Cruising

I started this blog with the intent of recapping adventures of the last three years before we return to our real life in the States. Only six days remain until we make the long trip across the pond. In fact, I’m writing this surrounded by luggage, boxes of items to donate, and party favors for Saturday’s farewell soirée. I won’t even come close to blogging everything I wanted to in our short time left as ex-pats, but I’ll continue once we’ve settled somewhere in the greater Washington, DC area.

And now, a post I have really been putting off writing since I’m not sure how to break it up: The Cruise.

Angie, Jen & Gary, and I had fairly low expectations for our first port call: Bari, Italy. And we were right. It’s a pretty town, but there wasn’t much to do, everything was closed since we were there on a holiday, and we knew “free” drinks awaited us back on board the ship.

Old Bari Port

Next up was Rhodes, Greece.

Rhodes, Greece

We visited the Acropolis of Lindos and St. Paul’s Bay, where it is reported the apostle landed during a storm.

me, Angie, Gary & Jen

Lindos, Greece

Gary tried a local beer at each stop on the cruise, and since I hate to see a guy drink alone, I did too.
he enjoyed a local beer at each port

Jen got a tip from our tour guide and we headed to Hatzikelis Fish Taverna for what is the best lunch I’ve ever had in my entire life, hands down. Rather than show us the menu, Vasileioi, our fantastic waiter, took us into the kitchen to show us what was fresh and ask us how we’d like it prepared.

Jen & Gary

We shared an eggplant appetizer that each of us now duplicates on our own grills many times each summer. That day, I had mussels:
my entree

Dessert was Baklava and oranges that I think were handpicked minutes before we ate them:
Baklava and fresh oranges

Cats begged (and were fed), octopus hung drying on a line above our table, we drank wine, and of course, we laughed. I’ve considered going back to Rhodes, just to eat there again. And some day, I will.

Jen, Gary, Vasileioi, me and Angie

Our next stop, thanks to an itinerary change necessitated by the Arab Spring (maybe someday we’ll visit the Pyramids?) was Ephesus, Turkey. It’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and is likely where the Gospel of John was written.

Odeon

Ancient Ephesus Theater

Just a short ride away was the church built on what was the Virgin Mary’s house (Photography is prohibited inside, and I didn’t take many photos outside as I was a bit overwhelmed.)
Virgin Mary's House

Back in the port city of Izmir, a Kurdish Rally was underway.

After a local brew (which I drank while I e-mailed my U2 BFFs: I am in a bar in Izmir, Turkey and they’re playing One!), we made our way through the thousands of riot police (Thousands. I am not exaggerating!) and eventually, we were safely back on board thanks to Gary’s map reading/lady herding skills. “I CAN’T SEE THE BOAT, GARY!?” Is still a catchphrase we utter when we’re confused, lost, or just trying to be funny.

Didn't want Gary to drink alone

Kurd rally

Turkish Police

Our next stop was Ahthens, Greece. I couldn’t believe we were touring the sites I studied in my high school Latin class:

The Acropolis
The Acropolis

me at the Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena

Angie, me, Gary and Jen at the Parthenon
The Parthenon

Parthenon
The Parthenon

Tiny Angie
Angie at the Temple of Zeus

And we saw a changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Evzones changing the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Next up was Olympia, Greece where we learned all about Architecture and the Ancient Olympics from our slightly crazy tour guide.

Our crazy, hilarious and informative tour guide

Palaestra

ready to race in the Olympic Stadium
Gary and I ran the distance in the Olympic Stadium!

And finally, we made it to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sadly, somewhere along the way I picked up a major sinus infection. So while the photos from this last stop look familiar, I don’t remember much other than feeling so bad that I cried at lunch. Sorry, travelmates!

Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik
Fort Lovrijenac

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Angie & Gary
Angie and Gary enjoying cocktails at what is supposedly Bill Gates’ favorite bar (not pictured: my mental breakdown.)

There are so many terrible cruise stories in the news right now. Luckily, other than my (non-cruise related) illness, all I have are fantastic memories.

breakfast on our balcony
We had breakfast on our balcony every day,

some entertainers after the show
we saw a show every night,

view from cabin 9187
And we had tons of relaxing fun.

The High Seas

Who would ever imagine that an 11 day cruise with a balcony would be less expensive than a 5 day cruise without one? But it’s true! And so, I flew to Barcelona two weeks ago. Angie met me there and we set sail on the MSC Divina.

I’d never visited Barcelona before and had a great time wandering La Rambla at Christmas:
Christmastime in Barcelona

This marked our third cruise together, and some things never change:
at the safety briefing
Safety first!

Our first full day on board was spent at sea and I did not feel well at all. It was probably for the best since it kept me halfway sober the next night: New Year’s Eve. We sailed into Funchal, Portugal just in time for what the Guinness Book declares the World’s Largest Firework Display:
Funchal, Portugal

New Year's Eve in Funchal, Portugal

We took a self guided tour the next day and enjoyed exploring the island of Madeira, including a visit to the town of Câmara De Lobos where I had limpets for lunch, without knowing exactly what I ordered. Turns out they are sea snails and I loved them.
Câmara De Lobos

my lunch in Câmara De Lobos, Portugal

I spent some quality time on deck while the ship left port:
Funchal, Portugal

The next day we toured the island of Tenerife, Spain:
Tenerife, Spain

Tenerife, Spain
That tiny speck in the water at the lower left is a woman surfing.

La Laguna, Spain

And after another relaxing day at sea, we arrived in Casablanca, Morocco where we hired a taxi cab tour guide. (The process was stressful – there is so much competition the police literally separate the drivers from the tourists at the gate of the port!) Our guide drove us to a few stops including the Grand Mosquée Hassan II. We missed out on touring the interior, but it was impressive enough from outside:
Grand Mosquée Hassan II

me at Grand Mosquée Hassan II

Angie at Grand Mosquée Hassan II

Next, we found our way to Rick’s Cafe (sure, it’s not the actual site where Casablanca was filmed, but lunch was delicious and the whole experience was great!)
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Rick's Cafe

Rick's Cafe

We bought a lot of things from the gift nook, including a book about the development of the building and its furnishings – I’m anxious to read it and learn the whole story.

After lunch we shopped at both the old and new Medinas:
Old Medina of Casablanca

Old Medina of Casablanca

The next afternoon we arrived in Malaga, Spain where we shopped, ate lunch, and sadly – we left just before their Feast of the Kings Festival kicked off.
Malaga, Spain

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ready for the parade
We hated leaving while preparations for what promised to be a great parade were underway!

After another day at sea (or as we dubbed it: “A day off”) we spent a few whirlwind hours in Rome, Italy. We crammed as much as possible into short day!
Saint Peter's Square
Saint Peter’s Square

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

Fendi
Window shopping near the Spanish Steps

me & Angie at the Trevi Fountain
Quick visit to the Trevi Fountain

Colosseum
A Colosseum drive-by (photo snapped from the backseat of a taxi)

Saint Peter's Square
We returned to Saint Peter’s to meet our ride back to the ship.

The next day we wandered the winding streets of Genoa, Italy:
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Piazza de Ferrari

lunch in Genoa, Italy
Our lack of Italian skills and the quirky menu made ordering lunch difficult, but it was particularly tasty!

San Matteo
Church of Saint Matthew

leaving Genoa
We packed our bags while we left Genoa’s port.

We disembarked, checked into our hotel, napped, and were ready to tour Barcelona the next day.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella

Chris and Alissa
We ran into some of our table mates from the cruise while we biked through the park.

 Sagrada Família
Circling the exterior of the Sagrada Família was enough to make me plan a return to Barcelona.

Casa Batlló Rooftop
I’m so glad Angie suggested topping off our day with a visit to Gaudi’s Casa Batlló!

Casa Batlló Rooftop
Touring spectacular architecture while listening to Dali’s opinions of the building on the audio guide is something I’ll never forget.

me & Angie on the Casa Batlló Rooftop

Equally as fantastic as touring sights in so many wonderful cities was spending quality time with Angie. It’s impossible to fit all of the wacky things we shared during our trip into this post (After all, thanks to our package, we did our very best to try one of every item offered on the ship’s drink menu…) We each won a trivia contest, danced at Grease night in the ship’s Galaxy Lounge, met fascinating new friends from Argentina, gambled the hours away at electronic roulette (and won!), and so much more…

Here’s a kiss we blew to Big D. I think this photo captures the essence of our time together – Fun!
Smooch for Big D

Tons of other photos from our cruise are posted on Flickr. Ahoy!