Thursday, June 14, 2012

Traveling around the Eastern Mediterranean


Found ourselves saying that often, as well as "gratzi" all throughout our trip (or at least in the Italy part).  We got home around noon on Thursday, about 14 hours later than we were supposed to...but we'll get into that later on :).  We are still adjusting to the time change but I can already feel that it was much easier to adjust to coming home rather than leaving home to Italy.

Our flight out was great, besides the length of course.  It was a 2 hour-ish flight from Seoul to Beijing.  Had a 3 hour layover on the way out, followed by a 10 hour flight into Rome.  The experience in Beijing was good but different.  Because China is communist, although not a radical communist, they still block a lot of things as far as the Internet and what not.  For example limited Google searches, no email checks, and definitely no Facebook.  However, Skype did maintain a decent connection.  But in order to get the "free'' WiFi we had to scan our passport in so they could monitor our use.  Weird, huh?  I guess I didn't fully realize how spoiled we are and they freedoms we have!

We met Mike's parents at the airport in Rome & went to our hotel for our first Italian dinner (consisting of pizza & pasta, of course) and then went to sleep.  The next morning we took a QUICK, very Italian, taxi ride to the port and boarded the ship.

Stop 1:  Sicily (Messina), Italy

Holy cuteness, is all I have to say.  I loved, loved, LOVED Sicily.  It had so much old charm to it.  The whole time I kept thinking of Mom because I know she'd love it here.  In Sicily we booked an excursion through the boat and went to a city called Taormina, then to the active volcano (not actually in it :) ), went to a family vineyard that produces wine, olive oil, and olive spreads and completed a wine tasting with fresh cheeses and meats (AWESOME), and then we finished up at a jewelers house to have appetizers and just enjoy the view, really.  These are just some of the pictures but needless to say I would definitely visit Sicily again!

Stop 2: Athens, Greece

Athens was definitely a historical place, great food, great views..but probably a place I wouldn't visit a second time.  As you guys know Greece has a whole is in a big financial crisis.  Surprisingly, that didn't affect the visit, but it was clear by how bad the economy is really doing.

Our tour in Athens consisted of taking a drive and seeing all the sites..eventually leading to walking up to the Parthenon.  That was quite a sight, as well as plenty to learn that I had no clue about!  They are completing a lot of restorations of it so I tried to get some shots of it without all the 'stuff' in the way.  

I'm not sure if any of you have eaten a Gyro but O.M.G. it was so good.  Of course I had to get grape leaves and bakliva, too :).  Only here once!

Stop 3: Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Now, when we first booked this cruise, Turkey was the only location we were "iffy" about.  But we were so pleasantly surprised!  Turkey was a close, close second to my favorite stop.  The one really great thing I loved about it here was that they were so proud of their culture and so rich with culture.  Now Turkey is if not 100% Muslim then awfully close to it but it didn't interfere at all with our tour (considering we went to some very biblical-based stops).  

Our tour consisted of visiting the house of the Virgin Mary, where she was said to have spent her last days.  We collected holy water from the house fountains in a personalized container the tour provided.  We thought that was really neat.  We also saw the prayer wall.  Next, we went to the Ancient ruins where we saw the first National Theater, National Library, and so much more I can't even name (or remember :P ).  Our tour finished with visiting a famous Turkish rug shop.  This company, rather owner, has personally made rugs for President Bush, the White House, the Prince of Monaco..and so much more.  In fact, a few U.S. State Senators were on business the day before we came and bought a ton of rugs from him.  In case you are wondering they are SO expensive, like ranging from $500-90,000.  Yes, $90,000.  We ended up buying a smaller one but I haggled them in HALF :)  I think I have a bit of Jewish in me.  LOL.

Stop 4: Crete (Souda), Greece

Crete, I think Greek's largest island, was really neat & laid back.  We toured a very large plantation that grew pretty much everything.  Crete is said to have one of the most healthy and best diets in the world, so it was cool to be able to sit in on how they make their dishes and then actually get to taste them :).  After the walk through the gardens (by the way Nana you would've loved it!), we went to Chania town.  If you google it, it is the cutest little town full of cafes, shops, and tons of other stuff to do.  Crete was a nice, relaxed way to end the touring on the cruise.

That wraps up the cruise.  We had a great, great time and it is always so tough leaving the boat.  It really is my idea of the best vacation...and that was my 7th cruise haha.  I should be VIP by now :).

After we got off the ship it was time to tour Rome.  We spent the next day touring all over seeing famous monuments like the Colosseum, the Vatican & Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the list goes on!  Here are a few shots we got...

I could show pictures & write for a long, long time but I don't want to bore you!  Hope that you enjoyed the post, sorry it took so long to get it together.  Earlier I mentioned how lovely 14 hour delay we had coming back.  Our flight from Rome back to China was smooth.  We had a 5 1/2 hr layover in Beijing, long, but no big deal.  Well, we boarded & waited on the tarmac for 2 HOURS before they cancelled it because of weather.  The airline was accommodating, however, they sent us in a bus and HOUR away from the airport to stay in a disgusting hotel overnight.  We woke up at 3:30 AM the next morning (got to the hotel the night before at 11 PM).  Needless to say we didn't sleep for over 2 days.  It was a treasure, haha.  That satisfied my needs to never go to China again.  Talk about an experience where you are 100% out of your comfort zone.  But I guess that is just the adventures of traveling.  Before all the delays, I bought a Beijing magnet because I collect them from each country we visit.  I contemplated if I really deserved a magnet because we were just staying in the airport.  BOY WAS I WRONG.  :)  I earned that thing!

We love you guys & will chat with you soon!