Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Naples and Rome

Yesterday we were in Naples; however, Bee was feeling under the weather and stayed behind on the boat to rest. Mom, Dad and I got a driver and toured around town, taking in an old monastery, a magnificent cathedral and a glass domed gallery with some high end shops. Unfortunately, a family member was not all we left behind...the camera got left as well and so only one pic of Naples.

We were up around 5:45 this morning to start our long day of sightseeing in Rome. The tour started with some interesting history on Rome and a view of the old senate building and Forum from Julius Caesar’s reign, as well as the oldest shopping market on the planet.

We spent some time in Trevi Square viewing the Fontana del Trevi but did not toss any coins since we have all already found our true loves...

No trip to Rome would be complete without a trip to the coliseum, where we actually saw some gladiators fight. Outside there are many men dressed as gladiators hoping to make money off of tourist by taking pictures with them. Apparently things got a bit territorial between an old timer and a new comer and a good-old-fashion fist fight broke out. Several other gladiators got involved and we were just as enthralled as the Roman mobs of old...

After a homemade lasagna (fabulous) lunch, we spent the afternoon in the Vatican City where we were in awe of the Sistine Chapel and the Museum galleries. Bee’s favorite item was an enormous circular, marble bath tub that filled an entire room and belonged to Emperor Nero’s wife. Due to her issues with dry skin, the tub was frequently filled with Donkey’s milk. Unfortunately this was a great expense to the emperor and when he got tired of paying the bill, he had her killed. Ladies, let this be a lesson to you about staying within the budget...

We ended our time at St. Peter’s Cathedral, which is built over the tomb of Peter and is also the site of his martyrdom.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Day, Another Beautiful Island

Today we returned to Italy, more specifically, to the island of Sicily. We began in the port town of Catania, an architecturally amazing town built in the seventeenth century. In the distance we could see Mt. Etna, Europe's largest active volcano.

From there we headed to Taormina, a lovely town situated on Mount Tauro overlooking the Ionian Sea. Here we visited a Greco-Roman theater that had originally been built before the time of Christ.

Afterwards we spent some time shopping and enjoying gelato...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

F Harry’s Toe, Mother-n-law’s tongue, and Drunk as a Donkey... A few things we learned in Santorini

Our last day in Greece was spent on the island of picture perfect Santorini. We had really been looking forward to this because this is the location of the typical pictures you see in brochures of Greece, with the white buildings and blue roofs overlooking the sea. All the villages are set high on cliffs which provide spectacular views. The available modes of transportation down to the sea are sky gondola, walking or donkey ride.

There are over 400 churches in Santorni, adding to the beautiful architecture...

We spent some time shopping in the town of Oia, which has very narrow cobblestone streets that are only about two shoulders wide. Dad’s version of shopping...

Seventy percent of Santorini is covered in grapes, which makes wine one of their top exports. We were able to visit one of the local wineries, Domaine Sigalas. Here we learned about the production of the wine and got a chance to taste it as well. In addition, we were told about the myth of Bahkos, who is attributed with bringing vines to the island. The story goes that he planted the original vine in the bone of a bird for transportation to the island, but when the vine out grew the bone he planted it in the skull of a lion. Eventually the vine out grew the skull and he moved it to the skull of a donkey. Therefore the locals say that if you have a little wine you get light as a bird, a little more and you get the courage of a lion, and any more than that you will become an ass.

The island receives very little rain fall, and the grapes are actually watered by a mist that comes up from the sea over night. This arid climate allows for cactus to grow throughout the landscape, and the following picture is of a prickly cactus the locals refer to as Mother-n-law’s tongue, which we thought was hilarious.

Our last bit of knowledge gained was that “thank you” in Greek sounds like F Harry’s Toe in English. So F Harry’s Toe to Greece, we loved our time here!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Greek Isles, Part 2

This morning we woke to Argostolli, Greece, a quaint town on the island of Kefolonia. If you have ever seen the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it was filmed here.

This Island is made up of steep mountains that plunge to white sand beaches, edged by a clear, torquoise sea. We toured an underground cave via a boat ride on Melissani Lake, and then took a winding ride down the beautiful coast line...

which took us to the village of Fiskardo for coffee, Baklava, and shopping. Dad was a good sport on the shopping...

Another great day in paradise...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


We are currently spending three days in the Greek isles. Today was spent on the island of Corfu, where lemon, orange and olive trees are king. Although the olives are not in bloom yet, the lemons and oranges are about ready to pick and we have been so tempted to pick some. But given that Susan got a bit irritable with a chick who picked a flower at the palace on our tour today, we were able to refrain...

The day began with a tour of Achillion Mansion, former summer home of Empress Elizabeth of Austria and Wilhem II, King of Germany. It was later used as a hospital during the second World War. The Empress had a great love of Greek Mythology, particularly Achillies, whom the property is named for and who also has an enormous statue displayed in the main garden. The surrounding gardens were full of greek statues and fantastic views of the Adriatic Sea and an Albanian Mountain range.

From there we continued on to Kanoni and toured Mon Repo Palace, summer home of the Greek Royal family and birth place of Prince Philip of England. This palace was built for the second British governor of the island.

It was very exciting to see the ruins of a Christian church from Roman times. We discovered that Christianity was first brought to the island by disciples of Paul!

We wrapped our tour in town at one of two forts built by Napoleon during the French occupation, and headed by to our balcony for cocktails and sunset...another great day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Today we toured the medieval town of Dubrovnik in stunningly beautiful Croatia. The Dalmatian coastline has the best of both worlds, combining lush green mountains and the deep blue of the Adriatic Sea. We were fascinated by the rich history of this old world town that began on the rocks by refugees looking for a safe haven.

As seen in the below picture, the limestone walls originally served as a fort complete with a draw bridge and surrounding moat.

The architecture is quite impressive having been constructed of hand hewed stones and encompassing forty-seven Roman Catholic churches, some dating back to the seventh century AD.

After a morning of exploring, we continued south along the coastline to the Montenegro border for lunch at old country home. Here we saw how olive oil is produced. We had a fabulous lunch of red wine, salad, potatoes, beef and apple strudel. The salad was dressed with olive oil made on the property.

After lunch we wandered through the shops and outdoor cafes of the charming coastal town of Korcula...

At the end of the day, we said goodbye to lovely Croatia with a toast from our deck over a plate of nachos. We loved this country and would love to return!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hello from Europe.

We are happy to report that we made our way to Italy via Amsterdam with without incident. In fact, it could not have gone better. We were prepared for long delays between the storms in Nashville and the volcano ash hovering over the Atlantic, but the biggest delay we encountered involved 30 minutes of taxiing around the Amsterdam airport due to a pilot that apparently needed more taxi hours to get his certification. Giddy up.

The real fun began in getting to our hotel in Venice. Did we take the water taxi that routes you directly to the hotel? Heck no, what is the fun in that when overcrowded public transportation can be combined with four clueless travelers carrying way too much luggage? Oh, did we mention that the bus initially pulled away without Dad, who was returning a cart to get one stinking Euro back (thank heavens Susan was able to bring the bus to a screeching halt with panicky screams of “stop” from the back of the bus)? Or, that at our next stop, we forgot to pull our luggage up into the bus away from the doors, causing the doors to jam with the suitcase securely locked in place? There was most certainly applause from the locals once we finally made our exit.

As you may already know, old Venice is a town of canals and no automobiles; therefore, anything that cannot be reached by water taxi is reached by your own efforts. For us this involved a climb across a high bridge with quite a few steps hauling our 10 plus bags. Then a “slight” walk through a million people over wet, slippery cobblestones. Needless to say, we looked like ridiculous tourists (of the Chevy Chase European Vacation variety) while sweating, panting and giving each other a good cussing. Good news, every one was brought back to a general state of familial friendliness by local wine and pizza at a neighborhood restaurant. We were all impressed after dinner at the local gelato shop when mama looked poised to pick up the tab with her “foreign money” hauled across the pond from a bowl back home. Unfortunately, this was an entire coin collection of British pounds, and we realized we were out of luck because a good bit of gelato had already been consumed. Luckily no one had to wash dishes...

After spending the night in a small hotel in the heart of old Venice we made our way this morning to the boat. We checked in and all appeared to being going well until mama decided to use the bathroom in the ship’s lobby on our way out for sight seeing. Now some of you fellow Americans may take note that in this part of the world the flush button can only be reached by closing the toilet top. For the uninformed, there is always the bright red emergency button...and if it doesn’t work, keep on pushing until the guy with the crash cart shows up. Also called to the scene were a crew member with a wheel chair and several supporting players...Hello, Dorothy - we’re not in Kansas anymore...

Today started well with delightful pastries and strong coffee from the local bakery. And all was right with the world right up to the moment we missed the prepaid tour of the outlying islands; however, we were able to take a wonderful gondola ride through the magical canals of Venice instead. Susan was unafraid to take one giant step for mankind into the gondola that almost resulted in a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean...note to self, that first step is a doozie. Our driver was an adorable, third-generation native that shared some interesting facts along the way. In addition, we were highly entertained when he decided to play chicken with an oncoming boat under a tiny bridge. We lost this contest with our heads held high because the competition almost took a swim. The canals, quaint bridges and old buildings were more beautiful than we had imagined. It was a great afternoon of shopping and wandering through town.

Conversation of the day:

Call on global phone from Uncle Jim...

UJ: Hey Mel when are you leaving on your trip?

Mel: We are already in Venice.

UJ: Get out of town!

Mel: I already did...