It all started on Friday, October 14, 2011. I left home with my packed bags at 9:30 a.m. After a few errands -â€" to the bank for a fistful of dollar bills for room service and other tipping, to the gas station to fill the tank, to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and breakfast and finally to the nail salon for a mani/pedi -â€" I was on my way to the airport. The overnight flight to Barcelona via Paris on Air France was uneventful. I tried to sleep but only managed a few hours. The 3+ hours I spend at the Paris airport is something I hope never to repeat. Haven't they heard of heat? I was freezing and the tiny cups of overpriced coffee they sell didn't help. After a short delay, I was on my way to Barcelona, where we arrived about 20 minutes late.
At Barcelona airport, I found out that the ATM machines don't work with savings accounts. Good thing I'd picked up some Euros before I left home. When my bags arrived I found that my large bag had some damage -â€" the zipper was separated from the top of the bag from the middle to one end. Luckily, nothing was missing. I adjusted the bag strap to keep everything inside and made a claim with Air France. They offered to repair or replace the bag and was given the name of a shop in Barcelona. Meanwhile, I missed my pick-up with my shuttle service and had to wait until they made their drop-offs and returned to the airport to get me. I didn't get to my hotel until 2:30 and after checking in, I found out that the luggage repair shop was closed for the day. Oh well. Good thing the bags are still under warranty. I'll deal with it when I get home.
I spent my first day in Barcelona wandering up and down Las Ramblas and finally meeting all my new friends from the CC Roll Call. I solved the ATM problem by transferring funds from my savings to my checking and got the Euros I wanted. We had dinner -â€" tapas and sangria -â€" at a restaurant across the street from the hotel (Hotel Continental) and then wandered down the street for some amazing gelato. The next morning we took the bus we'd ordered to the pier and boarded our home for the next 12 days. It was a quick and easy boarding at 11:00 -â€" no one else was there.
I spent the first day on board meeting and greeting more folks from the Roll Call, having my first DOD and enjoying a lovely lunch at the Cucina. My bags arrived and I unpacked. I was in Cabin 1210 -â€" a 1A with 2 portholes all the way forward. A lovely room, with a terrific room steward, Chris, and his assistants, Dominica and Nysom). No need for a wake up call on port days however. Good thing I'm a morning person and wanted to get up early on those days. Afterwards, I joined the gang for our nightly cocktail hour at the Plaza bar, headed to late seating for dinner and then to whatever nightly entertainment was offered. This evening schedule would be the norm for the entire cruise.
Marseilles -â€" I took the CCL tour to Arles and Aix en Provence. Loved Arles, it was just as I had hoped it would be. Had a lovely lunch at a sidewalk cafÃ©. Didn't much care for Aix -â€" much too modern and the people were not as nice as in Arles. I couldn't believe that the tourist office didn't know where we could find a restroom. Finally, another tourist helped us out.
Savona -â€" I took the CCL tour of Genoa in the morning. It was very nice and the tour guide directed us to a wonderful place for lunch that served fresh pasta with pesto -â€" a specialty of the area. I had intended to walk around Savona in the afternoon, but we got back to the ship during siesta time and I decided to stay on the ship instead since I had a full day scheduled the next day. I was hungry in the afternoon so I tried the wings at the Red Frog Pub. Yummy!
Rome -â€" I took the CCL Angels and Demons tour. Rome was packed with tourists but our guide and bus driver did a wonderful job getting us to all of the places we needed to see. The tour included lunch at a local restaurant which was very nice. Pasta definitely tastes better in Italy. As it follows the book, this tour does not hit all of the highlights of Rome -â€" it's a good thing I'll be back there next year.
Naples -â€" In the morning I did the CCL Pompeii tour. What a fascinating place. The guide was not as upbeat and friendly as the first two, but I have to say she knew her stuff and kept us well informed. In the afternoon I took a cab from the ship to the HOHO bus starting point for the flat rate of â‚¬10. I asked for a restaurant recommendation for pizza -â€" of course! They sent me to a tiny restaurant nearby where I had my first real Italian pizza. It was wonderful. Then I spend a couple of hours touring Naples on the bus. Definitely not my most favorite place. If I ever have Naples as a port again, I will be heading for the countryside. After wandering around a bit on my own, I got in a cab for the ride back to the ship where I had a not-so-pleasant adventure. This guy obviously thought he had a sucker in his cab. He pretended not to understand much English nor to know where to go. Instead of a flat rate, this cab had a meter. After driving around for 30 minutes and running up the price, I finally got him to stop near the ship by another cab. I got out of the cab and told the second driver what was going on and that I knew the price should only be â‚¬10. The two drivers conversed and I got back in the cab and was at the right place in a couple of minutes. I gave him the â‚¬10 and got out. He didn't say a word.
First Sea Day -â€" By now, I'm exhausted and fighting off a cold. I'd picked up some head cold medication the day before in Naples at a Farmacia which helped a lot, but now I also had a sore throat and a cough. I didn't want to go to the Medical Center because I didn't want to take the chance of being quarantined. So I went to the gift shop and bought the world's most expensive bottle of cough medicine -â€" 6 ounces of Vick's 44 for $17. I didn't think much of it until someone else told me they went to the Medical Center for a cough and got the same bottle for $5. I went to Guest Services to ask for an adjustment. Had the woman been (or even pretended to be) sympathetic before she said no, I would have just chalked it up as an expensive lesson. There was no need for her to have attitude about it. Now I was angrier at her than anything else. But I'm on vacation and I'm not letting anything get to me -â€" so I turned it into a joke and put it behind me. Other than that, my sea days were basically spent eating, reading, playing trivia and napping, with a little bit of shopping thrown in.
Dubrovnik -â€" Having had enough of cities and crowds, I decided to take the CCL countryside tour to the farmhouse for lunch and local entertainment. What a wonderful excursion. The people was friendly and welcoming and lunch was great. The grape brandy they give you to taste literally takes your breath away. Whew! On the way bac, we had about an hour in Dubrovnik before returning to the ship. Just enough time to walk around a bit and do some shopping.
Venice -â€" The first afternoon I took the CCL Jewish Ghetto tour. So much history there. It was absolutely fascinating. The second day, a group of us did the Doge's Palace secret tour and wandered around St. Mark's square for a while. It was colder than I had prepared for and I'm now the proud owner of a University of Venice hooded sweatshirt. After another great local lunch near the Rialto Bridge, we walked through the streets to a little local bar to meet up with friends, drink prosecco and eat delicious appetizers. I also did some shopping in the area and found the softest black leather gloves I have ever owned. And yes, I bought the obligatory mask -â€" mine is a cat.
Second Sea Day -â€" pretty much the same as the first. The adult serenity area is a great place to spend a few lazy hours. In the evening, it was nice to be able to spend time in a smoke free piano bar. The bartender, Anton, was as entertaining as the piano player.
Messina -â€" Eight of us took a private tour to Mt. Etna, a local winery, a local shop that sold honey, olives, olive oil and wine (with lots of tastings), and stops in Castlemola for lunch and finally some time in Taormina. At the winery we saw a local gentleman come in with 2 large empty containers that the winery owner filled with red and white table wine from the large tanks. One of our group had a couple of empty water bottled filled for only â‚¬ 1 each. We stopped at a field to see the lava that had flowed during the eruption in 1992. Since the weather was iffy and cloudy, we decided not to spend the time driving up to Mt. Etna, but just saw it from a distance and went on to see and do the other things.
Final Sea Day -â€" the same lazy day. Port days are so exhausting I didn't want to do much of anything on sea days. Loved the lunch choices on the Plaza Deck. The salad bar is not to be missed.
Debarkation and Barcelona -â€" Chris, my wonderful room steward, came by with a roll of duct tape and sealed up my broken bag so I could get it home. Thankfully, it didn't get opened by TSA anywhere along the line. After getting off the ship I joined a small group for a private tour of Barcelona, where we saw the highlights of the city. At the end I was dropped off at my hotel near the airport. Spent a quiet night at the hotel, chatting with other cruisers.
Saturday morning I boarded my Delta flight for NYC and then on to Dulles. Or so I thought. Snow in October? Really? Like many others my flight was cancelled and rebooked for the next day, but instead of JFK to Dulles I was now flying La Guardia to Reagan National. I spent the night at a hotel in Chinatown in Queens. Overpriced, but a nice room. Since when does a Best Western in Flushing cost $269? The bonus was the surprisingly good bowl of won ton soup at the tiny corner restaurant. Sunday morning I flew to DC. After I landed, I checked on the status of my bags and was told they were coming in later that day and would be delivered to me by 11:00 p.m. I then took the shuttle to Dulles, got my car and went home. No bags by 11:30 so I went to sleep. At 2:45 a.m. the phone rang. The bag delivery guy was on his way. The doorbell finally rang at 3:45.
And so my Magical adventure ends. I'm still unpacking and doing laundry and I haven't downloaded my pictures yet. But I should have them up on my Facebook page this weekend if all goes well.