Monday, September 19, 2011

Mon Coisiere

Much like my trip with dad through Austria, Germany and Hungary I apologize for not being able to remember all the details of my cruise.  I am also going to start with when Mom and Nana first go to Paris. 

They arrived really early on a Tuesday morning.  For anyone who has ever met me, they know I am not a morning person.  But being the good son/grandson I am I volunteered to meet Mom and Nana at the airport at 7:00AM.  Needless to say I got there at 7:45AM.  I meant to get there at 7:30AM but the RER B that takes you to CDG was running a little behind schedule.  I told them just to park themselves out front of the baggage claim. 

We meet and I say my necessary apologies for being late.  Their flight was early so it turns out they had been waiting for about an hour for me.  Oops… my bad… So from there we take the RER to their hotel.  Now my mom and grandmother are not country bumpkins, but they have never lived in a city that has public transportation.  There was one point where my grandmother just started laughing hysterically because she had never done anything like this.  I asked her why that is so funny she said it was because her friends at her retirement home would never beleive that she was taking the train from the airport to her hotel with two suitcases that collectively weighed 140lbs.  Looking back on it, we must have been a bit ridiculous.

Thankfully we make it to their hotel, which was only one RER, two metro lines and three blocks away from CDG.  My arms were sore the next day from hauling their stuff.  I gave them the cell phone I bought for them so we could stay in contact, since neither of their phones were equipped for Europe. 

The next few days were a blur of walking around Paris.  We took a cruise on the Seine for my mom’s birthday.  It was the first time they had seen me drink!  I think I emptied the entire bottle of wine we got.  We went up to my apartment and I showed them my area a little bit.  We went on a tour of the Cemetery Père LaChaise where some of France’s most influential people are buried.  I took them over to where Michele lived and we got Crepes at my favorite place.  We went into the Pantheon.  One of the days I had class they tried to go to the Louvre.  The other day the watched the Royal Wedding.

Finally it was time for us to leave to go take our cruise!  I had been looking forward to this for, well since we booked it back in December.  It was a week long vacation sailing leisurely through the Greek Isles, with the last two stops in Croatia and Italy.  I had never been to any of the cities we were going too and to make things better, my grandmother who has been traveling internationally since she was in her thirties hadn’t been to most of those places either! 

We had to spend the day in Bari, Italy where our boat was set to leave from.  We weren’t sure what there was to do, so we asked the concierge.  He suggested we go up to Giovennazo, a small fishing town about ten kilometers from Bari.  We could take a bus, but the hotel agreed to drop us off there.  Now I am not sure if this is typical for everyone in Italy, but the four times I have been there I found that Italians don’t seem to speak that much English.  It wasn’t a problem for me, because I was used to communicating with people whose language I didn’t speak.  But I could tell it freaked out my grandmother pretty bad. 

It seemed like every little thing that we did she had to go check and double check because she either didn’t trust our translation or us.  My mom and I still aren’t quite sure…  Anyway, trying to get a bus to take us back to our hotel proved to be quite an adventure.  After walking around the city for three hours my grandmothers back was hurting so we sit on a bench.  My mom still is wondering around so Nana and I talk.  Finally we all regroup in the square where the driver from the hotel dropped us.  My mom and I tell my grandmother to go sit on the bench in front of the bus stop we think the driver told us is where we need to pick it up to return to the hotel, while we go off looking for tickets. 

When I was in Florence I learned that the Tobacco shops are where you buy the tickets.  So we go into one.  In our rather comical exchange, we learn that he doesn’t sell them there.  A nice Italian man walks to the front of the store and points to the left.  All he says is “To the front.”  We have absolutely no idea what that means, but my mom and I walk that way.  We find the bureau of tourism, so we figure we could ask there.  Just our luck, the English speaking lady is out to lunch or sleeping or drinking or something.  All we know is she isn’t there.  I use what little (and by little I mean virtually non existent) Italian to ask her where we can buy the tickets.  She tells us the next store to the left, which it turns out is at the front of the square we were in.  So that’s what the Italian guy meant….

Luckily we make it back and take a cab to the boat.  The rest of the day is pretty smooth.  We get on board and start exploring.  The ship is beautiful.  I guess the Travel Channel has kind of spoiled cruise ships for me because I was expecting something that was ridiculously huge.  I felt like the ship was like a really nice medium size hotel, just floating on water and capable of international travel.  My mom and grandmother were amazed at its size.  To their creidit the ship was thirteen stories tall, had a full size theater complete with balcony, two sit down restaurants, two pools, a spa.  Pretty much anything you expected from a nice resort this place had. 

Every night the ship had a show in the theater.  Some were okay, and some were incredible.  All I could think about when watching the shows though, was how much fun the shows at the VC last summer were and how much I couldn’t wait to get back and start rehearsing!

The ports of call on this ship were amazing.  I can’t go into in depth descriptions of every one so I am going to write about the highlights and the most memorable parts. 

Our first port of call was Katokolon.  It was closest to Olympia where the Greeks met thousands of years ago to have the games.  Fun fact, it wasn’t until the 1932 Olympic games in Berlin that the Olympic flame was lighted there.  Yup, it was Hitler’s idea…   Anyway, we got to go to the original stadium.  One thing I liked was that on the way into the stadium were pedistols where they would put statues of those where were caught cheating.  They would have their likeness there for eternity (or until time and/or some museum removed them) with their name and their city on it, forever a shameful reminder of their transgressions.   I loved Olympia. 

One more thing about Olympia.  I should mention that I had the best olive of my life there.  It may sound weird but this olive was so good my mind still remembers the taste.  When I try to remember the taste of a food I can usually only recall the emotional reaction to the food.  Not with this olive.  To this day I can still think about its taste and my mind allows a little bit to linger in my mouth.  It’s kind of weird but I’m not going to complain.

I can’t remember what the next stop was, but in the next three days we hit Mykonos, Santorini, Korfu and Athens.  Santorini was breath taking.  The pictures from there do it justice.  The water in the caldera of the volcano are crystal blue.  I loved Santorini because I got to ride a donkey up the side of the mountain.  For those who haven’t been, and I didn’t know this before I got there, Santorini is on top of a mountain.  Well its an Island, but there is no beach.  It is just cliffs.  So you can either take a Gondola up the mountain or take a donkey.  Needless to say I chose the donkey. 

Once there my mom and I made it to the town that was about fifteen minutes away from the one the boat docked in.  We shared a cab with an elderly Italian couple who didn’t speak any English.  Our cab driver spoke a bit of English, but seeing as we were in Greece, he mainly spoke Greek.  We managed to get spend about an hour in that town. 

Mom loved it there.  She could have walked those streets for hours and hours.  That was her biggest complaint about the cruise.  She wanted more time at all of the stops.  She felt like she was short changed. 

After we made it back to the boat from the two towns, we were setting sail to go to Mykonos.  We got to Mykonos a little before sunset.  Mom and Nana thought that all of the restaurants on the island were going to be really crowded so we decided to eat in the dining room on the ship.  Turns out we didn’t need to do that because there are a bunch of amazing Greek and seafood restaurants on the island.   Much like Santorini the streets were narrow and not wide enough for cars to walk through.  Nana got tired and went back to the ship which was a short bus ride away.

I should mention the bus ride on the way there.  I’ve never feared for my life nor had as much fun on a bus ride as I did on the way from the boat to the town.  Our bus driver was taking pretty hairy turns really fast.  I think at one point Nana was thrown almost across the aisle. 

Anyway, after Nana made it back to the boat, Mom and I continued to walk around the town.  The weather was great and perfect for walking.  We ended up at the end of the town where four windmills were set up on top of a hill.  Mom and I took turns taking pictures in front of these, but the coolest pictures we took there were the shadow pictures.

I found a windmill that had a light shining right on it.  I saw some people walk by it and saw their shadows get projected onto it.  From there, Mom and I took turns making shapes from our shadows.  The pictures actually turned out really cool!

And that was Mykonos. 

Our next stop was Athens.  I was surprised by Athens.  It was a huge town.   I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but it wasn’t what we saw.  Just to get from the ship to the Archaeological museum took a great deal of time because of the traffic.  From the Acropolis you could see the urban sprawl.  It was as if the population of Los Angeles lived in half the space.  It was bizarre. 

The meuseum was interesting though.  They had a lot of statues and fragments from the Acropolis and surrounding temples and monuments.  The best part of it though was the view of the Parthenon.  From the third floor you had an unobstructed view of it.  It sits atop this fortified hill (back in ancient Greece it was just a hill, since then it was fortified). 

Mom, Nana and I were put in the English/Spanish tour.  Our guide would say something in one language and then she would say the same thing in the other.  It wasn’t a problem until she would answer my questions in Spanish…  That got to be a little annoying.  Mom and I would have to say “English please!”  I guess I’m going to have to learn Spanish now too….

We got to the top of the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon.  It looks exactly as every post card shows it.  An immense structure surrounded by scaffolding.  The one thing that shocked me was that I could get pictures of just the structure, as in without people in it.  I got some great pictures of the three of us.  Form the top it was clearly visible that there were too many people living in Athens.  Our guide told us that Athens is the town of (some number) of hills.  You could see all of the peaks from up top.  The sad thing was that the buildings went more than halfway up these hills.  I could only imagine what it looked like two thousand years ago though.  Those green hillsides would have made the perfect place to show the Gods tribute. 

I was really glad that I got a chance to see that at least once in my life.  Our experience was a little different than most because for what ever reason, nature thought it was a good idea to open the flood gates on us, well almost.  When we were walking up there it started raining pretty hard, and none of us had an umbrella.  The real bad news came when we were on the bus, though.  We were driving by Olympic stadium in Athens when the weather turned into a torrential downpour.  On the way to find the bus, we passed a protest.  I could only imagine how much it sucked to be those guys in that weather…

After Athens, we went to Korfu.  Of all of the Greek Isles we went to, Korfu was the most beautiful.  Santorini was breathtaking and unique, but to be that close to the water and to have it that blue was just something else.   The first thing we did was to go to an old fort.  I don’t know why it was built, but it was the highest point in the town and had great views.  Despite its insanely slick stone path, all three of us climbed to the top. 

From the top we looked out over the ocean and could see the town behind us.  There was a quaint little lighthouse that I don’t think worked any more as well as giant metal cross.  I don’t know if it was a religious thing or not.  It looked cool though.  We spent a good deal of time up there taking pictures and just absorbing the beauty.  After the weather in Athens it was nice to have such good weather again. 

When we got down from the top of the hill we went down a different way.  It led us to this huge… well I guess you would call it a court yard.  There was a church at one end and a really big grassy gravely area in front.  Mom and I spent some time there taking pictures too.  Then we were off to explore the rest of the town.  I don’t remember the town part that much because I couldn’t get over the breathtakingly spectacular ocean views that we got.  I think I have more pictures of Korfu than I do of almost any other city, with the exception of Venice. 

The second to last stop on our cruise was Dubrovnik.  I had never been to Croatia and again I didn’t know what to expect.  We only got to walk around the old town, but oh my god.  If the rest of the country is half as gorgeous as that old town is, it has to rank in the top five most incredible places on earth.  The entire old town fits within these fortified walls.  We had the option of walking the walls but they were three miles and we didn’t have that much time there. 

We opted for the tour of the old town.  It included a trip into the Abbey where we got to see the oldest continually working Pharmacy and ended in a church.  We also got to see the reminance of the 1990’s war between Croatia and Montenegro/Serbia.  In this church the guide showed us a mortar crater that was fired from outside the city walls.  All around the city as we were walking we saw plaques dedicated to those who died in the siege and to the buildings that were ruined. 

The coolest part of Dubrovnik Mom and I found on our own, after the tour.  We decided we wanted just to walk around and explore.  Because the old city was all within these walls, we figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to find our way back to the mian gate, so we took off.  We ended up finding this hole in the wall, and I mean that literally.  There was a bar that was built right into a hole in the walls around the city.  From there you could sip your juice or beer and soak up the sun while watching the little glass bottom boats that puttered past you.  

On our way back to the ship, we had to cross this farmers market.  It must have been close to the hour when we left the hole in the wall bar, because when we reached the square where the market was, the church bells started to ring.  If you have ever seen Hitchcock’s “The Birds” then you could kind of imagine the scene we saw.  Hundreds upon hundreds of pigeons took flight.  One almost flew into my face.   To make matters worse there was a guy who was throwing out birdseed in an open area of the square.  I’m just happy I made it back to the boat not totally covered in bird poop. 

After Dubrovnik, we were off to our final destination, Venice!   My brother had said that he had never been anywhere that was as true to the stereotype as Venice was.  He was right.  The streets are literally all canals.  I had been to Amsterdam that was famous for its canals, but there were still bicycles and cars in Amsterdam.  Not in Venice.  I took my fair share of pictures of the water taxis. 

We signed up on the boat to do some tours in Venice, but because so many passengers were disembarking, our tours got canceled due to lack of interest.  That was fine though, I mean it was Venice!  We could just hop on any old gondola and get serenaded through the canals.  And we did just that… minus the serenade (but I was okay with that).   Our gondola driver told us a lot of the history of the city and steered us around for about an hour.  I could look at my pictures from that city a million times and still not get tired of it. 

After our gondola trip, we walked around for the remainder of our time.  As Mom reminds us every time we talk about the cruise, she was really frustrated that we had to be on the boat so early, especially since we didn’t set sail until way later that night.  But I didn’t mind it.  The Pope was in town and he and I don’t really see eye to eye on a lot of issues.  Though it was cool to say I was within a few hundred yards of one of the most famous/influential people on the planet. 

And that was our cruise.  We made it back to Bari and then flew to Paris via Milan.  Mom and Nana took back a suitcase for me and I finished up my time in Paris! 

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