Archive | October, 2014

Day 6 European Vacation: City on a cliff

28 Oct

Wow. Wow. Wow.

DSC_0740I’ve been putting off this post. Not sure how to put into words the beauty of Santorini and the city of Oia.  It was breathtaking.  This was what we woke up to… the cliff city of Oia.  The city that I think of every time I think of Greece.  This was it.  This was the whole reason for the trip (although every minute was amazing).

There is no port in Santorini that can support a ship the size of ours so our boat stayed in the water tendered and we took smaller boats ashore that day.  We had an excursion planned to see Oia, Fira and the winery on the island.  Our guide spoke amazing English with such a beautiful accent that I just enjoyed listening to her speak!  We took a bus from a small port on one side of the island straight through to the opposite side where the city of Oia is perched.  The island is very interesting because as we drove up the inside of the cliff, directly across from us we could see large expanses of flat lands and then another ocean (which I could not get a good picture of due to the movement of the bus).  More than half the island is used for farming and much of that farming is grapes for their signature wine.

DSC_0749 DSC_0758(OH MY GOODNESS! THESE PICTURES!) The first stop was Oia (pronounced eye-ah) and it was like a dream.  We got there really early and the crowds had not yet joined us.  As we walked along the winding paths through hotels, shops and restaurants we were blown away by the sheer beauty of the city and the ocean.  The island is part of a volcanic caldera called Thera in the Aegean Sea.  There is also another island across from Santorini that is inhabited but it is very small and has not been updated to include drivable roadways.

DSC_0752 DSC_0759 DSC_0761The iconic white buildings with blue roofs are starting to change a bit.  You can see in the distance of some of these pictures that white is not the uniform anymore.  That decision was made because of how blinding the white can be.  Now people can paint buildings any light color.  I still liked the white best despite how bright it was!

DSC_0762 DSC_0768DSC_0774Britton and I will DEFINITELY go back and stay in one of these amazing, small hotels in the future if we ever get another opportunity to do so.  It would be amazing to stay a week!

After Oia we headed out to the opposite side of the island to their winery.  We tried some great wines and bought a bottle of their port.  The winery was not surrounded by fields of grapes like I had expected but was situated over the cliffs so it was beautiful none the less!

The last stop was the city of Fira.  This is more or less the downtown of Santorini.  There were rows and rows of shops and restaurants.  We stopped in to a restaurant situated high on the cliff side and we had an amazing view while we chowed down on some gyros!

DSC_0816After lunch we shopped a bit more and then headed down to the boats.  We were fortunate enough to take the bus up but that was not an option to get back down.  They did have cable cars that went both ways but the line was forever long.  The other options were to take a donkey down the long stairs or walk.  We opted for the walk!

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I had a hard time taking pictures in an effort to watch where I was stepping to avoid the donkeys and their poop but Britton got most of the walk on the GoPro!  The video is long but its pretty cool to see the walk!

DSC_0823If you notice the squiggle line in the picture above, that’s the walk down from Fira!  SO AMAZING!

Day 5 European Vacation: Ephesus & Turkish Tea

21 Oct

On Tuesday morning we awoke to the country side of Turkey.  We had decided to book a tour through the cruise after our debacle earlier in the week.  We were excited to see some biblical sites which the area is known for.  Once we were off the ship we were escorted by bus to the home of the Virgin Mary.  It was located up in a hillside away from the hustle and bustle of the port town of Kusadasi and the biblical town of Ephesus.  The house was discovered in the 19th century and is believed to be the place where she lived until her death.  We weren’t allowed to take any photos while inside but the building itself was very interestingly constructed of stone.

DSC_0598 DSC_0603Once outside the house there were some water fountains that many people were collecting water from.  We did as well but have found the Virgin Mary containers provided were not adequate for containing liquids!  Also outside the home there was a wishing wall where people would write wishes on scraps of cloth and tie it to the wall.

DSC_0605 DSC_0606After the Virgin Mary’s home we moved along to the great city of Ephesus.  It was amazing.  I am still shocked by how well this city has been reconstructed and what is still remaining of this ancient city.  Jesus himself walked the marble streets of Ephesus as did many of his disciples.  Ephesus was a port town in the days of Jesus but due to changing climate and most likely tectonic shifts it is now 3 miles from the sea.

DSC_0624 DSC_0636 DSC_0675We saw many ancient structures while we walked the streets.  There is even a famous lutrine that is no longer in use but in pristine condition!  The Library of Celsius was also in amazing condition reconstructed by the Turkish government, who has placed a lot of emphasis on the reconstruction and preservation of this ancient site.

DSC_0683 DSC_0697The great theater is also believed to be a place where the Apostle Paul is said to have preached the gospel.

DSC_0719 DSC_0725After the amazing sites of Ephesus we headed back into the town of Kusadasi and went to a Turkish rug shop.  They showed us how these Persian rugs are made and what goes into the production of silk.  The rugs were amazing and while we watched their presentation we sipped some cold apple tea, a Turkish tradition.  If we had a few extra thousand waiting in a bank, we probably would have ended up with a beautiful silk rug!

We were not too impressed with the city of Kusadasi as most of it was very commercialized.  The shops reminded me of being in China Town in NYC with knock off purses, shoes and sunglasses being sold around every corner.  We did find some lovely silk and cashmere scarves though that will make for great gifts this Christmas!

All in all, the city of Ephesus was very impressive and I’m so glad we were able to taste the sweet nectar of apple tea.

Day 4 European Vacation: Cruisin’ the Aegean

17 Oct

The fourth day of vacation was somewhat uneventful as we spent the day on our ship.  It was, however, our two year anniversary so we made the most of it!  Britton seemed to have caught a cold in route to Europe so he was feeling slightly under the weather.  And the real weather that day was also a bit interesting as we awoke to very strong winds outside making a day lounging somewhat difficult!

We spent our morning being lazy and made it to breakfast just before it ended.  Afterwards, we hopped into our swimsuits and went up to the 9th deck to find ourselves some chairs to lounge on.  After a few hours of lazyness we decided to change clothes and try out the rock climbing wall that was located on the back of the ship!  We are not rock climbers so this was very interesting and pretty darn fun!

DSC_0545 DSC_0555That night was the first formal night aboard the ship.  There was supposed to be an aerial performance on the ship but due to high winds they had to cancel.  We had made reservations for the steak house that night and were delighted by an excellent meal complete with a chocolate dessert!

DSC_0580 DSC_0570Following dinner the ship really began to rock as we were coming into some very rough seas.  We spent a little time walking around the ship before finally heading down to our room for bed.  The 8 foot seas rocked us to sleep.

Day 3 European Vacation: King’s Landing

13 Oct

Day 3 we awoke to the coast of Croatia.  By 11 am we were heading into the Gru Port in Dubrovnik and the views were spectacular.  As we pulled into port there was a one sided suspension bridge that we could not look away from.

DSC_0353 DSC_0355Once we were in port we were heading straight for old town.  We took a cab into Old Town and found ourselves outside the walls of a great historic city.  We were instantly in love.  Dubrovnik is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.  For anyone that doesn’t know, Old Town Dubrovnik is also home to King’s Landing in the show Game of Thrones.

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When we walked inside the walls of the city we were taken aback by the commercialized main street that housed touristy shops and restaurants.  As we moved further into the city we were quickly rewarded with small store fronts and residential doors away from the commercial and tourism industry.  We walked from one end of the city to the other to find the old port with smaller boats and beautiful views of the Aegean Sea.

DSC_0365 DSC_0367 DSC_0368 DSC_0369We had booked an excursion through a third party vendor and had planned to go on a sea kayak tour around the city walls.  Much to our dismay the tour guides were nowhere to be found despite an hours worth of searching (and huffing and puffing I might add.)  So when we concluded that a third party vendor for excursions were maybe NOT the best idea, we found ourselves a restaurant with free wifi to cool off and come up with a plan for the rest of the day.

After an interesting meal we headed out to see the sites along the wall.  Great walls expand around the entire city and were used as protection dating as far back as the cities founding in the 7th century.  In the 1970’s the wall stopped being used for protection and now serves as a tourist attraction where people can walk the walls and view the city from above.  As I had fallen asleep the night before I couldn’t help but wonder if we had made a mistake in booking the sea kayak tour because we would not have had time to walk the wall.  I suppose my curiosity won out as that was exactly what we spent the next two hours doing.

DSC_0391 DSC_0395Awe.  That’s the best way to describe what we saw along the wall.  We were in awe from the moment we walked up those steps to the moment we walked back down them.  And we would go back to Dubrovnik in a heartbeat.  From atop the walls you can see the entire city and across the Aegean Sea which, by the way, many people were swimming in down below.  The crystal clear blue water was breathtaking and if we had had towels, we would have joined them.  One interesting fact about Dubrovnik, in the 1600’s there was a devastating earthquake in that part of the world that left much rubble and debris throughout the city.  Much of it has been restored but you can still see remnants of that disaster throughout the city walls.

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Also, from atop the walls, we were able to spot some green screens that were being used for the filming of Game of Thrones.  Apparently, the locals don’t care too much for the show but as big fans, we were a little too excited to shoot a few pictures of the green screens in the distance.DSC_0435

DSC_0472When we booked the cruise we could never have been prepared for the beauty in Dubrovnik.  We had no idea what to expect and were so shocked by its historic beauty.

Day 2 European Vacation: Venice and Splendour of the Seas

10 Oct

On Saturday morning we woke up early so that we could see some Venice sites before we had to board the cruise.  We headed to a little restaurant not far from the hotel to grab some Venetian breakfast.  We split an amazing croissant with an gooey orange center and I had the eggs and bacon.  SO GOOD!

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After breakfast we headed back to the hotel to catch the boat for a free tour out to the Murano glass factory.  Murano is the island in Venice that has a history of glass blowing.  The factory is responsible for more glass chandeliers on the island than anyone else (which is evident in many of my pictures to come).  We were fortunate enough to have someone there to demonstrate their art and watched a vase and a solid horse be made right before our eyes.  The factory has been in a family history for MANY years.  The art was extremely expensive but we did make it out of there with some glasses in hand!

IMG_0252[1]After Murano we were back at the hotel and spent some time roaming the gardens on the grounds.  It was beautiful!

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Our next stop was to grab our luggage and walk back in the direction of the train station to get to the cruise port to board Splendour of the Seas.  Once we arrived we were able to quickly move through security and boarded the ship.  We found our room and made ourselves comfy before the ship left the port.  That night we had dinner at one of their specialty restaurants on board.  They served Japanese food and it did not disappoint!  The sushi and the appetizers were amazing!

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After dinner we checked out the Schooner bar before heading to bed.  We had to be rested for our first port in the morning so we didn’t spend too much time checking out the ship!

Day 1 European Vacation: 17 hours of travel

8 Oct

Back in early spring Britton and I decided it was time for our first European vacation.  What better way to celebrate our 2 year anniversary!  I have said since we met that I had to see Greece before we could have kids and, well, he clearly can’t wait for that to happen so our vacation was booked.  We decided on a Mediterranean cruise to be able to see the most sites with as little planning as possible.  I had done a Royal Caribbean cruise when I graduated from High School and their Mediterranean cruises looked to be reasonably priced, stopped at great ports and received high ratings on cruise critic so that’s the line we went with.  We picked the cruise that left from Venice Italy, sailed to Dubrovnik Croatia, Kusadasi Turkey, Santorini and Katakalon Greece ending again in Venice.  It was basically, my dream vacation (literally too because I’ve been dreaming about Greece since I was a freshman in college).

The cruise was booked in maybe April with flights booked soon after.  We are lucky enough (catch 22) that Britton travels so much that we could use southwest points to book an international flight to Italy.  I spent MONTHS looking at the different ports, hotels in Milan (that’s where we flew into) and Venice, and all the excursions both cruise line sponsored and not.  It really became my obsession in anticipation of this impending vacation.

Finally this trip came to fruition and we left Sioux City, IA on the night of September 24 to stay in Omaha the night before our early morning flight out of the states.  Since I had been dreaming of this trip for so long, it became hard to dream at all in the days leading up to the trip.  I woke up at an early 4 am and got ready to leave for the airport that Thursday morning keeping my fingers crossed I could sleep on the long haul flight across the Atlantic.  Our day consisted of a 2 hour flight to Atlanta where we had a 4 hour layover(barf!), a 2 hour flight to New York and an 8 hour flight to Milan.  Much to my dismay I was unable to sleep on that long haul flight and instead watched a few movies, played a few rounds of candy crush and had a few short naps before we flew over the Alps in France which were breathtaking.  IMG_0185We arrived in Milan at 7:45 am and I was too excited to be tired!  We went through customs, grabbed our bags and set out to find the Milano Centrale Station which was a 45 minute train ride away from the airport.  In the station we came across our first food market that was just adorable.  It reminded me of the Chelsea Market in NYC and had amazing fresh foods, cheeses and beverages for us to enjoy as we waited for our train out to Venice.IMG_0194The train to Venice was about 2.5 hours long and we were seated next to another American couple.  Britton slept while I read and watched the scenery go by.  Amazingly enough, I was still not tired even though I had been up for a full 24 hours by this point.  Once we arrived in Venice we mapped our way to our hotel and took the 15 minute walk through crowds of people with our luggage to the hotel.  We only had to cross 3 bridges but the cobblestone made the walk very interesting.

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After we got into the hotel we showered up and made our way out for our first day of touring around Venice.  We walked a lot of steps and had some amazing food!  It was just what we had hoped for and we couldn’t wait to see what else lie ahead on the trip!

DSC_0295DSC_0301Stay tuned for more posts from the next 10 days of the trip! Ciao!