Europe Trip – Sea Day (Day 9)

Our last day on the cruise ship was filled with activities on the ship as we didn’t have a port of call. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining room then most of us went swimming. I took along a fantasy novel that I spent quite a bit of time reading. Debi went to the spa for a free session, which turned into a sales pitch for pseudo-science spa treatments.

At one point there was a call for participants in a belly flop contest. The announcer seemed to suggest that no one had signed up, so I went over to sign up. It turns out, there were 5 other people who had signed up, all of them rather large individuals (i.e., upwards of 220 pounds). I looked tiny compared to them, but I had a secret weapon: I can jump. Most of the guys had large bellies, but one was a big guy (6′ 3″) from South African who was ripped. I was the last contestant and managed to get some air and slap the pool very hard. It stung for about a minute but the red helped me win votes. I ended up taking second place behind the South African!

We also went to another diving show in the afternoon and several people went ice skating. We ended the evening with a family-friendly comedy show by the same comedian I had seen a couple of nights earlier.

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Europe Trip – Amalfi Coast and Pompeii (Day 8)

Our fifth port of call was Naples. However, we didn’t actually spend any time in Naples. Instead, we took a bus through Sorrento to the small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We stopped briefly to get some photos of Sorrento before continuing to Positano.

Debi and Toren with Sorrento in the background.

Positano was similar to the other villages in Cinque Terre, but the mountains here were even more rugged. Positano was also substantially larger than most of those towns, though Monterroso del Mar may have been similarly sized. It was really picturesque, with a beautiful waterfront and colorful houses working their way up to the cliffs.

Our tour bus parked in about the middle of the village in terms of elevation – about halfway between the cliffs and the water. Debi, Toren, and I quickly made our way down to the water and walked along the waterfront, taking some fun photos along the way:

We walked from one end of the waterfront to the other, enjoying the views.

Debi and I on the waterfront in Positano.

As I had done in the towns in Cinque Terre, I thought it might be fun to see the city from higher up. This time, I convinced Debi and Toren to join me. We moved up the town pretty quickly as we were pressed for time, going from the very lowest point in elevation, the waterfront, to just below the cliffs in about 20 minutes. (An estimate via Google maps suggests the elevation just below the cliffs is about 130 meters; another website put it at around 150 meters; somewhere around 400 to 500 feet above sea level.) On the way, I snapped a photo of Debi and Toren crossing a bridge:

You can see we’re getting closer to the cliffs at this point.

We did make it to just below the cliffs, but were running out of time to get back to the bus, so I snapped a picture or two and then we headed back down. We actually got back to the bathroom with 10 minutes to spare, but the line was huge, so we ended up getting back to the bus late (the only time we were late) by about 5 minutes. Everyone but our guide was cool about it. Our guide seemed bothered, even though I was technically there on time and told him that Debi and Toren were in the bathroom and were coming as quickly as they could. Oh well, no one will remember that but me and I only remember it because our guide was annoying about it.

From Positano, we took the bus back to Sorrento where our guide gave us about an hour and a half to explore the city. We walked down to the cliff edge overlooking the bay and took in the view, then found a nice place for lunch where I split a Napolitano pizza (cheese and anchovies) with my brother-in-law. I also tried the local beverage, limoncello, that had a very high alcohol content level. We all enjoyed our meals, I think, and followed up lunch with a trip to a gelateria:

Debi enjoying her gnocchi in Sorrento.

We made our way back to the tour bus and then headed to Pompeii where we got an archaeological guide who took us through the ruins. As I’m keen to do, I walked by the guide most of the time and peppered him with questions: Why was Pompeii so diverse? (Answer: It was a prominent port.) Didn’t anyone survive the explosion? (Answer: Yes. Some were not in the town when the explosion occurred; others were able to run away, but most were not.) Where are all the items they discovered in the ruins? (Answer: Almost everything is in a museum in Naples. Very few artifacts remain in Pompeii proper.)

Our guide seemed informative if a little impatient. However, I checked on a few of the things he claimed after the trip and he wasn’t always accurate. For instance, he claimed that the word “spa” derives from the Latin, salus per aquam or “health through water.” A little digging illustrated that is a backronym and was not an acronym invented by the Romans (the word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium). He also claimed that the roads in Pompeii didn’t have sewers underneath because they were built on tough volcanic rock, so they made the roads into the sewers. I’m a little more skeptical of this claim now, but it was cool seeing the ruts in the roads made by ancient Roman wagons.

I’m sure it would be fun to walk through Pompeii slowly with an actual archaeologist rather than a pseudo-archaeologist tour guide. And, I think the ideal way to see Pompeii is really to go to the ruins and then go to the museum in Naples that houses all the artifacts. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii and it was nice to see the site in person.

We spent about an hour and a half in Pompeii and that wrapped up our tour for the day. We took a few minutes to get some drinks at the entrance of the site (lemon-flavored again, and very over-priced), then boarded the bus and headed back to the cruise ship.

Debi and Toren in the Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

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Europe Trip – Marseilles (Day 5)

The second stop on our cruise was in Marseilles, France. Given that it was France, I was expecting a very nice city, like Paris. I was a little disappointed.

Our excursion was called “Scenic Marseilles” and basically involved riding in a bus around the city with two stops. We stopped once to take some pictures of Château d’If, a relatively famous fort on an island just off the coast of Marseilles that has featured in a number of stories and movies.

Château d'If
Château d’If

The second stop was at the Palais Longchamp where we had about 20 minutes to run up and look at the architecture but didn’t have time to do much else.

Palais Longchamp
Palais Longchamp

The tour ended a couple of blocks from the old port. The guide said we could return to the bus at a certain time and they would take us back to the cruise ship. Alternatively, we could catch the Royal Caribbean shuttle at a specific location, which she showed us.

A few of us opted to explore Marseilles for a few hours. We first stopped at a bakery. After getting medialunas in Argentina, which kind of look like croissants but are way better, I have been itching to try a croissant in France to see if I’m not making a fair comparison between the two breads. The croissants we had in the bakery were good, but we’re all still partial to Argentinean medialunas. However, the pizza they had in the bakery was both cheap and delicious (perhaps the best we had on the trip).

Enjoying a French croissant.

From there, we caught a bus up to see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which stands atop a prominent hill in Marseilles. It’s a beautiful Byzantine church.

We spent a good hour walking around and through it.

Here’s a short video clip of the music that was being sung while we were inside:

After the church, we headed back down through Marseilles and caught the shuttle back to the cruise ship.

That evening, we saw a show (or two) on the ship. I think we actually saw one of these the night before, but the time stamps on my photos indicate that they were both this night. We saw a magic show with Hector is Magic, a Spanish magician. His sleight of hand tricks with cards were good. The other tricks were pretty easy to figure out. (Side note, while Hector is a decent magician, he’s not much of a rock climber. The next day, while in Cinque Terre, we ran into Hector while hopping on rocks in one of the small towns, Vernazza. Hector lost his sunglasses while trying to get a photo and didn’t notice. Toren saw the sunglasses fall, climbed down to find them, and returned them to him. You’re welcome, Hector!)

We also saw a diving show. The Oasis of the Seas is big enough that it has a water theater at the back of the ship where they stage diving shows. The shows were pretty good and included divers, synchronized swimmers, and slackliners.

The water theater at the back of the ship.

(Brief reflection on Marseilles. If I’m being honest, this was probably the least interesting shore excursion. I’m sure a long stay in Marseilles might prove otherwise, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do here. Additionally, the city seemed a bit dirty and was covered in graffiti. I kind of sound like a crotchety old man telling kids to get off my lawn with my criticism here, but I think it was the contrast between Paris and Marseilles that left me feeling like Marseilles wasn’t what I was expecting.)

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Europe Trip – Mallorca (Day 4)

Rosemary arranged for a very nice excursion while we were in Mallorca. We boarded a catamaran with about 50 other people and headed out away from the city to a nice area where there was no development, dropped anchor, and everyone got to jump in the water and swim around. The water was really clear but a little chilly. Not thinking in advance, I forgot to bring our masks and snorkels but they had some for purchase for relatively cheap on the boat, so we bought a couple and had a nice time swimming around:

The three of us on the catamaran
Where we went swimming.

We got to swim for about an hour then had lunch on the catamaran. The trip to where we went swimming took about 45 minutes. It was about the same going back. Several of us decided that we wanted to walk around Mallorca for a bit before heading back to the cruise ship. When the catamaran docked, we started walking along the main road. We eventually found a staircase leading to a small park where we took some fun pictures.

After our stop at the park, we walked a little longer than grabbed some cabs back to the cruise ship.

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Europe Trip – Boarding the Cruise Ship (Day 3)

Rosemary (Debi’s mom) arranged a transfer to the cruise ship from our hotel. Getting checked in and the luggage situated took a bit, but we were on the ship by about noon. We made our way to the buffet and grabbed some lunch, then started taking advantage of all the offerings on the ship. We were on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which is an enormous ship with lots of offerings.

After lunch, we went to the rock climbing wall where Debi, Toren, and I (and several other nieces and nephews) all climbed the wall.

Ryan (in red) and Toren (in blue) on the climbing wall.

Most of the kids were excited to go swimming, so we got them ready as quickly as possible and let them swim for most of the afternoon.

One thing we always do on cruises with my in-laws is enjoy dinners in the main dining room. The food is typically very good and we enjoy the service. I have to be very careful not to over-eat, but it is a nice chance to enjoy good food, excellent service, and chat about our daily adventures. We got started with our daily dinners that first night.

After dinner, Rosemary had reserved tickets for all of us to see Cats, which was being performed that first night. Most of us went, but a few opted out since they had seen it before and were not keen to see it again. As a fan of musicals, I was familiar with a few of the songs and really enjoyed them, but had never seen it. Debi had seen it on Broadway but was fine seeing it again. I will admit that the first act left us all… disappointed. I’m sure the acting and singing were fine compared to other productions, but there is no coherency to the story. Toren’s intermission review was pretty accurate, “I like shows with a premise.” Almost all of the people in attendance got up at intermission; much less than half of those who were there at the beginning of the show stayed for the end. It was actually their loss. While the coherency of the play didn’t improve all that much (no one knows what a Jellicle cat is), the symbolism and meaning of the play became more apparent, there was a really good dance number, and the more well-known songs were also in the second act. By the end, we were glad we stayed and actually enjoyed the musical. Would we see it again? Meh. Probably not. But it was definitely worth seeing it once.

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