Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How I Spent My European Vacation

How I Spent My European Vacation

We decided to spend our children’s inheritance on a European Vacation.

Since I was planning on being a burden to them all along, I figured we could splurge.

We found a great cruise that took us to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey over 12 days with only 2 days at sea.  We would get to see Florence, Rome, Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Naples, Mykonos, Toulon (Aix en Provence), Barcelona and Ephesus.  We booked the cruise in November for Mid April sailing and settled back to see what kind of excursions we could take.

While looking over our choices, we decided that since we were already in Europe, we should see more of Rome and continue onto Paris.  We convinced two of our friends to meet us after the cruise in Rome and go with us to Paris.

I joined a discussion group on Cruise Critic which had people going on the same cruise as we were.  Everyone was sharing experiences and wanted to share side trips.

On previous cruises we usually met on the initial day of sailing as a group to get acquainted. I stupidly asked if anyone was organizing such a get together and was amazed when several people appointed me as the coordinator.  I did not volunteer!

I contacted the cruise company’s group coordinator and asked for a meeting place on the day of sailing.  They replied they would have an “official” cruise critic meeting on the 5th day and would that be all right.

No, I said, it would not.  We wanted to meet on the first day so we could meet the people we would be sharing small private excursions with.  The fifth day would be too late.

They then offered the 2nd day at 10 AM.  Since we would already be off the ship on our first excursion by then, it seemed like a bad idea.

The ship’s reasoning for those days was on sail away day, the officers wouldn’t be available to meet with us.  I didn’t care about meeting the officers and asked for a meeting place for an “unofficial” meeting of our own.

They suggested a bar off the lobby.  I agreed and posted on the discussion board asking for names and numbers so we could tell how many people wanted to attend.

We got 64 people to sign up.  When I told the group coordinator she told me the bar they had suggested was too small and offered another bar near the casino.  I agreed and asked for at least a bartender to be present.

I posted the new location and time, plus the time and location of the “official” Cruise Critic meeting so people could attend both,  printed up name tags and waited.

In the meantime, we had booked both ship tours and private tours.  We posted the private tours on the discussion boards and got other couples to join us so the cost per couple was way less.

We also booked our hotels in Venice, Rome and Paris.  Booked the train from Venice to Rome and a plane from Rome to Paris.  We also booked a private tour of the Vatican to avoid the crowds. (money was no object since technically it was our children’s)

We flew to Barcelona.  Loved the city, had one day there to sightsee.  The next day boarded the ship.

Barbara and I went to the bar early to set up for the “unofficial” meeting.  We had our name tags set up for everyone and even had some blanks for people showing up without telling us.

There was no bartender.

I went to the next bar and convinced the manager there to send over some waiters.  We were gong to have 64 people at the bar, how could they lose.  He agreed.

The get together was a success; everyone appreciated the nametags so they could find the people they were sharing trips with.  Some people didn’t make the party so they would have to be found later.  It turned out one of the people we were sharing a trip with were our next door neighbors on the cruise.  A happy coincidence.

The cruise started.

Every day we had to get up at 6:30 or 7 to make our excursions.  We would spend all day out, come back exhausted from all the walking, climbing, shopping, and be in bed by 11.

We saw wonderful things. Met great people.

Despite being warned (you can guess who said that) not to speak with anyone, I managed to talk with people on every trip. Also all the Cruise Critic people recognized me from the get together and knew who I was since I had given out the nametags.  I felt like the Mayor of the Cruise.  Even some of the Officers knew who I was because of the meeting and would say hello to me by name. Barbara just kept rolling her eyes at me.  I can’t help it if I was popular.

Barbara and I decided since we were going to Venice, Rome and Paris after the cruise we would not eat in the specialty restaurants.  After the second night, the hostesses recognized us and gave us window seat tables every night.

On the first sea day, the “official” cruise critic meeting took place.  30 plus people showed up.  The ship had set up coffee, cake and tables for us.  The officers arrived and were impressed to see so many people.  I was later told that the normal number who show up was 10.  The officers introduced themselves and left.  Kind of a let down after the buildup to the meeting the ship’s group coordinator had given me.

In the meantime, Barbara and I had been getting hors d’ourves and chocolate covered strawberries every night.  I assumed everyone was getting the same.  I was wrong. Only us.  I never did find out why, just ate them.  We had so many at one point we gave some to our neighbor.

The cruise was great; we had a good time and saw amazing things.

As usual, things just happened to me.  Entirely not my fault.

In Venice, we got dropped off by the water taxi and were told our hotel was just down the next street.  It was raining and we couldn’t find the street.  After a while I asked a policeman and he gave me a landmark to turn at.  Turns out the “alleyway” I kept passing was the street.  We were soaked by the time we got there.  Fortunately the rain stopped and we could enjoy the rest of the day in Venice.

Barbara is very good at lots of things.  Taking pictures is not one of them.  She can’t see any images in the LCD screen and consequently most of the pictures of me are headless.

Several times she was so hapless (she actually pointed the lens at herself at one point) that people noticed her difficulty, took pity on her, and took the picture for her.  Thank God or I wouldn’t be in any pictures from the cruise.  Our friends took my picture in Rome and Paris.

In Ephesus, we met Rick Steves, the travel writer who was making a new show on Ephesus.  When we told other cruise mates they were jealous.

In Venice, I met an artist in the Jewish Quarter.  She told me she had an office in the US.  When I asked her “where,” she told me Florida.  I inquired further and she told me “somewhere in Sunrise Lakes”.

For those of you who don’t know, it is a retirement community 10 minutes from my house.  Her “office” was a woman in a condo taking orders. What are the odds??

At the Louvre, I met a young lady who could be a double for Cameron Diaz.  Of course I had to ask her for a picture with me so I could send it to my children as the real Cameron Diaz.  Once again I got the “look” from Barbara.

I took a picture of Barbara eating Gelato that made her appear angry (she wasn’t) and I didn’t realize it did.  When I sent it to the kids and family everyone asked each other “What did he do now to piss her off so much?”  We had a hard time convincing them everything was ok.

In Paris, our friend who was with us, recognized the Barefoot Contessa and went over to say hello.  Barbara didn’t recognize the name or even know there was a food channel.  As an aside, while eating in the dining room of the ship, Barbara said to me, “I could get used to this, not cooking I mean.”

I nearly gagged on my food.

Barbara and I usually like to dance.  We were listening to a piano player play and sing some Elton John songs.  I asked her to dance.  She refused on the grounds we would be the only ones dancing.  I turned to a man sitting next to us and asked him to dance with his wife so we wouldn’t be the only ones dancing.  Despite not speaking English, he got what I said and they began to dance.  Barbara had no choice but to follow.  People applauded (I may have been a little vocal in my attempt to get Barbara to dance), and then the piano player took a break.  Bad timing.

In Ephesus and in Istanbul, we saw signs that said “Genuine Fake Watches”.  I love truth in Advertising.

My usually conservative friend made me buy dice with pictures of Karma Sutra positions on them.  The night we were too tired to go out to dinner, I told him we had been playing with the dice and were exhausted from duplicating the positions on them.  He was proud of us.

What higher praise could there be for 2, 60 somethings?


Truth in Advertising

Me and you know who before the guards took me away