Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mediterranean Cruise

One dream that I've had for quite some time is to have the opportunity to go on a Mediterranean cruise. So Cory and I decided to grab the bull by the horns and take the plunge for our one-year anniversary. We booked the trip back in February and didn't really get too excited because we just knew that something was going to happen to prevent us from going. The cruise was relatively inexpensive since the travel industry is in the tank. And we paid $75 extra (per person) for insurance on the cruise in case we had to cancel for any reason. We used my airline miles for our airplane tickets, so we didn't spend much there (and no big loss if we had to cancel and re-deposit the miles in my account). And then these last few weeks, I just knew that one of us was going to get the Swine Flu and that would prevent us from going.

But October 29th came around and we found ourselves boarding a plane for Europe. I am very thankful for the opportunity that we had to go. It's been a tough year at work and half of my team lost their jobs. There's been a lot of uncertainty and fear. We feel very blessed that we both still have jobs. This was a much-needed get-away!

As you probably guessed, this is a picture of the Chicago skyline. We had a six-hour layover in Chicago so we took the "L" downtown to meet up with my cousin, Hannah, for lunch. I'm so glad she had time to squeeze us in!

After a 7 1/2 hour flight, we landed in Brussels, Belgium. We had another long layover so we took the train downtown so we could spend some time exploring Brussels. This is the Grand Place, which is considered to be one of the most picturesque squares in Europe.

Here we are in front of a famous statue in Brussels - the Manneken Pis.

My wonderful friend, Christiane, drove all the way from Cologne to meet us in Brussels. Here she is with Cory. Of course we had to have some Belgian waffles while in Belgium. Christiane also brought us a ton of FABULOUS chocolate from Germany! Do you know why the European chocolate is so much better than the chocolate you can get in the U.S.? It's because the cocoa concentration is so much higher in the European chocolate (like 50 - 70% vs. the 5% we have in the States).

Our cruise ship departed from Venice, Italy. We had a day to spend in Venice before our cruise and one day after our cruise. Of course we had to take a gondola ride while we were in Venice.

This is the Grand Canal in Venice. We are taking this picture from the Rialto Bridge.

I looooove Italian ice cream (gelato). I couldn't get enough of it while we were in Italy!!

This is St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. Next to the Basilica is the Doge's Palace. We took the secret itinerary tour of the palace and we got to see the room where Casanova made his escape from the palace.
Our first stop on the cruise was Croatia. We visited the town of Dubrovnik. So pretty!
We ate lunch at a quaint restaurant by the ocean. Cory really was excited about the lunch...
Croatia is the home of the cravat (tie). The women used to tie a scarf / handkerchief on the arm or around the neck of their husbands / boyfriends who were going off to fight in the Thirty Years' War. The French loved the fashion statement and it soon evolved into the tie that we know today. We did buy a tie for Cory in Croatia (not the one pictured here).

Our next stop was Corfu - one of the Greek islands. We went to Paleokastritsa, which is considered to be one of the loveliest spots on the coastline of Corfu. We sure thought it was pretty!

Anyone who knows me will tell you that my favorite type of food is Mediterranean food. I was so exited to try some of the local cuisine. Here we tried some bruschetta and tzatziki. Yum!!

Next stop: Athens. It rained almost the entire time we were in Athens. The rain did stop long enough for us to take some pictures of the Parthenon. It was truly amazing to think that we were walking where Plato and Socrates used to walk.

We then sailed to Turkey and stopped to do some touring in Ephesus. This is the Virgin Mary's house. It is believed that she spent her last days on earth in Ephesus with St. John (remember that Jesus, when He was dying on the cross, asked John to take care of His mother).

We got some little vases to fill up with water from the fountain / well at Mary's house. I am happy to report that the vase and the water made it home safely.
Next we visited the city of Ephesus. This ancient city was built in the 2nd century BC. It was the second largest city in the Roman empire. This is the library. The brothel was right across the street from the library. They built an underground tunnel from the library to the brothel. Husbands would tell their wives that they were going to the library - and then they would sneak over to the brothel. Scoundrels!

These are public toilets (for men) in Ephesus. Men would come here to visit and catch up on local gossip. There was a small stream of water running in front of the toilets. They would bring a sponge to dip in the water and clean themselves off. Those who were too lazy would put their sponge on the end of a stick so they wouldn't have to bend over. They also imported exotic flowers from Africa to cover up the smell. Cozy, huh?

Our last stop on the cruise was the island of Crete (Greece). While there, we visited the Palace of Knossos. This palace is thought to have been built by the ancient Minoans, who created the first modern city (i.e. they moved out of caves and into houses). The palace was originally built in 2000 BC.

I had to try a gyro while in Greece!

We had beautiful weather in Crete. And the water was so blue! We were sunbathing on the deck of the cruise ship as we sailed away from Crete.

On our way home, we stopped in London. We visited the Palace of Westminster. And of course, we snapped a picture of Big Ben.

We also visited Buckingham Palace.

I don't know why I couldn't move these videos up where they belonged (in chronological order). This video was taken in Turkey. We got to watch this woman weave a rug. They actually tie knots really fast to make the rug. The more knots they tie in one square inch, the higher quality of rug. We did purchase a rug in Turkey. It is being shipped to us and will take 6-8 weeks before it gets here (just in time for Christmas). I'll post pictures once I get it.

This video was taken as we were pulling back into Venice. The city is truly beautiful. Hopefully this will give you an idea of the buildings that we saw along the Grand Canal.
If you would like to see all of our pictures, you can access them on my online gallery at http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/creativeapps/slideShow/Main.jsp?token=757452135805:2058076801&facebook=true&sourceId=984136008703. If that link doesn't work, you can send me an email and I'll send you a link.