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Archives for July 2012

Celebrity Equinox: Ready to Cruise

Time for new scenery while exploring the Mediterranean! We decided for our honeymoon to be a massive check offs on both of our bucket lists when we booked a 10-day cruise with Celebrity Cruises. This is why:

Day 1 – Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy

Day 2 – Sicily (Messina), Italy

Day 3 – At Sea

Day 4 – Athens (Piraeus), Greece

Day 5 – Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey

Day 6 – Rhodes, Greece

Day 7 – Santorini, Greece

Day 8 – Mykonos, Greece

Day 9 – At Sea

Day 10 – Naples, Italy

Day 11 – Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy

AMAZING, right?! (It was!) Now Celebrity Cruises isn’t exactly the “youngin’ cruise ship”, though it was the youngest crowd that Equinox carried… the average youthful age of 47! That being said, it was pretty classy once we were onboard and greeted with a glass of champagne =)

We checked a bit early for my fear of not figuring out our way from Rome to Civitavecchia, so the cabins were not ready yet. As mentioned in the previous post, we did get on the correct train after an encounter with an Italian lady. To read that story: When in Rome.

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Once we got outside the train station, there were taxi drivers asking if you needed a ride to get to the ship. One group gave into the driver and he was asking for €5/person. My advice: DON’T DO IT FRIENDS! It is a leisurely 10 minute walk, with no hilly terrain, to get to the ships port entrance. We asked a service person where the port was, and we ended up following people since majority of them who got off at this station were headed for the ships.

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The 8 and 9 on the map indicates the port entrance. From there, you take a bus (free of charge), and they drive you to the cruise ship.  That same group that got into the taxi I mentioned previously, well that same cab pulled up nearly the same time as us.

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Checking in goes by fairly quickly, and even more so when you have all your documents prepared. There were 20-30 people available to check you in. Once you get checked in, you can board the ship.

Because we were early… and hungry (naturally), we found our way to the Oceanview Café, a casual buffet. During our time on the cruise, we learned not to stuff our faces because food was always available somewhere on the ship… hence having about 4-5 smaller meals each day.

Our rooms were ready when we finished eating. Our cabin was nice, and I really liked the fact we got one with a balcony, which was a bit pricier. After all, this was our honeymoon! Mister and I spent a lot of time out there playing cards especially on the 2 “at sea” days.

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We explored the ship to get our sense of direction of our new home for the next 10 days. We checked out the pools, fitness/spa area (an area I didn’t frequent at all), some of the bars/lounge areas and the specialty restaurants. There’s definitely a lot to do on ths ship. There was even a hot glass show that’s on top of the ship. Now, that’s snazzy.

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We attended the mandatory drill in case the ship was in emergency mode. Everyone appeared happier when the drill was over, and mister and I headed back up to our room and sat out on the balcony to have our view when we left port. It was pretty. Soon enough we were surrounded by the blue sea. Gorgeous.

For our 1st dinner on the ship, we went to Silk Harvest, one of the specialty restaurants. This restaurant, along with a few others on the ship, you pay per person to dine there. The main dining room and the buffet are free and included in the cruise. On the menu that we ordered that night was: cream cheese wontons, house salad and 2 orders of 4 different rolls of sushi (spicy tuna, unagi, equinox roll, solstice roll). celebrity_equinox_silk_harvest_sushi celebrity_equinox_silk_harvest_sushi_dinner

At the end, they brought out a little cake and sang “Happy Honeymoon” to us (in the tune of “Happy Birthday”).

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We watched the sunset on the lawn on the top deck of the ship. Awe, how romantic =)

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After the sun set, we made our way over to the Ensemble Lounge for an evening drink. And in good spirits, we ended our evening by listening to the acapella ensemble, “Top Shelf” in the Sky Lounge. Impressive for a quartet vocals. Check out some of their work via YouTube. We did end up meeting all 4 of these guys later on in the cruise, which was pretty fun. But more of that later on!

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Next week I’ll have our experiences of Sicily. Until then, happy travels my friends.

Rome, Italy: When in Rome, do as the Romans do

While my last 2 posts showcased the sites, I’d like to share more of the everyday sites that easily get passed over when we’re oohing and aahing over marvelous sites.

Entertainment. While waiting for everyone to board the coach bus for our first tour, this guy would bounce the soccer ball on top of his head, a commendable trick I suppose, for 10-15 seconds and then go up to as many cars, scooters and motorcycles asking for money. There would be at least 1 person who gave this guy money during each stoplight.

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There were accordion players coming around to our tables while we were dining outside. It gets a little uncomfortable when they hover over your for your to give them money. *awkward* To name a few other entertainers I’ve seen out on the streets and sidewalks (here in Italy and other countries) are juggling, glowsticking and miming. It’s something not often seen in the suburbs, that’s for sure.

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Transportation. I noticed there were a lot more girls than guys riding scooters and motorcycles, as in, guys were holding onto the girls as they were zipping between the cars. Maybe that’s just coincidence of when I was paying attention to that, so I ended at that conclusion.

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But, this particular girl was carrying what looks like a garment bag and her LV purse was just hanging out. That would be something I wouldn’t want to lose or accidently fall out. Maybe they’re just really good at multitasking and keeping their things together.

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Keeping cool. The water is really clean to the point where you can refill your bottle of water from the fountains around the city. This really comes in handy on such a hot day. It was common to see people put their heads underneath the fountains to cool down.

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Mindset. Mister and I had an encounter as we navigated our way through Roma Termini to be sure we were on the right train to get to the port for our cruise. We stopped to ask this lady if we were waiting for the correct train. She said, “No English.” But then proceeds to say probably the only thing she knows in English. “In Italy, speak Italian. In America, speak English.” How hilariously awesome is that?! That lady made our day that day. We did end up finding English-speakers to confirm the train platform.

Ah, life’s little moments just make you stop and think for a moment to put everything into perspective. Happy travels everyone =)

Rome, Italy: There’s No Place Like Rome


After giving up our efforts of trying to go back to sleep with the 7 hour time change, we prepped for the day by making our way down to the lobby for some breakfast. Standard European breakfast with breads (croissants!) and cold cuts and then a cappuccino to keep me awake for the rest of the day.

Our agenda for the day was to take a morning tour and then have the afternoon to ourselves to do our own navigating around Rome. So, the first stop of the tour: Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city.

They say if you throw a coin correctly in the fountain, you will come back to Rome. That is: back facing the fountain with the coin in your right hand and you throw it over your left shoulder.trevi_fountain_rome_italy_day_with_kaye The next monument we passed by was this Column of Marcus Aurelius located in the historic center of Rome. The column has 2000+ carvings/sculptures on it.

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The Parliament building and other government buildings have 3 flags on it. The left is the Italian flag, the right is the European Union flag. The flag pole in the middle is reserved for the flag of the political figure that is in Italy at the current time. It’s a sign of representation and respect. There was no one visiting at this time.

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We turned the corner and here was this beauty: The Pantheon. It used to be a place of pagan worship and this is the same exact structure where the Romans used to walk through, which is pretty amazing. It has now been converted into a Catholic church.

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The Pantheon is a perfect sphere. When measured horizontally and vertically, it’s the  same exact measurement. Just think of the tools they had back then to create something so mathematically correct. Mind boggling isn’t it?

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And yes, that’s a hole in the ceiling. It was originally used during the Pagan sacrifice so the smoke would go through it. It also means that rain does come in, but, the Romans were a smart bunch of cookies and created a drain system. With the exception of putting in new pipes, it’s the same one that is in use today! Another fun note about this is the hole also allows the sun to come through. Wherever the sun is hitting on the interior, you can tell the time (in essence, a sundial)! Way cool, right?

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Our next stop was Piazza Navona, or Circus Agonalis, because this was a stadium where they had games and chariot races (not the Olympic games).  The fountain in the middle is the “Fountain of Four Rivers” by Bernini. It represents the 4 important rivers in the world at the time: the Nile, Danube, Ganges and La Plata.

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After this portion of walking around, we hopped on the bus to head over to the Vactican. We passed through the walls and then we ended at our final destination – St. Peter’s Basilica.

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On the bus ride over to the Vatican, I was explaining to mister how they take the dress code seriously to enter into the basilica… modesty is key. That was reinforced by signs like this posted around the basilica. Good thing mister and I were prepared!

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Sure enough, a couple members of our tour group got taken out of line at this final security check tent because they weren’t dressed appropriately. The solution? Find and buy paper clothing (which I saw, but didn’t take a picture of =/) or buy scarves to cover yourself.

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There is SO MUCH to see inside the basilica that even a day spent at the basilica, you still won’t see everything. But, this is a small selection of what we got to see including La Pieta by Michelangelo and the sculpture of St. Peter:

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The tour bus dropped us off at the top of the Spanish Steps, so gravity helped us walk down to the bottom of the steps.

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The rest of the day was spent aimlessly walking around and shopping. The fashions and stylings of the stores weren’t anything too different from the US. Pricing was a little higher (we are on the Euro system here). We did pass by A LOT of custom tailoring shops, and pants tailored to fit you for the right price of 175EUR!

If you just look up online “things to do in Rome”, there really are a lot of things to do. It comes down to what you really want to see especially if you are on a time crunch like us. Taking tours was the most efficient way for us to see the sites we really wanted to see, and cover that much ground in the 2 days we were in Rome. For our time spent there, we had a wonderful time sightseeing, shopping, and eating (of course!). There really is no place like Rome =)

Happy travels friends!

Rome, Italy: All Roads Lead to Rome

This phrase has to be true if I’m coming back right? (FYI, I came to Rome with my family 2 years ago.) Well, mister and I arrived in Rome in the early afternoon (per usual with direct flights to Europe). This is the starting point of our honeymoon extravaganza.

There are options to get to the main city if that’s where your destination is. We opted to take the bus since we would have to wait longer for the train to arrive. Doing that, we got a mini tour as we passed by some of the sites, such as the Colosseum. That was pretty exciting especially for mister.

I had a sense of things to see and do, but after listing it all off, I left it up to mister to decide what he really wanted to see in the 2 days we would be spending there. We decided on taking 2 tours via Green Line Tours. We used this tour group when I came here last and they did a very good job explaining the sites considering there was so much history.

We were able to check in to our room at the Starhotels Metropole before making our way to the tour office to hop on the proper bus. It was 5 minutes away. Great planning on my part *pats back of shoulder*.

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Our tour for the afternoon was “Imperial Rome” with our awesome tour guide: Massimo. My initial thought went straight to the movie “The Wedding Planner”. Anyone else? But, he was quite thorough in describing each location with the history and current use and information if it were in restoration. And yes, he had a blue umbrella so we knew where he was at all times.

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Michelangelo designed the Piazza 
Del Campidoglio aka one of the 7 hills of Rome. If you haven’t heard of him, you clearly have not lived in the art world. There are other monuments and buildings surrounding the square to be noted like the Marcus Aurelius statue, City Hall and the museums.

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Right down a short path and around the corner from the Piazza was the Roman Forum. *jaw dropping moment* There’s just something about seeing a historic site in person (even though I’ve already been here). Here’s a place that was in 100% working condition. Granted it’s not 100%, but thinking about how much went on there is incredible. Mister was really excited.

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As we made our way over to the Church of St. Peter’s in Chains, we passed by the Circus Maximus (area used for chariot racing). The church houses the Moses statue, which was sculpted by Michelangelo. It really is a beautiful piece considering it was around the same time that he was painting the Sistine Chapel (which is also another incredible work). Though we didn’t visit that chapel this trip, it is definitely worth seeing. It was a jaw-dropping moment the 1st time I came to Rome.

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The reason why the church is called St. Peter’s in Chains is because it houses the relic of the chains that Peter wore when he was in prison underneath the alter.

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From the church we walked down to the final stop of the tour, the Colosseum. This was an amphitheater that was free to the public to watch the gladiator fights. It was used as a political pull because the candidates would provide all sorts of entertainment for the people in hopes of getting votes. Smart thinking Romans. But perhaps a lesser-known fact was the Colosseum used to have naval battles, therefore it would be flooded. When they realized the gladiator battles were more entertaining, they drained the water and put in the “basement floors” with the pulleys and areas for the animals and contestants to fight the gladiators.

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Of course, the information I have shared is only a small portion of the entire history of each place. If you are curious, do your research. There’s nothing better than feeding your mind with knowledge. =)

As for the weather, it was in the 90s, so it was definitely hot. I saw many people take and fill their water bottles in the public fountains. Some were splashing the water in their faces in order to stay cool. For the mister and I, we both had 1.5L bottles of water to carry around. That’s a lot of water and we both finished our bottles. It just goes to show how hot it was.

Mind you this is only our first day of our trip and we did manage to feed ourselves before crashing at 9:30PM. (Yeah you read that right.) And it was delicious: garden salad / prosciutto, mushroom, olive and boiled egg pizza / tiramisu.

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Let me make a note that because we were in the central part of the city, you definitely pay the premium. Also, if you sit down in the restaurant, they do a service charge. This is different from the tip (which may or may not be included in the bill). This is probably a common thought through the European countries. So be aware of this if you do happen to be travelling in this area of the world.

The day/post would not be complete without a jump:

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Happy travels friends!

Stockholm, Sweden: Taking A Stroll

Fall weather – my favorite. My minor complaint about that was the tourist information center location was a little ways away from our hotel. Regardless of the location, they were very helpful and organized in assisting us as well as the other tourists. When you entered, you picked up a number and were called to the counter in order. While you waited, there were videos and brochures to look at to see what interested us. 

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We decided on taking an afternoon tour (mind you this was the day we arrived), which consisted of a bus and boat tour. We met at the pick up location, and off we went.

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We were given headsets and the backs of the seats had the dials to tune into the correct language so you could hear the description of the different monuments that we were passing by along the way.

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We got to see the Grand Hotel, the same place where we had breakfast on our 2nd day in Stockholm.

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This restaurant: Gondolen has the best view of Stockholm. It was unfortunate that it was booked, so we didn’t have a chance to eat here.

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The Vasa Museum and Skansen are 2 places in Stockholm that are worth visiting to get a feel for the culture of Sweden. Fun facts about the Vasa: it sunk on its 1st voyage about 20 minutes after leaving the dock. It got turned into a museum and opened in the 90s.

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As for Skansen, it’s an open-air museum, and people are dressed in their traditional outfits while showing their skills of the time period such as glassblowers.

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Our tour bus dropped us off and we had to walk about a block or so to get onto the boat portion of the tour and we opted to sit on the outside to enjoy the cool breeze of Stockholm and we got to see some more cool sites we couldn’t get to via bus such as this: the Stockholm boat house, launching point location of the rowing competition of the 1912 Olympics.

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Then of course you have the view of the city via boat. It’s definitely a pretty sight.

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As for the remainder of the time in Stockholm (that evening and the following day), we were on our own for our explorations. It was a fun time especially since we got to see the changing of the guard as well as the band at the Royal Palace.

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If you’re just hitting the main points and highlights of the city, it may be better to visit on cruise or include it as part of a backpacking trip through Sweden and the Scandinavian/Nordic countries because, from what we experienced, we didn’t need that much time to explore the city.

But, however you do it, keep exploring. Happy travels friends! =)