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 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.

The Vacation Debacle

This is a lot of words, but damn. It’s was a crazy couple of days.

A few months ago I decided I needed a really nice relaxing vacation, preferably seeing something I haven’t before. My Travel Agent Extraordinaire Lisa Chady and I put together a marvelous trip on a cruise ship through Barcelona, France, and southern Italy for my adventure this year. There was a crap ton of planning, including lots of time for me to be chill and not rushed. Everything was perfectly laid out. I had lists and everything ready to roll. Because you know me. Anal-retentive.

You know what they say about Best Laid Plans.

The Fire Debacle

On the day of the journey (Friday morning), I woke up bright and early. I had planned to leisurely drink my coffee, pack the last few bits of things, then drive out to the airport. Those plans were immediately squashed. The first thing I saw when my alarm went off was a message from Brian: “The news said they shut down 580 because of a fire. You might have to go through Tahoe”.

Mind you, 580 is the highway through Washoe Valley, and the best way to Reno from Minden. So I made coffee and hit the internet. Fire in Carson City. Ok. Fire in Tahoe. Ok. I messaged him back and said I didn’t see that. I then turned up the Google-fu and there it was: Fire in Washoe Valley. Few minutes later was the twitter bomb from Nevada Highway Patrol about the closure.

M’fer.

So my leisurely morning was reduced to total and utter panic. Panic shower. Panic brush teeth. Panic throw the rest of the stuff in the suitcase. Panic grab a banana for breakfast (this is important later). Panic find alternate route – which was a royal pain in the ass because it was raining/snowing/windy all over Tahoe. So I chose Virginia City. Saw how long the ride would take, tacked on time to that trip because I figured I’d be one of a bazillion people doing it due to the road closure. Panic hug dog. Panic hurl bags in car.  Pray I’ve got everything, and hit the road an hour earlier than I planned.

Now, at this point I’ve hardly slept for two days. I’m just exhausted. But damn the world, I was catching that plane. And wouldn’t you know, I hit the Reno Airport an hour and a half before flight time.

The Flight Debacle

I park my car, then start scooping stuff out of my car to go in. In the middle of that I check my phone and THERE IT IS: My flight plan was Reno to Los Angeles to SFO, then SFO to London. The Los Angeles to SFO leg was canceled due to weather. GAWD.

Fueled by 1/2 a cup of coffee and zero sleep, I begged the ticket agent with sad tired eyes. And wouldn’t you know it, he found a flight to Oakland with more than enough time to take BART to SFO and catch my London plane. I WAS SAVED!

The Banana Debacle

So I check in my bag, head through security, and clear the TSA hurdle no problem. As I’m sitting there reassembling my torn apart carry on gear and putting on my shoes, it hits me: WHERE IS THE DAMN BANANA I PACKED FOR BREAKFAST?

It’s in my damn car, that’s where it is. In my car, sitting in long-term parking in the sun. Where it will remain for TEN DAYS. DAMMIT. I groan inwardly, march myself back out to long term parking, retrieve the banana, eat it, throw the remnants away, and return to the terminal for TSA round two.

The Flight Debacle Part II: Electric Boogaloo

Get through security a second time. I’m relieved. I have an hour before boarding, so I grab myself a bagel to finish off breakfast, and sit down for some much needed rest (at this point, I’d been running around like a crazy person for 5 hours).

…and I’m halfway through my bagel when I hear “Attention passengers of flight blah blah blah, it has been canceled. Please see your ticket agent“.

M’FER OMFG

At this point I’m completely out of options. NO OTHER FLIGHTS are getting to Oakland or SFO in time for me to catch the London flight. To make it 800x worse, the wind picked up (those of you familiar with Reno, the wind gusts are awesome), and they were canceling flights left and right. It was entirely too late to jump in the car and haul ass to San Francisco to make it in time for my flight.

Luckily for me, I have travel insurance. Between them (with a lot of hollering) and some handy help from Lisa, I managed to get a series of flights that would get me to my cruise ship in the nick of time to board.

So, 7 hours after I arrived at the airport in Reno, I get back in my car and drive home. Thus ended the first day of my vacation. I ordered pizza for dinner. That made it somewhat better.

I Still Made It

The next morning I get up prior to the butt-crack-of-dawn (3:00 AM) and drive myself back to Reno. Road was not on fire (YAY). Flights weren’t canceled (YAY). Three flights and 24 hours later, I magically appear in my cruise ship cabin in Barcelona, Spain. I was completely and utterly wiped out. But I’m here.

Whew.

Good Vacations

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good vacation.  And lately I feel like I’ve had a vacation from my old broken self.  There’s a lot of reasons for that.  I think first and most important was taking the time to invest in myself.  At least, that’s what I’ve called therapy. Because I did it, despite the expense, I feel like I have a grip on everything now.  And if it’s hard to handle, I can talk it out.

A few weeks ago I decided to try dating again.  It was not so much for the purpose of filling a hole in my life or rebounding or anything like that.  It was more like: I have a handle on me, I have a handle on my life, and I’m getting a little bored being solitary.  I thought it might be nice to get out and meet other people.  Have some conversations.  Do some fun things.  So I went for it.  And surprisingly, it was short lived.  I filtered through the usual weirdos.  And I scored a date, but boy was that a hot mess – the guy was this bizarre combination of everything I really didn’t like about my last couple of boyfriends.  And for the love of everything he wouldn’t stop talking.  Mostly about everything he believed and how if you didn’t believe that you were wrong.  That man hit all the no-nos of a first date:  He thoroughly covered his ex wife, religion, and politics.

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(Per the greatest cartoonist evar, The Oatmeal)

When that date was over, I went home and fired up Ye Olde Dating App, and sent a message to this guy – he had a picture of a rusted out car in Bodie.  I thought the car was neat, and saw familiar things in his other pictures.  I kind of figured we weren’t quite a match based on what he wrote, but he was interesting.  My brain said: why the hell not and I fired off a message.  He replied.  And then we went on a date.  And then a few other dates/events.  Then, at his suggestion, a Memorial day weekend road trip.

The road trip was the vacation for me.  We had no real plan – just go and then sort out what we wanted to do as we went.  We were relaxed – I jokingly call him my human prozac because he has that effect on me.  He makes me live in the moment, which as any of you who actually read this and who know me are well aware that’s quite a step from my control freak nature.

So we hiked.  We ate crab cakes.  We did a tour of my old digs in Oakland.  Went to see my cousin.  I played my oboe for his parents.  We drove, we chatted, we stopped when we needed to.   I’ve not been on a trip like that on a long time.  There was no agenda, just mutual agreement.  My vacations the last few years were not so much that, and towards the latter end of my previous relationship they were full of land mines and fights.  This was different.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post. I guess I’m trying to say that things are good, and I’m having a really nice life right now.  I’ll make no prognostications about this nice man that I’ve met, nor plan beyond the next road trip with him right now.  I just know that I’m ok, and this is ok, and while it may be soon it doesn’t feel soon, and I’m good with it.

So, to tie this up:  that slavedriver of a man made me climb the majority of Mount Tamalpais two days in a row.  The first day was all fog and when we got to the top I didn’t even realize we were there.  The second day I thought he was just torturing me, and I’ll admit I did a bit of whining at the beginning.  But we climbed forever, and then we hit the overlook and this is what I saw:

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I still told him he was a slavedriver, but I was happy he made me do it.  That’s the SF bay in the top left.  Pow.