Europe - June 2011
Our Grand Tour – Europe 2011
After pleading with the desk clerk
to no avail we made our way to security where I made an effort to “look pleasant” and
not attract additional attention for having a
In the boarding area a helpful Air
Takeoff was delayed. We
were told something about a strike in
The transatlantic flight itself was fine, but followed by several hours in the Paris (CDG) airport where Jeanne paid 7 Euros for 2 bottles of water. The pastry however was good and reasonably priced.
On arrival in
Finally we got together and arrived at our apartment where the owner Annarita was waiting for us. It’s really lovely – 3 big bedrooms, kitchen & terrace and even a small balcony off one of the bedrooms. Pictures will document all this.
The first thing everyone wanted to see was St Peter’s Basilica, but first we had a late lunch in a cafeteria style local restaurant - lots of food for 76 Euros. We took the extra from Carrie & Andy back to the apt. Then on to St. Peter’s. By late afternoon there wasn’t any line and we went quickly through security and the clothing check - no bare knees or shoulders. 5 pm Mass was going on so we couldn’t get close to the main altar, but we walked around the huge interior viewing the Pieta, the tombs of the Popes and side altars as large as in some churches. We couldn’t get to the crypts which close at 4.
After leaving the Basilica we walked
around the square & down
the main street past lots of souvenir stands. Our last trek of the day was to the Old Bridge Geletaria which
is next to the wall of the
At this point we had been awake for well over 24 hours
so we bought some groceries in the Billa Supermarket
across from our apartment and then just crashed and slept until 8 in
June 16th (Thursday) Our First Full Day in
No early start for us as we slept about 12 hrs because
of jet lag. Breakfast was in
the apartment with the groceries purchased the night before. The
Italian instant coffee was absolutely great. After some cereal, juice & rolls, off we
went in search of Euros.
Enough of this debacle! We
went sightseeing, bought a RomaPass and visited Castel de
Angelo. We didn’t see this the last time we were in
It was getting late and we had tickets to the
With our online reserved tickets we could skip the long line and walked right in at . I guess we didn’t have to wait until the appointed hour. Just as I remembered there is a mind boggling, amazing collection of paintings, sculpture, tapestries and ancient maps in addition to the Egyptian and Roman collection. Amazing ceilings too! Photos will describe the tour.
Finally we arrived in the Sistine Chapel. Last visit it was being restored and had scaffolding all around. They did an excellent job. We had a guidebook and a Rick Steve’s audio-guide and stayed long enough to understand the subjects of each painting. A clothing advisory: Although no one monitored clothing at the entrance to the museum, appropriate dress was required in the Sistene Chapel. I saw women scrambling to fashion shawls and skirts out of plastic bags.
Then a DASH back to St Peter’s since we wanted to see the crypts before closing time. Thanks to a helpful guard, we made it just in time. The easy to miss door and stairs were tucked next to the altar of St Andrew. We saw the tombs of many Popes and Saints most importantly that of St. Peter. His tomb is above the actual location of the bones which were discovered and certified about 50 years ago. There is a “Scavi” tour which takes visitors to this lower level, but the minimum age is 15.
Next was the ascent up into the Dome. Only Jeanne & family elected to do that. I didn’t mind 500 steps, but I knew the last 200 were tiny steps of a spiral staircase where you hung onto a central rope for balance. From experience I know that I never like the feeling that gives me, so I settled for just seeing their pictures. They loved their experience!
Meanwhile, I spent more time in St.
Peter’s at the
Pieta, various altars and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where
you could only enter if you were going to pray. Joe
was sitting at the fountain outside and I would check in with him regularly. We talked to some students from
After another trip down souvenir row, we went to dinner at a local restaurant. We’re in the Preti neighborhood and there are places to eat everywhere, full of local people and reasonably priced. We seem to be the only American tourists.
Before dinner we restocked at the supermarket including
wine. Annarita came
over with her mother & we paid her for the apt. While the kids took their showers, Jeannie & Eddie
went off to see St Peter’s lit up at night. They could even see the lights on in the Pope’s
study. He must be working late. Evening on the terrace of our apt is lovely. We
drank wine and relaxed.
June 17th Friday
We keep planning an early start,
but it was 9 before we started on our way, but it’s always better to
begin a full day well rested. This was our trek through
1st Stop: Plaza Navonna – fountains & the
2nd – The Pantheon – impressive
and well preserved, original 2000 year old doors, occulus,
etc, largest dome in the world & the crypt of Raphael.
3rd – Trevi Fountain – Amazingly
few tourists and the kids recreated “Three Coins in the Fountain.
4th – Trajan’s column & the
A fortuitous wrong turn took us to
6th – The Colosseum. With our RomaPass we
again bypassed the line. There’s
been a lot of reconstruction since we were here last time. Then we could only walk around a small area
on the main level. Now the tour
starts on the upper level and they have a section of the wood floor,
steps and some box seats so we could better visualize what was there. The large cross marked the spot where they
believe the emperor’s statue once stood. The
descriptions of the executions and methods were horrifying, even worse
7th – The Roman Forum & vicinity. There’s been a lot of new excavation since we were last here. The entrance is in a new place too which messed up our guidebook itinerary since we were following it backwards. Some buildings were very well preserved like the Curia where even the marble floors were intact. Now it was filled with bust of important Romans, lots of Emperor Nero. Other places were just shells of themselves or a few remaining columns. The massive Arch of Constantine, Titus and Septimus Severus are the exceptions. These monuments on the Via Sacra mark the route of triumphal armies returning with their conquests – treasure, exotic animals and slaves.
We think we identified Mamertine prison
where Peter was held, a truly horrifying place for anyone who ran afoul
of the people in charge. It
was just “outside” the forum. Carrie
also got to see an aqueduct - at least a piece of one.
We ate lunch in a place recommended in Rick Steve’s book “Café Studente”
9th – A Metro ride home
- very crowded on a late Friday afternoon. This
was also our first encounter with a potential pickpocket. Two young girls with a baby jumped onto our
train and stuffed a hand in Joe’s back pocket where there were only
tissues and a handkerchief. They
immediately jumped off the train, a classic pickpocket operation.
After a quick nap we were back out into the neighborhood
for dinner. Finally a stroll
back to the
We were late getting back to the apt. We have a washer but only drying racks so we
hope everything will dry OK.
June 18th Saturday – Outside
We didn’t plan on an early start since we had all
been up so late last night. Our RomaPass got
a workout today.
First we took the Metro to Piramide where
we saw the Pyramid shaped tomb (about 18 BC) of Gaius Cestius,
a rich Roman whose tomb is which is right outside the old city wall – prime
real estate. Anything Egyptian
was fashionable at that time since
Then we walked on the Aurealian Wall
at the Porta Ostiense and
viewed the exhibits. Imagine
Roman soldiers defending the city against invaders. Aleric and
his army of Goths sacked the place finally in the early 5th century. This
road led south to the port city of
Then we took bus #118 to the Old Appian Way
(Appia Antica). We missed the stop for Quo Vadis and the Catacombs of San Callistus which
turned out to be a good thing because we got off at the Catacombs of
San Sebastian and walked down the less traveled section of the road
past the Villa and Circus of Maxentius and
the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. This woman’s
name is known because of all the tombs erected on the
We continued on and had lunch at the Antica Appia Café,
another Rick Steve’s recommendation, a very nice and reasonably priced
place. Then we walked back to
the San Sebastian Catacombs and took the tour. On
our last trip to
Continuing our walk back toward
At the end of the path was the
After 2 false starts, we got bus #218 back to the
city. This bus stopped at the
We took the Metro back to the apartment just in time
to change for Mass at a local church – San Giaccomo (Joachim). The
Mass was in Italian of course and the priest was the happiest I’ve
ever seen. The church is run by the Redemptorists so
we think the names of the countries on the front of the building represent
the countries in which they have a presence.
Then we walked over to the
June 19th – Sunday – On to the
The morning was spent packing and tidying up the apartment. Annarita came
at 11 for the key and we took pictures and a video of the place narrated
by the kids. Our van picked
us up on schedule at . The ride to
After boarding we went to the Windjammer (WJ) buffet. So many choices boggled the mind. I had such a variety it was like a trip around
the world. From the mix of languages
we heard, Americans are a minority on this trip so I bet the food was
chosen to please a variety of nationalities.
We met our neighbors on the next balcony. They’re from
Dinner in the MDR was at 6. So
many choices and everything was excellent. Our
waiter Motie and his assistant Lesly were
very friendly and helpful. Jeanne & Eddie
decided to get the 7 bottle wine package. The
red we began with was very good. The
kids ate their fill and only 3 hours after lunch. There was a wide variety on the menu and along
with appetizers and desserts there were no complaints from anybody.
Eddie took the boys to check out the rock wall again
while the rest of us went to the Promenade for some shopping. I got the ship Christmas ornament I wanted. Once
back in our cabin James & Katie from the cruise critic forum visited
us. They will be with us tomorrow for the tour
Finally it was bedtime. Our
room attendant had the couch open and ready for Carrie. She and I watched TV to drown out Joe’s snoring. The
information on the ports was interesting. We
also watched most of a movie –
June 20th Monday –
This was our first full day on the ship and we wanted
to experience as many activities as possible and still have a full
As soon as allowed, we walked off the ship. The process is all computerized. They scan your sea pass as you go ashore and
again when you re-board. Our
tour guide was waiting for us right outside the gate. So
we and James & Katie got right on the road well ahead of the fleet
of tour buses all lined up.
1st stop: Mt Etna, about 1.25 hours away
and at an elevation of approximately 7000 ft. We
could see it in the distance as we drove with smoke (steam) rising
from the crater. Our guide was Ignazio Astone (Mario’s brother)
who pointed out points of interest along the way along with relevant
history. We saw the village
where the Godfather movie was filmed as well as the fortresses that
were so important to this strategic port. You
have to have nerves of steel to drive here with narrow mountain roads
to share with big tour buses.
The Silvestri crater was
amazing and we climbed up and down to get the best vantage points. Ignacio provided us with a delicious snack
of fruit tarts along with cold drinks before our volcano exploration.
We then drove back down the mountain
passing tour buses along the way and up again to the town of
Lunch was delicious and with renewed energy we proceeded
Our final stop was the town of
We really weren’t hungry after getting back to the ship so after a quick trip back to the cabin, we set out for activities.
Rock Wall: All 3 kids made it all the way to the top and rang the bell 3 times! Eddie did it too.
In-line Skating – Lots of fun on
a “track” with padded walls.
After strolling the promenade,
the kids went to play putt putt golf. It’s open 24 hrs.
Finally a TV Disney movie finished off our busy day.
June 21st Tuesday – Full Day at Sea
Morning thoughts: I
seem to be the first up each morning so like yesterday I went off in
search of coffee while everyone else slept in. In
the WJ at it’s not very
busy so I sat by the window with my coffee & croissant and talked
to a very friendly waiter from the
We set our clocks ahead 1 hour to be ready for Athens
time tomorrow so it was later than usual when we went to breakfast. No problem in the WJ. Different cultures have very different ideas
of breakfast food and they had something for everyone.
We attended the “Meet and Mingle” with people from
the CruiseCritic forum. This
was mainly so people who arranged private tours together could meet
up before hand. They had a drawing
for several small gifts and gave us each a little RCI seapass/notepad/pen
combo that hung around your neck. Carrie
made good use of hers throughout the cruise.
For lunch Joe & I opted for the MDR while everyone
else headed for the pool and WJ for a casual afternoon. Jeanne, Carrie & I attended the Ice Show
which was excellent! It’s amazing
that they could do all those tricks on such a small rink. The guys just hung around the pool and sports
deck and generally did their own thing.
We met up for dinner in the MDR at 6. It was Italian night. The staff, all 115 of then sang O Sole Mio
in Italian with 65 different accents. Joe
ate 3 desserts. So did Billy,
but his were 3 servings of Angel Food cake. After
dinner Joe & I shopped on the Promenade and got a variety of stuff. Eddie & the
kids went to the sports deck and Jeannie went to sleep early. Tomorrow
will be an early breakfast since we’re meeting our tour guide by 8.
June 22nd Wednesday – My 64th Birthday in
Up early to breakfast in the WJ. We docked at 7 and people were allowed to disembark
at . By we
made it off too. We had to take
the shuttle from terminal B to A where the cabs and guides were allowed
to wait. We found Nikos quickly
and by we were on our
way into Piraeus/Athens traffic. Nikos is an experienced knowledgeable guide who prepared
us well for the sites we were going to see and how they fit into Greek
1st stop: The
Acropolis – for us and hundreds of other people. Still it wasn’t as bad as it could be. They regularly close the site if too crowded
and there could be a 20-30 minutes wait to
enter. We observed that the sites were much more crowded
than 15 years ago. One reason
is that back then the ships were smaller, maybe 700-1200 people. Now 3000 is common
with the large ones carrying 5000. So
10,000 tourists arrived on 3 ships all at once and everyone wanted
to see the same things.
There were many more excavations than I remember 15
years ago and the museum has been moved to a larger facility off site. I wore the same dress as 15 years ago on purpose. The
site as before was most impressive. We
were able to spend as long as we wanted and then call Nikos to
pick us up. On our way to our
next stop we passed the Hotel Divani where
we stayed during our last visit.
2nd stop: We drove past the old Olympic
stadium (1896), but it was being prepared for the Special Olympics
and we couldn’t go in. Then
3rd stop: St George Church on the highest
point within the city of
4th stop: This was actually an event – the
changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace. The soldiers were dressed in traditional uniforms
from the 17th century, but carried US rifles. The slow exaggerated march was new to us. This
ceremony has been going on since 1934.
5th stop: Lunch in a restaurant where Nikos arranged seating for us and along with the owner suggested
the type of traditional Greek food we should try. Gyros – unusual in that they include a few
French fries & tomatoes – “to make it go down better,” fried goat
cheese (very good, but salty) and Greek salad.
6th stop: After lunch we toured the Agora
(Old Market). The
We called Nikos when we
were ready to leave and drove back to the ship – a full, complete and
fun day. It was nice to travel in a big AC Mercedes
van instead of a tour bus and be able to keep our own schedule.
We got back to the ship in time for a short rest before
Dinner in the MDR was excellent as usual and the wait
staff sang Happy Birthday to me with a little candle on my dessert. Afterwards we scattered to various activities.
This ship has something for everyone. One constant was the wind. It
was strong enough to blow chairs over on deck and even a glass was
rolling down the jogging track. The kids were still able to climb the rock
wall because of the safety harness, but inline skating had to close
early for safety reasons.
June 23rd Thursday – Kusadasi (
We docked in Kusadasi at
7 and easily found our guide when we walked off the ship at . It was good
to get an early start to beat the tour buses. On
the way to our first stop Yelda Celnik, our guide, told us about
the history of the area, pointed out points of interest and gave us
necessary background on what we were going to see.
1st stop: House
of the Virgin Mary – an unassuming place where even the local Muslim
culture believes was where
2nd stop: Our
very detailed tour of
3rd stop: Lunch
in the town of
4th stop: Next
we visited the Selcut museum where all the
original artifacts from
5th stop: Our
final stop was the Basilica of St. John. This once was a huge magnificent church where
it is believed
We returned to the ship, had dinner and watched our
departure. The Pacific Princess
left a little while before we did. It
looked small next to the Navigator. We
just took it easy all evening. We’ve
had 2 days of serious sightseeing.
Today’s guide was wonderful, the best so far and the
other 2 were excellent. She
even gave us all caps with the company’s logo and a small box of “Turkish
Delight” candy. We bought many souvenirs including a “Past
and Present” book of
June 24th Friday - Back
We docked at . We planned an easy beach day taking public
buses (3 Euros roundtrip) into town followed by a walk to the beach. We caught a bus at and 20 min later were in the town square. Following the map we were given along with
our bus tickets, we walked to the nearest beach called Nea Chora. This took about 20 minutes. Although we were told this beach would be crowded,
we found it almost empty at . We rented 4 “sunbeds” and
2 umbrellas for a total of 10 Euros. The
water was clear and calm since the reef in the distance protected it
from the waves of the
We could see the forum recommended beach (Chrissi Akti) or Golden Beach a
short distance away, but we were just fine where we were. Perhaps it’s more crowded on weekends or later
in the afternoon, but by when
we left, there were still plenty of sunbeds available. Some
people rented paddleboats or canoes and went out to the reef and some
were even climbing up on the rocks.
We walked back to the bus stop along the shore to
view the old Venetian harbor, fort and lighthouse. Joe & I
bought beach towels as souvenirs. The buses were crowded with people going back
to the ship. We boarded at . I’m glad we didn’t delay. “All aboard” was and the ship sailed promptly at .
Although no one missed the boat this time, we learned
that a few weeks ago 2 crew members and 1 passenger didn’t make it.
We had lunch in the WJ and this was the 1st time
it was crowded enough that we couldn’t find a table for all of us,
so we split up. Carrie and I
sat with a Spanish couple from
Tonight was formal night so we got all dressed up
as did everyone we saw in the MDR. In
fact many of the passengers seem very dressed up for dinner even on
the casual nights. Maybe the
fact that Europeans outnumber Americans 2 to 1 has something to do
After dinner we strolled around for awhile and Joe & I
attended a show. There was a cute intro audience participation warm-up
followed by a Vegas style entertainer, very personable and very skilled
on the electric guitar. He had
a nice voice too.
June 25th Saturday – At Sea – Our last day onboard
We set our clocks back 1 hour to get ready for
Carrie, Joe & I had breakfast in the MDR with
3 people from
Carrie, Jeanne & I did a mile walk for charity
with the Captain. They raised $3,000 for the Make A Wish
Foundation. Then Carrie & Jeanne
attended a demonstration of how to make those towel animals that Roy,
our cabin attendant, has been making for us. I
hovered in the background keeping an eye on the shoreline since we
were approaching the
Lunch was in the MDR. I
ordered an entrée (beef fajitas) and then decided to have a “made to
order” salad. It was HUGE, but
I ate both and dessert. I haven’t
passed up a cheesecake yet.
The afternoon was spent at various places onboard. A week ago we were just beginning to explore
and now it’s all really familiar. Once
through the strait, the wind calmed down and we passed an amazing volcanic
More packing, paperwork, accounts etc and of course
dinner. This time I actually
ate pretty light. We made our
first visit to the “
Tomorrow is a travel day. Get
up early, wait in designated departure area, leave the ship and find
luggage on the pier.
June 26th Sunday – On to
Up at . Breakfast in WJ and off the boat at . Fortunately our van was early and we were on
our way to the airport by 8. Our
driver pointed out points of interest along the way and we got to the
airport around 9. Unfortunately,
our plane didn’t board until 2 so we did a lot of sitting around.
Once we did get underway, we taxied away from the
gate only to return because of engine trouble. One
hour later the problem was declared “solved” and we took off. Carrie had a nice view of the
We got into the swing of things by taking the train
We got off at the Gare du Nord train station and found
our apartment. Jeanne did a
great job communicating with the owner’s sister in French. There isn’t any AC, but we do have Internet
which made everyone very happy.
Our first attempt at French cuisine didn’t go very
well. It was so smoky that I
couldn’t even breathe. Carrie
was sneezing and Andy said his “nose felt funny.” I
ran away to Subway for the air not the food. Andy & I
thought the sandwiches were OK, but the other adults couldn’t even
finish theirs. We can start
June 27th Monday – Our first full day in
We ate some packaged rolls Joe bought last night with
the instant coffee from
Then we went to the train station to buy maps. The line for metro tickets was huge, at least
a 30 minute wait, probably because this is a main station with lots
of people. The air was bad too. So we walked toward the city center which took
about an hour. Still that seemed
better than standing in a line smelling bad air. There’s no smoking indoors now but generations
of smoke residue will take years to clear.
1st stop: The
Church of Sainte Chapelle. It was a lucky break when Jeanne bought us
museum passes in the Tabac shop across the
street. This church was built
to house the “Crown of Thorns.” This
was a good example of a king with a lot of money to spend, but beautiful stained glass windows in both
Next door was the Hall of Justice. We toured the Conciergerie and
were introduced to a rather gruesome, creepy part of history. It was here that Marie Antoinette spent her
last days before being taken to her death.
Then on to Notre Dame, the historic, Gothic cathedral,
the center of
Next was a search for food and breathable air. I had a croissant and a coke. Yea! A tourist office explained where and how
to buy Metro card packs. We
took a double-decker train to the
We spent hours at the
Joe & I waited in the square. We ate ice cream and were interviewed for a
student video project. There
was a nice park but every shady spot seemed to have a smoker in it.
We saw cute baby ducks. I took
some allergy & decongestant pills, but it was not enough. Actually
only a small percentage of people were smoking, but they sure can foul
up the air for everyone else.
Joe sat at the exit to wait for our tower climbers
to return. I roamed the square
avoiding anyone lighting up. I
got really good at recognizing the prelims to smoking and getting away. The way I was watching people, I may have looked
like undercover security. Security
was everyway, complete with big guns. I
did get photos of the tower from absolutely every angle. People even asked me to take pictures of them.
Our climbers returned happy with photos a little more
than 2 hours after they left. It
was only so we had a good chance of finding an empty
restaurant. We found a nice
place a few blocks away. I had
a “Croque Monsieur” which is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich,
some salad and water. The cruise
weight should disappear fast at this rate. Yea!
A souvenir shop was next door with AC! It felt good in that heat. I browsed for a long time. Jeanne bought some T shirts for the kids.
We spotted a bus going to our apartment area, got
on, but somehow the last stop was still some distance away. We and the other passengers got off and waited
for the next bus. Finally home,
it was time to get ready for bed. It
stays light here until after and
with the heat, it’s hard to get to sleep. One good thing – there’s
an extra bed in the kids’ room so at least Joe’s snoring won’t keep
June 28th Tuesday
I began the day with a max dose of decongestant. Since the bakery wasn’t open this early, we
had a breakfast of packaged stuff. We
took Metro to Notre Dame where Jeanne & family climbed the tower. Joe & I walked around a bit and then visited
the ND archeological crypt, a very interesting display of the ruins
uncovered beneath the church along with a history of the civilizations
that lived there over the last 2 ½ centuries. Jeanne & family
joined us in the museum. They were lucky to be at the top of ND at just as all the bells were ringing. We
ate lunch in a nice restaurant. Most
of us had a variety of crepes.
Then we caught the bus to the Place de la Concorde
with its obelisk marking the position of the guillotine. From
there a walk down the
It started to rain as we walked back toward the
Finally we took an evening boat tour on the
As the tour ended, it was raining pretty hard, so
we took our time and let the pushy, obnoxious crowd get off first. By our turn the rain was much lighter. As we waited for the bus, we could see the
top of the light
show on the Eiffel tower, a nice way to end the day. The
bus ride was quick, no traffic. Time
to prepare for another day of sightseeing.
June 29th Wednesday
We slept in this morning and ate pastries for breakfast. Then
we walked to Sacre Coeur on
Mass was going on so we stayed for awhile, then toured
the church, the crypt and walked up the 300 steps to the Dome, even
me who has no fondness for tiny, narrow spiral staircases either up
or down. Joe supported the Benedictine’s by buying some
cards and CDs.
We did some shopping on the way back from the church
and got some nice souvenirs. Lunch was in a rather pricey restaurant,
but the food was good. There
were African dancers outside and once in a while we could see one tumble
More shopping after lunch. This is a good area for that – nice variety
and good prices. Eddie & Jeannie
bought 2 paintings from a street artist, exactly the scene that they
wanted. Then we walked back to the apartment to drop off our stuff. Joe & I bought some pastry in a local shop.
We got a later start than expected to the Louvre. Those trains
at Gare du Nord are crazy confusing. Fortunately,
the museum is open late tonight. Unfortunately, a lot of other people were taking
advantage of that too.
The place is huge, even with a map we struggled to
find the starting point of our tour-book route. We
saw a lot of antiquities discovered, bought or looted from their original
location including the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and the friezes
from the Parthenon & a lot of busts of Roman emperors. In the halls of paintings you could easily
find the important ones – the ones with the hoard of tourists in front. Still we could see & even take pictures
- Mona Lisa, Crowning of Napoleon, Liberty Leading the People etc. It would take weeks to see the whole thing. Once
again our museum pass allowed us to bypass the lines to buy tickets.
After the Louvre was our
daily search for a smoke free restaurant. Because
smoke would drift in from the sidewalk tables, we could not find anyplace
that wouldn’t make you choke. Finally,
we stopped into a CHINESE restaurant. They didn’t have sidewalk tables so the only
smoke was from pedestrians walking by the open door. The food was different than American Chinese,
somehow lighter. There was another
American family there from
Finally a ride home on good old
bus #42. Jeanne & Eddie went to the Metro to buy
our train tickets to
June 30th Thursday -
Up early and out the door before 8 to the always busy Gare du Nord station. Once
again mobs of people were rushing and pushing every which way. Once
again a pickpocket attempt. This
time Eddie was the target. They
actually got the wallet out of his pocket, but it was chained to his
belt. Thank you AAA!
We rode the RER to the end of the line and walked
to the Palace (Chateau). The
opulence of the place, the kings and queens apartments, public room,
the hall of mirrors etc. was overwhelming as the photos will show. After
the main building, we toured the extensive gardens with impressive
fountains and statuary. Louis
XIV didn’t have any ruins around so he created his own by commissioning
copies of Greek and Roman sculpture.
On the grounds there were 2 other large buildings
adorned like his and hers “mini palaces” designed to be country houses. Further along there was a working farm built
so that Marie Antoinette could recreate the feeling and setting of
her Austrian homeland. This
was very attractive.
There was even a mile long canal built so that the
Royal Family and friends could simulate the Gondolas of Venice. Now you can rent a rowboat. There were ducks, fish, swans and even a stork
in the canal and ponds on the grounds.
It took us 1 hour to walk from the interior of the grounds back to the train station. So I estimate the distance to be about 4 miles. At this point () we were getting hungry since we had lunch at . We stopped at a McDonalds – our first ‘fast food’ but sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for the leisurely pace of local dining. Plus, it didn’t seem right for everyone to use their bathroom and then not order anything, After all, they didn’t go the pay toilet route.
We all got seats on the RER train toward
Our daily search for a restaurant without smoke was
unsuccessful tonight. So we
caught good old bus #42 back to the apartment thinking we would pick
up sandwiches from one of the local shops. Oops!
Traffic was horrendous with several intersections
of actual gridlock and the trip took 1 hour which included our bus
being cleared with instructions for everyone to get on the bus behind
shops were out of sandwiches except for tuna fish. So
we stocked up on assorted croissants and pastries. Joe & I went on one more neighborhood search
and found a take-out sandwich place right across the street not visible
because the street is always full of traffic. For
6 Euros they made us big Greek style chicken sandwiches, fries and
a can of coke.
The evening was devoted to organizing, packing and
confirming travel plans. Tomorrow
we’ll be “Back in the
Extra notes: I’ve included these since there are always different experiences even by passengers on the exact same cruise.
My (short) Cruise Critic Review - http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=85256
The ship: I actually tried to look for some of the negatives that I read about on CruiseCritic.
Rust: Looking hard I could only identify a tiny bit on the edge of the balcony ceiling panel and a smidge of peeling paint on the bottom of the sliding door on the outside. Considering this is a seagoing vessel, someone is really keeping it shipshape.
Carpets: All fine as far as I could see. Perhaps if you saw the carpet when brand new, you would notice a change.
Vacuums in the hall: From some comments I was expecting commercial ‘shopvacs’. They were small and over to one side. The only way they would block our progress is if we walked 3 abreast down the hall.
Bathroom: Very efficient layout. Nice floor. No smells. Lots of thick towels.
Cabin (D1): The bed was fine. The couch opened for Carrie leaving about 2 ft of space to get by. Plenty of storage space for 3 people. The drawers and cabinet door worked fine and there were plenty of hangers.
TV: Not a flat screen, but the reception was fine so we really didn’t care.
Balcony: Glass enclosed with a nicely varnished railing furnished with 2 chairs and a small low table that Carrie used as a chair when necessary.
Room Attendant (Roy): Very friendly and helpful. We lacked nothing and Carrie enjoyed the towel animals he made, often sporting her sunglasses.
MDR: Just excellent. Among the 7 of us we tried just about every type of starter, entrée and dessert. I even ate a steak once and I hardly ever want to bother ordering once since it’s never tender enough for me. This was perfect!
WJ: So much variety I decided to pace myself better. A few dishes I didn’t care for, but they were new to me from different cultures and obviously appealed to many on board judging by their popularity with others. They do a good job of catering to the different tastes of multicultural guests.
Wait Staff: Motie and Lesly were fantastic – efficient, friendly and extra nice to the children. In the WJ the staff kept everything restocked and tables cleared which was especially difficult when everyone arrived back from tours at once. At one point I did see them scrambling to provide clean dishes. That’s a hectic way to earn a living.
Promenade: Open 24 hrs just in case you get hungry at . I brought coffee and breakfast pastry from there to our balcony most mornings – kind of a pre-breakfast while watching the sunrise. There had an assortment of sandwiches and desserts available which I sampled often as well as those big cookies.
The Wait Staff: Every single staff member we met has been friendly and helpful. Everyone just looks happy which is amazing once I realized how little they’re paid. $50 every 2 weeks. I guess room and board counts for something, but they really do depend on tips and they work hard for them. Our waiters in the MDR (Motie and Lesly) were fantastic and especially nice to the children.
Other facilities: The Sports Deck was great and not crowded the times we were there.
Pool: We got a lot of use out of this, especially Billy, and always found a loungechair.
Solarium: Joe hung out in the hot tub often whenever I went to find him, he was usually alone. Plenty of places to relax.