Naples and Pompei, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 12 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 last stop on our Mediterranean Cruise was Naples, Italy. We were nearing the end of our two week trip abroad, and we were pretty worn out and tired. We walked around Naples for a little while (no photos, gasp!) and then went on an afternoon excursion (purchased through the cruise line) to Pompeii.

Like Rome and Florence, I had been to Naples and Pompeii before on my 1997 trip to Italy. However, this was Ken’s first time there. And I felt like I had a much greater appreciation of Pompeii this time, compared to when my 16-year-old-self viewed Pompeii as not much more than a big pile of rubble.

On our drive to Pompeii from Naples, our guide pointed out Mt. Vesuvius:

Mt. Vesuvius in Naples, Italy

As we walked up a steep hill toPompeii I thought about my previous time there, when I was 16, and I remember being totally bored. It’s a huge, ruined city. “More of the same,” I remember myself saying as we walked around the huge city of ruins. Luckily I had a greater appreciation for it this time around!

Walking up hill to Pompeii entrance

For the most part, I’ll let the pictures do the talking here!

Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion Pompeii Ruins in Italy | Celebrity Cruise Excursion

This dog kept following our tour group around! Adorable!

Dog inPompeii

Luckily, Pompei was not crowded at all. It was so nice to walk around and have space between the people, and not have crowds in every photograph, unlike the previous day in Rome, and our awful experience at the Vatican Museum.

The only crowd we really saw was this line of people, waiting to get into the ancient brothel in Pompei. It still has inscriptions and drawings of …, ahem, menu service offerings on the wall inside.

Line outside the ancient Pompei brothel

The early October weather was just gorgeous for walking around!

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Our tour was thorough, but only took about 90 minutes. After the obligatory waiting around in the gift shop after the tour was over, our bus departed and headed back to the cruise ship! We had had a great time on our trip, but we were ready to get back home!

We had one day at sea on the ship after Naples, and then we ended the cruise where we started – in Barcelona. From there we headed straight to the airport and started our journey back home!

Rome, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 11 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.

So, the idea of visiting Rome as a stop on a cruise is kinda crazy. Only twelve hours in one of the most historically-rich cities in the world? What to do? Focus on one or two major sites and be done? Or try to do a whirlwind tour of the entire city?

I was open to either option. I mentioned in my Florence post that I had previously traveled to Italy when I was in high school. (It was my first trip to Europe without a family member!) The trip included three or four days in Rome, so I had already gotten a good sense of the city, even if I was just a teenager at the time. My one major interest was the Sistine Chapel. When I was in Rome in 1997, the Sistine Chapel was under restoration, so I wasn’t able to visit. But, I left it up to Ken to decide what he preferred to do regarding whirlwind tour or just one or two places.

Whirlwind tour it was!

My sister and her family (as well as some of her friends) were also on this cruise, but we had not yet been on any excursions together. For Rome, we opted for an independently-organized van tour for our entire group. We figured we could truly maximize our time with a smaller group, because it would mean less time waiting for people, less time loading and offloading a big bus, etc. I can’t remember how many of us there were total (10 maybe?), but it was reasonably priced once you factored in the per-person price. I think the van and tour guide was $1200 for the day, but divided among 10 people, that was only $120 per person and MUCH cheaper than any of the cruise ship-offered excursions.

St. Paul’s Basilica

Our tour guide and van driver were waiting for us when we disembarked, and we were able to leave the port city long before any of the cruise ship buses departed. Our first stop was St. Paul’s Basilica, which, incidentally, I had not visited in 1997.

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Since we had beaten all the cruise ship crowds, we had virtually the entire place to ourselves.

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My nephew, who was four years old at the time, was so impressively well behaved. At one point, the guide was giving us an explanation of the crypts underneath St. Paul’s Basilica. A few minutes later, my nephew signaled that he wanted to whisper something to me. He pointed to one of the small sets of stairs that led to a crypt, and he said to me, in a VERY concerned voice, “A man died, and they PUT HIM IN THERE!” It was almost like my nephew had interpreted the guide’s explanation as something wrong or inappropriate. I stifled a giggle, and just explained that that is where the man wanted to be buried after he died, instead of having a outside grave. And that the man had died a very long time ago. He seemed okay with that explanation and he continued on with his exploring inside the Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a reconstruction of a cathedral that was destroyed in a fire. The original was built in the 400s AD, but then a fire destroyed it in 1823. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1840. There are some remants of the original basilica outside the current basilica.

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The Colosseum

Our next stop was the colosseum.

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Our guide began by giving an explanation outside of the Coloseeum, and then allowing us to go inside by ourselves. We were so thankful that the tour guide had pre-arranged for tickets, because the line was SO LONG to buy tickets at the Colosseum (just to keep in mind for those of you that might want to visit it on your own during a cruise stop … you might spend most of your day in line for tickets). However, we still had to wait in line for security, understandably so.

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The Colosseum was pretty crowded by this point. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I can never understand why cruise ships from different cruise lines all seem to follow the same itinerary. There must have been people from a dozen cruise ships all flooding into Rome on the same day. And it must happen on the same day every week. Anyway, the Colosseum was crowded, but manageably so. Keep in mind that this was early October, so definitely the off season. We had seen virtually no crowds at different sites during our time in Spain the week before, so I tend to believe that the crowds were virtually all cruise passengers.

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A few quick stops – Circus Maximus, Capitoline Hill, The Roman Forum, The Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain

Next stop, Circus Maximus. It is currently a big open field, but if you use your imagination, there used to be a big platform in the middle, with race tracks circling it.

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Then we made a quick stop at Capitoline Hill:

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Then a drive down some very narrow streets and a stop at the Pantheon:

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And, of course, the Trevi Fountain:

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(I said this was a whirlwind tour!!)

We hung out in the area of Trevi Fountain for a while and grabbed a quick lunch at a local place. There were cannoli involved. It was glorious.

Then we headed to the Vatican …

 

Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum

I would just like to start out by saying that the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum was a really terrible travel experience.

Allow me to put this in context. In my travels around the world, I have been ripped off, violently groped, nearly robbed of my suitcases, seemingly trapped alone on a mountainside, groped again (and again … that’s what happens when I choose to live in the Middle East I guess), and almost hit by a train twice on the same day (once in an auto rickshaw, once on foot). So when I say that something was a truly dreadful experience while traveling, you can believe me. I have the previous dreadful experiences to compare it to.

So, I visited the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. For context, the Vatican Museum is a huge building with dozens of rooms. Just like any other big museum. You have to walk through the Vatican Museum to eventually get to the Sistine Chapel.

But I barely saw any of the museum or the Chapel. Why? This is what my view looked like for the entire walk:

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We were shuffled through like herded cattle. Literally shoulder to shoulder, chest to back, with everyone in every room, at all time. A person could not just stop to take a picture or read the explanations of the beautiful artwork or ancient texts. No. You just had to keep shuffling. Or risk getting trampled. Not that we could actually get close to the artwork or other artifacts. We were in the middle of the herd, and obviously had no way to get to the walls and perimiter to see anything. It wasn’t a peaceful experience. Tour guides from all different groups were shouting in all different languages. People were getting upset with other random people over bumping into them.

We were able to snap a few photos here and there (they are permitted in the Vatican Museum), but the photos were mostly blocked by the crowds. The other photos were all taken upwards (luckily the ceilings and high walls were ornate!)

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I should point out that we’ve been to crowded places before. The room containing the Mona Lisa at the Lourve, Stonehenge in the summer, crowded DC metro cars during the inaguration and on the 4th of July, the Kennedy Space Center on a Shuttle Launch Day, the Khan al Khalili on a Friday evening during Ramadan … You get the idea. This was not our first rodeo. But this was probably 20 times worse than any of those other experiences.

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People pushed. My brother-in-law eventually had to put my nephew on his shoulders, because the poor kid kept getting pushed and lost in the crowd.

The worst part was, that this could be totally avoidable. I have traveled to plenty of places (the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings come to mind) that limit the number of visitors. Whether by timed entrances (like our tickets to the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence just the day before) or just an overall per-day number (like the Washington Monument), there is ZERO reason that the Vatican Museum couldn’t limit the number of people allowed in at once, so that folks could actually enjoy the museum. At best, it’s greed, at worst, it’s negligence. However, I’d gladly pay twice the price for the entrance to the museum just to have less people around.

I kept a panicked eye out for emergency exits. Because all I could think of was that if there was a fire, we were goners. There would be no escape.

We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. While the Vatican Museum permitted photography, there was no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel. However, everybody around us was taking photos. Security guards would yell from the perimeter of the room “No photos!” but the room was too crowded for them to actually get to any of the people taking photos. So, I made sure my flash was off and joined the crowd of taking photos.

The Sistine Chapel itself (viewing the ceiling of course) was gorgeous. Despite the crowds, I tried to enjoy the masterpieces around me. I had been told before that the Sistine Chapel is much smaller than most people expect. So perhaps I had been envisioning it as so tiny, that I actually thought it was BIGGER than I expected. (Again, mostly because I had been picturing it as tiny).

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The crowd, in its continuous shuffle, eventually led outdoors. I was so happy to be breathing fresh air and to actually have room to move around a little bit!

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Afterwards, we went into St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember going there in 1997 and being so awestruck by how beautiful it was. Although St. Peter’s Basilica was less crowded than the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, we were so annoyed by that point we couldn’t even enjoy ourselves that much. We had lost the rest of our group, including my sister and her family. But, we walked around the Basilica for a while and took some photos (photography is allowed, just no flash).

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We left the Basilica, snapped a few photos of the Vatican, located everyone else from our group, met up with our van and tour guide, and headed back to the cruise ship. The entire way back everybody lamented how crazy the crowds were.

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Perhaps the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum are not like this on a “normal” non-cruise ship docking day. I’m not sure. Like I said, I didn’t visit the Sistine Chapel during my previous trip to Rome in 1997, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Perhaps there are different private tour options, or early morning tours?

Either way, I left completely disgusted. It could have been an enjoyable experience of something so beautiful and historically important, but it was terrible.

As we waited to board, some ship crew members were greeting the passengers, including the captain! My nephew was a hit!

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And that was it for our whirlwind tour of Rome! Admittedly, that is not the best way to travel. There was just too much to see to absorb everything in a single day. Ken and I plan, in the future, to perhaps do another Mediterranean Cruise. But maybe one that leaves out of an Italian City. Then we could spend a week or more in Italy before the cruise actually departs (like we had just done … Spending the week in Spain before our cruise left out of Barcelona). But, we were happy to see so many exciting things in Rome during our very busy day. And next time, we’ll definitely explore other options for avoiding crowds at the Vatican!

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!

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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!