Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cruisin' the Mediterranean

The last stop on our 2-week August getaway took us to Rome to meet Corey and Dana for a 7 day cruise.  After going non-stop for the week prior to the cruise, I was looking forward to relaxing a bit.  We got on the boat, put our swimsuits on, did the mandatory drill where you learn how to escape the ship if it happens to sink, and then set sail into the waters of the Mediterranean.

While sitting out at the pool that first afternoon, Dana and I began noticing the huge number of speedos all around us.  The men wearing these speedos (who were of every body-type imaginable) were quite actively running around the deck, participating in line dances, and checking themselves out.  And that's when it hit us -we were surrounded by Italians!  Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Italians.  But I do have a problem with their speedo-wearing grandpas.  I'm just sayin'!   

After a restless night (I was trying to get all of the icky speedo pictures out of my mind), we awoke in Sicily.  Instead of booking an excursion, we just hopped off the boat and started exploring.  One of our first stops was this cute square.  These larger than life characters were set up in the middle of it.

Dustin, Corey, and Dana in the square by the clock tower.

We found this cool spot to look out over the port area.

A stop in Sicily cannot be complete without lemoncello and canolis!

That evening, we left Sicily and headed towards Athens.  In Athens, we did the "Taste of Athens" excursion, which helped us see a little bit of everything that Athens has to offer. 

Dustin and Corey getting ready to head up to the Acropolis.

We could see this theater while hiking up to the Acropolis.

Mars Hill - Paul preached there!

The Acropolis

Next, we went to the site of the first modern olympics - 1896.

After a morning of seeing the sites, we spent the afternoon shopping and trying Greek food before heading back to the ship.  Our next port of call was Kusadi, Turkey, where the ancient ruins of Ephesus is located.  It was amazing to walk the streets that Paul walked while living there.  

Looking down on the ruins.

The theater held 25,000 people! 

Dustin heading into the theater.

John's Tomb

We ended our time in Kusadasi with a traditional Turkish meal and then headed back to the ship.  Our final stop on the cruise was Crete.  We were exhausted, so we took it easy and just wandered without much of a plan.

This towel monkey was waiting for us when we got back on the ship.  :)

Our last day on the cruise was a day at sea.  It was super relaxing (if you could avoid the speedos) and just what the doctor ordered.  Here we are with our awesome servers, Clive and Apolinario!

What better way to end our cruise, than dancing to New Kids on the Block in "The Dungeon"?!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two Days in Tuscany

After leaving Venice, we set out for Tuscany.  We stayed in Florence...the home of David and Gelato.  Remember that story from the Bible?  :)   

We had gelato every single day of our Italian vacation :).  My favorite was Nutella gelato!

Beautiful Square in Florence

Ponte Vecchio - famous bridge in Florence.  It is lined with jewelry shops.

Statue of David!  A picture just doesn't do him justice.

Florence at night

On our second day in Tuscany, we visited several different towns.  My favorite was Siena.  I learned that the color "burnt siena" comes from the color of all of the buildings in this adorable town!  Siena is filled with so much character and life.  It is the location of a horse race that happens two times every summer.  Each neighborhood in the city has a mascot and colors assigned to it.  A handful of neighborhoods are chosen to enter horses into the race each year.  They take the race VERY seriously...the horses are even prayed over inside of the neighborhood churches on race day.  It is considered to be good luck if the horses poop in the sanctuary.  Ha!  When we visited, the horse race had just happened and the neighborhoods were still decorated in their colors. 

This is the square where the horse race happens.  They put sand down on the ground and mattresses around the corners!

This is the goose neighborhood!

Pastry Shop in Siena

Lemon Almond Cookies from the pastry tasty.

After we left Siena, we visited an organic farm where they make their own wine, grow their own olives, and raise cattle.

The vineyard at the farm.

A view of San Gimignano - the "Manhattan" of Italy. 

San Gimignano

Our last stop in Tuscany was Pisa.  Of course, we had to see the leaning tower. 

Yep, Dustin was "that guy".  :)

Next stop...ROMA!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I love Italy.  I love the food.  I love the energy radiating from its people.  I love the culture.  I love the beautiful postcard views everywhere you turn.  I love listening to the language.  I just absolutely love everything about it.  So, our stop in Venice certainly didn't disappoint.  Venezia...doesn't it just sound fantastic?

St. Mark's Basilica, at one end of Piazza San Marco, is the most famous of all the churches in Venice. Construction was finished on it in 1096, but it took until the 19th century to finish decorating it.  Mark's remains are supposedly buried there...the story goes that some Venetian merchants stole his remains (from Egypt) and smuggled them into Italy.  But recently, some scientists are saying that the remains could actually be Alexander the Great's! 

Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco was interesting, but not nearly as beautiful as the rest of the city.  Sitting on the edge of a canal, I wondered if anyone could ever get tired of a view like this...

Our first dinner in Venice was delicious.  I also think we had the best view in town of the Rialto Bridge.

Our second day in Venice was filled with even more stunning views!

We learned on a walking tour about the masquerade balls that Venice is famous for.  During the plague, doctors would wear a mask with a "beak" in order to keep the sickness further away.  Hmmm...I wonder how that worked out for them?

Another shot taken during our walking tour.

The end of our walking tour included a gondola ride.  Yes, I realize only tourist take gondola rides.  But it's just one of those things you have to do if you get the chance to be in Venice.  Where else in the world (besides Vegas...ha!) can you go up and down beautiful canals listening to gondoliers singing?  The gondoliers were fun to watch...and they certainly take great pride in their boats. I was shocked when I found out that each gondola costs around 30,000 Euros!

We spent our last day in Murano, about 30 minutes by boat from Venice.  It was very similar to Venice, but without all of the tourists! 

In Venice and the surrounding islands, EVERYTHING happens by boat.  Deliveries, trash pick up, taxis, and even hearses.  Here is a delivery boat in Murano.

I'm glad I had the chance to visit Venice.  It's true, the city really is sinking.  And year after year, it is becoming more and more like a theme park.  Pretty soon, there won't be any Venetians left in this beautiful city.  I'm glad I got to experience it before they all abandon ship for the mainland. 

Next Stop:  Florence