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Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Our Amazing European Adventure! Including 2 cruises and 7 days in Italy!

Old Jul 18th, 2013, 08:55 AM
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Tuesday, June 18th, Florence, part 1

We were up early to meet our water taxi at the water entrance of our hotel. Our pick up time was 7:00 am! We had done our official paperwork to check out of the hotel last night. Apparently there is no one there to handle the money transactions this early in the morning. The taxi showed up right on time.

We were at the train station by 7:15 for our 7:55 am train to Florence. This time we were taking the new Italo train. Since we didn’t have breakfast before leaving the hotel, we were able to find something at the train station, and again they had a really nice café. For those of us who are into the whole European pastry for breakfast thing, this worked out well! I had a chocolate filled brioche, which was super fresh tasting and served nice and warm and cappuccino. I just can not get over the quality of train station food here! Megan ordered a latte, not listening to my warning that she wouldn’t like it and was quite disappointed to get a cup of just hot milk and not a “Starbucks” type latte! Live and learn!

Our train was easy to find and quite nice! The ride was very smooth and this time all six of us were on the same car and seated near one another. I took the time on board to catch up on my journal writing! I was a couple days behind! And I also took a much needed nap. I knew our day in Florence was going to be a busy one.

We arrived at the Firenze S.M. station right on time. I feel like we’re becoming seasoned travelers now! First order of business was to find breakfast for Alex. I wasn’t sure when we’d have a chance to eat again and he’s not one who’s into the pastry type breakfast! He found McDonalds and was good to go.

We left the train station and found the taxi area. We’d have to get two taxi’s to fit all 6 of us and our luggage. We told the driver’s the name of our hotel, the Hotel Monna Lisa, and off we went – the kids and I in one, and Keith and my parents in another.

When I’ve told people we’re going to Florence, unlike when I’ve told people we’re going to Rome or Venice, I always get comments like “oh, you’ll LOVE Florence” or “Florence was my favorite city” “I can’t wait to go back to Florence” As I mentioned before, with Rome, I got a lot of “Rome was dirty, Rome was crowded, Rome was too much like a big city” and with Venice I heard a lot of “Venice was ok, but it smelled, or Venice was overpriced, it was ok but I wouldn’t want to go back”. So I was intrigued about Florence. What was it about Florence that made so many people love it? And I absolutely loved Venice. And even though at this point I had only spent one afternoon and night in Rome, I thought it was a pretty amazing place! So – let’s check out this place called Florence!

My first impression just from the taxi ride, on a Tuesday morning was good grief it’s crowded here! It wasn’t at all what I expected. I expected a small town as compared to Rome. But so far, it felt big and like a busy city! But we’ll see!

We got to our hotel, which was off what felt like a smaller side street, behind one of those GIANT doors that opened up into a haven! I think it’s amazing how you’re in a city and you open up a giant door and suddenly you are in a garden! We checked into our hotel, and our guide, Christina was right there waiting for us! This was our plan. Since our rooms wouldn’t be ready and we only had this one day – we’d leave our luggage locked up and head out for a tour of Florence with Christina, from Tours by Locals! It was about 10:15 am and we were ready to go!

So, how did I book this tour? Most of the research I’d done was for “port” excursions. But we weren’t coming from a ship for the day. I was having a hard time finding a tour of Florence once I was already in the city. The ones I did find didn’t really fit our time frame. We weren’t there at 8:00 am or even 9:00 am. We had plans at 6:30 already scheduled so we had a cut off time to be aware of. We wanted to see David at the Accademia, but also see the highlights of Florence. I knew I needed a private tour. I stumbled upon the company Tours by Locals while researching our port day in Palma de Mallorca which would be coming up later on the Epic, and found Christina who would soon be booked for our day in Florence. It was a perfect fit! She knew we had just traveled from Venice and was totally flexible with what we could do and wanted to do! She was an absolute joy to spend the day with! Within five minutes I felt like we were old friends.

I wish I could remember the details of where we went, the names of the squares (campos) and all of the buildings, but of course I wasn’t taking notes I was just taking it all in. She was a great story teller and I know we saw what we wanted to see.

Of course we went to the Accademia. She had reserved tickets for us, and we went and picked them up, walked right past everyone waiting in line and went right in. I can not understand why people do not pre-reserve tickets! Why would you wait in line if you don’t have to? Anyway, there is security like at the airport where you scan your bags and then you’re in. Christina came in with us and gave us an amazing history of Michelangelo. We started with the Prisoners statues. She really taught us how to see those pieces. It was amazing. Then of course we saw David. She had us stand at different angles. She really gave us an art lesson as we studied the piece. It was breathtaking. By this point in the trip we had seen several other statues, and now we could compare this piece to many others and you could understand why this one stands out as a masterpiece. The detail, the size, the smoothness of the marble. You can not help stand in awe as you take it all in. Christina explained how the position of his arms and legs cause you to see motion. How your eye moves through the piece. There would have been no better way to see David than to have her narrate it for us. It was amazing.

Once outside we moved to the Duomo. Such a building! It’s big, it’s colorful, it’s bright! But before going inside we took a lunch break. Christina left us for a bit and our group split up. Keith and Alex went for pizza and my parents, Megan and I went to a little café. It was nothing special, but it was convenient, and air conditioned! Today was by far the hottest day so far of the trip.

After lunch we did go inside the Duomo. We didn’t climb it – we decided we didn’t really have time and no one really had the energy. But going inside was quite impressive.

Then we walked through Florence. Christine pointed out some highlights. We eventually got to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Of course we took pictures. We passed the Uffizi gallery. Had we had another day here, we’d go for sure. We stopped at the Piazza della Signoria and looked at all of the many, many statues. We then made our way to the Santa Croce church. The area in front was set up for a huge soccer match. It made it difficult to take a picture. The group was pretty tired and no one wanted to go inside – well, except me and I was voted out. Bummer! It costs to go inside and I guess no one else wanted to spend the money or take the time. People, when will you get the opportunity again? That's what I was thinking anyway. There are many famous people buried here, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

By now it was about 4:00 and we decided to walk back to our hotel to rest up a bit. We had a big night planned! We were doing a pizza and gelato making class! We wanted to relax a bit before heading back out. On our way back to the hotel we did see a temperature reading – guess how hot it was, in the shade? 39 degrees Celsius! That’s 102.2 Fahrenheit! At 4:00 pm! It's no wonder everyone was fading fast! That's one hot day to be walking the city!

We got back to the hotel, which has some lovely courtyards and common areas. Megan and I hung out in the indoor common areas. The gardens were way too hot. I took advantage of the free wifi and caught up a bit with home. Keith and Alex stayed in our air conditioned room. Oh, we had a loft quad room and my parents had a double room.

Next up, pizza making! As Megan said - something FUN!
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Old Jul 18th, 2013, 10:10 AM
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The hotel sounds wonderful! Off to 'google' it now.
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 05:49 AM
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We left off after our Highlights of Florence tour and were taking a bit of a break in the hotel before heading out for the evening!

We had our little bit of down time and we were ready to go.

So when I said Megan was ready for “fun”, it was time for our Pizza and Gelato making class! Before our trip, we had looked for something hands on for the kids. In the past our vacations have always been more of the “fun” type – you know, beach type, active type. Sure this is active, but in a walking, listening, educational, history type of vacation. They were looking for something to actually DO with their hands. So to speak. That’s what was so nice about the cruise – there was always something to come back to on the ship – the rock wall, pools or ice skating. Some may knock seeing Europe this way feeling that you don't get to see enough of one place, but for a family, at least our family, I really think it has it’s benefits! You tour during the day and everyone gets to do their own thing during the evenings. Anyway….back to Pizza!

We found a cooking class in Florence where we’d get to make our own pizza’s and there would be some homemade Gelato as well! This sounded great! Hands on and dinner too!

We had about a 20 minute walk to our meeting place so we set out, map in hand and hoped we could find our way back to where Christina had pointed out the general area earlier in the day. Feeling pretty confident, I led the way and what do you know, we turned the corner and whoo hoo – there was the offices of Florencetown Tours! We made it! Right on time too! We waited for the whole class to show up and then found out we had another 15 minute walk to “the school”! Oh boy – what a day of walking! I’m not sure why we couldn’t have just met at the cooking location, but I guess we got to see a bit more of Florence this way!

When we arrived at the cooking school location, we each got an apron and picked a spot at the huge table. The class was pretty big, maybe 20 people? There were couples, families, adults and kids. It was definitely a mixed group and you could tell right away it was going to be FUN! Perfect! There were two Chef’s. They did a great job with instructions, that were both educational and humorous at the same time.

We learned the correct way to make dough for the pizza – first by a demonstration and then we each had our own pile of ingredients and we got to make our individual dough balls. It was a lot of fun. When Keith had his done with no additional instructions, they were a bit surprised - they asked him if he had pizza experience, he told them he was a Chef - "ahh - that explains it!" they said! Laughing!! Although it's not as if he makes homemade pizza every day! But it was helpful at our end of the table for him to help us out a bit!

While the dough was rising, the chef made the gelato with help from some of the people in the class. He explained the process as he went along. The whole thing seemed really simple! By the time the gelato was in the maker, it was time to roll out our dough.

We were shown how to roll out a perfect circle, making it the right thickness and we topped them. We had all kinds of fresh toppings. Mozzarella, pepperoni (which they call spicy salami), fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, crushed red peppers, olive oil. We had to make our pizza unique somehow so we could identify it once it came out of the oven! We had wine and water to drink as we ate our delicious, fresh and hot pizzas! They were really great! And definitely enough for a meal!

After pizza, we got to eat the gelato that was made. There was vanilla and chocolate. And they handed out certificates and recipe books to everyone. The chefs had great personalities. It was a really great evening and such a great way to relax after our super intense day of travel and touring! We all really loved it!

We walked back to the hotel after our pizza tour. And as we were walking back, knowing that we’d be leaving Florence I was thinking about how so many people had told me how much they loved Florence. I didn’t really get that feeling here. Maybe it was because we weren’t here for long? We were here longer than had we just come for a stop on a cruise day, but maybe not long enough to really appreciate what Florence has to offer. Maybe the heat had something to do with it. I definitely appreciate the amazing art that Florence has to offer! Florence definitely has been put on my list of cities to return to though. I feel that we’ve only touched the surface here and there is much more to see. I feel like we got a great overview and we had a wonderful day with a terrific guide. But now it was time to begin the next part of our adventures!

We went back to our hotel and packed up. Tomorrow we travel again!

For those interested, the cost of the Walking Tour with Tours by Locals (6 hr tour) was $485 plus admission to Accademia

The Florencetown Pizza and Gelato Cooking Class was 243 Euro for the 6 of us

Here's the link to our pictures from Florence:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7634695016926/
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 08:09 AM
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Pictures are awesome. Someone is a great photographer! What kind of camera is being used? Your cooking class looks fun.
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 09:24 AM
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Great photos! I admire your and your family's stamina, I would have faded FAST in that heat.

Everyone has different city experiences and favorites. While I like Rome, I don't love it and after three visits won't rush back. I am a lover of Florence and hope to get back there again.

You didn't have time to see the two main art museums and some of the smaller churches or do any shopping or maybe get up to Fiesole, but even if you had, it still might not have topped your Venice or Rome visits.

If everyone's experiences were the same, life would be really boring!
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 10:41 AM
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KL467 - Thank you! I use a Nikon D7000. I got it just before this trip and it was the best decision ever! If I wasn't walking around saying how much "I love this place" I was saying "I love my new camera"

Cathinjoetown - Thank you! We definitely had some stamina on that Florence day! I think it actually helped to have had the train ride in the morning. Everyone had some time to nap and just relax to start the day!

I think I'd love to go back to Florence, maybe without the kids, or maybe even with just my daughter - she's very into art - and take some time to really see what it has to offer. My son wanted to go to the Galileo museum, and we didn't have time for that either. So I know we barely scratched the surface. I think there's something there for me for sure! Mainly it wasn't what I was expecting. That probably had something to do with it. I'm not sure what I expected because I've seen pictures, but I think it was much more crowded and bigger than I thought.
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 03:31 PM
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I've learned to check the populations of places we will visit. Sometimes a guide book will call a place a village when it na t a population of 10,000. The first time we visited Florence it was very crowded and that was in October. Last year in late June our family were almost the only ones walking on the Ponte Vecchio. The city was a total delight. Visit again with enough time to absorb the whole experience.
We never stay anywhere less than four nights.
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 05:50 PM
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Wednesday, June 19th

One of the many travel planning decisions we had to make was just how to get from Florence to Civitavecchia to board the Norwegian Epic. Of course the most economical way would be to take the train. The “on the go traveler” in me wanted to make a detour in Pisa though. We had the time – of course we did right? Sure, we could have spent a bit more time in Florence, but I knew the consensus of the group would be to start moving towards the ship. We didn’t have to be on board until 3:30, if I’m remembering correctly now.

We could take a train from Florence, stop in Pisa, store our luggage, and then either walk or take a taxi or bus to the tower, and then go back to the train station, pick up our luggage and then train to Civitavecchia, then walk the ½ mile or so to the ship, take the shuttle bus to the pier and board the Epic…..seemed simple right?? The train times worked in our favor if all worked out in Pisa, as far as getting the luggage back, I’d read there could be lines, and getting the taxi or bus in time to make it back. I honestly didn't think anyone would be up for a morning like that.

Or we could find a private transfer company to make the trip for us. Surely someone would be able to make this drive, with a stop in Pisa! But at what cost?

Or we could just skip Pisa all together, stay in Florence that morning and see some more sites – it’s just the tower right?

So, starting to feel like this was too big of a decision for me to make – after all this one was a bit more financial, my parents were paying for the transportation and the transfer would cost more than the train! I decided to ask my dad his opinion. He voted to take the private transfer, the Tower was on the itinerary and we had a plan set!

The day before we left for our trip, I started to get a little worried about the transfer and the timing of getting to the ship in time. What if we missed the ship? We were scheduled to be picked up in Florence at 8:30 with an hour stop in Pisa. I emailed our transfer company and asked them to adjust our pick up to 7:30. At that point, I’d rather get up an hour earlier and play it safe than have to rush at any point in the day. You never know with traffic or what if there would be van trouble! Although, as an after thought I should have inquired about just boarding the Epic in Livorno on Thursday morning instead of Civitavecchia on Wednesday, since we were basically coming from there to turn around and end up there the next day! But again, what we did worked fine, and we enjoyed this day in the end. So it didn't matter...

So, here we are in Florence bright and early! Our driver was right one time and somehow he was able to squeeze his van down the narrow street that our hotel was on. One thing that seemed to keep occurring in Florence was random street closings! This happened with our taxi on arrival – he was sure he could go up one street, which when he arrived happened to be closed. Then our hotel had some sort of road work being done in front of it, which I gathered was quite unusual. Everyone from the taxi driver to our tour guide to the van driver the next morning made comments about the strangeness of this truck blocking the road to do work! Then when he finally could get up the street, he found it was blocked at the other end! He was sure he could get through it earlier! Turns out he had to back down the street and turn around. It was quite a start to the ride. We were all laughing at how they can possibly figure out how to get around!

After an hour or so? Maybe more, I have no idea anymore…we arrived in Pisa. We were all really glad to have made the decision to have stopped. We got there early so the crowds hadn’t really shown up yet. It wasn’t too hot out yet either. We tried to take the obligatory pictures holding up the tower, but you can see they didn’t work out so well. They’re not as easy as one would think!

Alex and Keith decided to climb the tower. They had no problem buying their ticket and climbing it right then and there.

Megan and I walked around the Field of Miracles and looked at the buildings. We hadn’t had breakfast so since we were getting hungry, we found something to eat. Megan and I had pizza. We found a little shop we could sit down and eat in. My parents wandered around a bit on their own. We met up with Keith and Alex after they came down from the tower and once they came down they realized that somehow they missed going to the very top. I don’t quite know how that happens! But they took some good pictures and enjoyed their climb!

We had about an hour in Pisa and then met up with my parents at the van and drove the rest of the way to the ship. We arrived at about 1:30. Plenty of time! I think our decision to hire the driver was excellent.

We were able to board the Epic right away, no lines at all. For those of you not familiar with the Norwegian Epic, it's a bit unusual in that they have multiple embarkation ports. It seems most passengers embark on Sunday in Barcelona. You can also embark, as we did on Wednesday, on the "Rome" port day in Civitavecchia. It seemed that most people boarded in Barcelona so they were off the ship for their day in Rome. They wouldn’t be back on board until last call at 6:30. It made the ship feel almost empty!

When we got on board our cabins were ready. How nice! This time the four of us are in one cabin. A Family Mini-Suite. It’s not a real suite, just a bigger balcony cabin, so no need to get excited! We’re on deck 12, cabin 12040. Mimi and Grandpop are in a standard balcony, but on deck 13. Cabin 13214. I think we’ll see a lot less of them on this ship since they aren’t right next door to us. We opened the door to the cabin, and of course we’d seen the videos, seen the pictures and sure it looked like we expected! It’s going to be one cramped week! But we’ll survive! On first glance I don’t think the odd bathroom layout will be an issue. We have this huge shower since we have the family mini-suite. I like that. And as I later compared to my parents standard balcony, our room was a few feet longer and had more storage. We had the Pullman bed, which Alex slept on. They put it up during the day and dropped it down in the evening. He had no issues sleeping up there. He sleeps on a top loft bunk bed at home, so he probably felt quite at home. And he’s not a small child, as you’ve seen!

Once we did a quick drop off of our carry on bags, we went to have lunch. We went to the Garden Cafe Buffet. I enjoyed this very much. I loved eating outside, and I had a big fresh salad.

Since the ship was so empty, I told the kids to go get their bathing suits on and take advantage of the slides! They did, and Keith went and lounged somewhere near the slides while I went to unpack. There was plenty of storage for all four of us, but it was very strange space. No drawers but instead many small cabinets. And they were not very deep. So, for example if I folded a pile of men’s shorts, they didn’t fit in the cabinet without pressing on the door and bunching up. I had clothes everywhere, which made it hard to keep track of who’s clothes were where during the week. Don’t get me wrong, there was A LOT of room, but was it efficient? I don’t know. We used that drawer under the sink that I think is supposed to be for wet towels, for dirty laundry. That worked for us.
Next up was our muster drill. It was in the Theater. Now, I honestly may have slept though the safety part? So, please tell me if I’m wrong – I have no memory of them going over the part of putting on the lifejackets or any real safety techniques that are common. We just went through a muster drill 10 days ago, so it was pretty fresh in my mind. I remember them showing us what decks our actual muster stations were on, but that’s about it.

Then it turned into a commercial for the Epic. Which was nice. I liked knowing where everything was and what there was to do onboard. But this was not a muster drill, it seemed to be a way to get everyone into the theater for their Welcome Aboard Intro Presentation!

Afterwards Megan, my parents and I went to tour the spa. I mentioned previously that I wanted to get Keith the week spa pass so he’d have a little haven to go to during the week to relax. I was surprised when they told me it was only $146 for the week! The spa was gorgeous. Absolutely amazing! If I wasn’t with the kids, I would have gotten the spa pass for myself. But I like hanging out with them and know I wouldn’t have used it. In the end I didn’t buy it for him. He felt with only 1 sea day he wouldn’t get enough use out of it. He knows he wouldn’t use it at night. He’s an early to bed kind of person.

We decided to go to Moderno for dinner. The Brazilian Steakhouse. We’ve been to similar restaurants here at home and this was by far just as good. It was absolutely delicious. As much as we’ve all enjoyed our pasta and pizzas the past several days in Italy, I was craving some BEEF! This fit the bill!

After dinner both kids went to their respective clubs and I did some laundry in the tiny, tiny sink in the room. I brought the tide packets for hand washing. Being gone for three weeks I had planned to wash some smaller items mid-vacation. I forgot to mention that while we were on the Navigator we took advantage of their $25 fill the bag special and fit A LOT in that bag! I inquired when we boarded the Epic about their special and it wouldn’t be until Sunday, getting the laundry back on Tuesday. That’s too long to wait at this point. So I hand washed a lot of underwear and some of the light cotton shirts Keith and Alex had. They all dry fast. I washed them, rolled them in the towels and there was a long clothes line in our shower. I had clothes hanging everywhere! Bu the next afternoon it was all dry. It worked very well. Meanwhile, my parents spent the money to send out some laundry. Individually priced my mom told me it would have cost them over $147! They scaled it back to around $75 I think….I like my way better!

After the laundry, I read in bed waiting for the kids to get back. Tomorrow we dock in Livorno! Hey, weren’t we just pretty much there?

Here's the link to the pictures from Pisa and our first afternoon on the Epic:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7634707365173/
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Old Jul 19th, 2013, 10:53 PM
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just wAnted to say how much I enjoy your TR & love the pics.
hope there is more......
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 05:47 AM
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I hope you are planning to post your trip on Fodor's Cruise Forum as it would be useful for those who like to cruise.
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 06:37 AM
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I think your laundry way was a lot better too!
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 07:46 AM
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HappyTrvlr - I hadn't thought about posting on the Fodor's Cruise Forum - good idea! It's usually pretty quiet over there, so it really didn't cross my mind to tag this as Cruise when I started! Most of my planning advice on the Italy parts came from this board!

I'm also posting over on cruise critic - it's a much more active forum than the cruise board here. And was also where a ton of my cruise planning came from!

But I'll give it a shot!
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 09:13 AM
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I am an independent land traveler and admire your family's stamina. You made the trip go smoothly by doing your research and hiring good guides. I would not choose a cruise myself but realize some enjoy them.
Next stop?
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 10:28 AM
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<I am an independent land traveler and admire your family's stamina. You made the trip go smoothly by doing your research and hiring good guides. I would not choose a cruise myself but realize some enjoy them.
Next stop?>

HappyTrvl - it's funny because up until a couple of years ago I was dead set against a cruise. I've always done all land based travel. I've planned and done 2 week trips through Costa Rica and Belize with multiple locations in each. We've been all through the Caribbean and Mexico, but never had done a cruise. But then a couple of years ago cruises came down in price so I thought I'd give it a try. I fell in love with it. Now I like to do both types of travel. For me though, it's all about the destinations. The ship is my moving hotel. Now my husband, he says he HATES to cruise. Every time he says he'll never go on another cruise. He hates the tiny pools and the crowds by the pool and the deadline of having to be on the ship at a certain time each day. He'd rather be in one spot and not move. I can see his point - but I do think there's value in each type of vacation. My kids and parents are hooked on cruises though. For them it's the flexibility of doing their own thing.

Me - I just love to travel, any way, any where, any how!

I'm working on our next stop now....hoping to post it shortly!

Just have to get the pictures uploaded.
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 12:55 PM
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Thursday, June 20th

Today we are docking back in Livorno where many people go to Florence and Pisa. Since we did our whirlwind in Florence on Tuesday and stopped in Pisa yesterday, we decided to do a tour of the Chianti Region today!

We met our driver from Joe Banana Limo’s at 8 am, and off we went! Our tour is to include a winery, but we did make sure to let them know in advance that we didn’t want the day to focus on wine tasting since we have two kids with us. Our driver, Stephan, didn’t follow the tour’s exact description on the website to the letter, but the day we had was absolutely perfect. We couldn’t have asked for a better day in Tuscany!

Stephan was fairly quiet as far as drivers we had went. But when he had something to say, it was interesting and when we had any questions, he shared what he knew. We drove for about an hour and Stephan told us a little about the area and what we’d be seeing during the day.

Our first stop was at some sort of castle type place with a small church. We got out for a picture stop. I don’t have the name written down. The tour description indicated we could stop at the Castle of Verrazzano, but I'm not really sure that's where we were. My pictures don't really seem to look like the ones I can find of that castle. But maybe we didn't see the whole thing. In any event. It was a short stop and we had some nice views here.

Next we drove to the Medieval town of Montefioralle. This is one of the best preserved Medieval villages. It was once a walled castle that evolved over time as houses were built around the wall. There is a ring of homes built on narrow cobblestone streets. It was one of the most picturesque places one can imagine! Amerigo Vespucci lived here in the late 1400s!

Next we went to the town of Greve. There were many shops here including Falorni, which is the most famous shop, a butcher shop which has been in the square for more than 500 years! Keith was most impressed here and got some prosciutto and cheese! It was quite interesting to see all of the meat hanging from the ceiling – some still had tails and hooves on them!

There is also a monument here to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.

We wandered around for quite some time, shopping and just relaxing a bit.

Our next stop would be a fantastic winery, Fattoria di Monttechio! This was by far one of the highlights of our entire trip. Actually this whole day was a highlight…

But we pulled up to a gorgeous, well I suppose the word might be estate? We first had a tour of the grounds of the winery. The views were just amazing. If I could spend the rest of my life somewhere, it would be right there.

The guide who was taking us through the grounds and then the winery had some issues with translating her tour to English, but we all got the idea of what she was trying to tell us.
After touring the grounds, where we not only saw the acres and acres of the grape vines, but also that they have olive trees and some bee hives for their honey production and olive oil production as well….we went inside to see the process used in making the wine. It was quite a facility! We saw the old oak barrels, the fermentation tanks, the bottling machines. You name it!

Then it was time for what we were told would be a light lunch. At this time we were the only people there. A group was leaving when we arrived, and when we were leaving another group was arriving.

The table was set for us and we started with one of their Chianti wines. I believe the Classic. We had bruschetta, bread with olive oil, and white beans. Next we had two different Peccorino cheeses with honey served with the Chianti Reserve. After that we had Salami and Mortadela with a special blend sort of like Merlot. The salami was amazing. Why is it that everything is so much fresher in Italy?

Next us we had Keith’s favorite, prosciutto and more cheese, with a Cabernet blend. I will tell you that by the time we were done, this was not a light lunch! There was no main course, but the food kept coming – meats, cheeses, breads. Oh, then we had biscotti dipped in some type of strong liquor…it was amazing!

The wine seemed to flow freely along with the food. If we finished a plate or a bottle, they just opened another or brought more food! Now, when I think of a wine tasting here in the US, I think of a few sips of each type of wine. This was bottles of wine! Of each type of wine!

Sure they were going to pour FULL glasses for the kids too – WOAAA hold that! I let them have sips, but we have a long ride back and we don’t need anyone getting sick in the van! So, essentially for four of us drinking the wine, I believe we were given 6 bottles of wine in our tasting? Plus a glass or two each of the dessert wine? Good grief – let me tell you, the ride to our next stop was a sleepy one.

I found a new appreciation for Chianti though! It was nothing like any Chianti wine I’d ever had here in the US – hence the shipping 6 bottles home! The person who was running the tasting was so personable. We spent some time chatting with her. She lives there at the winery and was just a lovely person.

Ok…so, we’re in the van heading to our next destination and yes, some of the group may have had too much to drink. I can’t imagine how that could have happened! I could have done with maybe a glass or two less. But I knew once I got out of the van I’d be ok. But Keith, he really had too much and lucky for him, he is one who doesn’t have the experience of hangovers! But we had to watch him pretty carefully at our next stop. But overall the winery was a great time with lots of laughs and great conversation!

Next we stopped in San Gimignano. This wasn’t on the proposed itinerary on the website, so this was a super pleasant surprise! We loved it here! Well, those of us that didn’t sleep through their visit!

We were told by Stephan, our driver, that they have the “Best Gelato in Italy” and to be sure to get some! We walked around for some time. Browsed, took pictures. This was another great Medieval town! And found the sign on the shop- “the Best Gelato in Italy”! So, we got some, and yes, it was pretty darn good! I had mango and chocolate.

After our time here, we met back at the van and headed back to the ship. I was so glad to have planned the trip this way. I felt like we really got to see the best of it all. By stopping in Florence on the way back from Venice, we got to take that in and we were able to stop at Pisa on the way to the ship. And we all absolutely loved our day in Chianti. It was a super relaxing tour day where we got to see the Italian countryside. We really got to enjoy one another’s company today.

We got back to the ship and went to see my parents cabin. As I mentioned it was a standard balcony. The main difference between theirs and ours was it was a bit shorter and they had a smaller shower. So their “bathroom” layout was smaller in general. They felt it was a very small cabin. Almost two small for the two of them. As if they couldn’t even walk past one another without shuffling by. They also didn’t like that they couldn’t see their tv unless they were sitting on their bed. They had a sofa, but couldn’t see the tv from it. It was positioned in front of the bed and couldn’t be turned. Maybe little things, but they had just come from a different ship and these things stood out right away as uncomfortable to them. Me on the other hand, I was just incredibly glad to have snagged a super upgrade from the room next door to them to the one we had because I couldn’t even imagine the four of us in the room their size! Around Thanksgiving, there was a Black Friday Sale and I was able to upgrade from a standard balcony to the Family Mini Suite with Kids Sail ½ price for less money than our original cabin. What a deal!

We went back to our cabin and got ready for dinner. We ate in the Manhattan Room. If I remember, Keith stayed back in the cabin and slept off the wine tasting day! Our dinner was good. I have no memory of what I got though. Our service was good. As you know from earlier, Alex is a steak eater and he was not happy with his steak here though. He said it didn’t have a good flavor.

After dinner Alex went to the teen club and my parents, Megan and I went to see Legends. My parents had prebooked it yesterday. Megan and I went on standby. We were able to get in during the 10 minutes before the show started. If you don’t have reservations, they let people without reservations in if there is room. I actually was pleasantly surprised by the show. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because Tom Jones, Tina Turner and Adele are not my high on my list of must see performers! However, I thought their energy was pretty good and it was a fun show. Anything is better than just sitting in the cabin though isn’t it?

Today was a perfect day….tomorrow, Provence, France!

The cost for the Chianti Region Tour was 500 Euros for the 6 of us, plus lunch. I don't remember how much lunch was, but I remember thinking it was VERY reasonable considering it included so much food and wine!

The link to the pictures from Chianti is here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tripsnp...7634717447535/
ShellD is offline  
Old Jul 20th, 2013, 01:37 PM
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Adele in person? Or impersonators? Love her!
We spent a week in Chianti last summer with our whole family, so much fun in a beautiful area.
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 02:19 PM
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Adele and Tina Turner rock,, if it was in person I would have lined up the night before, but I assume it was impersonators.. lol

Your trip does sound amazing, you have done and seen so much,, but I can't help but notice that this is one very very expensive trip.. ( 500 euros PLUS lunch and you call that reasonable!) I can't conceive of spending 1000 dollars a day!

You are writing a great trip report, I enjoy all the details and love the photos.. your parents and daughter are always smiling!!
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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Yes, she deserves a Gold Star, maybe a halo too.
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Old Jul 20th, 2013, 03:55 PM
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They were impersonators!! Sorry for the confusion!!

Yes, the trip was expensive, however, remember the 500 euro for that day is divided by 6, my parents paid their share and we paid ours. Our breakfast and dinner were already paid for on the ship. As we're any other snack on board. We had some days with much less expensive tours, like the Chania day which was around 150 euros for the 6 of us, and some days the 500. I don't think we ever spent 1000 USD on one day. I'd have to double check, but I think my spreadsheet for the total tours for our family of four for the 21 days was around 7000 USD which included around 20 different tours for four people. Some of which included meals, like the food tour, pizza making, and our days in Naples and Palma which are yet to come.

So on average we spent less than $90/person per day on private tours.

Of course we also had hotel expenses in Venice, Florence and Rome. Some of that $7000 includes transfers - I just checked my spreadsheet.

All in all, I' think we did pretty well, for the trip we chose to have.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2013, 11:47 AM
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What happened Shelley?
Several days have passed without new post from you.
I have enjoyed following along on your trip, please continue.
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