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Cruise Review Celebrity Millennium November 4-November 18, 2007 14 Day Mediterranean: Barcelona-Venice This was our first cruise and an ambitious one of 14 days. It was also our first vacation to Europe. We are in our 50's and have traveled mostly in the United States. We spent 2 full days in Barcelona before the cruise and 3 days in Venice, post cruise. The decision to take a cruise was based on many recommendations from travel sites, that a European cruise was the best value with a declining dollar. The Celebrity line was selected because of the ports, its ratings as the best of the mid range cruise ships and its reputation for very good to excellent food. The Millennium did not disappoint. We did not go on the cruise with other couples, however, we met a number of persons on line that became our cruise mates throughout the cruise. The secret is CruiseCritic.com and joining the roll call for one's cruise. Security We took the advice of many posts on how to carry valuables. We purchased a PacSaf pouchsafe 100 neck pouch for both of us. It is designed to wear inside of your shirt or blouse. We both kept a copy of our passport, ship ID, credit cards and large denomination Euros in it. We kept a wallet with only 10-20 euros and maybe a one day bus pass. My wife used a PacSaf AntiTheft Sling shoulder bag. In it was an ID, small amounts of euros, lipstick and tissue. We never had any problems and it worked perfectly. We did hear several stories of passengers having wallets stolen in ports. Language I can converse in Spanish reasonably well, although I would not use the term fluent. I did buy a phrase book and spent six weeks learning key phrases in Italian. I found the ability to request things in Spanish and Italian( and often would fill in Spanish words when I did not know the Italian word) was invaluable. I frequently was treated differently than others who did not attempt the lingua franca. Learning to say simple things such as please and thank you, or a simple greeting, goes a long way in showing respect. Airlines We used American Airlines with connecting flights in Spain with Iberia and in Italy with Alitalia. We packed with guidance from others and divided our clothes, some on our carry on and some in each others luggage. In fact, all of our luggage made it just fine. Our flights were on time in spite of some weather problems, with one understandable delay in Chicago due to sleet. The airplane food was pretty adequate and we had no complaints. Our biggest problem was of our own doing, when one of our bags was 12 pounds over the 50lb limit. AA allowed us to redistribute the weight to avoid the overcharge. We ended buying a collapsible bag in Turkey for all our souvenirs and better weight distribution. Just one note about Duty Free shops. We were considering purchasing olive oil and wine in the DF store in Rome and bringing it back on our carry on. We fortunately did not and are glad we did not. If one has a connecting flight after returning to your US entry airport, you have to go through security again. The liquids would have to be left behind for the benefit of the clean up staff but not the air traveler. The Millennium Starting with boarding in Barcelona, we had read the ships website and CC posts and determined that we were allowed to bring on board, only at the beginning, two bottles of wine which we did have. There was a sign at the baggage check in that said no alcohol. After a little confusion we ignored the sign and had my carry on scanned with the wine and no problem. To make it even more interesting there was a liquor store where you could buy any of the so called prohibited alcohol, just prior to boarding the ship. Most amusing. The check-in was smooth otherwise. We had a cabin with an ocean view on the third or Plaza deck. Having a window was a good choice and useful both at night and coming into ports. The cabin steward was excellent with great service and very personable. We were assigned the late dining which was a very late start @ 8:45, much later than we usually eat. However, we did adjust and spaced our time accordingly. We did tend to miss any dancing or shows because of it. We did go to the Main or formal dining every evening and main dining for lunches on the three sea days. The sit down breakfasts and lunches were quite leisurely. We found the informal or cafeteria dining much too congested. We thoroughly enjoyed the service and the food choices were frequently excellent. We say this coming from New Orleans, where our food expectations are high. Appetizers, soups entrees and deserts choices made for many memorable meals. Other food choices, that we enjoyed, were a healthy breakfast bar(Aqua Spa Cafe) and the sushi bar in the late afternoon. The entertainment was secondary on this cruise because of all the tours. However, there were a few programs that were excellent including a toast to Broadway, some opera arias and a piano program. Ship Amenities- The Thalasotherapy pool(no charge) which is a large hot, salt water pool was one of our favorite daily events. It was especially welcome after a long day of tours. Another surprise was that the ship stores would have sales of items frequently found in the ports of call. On several occasions the items were less expensive than the local markets. They did prove to be a bargain. There were three seminars on wine tasting that we attended that were most informative and well worth the cost of $10 for each. At Sea We very much welcomed the 3 sea days to recoup from all the touring. We had patches for seasickness but never needed them. The boat would roll on the open waters but neither of us got nauseated. Although in higher seas you might have to grab the hand rail on the stairs. Ports of Call In spite of the challenge of this being our first trip to Europe and our first cruise, we opted to do all our own planning for the ports of call. We did not use the ships tours with one exception in Rome and toured on our own, joined other small groups or contracted tours on our own. I think the ships tours can be a pretty good value since you are paying in $ and often include lunches. However, we found that independent tours gave us more flexibility, more individualized attention and on several occasions, became significantly cheaper. The secret to success was detailed planning, for this cruise it was about 4-5 months of effort. Most of it was spent researching tour guides, destinations and comments from other cruisers on Cruise Critic. Barcelona We spent two full days in Barcelona and enjoyed it immensely. We stayed at the Banys Oriental Hotel(129E) in the Old Quarter of the city. The hotel like most of Barcelona will have an old exterior with ultra-modern furnishings in black and chrome. Highly recommended. It was very nicely located and this section of town is quite charming. Architecture was similar to the New Orleans French Quarter( which is really Spanish). Lots of great tapas bars such as Taller Tapas and Sagardi. Both were reasonable and excellent food, great Rioja wine and Sangria. We also found the best gelato in Europe in this area. The nearby Picasso museum was overwhelming in the amount of works. Also nearby was the Chocolate Museum which was also entertaining. The Ramblas is also worth a lot of time. One of the highlights is the La Bouqeria or market place. It is one of the great markets of the world with lots of fresh produce, meat and candies. We used the on/off doubledecker Turista bus, however we needed to supplement with public transportation. The lines for the Turista bus at Placa Catalunya were sometimes an hour or more wait, so we sometimes took the wonderful Metro to a site and picked up the Turista bus at a later stop. This was supposed to be the off season but the crowds were pretty large. Taking both the full ride around town on the red and blue Turista line allowed us to appreciate the varied architecture in Barcelona. One footnote for bargain shoppers, a true flea market is at the Glories stop on the red line Metro. It is only on Saturday and it ends about 4pm. We got there late and were disappointed that we could not take advantage. . It is in a somewhat isolated area and you will have to follow fellow shoppers around an overgrown park to reach it. Barcelona is a young vibrant city and worth a return trip. Villefranche, Nice and Eze Village The first port required tenders to reach Villefranche. Once on shore we located the bus station(about 15 minutes) which was an up hill climb behind and above the Citadel. It was a short wait and a 20 minute ride to the Main bus station (Gare Routiere)in Nice. This is also very close to the old quarter of Nice and the flower market. My inadequate French did not hinder things for us because the bus station had the bus routes(I have copies of these) and the next departure time on the electronic bulletin board, Because of the timing we opted to transfer to the bus to Eze Village. The total cost per person one way to Eze was a couple of Euros. The ride to Eze on the public bus was spectacular with great views of the Med. Eze Village is a wonderfully quaint medieval town on the top of a small mountain overlooking the Med. We first stopped at Galimard Perfumeur and received a personal tour of how perfume is made. It is the oldest in France. The climb up to Eze Village is quite nice and there is pleasant sky garden at the top for 5 E with great views. We only had time for a quick lunch in Vieux or old Nice. Wonderful spot for a sidewalk cafe a crepe, a quiche, an Eclair and some wine. Again the architecture was a cross between Caribbean and New Orleans French Quarter. Narrow streets and lots of quaint shops. Villefranche is also a very lovely town with narrow streets and great architecture and worth time as well . Lovely views of the harbor especially while sitting in a bistro with a cappuccino. Firenze(Florence) The ship docks at Livorno approximately 1.5 hours from Firenze. We used Tuscany Tours with Paola Migliorini(www.florencetour.com). We worked the details out with Steve and Sandy and went with a group of 8. We were met fairly promptly at the port in Livornio at 8:00am by Paola's husband Giuseppi. This was a little bit of a surprise because Paola had reassured us she would be the guide. We had selected her because of great reviews of her because she was an art historian. That was one criticism of her from other CC bloggers that she sometimes contracts out to others. In spite of this we felt good to have Giuseppi who provided enormous information on the 1.5 hour ride to Florence on architecture, wine making, and what is made in each town. He restores the old homes and is also a consultant on winemaking. Quite a combo. Giuseppi took us on some of the back roads to Firenze through the Tuscany countryside. We had arranged with Paola to make reservations at the La Accademia museum and this was very important for time. This way we were able to see Michelangelo's David and his stone slaves which are equally impressive without waiting in lines. Giusseppi turned us over to professional guide Virginia Girolami at the La Accademia museo and she gave us an in depth tour and great insight into both the David and the marble slaves of Michelangelo. Virginia also brought us on a a tour of the main sections of Florence to include the Cathedral/Duomo, the Baptistery and the Ponte Vecchio. Guiseppi picked us up and brought to a park overlooking Firenze with great vistas of the city. Firenze and its Renaissance art and architecture was magnificent. Pisa After leaving Firenze, Giuseppi made a short stop in Pisa to see the leaning Bell Tower as well as the Baptistery and the Cathedral. Pisa was the great city prior to Firenze and it show its glory well. It is quaint enough to deserve a return visit. We were able to return to our ship about 5:30 after a very excellent tour. Roma(Rome) The ship docks in Civitavecchia, which is about a 1.5 hour train or 2 hour bus ride to Roma. There is a free shuttle that brings passengers from the ship to the edge of the port area. The train station is about a 15 minute walk from the shuttle drop off area. The round trip ticket was 9E and that also included the Metro and buses in Roma. An incredible bargain! The trains run about every 30 minutes, are quite comfortable and are very efficient. The trains, except an express, make a number of stops prior to the primary stop at the main terminal in Roma(Stazione Termini) and same for the return to Civitavecchia. The one drawback is if a train strike occurs which happened on our 2nd day in Roma. There are fewer trains and more congestion. We opted to take the ship's Rome on Your Own Bus because of the uncertainty. However, some braved the trains during the strike and made out just fine. One note, be sure to validate your train ticket on the day you use it. Citta Del Vaticano(Vatican City) Piazzo S Pietro(St Peters Square) is one of the stops on the train from Civitavecchia. It puts one out on the west side of Vatican City. So we had to walk along the walls until we came to St Petes Square. The Vatican can be a full day and we made it so. One great bit of CC advice was to get advance tickets for the Vatican Museum with a Vatican guide. You have to fax this request to the Vatican in advance and they confirm with a fax back to you. This prepaid 23E charge was a bargain because the guide was excellent but more important you go right to the head of the line and show the guards your fax. When you pass several thousand people in line, you realized this piece of paper was almost as valuable as your passport. The Vatican Museum has so many magnificent works of art that it would take weeks to fully appreciate it all. The guide does not take you into the Sistine Chapel(which is at the end of the tour), but does give plenty of detail about what is there. Scavi Tour We requested and were very lucky to receive approval for the Scavi Tour. Scavi means excavation and it is a separate tour that goes underneath the St Peter's Basilica to what is generally accepted as the grave of Peter, the apostle and first Pope. This excavation initially took place in the late 1930's but has been kept very low key until recent times. The Vatican is built upon the original burial ground of the Roman aristocracy. The excavation goes down to these early Roman family mausoleums and the original street of those times. It was a very unique experience which culminates in a brief viewing of the bones of Peter. The tour is obtained by an email or Fax to the Vatican Scavi Office. On the day we went there was only one English speaking tour for 15 persons. So its very limited. We ended our day by touring the Basilica of St Peter,. the largest church in the world. It has many incredible sights but foremost is Michelangelo's La Pieta. We ended our day with a short bite of pizza and cappuccino in a small bistro a few blocks away from the Vatican. It, like most bistros we ate at, were very local, reasonable and satisfying. From there we caught the Metro(subway) during rush hour to the Stazione Termini( train Station). The Metro was crowded but efficient, very attractive and easy to use. At the Stazione the marquee had one train that said Civitavecchia on bin(track) 15, but we had known from the CC posts it was supposed to be on Bin 25-28. We resisted getting on the closer train and went to Bin 26, a very long walk, and noticed many other familiar cruisers waiting for the train. The train on Bin15, which two of our friends took ended up in the wrong city. Roma II As stated earlier, because of the train strike we opted to take the Millennium' Rome on your own tour. This took longer than the train to get to Rome, but gave us 6 hours and piece of mind that we could not miss the boat with a ships tour. We were let off around the corner from St Peter's. We bought tickets for the on/off Tram bus. We were able to purchase them right on the bus, which stops at St Peters. We got off at Trevi Fountain, which is truly spectacular. We knew that it was the biggest pickpocket spot in Roma but there were more Polizi there then anywhere else we visited. After another light lunch and gelato we grabbed the Tram bus and headed to the Colosseo(coliseum) and Roman Forum. We also visited the Palatine Hills the location of the homes of the Roman aristocracy. The Forum area is quite extensive and might have been wise to have used a guide. Buying the combo tickets for everything at the Forum was helpful. At the Coliseum we did opt to use a licensed professional guide. This was a late decision and could have been a little cheaper by adding to the combo ticket. The guide was very informative but instead of 45 minutes it turned into 1.5 hours and we had to leave early. The ride through the rest of the Tram route back to the Vatican was very relaxing and enjoyable with many magnificent sights. Another wonderful day in Roma. A word about the transportation strike. There was also a demonstration which disrupted traffic significantly in the center of Rome. The Tram bus actually charged a slight discount from the usual fare because everything was taking longer. Another observation, watching the Vespas and small cars maneuver in heavy traffic was a sight to behold. The Vespas frequently looked like bees in a disturbed bee hive. Roma was intoxicating. Napoli( Naples) We joined a tour with some other cruisers with Italy Limousine (www.italylimousine.com). We were met at the port by our driver, Reno, who spirited us away through Naples and towards Pompeii. Reno was charming and the first of what the ladies described as eye candy, but more of a driver than tour guide. We frequently had to request info on sights on the ride to Pompeii. The next surprise was that we had requested Italy Limousine for a specific guide. This was to be Enzo, one mentioned in CC posts, and a well respected authority on Pompeii. We were informed that he was recovering from eye surgery and could not come. Instead, his son Sasha, Eye Candy II, poked his head into our van and he said he also could not be our guide because he was already committed.( which ended up being another of our small groups from the ship) Instead, he said we would have the Archeologist guide us. By this time we were getting a little concerned, but Giuseppi, Eye Candy III, introduces himself to our group of skeptics. As we learned over time, Giuseppi or Pepi was a ringer. He was a pupil of our original guide Enzo, but also the youngest PhD in archeology @ Oxford University. He was also a guest lecturer @ Oxford and Columbia University on Pompeii. Although we could not confirm this, his knowledge and enthusiasm of Pompeii was profound and kept our attention for hours. Guiseppi made Pompeii come alive and our appreciation of this incredible site was appreciably enriched. He also adapted himself to the pace of our group which had folks from their 50s to their 80s. A comment about persons with special needs; being in a small group that is more responsive to individual needs may be critical for a successful and enjoyable tour. We noticed a few persons falling behind in one of the 40 person ship's tours and felt they did not enjoy the sight completely. Guiseppi did not have a website or a card, but if available he could be requested from Italy Limousine. We reluctantly had to leave Pompeii, which is quite large and could easily take a full day. Amalfi Coast The second part of our day with Italy Limousine was our drive along the Amalfi Coast. This was through Sorrento to the town of Positano and Ravello. The Amalfi Coast drive is truly one of the most scenic drives in the world with spectacular views of the Mediterranean from the high cliffs above. As one drives along these narrow cliff hanging roads along the coast, we appreciated the skills of our driver Reno that much more. Driving along here is simply not a possibility for most people. Frequently the road is only 1.5 lanes in width and lots of curves. Many olive trees and citrus in the area. We picked up some lemon flavored olive oil here. After a light lunch in Positano, we headed to the mountain top town of Ravello. It is a very quaint setting and known for its pottery. We spent maybe only 45 minutes here but this was enough, and our energy level was waning. We concluded the day with a ride around the side of the mountain back to Naples and our ship. However, we did still get several good views of Mt Vesuvius before the day ended. The weather was also spectacular with incredibly blue skies all day. A truly memorable day. Athens We arrived @ the port of Piraeus, which is 25-30 minutes from Athens. We had confirmed a private tour for 4 persons with Spiros(www.athenstaxi.net) He picked us promptly at the dock @7:30 in his Mercedes taxi. Spiros is from Greece but spent many years in New York so his English is excellent. He provided lots of commentary about all that we saw. The first major stop was the Acropolis with the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. Great views, since the Acropolis is on a very high plain overlooking the city. Spiros provided us guide books to take with us for all the sights we visited. We also visited a site the apostle Paul used to preach to the Athenians, as well as the beautiful Theatre of Dionysius. Spiros brought us to the all marble Olympic stadium, the great temple of Zeus, the Roman and Greek Agoras(the ancient offices), and then to the great National Archeological Museum, which holds many of the historical treasures of Greece. Spiros took us to a very local taverna with great food and no tourists. We finished the day with a baklava and strolling on the Plaka (the old shopping area) and a viewing of the changing of the guard. We would highly recommend Spiros, he is quite reasonable and very professional. Istanbul Coming up the Bosphorus to the city of Istanbul, is a very memorable experience, especially as you view all the mosques and minaret's. Istanbul was clearly the most mysterious and exotic cities on our cruise. Because of the recent US House Committee resolution on Armenian genocide and continuing problems with addressing the Kurds on the Iraqi border, there was more than a little apprehension. However, our visit was quite memorable and worthy of a return. The people went out of their way to be friendly, especially many of the school children we encountered on our tours. They were probably better ambassadors for their country then we adults were for ours. Some of the most haunting memories are the call to prayer 5 times during the day, which is done by a live muezzin for each mosque. For our tours of the city, I contracted with Murat Gurer (http://www.guideforistanbul.com) who was highly recommended by CC users. He was a super guide and very reasonable. We had 10 persons that joined us on the tour. Murat had a separate driver in a very comfortable small bus. The ship was delayed by 2 ½ hours so we did not arrive until mid-afternoon. Murat took us to the Blue Mosque, most impressive, and then to the Grand Bazaar. As seems to be a part of all Istanbul tours, Murat brought us to one rug dealer, who had an excellent reputation, but provided the pitch for Turkish rugs. One in our party did buy a lovely rug, but I did not want to spend time on rugs, because I need hours for rug shopping. The bazaar had the sights and smells of all that we think of in an exotic place. We did buy lots of gifts. Istanbul II Murat met us very early and we headed directly to the Spice Market. We were able to purchase some spices such as saffron, cinnamon, and pilaf seasoning, but the smells were incredible. We also bought some Turkish delights that were enjoyed back home. They also have other dealers such as in the Grand Bazaar but on a smaller scale. Murat took us to a number of other marvelous sights in old Constantinople including the Topkopi Palace. This magnificent palace of the Sultan, including the Harem and living areas was something to behold. We also visited the beautiful Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian cathedral, then a Mosque in the 15th century and now a museum. Later we went to the Underground Cistern, which is truly beautiful. After a quick lunch in a local restaurant, we headed to the foreign neighborhoods near the Orient Express Hotel which was very European. Murat suggested we do this rather than going into Eastern Istanbul, because of the lost 2.5 hours. It was very unique and few tourists. We would strongly recommend Murat as a tour guide for any group. He gave us many insights into Istanbul that no mere tour could provide. Istanbul is right on the edge of major changes with 50% of the population under age 25. Mykonos We tendered to the island of Mykonos. After so much intense sightseeing the Greek islands were a welcome change of pace. We chose not to do any tours but just wander through the town and take in the sights. The Aegean Sea was beautiful blue as was the sky and some of the domes. The narrow alleys, whitewashed homes and interesting people made for a perfect day. Mykonos was an enchanting place. With a carafe of wine, a Greek salad and view of the Aegean Sea, Life is Good! There are lots of great sights as well with Little Venice, the Windmills, and an immense number of Greek Orthodox churches. The walking was quite leisurely and we will certainly return to Mykonos. Santorini We tendered to the port of Fira. The town of Fira is some 750'+ above the port. We took the vernacular to make it to the top. Great views on the way. We opted to take a public bus to the town of Oia on the tip of the island. The hardest part was finding the bus station in Fira. The fare was all of 1.4E each way. The long ride along the high ridge gave a beautiful view of the island and the Aegean Sea. It was yet another cloudless day. Oia is a small village with great view of the Aegean, blue domes, whitewashed homes and lots of donkeys to carry the loads up the steep steps. A great place to spend time and catch the sunsets. We headed back to Fira and had a lovely lunch at the Zafora Restaurant. Another great Greek salad and a great white Santorini wine, but the view of the Aegea was incredible. The town of Fira has great views of the Aegean, but does not have the ambiance of Mykonos or Oia. We opted to walk the 750 steps down to the port and it was actually quite doable. The views on the way down were magnificent. For both Islands a single long or short sleeve shirt was sufficient. Venezia(Venice) The ship pulled into Venice while it was still dark and it was quite beautiful. We were able to negotiate an early departure from the ship. There was no official transportation into Venice from the ship. A transport brought us from ship to the Port building. At the port we learned that there was a service that would transport each piece of luggage for 5E to ones hotel. We took advantage and then located another transport that did drive us from the port to the Piazza Roma, where we took a Vaporetta to our hotel. ( this free transport did have the Millennium on its marquee, but the ship never mentioned it). Thus for a price of 6E each for the Vaporetti and 10 E for the baggage we were able to get to our hotel. The other option was a water taxi at between 100-150E. The weather was in the mid 30's and misting for our first day in Venice. It did warm up some on the first day possibly into the low 50s. We spent a total of 3 days in Venice. Two nights we stayed at a small hotel in Venice and the third night was spent in the town of Mestre, a suburb of Venice but closer to the airport. The hotel was the Locanda Fiorita, which was closest to the Piazza Santo Stefano and the Saint Angelo Vaporetto stop. It was half the cost of the other lodging(129E), wonderfully located away from the heavy tourist areas and a short 15-20 minute walk to Piazza San Marco, or Rialto Bridge, or the Accademia. The room had lots of Venetian charm and a nice breakfast of croissants, juice and cappuccino. The Piazza Santo Stefano had several moderately priced trattorias, which we visited and enjoyed immensely. We visited the La Accademia museum after a light lunch, which had many religious works of art from the Renaissance. The cold weather and a long day called for an early turn in. Venezia II We started our day with a wonderful walk to the Piazza San Marco. It was very sparsely crowded that morning. It was chilly but a very clear day. We met our friend from the Millennium, Steve and Sandy and picked up a combination ticket for the Doges Palace at the Museo Correr-no wait. We headed to the Doges Palace which was overwhelming.-magnificent architecture and artwork. There is so much there that it could easily take more than the 2.5 hours we spent. It is comparable to the Vatican museum in its scope. We did spend some time in the Museo Correr which also had many works of art. We concluded the first half of the day by spending some time in the Basilica of San Marco. It is a magnificent building and the views from the upper floors are really special. It is also worth the extra euros to take the short tour behind the altar with the tomb of Santo Marco and the incredible gold altar. The famous Bronze Horses are there as well as a balcony view of the Piazza. After regrouping at lunch we headed to the Rialto Bridge and some shopping. One surprise was that prices along the Rialto Bridge market were actually cheaper than other cities we visited, including the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We ended the touring part of our day by taking a gondola ride with the four of us. The total was 80E for about 40 minutes, but in sum it was well worth it. Our gondolier was third generation and although only 25, he knew plenty about the city. We also timed it close to sunset so we got both some areas in the daylight and at night. A great adventure! We ended the day by buying some wonderful sandwiches and pairing it with our last Rioja wine from Barcelona. Venezia III We bought an all day vaporetto pass(15E) and headed to the island of Murano. It does take a lot of stops but it gives one a chance to fully appreciate the total Venice and how surrounded it is by water. We did get to see two different demonstrations of glass blowing in Murano, which was most informative. When it came to purchasing glass frequently it was hard to tell which were actually Murano glass and which were copies. Several dealers showed us their books of Murano stickers. We did buy some small pieces of jewelry. Murano itself is worth the ride because it is Venice without the crowds. We headed back to our hotel to retrieve luggage. One thing I enjoyed about the vaporetto rides was that we would head to the very back of the boat which had a few outside chairs. Bundled up, this was a great adventure each time. On a couple of occasions, after a short conversation in Italian, a local would point out specific sights and explain them to us, fortunately in English. This was some of our favorite moments We decided to spend our third night in the city of Mestre. It was on the mainland and close to the airport. We had a very early flight and a water taxi was going to cost us 150E. After discussion with the hotel staff, we decided to haul our 3 pieces of luggage and a backpack on the vaporetto. We timed it a 3:00 so it avoided the rush hour. Even with all of this luggage the vaporetto staff only smiled and waived us on. We got off at the Ferrovia stop and went right to the Stazione Treni(Train Station). We caught the train to Mestre for about 4 E each and then went one block to our hotel. The Golden Tulip Tritone Hotel (89E) was easily accessible from the Mestre station. Our biggest challenge was bringing the luggage up the stairs at the train station. We could not find an elevator, but there must have been one there. Our next important task in Mestre was to locate the airport bus which was one short block down from the train station. This one of the reasons we stayed at the Tritone, its excellent location for transportation. We talked with some other tourists who stayed there and took the bus into Piazza Roma We bought our advance tickets for 3.5E each and caught our bus in the morning promptly at 0530 for our 20 minute ride to the airport. It worked like a charm( a cab ride would have been 35-40 E). We did do a little shopping while waiting for the restaurant to open that evening. We were able to find two magnificent pieces of Murano glass for very reasonable prices. One piece did have a minor flaw, but it did not matter. The hotel recommended a neighborhood restaurant called Ristorante MorO. For 36E we had an extraordinary meal with ½ carafe of house wine and the most extraordinary dessert. A fitting end to our extraordinary trip. P.S. We do have two albums of pictures on Shutterfly. If anyone wants to view them I can forward the website information.

Millenium Classic Mediterranean Cruise

Celebrity Millennium Cruise Review by Wicked w

Trip Details
Cruise Review Celebrity Millennium November 4-November 18, 2007 14 Day Mediterranean: Barcelona-Venice
This was our first cruise and an ambitious one of 14 days. It was also our first vacation to Europe. We are in our 50's and have traveled mostly in the United States. We spent 2 full days in Barcelona before the cruise and 3 days in Venice, post cruise. The decision to take a cruise was based on many recommendations from travel sites, that a European cruise was the best value with a declining dollar. The Celebrity line was selected because of the ports, its ratings as the best of the mid range cruise ships and its reputation for very good to excellent food. The Millennium did not disappoint. We did not go on the cruise with other couples, however, we met a number of persons on line that became our cruise mates throughout the cruise. The secret is CruiseCritic.com and joining the roll call for one's cruise.
Security
We took the advice of many posts on how to carry valuables. We purchased a PacSaf pouchsafe 100 neck pouch for both of us. It is designed to wear inside of your shirt or blouse. We both kept a copy of our passport, ship ID, credit cards and large denomination Euros in it. We kept a wallet with only 10-20 euros and maybe a one day bus pass. My wife used a PacSaf AntiTheft Sling shoulder bag. In it was an ID, small amounts of euros, lipstick and tissue. We never had any problems and it worked perfectly. We did hear several stories of passengers having wallets stolen in ports.
Language
I can converse in Spanish reasonably well, although I would not use the term fluent. I did buy a phrase book and spent six weeks learning key phrases in Italian. I found the ability to request things in Spanish and Italian( and often would fill in Spanish words when I did not know the Italian word) was invaluable. I frequently was treated differently than others who did not attempt the lingua franca. Learning to say simple things such as please and thank you, or a simple greeting, goes a long way in showing respect.
Airlines
We used American Airlines with connecting flights in Spain with Iberia and in Italy with Alitalia. We packed with guidance from others and divided our clothes, some on our carry on and some in each others luggage. In fact, all of our luggage made it just fine. Our flights were on time in spite of some weather problems, with one understandable delay in Chicago due to sleet. The airplane food was pretty adequate and we had no complaints. Our biggest problem was of our own doing, when one of our bags was 12 pounds over the 50lb limit. AA allowed us to redistribute the weight to avoid the overcharge. We ended buying a collapsible bag in Turkey for all our souvenirs and better weight distribution. Just one note about Duty Free shops. We were considering purchasing olive oil and wine in the DF store in Rome and bringing it back on our carry on. We fortunately did not and are glad we did not. If one has a connecting flight after returning to your US entry airport, you have to go through security again. The liquids would have to be left behind for the benefit of the clean up staff but not the air traveler.
The Millennium
Starting with boarding in Barcelona, we had read the ships website and CC posts and determined that we were allowed to bring on board, only at the beginning, two bottles of wine which we did have. There was a sign at the baggage check in that said no alcohol. After a little confusion we ignored the sign and had my carry on scanned with the wine and no problem. To make it even more interesting there was a liquor store where you could buy any of the so called prohibited alcohol, just prior to boarding the ship. Most amusing. The check-in was smooth otherwise.
We had a cabin with an ocean view on the third or Plaza deck. Having a window was a good choice and useful both at night and coming into ports. The cabin steward was excellent with great service and very personable. We were assigned the late dining which was a very late start @ 8:45, much later than we usually eat. However, we did adjust and spaced our time accordingly. We did tend to miss any dancing or shows because of it. We did go to the Main or formal dining every evening and main dining for lunches on the three sea days. The sit down breakfasts and lunches were quite leisurely. We found the informal or cafeteria dining much too congested. We thoroughly enjoyed the service and the food choices were frequently excellent. We say this coming from New Orleans, where our food expectations are high. Appetizers, soups entrees and deserts choices made for many memorable meals. Other food choices, that we enjoyed, were a healthy breakfast bar(Aqua Spa Cafe) and the sushi bar in the late afternoon.
The entertainment was secondary on this cruise because of all the tours. However, there were a few programs that were excellent including a toast to Broadway, some opera arias and a piano program.
Ship Amenities- The Thalasotherapy pool(no charge) which is a large hot, salt water pool was one of our favorite daily events. It was especially welcome after a long day of tours. Another surprise was that the ship stores would have sales of items frequently found in the ports of call. On several occasions the items were less expensive than the local markets. They did prove to be a bargain. There were three seminars on wine tasting that we attended that were most informative and well worth the cost of $10 for each.
At Sea We very much welcomed the 3 sea days to recoup from all the touring. We had patches for seasickness but never needed them. The boat would roll on the open waters but neither of us got nauseated. Although in higher seas you might have to grab the hand rail on the stairs.
Ports of Call
In spite of the challenge of this being our first trip to Europe and our first cruise, we opted to do all our own planning for the ports of call. We did not use the ships tours with one exception in Rome and toured on our own, joined other small groups or contracted tours on our own. I think the ships tours can be a pretty good value since you are paying in $ and often include lunches. However, we found that independent tours gave us more flexibility, more individualized attention and on several occasions, became significantly cheaper. The secret to success was detailed planning, for this cruise it was about 4-5 months of effort. Most of it was spent researching tour guides, destinations and comments from other cruisers on Cruise Critic.
Barcelona
We spent two full days in Barcelona and enjoyed it immensely. We stayed at the Banys Oriental Hotel(129E) in the Old Quarter of the city. The hotel like most of Barcelona will have an old exterior with ultra-modern furnishings in black and chrome. Highly recommended. It was very nicely located and this section of town is quite charming. Architecture was similar to the New Orleans French Quarter( which is really Spanish). Lots of great tapas bars such as Taller Tapas and Sagardi. Both were reasonable and excellent food, great Rioja wine and Sangria. We also found the best gelato in Europe in this area. The nearby Picasso museum was overwhelming in the amount of works. Also nearby was the Chocolate Museum which was also entertaining.
The Ramblas is also worth a lot of time. One of the highlights is the La Bouqeria or market place. It is one of the great markets of the world with lots of fresh produce, meat and candies. We used the on/off doubledecker Turista bus, however we needed to supplement with public transportation. The lines for the Turista bus at Placa Catalunya were sometimes an hour or more wait, so we sometimes took the wonderful Metro to a site and picked up the Turista bus at a later stop. This was supposed to be the off season but the crowds were pretty large. Taking both the full ride around town on the red and blue Turista line allowed us to appreciate the varied architecture in Barcelona. One footnote for bargain shoppers, a true flea market is at the Glories stop on the red line Metro. It is only on Saturday and it ends about 4pm. We got there late and were disappointed that we could not take advantage. . It is in a somewhat isolated area and you will have to follow fellow shoppers around an overgrown park to reach it. Barcelona is a young vibrant city and worth a return trip. Villefranche, Nice and Eze Village
The first port required tenders to reach Villefranche. Once on shore we located the bus station(about 15 minutes) which was an up hill climb behind and above the Citadel. It was a short wait and a 20 minute ride to the Main bus station (Gare Routiere)in Nice. This is also very close to the old quarter of Nice and the flower market. My inadequate French did not hinder things for us because the bus station had the bus routes(I have copies of these) and the next departure time on the electronic bulletin board, Because of the timing we opted to transfer to the bus to Eze Village. The total cost per person one way to Eze was a couple of Euros. The ride to Eze on the public bus was spectacular with great views of the Med.
Eze Village is a wonderfully quaint medieval town on the top of a small mountain overlooking the Med. We first stopped at Galimard Perfumeur and received a personal tour of how perfume is made. It is the oldest in France. The climb up to Eze Village is quite nice and there is pleasant sky garden at the top for 5 E with great views.
We only had time for a quick lunch in Vieux or old Nice. Wonderful spot for a sidewalk cafe a crepe, a quiche, an Eclair and some wine. Again the architecture was a cross between Caribbean and New Orleans French Quarter. Narrow streets and lots of quaint shops. Villefranche is also a very lovely town with narrow streets and great architecture and worth time as well . Lovely views of the harbor especially while sitting in a bistro with a cappuccino.
Firenze(Florence)
The ship docks at Livorno approximately 1.5 hours from Firenze. We used Tuscany Tours with Paola Migliorini(www.florencetour.com). We worked the details out with Steve and Sandy and went with a group of 8. We were met fairly promptly at the port in Livornio at 8:00am by Paola's husband Giuseppi. This was a little bit of a surprise because Paola had reassured us she would be the guide. We had selected her because of great reviews of her because she was an art historian. That was one criticism of her from other CC bloggers that she sometimes contracts out to others. In spite of this we felt good to have Giuseppi who provided enormous information on the 1.5 hour ride to Florence on architecture, wine making, and what is made in each town. He restores the old homes and is also a consultant on winemaking. Quite a combo. Giuseppi took us on some of the back roads to Firenze through the Tuscany countryside. We had arranged with Paola to make reservations at the La Accademia museum and this was very important for time. This way we were able to see Michelangelo's David and his stone slaves which are equally impressive without waiting in lines.
Giusseppi turned us over to professional guide Virginia Girolami at the La Accademia museo and she gave us an in depth tour and great insight into both the David and the marble slaves of Michelangelo. Virginia also brought us on a a tour of the main sections of Florence to include the Cathedral/Duomo, the Baptistery and the Ponte Vecchio. Guiseppi picked us up and brought to a park overlooking Firenze with great vistas of the city. Firenze and its Renaissance art and architecture was magnificent.
Pisa
After leaving Firenze, Giuseppi made a short stop in Pisa to see the leaning Bell Tower as well as the Baptistery and the Cathedral. Pisa was the great city prior to Firenze and it show its glory well. It is quaint enough to deserve a return visit. We were able to return to our ship about 5:30 after a very excellent tour.
Roma(Rome)
The ship docks in Civitavecchia, which is about a 1.5 hour train or 2 hour bus ride to Roma. There is a free shuttle that brings passengers from the ship to the edge of the port area. The train station is about a 15 minute walk from the shuttle drop off area. The round trip ticket was 9E and that also included the Metro and buses in Roma. An incredible bargain! The trains run about every 30 minutes, are quite comfortable and are very efficient. The trains, except an express, make a number of stops prior to the primary stop at the main terminal in Roma(Stazione Termini) and same for the return to Civitavecchia. The one drawback is if a train strike occurs which happened on our 2nd day in Roma. There are fewer trains and more congestion. We opted to take the ship's Rome on Your Own Bus because of the uncertainty. However, some braved the trains during the strike and made out just fine. One note, be sure to validate your train ticket on the day you use it.
Citta Del Vaticano(Vatican City)
Piazzo S Pietro(St Peters Square) is one of the stops on the train from Civitavecchia. It puts one out on the west side of Vatican City. So we had to walk along the walls until we came to St Petes Square. The Vatican can be a full day and we made it so. One great bit of CC advice was to get advance tickets for the Vatican Museum with a Vatican guide. You have to fax this request to the Vatican in advance and they confirm with a fax back to you. This prepaid 23E charge was a bargain because the guide was excellent but more important you go right to the head of the line and show the guards your fax. When you pass several thousand people in line, you realized this piece of paper was almost as valuable as your passport. The Vatican Museum has so many magnificent works of art that it would take weeks to fully appreciate it all. The guide does not take you into the Sistine Chapel(which is at the end of the tour), but does give plenty of detail about what is there.
Scavi Tour
We requested and were very lucky to receive approval for the Scavi Tour. Scavi means excavation and it is a separate tour that goes underneath the St Peter's Basilica to what is generally accepted as the grave of Peter, the apostle and first Pope. This excavation initially took place in the late 1930's but has been kept very low key until recent times. The Vatican is built upon the original burial ground of the Roman aristocracy. The excavation goes down to these early Roman family mausoleums and the original street of those times. It was a very unique experience which culminates in a brief viewing of the bones of Peter. The tour is obtained by an email or Fax to the Vatican Scavi Office. On the day we went there was only one English speaking tour for 15 persons. So its very limited.
We ended our day by touring the Basilica of St Peter,. the largest church in the world. It has many incredible sights but foremost is Michelangelo's La Pieta. We ended our day with a short bite of pizza and cappuccino in a small bistro a few blocks away from the Vatican. It, like most bistros we ate at, were very local, reasonable and satisfying. From there we caught the Metro(subway) during rush hour to the Stazione Termini( train Station). The Metro was crowded but efficient, very attractive and easy to use. At the Stazione the marquee had one train that said Civitavecchia on bin(track) 15, but we had known from the CC posts it was supposed to be on Bin 25-28. We resisted getting on the closer train and went to Bin 26, a very long walk, and noticed many other familiar cruisers waiting for the train. The train on Bin15, which two of our friends took ended up in the wrong city.
Roma II
As stated earlier, because of the train strike we opted to take the Millennium' Rome on your own tour. This took longer than the train to get to Rome, but gave us 6 hours and piece of mind that we could not miss the boat with a ships tour. We were let off around the corner from St Peter's. We bought tickets for the on/off Tram bus. We were able to purchase them right on the bus, which stops at St Peters. We got off at Trevi Fountain, which is truly spectacular. We knew that it was the biggest pickpocket spot in Roma but there were more Polizi there then anywhere else we visited. After another light lunch and gelato we grabbed the Tram bus and headed to the Colosseo(coliseum) and Roman Forum. We also visited the Palatine Hills the location of the homes of the Roman aristocracy. The Forum area is quite extensive and might have been wise to have used a guide. Buying the combo tickets for everything at the Forum was helpful. At the Coliseum we did opt to use a licensed professional guide. This was a late decision and could have been a little cheaper by adding to the combo ticket. The guide was very informative but instead of 45 minutes it turned into 1.5 hours and we had to leave early.
The ride through the rest of the Tram route back to the Vatican was very relaxing and enjoyable with many magnificent sights. Another wonderful day in Roma. A word about the transportation strike. There was also a demonstration which disrupted traffic significantly in the center of Rome. The Tram bus actually charged a slight discount from the usual fare because everything was taking longer. Another observation, watching the Vespas and small cars maneuver in heavy traffic was a sight to behold. The Vespas frequently looked like bees in a disturbed bee hive. Roma was intoxicating.
Napoli( Naples)
We joined a tour with some other cruisers with Italy Limousine (www.italylimousine.com). We were met at the port by our driver, Reno, who spirited us away through Naples and towards Pompeii. Reno was charming and the first of what the ladies described as eye candy, but more of a driver than tour guide. We frequently had to request info on sights on the ride to Pompeii. The next surprise was that we had requested Italy Limousine for a specific guide. This was to be Enzo, one mentioned in CC posts, and a well respected authority on Pompeii. We were informed that he was recovering from eye surgery and could not come. Instead, his son Sasha, Eye Candy II, poked his head into our van and he said he also could not be our guide because he was already committed.( which ended up being another of our small groups from the ship) Instead, he said we would have the Archeologist guide us. By this time we were getting a little concerned, but Giuseppi, Eye Candy III, introduces himself to our group of skeptics. As we learned over time, Giuseppi or Pepi was a ringer. He was a pupil of our original guide Enzo, but also the youngest PhD in archeology @ Oxford University. He was also a guest lecturer @ Oxford and Columbia University on Pompeii. Although we could not confirm this, his knowledge and enthusiasm of Pompeii was profound and kept our attention for hours.
Guiseppi made Pompeii come alive and our appreciation of this incredible site was appreciably enriched. He also adapted himself to the pace of our group which had folks from their 50s to their 80s. A comment about persons with special needs; being in a small group that is more responsive to individual needs may be critical for a successful and enjoyable tour. We noticed a few persons falling behind in one of the 40 person ship's tours and felt they did not enjoy the sight completely. Guiseppi did not have a website or a card, but if available he could be requested from Italy Limousine. We reluctantly had to leave Pompeii, which is quite large and could easily take a full day.
Amalfi Coast
The second part of our day with Italy Limousine was our drive along the Amalfi Coast. This was through Sorrento to the town of Positano and Ravello. The Amalfi Coast drive is truly one of the most scenic drives in the world with spectacular views of the Mediterranean from the high cliffs above. As one drives along these narrow cliff hanging roads along the coast, we appreciated the skills of our driver Reno that much more. Driving along here is simply not a possibility for most people. Frequently the road is only 1.5 lanes in width and lots of curves. Many olive trees and citrus in the area. We picked up some lemon flavored olive oil here. After a light lunch in Positano, we headed to the mountain top town of Ravello. It is a very quaint setting and known for its pottery. We spent maybe only 45 minutes here but this was enough, and our energy level was waning. We concluded the day with a ride around the side of the mountain back to Naples and our ship. However, we did still get several good views of Mt Vesuvius before the day ended. The weather was also spectacular with incredibly blue skies all day. A truly memorable day.
Athens
We arrived @ the port of Piraeus, which is 25-30 minutes from Athens. We had confirmed a private tour for 4 persons with Spiros(www.athenstaxi.net) He picked us promptly at the dock @7:30 in his Mercedes taxi. Spiros is from Greece but spent many years in New York so his English is excellent. He provided lots of commentary about all that we saw. The first major stop was the Acropolis with the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. Great views, since the Acropolis is on a very high plain overlooking the city. Spiros provided us guide books to take with us for all the sights we visited. We also visited a site the apostle Paul used to preach to the Athenians, as well as the beautiful Theatre of Dionysius. Spiros brought us to the all marble Olympic stadium, the great temple of Zeus, the Roman and Greek Agoras(the ancient offices), and then to the great National Archeological Museum, which holds many of the historical treasures of Greece. Spiros took us to a very local taverna with great food and no tourists. We finished the day with a baklava and strolling on the Plaka (the old shopping area) and a viewing of the changing of the guard. We would highly recommend Spiros, he is quite reasonable and very professional.
Istanbul
Coming up the Bosphorus to the city of Istanbul, is a very memorable experience, especially as you view all the mosques and minaret's. Istanbul was clearly the most mysterious and exotic cities on our cruise. Because of the recent US House Committee resolution on Armenian genocide and continuing problems with addressing the Kurds on the Iraqi border, there was more than a little apprehension. However, our visit was quite memorable and worthy of a return. The people went out of their way to be friendly, especially many of the school children we encountered on our tours. They were probably better ambassadors for their country then we adults were for ours. Some of the most haunting memories are the call to prayer 5 times during the day, which is done by a live muezzin for each mosque.
For our tours of the city, I contracted with Murat Gurer (http://www.guideforistanbul.com) who was highly recommended by CC users. He was a super guide and very reasonable. We had 10 persons that joined us on the tour. Murat had a separate driver in a very comfortable small bus. The ship was delayed by 2 ½ hours so we did not arrive until mid-afternoon. Murat took us to the Blue Mosque, most impressive, and then to the Grand Bazaar. As seems to be a part of all Istanbul tours, Murat brought us to one rug dealer, who had an excellent reputation, but provided the pitch for Turkish rugs. One in our party did buy a lovely rug, but I did not want to spend time on rugs, because I need hours for rug shopping. The bazaar had the sights and smells of all that we think of in an exotic place. We did buy lots of gifts.
Istanbul II
Murat met us very early and we headed directly to the Spice Market. We were able to purchase some spices such as saffron, cinnamon, and pilaf seasoning, but the smells were incredible. We also bought some Turkish delights that were enjoyed back home. They also have other dealers such as in the Grand Bazaar but on a smaller scale. Murat took us to a number of other marvelous sights in old Constantinople including the Topkopi Palace. This magnificent palace of the Sultan, including the Harem and living areas was something to behold. We also visited the beautiful Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian cathedral, then a Mosque in the 15th century and now a museum. Later we went to the Underground Cistern, which is truly beautiful. After a quick lunch in a local restaurant, we headed to the foreign neighborhoods near the Orient Express Hotel which was very European. Murat suggested we do this rather than going into Eastern Istanbul, because of the lost 2.5 hours. It was very unique and few tourists. We would strongly recommend Murat as a tour guide for any group. He gave us many insights into Istanbul that no mere tour could provide. Istanbul is right on the edge of major changes with 50% of the population under age 25.
Mykonos
We tendered to the island of Mykonos. After so much intense sightseeing the Greek islands were a welcome change of pace. We chose not to do any tours but just wander through the town and take in the sights. The Aegean Sea was beautiful blue as was the sky and some of the domes. The narrow alleys, whitewashed homes and interesting people made for a perfect day. Mykonos was an enchanting place. With a carafe of wine, a Greek salad and view of the Aegean Sea, Life is Good! There are lots of great sights as well with Little Venice, the Windmills, and an immense number of Greek Orthodox churches. The walking was quite leisurely and we will certainly return to Mykonos.
Santorini
We tendered to the port of Fira. The town of Fira is some 750'+ above the port. We took the vernacular to make it to the top. Great views on the way. We opted to take a public bus to the town of Oia on the tip of the island. The hardest part was finding the bus station in Fira. The fare was all of 1.4E each way. The long ride along the high ridge gave a beautiful view of the island and the Aegean Sea. It was yet another cloudless day. Oia is a small village with great view of the Aegean, blue domes, whitewashed homes and lots of donkeys to carry the loads up the steep steps. A great place to spend time and catch the sunsets. We headed back to Fira and had a lovely lunch at the Zafora Restaurant. Another great Greek salad and a great white Santorini wine, but the view of the Aegea was incredible. The town of Fira has great views of the Aegean, but does not have the ambiance of Mykonos or Oia. We opted to walk the 750 steps down to the port and it was actually quite doable. The views on the way down were magnificent.
For both Islands a single long or short sleeve shirt was sufficient.
Venezia(Venice) The ship pulled into Venice while it was still dark and it was quite beautiful. We were able to negotiate an early departure from the ship. There was no official transportation into Venice from the ship. A transport brought us from ship to the Port building. At the port we learned that there was a service that would transport each piece of luggage for 5E to ones hotel. We took advantage and then located another transport that did drive us from the port to the Piazza Roma, where we took a Vaporetta to our hotel. ( this free transport did have the Millennium on its marquee, but the ship never mentioned it). Thus for a price of 6E each for the Vaporetti and 10 E for the baggage we were able to get to our hotel. The other option was a water taxi at between 100-150E. The weather was in the mid 30's and misting for our first day in Venice. It did warm up some on the first day possibly into the low 50s. We spent a total of 3 days in Venice. Two nights we stayed at a small hotel in Venice and the third night was spent in the town of Mestre, a suburb of Venice but closer to the airport. The hotel was the Locanda Fiorita, which was closest to the Piazza Santo Stefano and the Saint Angelo Vaporetto stop. It was half the cost of the other lodging(129E), wonderfully located away from the heavy tourist areas and a short 15-20 minute walk to Piazza San Marco, or Rialto Bridge, or the Accademia. The room had lots of Venetian charm and a nice breakfast of croissants, juice and cappuccino. The Piazza Santo Stefano had several moderately priced trattorias, which we visited and enjoyed immensely. We visited the La Accademia museum after a light lunch, which had many religious works of art from the Renaissance. The cold weather and a long day called for an early turn in.
Venezia II
We started our day with a wonderful walk to the Piazza San Marco. It was very sparsely crowded that morning. It was chilly but a very clear day. We met our friend from the Millennium, Steve and Sandy and picked up a combination ticket for the Doges Palace at the Museo Correr-no wait. We headed to the Doges Palace which was overwhelming.-magnificent architecture and artwork. There is so much there that it could easily take more than the 2.5 hours we spent. It is comparable to the Vatican museum in its scope. We did spend some time in the Museo Correr which also had many works of art. We concluded the first half of the day by spending some time in the Basilica of San Marco. It is a magnificent building and the views from the upper floors are really special. It is also worth the extra euros to take the short tour behind the altar with the tomb of Santo Marco and the incredible gold altar. The famous Bronze Horses are there as well as a balcony view of the Piazza. After regrouping at lunch we headed to the Rialto Bridge and some shopping. One surprise was that prices along the Rialto Bridge market were actually cheaper than other cities we visited, including the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We ended the touring part of our day by taking a gondola ride with the four of us. The total was 80E for about 40 minutes, but in sum it was well worth it. Our gondolier was third generation and although only 25, he knew plenty about the city. We also timed it close to sunset so we got both some areas in the daylight and at night. A great adventure! We ended the day by buying some wonderful sandwiches and pairing it with our last Rioja wine from Barcelona.
Venezia III
We bought an all day vaporetto pass(15E) and headed to the island of Murano. It does take a lot of stops but it gives one a chance to fully appreciate the total Venice and how surrounded it is by water. We did get to see two different demonstrations of glass blowing in Murano, which was most informative. When it came to purchasing glass frequently it was hard to tell which were actually Murano glass and which were copies. Several dealers showed us their books of Murano stickers. We did buy some small pieces of jewelry. Murano itself is worth the ride because it is Venice without the crowds. We headed back to our hotel to retrieve luggage. One thing I enjoyed about the vaporetto rides was that we would head to the very back of the boat which had a few outside chairs. Bundled up, this was a great adventure each time. On a couple of occasions, after a short conversation in Italian, a local would point out specific sights and explain them to us, fortunately in English. This was some of our favorite moments
We decided to spend our third night in the city of Mestre. It was on the mainland and close to the airport. We had a very early flight and a water taxi was going to cost us 150E. After discussion with the hotel staff, we decided to haul our 3 pieces of luggage and a backpack on the vaporetto. We timed it a 3:00 so it avoided the rush hour. Even with all of this luggage the vaporetto staff only smiled and waived us on. We got off at the Ferrovia stop and went right to the Stazione Treni(Train Station). We caught the train to Mestre for about 4 E each and then went one block to our hotel. The Golden Tulip Tritone Hotel (89E) was easily accessible from the Mestre station. Our biggest challenge was bringing the luggage up the stairs at the train station. We could not find an elevator, but there must have been one there. Our next important task in Mestre was to locate the airport bus which was one short block down from the train station. This one of the reasons we stayed at the Tritone, its excellent location for transportation. We talked with some other tourists who stayed there and took the bus into Piazza Roma We bought our advance tickets for 3.5E each and caught our bus in the morning promptly at 0530 for our 20 minute ride to the airport. It worked like a charm( a cab ride would have been 35-40 E).
We did do a little shopping while waiting for the restaurant to open that evening. We were able to find two magnificent pieces of Murano glass for very reasonable prices. One piece did have a minor flaw, but it did not matter. The hotel recommended a neighborhood restaurant called Ristorante MorO. For 36E we had an extraordinary meal with ½ carafe of house wine and the most extraordinary dessert. A fitting end to our extraordinary trip.
P.S. We do have two albums of pictures on Shutterfly. If anyone wants to view them I can forward the website information.
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