Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Final Blog

Home sweet home!!!  Made it home safely tonight after what turned into a very long day. This will be the final blog of "My Italian Adventure."  Thanks to everyone for following along on this sometimes bumpy, crazy and fun ride.  I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.   Until next time...Ciao!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Naples, Amalfi, and Pompeii

Today we docked in our LAST port!!  Hate to see it end, but this was a great way to end a fabulous trip.  We started off in Naples or Napoli.  It's a large southern Italian city of approximately 1.5 million inhabitants.  It is a typical large city.  Here's a photo of the fort which is an iconic symbol of Naples.

 We got out early this morning for our excursion because we had a full day.  We started with a drive to Salerno and boarded our motor launch for a boat ride along the Amalfi Coast.  The views were stunning.  I would love to share more pictures, but for now here's one of the city of Amalfi.  We docked here and visited this quaint town for a while before re-boarding the boat and heading back to our bus.
 The bus took us on to Pompeii.   We began our visit here with a tour of a cameo factory.  In case you didn't know, cameos are hand-carved out of sea shells.  We actually got to see the artists sculpting the cameos.  Very cool.  Then we had a delicious lunch of cannelloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach and canoli for desert stuffed guessed it, ricotta cream.  Perfecto!  We needed to walk off the large lunch and did so by winding through the maze of streets of ancient Pompeii.  What an amazing archaeological site!  Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and buried the city in ash not lava.  I learned today that the city was actually consumed by the pyroclastic cloud.  The city was occupied by 20,000 people.  Approximately 4-6 thousand survived. The rest were killed supposedly by heat and ash suffocation as well as poison gas from the volcano. The city was covered in 6-7 feet of ash which then hardened.  The city was very well preserved under the layers of ash until excavation began in the mid-1800s.  The site is huge, but here is a small snap shot of what the town looks like today.  The large stepping stones are original as is the rest of the road.  This was necessary because there were open sewers and the streets would get very wet and dirty. The raised stones kept the people's feet dry.  Ewwww!!!!

Think of it, this road is thousands of years old and still in tact.  Wish we could build them like this today!

Tonight is our last night on the ship and tomorrow, back to Rome.  To end my cruise portion of the blog, here's a great picture (If I say so myself!) of our beautiful ship taken from the island of Santorini.  It's like a postcard. Ciao!
Celebrity Equinox

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Yesterday we tendered in to the island of Santorini.  We spent all of our time in the largest city on the island, Fira.  To say it was beautiful just doesn't seem to do it justice. As I said, we tendered to the island and then had to take a cable car from the coast to the city.  Here is the view from the top:

Today we have had a relaxing day at sea.  It was actually really nice to have a day on the ship.  I took the opportunity to sleep in some.  Then I spent most of the day by the pool, probably a little too much time in the sun!  Oh well! After that, I had a wonderful massage in the Aqua Spa.  We have been passing by some other very beautiful Greek islands today.  As you can see from the pictures, the water is so clear and blue.  It's just magnificent!

Tonight we have our last formal dinner night with steak and lobster on the menu.  The food has been fantastic so far.  Everything I've eaten has been delicious!  Tomorrow we return to Italy for our last stop in Naples/Capri.  We have a 9 1/2 hour excursion scheduled that will take us by boat along the Amalfi Coast and then on to the ruins of Pompei.  So, tune in tomorrow because you don't want to miss it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Today we docked on the island of Rhodes.  It is dominated by a medieval walled-in city.  This is a photo from our balcony.  

The area was not very large so we just got off the boat and did our own thing.  It was nice to not have a schedule.  We wandered through the old streets and visited the archaeological museum.  Tonight we dined in one of the specialty restaurants called Murano.  It was delicious!  Lobster bisque and lobster tail!  Yes, there was a theme.  Wonderful!!!  Tomorrow we visit the beautiful island of Santorini.  More to follow!!!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Athens, Ephesus, and Mykonos!

I apologize for the delay in posting.  We've been very busy, but having a great time!  On Monday we visited Athens.  It was so amazing to see all the ruins of this ancient city.  Here's a view of the Parthenon:

In Athens we also visited all the other ruins at the Acropolis and ended our day shopping at the Plaka.  On Tuesday, we docked in Ephesus, Turkey.  We learned that the city has actually relocated 5 times in its history. The city's current location is referred to as Ephesus 5.  This is a view of the remains of a library which was at one time the second largest library in the world.  It is located at Ephesus 3.

Today we were in Mykonos, Greece.  We had to take a tender in to the port.  It was a little windy, but it did help to keep it cooler.  The island was beautiful...just like a postcard!  I had to walk to the beach and dip my toes in the very cold water of the Aegean Sea.  I have many pictures, but given the price per minute of the Internet on board..these two are all you get for now.  Here are the trademark Mykonos windmills and an overall view of the island.

Me and the windmills

The cruise is wonderful so far.  We are halfway through now.  The food is delicious which is great. Unfortunately, I think I may have gained back all the weight I lost while in Florence. :(  Oh well!! It can't be helped.  The Aegean Sea is a little rocky because of the strong winds so we've been rocking and rolling when we sail at night.  It makes dancing a little difficult, but rocks you to sleep like a baby.  Tomorrow we dock in Rhodes.  It's another beautiful Greek island with some interesting ruins surrounded by crystal clear blue water. Can't wait!  

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Yesterday we docked in Sicily.  We took a tour to two small towns, Savoca and Forza d'Agro, that were used in the filming of the "Godfather" movies.  They were old medieval towns both with populations of less than 1,000 people.  We stopped in for a lemon granita and brioche at the Bar Vitelli where they filmed the scene of Michael asking for permission to court Apollonia.  

Bar Vitelli

Scene from The Godfather
Tomorrow morning we dock in Athens and it's off to the Acropolis!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Celebrity Equinox

Well, we made it to the ship today!  And the suite is SWEET!!!  Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Tomorrow we dock in Sicily/Messina.  Will upload a couple of pics when I can.  I have very limited Internet access so for the next 10 days expect blogs to be short and SUITE!!  LOL

View from our balcony

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Last views of Florence

On our last day in Florence, we tried to squeeze in some things we hadn't had a chance to see yet as well as revisit some of our favorite places. First, we visited the Bargello Museum.  This museum includes many sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo.
Inside the Bargello courtyard

Michelangelo's Bacchus
After the Bargello, we wandered back to the Pitti Palace.  The Pitti Palace was built and originally occupied by the Medici family who ruled over Florence and most of Tuscany for over 500 years.  We visited the Costume Museum, the Porcelain Museum, and the Boboli Gardens.  Here are some scenes of the palace and the gardens:

Pitti Palace

Boboli Gardens

View from the top.  Florence Duomo and Cathedral belltower
We ended our last day with the same meal we began with....Tortellini panna e prosciutto at one of our favorite restaurants, Trattoria Casalinga, with our favorite waiter, Joe!  And one final post-dinner stroll with gelato! Ciao Firenze!  It's been fun!

Sun setting on the Pointe de Vecchio Bridge

Farewell Dinner

We celebrated Independence Day in Florence with our farewell dinner.  We all survived...6 weeks!!  We ended the "semester" with a delicious meal and the students received certificates and gifts in honor of their completion of the study abroad program.  

George making his farewell speech
After dinner, we all went to Piazza Republicca for the grand opening celebration of the Hard Rock Cafe-Firenze!  As you can tell, it was packed!!  Sorry the pictures are so blurry, it was the best I could do,

The band Simple me, it was them!
No fireworks or flags or barbeque, but it was still a celebration!  It's a few days late but....Happy 4th of July!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Topped the 1,000 Pageview Mark!!!

My blog officially topped the 1,000 page views mark today!!!  Woohoo!!  Thanks to everyone who has been following along.  Keep posted for pictures and news from the cruise.  More to come!!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wine Tour

Wednesday of this week, we took all the Management students on a tour of two wineries in the Chianti region.  The first was the estate of Niccolo Machiavelli.  It is the home where he was exiled after losing favor with the Florentine government.  From here he could still see the Florence Duomo.  It was torture for this once politically and powerfully active man to be able to see the city but no longer be a part of it.  During his exile, he wrote his now famous book "The Prince."  The winery is very large and produces over 25 million bottles of wine a year. 

Machiavelli Vineyards
Our Management Gang!
After a delicious lunch of food and wine pairings at the Machiavelli estate, we took a short bus ride to a much smaller, but still very successful winery called Fontodi.  In contrast, this winery only produces about 250,000 bottles of wine a year.  Fontodi is a certified organic estate practicing wine producing principles which emphasize a respect for nature.  Their vineyards are located outside the town of Panzano which is called the "gold shell' because the area is shell-shaped like a natural amphitheatre perfectly designed for grape growing. 

Tuscan vineyards

Wine aging at the Fontodi Winery
It was a fun day of food, wine tasting, and fun!  We all learned lots of new and interesting things about wine!

For more pictures of the wine tour, click here:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Siena and San Gimignano

This week we had our last tour with the whole group.  We spent Tuesday between Siena and San Gimignano.  Probably my favorite two cities, next to Cinque Terre of course.  We started the day in Siena.  Siena was medieval Florence's  archrival.  Florence eventually won the battle for political and economic superiority, but today Siena competes quite well for the tourists.  In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, Siena used to be a major banking and military power.  It was even bigger than Paris with a population of 60,000.  But in 1348, the plague hit Siena and wiped out over 1/3 of their population.  The city never recovered. In the 1550s, Florence conquered the city.  Fortunately for us, it's political and economic irrelevance managed to freeze Siena in medieval times.   Today, Siena's population is still 60,000 compared with Florence's 420,000.

The old walled city of Siena
We started our guided walking tour of Siena with the Church of San Domenico. Based on the Domenican style, the church is very open and plainly decorated inside except for the flags of Siena's 17 "contradas" or districts.  These include mascots like the goose, the caterpillar, and the porcupine.  But more on this later... back to the church.  The church is dedicated to St. Catherine, patron Saint of Siena.  There are two relics of St. Catherine on display in the church, her right thumb and her head.  Catherine, in the mid-1300s, is credited with convincing the Pope to return from France (the then papal seat) to Rome.

Church of San Domenico
As I mentioned earlier, there are 17 contrada or districts within this ancient city.  Historically, the 17 districts were used to supply military troops, but today districts are simply areas of localised patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that every important event – baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals – is celebrated only within one's own contrada.  Here in the goose contrada, they celebrate the birth of a new baby girl by placing a pink ribbon on the tip of their district flag.  

The goose district announces the birth of a baby girl with a pink ribbon.
 Contrada pride is evident year-round in parades and colorful banners.  However, Contrada passion is most visible twice a year (July 2 and August 16) when the city erupts during its world-famous horse race, the Palio-di-Siena.  Ten of the 17 neighborhoods compete (chosen by rotation and lot).  Jockeys are usually brought in from out of town and considered hired guns. There is also a lot gambling that takes place.  Despite all of the shadiness behind the event, on race day horses are brought into the their contrada's church to be blessed. It's  considered a sign of luck if the horse leaves droppings in the church.   The Palio is run around the main town square, Il Campo.  If you look closely, you can see the temporary railings and the dirt placed on the "track."  The race is 3 laps around the square.  Some of the turns are so sharp there are mattresses placed along the buildings to prevent injury.  A horse may win WITHOUT a rider and this is a good thing since the riders ride bareback and the race is 'no holds barred."  Riders may lash at, punch at, or even knock competing riders from horses. Alliances are formed between the districts, but cost money.  The winning neighborhood receives a Palio or painted banner usually featuring the Virgin Mary since the race is dedicated to her.  But the true prize is proving your contrada is the best and mocking your losing rivals.
Il Camp, scene of the Palio horse race

Siena was interesting both in a physical and cultural way.  The city is trapped in time and many of the cultural events are as well.  Pedestrians rule in the old center of Siena making it easy to take a relaxing stroll.  We did just that...wandering narrow streets lined with colorful flags and large iron rings to tether horses.  Bellissimo!

From Siena, we moved on to another midieval city trapped in time, San Gimignano.  This is the epitome of a Tuscan hill town with 14 medieval towers still standing (out of an original 72).  In the 13th century --back in the days of Romeo and Juliet--feuding noble families ran the town.  They would periodically battle things out from the protection of their respective family towers.
Porta San Gimignano

In the 14th century, San Gimignano's good times turned really bad. guessed it...the Black Plague attacked the city for 6 months.  This left the once mighty town with barely 4,000 survivors.  Like Siena, San Gimignano came under the rule of Florence and Florence redirected the vital trade route away from the town. The town never recovered and poverty left it stuck in a midieval time wartp.  Also, due to its lack of importance, it has survived almost completely in tact in spite of all the European wars.  This well-preserved city scape is ironically responsible for the town's current prosperity.

 The Towers of San Gimignano

And inside this walled city is new treasure, not of gold or silver, but....gelato!  Gelateria Pluripremiata whose master gelato maker has won the offical Gelato World Cup!  Of course we had to sample.  I had pink grapefruit, peach, and sparkling wine.  It was molto buono!  
World famous gelato
 Finally got the whole gang together for this shot outside the walls of San Gimignano.  A little hot and tired...under the tuscan sun...not so much fun in June and July.  Hence the need for gelato!
The whole gang!
Despite the heat and the uphill climbs...why can't they put panoramic views at the bottom of the hill? was another great day.  One of our last in Tuscany.  Check out the link below for more pictures from the trip:

Photo Album