About Nita

I live in Minden, NV. I have a bachelor's degree in Music Performance, emphasis oboe. I was a PHP Developer for a while, then found myself knee-deep in the world of data warehousing. After that, project management. And developing some PHP again. It's the circle of life! I live with my cat Spot, cat Salem (destroyer of worlds) and my dog Jack. I am a sci-fi junkie. I like to run and garden. The end.

Cruise Day 5: Cannes, France

No aka today. Cannes is Cannes. I believe the French would declare war if we were to refer to it as anything else.

We arrived at Cannes this morning. This port is a little different. They don’t allow cruise ships to actually dock, so right now we’re parked a few miles offshore. The cruise ship uses the lifeboats to ferry us ashore, which was actually cool because 1) I got to be in a lifeboat and 2) I now believe the lifeboats actually work.

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My heart will go on

I spent approximately 5 hours onshore in France. For this port, I chose a very short walking tour – 3 hours. We met at the terminal, walked our way through the main parts of the city, visited the Promenade de la Croisette.

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It’s French for “very tiny beach”

Walked through some streets and shopping areas,

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and then were dropped off to do our own thing. After our guide hauled us up to the castle/tower for the view, we were let go.

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The original Angry Bird

The area we are at is where the Cannes film festival is held. There’s great ugly building on the waterfront, and the entire main row of shops is packed with extremely expensive shops (Chanel, Gucci, etc). It has a very LA/Vegas type feel to it, so much like Venice I wasn’t too overawed by what I was seeing. FYI, lots of real estate, so if you have a cool million Euro laying around you can probably buy one of the properties.

The tour guide chatted the whole way, however her accent was pretty heavy so it was hard to keep up with what she was saying. And she punctuated the ends of her sentences with “yah?” “This is a poster of Ingrid Bergman, yah? She was in <movie>, yah?” I’m not making fun of her – she definitely speaks one more language than I do, just found her verbal punctuation a bit amusing.

As far as what we learned, there wasn’t a whole lot of history other than “seaside town, invaded a lot”. I had gotten used to the very clear biographies of every paving stone I stepped on in Italy, so this seemed a bit thinner. But it’s fine – for me the overview is good, I’ll read up on what I want to know later, and lemme go explore. For the record, I did NOT get lost today. Didn’t even have a map!

The area is beautiful (of course). They have a huge open market in the center area of the city where you can pick up pretty much anything you need to make dinner. The homes/apartments/buildings are well maintained. It reminded me of Florence, but definitely a different vibe and look.

I bought a lot of candy for my sister’s kids. I plan to send them home with their heads spinning.

I think I’m getting a little tired. I was far less enthused today than I have been the first few days of the trip. Upside is my tooth has stopped hurting, and the swelling is going down. Which in dental land tells me I’ll likely need a root canal when I get back (dead nerve). But it’s not as critical or painful, and I’m actually able to eat again.

Tomorrow is Marseille, then a day in Barcelona, then I get to go home! I miss my little house. I’ll be lighter in the wallet, and I’ll have many more memories under my belt when I get back.

Cruise Day 4: Florence aka Firenze

 

The Florence story is in this post at the bottom, but I had some time so I added bonus stories.

The Cruise Ship

I haven’t touched on this too much, as I have made somewhat of a gross assumption that a lot of people have been on cruises (they are very popular). This is my second cruise. My first was to Alaska a few years go. So what is the ship like? Well, my immediate phrase for anyone who asks is: a giant hotel floating on the ocean. That’s literally what it is. Of course, it’s a ship with limited resources, so think of everything you’d see in a resort hotel or casino, and miniaturize it. The rooms are fully functional hotel rooms, just really compact. Don’t believe the fish-eye lens pictures you see on the sites. The rooms have enough space between the furniture and beds/couches to walk, and that’s it. The toilets make me think of airline bathrooms, but with more flair. You get a teeny shower cubicle. The sink is very similar to an airline sink. The “queen” size bed is two very short twins mashed together. I am 5’1” – if I lay out on the bed my feet reach the end (sorry tall people, this is a midget ship!).

In this case, I have a balcony room. My previous cruise I had a mini-suite. Both were very small. This one is just smaller. But once you get used to the size of the room, it’s just fine. They always give you tons of cabinets and drawers to stash stuff, so when you unpack your room isn’t a total chaotic mess.

The other nice thing is that you get a room steward assigned to you for the duration of the trip. In this case, my guy is Aurelio, from the Philippines. I am pretty sure it’s part of their job training, but they always know my name when I arrive, and greet me by my name when they see me. They come in the morning to do housekeeping duty, and again in the evening to turn down the bed and do a cleanup sweep. Aurelio has been very nice – he asks about my day, what I did, etc. You also see the same people all the time. The same lady greets you at dinner. The same guy is on shift when you go to the bar for a drink. In my case, they recognize me – probably due to the hair, but it’s a nice consistency.

Overall, the only time you really need to worry about ship accommodations is if you are on a long trip (in my case, I prefer 7-10 days), and your first day on the trip (that is always the “at sea” day, where the ship is powering to the first destination).  Maybe another “at sea” day if you are on a long one. Beyond that, if you schedule things right you won’t be around too much to worry. The important part is having a tidy comfortable place to come back to after you’ve spent the day on your feet (or on a bike).  Me personally, I have this thing with seasickness sometimes, so having a balcony that I can orient myself on when we hit turbulent waters helps a ton.

The AKA Thing

And for those who are wondering: what the heck is with all the AKA business? Well, everything in Italy has the actual Italian name and the English version. I’ve been listing both because after my last trip to Italy I learned that little factoid, and I want to try and remember what the cities were actually called. For example, yesterday I visited St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, but here squares are called Piazzas. So St. Peter’s Square is actually Piazza San Pietro. Another example is the cathedrals (with the grand domes on them). In Florence, the big one is called Il Duomo di Firenze (aka the the Florence Cathedral). After spending a week in Italy last year, I learned the English translations of these things did squat for finding my way around, so I got used to the Italian versions. Another example is the street naming: Via dei Pandolfini versus Pandolfini street. Trust me, it works better. It’s also interesting that when I Facebooked things last year in Italy, they came up with the Italian names, but when I got back to the states everything was neatly translated.

I really do love Italy. After hitting up the rest of the country (mostly), I still think Tuscany is my favorite. I don’t know exactly what it is. I mean, most things are a disorganized mess, the drivers are scary, but the people themselves just have style. Now that it’s my second time around, I can actually spot the Italians vs the tourists. Everything about them, from their dress to their architecture (newer architecture, anyway) is all very neat lines and boxy shapes. Despite the general chaos of their land, it’s like little pockets of self-organization. Naples and Rome were less like this, but the Tuscan region is definitely like this.

Florence (aka Firenze)

This was our third day in Italy. To be clear, the country itself is more like a set of federated states. Each has their own customs, food, styles, and even ways of talking. Old grudges extending back to the renaissance still exist, but are more friendly jokes than anything.

Today was Florence. Last year I spent a couple of days in Florence with Toccata, so I was pretty familiar with the layout. The tour I took today was far more relaxed than the one I did yesterday. We were coach bussed in to the leather district of downtown Florence, given a brief overview, handed a map with the pickup location, and sent off into wonderland.

You’d think after my previous experience I’d be a total pro, but I’ll fess up: I GOT LOST. I crossed the Florence version of the railroad lines and somehow wound up on the wrong side of the tracks. So much for my unerring sense of direction. When I go traveling on foot like that, I tend to pick a street as my cutoff and decide left or right. I did pick that street this time, but I somehow missed the plaque listing it.  Another odd thing about downtown Florence – there are NO street signs. there are plaques on the side of buildings with the street names.

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Sample of plaque

So yeah. Missed my street plaque. Wound up a few blocks into a fairly scary part of Florence. Was accosted by a gypsy lady and some other random beggars. Once I realized it, I turned around and hauled ass back to the tourist area.

Fortunately that little detour didn’t cost me much time. While out on my jaunt I bumped into the church we played at last year, and the Uffizi.

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We played here last year!

Didn’t run into the Duomo – purposely avoided that area because it’s mostly shops you can find in the US (coach, H&M, Marc Jacobs, etc). I mostly stuck to random alleys and side streets and picked shops you’d only find there.

After my near panic of being lost, I settled down and had a pizza for lunch, then decided to do some Serious Shopping. There were certain things I knew I could only get in Florence, so I think I broke my credit card purchasing everything.

Wine Tasting

Met up with my tour group for our wine tasting trip at the Castello del Trebbio around 1PM. For those who don’t know, the castle was the home of the Pazzo family, who were the main antagonists of the Medici (who were bankers and pretty much owned everything back in the day). The Pazzo family attempted to assassinate the Medici family with backup from the Pope, but failed and were ultimately killed off by the surviving Medici brother. Pazzi is also a word for crazy. So let it be known: if you decide to murder another family in a blood feud you better finish off the job right or everybody will remember you as crazy.

The castle has been renovated by a family that bought it in the 1960s and turned it into a winery. The wine is actually kept in the dungeon. We got a tour of that, then went upstairs for a wine tasting and snack.  Then I bought a bunch of wine to ship home.  #priorities

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I stormed the castle

Then we climbed back on our bus and went back to the ship. Overall, I liked this trip far better because I had TONS of free time to (ahem) get lost in the city and just do what I wanted to.

Tomorrow I will be meeting France for the first time. Wish me luck!

Cruise Day 3: Rome aka Roma

This morning we woke up in Civitavecchia, Italy. It’s a port about 1.5 hours outside of Rome (unless you’re our bus driver, who managed to plow down enough cars to make it in about an hour). Since I have never been here, I chose to do the group tour “Highlights of Rome”. When I read the description, it was basically “hit these few cool places and have some time to wander around”. With traffic it was more like “hit these few cool places and if you’re lucky you get a chance to pee”.

When I got on the bus, I met another solo traveler, Lottie (GOT A NAME THIS TIME). She was from Atlanta, so we stuck near each other for the duration of the trip. Our first stop was to Colosseum. I’d read some about it, and I knew it was smaller than most people think. I wasn’t overy surprised by how small it seemed compared to pictures. We didn’t get to go in (time constraints), but got to snap a few neat pictures here and there.

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Our tour guide was a 77 year old native Roman. He was born at the start of WWII, and had all kinds of neat tidbits about the city. He pointed out all of the things that happened during WWII under Mussolini, including where Mussolini stood when he declared war. He tended to wax poetic, but considering he was dropping knowledge bombs everywhere, it was more like keeping up with what was pouring out of his brain than getting a whitewashed version.

Our next stop was the Trevi fountain. Looked just like the pictures.

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The thing that was not like the pictures was how mobbed it was. This goes for the Colosseum as well. Everything was swamped with visitors, everywhere we went. It wasn’t so much a personal experience as it was floating on a sea of humanity catching glimpses of things you wanted to see. Just a tip: our guide said November and February are the quietest months to visit all of these attractions. The crowds were notable because anybody that knows me is well aware I don’t do crowds. I was probably more stressed about the large amounts of people bumping into me, which kind of killed my experience.

After that we visited another square, and then we headed to the Pantheon. It was actually less busy, so there was some time to enjoy the views.

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We herded onto the bus after that, and then took a trip to Vatican City. We didn’t actually go inside the Vatican or visit the Sistine Chapel, but we got to walk through St. Peter’s Basilica, and then visit the square. Again, mobbed with people.

That said, I did walk through the doors that forgive all sins (if you are Catholic, like me), so I essentially picked up a do-over on this trip! That counts for something. Wonder how long that will last.  Here’s my eyeball in front of St. Peter’s square:

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I think my only gripe (and this applies to the previous year of travel as well), was the lack of free time. There wasn’t any. We were constantly moving from point to point. My preferred travel method is to be taken somewhere, have the points of interest listed with directions, then set free to do my own thing. When I booked this trip I thought that was what was going to happen. Not so much. Next I’m I’ll bite the bullet and just do it on my own.

Since I was more or less a loner on this trip, I wound up taking pictures of myself. I refuse to invest in a selfie stick, so instead I settled for various pictures of me in front of things, showcasing one or more eyeballs.

On another note, it seems my alone-ness has captured some of the staff. The bartender asked me if I was having fun, as he had only seen me show up to order my wine and then hide in corners to write on my computer. I chatted with him a bit to let him know I was ok and mostly just doing my own thing.

I do miss home. But I’ll be back there soon enough. Still lots to see. I’m really excited for France. That’s on Friday. New experience!

As I write, we are sailing out of Civitavecchia and on our way to Florence. Since I have visited Florence already, I’m going to take a wine tour. Hoping to return completely sauced. Also hoping to find a nice box of wine to ship home.

Some things of note:

The pine trees they have here are weird. They trim them into umbrella shapes. I guess cone-shaped isn’t their thing.

The weather still reminds me of San Francisco. Cool and humid, unless you’re standing in the sun, which immediately turns you into baked soup

Hair is still a total tragedy. Humidity 1; Me 0.

I think I hurt my tooth in one of my Bonine-infused nightmares. I tend to clench my teeth, and I think I overdid it. It’s been aching a couple of days, and I can’t eat on that side of the mouth. It’s not an immense pain, but it’s worrying me enough to schedule a follow up dentist visit when I get back. Talk about timing. I had my last checkup 3 days before I left. I’m telling you, this trip is out to get me.

Cruise Day 2: Naples aka Napoli

There isn’t any seasickness factor this time around. Maybe the Bonine stretched longer than I thought. Maybe it’s because the seas are very calm, so there’s not a whole lot of back-and-forth on the ship. Either way, I feel fine. May suck down one more before bed just in case. Just so I can enjoy the ensuing nightmares.  My dreams on Bonine have been nuts.  I had a dream one of my nephews was trying to become the next Messiah and disrupting a concert I had with Toccata.  WEIRD.

I didn’t make it to the Solo Traveler gathering yesterday, and at this point I’m so pooped I’m not sure I’ll make today. That’s fine. I’ve tried to make it a point to talk to random people. As some of you know, I’m not a chatty person by nature so it’s taken some doing. There’s lots of activities on this ship so bonding with the person you sat next to is a thing. I was having lunch today and had a great conversation with a couple of really sweet gentlemen from Florida, who shared pictures of their menagerie (which included two parrots). Today I learned that female parrots will lay eggs if you pet them on the back.

Our port today is Naples! I didn’t know much about Naples. Port city. Mostly tourist industry. Pompeii or Capri if you want to make the trek. For this stop I opted to take a tour of Naples on a bike. My group included 4 other people – two from Canada, one from Germany, and one from Israel. I’d like to spin this as a glorious fantastical tour, but it was pretty boring. Since we were on bikes, there wasn’t a whole lot of chatter. Just huffing and puffing. The Canadians weren’t impressed with the gear (helmet problems). The Israeli dude thought the whole thing was too slow (he was a super biker). The German didn’t say much at all, but we chatted a bit about where I lived in the US and about his travels through Europe. Overall, I did love the bike part.

Biking Naples

We just plowed through and got to see more terrain than we would have on foot, and avoided the traffic. Got to climb a castle. Got a good workout. My Apple Watch was very happy with me today.

Since we mostly stuck close to port, I didn’t get to see much of Naples beyond the shopping areas. And the shopping part bored me. It was all clothes, watches, and jewelry. The architecture is definitely something to behold. It’s this bizarre mixture of (mostly) old and some new. When we got off of the ship, there was a whole area cordoned off. They were building an addition to the port, but had to stop because they ran into old ruins. They’re being excavated now. The guide said it will take about 10 years to finish the site. We saw the ruins through the fence – looked like old city walls. That was neat.

We mostly rode along the shores. Saw a couple of neat points.  We visited a castle and climbed to the top, where I saw an idea for turning my future home into a fortress.

Cannons on the top of the castle

We actually ended the ride early, at which point Super Biker Israeli Dude (apologies, nobody told me their names) insisted we get our 4 hours in. So our lovely bike guide took us through the Spanish Quarter as a bonus. After we were done, I marched myself down Toledo street to see if there was anything worth buying (no) and went back to the ship for a late lunch.

The early return was good timing. Shortly after I arrived it started pouring rain. I had my late lunch (see note about the Florida couple with the parrots), then retired here to write more, harass Eric, and potentially nap. It’s a little after 5PM now, so the ship will be sailing off soon. I’m probably going to turn in early and try to get some early exercise in before I get more exercise hiking around Rome tomorrow! Even as a lapsed Catholic, I’m excited to see Rome and the Vatican.

Cruise Day 1: I’m on a boat

Today is the 3rd day of my vacation (if you include the aborted first day).

When I got up in the morning at 5:30 AM, we were floating out somewhere in the Mediterranean. Cool. It was pitch black. I made some of the in-room coffee. Caught up on news. Posted my first post for this trip.

So a couple of catchup items from yesterday:

I had purchased a little bottle of Dramamine for this trip. I had remembered the last cruise I was on – I was super seasick the first day when we were powering up the coast to Alaska. Since the first day on this ship was powering our way down to Italy, I figured it may be good to have it and dose myself first thing in the morning. Well, after digging through my luggage several times, it appears I had forgotten to pack it (go me). I still have no idea where that little bottle went. I checked it off of my list!!! So I had to go down and buy some Bonine from the gift shop (boo – $$$$$$).

Since we have no port today, I had decided last night I would get up, have coffee, chill a bit, then go to the gym and try to get in a run because I haven’t had time for a week (seriously, my LONGEST non-running stretch in months). That was a great plan, until about 2AM this morning. I stretched in my sleep, pointed my toes, and got a huge charlie horse. Agonizing. That muscle in my calf still hurts. Since I have to go bike tomorrow, I decide to give my poor calf a rest, and instead chose to hike the ship. I should have stretched before bed last night. Planes, man. It’s always the planes.

Moving on…

I kept part of the plan for this morning. Had my coffee. Watched the sun come up from my balcony. Hiked the ship. Ate a very small meal for breakfast because I wasn’t quite sure if it was safe to eat or not (barfing potential rating: 5 of 10).

I hiked the entire ship (I get to use the word hike because I took the stairs). Looked at every attraction onboard so I knew where it was. Got my bearings. Checked the intertubes for updates. Found the Grownups Lounge (18+, no kids squalling nearby) near the end of my hike, so here I am now writing the first half of this update while I chill.

Overall, it’s pretty decent here. Typical cruise activity fare. There’s a solo traveler meet up this evening, so I think I’ll go check that out. Maybe I can make a friend/buddy. I’m also thinking I may go and slater on some sunblock and put on my running gear, then come out here and bake in the sun. I’ve got some more walking to do as well. I’m going to try to get in 3 miles of it so I can feel better about missing the run this morning.