Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Epic European Tour, Part V: Italy

And then, the next morning we landed in Italy!  It was so cool to just go to bed and then wake up in a totally new country.  Our first Italian port was Livorno, where we had an excursion that took us to Pisa, and then to Florence.  This one was a pretty minimal excursion though, it was basically transportation and a little bit of tour guiding on the drive (and the group was made up of some of the loudest and most annoying Jersey Shore rejects ever...), and then we had free time to do what we wanted while in the cities.  Pisa was actually a pretty small and so-so town, but the tower itself and the adjacent cathedral didn't disappoint.  We took the usual touristy pictures and then were on our way to Florence, which our tour guide Claudia informed us was the real exciting stop of the day (she unapologetically had very little love for Pisa and its inhabitants).  This was the first city where we really felt the strain of the schedule and worried that we just didn't have enough time to do everything we wanted to.  But we were able to get into the Accademia Museum (VERY quickly) to see the David (which was VERY awesome), and also the Uffizi Gallery, to see many Caravaggios and the Birth of Venus and many other beautiful works of art.  Both museums required waiting in a long line, so by the time we made it inside we had to book it to see as much as possible, but we did pretty well.  We also swung by the Duomo and many other interesting buildings.  This is also where we had our very first Italian pizza and gelato!
We were just walking along, then I turned around and there it was!  I didn't even realize it.
Yay, it's a famous thing!  From some angles it almost looks like it doesn't lean.
It was a nice day.
She leans upon it.
Now she holds it up.
Elise says it looks like I'm making out with it, but really I'm trying to straighten it out.
This is the baptistry!  The tower is, well, leaning, so no one pays any attention to this smart little edifice.
The cathedral!  We didn't go in.
Such ornate doors.
OMGoodness, it's so tiny!
This was a somewhat better vantage point to hold it up.
We took so many pictures like this.  You sort of have to.
Some kind of reverse tug-of-war?  Like a push-of-war?
Just smiling this time.
Don't eat the landmarks, Jeff!
Stars:  They go to Pisa.
It just is.
One of precious few pictures of all four of us together.
And now, off we go to Florence!
First item of business:  Gelato.
Second item of business:  Pizza.
Third item of business:  More gelato.
We had a nice long wait in line to see David (though we bought our tickets in advance, which is partly why we spent precious time standing in line after all), so it was time for another photo shoot.
Our fearless photog.
More ornate doors!
We didn't get to go in here this time either, but it was plenty spectacular from the outside.
I thought this dude was a cop-out, because he was wearing a mask.  He didn't even have to hold his face still!  But I did set foot in that Disney store, which was more exciting than you might expect it would be.
Don't worry, this is a replica.  They would never let the original out in the world and the elements, nor would they let you take a picture of it.
This was another church right by our group's meeting spot which we didn't have time to visit.  Next time!
More gelato, for meeee!
Arrivederci, Firenze.
Then we had semi-formal night at dinner.
Remember what I said about us getting punchy late at night?
We had another new friend in our room!  Arf.
The next day we went to Rome!  Rome, at last!  This was an... interesting day.  We planned very early on that if there were one port where we would splurge on an expensive excursion, it would be Rome, to ensure that we would be able to get into all the things we wanted for sure to see, so we picked one that checked off most of the things on our list, even though it was pretty expensive, and were good to go.  Elise and Jeff decided to do Rome on their own, which in the end we kind of wished we had done also (though they didn't go INTO the Colosseum, which was one of our absolute requirements), because when you're with a tour group, you kind of have to go as slow as the slowest person (who may or may not be hobbling along on a cane... bless her heart...), and you have to listen to the tour guide go on and on about things that might just not be interesting to you instead of using your precious time to rush ahead to something else cool to maximize your experience.  BUT, it was still cool, and we went to the Trevi fountain and into the Roman Forum and the Colosseum (YAY) and had an included lunch in a real Italian restaurant, and then went right past the eternally long lines into St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, which, like Monaco, is its very own country.  That's just crazy.  If I have one regret about the entire cruise, it's that we made it ALL the way to Rome and didn't see the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.  Our tour just didn't allow for it time-wise.  But, Giata and Romina did their best, and although traveling took up half the day (seriously, just let us out of the bus and let us WALK an extra block instead of waiting for every bus ahead of us for 45 minutes!!!), and although I felt just a little stressed that we weren't rushing around more, we still quite enjoyed Rome.  Thoughwearereadytogobackatanytime.
Trevi Fountain.  It was a giant fountain in a tiny square.
Throw in your coin, Wife!  But only one.
If you throw in one, it means you will return to Rome one day.  If you throw in two, it means you want to find love.  If you throw in three, it means you want a divorce.  (Sad!)
I just threw in one too.  I think it was like 2 cents.
This picture is deceptive because it looks like there was only one other person there, when really the square was totally packed.
Time to get some more gelato while we wait for the slowpokes with the canes!
It's like... ice cream-zilla.  Meaning like, the best, not the biggest.
A lady in our group saw us taking pictures of each other and offered to take one of us together.  She said she likes to pose people.  She made us pose a few times.
Italian street!  It's so European and interesting.
The Victor Emmanuel Monument, or, as it's known to the locals, The Wedding Cake.
The Palazzo Venezia.
The Wife and Trajan's Column.
There's ancient history just everywhere you look!
Do you spy something that interests you, Wife??
But first...  we enter the Roman Forum.
It was so hard to envision what it looked like back in its day.  Historical preservation just wasn't a thing then.
And here The Wife is showing us not only the Roman Forum ruins, but also a very conspicuous seated tourist.
O hai dere.
We spied it again!
I'm holding it up!  Sort of.
Here it is!!!  We made it!!!  At last!!!
It's very big and tall.
Here we have a great shot of our tour guide earbuds (which they let us keep if we wanted!  We didn't want) and stickers, just in case we didn't already look like tourists.
We went right in.  It's so very old
This girl was SO excited to get inside this place.
The tunnels and cells underground were where captive competitors and animals were held (the floor has long since been destroyed).
Don't worry, she's not expressing disapproval, just doing her best Commodus impression.
Hugging it goodbye.  She decided to save her kisses for when we return someday.
It looks rather different from this side.
Here we go walking somewhere!
Probably after lunch.  Those buses are the worst, I sit down and I'm totally gone.
Here we are at St. Peter's!  See that long line?  Yeah, we didn't have to wait in it (phew).

It's lavishly decorated, all in praise and honor of the Pope of course.
Michelangelo!!!  We saw an original!  The Pieta was behind glass, but very beautiful
The dome is REALLY high up.
Just a little throne, nothing fancy.
All of the art in here are micromosaic recreations of classics.
See?  It's kind of crazy.  But that's why photos are allowed inside.
Rumor has it Michelangelo designed these guards' uniforms.  Um.
Alas, there lies the Sistene Chapel.  It's not much to look at from the outside apparently, though I guess it's pretty awesome inside, though you are rushed through pretty quickly along with hundreds of other tourists.  Still.   Never time!!!
Check me out, I'm in two countries at once!!!
Arrivederci, Roma.
Our last port city in Italy was Naples.  Now, I understand Naples is a beautiful city in its way and in some places, but our experience of it was... less than complimentary.  Yes, we used words such as "armpit of Italy" to describe it, but in our defense, that was our perception of it from the port area and the areas surrounding where we visited, and really, if you KNOW that your city is a major tourist port, wouldn't you want to make sure it's pretty nice?  I would think so.  But no.  In any case, there were a few really awesome spots just a train ride away, since we did this port on our own, no excursion necessary.  It was bittersweet, being our last one, but we were excited to have one last relaxing stop in Italy.  Opting out of Capri (you just have to choose sometimes!), we went to the beautiful and charming little town of Sorrento, where we had to pay a euro just to take the elevator up to the city, and where we had just enough time to do some eating and shopping and wishing we could stay there longer (like maybe forever), when we knew we had to make our way to Pompeii if we wanted to see it before we had to head back to the ship.  Pompeii was a very eerie and interesting place, and it felt like there was a lot of quiet and tragic (and somewhat depraved, in a way) history there.  It was just one of those things where you walk around and try to imagine what it was like actually living and working there, like they did before it was destroyed.  It kind of reminded me of Stonehenge in some ways, just the oldness and mystery of it (though this was less mysterious overall than Stonehenge was, of course).  Then we made our way back on the loudest train ever full of the loudest teenagers ever to Naples, where we walked through the absolute ghetto, where we thought we might get mugged and die, no matter how good the pizza in that town is reputed to be, back to the port, where we were glad to be off the street, but sad to be done with Italy.
Sooo this is Naples.
A dead fountain, or something.
One Grecian urn!
Ever since we left home, I regretted that I didn't bring a watch.  So I finally bought on on the ship during a sale.  Then it was a piece of hud so I took it back, and bought this much better and less expensive one the next day at a different sale.
Oh, dream of my heart, a carnival with terrible knock-off Disney art!  It's JUST like Disneyland!  Almost.
There was this church of some kind?  It's funny how some churches become world-famous landmarks and some are... this lonely thing.
There were statues and everything, but they were kind of falling apart and covered with graffiti.
This was a cool building of some kind.
Then there was this castle.  The Chinese tourists there were totally into it.
Sometimes we take pictures of our feet.
Then our ferry (after breaking down halfway across, though I slept the entire time) finally arrived and took us to Sorrento.  So much more beautiful already!
I do believe this is Vesuvius.
I do believe this is Wife and Vesuvius.
I do believe this is me and Wife and Vesuvius.
Awkward Prom photo time!
Pizza!  I had no idea Elise was totally photobombing me.
This was a delicious little sandwich creation.
Some delicious pastries.
Gelato!  Because we're in Italy!  This one was SO good, I think it was Nutella flavored.
Right alongside the road there was just this huge pit with an old mill down there!
Elise was taken with Sorrento from the start.
Girls do love their shopping.
After we took the train, we were hungry so we stopped to eat something before we went into Pompeii.
More piiiizzaaaaa.
And this is what the plate looked like after we were done eating.
Here we go!  An ancient ruined city.
There was some amusing signage.
A plaster model of one of the discovered preserved bodies.  Eep.
Poor guy. (Guy?)
Just being a tourist.
We really saw some people posing like this for pictures.  She thought she would give it a go.
I'm listening to the one and only audio guide we rented (they require some serious collateral...  Passport?  I don't think so.).
Some of the architecture is really well preserved.
As is some of the art.
In a corner!
A row of columns.
We walk with purpose everywhere we go.
Wife recognized this tilework.
They had a lot of baths.
This was the public swimming pool.  Care to take a dip, Elise?

Pompeii Road.  These stones were designed to allow crosswalks when the streets were flooded from rain.
And an amphitheater!  Mi-mi-miiii!
This is a main square in the city.  Or it was.
The culprit itself.
We  had another fancy dress night, so Julie, having come prepared for only one such event, borrowed Elise's dress.
Sometimes we are serious.
And sometimes we are silly.
Elise looks fabulous in her 11th grade Prom dress.  (Yes, really.)
Later that night there was a midnight buffet with many elaborate fruit carvings, and SO many loud and drunk people.

As well as ice sculptures, of course.
And DON'T let's forget the desserts.......
And there was another buddy waiting for us when we came back from our adventures.  Arrivederci, Napoli.
Okay, so that might be 150+ pictures in one blogpost, which MIGHT be a record, but hey, it was Italy, and in order to keep this series from being forever long post-wise, I wanted to keep each country's expeditions together.  Luckily pictures are easy to scroll through (or past, though I hope you looked at each and every single one!).

Italy was beautiful and interesting, and there was so much to do that we left it just a little bit disappointed that we weren't able to get more done, but it was awesome to get a nice sampling of so many places, so when we have another Italian vacation one day (which future trip we're already planning), we'll be a little familiar with it so we can spend several days in Rome and Florence, and heck, even hop on over to Venice for a bit.

And that, sadly, was the end of our excursions!  But, it wasn't the end of our adventures...  Hang tight for our thrilling day at sea.

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