Thursday, May 31, 2007
This was the train into Rome. Don't bother purchasing first class tickets, there isn't anyone to make others move out of those "reserved seats" that you paid the extra €2.50 for. Our reserved seats were. €7 each reserved, which was about $10.
Cell and email coverage via cell is spotty in Olbia.
Everything was well orchestrated by the company I selected. The van transport at the pier waiting and he took us right to the boat docks, where we were met by the two owners and two dive masters. The dive masters are from LA and Australia. We haven't had any issue with English and we were given a nice orientation to the area and what we would be seeing.
Stephanie was kind enough to send yummy tea and cakes for us to nibble on during our surface interval.
Oh, fish picture will come when I get back to the states- blackberry doesn't work under water.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The taxi ride is €10- all of us agreed that it was better to walk- than take the taxi. It was also interesting to see some of the city, which is fast paced.
Be forewarned, there are many people who will ask you if you want a taxi as you leave the terminal. It would also be very easy to get runned over, as you attempt to cross the street. We were walking on the street by the station and there were lots of people selling used items and it was too crowded, so I thought it would be better to run in front of a bus- than to stay on that street.
I can see Capri in the distance- I will try to get a photo.
The other photo is one of the main streets down town.
It is windy today and cool enough for a jacket. I like my rain jacket which stuffs into a bag- it's wind & rain proof. It is by Sierra design and I got it @ REI.
One last note before I go- the announcements on the train are in English & Italian
Monday, May 28, 2007
I need to do full reports on Barcelona & Palermo' but for now I have to get to dinner.
Please see the new podcast- follow the hyperlink on thd right under podcast & it should be the second post on my channel on gabcast.
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Lunch was great on Mondello beach: lasagna followed by almond granita. (did I mention that we had gelato earlier.). I also got canoli and casatta cake to go for later.
We have had a wonderful day seeing Sicily and learning of the history and tradition.
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The churches are amazing, I will have to post my photos, with detailed descriptions. Please forgive me for the poor quality as I am using the camera phone on my blackberry. When I get home, I will take the time to put up a full gallery.
I am unsure if my posts are going through as I cannot get on the internet on the ship, the satellite is very, very slow. I am going to try and find an internet cafe before we leave today.
For my family, I am doing well and having a great time. My foot continues to be problematic and I wonder if it will ever feel better. I wear my brace consistently as I really need the stability for my ankle.
Robb, I hope to call you today, but I am going to wait until later so I am not calling in the middle of the night!
I will post more later, hopefully @ a real computer. DCL still appears to have the computer terminals- I have not seen the laptops that I had heard about on other podcasts.
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Friday, May 25, 2007
The airport in Barcelona is beautiful and is a destination in itself! Many wonderful shops to browse- on a much higher state than what we have in the states- too bad the prices are so high. My roommate was due to get in around the same time, but her flight was delayed.
A can to the city is between 20 and 26 €, so about $40. Since I wasn't rushed for time, I thought I'd take public transit to my hotel. The cost for the trip was €2 and took about an hour. It would have been faster, but I am slow with my foot and stairs & there were lots of stairs- I figured out the elevator later on. If you don't have much Luggage, I highly recommend the train/metro combo.
Esp if you are trying to save some money. There are information locations outside luggage that will give you directions and a great map. If nothing else, stop for the map. The exchange rate outside baggage claim was 1,28 plus 12% comission. Probably a wash from JFK due to the lower comission there.
I have so much more to say. We had a great dinner for a great price and got together with a bunch of people from the disboards.com. However, I'm freakushly tired and need to go to bed!
More to come...
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Those of you nervous about getting through the airport, don't be concerned. The signs are in English & Spanish. The airport in Madrid is beautiful, the ceiling resembles waves and is accented in yellow. I am now waiting to clear customs trying to see if I can change my flight- if not, I will find a hotel & sleep.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007
I would recommed considering buying Euros @ your international airport. Here, the exchange rate was 1.32- plus a small comission. I exchanged $400 and the comission was less than $3.00. You can get a discount on comission with a AAA card.
I also have a sneaky feeling that there are some families on the flight who are on the cruise!
I also did a quick podcast! Check it out & let me know if it works.
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More to follow!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Left to right:
Robb my DH, Me, DS, Char, and Andy. I will be travelling with Char and Andy on this cruise. This was the day after I finished the half marathon at WDW January 2006. That is my natural hair color- you will understand the significance of this comment later...
This is me scuba diving in St. Kitts September 2006, on the 11 night Southern Disney Cruise.
This is me after climbing all 2,109 stair of the tallest building in the United States: The Sears Tower Building in Chicago. I also raised a very nice sum of money toward cancer research with the help of my friends from the 11 night September DCL cruise.
In December, my hair took a turn towards the dark side:
I can't exactly tell you why I went black. I had always wanted to see what I would look like with black hair and I knew my parents wouldn't approve. (Which they don't) Some how I've realized that I really am an adult and can do what I want.....
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Thanks for the comment! I would be happy to provide you with the links after I have finished the day with that vendor. As I haven't used these companies services yet- I don't want to recommend someone who does not do a good job. See if the post below helps!
So, how do you find excursions in a foreign land?
Honestly, I have to say that the best way is spending hours and hours on the Internet- using many, many different terms in the search engine of your choice. I happen to like Google. I looked at what DCL was offering and I was really surprised. I know that the cruise line charges more- but the prices seem REALLY high for what were offering and many of the choices were lackluster. I was also disappointed that diving was not offered. After all, the Mediterranean has some great dive locations. Sometimes it seems that they miss the mark. I think they are taking advantage of the fact that we are in a region where English is not routinely spoken and people are afraid they will get stuck and miss the boat.
For each location, I had many different options and I selected what worked best for our group. I also decided to different excursions, than what my friends are doing, at some locations. In Florence, my friends wanted to see the Uffizi and David. I wanted to see the David and Pisa. So- I posted on the Disboards what I wanted to so and asked if anyone wanted to join me. I was able to put together a group who wanted to see the same things. In this situation, this is what was best for our group. I am seeing what I want and their needs are being met as well.
Being the typical American, I only speak English- a big part of my selection of companies was communication. I was not keen on the idea of getting stuck in a country where I don't speak the language and feeling like I made a mistake. I only had one company that I am working with, where communication has been suboptimal, but selected to work with them anyways. Another criteria was if email was answered in a timely fashion. I also would not work with companies who required telephone calls- my work schedule is crazy enough, without trying to make calls to a foreign company and trying to figure out the time difference. I do not have the luxury of accepting calls during work. It's hard to get to the phone when your patient decides that right NOW is the time he/she wants to try to die.
I cannot give you the exact phrases I used, since I have been working on this for almost a year. Contacts to vendors were started between January and March, with finalization happening in April/May. My biggest complaint about booking with foreign companies is that some of them wanted you to do bank transfers for deposits. The initial process of setting up a wire transfer to company in another country and my personal bank account was a COMPLETE hassle. (My bank account is with Chase- so I was not dealing with a small company or local bank.) The bank is very cautious because of Internet fraud. It is a little freaky to send your hard earned money into cyberspace- trusting that someone will really be there when you show up in port. Another crazy thing with the bank transfers was that the bank was not helpful with exchanging dollars to Euros. Basically, if you have to wire money to Europe- know that you will be on your own to figure out these things. If possible, try to exchange in Euros vs Pounds as the exchange rate of the dollar against the pound is HORRID right now. There were companies who would take a credit card deposit, which was really convenient. Some companies would take your credit card for deposit, but will charge you a surcharge to complete the transaction. With theses companies, we opted to pay by cash upon completion, but it was one less wire transfer. I decided to prepay companies who did not charge extra fees- as it decreased the amount of Euros I would have exchange later. Hopefully some of you will be able to take advantage of these vendors, without having to do the whole process.
This is a condensed version of the process and I know it is intimidating picking excursions that are not related to the cruise line. However, I think you will have an opportunity to get away from the crowd of cruisers and get a unique opportunity to see things that others will not. These companies want you to have a good time not only with them- but they want you to enjoy their country! Many see themselves as a personal representative for their country.
As I complete the excursions, I will post more information.
If there are specific questions- please let me know and I will try and find an answer for you. Also, some of the companies offer services in more than part of Europe- but I am only using one company per port.
Thanks for the comments- keep them coming, it's nice knowing you are not typing randomly into cyberspace!
Monday, May 21, 2007
I am married to a great guy named Robb- who is kind enough to stay home, so I can go on the trip. He knew I really, really wanted to go- but that we didn't have the money for the family to go. He also wants to go scuba diving in the Caribbean, with the pitiful amount of vacation time that his employer gives him. (oh, did I just type that?) Robb and I will have been married for 12 years on May 27th! We are celebrating apart this year, as I leave for Europe on May 24th. I will refer to Robb as DH (darling husband or Disney husband) from this point on. I may also refer to Robb and our son as "The boys".
DH and I have one son- who I will refer to as DS or the Boy. He was very upset when he realized that he was not going on the cruise. He thought that when I said I was going alone, that it meant that we were going without Robb. Poor boy. I felt horrible, until I realized that I had forgotten that DH and I had booked a mini vacation for them to Walt Disney World (WDW) for Star Wars weekends. Unfortunately for me, he said he would rather go on the cruise than to WDW. Darn. So much for letting the guilt go...
So now you are thinking I am really obsessed with DCL (Disney Cruise Line- if you couldn't have guessed) and that I am crazy enough to travel by myself to Europe. While that is completely true, there is a twist to the story. What really drove me to ditch the family and go- was that two of my good friends are going. They are travelling in a category three! Ohhhhh!! This means that they have a bedroom, bathroom, living room- AND a large balcony. Another really cool thing is that my friends is that they have another crazy Disney friend, whose husband does not like to travel. Ta DA! Instant roommate! She and I will be staying in a Category 10- which is normally an inside room, but we were really sneaky and found a cat. 10 with an obstructed view- which means we get to see some daylight and a really big lifeboat outside our window!
Out of the travelling party- two of us have been to Europe and two of us have not. I am in the have been to Europe group....thanks Mom & Dad! However, my parents will be sad to learn that I will not be visiting every historic site. Blame it on them! Being an adult, I realized I can travel differently. I will be spending a decent portion of my trip scuba diving! Don't try it- it's addictive like crack and probably more expensive.
Okay, this is getting wordy.
Here is an outline of where I will be going and what I will be doing...
Thursday, May 24th- Travelling to Barcelona via NYC and Madrid. LONG flight time- but my flight was really, really cheap.
Friday, May 25th- Meeting my travel companions at the Magic Fountains in Barcelona. I am also going to see many of my former friends from past cruises!
Saturday, May 26th- Barcelona segway tour, I've never been on a segway before and I'm excited. We also plan on walking around the Gothic Quarter and GETTING ON THE SHIP!! Non-DCL.
Sunday, May 27th- My wedding anniversary and our first sea day!
Monday, May 28th- Palermo, Sicily. We are doing a private tour of Sicily.... NON-DCL. We will learn about the history of the city, spend time with the locals, and get lunch!
Tuesday, May 29th- Naples/Sorrento/Amalfi. As I have previously been to Pompeii, I thought this would be a great opportunity to see something different. Two of my friends Tracy and Bill are going to Sorrento with me! They are being very trusting and letting me take them into the darkness...they asked if I knew Italian, NOPE! I told them if I could get around in Indonesia, while only speaking English, that we could get to Sorrento and back. We are going on the quest for Limoncello and pizza. If we do nothing else but sit and eat pizza, we will be happy. Non-DCL
Wednesday, May 30th- Olbia, Sardinia. My companions and I will be doing our first dive of the trip in Palau. There are supposed to be some great wrecks and wildlife there. We may also take a ferry over to the surroundings islands for lunch. Non- DCL
Thursday, May 31st- Civitavecchia/Rome. We are taking the train into Rome from the port. We will then be taking an open double Decker bus, which stops throughout the city. We plan on visiting the Vatican and other popular sites. The one item I want to see, is the view from St. Peter's Basicila and eat gelato. Non-DCL
Friday, June 1st- Sea Day #2
Saturday, June 2nd- La Spezia/Florence. Private driver taking us to see the David, Florence, Pisa, and the surrounding countryside of Tuscany. Does it really lean??? GELATO! Non-DCL.
Sunday, June 3rd- Marseille. Down, down, down. After wandering around the town, we are going diving! Non-DCL I hope some of the local shops are open so I can purchase lavender soap!
Monday, June 4th- Villefranche/Nice/Monte Carlo. Our lovely dive master is going to bring the boat to the port and we are going diving again! Post dive we will wonder around the surrounding area as we are in port until 23:30! Non-DCL
Tuesday, June 5th- Sea Day #3
Wednesday, June 6th- They are kicking us off the ship!! We will be flying to Paris! I think we are going to the Louvre this night as it is open until 10pm.
Thursday, June 7th- Seeing Paris!
Friday, June 8th- Going to Disneyland Paris to celebrate Char's Birthday, one of my travelling companions.
Saturday, June 9th- Versailles- the fountains will be on and the extra houses will be open.
Sunday, June 10th- Going HOME- via Boston, where I will get to have some clam chowder at Legal Seafood, hopefully!
Future posts won't be this long- so don't worry. Please feel free to post questions in the comments section- I believe I did it so you won't have to register. I will also post photos and I am working on a podcast version! If all works well, you will be able to hear the podcast from the blog. If not, I'll post a link where you can listen to it.
I hope the information that follows is helpful and/or interesting to some. I have tried to find excursions which were different and/or cheaper than what DCL was offering. I also have information to post regarding keeping in touch with loved ones across the pond.
Well, it's getting late and I'm trying to get my new computer going....TTFN!