We flew in a day early and stayed at the Renaissance by Marriott. I am a frequent guest in Marriott hotels so we had a nice upgrade. The room was large and well appointed. There was a lounge for the "elite guests" that we were able to get a good breakfast at. We stayed there for a night after the cruise as well, and it was just as nice.
We met some friends from CC for dinner at Los Caracoles restaurant near Las Ramblas. The meal was good, but we had our first experience with the slow service in Europe....definitely different! The restaurant itself is carved into an old buidling and you had to walk through about 7 rooms, and up and down 3 staircases to get to our table. It was an adventure in itself.
We also spent a day on the HOHO bus after we returned to Barcelona after the cruise. The architecture in the city is amazing. The La Sagrada Familia looks as if Gaudi had been involved in some heavy drug use, but once you go through the museum there and understand what he was trying to accomplish it made much more sense and seemed more beautiful.
We found Rome in Limo through CC and a group of 8 of us hired them. Our driver was Rafaele and he really did a good job for us. I really was interested in seeing Pompeii, but the company communicated very well and found out that there was a wildcat strike at Pompeii in the morning by the tour guides so we changed plans and went down to Positano and Sorrento in the morning instead.
Positano is on the Amalfi Coast and is gorgeous. There is a toursit shopping area, but the colors around town are beautiful. Be careful about buying anything at the stop just before you get into town, as you will find it for 1/3 the price later in the day- however the fresh fruit sold at the stand was delicious!
Sorrento is considered to be a separate coast, but it is just as pretty . We got out for an hour or so at each town and shopped in the downtown area. We also had a nice lunch in Sorrento at Tassa....Lo and behold another CC group from our ship was eating at the next table over- what a coincidence!
Pompeii was marvelous. I had originally wanted to spend 3 hours there to compromise with the 4 hours that some people had recommended and the 2 hours that is "normal". 2 hours really, really, really isn't enough if you find it interesting. I felt as if we were running from one place to another the whole time. DW was very satisfied with that amount of time as she is not as interested in the historical aspects of things as I am. Rome in Limo arranged for a guide for us- and Enzio was great. He had been giving tours in Pompeii for 45 years and was "dynamic".
To cap everything off at the end of the day there was another wildcat strike at the port. They shut down the main gate and Rafaele was in constant communication to find us another way in. What was normally a 30 minute drive from Pompeii became 1 hour, 40 minutes. We were 15 minutes past the boarding dealine- but knew we were OK because a RCCL bus was behind us. There was very stressful air of silence in the van on the way back though!
Just try to do Rome in one day! I dare you.....Once again we had a small group of CC people and used RomeCabs. Maurizio was our guide. He was full of energy and knowledge. We saw the Colosseum and all the other "touristy" sights, but there is obviously so much more to see.
We had lunch in a sidewalk cafe just outside of the Vatican. He had arranged for Felice to be our guide in the Vatican- and I think he was the best tour guide we had on the whole trip. He was very knowledgeable and patient with our stupid questions. At least he didn't try to tell us that the Sistine Chapel had been purchased by Fuji Film (like one family that we had breakfast with the next day had been told and they still believed).
Be prepared to take lots of photos, because there just isn't time to soak it all in. We need to go back, so we tossed our coins in the Trevi Fountain to make sure we could.
We once again did the small group tour with CC people. I already miss my friends Judy, Stephanie, Michelle, Rusty, Adam, Deborah, Bob, Emy, Andrew and Jessica! Never met any of these folks before, but it was wonderfull to spend time with them during our trip.
Back to Florence, we used Rome in Limo again here. Laura was our driver. We asked her to take it easy on us and not run us so hard as we were getting exhausted. As a result she changed things up for us, and it made it harder for her to not do the "normal tour", but she adapted to what we wanted and we were very pleased.
The city and countryside are gorgeous. I can understand why some people just spend their whole time in Italy in Florence. We went to a church overlooking the city for an overlook and then down to another one where I had seen that view from some of the pictures that have been posted on CC.
The highlights in the city are the churches and the museums. The Duomo is magnificent and majestic at the same time. We spent 14 Euros each just to go in and see Michaelangelo's David in the Accademia.......and it was worth every penny. It is marvelous and truly amazing to me- a non-lover of art. We didn't make the time to go through the Uffizi- but now wish we had.
We had lunch in a cafe in the Republic Square that Laura was not familiar with. The food was OK, but the service was terrible! We practically had to beg for bread, and then had to beg again for a plate to put it on! Laura has vowed her vengance on them. The Maitre D got her to come in to that cafe rather than the one that she was headed for, and she says she is going to stand out in front of the restaurant for an hour during her next tour and tell people not to eat there......and she has told the other tour drivers not to take anyone there.
To make up for it she took us to a Gelateria called La Carraia. It is a small shop and they have "real homemade" gelato- not the "industrial" style that you see all over the place. I want to franchise it and open my own shop over in the US, but my waistline won't allow it!
Different day, different CC group. We used a company called Dream-Tours here. The driver was Jean Marc and he couldn't have been nicer and more fun. The van was very comfortable.
He first took us to an overlook of the Villefranche harbor. It was breathtaking. Our next stop was in a medievel village called Eze. That was fun as the village dates back to the 12th century. There isn't much room in the streets, but is is interesting to see how things were that far back. Suffice it to say Southern California doesn't have any building that old.
Next we visited the flower market area in Nice. DW and I spent a little less time there, and instead went and dipped our toes in the Mediterranean...just something we like to do as we travel to new places. The market was pretty, but not memorable- except for those french pastries we bought.
St. Paul de Vence was the next stop. Once again, a medieval village. The walls were still surrounding the area. It is a bit of a tourist trap, but was a fun diversion. We had lunch in a shop there....did you know that you can get a piece of quiche, an open faced roast beef sandwich (um-mm) and three cans of coke for only $50? It was good, but I winced when we got the bill! Of course we paid $9 for a Big Mac in Barcelona, so it wasn't expensieve just in St. Paul.
Our final stop was Monaco. We stopped outside of town at an overlook to get an understanding of just how small it is and a bit of a history lesson about the principality. We then went into town and had our first celebrity sighting- Princess Caroline walked across the street in front of us.....just walking around the town like everyone else. The casino costs 10 euros to enter, so we didn't bother. We went and saw the palace and did a little tourist shopping then headed back to port. 90 minutes- that was about the right amount of time there.
I didn't put a rating here, because the port was too far away from being able to really see anything. We just hung out on the ship. It was not worth $175 to see anything I saw listed on the itineraries. The ship offered shuttle fare for all day for $9 per person, but we decided to just relax.