Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adios Europa :(

Thursday we spent a day at sea, relaxing on deck and enjoying the ship. Friday we went to Palma de Mallorca, an island a ways off the coast of Spain. We spent the first hour or so walking around the old Spanish village, most famous for it’s incredible cathedral at it’s center, walking distance from our port and the beach. Spanish architecture really might be my very favorite. Palma, named for it’s beautiful palm trees, is like a post card with the palm trees against the exquisite, Spanish architecture against the green mountains. Palma de Mallorca is famous for it’s sea caves, so we took a cab to the other side of the island through some of the island’s beautiful countryside to the caves. After touring the impressive caves, we went back to the old village and spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach there. We finally swam in the Mediterranean Sea! A great way to end our time in Europe!

As if I wasn’t already crazy enough about Italy...

The Amalfi Coast might have Parshall, Colorado and Melrose, Scotland status as one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Charming, colorful villas seem painted into the seaside cliffs and the emerald, green water beckons to you to dive in. We ported in Naples and began the day at Pompeii, the extremely ancient civilization, buried by the neighboring, volcanic Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., still being excavated today. The views of Mt. Vesuvius were beautiful and Pompeii’s ruins fascinating. Most importantly, dogs have always been a key part of life in Pompeii, and now the ruins double as a shelter. Next, we drove from Pompeii down the famously, breath taking Amalfi drive (so not overrated) into Positano. We wandered through the charming seaside town, famous for it’s beauty, shopping, and lemon’s. After more delicious Italian food looking over the sea in Positano, we took a boat ride (the highlight of day) with amazing views to the small island of Capri. We walked through the island admiring it’s amazing views, gardens, and of course, coral and pearl jewelry. We didn’t have long in Capri due to our early cruise departure from Naples, but we definitely made the most of the time we had. I really think I could spend months solely exploring the Amalfi coast. I’m was pretty sad to leave Italy. I really love everything about  it...the history, the scenery, the art, the food, the spirited people. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t see it in one either.

We took about an hour and a half bus ride from our port, Civitavecchia, to Roma! We decided Vatican City was a major priority, so we began the day there. It really does feel like it’s own little tourist flooded country, solely focused on christianity, catholicism, and it’s history. I expected to be amazed by the Vatican, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so meaningful to me. Just being there, in such a beautiful place where so much history occurred and that is still so important today, was completely and utterly surreal. We began in Saint Peter’s Basilica (the front and most visible part of Vatican City), featuring Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was difficult to leave the breath taking, Basilica, but our day had only begun, so we walked through Vatican City to the Vatican museums. We trekked through the museum, packed like sardines, through one intricately, artistic room after the next on our way to the Sistine Chapel. How did one man create so much beauty? Words truly cannot describe. I really hope to go back to Vatican City when I have time to study everything more thoroughly. After Vatican City, we visited the stunning Trevi fountain, stood in awe for a few minutes, tossed our coin, made a wish, and moved on to get a taste of ancient Rome. We walked by the Colosseum and the other incredible ancient ruins nearby. Looking at these amazing landmarks, it truly is a marvel that they are still standing. We grabbed some gelato, walked along the Tevere River, stopped by Castel Sant’ Angelo, and it was time to head back to port. To say the least, Rome is the best way.

My feelings for Italia...that’s amore.

Sorry for my failure to keep up with my blog the last four days of the trip. The internet was never working on the ship. Anyways, I’m now on the plane from Amsterdam to Atlanta. We flew from Barcelona to Amsterdam first this morning. From only looking out the plane window, I am dying to go back and actually visit Amsterdam. I left off with Cannes/Nice, so that means the next day was Florence. Is it too early for me to register for Muhlenberg’s theatre study abroad program in Florence? We took about a two hour bus ride through the beautiful Tuscan countryside from our port, La Spezia, to get to Florence. The cruise was a blast and really made the trip more relaxed, but I, who obsesses over doing and seeing everything when I visit a new place, am not the best cruise traveler. Basically, I just really need to go back to Italy. Once we arrived in Florence, we walked around the Santa Croce square, featuring the Basilica di Santa Croce, so beautiful it didn’t look real when the tuscan sun was shining down on it. From there, we headed to Uffizi, one of the world’s greatest renaissance art museums, only to discover that it along with most other art museums (including Galleria dell ‘Accademia, which holds Michelangelo’s famous David) were closed on Mondays. Fortunately, right next to Uffizi is Plazza della Signoria, a beautiful square featuring amazing renaissance sculpture. David originally stood here. A mock now stands where the original once did, but all the other art in the square is original. On the other side of the famous square, we found the Palazzo Vecchio, a museum that was actually open on Monday’s. The “old palace” was home to Cosimo and the Medici family and dates back to the 13th century. The rooms featured one beautiful frescoe after the next. Since we didn’t get to see the real David, the highlight of Palazzo Vecchio was probably Michelangelo’s sculpture, Genius of Victory. When we finally drug ourselves out of the museum, we enjoyed an amazing Italian lunch back in the Plazza della Signoria square, looking out on the sculptures in the beautiful square and trying to stay away from the pigeons. After lunch, we meandered through the charming Florence streets and alley’s, making our way to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which somehow, with it’s amazing colors, appeared even less real than Santa Croce. We walked around the outside of the cathedral and the Battistero San Giovanni (baptistery), but due to our time crunch and the insanely long lines we were unable to go inside either. However, we did have time to climb the cathedral’s bell tower or cupola, which reaches just above the baptistery’s famous dome. The view was one of the best of the trip, showcasing all of Florence and going into the gorgeous Tuscan countryside as well. When we got down from the tower, we rushed back to the bus, leaving Florence having begun to fall in love with Italy and only dying to come back to Tuscany. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Au Revoir, France and the French Riviera.

Waking up on a cruise is pretty awesome. I happened to be facing the direction of our balcony (to which we had left the curtains open) when I opened my eyes this morning and awoke to a breath taking view of the coast of Cannes, France, yes, home to the famous film festival. The coast is filled with a gorgeous marina and beach resorts (I get why the elite, rich and famous want to come every year). The city also has it's share of history, containing old, beautiful architecture built up against gorgeous, green, rocky mountains (the view that I awoke to this morning). We walked through Cannes a little bit, stopping at a local flea market and enjoying the view of the crystal blue Mediterranean Sea. Shortly, we caught a train to Nice, France, about 30 minutes away by train. Nice came off as even more of a beach town than Cannes, with everyone clad in their bikinis...sometimes less (Tom, my 16 year old cousin, was in heaven). As we walked through the city and made our way to the beach and main promenade along it, we stopped at various cathedrals and other beautiful buildings along the way. We had a great lunch at the promenade along the beach and then walked along the beach and shopped throughout the promenade a bit. Compared to Paris, Nice didn't really feel like France. The culture is much more relaxed and friendly. Nice is also a really interesting mix of French, Spanish, and Italian culture. Due to the short stop, we didn't get to take in Nice's art scene (the home of Henri Matisse), but I think I'm getting my art fill on this trip and it was a very nice, relaxed day for a change. Back in Cannes, before boarding the ship, we toured a castle from the 1600's. The castle was very impressive, but the best part was the view from the hill where it sits at the top of the city, looking over the entire city and sea (we could see the ship). Now back on the ship excited for Florence tomorrow! Sorry I won't be able to upload pictures for the remainder of the trip. The internet on the ship is painfully slow, so I'll just update it with plenty of pictures once I'm home.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Do you believe in magic?

Title inspired by what Vickie Moreland, my dearest mother, won't stop singing since we boarded the "Disney Magic." We started off our last morning in Paris with delicious crepes for breakfast followed by the Jardin de Tulieres and other nearby clasic Paris sights and views that we had missed. Then we went to the Musee d'Orsay, the main impressionism museum in Paris, which is one of the most amazing museum's I have ever been to. The museum contained enough masterpieces that multiple rooms were dedicated to only one amazing impressionist at a time...rooms full of only Monet, rooms full of only Van Gogh, and possibly my favorite...rooms of only Degas. There was a huge collection of Degas sculptures of ballerinas. It occurred to me how much he really got ballet. Every statue's turn out and body alignment was done just right...I wished mine looked like his sculptures. When we finally dragged ourselves out of the museum, we walked through the shopping district while also stopping to view the occasional cathedral or landmark that we passed by. We boarded our overnight train from Paris to Barcelona at 8:30 p.m., and there we remained for the next 13 hours. It was cramped to say the least, and definitely a hilarious family adventure to say the least. This morning we dropped off our many, many bags at the port and explored Barcelona, a truly gorgeous city. The blend of the old and new architecture is unlike anything I have seen in any other city. We hit some of the major sites and then had paella for lunch by the beach. It was really fun (and necessary...not everyone spoke English like they did in France) to be able to communicate a little for a change. I'll go into more detail about the specific sights we saw in Barcelona when my internet isn't this awful, and I can post pictures. The city is too beautiful to try to describe in words...really might be one of my favorite cities I've ever visited. I couldn't stop saying how much I liked it. After lunch, we boarded the "Disney Magic," and we've had a great, relaxing first night. Holly and Tom, my aunt and cousin (who have been on 10 Disney cruises) are our personal cruise directors. Views of the ocean are beautiful, the salty breeze refreshing, the stars gorgeous...and of course, Mickey is just around the corner to make the magic happen.