Tuesday, July 30, 2013

All of Rome in 8 Hours!

Europe Trip Post #6
Our attempt at Rome in 8 Hours, Made Possible by Rome In Limo!

5/26/2012, Saturday



Rome, Italy: We woke up early and had room service on the balcony again. I'm telling you, I could get use to this morning feast on the balcony! Although I don't think my shorts would appreciate it!  We have been pigging, I mean, pigging out for breakfast. We figured a good, healthy breakfast would hold us over for a while. At least that is how I justified it! By this point we have decided we would book Celebrity Cruise Line again. Breakfast on the balcony has quickly become one of our highlights that you get with the Conerige Class staterooms. We are hooked on Celebrity, the food is spectacular!

Ok moving on from the food… for now

We met our Rome in Limo driver at 7:30 again, this time we were greeted by Roberto. Side note: if you have not noticed yet, we are obsessed with RomeInLimo, here is the link to check them out! http://www.romeinlimo.com/

Roberto had a surprise for us! We were in for a real treat he told us! Oooh I can't wait, I love surprises! We had arranged for a guide through RomeInLumo while we were touring Vatican City and the Roman Forum. Roberto informed us our guide would be Maura (I know I am spelling his name wrong, it sounds like Mar-A). And Maura happens to be well known around these streets, according to Roberto… which we would later find true. According to Roberto he was the best guide in all of Rome. However Maura, the Roman celebrity, was not our surprise. Maura would be spending the ENTIRE day with US! For NO extra charge! We got our own personal guide with us for the entire day! WOOHOO! Lets get this party started! RIL sure knows how to do customer service! Thank you again RomeInLimo!

Off we go!


Then Roberto had some bad news…. There is "something" going on in St. Peters therefore the Basilica will be closed. Nooooooo, let me repeat that "NOOOOOO"  I said out loud, very dramatic I know. There was ***rumor*** the pope was ill and this was the reason (we found out days later this was not sure). I was so dissented.

This is how I felt (That would be Laocoon behind me)



We are Catholic. As I have been to Vatican City before all I did was talk about how excited I was for my family to see the Basilica and now they will not be able to. Roberto could sense my disappointment so he promised we would try and come back at the end of the day to see if they opened it up. He kept his word.

Vatican City: We picked up our lively, charismatic guide for the day, Maura. He greeted us with smiles and enthusiasm. The love he has for his city was oozing from every pore in his body; we love him already! Our first stop would be the Vatican City grounds, museum, and Sistine Chapel. Maura was very knowledgeable about every single piece in the Vatican grounds and museums. I brought my notebook from my 2004 trip and asked Maura if we could see some of the same pieces I saw in 2004. As part of my 2004 trip I had to write my reactions to the pieces. I wanted to see how my view changed from being 18 to 26 (Hey, you can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can't take the teacher out of me). He tried his best to show me everything but because of our time crunch we could not see it all. Laocoon was my favorite from 2004. Others I saw include Apoxyomenous, Augustus of Primo Porta, and Doryphous. I also had fun recreating some of my pictures from 2004 (such as a sad face in front of Laocoon). 

Pictured below: Vatican. Bottom right is Laocoon, I was most excited to see this.


We started to make our way through the long journey to reach the Sistine Chapel. I remember from 2004 seeing the Sistine Chapel left a lasting impression on me and could not wait to see it again. We got a Michelangelo lesson along the way. The journey is long and anticipation build with every step you take down the long, tapestry filled hallways. Along the way you will walk on historic marble and see beautiful tapestries. Some of my favorite tapestries included the ones with maps of the world… or how they thought the world looked then. Those were neat to stare at for a while. The hallways are lit up by the glow of the gold and opulent curved ceilings. Hall after hall, we are almost there!

Video of walking down the halls leading to the Sistine Chapel:




I don’t know about anybody else in my family, but the closer we get the more I can feel it. The excitement is overwhelming. I remember you walk through this narrow, white-walled, little ally type section before BAM! entering the room, the Sistine Chapel.

Maura gave us instructions and etiquette about entering the Chapel. No talking, phones, photography, etc. He also told us where we would meet him when we were finished. Before long, we were dumped into the Chapel.

I am not even sure how to describe the feeling I felt seeing the Sistine Chapel. I get goose-bumps (or goosey goosey like Fredrik says from Million Dollar Listing: my new obsession) just typing about it. Tyler and I stuck together and the rest of us kept within eye-distance of each other since you are not allowed to talk.

When you first walk in naturally you look up. Then you are able to start soaking it in and can take in the incredibleness of the Alter Wall. And your eyes start to play tricks on you, is the ceiling 3D? Are the painted arches really sticking out? I do not know, still to this day and I have not goolged it. Because that is part of the magic for me, everyone sees the Sistine Chapel differently. The longer I stare at it the more it feels 3D and real to me, and very spiritual at that. Even after a year I still do not know if it really is arches and columns or just painted to look like it! Guess I have to go back to get a third look.

My wondering about the "3D" was immediately halted when I heard someone yelling. Yelling? Why would there by yelling in the Sistine Chapel? I turn to my side and LONE BEHOLD Brandon, MY brother, has his CELL PHONE OUT! What the H-E-Double Hockey Stick was he thinking! I almost tackled him right there. He is lucky you are not allowed to talk in there! But I sure made up for it once we exited- after I apologized to Maura. Phew, ok, glad we got that over. I feel my heart racing again just thinking about it! What was he thinking? Typical boy, not listening to directions! I told you, you can't take the teacher out of me!

Rome, Italy: After the excitement and escapades of Vatican City, we were hungry. Tyler and I saw on the Travel Channel from one of Anthony Bourdines (sp) shows him eating this amazing looking pasta called Caccio e Pepe. He described it as the "mac-and-cheese" of Rome. Well what American doesn’t like mac-and-cheese? Sign me up! I asked Roberto if he knew a place we could get Caccio e Pepe from. He knew just the place, of course he did. And as Rome in Limo is famous for, he called ahead and got us a table. He also informed the waiter that we were on a cruise so would not have time for a traditional Italian meal- which can take hours. Maybe when I come back one day I can spend hours on a Roman lunch, but not today, we have a tight agenda! Rome in Limo is also famous for maneuvering their car through any kind of traffic to get you where you need to go. They get the job done, move over cute little Fiat! See the picture below of Roberto literally parking his car in the middle of traffic for us.

We all ordered either Caccio e Pepe or Gnocchi. And both lived up to the hype! Of course I think a spell was cast on my, some kind of European trance that makes everything seem a hundred times better in Europe. However, for the first time in my life I got heartburn later that night. But it was worth the heartburn. See the pictures below of the food.

Pictured below: Our driver parking in the middle of traffic and our spectacular Roman lunch!

Next we did the usual Rome stops. And I accomplished the one thing I HAD to do before leaving Rome, throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain; hey it worked last time!

My best friend Jane and I in 2004:



I came back to Rome so here is to it working again! More coins in the Trevi Fountain! We did the other stops, Spanish Steps, Wedding Cake building, etc.






After a whirl-wind ancient Rome drive-by, we went to the Pantheon, which is my favorite building in Rome. I will not tell you all the Pantheon secrets because I don’t want to spoil the fun! Make sure to ask your guide!



We would spend a good amount of time in the Roman Forum and Coliseum. Jane and I at the Arch of Titus in 2004:

Dad, being an engineer was very impressed with the Coliseum. Again I do not want to spoil any of the fun facts here for those of you that will be going to Italy one day. I will tell you one tid-bit- they said by 2014 the bottom area under the stage, where the trap doors are, should be safe enough for the public to tour! Ok, I am going to tell you one cool fact, believe it or not, but the Coliseum actually had a removable roof! The roof was made up of big sails that could be pulled in or out with pulleys. First convertible, perhaps?



I also noticed Brandon had been VERY quiet all day. Turns out he was just taking it all in and in awe of Rome. He hopes to come back to Rome one day and spend more time. Rome is very impressive and I am so happy he love Rome! I hope he can come back soon, maybe he will backpack Europe one day! Something I never got to do, but Tyler says I would bring too many shoes to backpack, true.

Vatican City, take II (I had to use Roman numerals since this a Roman post, HA!): As Roberto promised, we drove back to Vatican to see if the Basilica was open. Nope. However we did have some time to walk around the Square and here some interesting facts from Maura.

Stand in 2 countries at once, see the pic below of my feet. Columns in the square, me on the disc that only allows you to see one row, Sistine Chapel from the outside, and standing in 2 countries at once!


Also look at the picture of me standing on a disc, if you stand on that disc and look at the columns surrounding the square, you can only see 1 row of columns. However, there really are 3 rows but from that exact spot you can only see 1 regardless of where you look! Again, this impressed Dad, Engineer humor.

It was now time to head back to our beautiful home on the high seas, the Solstice. We were too tired tonight to take any more pictures. We ate dinner in the grand dining room again and called it an early night. We had another long but exciting day of sight seeing planned for tomorrow! I will give you a hint it involves group singing of "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie...." come on sing it with me.... "That's amore!"


Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia


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Southern Style Cornbread

Southern Style Cornbread


Cornbread, the perfect summertime bread to compliment your dinner in the south! Of course biscuits would work, but cornbread has that special summertime, comfort food feel. Maybe it is the sunny yellow color to it or the cheese in this recipe, whatever it is, this recipe rocks!

When in a bind a cheap box of Jiffy will do the trick, or when the fiance is cooking. But when I have the time this is my "go to" southern style, classic cornbread recipe that is always a hit!

When feeding a group, especially guys, I will double this recipe as it is sure to be gone in no time!

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients:
1 cup butter (softened to room temp)
1 cup sugar (I use Splenda sometimes)
4 eggs
1 16oz can cream of corn
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:
Directions: Set the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9x13 pan and set aside, or for a more deep dish style use 9X9


1.)  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.
2.) Add the eggs, cream of corn, and cheese, mix well.
3.) Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well blended.
4.) Bake for 30-40 min.
5.) Optional if you are really in a "Southern" mood, I will throw some butter on top and pop it back in the oven for a couple minutes

*You may need to cook the bread a little longer...a good way to tell if it's done, is if you press down on the bread with your finger and it bounces back.




Enjoy! This is really good served warm, fresh out of the oven!



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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pisa, Tuscany and Florence, Italy

Europe Trip Post #5

Pisa, Tuscany and Florence, Italy

5/25/2012, Friday (Port: Livorno, Italy)

Livorno, Italy: Had room service breakfast on the balcony again (if you did not know, this is FREE on cruises!). We really love the extended room service menu you get with Concierge Class on Celebrity cruises. Once we again, we ordered more than we could eat. Side note: the first few days we ate WAY more than we should have! It started to level off around day 5 or 6 when we realized the same french toast was offered every day ;-) However, on my end, the desserts never leveled off I still ate several desserts every day... when else do you get this chance? Livorno is a port town. This port is used for visiting Pisa, Tuscany, and the Florence areas.



Today we have our first of three "Rome in Limo" (RIL) tours. RIL was worth EVERY penny; I could go on and on about how amazing RIL was. I will try to touch on some of the highlights as we go along. My parents, mainly Dad, were a little skeptical at first of booking an excursion outside the cruise line. However, by the time we returned from our 2nd RIL tour, my dad said the drivers were the highlight of our whole entire vacation! He wishes we could have them everywhere. What he found most impressive was their authentic love for their cities. And the love they have for their jobs, showing off their beautiful cities! All the guides and drivers are born and raised in their respective cities.

We will be meeting our RIL driver at 7:30 am. There was a chance of rain today so we debated on bringing the umbrellas. Ultimately we decided not to, but no worries! 1.) it did not rain and 2.) Sabrina (our driver) had cold waters and umbrellas for us! As soon as we walked off the ramp we saw our driver, Sabrina, with our name sign. Sabrina greeted us with her warm Italian smile and instantly made us feel comfortable. The tour was just for our family. The agenda was a quick peek at the leaning tower in Pisa and off to Florence. Like all of the RIL tours, we had a nice, clean, cool, Mercedes van.

On our way to Pisa:


Pisa: Since we got an early start to the day, the leaning tower area was not crowded with flocks of tourists sticking their arms up in the air. We took the required pictures at the leaning tower of Pisa and bought some silly souvenirs. If you ever want to play a prank on someone buy the leaning beer mugs, shot glasses… good times. We had some fun tricking people once we got home who did not take the time to look at the glass at first when we handed it to them. Try it!

Dad being an engineer was quite impressed with the Leaning Tower! Sabrina showed us 3 more leaning towers on our way to Florence.



Tuscany: Sabrina waited for us while we took pictures and informed us we had a lengthy ride to Florence. She had a big colorful, elementary school-style, map of Italy for us to look at as we drove along through the Tuscany region. She asked if we were wine drinkers, I am the only one, but we do like cooking! So she called up her friends who own a family-owned olive oil factory, Laudemio.

Tuscany:


After calling her friends they said it was ok for us to come by. Sabrina, who by the way, pronounces her name Sa-BRI-NAaaa, which we had fun with the rest of the trip talking like Sa-BRI-NAaaa. Side story: We would play pranks calling each others rooms acting like we were Solstice staff looking for someone talking with the undulating Italian accent Sabrina had, good times. 

She explained to us how the farm is all-organic; as we drove past the rows of olive trees (bushes?) she explained how they control the bugs without pesticides. This is how I remember it: at the end of each olive row, a special kind of rose bush is planted. Pests are first attracted to the rose bush. Therefore, if the rose bush is damaged than there is a good chance the olives are infected too! Pretty neat, huh?



We pull up. The owners graciously welcome us in and start explaining why their olives are so amazing. To be honest I don’t really remember why, it involved acid and pressing, that is all I know. What I do know is that I wanted to drink the Extra Virgin Olive Oil straight from the bottle! Back home I just bought grocery-store olive oil, you know Publix brand. We had no clue how AMAZING olive oil could be! (same with mozzarella as you will see on our Naples port day).

The nice lady brought out bread pieces and the fresh, new bottle of oil. She started soaking the break with olive oil, we all exchanged a look “ummm ok, guess we are having bread with our olive oil then!” Well, let me tell you, what an experience. Before eating the samples we treated it like fine wine, spinning, sniffing, etc. SOLD! I’ll take 100 bottles please! No, we can’t, I don’t think Delta would approve. So we left with 5 bottles between the 5 of us, some will be gifts.

We were also given strict instructions to keep the oil in its box as light will damage the olive oil? Ok whatever you say olive oil lady, you sure know a lot more about this than us! We were paranoid about the bottles breaking in luggage. We made it just fine.

This is jumping ahead a little bit but since we have been home we have “Europe Night” once a month and we only eat the olive oil on Europe Night, trying to savor it as long as we can! Now a year past our trip, Tyler and I still have "Europe Night" once a month :)

Florence: Back on the winding road we go. Next stop Florence! Sabrina first brings us to a high viewing spot to get a spectacular view of Florence.

Ponte Vecchio



We did most of the usual stuff: leather market, Duomo, Uffizi, churches (do not have many pics here) etc. Tried taking artsy photos to no avail. I do like the colors in this picture.



I touched the pig/boar/something snout by the leather marker for good luck, I sat and touched the snout the same way I did in 2004… you know…. last time I touched it, I came back! So if history repeats itself, I should be going back! (I am extremely sentimental and took several photographs standing/sitting in the same position from when I went in 2004; I am also a border-line hoarder)



Me in 2004 at the same spot:



Checked out all the "David" statues around the city



ate "Porchetta" street side for lunch



One last thing on our Florence bucket list was to have the best possible Gelato in Florence! Sabrina new just the place, Perche No! Which translates to “why not?” I suggest you go there RIGHT NOW, yes RIGHT NOW, why not? (ha!)! Ok well that may be hard to do for most of us but we can dream right?. In my head I am sitting on some steps that "may or may not be dirty" eating gelato instead of my uncomfortable computer chair. If you are lucky enough to be going to Florence soon and want the best Gelato go have a scoop, or 2, for my family!



Solstice that night: I made it to the gym finally! And did P90X in the cabin… still gained 9 pounds… hmm for some reason I don’t think ordering 3 desserts every night was the reason? No, maybe 5 desserts but certainly not 3! Yes, I managed to gain 9 pounds in something like a week! We still have 2 weeks left on this vacation, yikes! Ok, time to slow down on the sugar. To be fair, cruise food is very salty so I am assuming some of this is caused by that? Hopefully...

Tyler and I celebrated our birthdays tonight at dinner. 



And we all went to bed early because Rome was waiting for us in the morning!


p.s. next time we go to Florence, Tyler and I will be shipping an entire case of that olive oil home next time… I don’t even care how much it will cost! Here is the link to the Laudemio website: http://www.laudemio.it/home.page

I ended this journal entry by writing “ Great day! We Love Sabina” I think that about sums it up! 

Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia


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Classic Banana Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting

Classic Banana Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting

I finally decided to make something with the bananas sitting in my freezer. Who doesn't like a good old fashion banana bread? Why not make it even better and add cream cheese frosting on top! Sure, what the heck, who is counting calories anyway?



Classic Banana Bread

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2ish cups of ripe bananas (I used 5)
1 cup pecans (optional)

Directions: 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. 
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add pecans if using.
3. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. 
4. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. 
5. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes enough for one loaf, if you are using this for a cake I would double the recipe. 

Ingredients:
1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar (or more as needed)
 
Directions:
1. In a bowl cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the  vanilla.
2. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar.
3. Spread frosting on cooled bread.
3. Store extra in the refrigerator (I had extra).



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Friday, July 26, 2013

Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco


Europe Trip Post #4
Cote d’Azur and Monaco

5/24/2012, Thursday (Port: Villefrance, France)

Pictured below: The quaint, colorful, seaside town of Villefranche- along the Cote d'Azur, France
 




Celebrity Solstice, South of France: I jumped out of bed as soon as the alarm went off. I wanted to get up super early, I am guessing maybe 5:30-6ish? I peaked my head through the heavy, room darkening curtains ever so slowly to try and let Tyler sleep. The voice inside my head said "Ummm, holy cow, we are port side, cruising slowly along the Cote D’Azur approaching our port of Villefranche. Whattt! No Way!" Yep, that is pretty much how my brain operates in case you were wondering. No time to be quiet, too excited for soft voices, sorry Tyler. I ripped those curtains open and turned to tell Tyler to tell him “you have got to see this!” Sadly, him and most of the passengers on the ship decided to sleep some more. From leaning over the balcony and turning my head side to side and up and down I thought "where is everybody?" How can everyone be sleeping through this? I know I was not the only one up, it just felt that way at the time because I was so excited! I just wanted someone to be witnessing this beauty with me! This was a very special moment for me, my first morning on the Celebrity Solstice, seas as calm as a pool, temps in the high 60’s/low 70’s, looking into the jagged clifside of the French coastline dotted with little quaint towns.

Pictured below: What I first saw when I went onto the balcony


 

I took French for 3 years in high school and quickly became obsessed with anything French. I did a report on the town of Toulon which is along the Cote d'Azur. Before my first trip to Paris in 2004 people had warned me that I might have over-hyped Paris in my head and to prepare to be disappointed. Fear not! After visiting Paris in 2004 I fell in love with France, Europe, the culture everything. I had been waiting for this moment, to see the Cote d’Azur, something I study years ago, live and in person. And we could not have asked for better weather! I was practically ready to jump off the boat and swim to shore! Now to just wake up everyone else, I wanted to be on the first tender ride in!

Today the plan, according to “the book” was room-service on the balcony, catch the first tender in, take the train to Monaco (complete dad’s dream to see the Grand Prix), take the train back to Eze, and if time permits, see Cannes too since the film festival was going on.

pictured below: Breakfast with a view





Villefrance, France: We made the 2nd tender, not the first, but still impressive for my family! No lines/waits nothing, got right on. We easily made our way to the train station. We waited in the short line to buy our train tickets for Monaco. The man selling the tickets did not speak English, “SWEET! I get to use my mediocre French skills they sound way cooler in my head” I thought. For the past year anytime I was on a lengthy car ride I listened to my french CD's. CD's? Who has CD's? They were from high school! Anyway, while in line, I practiced in my head my numbers and conversations I would need anxiously awaiting my turn to step up and order tickets for my family. I felt like a proud 4 year old showing off my macaroni necklace! My turn was next; I bought the tickets and we headed to the platform. Cha-ching! 






At the platform the workers warned us that pick pocketing was serious, especially with the Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival happening in the same week. We also were told there was a train strike going on. However, the train came quickly and it was standing room only. I gave everyone strict orders to watch their watches and money. The man next to us, had his wallet taken right our of his pockets while we were standing next to him! But we came out just fine.

The train ride was a short 16 minute ride along the coast line, yes I timed it. I loved this brief ride, wish it would have lasted longer! 






Monaco & Monte Carlo: We got off at our stop and immediately the hairs on our arms stood up, we all stopped and looked at each other and grinned… the race cars were roaring and ripping through the streets already! We could hear and feel their wrath of the Formula 1 engines even in the train station! It was going to be a good day! My dad has always dreamed of seeing the Grand Prix of Monaco. One thing checked off dads bucket list! He specifically picked this cruise because it would be in Monaco during the Grand Prix.

Pictured below: Vendors line the streets for the Grand Prix of Monaco





We followed the crowd like a line of ants out of the station anxiously awaiting our first sight of the race track, and BAM, we were hit with a mean dose of reality. Fences, fences, fences everywhere! They have the race completely blocked off so those without tickets could not see it. I could feel my dads heart sinking, he did not even have to say a word, I knew it. How were we going to turn this around? Such a tease to hear and feel the cars but not to see them.

I tried to redirect the attention to the first goal of the day, getting to the top where the royal palace of Monaco was, I knew that was a great viewing spot, just maybe we could see the race there? We started our way towards the top but due to the race many roads were closed and I was not sure how to get there. I timidly walked up to vendors to ask for help. I suddenly became very self conscious of my French; the vendors hardly spoke English. When I get nervous I have my “little girl voice” as Tyler calls it. It came out, full blown 5 year old voice. They did not really know what I was trying to say. I just nodded my head and walked along. I got some confidence and asked again. I realized 5 year old girl American accent trying to speak french was not going to work. Fake it until you make it, right? Now we are talking, making progress in the French department.


Pictured below: View from the top


We started to climb up the ramps to the top where the palace is located thinking we could see the race form there…. But…. Even the ramp had double high fences so if you were on the next level up you still could not see it! Eek!

Pictured below: Fences put up to block race views, tres triste :(





Okay now to plan B. We got to the top and wanted to see the changing of the guards so we decided to wait. What happens next I am sworn to Monaco secrecy. It involved goat blood, handshakes, poker, DNA, and the like. Kidding of course, but really I am not suppose to say what happened per the Monaco race camera guys, wink wink. My dad did some smooth talking and we got a P R I M E viewing spot, thanks to some very nice cameramen. Unfortunately the pictures from this are few, and are on my dads phone. I will try to get them on here. But for now this little picture will have to do:







iPhone video of the race:

Now that dads life was complete we could continue on with our regularly scheduled program. Next stop, trying to find THE Monte Carlo Casino. This proved to be quite the challenge. As I stated, due to the race, many streets were closed and detours all over the place. Nevertheless, we must continue on to find THE Casino! At every corner I had to keep asking for directions, usually police type people who were moreee than willing to help me, to make sure we were on the right track. At each corner they would say “ah, yes, just around that corner” hmm get to that corner, no casino, ask the next person “just after that turn” and so on and so forth. We knew that “just around the corner” really meant around 10 more corners. We could see the top of the casino but there was no direct path. In hindsight we should have got a cab. My mom and brother decided to wait for us at the train station.

Pictured below: taking a break from the walk to the Casino to pose for a picture with the city behind us. We dressed up because we thought that was required for Casino entry. That was not the case.




The streets turned from asphalt into a white marble looking material and the grass became greener, no seriously I swear it was greener.  We started seeing high-end designer stores and knew we were getting close. FINALLY, we see it! Ah ha the Monte Carlo Casino! Yes! But, we were not allowed in until 2 because of race activities, booo. So we waited and rested our feet on the nicest park bench I have ever seen. Finally the gates opened! Standing on the steps of THE Monte Carlo Casino overlooking THE Grand Prix of Monaco was surreal. Inside was even more amazing. They check everything in your possession when you walk in, phones, water, etc. so I have no pictures, sorry.

By the time we left the casino a moderate rainfall started. We decided to take a cab back to the station. Man, I tell you, that was the best cab ride ever! We had a nice, cold, plush Mercedes taxi with magazines, tinted windows, the works. We could have stayed in that cab for hours our feet were hurting so bad. We caught up with mom and Brandon.

Pictured below: One of the shops we passed. Only in Monaco can you go to a "Plane Store"




We worked our way to the train platform and I asked the lady working there (in high school French) when the next train would arrive. We were told due to the strike it would be at least an hour, but probably longer! So we found an open area and made shop on the platform with other cruise passengers waiting to get back. Finally the train arrived. What was a 16 minute train ride coming took over an hour going back.


Back on the Solstice: We never made it to Eze or Cannes due to the strike; and to be honest, we were tired. So we headed back to the ship for our first formal night. Tonight on the ship we saw the Solstice show, we thought it was spectacular. It was a Cirque style production. We also took advantage of room service and ordered warm cookies and milk. We ordered room service quite a bit- Tyler loves to eat. I blame him for the 9 pounds I gained! The food always arrived hot and promptly. Note, if you are ordering your breakfast for the next morning, when you pick a time slot, they always come at the beginning of that time slot.

Pictured below: town of Villefranche, cocktail night on Solstice, and the streets leading up to the casino. I told you the grass was greener!





Next up: Florence! 

Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia

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