web analytics

Sunday, May 27th – Dubrovnik, Croatia

So, the only thing I know about Croatia is that it produced the very hunky, very gorgeous, very handsome Goran Visnjic – the guy who plays/played Luka on “ER”.  How bad can the place be??

We got up extra early today so we could be on deck when we pulled into Croatia – and it’s so beautiful!   Once we are docked, we meet Dot and Russ for breakfast in the Metropolitan dining room.  Russ is going with us this morning.  I tried the kippers – not  a fan.

Dot’s leg was bothering her, so instead of coming downstairs and off the ship with us to visit the vendors who had set up tables on the pier, she stayed on board to get some rest.  Brighid and I had already gone downstairs, so we browsed the vendors, then waited with Russell until our tour left. 

Our guide was Ivana from Elite tours, and she was GREAT – funny, knowledgeable, and such a wealth of information.  Loved her.

We stopped along the Dalmatian coast for a panoramic photo opportunity of the old city of Dubrovnik and the port below.  The water is so blue, you think immediately of the crystal blue Caribbean water when you see it. 

From this brief stop, we headed to the home and studio of artist Mijo Sisa Konavljanin.  We were welcomed into his gallery with grape brandy and dried figs, and Ivana described for us the inspiration for his paintings and how well they reflected life in Croatia.  After that nice stop, we boarded the bus and drove through more of the beautiful Croatian countryside to the home of the Glavic family.  We are shown photos of how the home was virtually destroyed during the war with Yugoslavia, and then taken on a tour of where the olive oil is made.  The family grows olives and grapes to make olive oil, grape brandy, and Dalmatian wine.  We are again welcomed with grape brandy and dried figs, which Brighid has decided are gifts from the gods, and then a musical duo comes out and performs for us.

In not too long, we are escorted into a very nice dining room for lunch.  The first course is a tray of Dalmatian smoked ham (which is very similar to prosciutto) and a variety of cheeses, and that is followed by what looks like a delicious salad.  The main course is a piece of chicken breast with a potato salad that is light and tasty.  Dessert looks like a fig pastry, and it smells fabulous!!   Brighid and Russell eat it right up and seem to really enjoy it.

The musicians join us and play throughout the meal, and end with a few international favorites as opposed to the Croatian music they have been playing (even a round of Jingle Bells pops up at the end).  They are really good and very entertaining. 

After lunch, we are heading to the old town of Dubrovnik for a bit of free time to roam or shop, and on the way, we run right into the motorcade of the President of Croatia, who is visiting today because it is independence day.  We end up in the old city, which is jammed with people both visiting on vacation and locals celebrating the holiday.  We run to find the tie shop that has been recommended by Jennifer on the ship.  The legend says that ties were invented by the Croatians.  Wives and girlfriends would tie a necktie or kerchief around the necks of their fisherman husbands and boyfriends.  One tail of the tie meant love, and the other meant fidelity.  It was a way for the men to remember their loved ones while they were away for months of fishing.  I thought it was a beautiful legend, and wanted Jim to have a Croatian necktie to wear in Milwaukee.  Brighid picked up a small gift for her theology teacher, who is from Croatia.  We grabbed post cards and a magnet and returned to the bus for our trip back to the ship.  The vendors were still outside, so I picked up a sweater set for Ann and nesting dolls for Eilis.

Dinner for me tonight was gumbo, crab and crawfish stuffed flounder, and the cheese plate for dessert.  The show tonight was Violin Virtuoso Nicola Loud, who was very good.

Fondest Memories of Today – finding the tie for Jim and enjoying the Croatian music at the Glavic house.

Saturday, May 26th – NOW We are on a Cruise!

Well, we slept GREAT, since we were so exhausted.  We put in a wake up call, but Dot beat them to it by about 15 minutes this morning.  We went upstairs to the buffet for breakfast – which was a very typical breakfast buffet.  I had a little bit of scrambled eggs, and a bit of cheese, which was good, but I have protein and crackers with me, so I’ll have stuff to eat later if I need it.  We met our group for our Venice excursion, and we were on our way early, early, early.

We headed out on a water taxi – duh, obviously, since this is Venice and their streets are, um, water.  I was SO glad we got away from the ugly part at the port – the city of Venice is really beautiful.  I have to say, though, if you ever want to own a country or a state – don’t buy one that is comprised of mostly islands.  It seems that Venice was a GREAT place to put the dregs of society, because of the many islands.  Every island they pointed out to us was at one point a haven for criminals, the mentally ill, orphans, or those considered incurable (I believe our guide referred to them once as “Leap-ers”). 

Our first stop is at the island of Murano for a demonstration of the art of glass blowing and a tour of the factory.  Oh my goodness – so many beautiful things in one place!   The guy conducting our tour is hysterical – introducing our artisan as “George, the new guy”.  He tells us George has only been there a few days, as he “just” started in 1957.  He points out all of the equipment, explaining what it does, and tells us the only thing they have to replace every 100 years are the employees.  After making a gorgeous blue vase, George begins making a glass horse, and our host tells us that the legs are the most important part, and if George breaks them, they have to shoot him.  He was hysterical.

Brighid takes notice of the thing Italy is legendary for – amazingly handsome, very sophisticated looking Italian men.  No jeans and sneakers for this lot, I’ll tell you.  Even the one guy who WAS wearing jeans had a pair that were pin-striped.  And not a bo-bo in the bunch – all fine looking leather shoes.  And great teeth.  And gorgeous hair.  Oh, and that glass too.  Yeah, nice glass.

We leave the glass factory with a beautiful necklace for Brighid and head over to our Gondola ride.  Let me tell you – don’t be fooled by those peaceful, lovely, romantic sites you see with the calm waters of Venice, the handsome, singing gondolier, and the cuddling couple.  There are 6 of us boarding our gondola, but we board right there in the main canal, where the water is crowded and so rough.  I cling to Brighid for dear life, as I am sure our boat is about to tip over and leave me drowned, right here, in Venice, on my first day of the cruise.  I am on the right side of the boat, Brighid is on the left.  At least when we start.  I am sure by the time we reach the back street/canal where our actual ride starts, I am at least as on the left side of the boat as Brighid – convinced it is saving me from certain peril.  I cannot lean anymore in that direction if I want to.

We do not have a singing – or humming, or whistling – gondolier, but the guy behind us is whistling away, so we listen to him.  Our gondolier does not speak English, so there is no communication during our gondola ride.  I am fascinated that the doors on buildings are rotted away by the water over time, but they are not replaced with something that will keep the water out.  I am also surprised I do not see rats – for some reason, I assumed I would.  I learn later from another member of our group that if you looked up under the buildings, you could see a few deceased rats floating in the water.  I guess I am glad not to have seen them.

Our water taxi takes us over to an island that is home to the San Giorgio cathedral.  It is gorgeous, and we are fortunate to see a bride and groom, in a beautiful mahogany boat decorated with lovely white flowers arrive for their wedding.  We get a tour of the cathedral, which is, of course, older than dirt but with the beautiful appointments you do not find anywhere in contemporary architecture.  There is a painting of the Last Supper there by the Italian artist Tintoretto.  It is a beautiful, almost lively painting – much different from the one done by DiVinci.  His positioning of the table in the painting gives you the impression that you are there, or invited to be there, taking part in this crucial time in the life of Jesus Christ.  You can see the painting here:


We did a little shopping – mostly post cards – and arrived safely back at the ship in time for a quick bite to eat.  We were then off to get ready for the first formal night on the ship.  We showered, dolled up, looked gorgeous, and had a great meal.  You can always tell formal night because the menu is never in English 😉   I had a crab cocktail, which was very good; cream of chicken soup, which was bland; filet mignon, which was excellent; and the cheese plate for dessert. 

We met Dot and Russ’s friends Eileen and Ken, and their friends Angel and Vinnie – they were all very nice people.  The show tonight was really good, and Brighid looked GORGEOUS in the white gown – she turned so many heads!

In addition to the wedding, we saw a funeral in Venice.  There must have been 500 people trying to get into the Church behind the casket.

Fondest Memories of Today – Surviving the Gondola Ride from Hell (the E Ticket version), and the beautiful bride in the backdrop of that gorgeous cathedral.  I know why people travel to Italy to get married.

Day 3 – Are We There Yet?

I’ve been on this vacation two days already, and I ain’t there yet!!!

It’s Friday, May 25th, and we arrive at Gatwick with BARELY enough time to make our connecting flight to Venice.  British Airways AGAIN wants us to eat – breakfast this morning is your choice of a ham and cheese sandwich or a vegetarian sandwich, along with juice and a piece of fruit.  I eat a protein bar.

We arrive in Venice, and have to find our luggage and wait for the whole group to get together.  We are boarding a hired coach to the ship, where we arrive around noon.  There is security everywhere – not only the airport, but the ship is pretty tight as well.  We get our pictures taken and we are issued a Seapass Card – our ticket to everywhere we want to go.  Another “security” measure new since the last time I cruised – anti-bacterial hand lotion.  It’s everywhere you go.  They encourage you to use it when you get on the ship, get off the ship, come out of the bathroom, go into the dining rooms, etc. 

Once we clear the terminal, we have to board a bus to take us to the ship.  Brighid and I get on, but Dot and Russ are escorted with the wheelchair, and we’ve lost track of them.  As the bus drops us off, we are greeted with hand lotion, cold towels, another security check, a photographer, and finally, we are on board!   They have cold juice and champagne waiting as we arrive, but Brighid and I are anxious to see our room, so we head off in that direction.  We are in cabin 2082, and we have a big window that right now looks out on an ugly part of Venice.

We met up with Dot and Russ upstairs for lunch.  There’s not  a  lot on the buffet I am willing to try – I don’t want to spend the cruise over eating and dumping.  I grab some soup and cheese, and I’m not overly impressed with the rest of the buffet, but there is plenty to offer in the way of desserts and fresh fruit.

Brighid tries to use her Seapass card to buy a soda package, but they refuse to sell it to her because a minor cannot charge the $70 bar charge on their card.  She comes back to the table fuming, and we meet our first very nice member of the Celebrity waitstaff.  He buys Brighid a Coke and tells her when she gets her card straightened out, she can pay him back.  She avoids him like the plague the rest of the trip.

We visited Dot and Russ’s cabin, which is pretty much the same as ours, only they have one bed and a balcony, which overlooks the same ugly part of Venice our balcony overlooks 🙁   We had sent anniversary decorations to the room, and a flower arrangement, and it looks like everything is there 🙂

By the time we get back to our cabin, our bags our there, and Benny, our stateroom attendant introduces himself.  Brighid started unpacking while I dozed off for a little while.  When I woke up, Brighid hopped into the shower while I finished unpacking, then I showered and got dressed for dinner, which was casual and open seating.  I can’t even tell you what we had for dinner, I was so tired.  Brighid was nearly falling asleep at the table, so we decided to skip the show.  Brighid picked up some of her books to read back in the stateroom, I flipped around the TV, and Dot and Russ went to the theatre, where they enjoyed the show.  Within no time, Brighid was sound asleep, drooling over her books, pen in hand, and I was in the bathroom, throwing up the stuff I wasn’t supposed to eat.  I am now on notice for the remainder of the trip – BREADSTICKS ARE NOT MY FRIEND.

Fondest Memories from today – how British Airways tried to kill me with their big arse sandwich, and how very nice the waiter was to bring a very upset Brighid a Coke.

Day 2 of the Journey

Thursday, May 24th

We are all up and showered, had breakfast, packed the car, and are ready to go.  Way. Too. Early.  We’re not too anxious, are we?   The bus is picking us up at a centrally located meeting point at 11:45.  We are out the door for the LONG 5 minute drive to this meeting place at 10:45.  Oh no, we’re not too anxious!  

The bus is scheduled to leave at noon so that our group can be in line at the British Airways check in as soon as they open.  Because this was booked as a group, we cannot check in individually on-line, therefore making it difficult for the people in the group with physical limitation issues (aside from Dot, there are at least two others who will have difficulties moving to the back of the plane and getting through the airport).  We arrive at the airport at 1, only to find out that British Airways doesn’t open their check in desk until 1:30 – 2:00.  The people are fit to be tied, especially Steve, our illustrious leader, who seems like he wants everything to run smoothly and according to a schedule.  Aside from that, these people with physical limitations are now left standing in the queue for at least half an hour or more.  After waiting in the line for a while, a rep comes out and informs us that our seats have been pre-assigned, as they do with all large groups.  This raises quite a bit of ire, because, first of all, they have not taken into consideration anyone with special preferences (for example, Dot needs an aisle seat to have room for her legs), they have not gone to any effort to keep traveling partners together (many married couples are separated, Brighid and I are behind Dot, and Russ is across the aisle), and all of the seats are at the very back of the plane.  Complaints rise from the group about being treated like second class citizens.  We’re not off to a great start, but maybe it will get better.

They get a wheel chair at the check in for Dot, and we are really on our way to the gate by about 2 PM.  Our flight leaves at 5:30.  We are SOOOOOO early.

I’m not sure what we might find once we go through security, so I suggest grabbing lunch at the food court before we head over to the gate to wait the oh so long hours until we board our flight.  We grab a table and I pick up soup for Dot and I at one end, and Brighid and Russell grab Chik Fil A.  We take our time eating, and head over to security after lunch to wait at the gate.  They have a whole Outback Steakhouse restaurant on the other side of security, as well as a Starbucks and one or two other places.  We did okay with what we had for lunch, and I wait an appropriate amount of time before running over to call Jim and get my latte.  When I get back, a British Airways rep has piled up large piles of the local British newspapers, so we grab one to have something to do while we wait.  We meet the Hartlemans – a couple from Orlando who is joining us this trip, even though they don’t live in Solavita.  They seem very nice.

I have had only one experience on British Airways, and the thing I remember most is they feed you.  A lot.  And we had one movie screen in front of our section, and you could choose to watch or not watch what was playing.  This time around, everyone has their own TV screen, and you can watch one of 18 channels – movies, cartoons, news, etc.  You can also choose to play a variety of video games or watch the map channel, which gave you info like outside temperature (damn, it’s cold up there!), distance to destination, time at destination, etc.

We got snacks and drinks shortly after boarding – worcestershire sauce flavored pretzels and a water for me, Sprite for Brighid.  Not much longer after that, we get dinner.  I have pre-ordered a diabetic meal, and they deliver the special meals first.  I have a chicken and rice dish, 1/2 of a sliced canteloupe, a rice cake, a nice salad, and a drink.  Brighid has a choice of beef tips or chicken, and she chooses the chicken.  Her dinner, which she enjoys, includes a salad, dinner rolls, marble cheesecake, and her favorite – Crunchies candy bar. 

I enjoy the in-flight entertainment, and watch a little bit of some movies and some sitcoms.  I play a few of the games, but find them hard to maneuver with the arm rest controls.  I enjoy the map feature most of all, I think 🙂

They bring a late night snack of yogurt, banana and orange juice for me (who puts together these meals?   The yogurt is loaded with sugar, they give me a banana, which for me might as well be like eating a Snickers bar, and the OJ could send someone into insulin overload.).  Brighid gets an egg salad sandwich, which she hates, but I give her my juice and banana, and she falls asleep.  We will be arriving sometime tomorrow in Gatwick.

 Fondest Memories From Today – Love the map on the TV, and loved having my own TV.  I’ll always fondly remember how British Airways tried to kill me with their sugar laden midnight snack.  Oh, and there was an adorable, but gay, flight attendant who brought Brighid a hand full of Crunchies chocolate bars when we told him how much she loved them.

The Beginning – Day One of the Mediterranean Vacation

Wednesday, May 23rd  

Well, after weeks of stressing over what to wear, what to bring, what to do, the day arrives.  Brighid is at school for her last normal day (her first day back is the start of final exams), the bags are packed (okay, they are over packed, but I NEED all of this stuff!!), and Jim takes me to JC Penney’s for a last minute pick up of   a few things (I got a nice light jacket, a small black purse, and a micro-umbrella).  We take the baby to the diner for lunch, then I go home to finish all the final arrangements while Jim goes to get the girls at school.

When Jim is back, having stopped at WalMart for my peanut butter crackers, we start loading up the car.  Brighid goes to get changed and pulls together her backpack with the books and notes she brought home from school.  I find out the peanut butter crackers they bought are cheese crackers.  I hate cheese crackers.  We have to stop at WalMart before we get to the airport.

So, on the road, quick stop to exchange crackers, and off to Southwest at Philly International.  I forgot to mention that Eilis has recently been diagnosed with a UTI – urinary tract infection – so, even though she has JUST GONE to the bathroom no, really, JUST GONE minutes before we walked out of the house – she urgently has to go half way to the airport.  I am stressing over the trip, the luggage, leaving Jim and the two little ones behind, and now I am worried Eilis is going to have an accident.  Jim can’t see the signs too well, and I see them but misinterpret them incorrectly.  He has a much better sense of direction, and he recognizes my interpretation and gently corrects me as I explain what I believe the proper directions should be.  Yeah.  Before we stop the car in the middle of four lanes of airport traffic and beat each other to bloody pulps, we find the spot to pull off and park, and Brighid runs like the wind inside the airport with Eilis to go to the bathroom.  They are back minutes later, and we are loading ourselves up with the luggage and heading in to check in.

We already have boarding passes, so we just have to check our bags and head to the gate.  Or so I think.  The weight limit on luggage with British Airways is – until August – 70 pounds per piece.  This is very important.  I have been given every instruction about how many bags I can bring, how much they can weigh, how many carry on bags I can have, what dimensions they can be – all the good stuff travelers need to know.  Unfortunately, I don’t get on the British Airways flight until TOMORROW.  Southwest is unsympathetic to the fact that I am going to be gone for a very long time and had to cram in so many clothes in so few bags, and they find my large suitcase is over their weight limit.  By 8 pounds.  Story of my life – too fat 🙁     So the lady says I can take some stuff out of my large bag and put it in the small one or pay the fine.  I look at my bursting at the seams small bag and contemplate moving a bunch of stuff to the already too heavy carry on bag I am carrying, and Jim, ever the impatient type, asks the lady how much the fine is and then hands over his credit card.  So, $25 later, I am through the check in process, kissing my kids and my husband goodbye, walking away with tears in my eyes, and leaving them behind. 

Lesson learned – being fat is a bad thing.  Even if you are luggage.

It is about this time, sitting in the airport, having had no dinner, that I decide to reach for a pack of peanut butter crackers.  Brighid, where are the peanut butter crackers?   I gave them to you.  No, you didn’t.  Yes, I did.  Brighid, you didn’t give me the crackers.  Okay, then they are in the car.  No peanut butter crackers 🙁

We are on the plane, and all is clear for take-off.  I don’t mind flying Southwest.  I’m not a frequent flyer anywhere, but the few times I’ve flown, we’ve taken off on time, landed early, and been treated well.  This time is no different, and we are on the ground about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  Brighid calls her grandparents, who are on their way to the airport, and we head to baggage claim.

We have bags in hand, and we head outside.  Russell is wandering around, looking for us.  We get to the car to find out that for leaving his car parked in a no parking zone, Russell has gotten a ticket for $30.  And that was with Dot in the car!  

Shortly after leaving the airport, they ask if we’ve forgotten anything.  I rack my brain and discover that I probably forgot 40 things, but it’s too late now, my bags are fat.  But apparently, my dear husband has phoned ahead of our arrival and explained my peanut butter cracker dilemma.  They have come to the rescue and picked up peanut butter crackers!

Back at the house, we go through the paper work with our plane tickets and our excursion info; we add a few things to the carry on bag; we have a bedtime snack; and then I am in bed about midnight.  I’m too excited to sleep, and Brighid has Good Morning Vietnam playing.  She starts snoring, so I shut it off and I finally go to sleep.

Fondest Memories of Day One –

Even in a size 10 jeans, obesity still plagues me.  I’ve only transferred my bad habits to luggage.

Poor Russell – I cannot believe he got a parking ticket.

Peanut Butter crackers – who thought they were so elusive?