Wow, the last post here was September 16? Huh! I can't remember why I wasn't posting here before my vacation, but now that I'm back from that freaking awesome vacay, I'm here to blab about it.
On October 15, we left for Venice. We had a very short layover in Toronto Airport. What little I saw of the airport, I really liked. Very clean and shiny. Then there's the modern panini bar. Naturally we had to get us some sample. Thankfully the eatery was next to the gate, otherwise we'd missed our flight. We were busy eating and did not hear the boarding announcements.
We stayed in Venice until the 18th. The hotel we stayed in was outside of Venice, in Mestre. The bus to Venice stops a few feet from the hotel which was really convenient. The hotel was nice too, considering it was the cheapest we could find that wasn't a hostel with shared bathroom.
Venice is beautiful; there's nothing like it. We bought a Venezia Unica - a card that entitles you to ride the vaporetto or water taxi and the bus unlimited for 48 hours. They also have it in different increments like 24 hours. Oh boy we used up that card. We took the water taxi for our DIY tour. We walked the narrow alleys, surprised each time we came upon another church, or another charming bridge that begs to be photographed. The nearby islands of Murano, Burano and Lido (where we stayed after the cruise) are equally beautiful. Venice is the main attraction, but these other islands are worth visiting. Murano is famous for their blown glass creations, Burano for their lace and Lido for their beach. Although the beach cannot hold a candle to other beaches I've been and seen. But these other islands have their own charm. The shopping in both Murano and Burano is fantastic. Burano's beauty just blew us away.
Food in Venice was a bit of let down. Although we had tried a lot of good eats, but not one dish or panini stood out. The much ballyhooed spritz also didn't impress me.
On the 18th our friends who were touring the rest of Italy came to Venice to join us for the cruise. The cruise left on the 18th and lasted 7 days visiting 4 different Greek islands. What an enjoyable and exhausting cruise.
Corfu was our first port of call. The lush greenery of the island reminded me more of a tropical country (similar feel to Costa Rica) as we drove around the small island. We rented a car and we drove around. We first followed the tour buses and went where they went; afterwards we explored the small island (20 mi x 40 mi) stopping at different spots (including two different beaches) to photograph the sights. The people are incredibly friendly and very hospitable.
In Mykonos (second port of call) we rented ATVs and did our tour of the island that way. But seriously nobody told us that Mykonos is one windy island. One local told us later that even in the ancient times (during the times of the Greek gods and goddesses) it has been established that Mykonos is one windy island. The beach had huge waves and rough waters. But guess what, there were a lot of cats in Mykonos. They were everyhere. I was in cat heaven. The main town is full of shops and restaurants and charming houses with narrow alleys. After shopping and browsing, we stopped at a local joint where we had stuffed pepper and stuffed tomato with fried smelt. The food was very good. The island was dry, not much vegetation and like Santorini the houses are whitewashed with windows with blue (sometimes) green trim.
Santorini is as advertised. It does not disappoint. Like Venice there is nothing like Santorini. The white houses perched on the cliff in Oia are as beautiful as the photoshopped images on the internet with the Santorini blue of the sky as backdrop. Best explored on foot, Oia's main thoroughfare is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. It's tough to take one's eye off the view to shop, though. We took the ferry to Oia then a bus to Fira. Besides more shopping and sunset watching, we ate in Fira. Arguably the best meal (stuffed squid) I've had in this trip was from this busy touristy spot where the donkeys passed while we ate and whose owner was a very very kind man.
In Katakolon, we again rented a car to get to Olympia (the birthplace of the Olympic games). The four of us explored the ruins of Olympia by ourselves and I wished we had a guide to tell us about what we were looking at and their significance. We went out to eat here but nothing to brag about. We had a tuna wrap and since this is Greece and restaurants seem to have a resident cat(s) and dog(s), the cat got most of the tuna. I made sure I picked out the tuna to feed the cute kitty. My companions were feeding the dog. We did our shopping at Katakolon because we felt like the shopping there was better since they were in one spot only. Also, the people here are unbelievably kind, honest and hospitable.
When the cruise docked back in Venice we spent the half day (our last) in Venice with our friends seeing the sights. Then we all took the vaporetto to Lido where our hotel was located. We had dinner in a local restaurant and had a lot of fun afterwards. The breakfast was incredible - champagne, cold cuts, bacon, eggs, many varieties of bread and even more varieties of pastries and cakes. Wow, the hotel room was very nice as well.
The following day we flew to Barcelona via Zurich. Our hotel in Barcelona is located near the Ramblas, the famous pedestrian thoroughfare full of shopping and dining and including the very famous La Boqueria market. Our hotel was about a block and 1/2 away from Ramblas. How convenient. As usual we had good eating here. Also went to see Montserrat, the one we missed when we came here first in 2009.
The next cruise left Barcelona and visited the following cities/ports: Marseilles (France), Genoa (Italy), Malaga (Spain), Casablanca (Morocco) and Lisbon (Portugal). The port cities are very appealing to us that's why we went on this cruise. The first time we have been on MSC. While the cruise is not bad, we found out it's just not for us. We were bored to tears; literally bored. I even checked out a book from the library and finished it :)
The highlight of the cruise (not the ports, that's another story and not a disappointment) is when a group of Chinese actors came on board to shoot a reality show called Traveling with Parents. Chinese actors/singers (some couples) and their offsprings which I understand are also dabbling in showbiz were shooting a reality show about spending time with parents and find time to travel with them despite all of their busy schedules. So much fun to see these "famous" actors/actresses being followed by camera. If you have access to this I'm sure I'm in one or two shots, not intentionally, but I just come across them. On one shot I was one of the audience watching their "concert" and I was all smiles listening to the music that I don't understand, but the music was very catchy so I was enjoying myself and before I know it, there's a camera right in my face, catching my reaction.
The ports on this cruise are wonderful. We took the Hop On Hop Off bus tours in Marseilles and Genoa. We did a DIY in Malaga and had ample time to pound the pavement and sample the seafood and the wine. The shopping is excellent too. In Casablanca we got lucky to have a very friendly taxi driver for our DIY tour. We also had a tagine lunch and saw the sights.
Lisbon was our last port of call. On Lisbon day, we learned that there was a conflict between the arrival of the boat in Barcelona and our departure flight from Barcelona. Our flight out of Barcelona is 11:45 am and the boat was scheduled to arrive by 12 noon at the earliest. So we were rushed, stressed and conflicted. We knew we had to find our own way to Barcelona because we definitely could not miss our flight home.
I suggested to go to the airport and speak to Lufthansa people and see what our options are. Turned out we had only one option and that is to find our own way to Barcelona. We had to get off the boat and stay in Lisbon, which I was happy to do. Lisbon is too pretty and I was eager to explore it.
So we bought an extra plane ticket to Barcelona from Lisbon, which was not really bad, about E130/pp. While the husband was getting this done, I was sitting in the airport using free wifi to search for hotels. I had circled three. We got back to the boat with plenty of time before sailing time. I told the hubby to go to the boat's cyber cafe so he can book the hotel while I ran up to the cabin to pack. Holy moly! I packed 3 suitcases like the Tasmanian devil.
However, the good Lord was very kind to us. The hotel he picked (not any of the ones I chose) was perfect. It's a budget hotel in a pedestrian zone next to a plaza (square) and the street is lined with restaurants and hotels and souvenir shops. We had the room by the street and our small balcony was perfect for people watching.
So we ended up staying in Lisbon for two days, took the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, ate our way around the neighborhood, had some ginja, walked until my feet were going to fall off. The first day was raining, we were walking the streets and were getting wet, but didn't mind it. The second day it was all blue blue sky, but the breeze was cool.
Lisbon is so beautiful, the tiles are spectacular, the architecture impressive, the food could rival Barcelona. The people are super friendly. We had a great time here. We would go back and stay longer so we could visit outlying areas like Sintra.
On our last day, we had a long long day. Our flight from Lisbon left at 7 am Lisbon time, arrived in Barcelona at 10:00 am. At 11:45, the flight to Munich left. The SFO bound plane left Munich at 4:45 pm. We arrived in SFO at 7:00 pm. There were many time changes I could not completely tally the number of hours we flew or waited in the airport. Munich airport however is a nice one, there are free coffee (different varieties including the mochachinos) and hot tea and hot chocolate. Also there is a brewery inside which serves many varieties of beer. We naturally had beer here too.
So all in all it was a wonderfully tiring vacation. Owing to the fact that this is Europe, walking is pretty much expected. Except that we walked and walked and walked and walked. Never ending walking, I tell you.
Now this is one long post. I should have warned you beforehand.