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KansCocoa

Middle Aged Drama Queen's Eastern Med Review: Serenade, Pics, Surprises & Fun!

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As a reminder, we're now in the medieval village of Saint Paul de Vence:

 

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Yup! That's Saint Paul!

 

 

We meandered and explored and dodged barbarians for the better part of 90 minutes:

 

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"Hey look! It's Brainy Brad!"

 

 

And you'd think that we had this village to ourselves, from the looks of our photos of nearly-deserted streets:

 

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No barbarians here...

 

 

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...or here....

 

 

But actually...this village was overrun by barbarians...busloads of tourists had descended upon it, and it was tricky to maneuver through the narrow streets. The nice thing about Saint Paul is, it's larger than Eze, so it can somewhat handle the hordes of barbarians - as you can see, you can always find the little backroads that don't have nary a soul on them.

 

 

Having no particular destination in mind, but content to just wander, we found ourselves in front of a shop with everyone's favorite wooden puppet:

 

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Pinocchio and Hubby Mike in 2012...

 

While visiting Saint Paul in 2009, Hubby Mike originated this pose, as shown here:

 

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Hubby Mike in 2009...A few more grey hairs, but otherwise - he hasn't changed much in 3 years! And neither has Pinocchio!

 

 

There are beautiful art shops, as well as women's boutiques, here in Saint Paul. Mickey spotted a very cute little sundress in a shop, and graciously said that she'd swap out her as-yet, un-purchased shoe-souvenirs in lieu of the dress. Well, after seeing some of the shoe prices in Barcelona, I thought this might be the better deal for my pocketbook - so I went in to check the price of the sundress. A mere $175E.

 

I quickly went out. No sundress for Mickey. YIKES!

 

Let's keep walking, kids...let's go the cemetery....

 

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We've found, through our travels, that often times cemeteries can be extremely fascinating...as well as interesting....The headstones, the monuments, the tombs - they can tell you a lot about the culture and the people of the town that you're in.

 

Saint Paul has a charming little cemetery that is perched way up high, overlooking the beautiful French countryside:

 

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I could live here...Wait.

 

 

Some of the graves were well-tended...and others, sadly, not so much:

 

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I couldn't help but wonder what the story was behind this gravesite...

 

 

The famous artist, Marc Chegall, is buried here...tradition has one laying a stone on his tomb:

 

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We, along with countless numbers of barbarians, soaked in the beautiful views all around us:

 

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We eventually found ourselves in front of a gelato shop (imagine that!), and in the interest of my Research Project (of Finding the Best Gelato in All of Europe), Ken treated us all to some delicious, cold gelato. And it was good. Not quite a "10" - but I'd give it a 7.9 - which is pretty darn good.

 

While eating the gelato, we noticed some activity at a church that was right behind us...and realized that a wedding was just ending...sure enough, out came all of the guests, waiting for the bride and groom to make an appearance - and when they did, they were showered with pink rose petals. It was very special (and I didn't take a photo, as I thought that might be obtrusive).

 

Thinking about it, we realized we'd stumbled across two weddings that day - the one in Eze, and now this one in Saint Paul. So, here's a tip: If you have the need to re-create scenes from "The Wedding Crashers" - now you know where to go!

 

Soon, it was time to make our way back down the hill to meet up with Frank and conclude our tour...along the way, we snapped photos of the pretties all around us:

 

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Frank swiftly and efficiently got us back to the port, driving alongside the famed Promenade (La Croisette), and taking us by the Cannes Film Festival Hall. We zipped by the Hotel Carlton, as well as other ritzy, pricy hotels, and could only dream of what it would be like to be rich and famous and actually spend a night - or more - in them.

 

We were back to the port by 5:00 pm - plenty of time before our 5:30 All-Aboard time...after saying good-bye to Frank, it was time to get back on the ship....

 

As far as Revelation Tours...I would give them an A+. We saw everything we wanted to see - and then some...we did it in a timely, efficient manner...Frank was informative, funny and had the kids (and adults) totally charmed.... I would recommend them and I will most definitely use them again if I'm ever back in the French Riviera.

 

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The line to get on the tender was relatively short, and they quickly filled it up until it was standing room only...a short, quick ride over to the ship, while everyone onboard quickly and excitedly relates what they had done for the day. I think sharing port stories is one of my favorite parts about cruising - I LOVE hearing what other people did during the day....

 

Having a bit of time before our MTD reservation (which was for 7:15 pm), I decided to relax in the room while Hubby Mike and Mickey decided to go conquer the Rock Wall, which had opened up for Free Climb at 6:00 pm.

 

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Mickey on her way up...

 

 

Mickey had so much fun with this, that she decided to climb twice.

 

 

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Ringing the bell...

 

 

Hubby Mike decided he needed to climb, as well:

 

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In 2009, the Brilliance had a Rock Wall speed challenge - and Hubby Mike took the silver medal in his age division. Let's just say he's very proud of that medal.

 

As far as what the boys did, I can only guess that Taylor went to the Sports Court to shoot baskets, and Brad took to his balcony to read. Because that's pretty much what they did every single moment they had some free time. Give Taylor a ball, and give Brad a book, and they're both very happy.

 

As for me? I cleaned up, organized my notes, ate some chocolate cookies from my Le Cure Gourmande stash (no Hubby to tell me, "You'll ruin your appetite!"), and relaxed.

 

Tonight is Formal Night (Really, RCI??!! You have Formal Night on the 2nd night of our cruise - after an intensive port??!! Really???!!), and the boys show up in our room with pleas for assistance with tying ties. They're not too happy about dressing up, but don't grumble TOO much...as they know they could easily be thrown off the ship by Yours Truly and left behind in Cannes. (Yeah, I would so do that. Kidding).

 

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SHUT the front door - they look good! Quick - take a picture! Oh wait. We did.

 

 

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My Pretty Princess...

 

At 7:15, we headed down to the dining room to check in for our reservation. When asked for our cabin number, I replied, "1556."

 

"Hmmmm....I don't seem to find a 1556."

 

OMG - not again??!! Didn't we just go through this last night??? I quickly tell the maitre 'd to look under 9260, the boys' cabin, and she still doesn't find us.

 

Ay yi yi. This is ridiculous...and we're holding up the check-in line.

 

She finally finds us under our last name - with no room number attached - as if we're some stowaways onboard who have no cabin.

 

We're taken back to the same table as the previous night, which ended up becoming "our" table for the duration of the cruise. Peter and Pascal immediately swoop in and begin the "show" - as I liked to call it. Pascal has his bread basket, and once again, frowns at me when I won't partake of any. I had the prime rib...and let's just say, being raised in Kansas City, I've had my share of some really, really delicious prime rib. And this wasn't it.

 

During dinner, Pascal shows up with a riddle...which Brad quickly guesses. Pascal says, "Shoot!" and then says, "I'll think of another one...don't leave yet." He disappears, comes back, presents us with another riddle, which Brad quickly solves. "Darn it," Pascal says..."Why'd you bring THIS guy along?" indicating Brad. I shrug and say, "Well...he's good for Spanish, history...and solving riddles."

 

Pascal then says, "I'm going to stump him...it's 2-0 now, with you in front...but I will BEAT him. Tomorrow night." I wish him luck, but silently think that he'll need a pretty darn good riddle to beat Brad.

 

 

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Our dinner photo...

 

 

After dinner, we headed to the Tropical Theater, where we watched the ho-hum 9:00 pm show, "West Coast" - which was an all-boy band tribute to the Beach Boys. It started off a bit shaky, but got better as it went along...unfortunately, by that time, they'd lost a good part of the audience...either to people leaving early, or sleeping - like Hubby Mike. I roused him when the show was over, and we headed back to the Cabin....because tomorrow?

 

Was Florence.

 

And little did we know that in Florence...I would almost be arrested and thrown in Italian jail....

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Very cool that you saw Chagalls final resting place....as for the stones being laid....not just a tradition for Chagall as this is done for all Jews in lieu of flowers...

Bonnie

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June 24th...Livorno, Italy...Or The Day I Almost Ended Up in Italian Jail...

 

We arrive in the beautiful (not) port of Livorno at 7:00 am…we are here until 7:00 pm, so All-Aboard time is 6:30 pm.

 

Our plan for today is to have an all-day tour of Pisa & Florence with RomeInLimo, a highly-rated private tour company that we’ve used previously and can’t wait to use again. I had made our reservations well over a year ago, and both Jany & Duman had been very responsive in our emails – promising a great adventure for our time in Italy.

 

Looking out the window of our cabin, I was amused by the hordes of barbarian buses that were lined up, ready for the Invasion of Tuscany.

 

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"Bring 'em on...the Bus Barbarians, that is...."

 

 

After a quick breakfast in the Jammer, I round up my own troop of barbarians, and we head out the gangway at 7:45 am, to meet up with our guide, Elisabetta, a vivacious, passionate Pisan who loves her town and loves her country.

 

 

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Elisabetta is the red-head...her passion matches the fiery color of her hair....

 

 

We hop in the van and quickly make our way to Pisa…as our plan is to climb the steps, take our photos, and be in and out before the hordes of Bus Barbarians show up. Upon the advice of Jany from RomeInLimo, I had pre-purchased our tickets to climb the tower; they only allow a small amount of stair climbers each half-hour, and the tickets DO sell out. My advice here: if you plan on climbing the Tower, buy your tickets in advance, as we did. I used a website entitled WeekendInItaly.

 

We were scheduled to climb at 9:00 am, and we arrived in Pisa easily by 8:35 am. Elisabetta dropped us off at the square, and told us we had until 9:45 am before we needed to meet back up again. This gave us plenty of time to head to the Ticket Window and redeem our voucher for actual tickets, and take the requisite silly photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

 

The Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa) is the bell tower of the cathedral here, which is beautiful in its own right:

 

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Beautiful in the morning Italian sunshine....

 

When construction began on the Tower, over 800 years ago, the architects failed to realize they were building on unstable soil. Eventually, as we all know, the Tower began to tilt…and it would further tilt a millimeter each year:

 

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"Doink."

 

 

Of course, this means that it’s now fun to not only visit the Tower, but pose for the crazy fun photos of holding the tower up…or “pushing” the Tower over…or even carrying the Tower:

 

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"Man, this tower is heavy!"

 

And what you don’t realize – until someone (cough, Brad, cough) captures you on film – is you look sillier than the Tower while setting these classic poses up:

 

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"Hold still...almost got it...just a bit further to your left..."

 

All-too-soon, time for silly posing was over, and it was time to line up and begin our climb up the approximately 296 steps to the top…would I make it?

Edited by KansCocoa

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After a short wait in a small line right in front of the Tower entrance, the security guard motioned for everyone to enter (and a quick note here: large backpacks are NOT allowed…I had a somewhat large purse, but was able to take it up with me).

 

Immediately, I am thankful that we opted to do this climb first thing in the morning, as it becomes very evident that it’s already hot…and stuffy…in the stair chamber. I couldn’t imagine climbing this in the heat of the day – as it’s only 9:30 and we’re all breaking out in a sweat.

 

 

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"Why, no, my photo's not crooked. It's the TOWER that's crooked!"

 

 

The stairs are slippery…the marble getting pretty polished after 800 years of wear and tear. Non-skid shoes are a MUST here; otherwise, you’ll slip and break your neck. The stairs are also at different heights – so you must pay attention to the next step; otherwise, you’ll trip and break your neck. Lots of neck-breaking potential here, I’m just sayin’.

 

Round and round, up and up, we climbed…and every so often, around another bend, we’d come across a little window. And thank heaven for that…as I am a bit claustrophobic, and the tight, enclosed stairway – with no perceived way out – was starting to mess with my mind a bit.

 

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"Are we there yet??!!"

 

None-too-soon, we’re at the top, and the views are incredible:

 

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Because they limit the number of people inside the Tower at any given time, it’s pretty easy to walk around the top and take photos; you’re not finding hordes of barbarians up here. At one point, I lost Mickey – and eventually found her, sitting and just taking it all in. I don’t think she was comfortable with the height.

 

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There are seven bells at the top of the Tower, that are pretty large and massive:

 

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Supposedly, they gave a warning that the bells were about to ring. I never heard that warning – perhaps this was during the time I was having a brief panic attack when I couldn’t find my daughter – but for whatever reason…I was completely taken off guard when the seven LARGE bells all began ringing…at the same time. HOLY SMOKES! It scared the bejeezus out of me!!! I jumped so high, if it weren’t for the screen protecting us, I would have likely jumped off the tower.

 

None-too-soon, it was time to begin our descent from the top of the tower…

 

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Going down was actually more treacherous than the climb up…it’s hard to gauge the steepness/depth of a stair when you’re looking straight down on it. It wasn’t too long before my knees were knocking and my legs felt like jelly. I had to keep one hand on the wall in order to keep my balance, because the tilt just felt so…whacky. It was like being in an 800-year old Fun House at a Carnival.

 

It felt good once we emerged from the Tower…on solid, FLAT, not-tilty ground. I was sweaty…I was shaky…and I was deaf…but to know that the Klingons will always be able to say they climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Priceless.

 

On to Florence!!!

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Yikes! Try again! I've been on FB for years now, and I'm pretty sure that's me...I DO exist, I promise!

 

Sherri Wagner Odell - that's me. ;)

 

how bizzarre, i just tried again on facebook. no listings.

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Sherri, Loving your trip report! We are on the Liberty out of Barcelona on August 25 so it is great to hear about the ports we have in common. Thanks!

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Hi Sherri,

 

You have my undivided attention. There is so many things I want to do, that I would not have thought of before you mentioned them.

 

Keep up the good work, I will eagerly await the next instalment

 

Liz

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how bizzarre, i just tried again on facebook. no listings.

 

Just google her name.....I found her FB page that way....she also writes a blog....

Bonnie

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Just google her name.....I found her FB page that way....she also writes a blog....

Bonnie

 

 

That's a great idea! My blog also has my FB link on it, as well, so you should be able to find me either way. Thanks, Bonnie! :)

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Just google her name.....I found her FB page that way....she also writes a blog....

Bonnie

 

Yup, and on her blog, scroll down and on the right is a link to her Facebook page.

 

She'll probably end up with 100 new friend requests after this thread :D

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Well, I hope that *some* of you are finding this review/trip report helpful - irregardless of the bad photos and the long-winded posts. :)

 

If you're heading off to Europe any time soon, I hope my tips, advice & experiences will prove useful...as some of you said, perhaps in doing something you'd never thought of before...a Barcelona Tapas Tour? Winding through the passageways of Eze? Climbing the steps of Pisa?

 

If you're not heading off to Europe any time soon, I hope you just enjoy coming along for the ride...

 

More to come...I'm hoping to get as much done as possible before Mickey & I head off tomorrow morning for a Mother/Daughter cruise on the Freedom.

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Yup, and on her blog, scroll down and on the right is a link to her Facebook page.

 

She'll probably end up with 100 new friend requests after this thread :D

 

Friends and chocolate...you can never have too much or too many! :)

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I can attest, they gave a loud warning in 4 languages (including English) before the bells started... Just like they gave you your tickets in Barcelona..... ;)

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I am, as you say, along for the ride. A FABULOUS ride it is, too!!! I haven't picked up my Kindle since I've started reading your review. So much fun!!!

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I can attest, they gave a loud warning in 4 languages (including English) before the bells started... Just like they gave you your tickets in Barcelona..... ;)

 

Maybe I was struck with a rare condition known as "Pre-Deafness"...where I became suddenly deaf BEFORE the bells rang!!!! I swear...I didn't hear a single warning - in any language!!!

 

It's funny, too, because Rich said he said hello to me at the top of the Tower, and I just blew right past him and ignored him. I NEVER HEARD HIM! (Maybe I really DO need to get my hearing checked??!!)

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I am, as you say, along for the ride. A FABULOUS ride it is, too!!! I haven't picked up my Kindle since I've started reading your review. So much fun!!!

 

Woo hoo! And my report is FREE! Even better! :)

 

Glad you're along with me...stay tuned... ;)

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After leaving the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Elisabetta begins the drive over to Florence…and along the way, she takes us through the pretty streets of Pisa. Yeah. Pretty streets of Pisa. Go figure. I’d been to Pisa once before, and I really don’t remember Pisa having pretty streets…but there it was. It’s a beautiful little town, with the Arno and Serchio Rivers flowing through…and Elisabetta tells us that Pisa is well-known for being a university town. In fact, the University of Pisa is one of the oldest universities in the world – older than Rome, some people say.

 

She then says, “Yes – lots of universities here! Just about every school you can think of – university of music, of economics, math – is here. But…can you guess the ONE school that Pisa does not have???”

 

We throw out some guesses, and we’re wrong on every count. Elisabetta then gives us a clue…”Think of where you just were…..”

 

Hmmmm….the Leaning Tower of Pisa…okay....

 

“Architecture!” she says, grinning, enjoying the irony.

 

We drive the beautiful Tuscan hills to Florence, and we eventually arrive on the outskirts of the city. Elisabetta says, “I have a surprise for you! Not every one gets to see this…but for you? I take you. It is nice…you will like.”

 

And she takes us up a small hill right outside Florence, to a tiny village called Costa San Giorgio. There, she says she actually has two surprises…the first one, being this incredible view:

 

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I could live here.

 

Might as well take a family photo in front of the villa that we’ll own one day. Hee hee.

 

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"Smile, kids...we'll put this on our Christmas cards and pretend we bought a villa in Tuscany...."

 

 

We hop back in the car and she drives a short distance up the road, where she proudly shows us Galileo Galilei’s house.

 

 

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This is a special treat for Brainy Brad, being that he’s all into science, history, etc. I was tickled that Elisabetta took the extra time and effort to show us this, as I know Brad will always remember…

 

"Was nice, yes?" Elisabetta asks...and we heartily agree. Yes, it was nice.

 

 

A few minutes later, we were at Piazza Michelangelo, which is THE place where every van, bus and tourist stops in Florence to get that picturesque, postcard photo of scenic Florence…

 

“Uh oh,” Elisabetta says…”This is not good.”

 

“What’s not good?! What’s going on?” I ask, because, if you’re like me, hearing a tour guide say something isn’t good – along with “uh oh” – is NEVER a good thing.

 

Well…turns out that June 24th is when Florence celebrates the feast of its patron saint, Saint John…and because of this, police have cordoned off Piazza Michelangelo to vans, buses AND tourists. They are going to be shooting fireworks off later that night, and no one – and I mean absolutely NO ONE – is allowed on the Piazza.

 

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And if you're thinking that perhaps I ran across a police line here, and perhaps THIS is why I almost got arrested in Florence, you'd be wrong. Nope. Didn't happen here. I was a GOOD girl here and stayed behind the police lines....

 

No picturesque postcard photo of Florence for us.

 

We did get out of the van, though, for a few minutes…to zoom in with our zoom lenses to get a photo of Alien David – the green statue of The David that sits in Piazza Michelangelo.

 

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Who knew that by the end of the day...we'd have seen FOUR David sculptures?!

 

And this was about as good a photo of distant Florence as we could get…

 

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Sigh. Not quite THE photo, but hey – life’s too short to be all worked up about a photo that wasn’t taken…right? We’ve got things to see and do…namely, see the Duomo…and then see the REAL David statue….let’s get going, shall we?

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OK, I am officially addicted to your report. I am sitting here, knowing that I only have 2 days to write a paper for my PhD class, and what do I keep doing??? I keep checking every 10 minutes to see if there is a new installment!!! I won't be able to tell my professor "the dog ate my homework" (especially since I don't have a dog). I'll have to admit to her that I have this.....addiction......to a particular cruise critic thread........

 

Barb

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OK, I am officially addicted to your report. I am sitting here, knowing that I only have 2 days to write a paper for my PhD class, and what do I keep doing??? I keep checking every 10 minutes to see if there is a new installment!!! I won't be able to tell my professor "the dog ate my homework" (especially since I don't have a dog). I'll have to admit to her that I have this.....addiction......to a particular cruise critic thread........

 

Barb

 

Temporary insanity....!

 

I won't be helping your cause anyway, as I try to get more posts done before I take off for a week... ;)

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After leaving the Piazza Michelangelo, Elisabetta drives us right to the heart of Florence…the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – otherwise known simply as “The Duomo.”

 

The famous Dome…that proudly reigns over Florence…we’re dropped off and told we have about 60 minutes to explore the Duomo and the surrounding areas before we have to head to The Accademia, for our appointment with David.

 

Before we go too far and scatter, Hubby Mike gathers us together for a family photo in front of the Duomo…

 

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"Hey - nice purse, Dude!"

 

 

The Domo is massive…so much so, that there’s really not a good way to get the entire structure into one photo frame. You’ll have to make do with just bits and pieces…and then use your imagination and put them all together!

 

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The façade of the Duomo was added much later, in the 19th century. To celebrate Italy’s independence, it was decided to use the colors of the Italian flag – red, white and green – on the exterior of the Cathedral.

 

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The doors are massive…to go along with the massive exterior, I would imagine….

 

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You can pay a small fee and climb to the top of the Duomo...a mere 400+ steps. The kids were all-for-it, but we didn't have enough time. (Not to mention, my legs were still jelly-like, after our Pisa climb earlier that morning).

 

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The Bell Tower...

 

We then spent some time admiring the Baptistery, as well as the famous beautiful doors…

 

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Still having some time before we were to meet Elisabetta, we decided to track down the famous Florence Leather Market...would we be able to find it? The Most-Directionally-Challenged Family in the World??!

 

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Thank you for sharing your pictures of Eze!! We took this same itinerary on Brilliance last year, and we basically missed our day in France. The seas were pretty rough when the ship pulled in, and since it's a tendered port, they couldn't get the tenders to stop bouncing around so that people could get off. We had pretty much given up on ever setting foot in France, when they had maneuvered the ship in front of Liberty of the Seas for a sort of wind barrier. We were finally able to get off at 4!!! We were scheduled to leave at 6, but gave us til 7! It was just enough time to wander around the port area, and have a crepe. I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to seeing Eze. Thank you for sharing your pictures, so now I know what it looked like!

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When Elisabetta had dropped us off in Florence, I had a brief moment of panic...knowing our family's penchant for getting lost.

 

"Don't worry about it," Elisabetta kept saying, trying to reassure me. "You can't get lost in Florence. You can always find the Duomo - and you'll always get your bearings."

 

Being a little skeptical, but hopeful, we were now on our own in Florence...and about to try to navigate our way to the famed outdoor leather market.

 

Want to know how we did??

 

 

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"I think we go THIS way..." "No, THAT way!" "Just let me look at the map!"

 

 

Actually, we didn't do too bad. Elisabetta was right. Huh. Go figure. Florence is VERY easy to navigate, and we really didn't get lost. Much. We finally did find the outdoor leather market, where Brad got a much-needed new billfold at this little stand:

 

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In the photo below (which isn't the best - sorry), you can see the leather stalls hover in the shadow of the Duomo...so you CAN always get your bearings:

 

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Part of the best experiences, again, can be found when you just lose yourself to the city and explore the back roads...and that's what we were doing here:

 

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Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the Duomo and meet up with Elisabetta, because it was 12:00 pm. And that meant - time for David.

 

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