market. Even the across-the-street-from-the-Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa market.

McDonald’s next to Leaning Tower of Pisa

We didn’t go up in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but my sister and her family, who took a separate excursion, did go up in the Tower and she said it was pretty cool.

I always love photographing funny and/or confusing signs, and I thought that this one, near the parking area, was a definite contender for confusing signs:

Weird sign with lots of arrows

After walking around the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was time to board our bus to Florence.

Florence, Italy

I had previously been to Florence. It was in 1997, I was 16, and it was my first trip abroad without family. I remember that even as an angsty teenager, I thought that Florence was super cool. One of my greatest memories was seeing Michelangelo’s The David at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. I just remember how impressive it was. Every muscle was so realistic looking, it was almost impossible to imagine a sculptor so talented. So, I suggested to Ken that the Academy of Fine Arts be one of our stops in Florence. (Again, like Pisa, the excursion didn’t include any guided tours, just transportation to the city).

We booked tickets online to get into the museum, months before we left on our trip. Pretty much right after we reserved the excursion. That was a pretty big gamble because we had no idea, for instance, how long our stop at Pisa would be and what time we would arrive in Florence. Well, as luck would have it, the time we selected was perfect. We arrived just in time to enter the museum, avoiding the VERY LONG line to buy tickets.

Unlike my trip to the Academy of Fine Arts in 1997, photography was no longer permitted. However, pretty much everybody else seemed to be taking photographs. And it didn’t seem to be very enforced. And even when it was, somebody just came up to you and asked you to stop taking pictures. So, right or wrong, I made sure my flash would not fire, and snapped a few pictures inside the museum, including some of The David.

The David The David The David

We walked around the museum for quite some time, but I respected the photography rule for pretty much the rest of the museum. Just taking a few here and there.

Wall of Busts in the Academy of Fine Arts

After leaving the museum, we still had some time to walk around Florence.

Walking around Florence Walking around Florence

We walked toward the Duomo di Firenze, a stunning structure in Florence:

Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze Duomo di Firenze

And then we continued on to the Piazza della Signoria:

Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria Piazza della Signoria

The Michelangelo’s The David, which we had just seen in the museum, had originally been housed outdoors, here in Piazza della Signoria. Today, a replica stands where the original was located. The original was moved the the museum in 1873.

Original location of David statue Original location of David statue

Being so limited on time, we weren’t able to stop at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but we will defnitely go there on a future visit! We did walk through the courtyard of the Uffizi:

Uffizi courtyard

We walked around Florence’s Arno River:

Along the Arno River in Florence Along the Arno River in Florence

We ended our walk around Florence in the Santa Croce Square, home to the Santa Croce Cathedral:

Santa Croce Square Santa Croce Cathedral Santa Croce Cathedral Santa Croce Cathedral

We had time to grab a great pizza lunch, and then it was time to board the bus back to Livorno and get back on the cruise ship!

XX

Rome was next!

Portofino, Italy – Europe 2010 and Mediterranean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

 

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next port-of-call on our Mediterranean cruise was Genoa, Italy. For this port, we opted for a cruise ship-organized shore excursion to Portofino.

Portofino, Italy

The excursion was supposed to include a leisurely scenic boat ride onboard a smaller vessel to get from Genoa to Portofino. However, the weather was quite rough that day. (Luckily it was the only bad weather day of our entire two week trip in Europe!) So rough, in fact, that they had to cancel the scenic boat ride part, and take us via bus to Portofino.

Except, the tour buses could only take us part way to Portofino (I think it was to Santa Margherita). The rest of the way had to be taken via public buses.

Sign for bus to Portofino Public bus to Portofino

The tour guides were doing their best, and Ken and I didn’t mind, but some folks were getting REALLY cranky. Especially because there was limited seating on the public buses, and the bus went on very narrow and windy roads to get to Portofino.

The locals were especially upset that their public transportation system was being clogged by droves of tourists. We even saw an altercation between one local woman and a bus driver. The altercation drew the attention of the police. So, this trip was quite the adventure! (In the picture below, the police officer is yelling at the woman who was at the center of the altercation)

Altercation

Portofino itself was gorgeous. Luckily the rain had stopped for our time walking around!

Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy

We walked up a large hill in Portofino to a cliffside church, called the San Giorgio Church:

San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino

And behind the church was a cemetery. Although it sounds like a strange thing to say, the cemetery was quite lovely. (I think I said the same thing about our tours of cemeteries in New Orleans!)

Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino

The buildings were so colorful and gorgeous in Portofino!

Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Portofino colors

 

And the rocky cliffsides leading straight down to the sea looked like they were right out of a movie!

Cliffsides Cliffsides

After walking around and having a quick pastry from a local shop, we boarded the public bus back to Santa Margherita. We had some time to walk around Santa Margherita, but unfortunately it started to rain pretty hard while we were walking around. But what we did see of it was gorgeous!

Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita

We boarded a tour bus back to Genoa, and then got back on the cruise ship. That was it for our time in Genoa. We probably would’ve had some time to explore Genoa, but the weather was pretty lousy. Instead, we just relaxed on the ship for the rest of the afternoon.

Nice, France – Europe 2010 and Mediterranean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The first stop on our cruise was Villefranche, France, which is in the French Riveria. It’s a short hop to Nice.

The day started out with lots and lots of coughing. Ken could not stop coughing. To the point that he was almost throwing up a bit. Gross, I know. Ken just said that his stomach was upset and he still wanted to go see the city.

Well, his cough was apparently a nervous cough. And he was nervous for good reason, because, unbeknownst to me, he was planning on proposing to me that day! After the proposal, there was no more coughing!

The ship did not have a dock in Villefranche, so we had to board a smaller boat (called a tender) to get to shore. The scenery was stunning, and we had a stranger take our photo on the tender:

Ken and I on in Villefranche

And we had a pretty good view of our ship, the Celebrity Constellation:

Celebrity Constellation in Villefranche

Villefranche was so picturesque. The charming buildings and homes built on the hillsides next to the Mediterranean Sea were so colorful. And wow was the weather stunning. The blue skies were gorgeous!

Villefranche, France Villefranche, France Villefranche, France

We boarded a train that took us about 20 minutes away to Nice, France. As we got off the train, Ken’s coughing got REALLY bad. I was getting worried!

We walked around Nice for a while. Unfortunately I don’t know the names of any of these sites or buildings really. We were just enjoying some independent, non-tour operated travel and walking around on our own!

Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France

After walking around for quite a bit, we found a central square area and Ken suggested that we sit down to rest for a little while.

Square in Nice, France

Then he told me to go stand near the fountain so that he could take my picture. On my way back, after he took my picture, he was getting something out of his bag and getting down on one knee. I was shocked!

The ring After getting engaged

After I said yes, Ken was so much more relaxed for the rest of the day! He told me all about how he had been carrying that ring around with him in his camera bag for the past 8 days all around Europe. Five hotels, seven cities, planes, trains, automobiles, and ships. He told me the story about how I almost signed for the package at home that contained my engagement ring. And we just walked all around Nice. It was great. I truly was surprised.

Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France Nice, France

We ended up walking so far that we weren’t sure whether we’d get back to the train in time to get to Villefranche, since it only ran once an hour (I think). So, we found a hotel, and from the hotel we requested a taxi. We took the taxi back to the ship and we started making phone calls to tell our families the news. The call to my grandmother was especially funny. She is incredibly hard-of-hearing.

“Grammy, I got engaged!”
“You got a what?”
“Engaged! Ken asked me to marry him!”
“What honey?”
“ENGAGED! TO BE MARRIED!”
(My grandmother, who still clearly couldn’t hear me but just started pretending) “Oh, that sounds nice, I’m glad to hear your having a good time on your trip.

After a few more shouts, she finally heard me.

My sister and her family were still off the ship touring, so we waited for her to come back to tell her the news in person. When she got back onboard, we went to her cabin, and I kept my hands in my pockets so as not to reveal the ring. Then we told her the news, and my 4-year-old nephew thought the whole marriage idea sounded pretty cool. He already adored Ken, so explaining that Ken would be his uncle now sounded like a fun idea to him!

And, wouldn’t you know it, there was no more nervous coughing the entire rest of the day! He still gets that nervous cough, and I can always tell when something is up with him!

Celebrity Constellation Cruise Ship Review (Mediterranean Cruise) – Europe 2010

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

After spending a week in Spain, it was time to depart on our cruise out of Barcelona on the Celebrity Constellation, which would take us to Nice, France, as well as Portofino, Florence, Rome, and Pompei in Italy, and then back to Barcelona.

This trip was definitely pre-blogging (for instance, we didn’t take any pictures of our cabin), but hopefully you still find the review helpful! I believe we had a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom (with no balcony / veranda). It was that trip that convinced us that staying in cabins with a balcony are really the only way to go. We had opted out of a balcony simply to save the two hundred bucks or so, but we definitely missed having a balcony, especially after our previous cruise cabin had a HUGE balcony.

Grand Foyer

The kind of “main” area of the cruise ship is a three-story foyer with a large staircase in the middle.

Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation

There were tables near the railings and other options to view all the activity in the Grand Foyer.

Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Cruise Grand Foyer on Celebrity Constellation Cruise Staircase on cruise ship

Shopping Area

There is a small strip of shops on the Celebrity Constellation, called “The Emporium,” selling everything from souvenirs to jewelry and clothes.

The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation The Emporium on Celebrity Constellation

Swimming and Sunbathing

The swimming and sunbathing area of the Constellation was really fantastic. In fact, I’ve been on many cruises, and this has been one of my favorites. It had a fantastic layout, good size pools flanked by several hot tubs, and an amazing adult only pool area that was covered, but had a glass roof to allow the sun to shine in.

Pool area on Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation

Here is the indoor, adults-only pool area. I spent a lot of time here!

Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise Adults only pool area on cruise

And, there was a great kids area that included some smaller baby pools and a some water slides. My four-year-old nephew thoroughly enjoyed that area!

Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation Kids pool area on Celebrity Constellation

Standard Restaurants and Buffets

We did all of our onboard dining at either the buffet or the “standard” dining room, called the San Marco Dining Room.

This was the first cruise we ever opted to do “anytime dining.” It sounded like a good idea. More flexibility in the evenings of eating when you wanted. However, we pretty much hated it. There was almost always a consistent wait of 20+ minutes for a table, and they didn’t take reservations. Annoying, especially when you’re starving after a long day of touring. It was because of the wait that we ended up going to the buffet for dinner more often than the sit-down dining!

Either way, here was the San Marco dining room:

San Marco Dining on Celebrity Constellation San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room San Marco Dining Room

And here was the buffet area, which had plenty of indoor and outdoor seating options.

Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation Buffet on Celebrity Constellation

There was even a spot in the buffet with a glass floor!

Small glass floor on Celebrity Constellation

“Extra” Bars and Restaurants

There are lots of bars, lounges, and restaurants on the Celebrity Constellation. We stuck to the normal dining area and buffets (which are included in the price of the cruise), and didn’t opt for any of the dining options that are an additional cost, so we can’t really speak to how they are.

Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation Bars and Restaurants on Celebrity Constellation

The Casino

Ken and I aren’t into gambling, but we managed to take some photos inside.

Casino on Celebrity Constellation Casino on Celebrity Constellation

Miscellaneous Pictures around the Ship

And here are a few photos that don’t really fit into any particular category! One of the things I found interesting on the ship was the interesting art and sculpture pieces onboard!

Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation Sculpture and Art on Celebrity Constellation

The ship was also home to a walking and running track, as well as a basketball court (which also had some hockey nets).

Walking track on cruise ship Basketball court on Celebrity Constellation Basketball and hockey nets

And, of course, shuffleboard. (They also had ping pong tables, but somehow we didn’t get a picture! Probably because my nephew always wanted to play ping pong every time we walked past it!)

Shuffleboard

There was even a pool table

Pool table on Celebrity Constellation

Overall, we had a great experience on the Celebrity Constellation. Except for the long waits for Anytime Dining, we didn’t really have any complaints. We do wish we had sprung for the room with a balcony, but that was our fault! The food was great, the midnight buffets were stellar, and they even had a grand “brunch” buffet one morning that was spectacular. The ship didn’t have quite the same “wow factor” as our previous cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, but that’s just a product of the Mediterranean Cruise market. Smaller ships for smaller crowds!

I’d definitely go back on a Celebrity Cruise.

Barcelona, Spain – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

After our four day organized tour dropped us off back in Madrid in the late evening, we spent one night at a hotel in Madrid, close to the train station, since we’d be traveling to Barcelona by train the next morning.

The Renfe train was fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and much more relaxing than flying. Once we arrived in Barcelona, we checked into our hotel, and met up with my sister, her husband, and their (then) four-year-old son who had flown into Barcelona from the U.S. the previous night.

Sagrada Familia

Our first stop in was Sagrada Familia, a famous Antoni Gaudi building in Barcelona.

I recommend reading about the Sagrada Familia, because its history is lengthy and too complicated to cover in a blog post. But basically it is a cathedral that has been under construction since 1883. (No, that’s not a typo. The late 1800s.) And it’s not scheduled to be completed until 2026, so inside it was almost like a big construction zone. Entrance fees to Sagrada Familia help fund its completion!

Outside Sagrada Familia Outside Sagrada Familia Outside Sagrada Familia Details on Sagrada Familia cathedral

We had actually bought my nephew an inexpensive little digital camera because he always loved taking photos, and he always dismissed those toy digital cameras. We bought it before we left for Spain and decided we’d give it to him in Barcelona! He was thoroughly enjoying the camera!

nephew taking photos

We had to stand in a line that moved pretty quickly to get inside (again, one of the benefits of traveling in Spain in late September / early October … very few crowds!

The details inside were incredible.

Inside Sagrada Familia Inside Sagrada Familia Inside Sagrada Familia Inside Sagrada Familia

And, there were very clear indicators that this structure is still very much a construction site:

Construction Inside Sagrada Familia

Afterwards, we stood in a different line to take an elevator to the top of one of the spires. If I recall correctly, there are four or five different elevators you can take that have different views of Barcelona. We stood in line, and then as we got closer to the elevator, I saw a sign saying that the elevators were one-way only. That you have to take a narrow spiral staircase back down to the bottom.

Well, me and spiral staircases do not get along. I decided against going up to the top, and instead just Ken, my nephew, and my sister went up while I waited at the bottom!

Here are some photos that Ken took at the top!

View of Barcelona from Sagrada Familia Spires at top of Sagrada Familia Views from top of Sagrada Familia Views from top of Sagrada Familia Views from top of Sagrada Familia Views from top of Sagrada Familia

And seeing just how narrow that spiral staircase was and that there were no handrails, I made the right decision not to go up. I would’ve ended up with a broken neck on the way down!

Narrow staircases at Sagrada Familia

Montjuic

Our next stop was Montjuic. Montjuic is a mountain top in Barcelona that gives sweeping views of the city. First you take a funicular to the upper part of the city, then cable cars to Montjuic.

Sign for funicular to Montjuic Funicular to Montjuic in Barcelona

All five of us fit in the cable car just fine.

Cable car to Montjuic

And the views from the cable car were spectacular:

Views from cable car to Montjuic Views from cable car to Montjuic

The views from the top really were spectacular:

View from top of Montjuic View from top of Montjuic View from top of Montjuic View from top of Montjuic View from top of Montjuic

My nephew had a great time running around and checking out all the old cannons that were on display:

Cannons on Montjuic

It was a fantastic place to walk around and take in the sites.

Top of Montjuic in Barcelona Top of Montjuic in Barcelona Top of Montjuic in Barcelona Top of Montjuic in Barcelona

But be careful and don’t fall off the edge of the mountain!

Don’t fall?

We spent a good chunk of our afternoon on Montjuic, and then headed back down the cable car, down the funicular, and back to our hotel before heading out to dinner later that night. It was an early night for us. Ken and I had been up since about 6AM to catch the train from Madrid, and my sister and her family were still jetlagged from the flight the night before.

Oh, but I should point out that Ken had broken his sunglasses (a screw had fallen out), and he managed to find an eyeglass store that very kindly fixed his glasses for free!

Walking around Barcelona

The next morning day was our cruise departure day! We had some time to kill in the morning before we could board the cruise ship, so we walked around the city for a while.

Barcelona is gorgeous!

Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views Barcelona city views

Picasso Museum

We visited the Pablo Picasso Museum after walking around the city for a while.

Picasso Museum

Photos weren’t allowed of any of the indoor spaces or artwork, so unfortunately I don’t have many photos to share of the Picasso Museum except for an outdoor walkway and a fun glass floor in their lobby!

Inside Picasso Museum Inside Picasso Museum

Before heading back to the hotel to get packed up, we stopped by a cafe to get some hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was more like hot pudding, because it was SO thick and rich and amazing.

Amazing hot chocolate in Barcelona Hot chocolate in Spain Hot chocolate in Spain

On our way back to the hotel, I chuckled at this sign at a subway station:

Funny no peeing sign at subway station

And that was it! Although I would’ve loved to have spent more time in Barcelona, it was time to board our cruise ship, the Celebrity Constellation! We said farewell to Barcelona as our cruise ship pulled away.

Next up, a review of the Celebrity Constellation!

Cruise ship sailing from Barcelona