Thursday, December 12, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013 – Civitavecchia, Italy – Mostly Cloudy – 66F

Distance from La Spezia to Civitavecchia: 169 Nautical Miles

20131116_Itinetary Map (Small)

A very nice day in Civitavecchia, Italy.  Probably, the warmest day of the cruise so far.  We are going to walk around the town and try to hack some WiFi.  We are going to take a different route today – going left at the main street instead of straight up the main boulevard.  We did this once at night and got lost – we will have better luck in the daylight. 

The town is bustling today as all the shops are open on Saturday.  There are at least three ships here today including two Regents Seven Seas cruisers and our old friend, the NCL Spirit.

We did manage to steal some WiFi from a Real Estate Office near one of the town squares.  The city even provided us with a comfortable bench next to the office where we could sit and go through our emails.  All caught up, we walked a bit more and then headed back to the ship for a late lunch in the Ocean View Cafe.

A very relaxing day in Civitavecchia.

We had dinner in the Silhouette Dining Room.  I tried one of the group of unidentifiable fish – this time is was Branzini.  It turned out to be quite good – need to make a mental note on this fish. 

Tonight was the first Production Show - “Limelight – The Broadway Dream”.  The title of the show was similar to an earlier Celebrity Production - “Gaslight – the Ghost of Broadway” and the show opened up the same (even had the same set) but instead of it being about a group’s final show, it was about a great show they had just put on.  After the opening, the show consisted of performing tried and true Broadway numbers.

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“Amerika” – West Side Story

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“You Can’t Stop the Beat” - Hairspray

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“On My Own” – Les Miserables

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“Dancing Queen” – Mama Mia

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Finale -  “Mama Mia”

The singers and dancers were a new troupe that just joined the ship and they did a great job.

Friday, November 15, 2013 – La Spezia, Italy – Cloudy (chance of rain) – 59F

Distance from Villefranche to La Spezia: 121 Nautical Miles

Local Information.  After World War II (Summer 1945 – Spring 1948), over 23,000 Jews from Concentration Camps left Italy (La Spezia port) in secret for Israel.  Three ships, Fede, Fenice, and Exodus transported these people.  In Israel, La Spezia is called “Shaar Zion” – door to Zion.

Ellen and I are both on the same tour today: “Pisa and Florence On Your Own”  (Amanda is my guide).  There is a lot of drive time on this tour – about 90 minutes to Pisa and three hours back from Firenze to La Spezia.

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Enroute to Pisa

On our way to Pisa, the guide pointed out that the light areas on the nearby mountains are quarries for the much desired Carrera Marble.  Along the highway, there are numerous shops selling slabs of this marble.

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Marble Quarries

Our bus parks a few blocks away from Miracle Square, where the major sites of Pisa are located.  I try to remember where the bus park is so I can lead any stragglers back to the bus at the end of the tour. 


The first site to greet the group in Miracle Square is a Subway Sandwich Shop – complete with washroom facilities and free WiFi.  They are even wearing gloves during the preparation of their sandwiches.  Not only will I be able to catch up on emails but I will also be able to post some FB updates on the spot.

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The Leaning Subway of Pisa

I am able to find Ellen pretty easily in the Square. 

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Ellen and the Tower of Pisa (leaning and non-leaning)

You can’t be in Pisa without taking a series of pictures of the tower.  We were told that the tower was secured by cables to the adjacent buildings but I couldn’t see any.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa Photo Series

There are other buildings in Miracle Square.  One of them is the Duomo of Pisa – a massive Cathedral.

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The other building in the Square is the Battistero of Pisa where Baptisms were carried out in the area.

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The departure time arrived and I checked around to make sure that everyone was headed back to the bus meeting point.  In the Subway, a number of guests were still using the bathrooms.  Another couple just had to have a Subway sandwich so they were not ready to go either.  As it turned out, I walked the four stragglers back to the bus – not a straight forward route but we did find the bus. 

Our next stop would be Florence about an hour away.

The busses parked near “Holocaust Square” which was about five or six blocked from Piazza Santa Croce

We had over two hours on our own in Florence.


We walked about 8-10 blocks to visit the Synagoga Maggiore Firenze.  I took the picture below from across the street since the building had two armed soldiers guarding the entrance.

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Synagoga Maggiore Firenze

From there, we went back toward the Piazza Santa Croce to look for  a place for lunch.  We needed a reasonable place that also had WiFi.  We found it at Ristorante Il Teatro – a nice pizza and pasta place a few blocks from Santa Croce.  The place was packed because one of the ship’s tours included this place as their lunch stop – we figured it had to be OK to be part of an excursion.  We, as usual, over ordered – two pizzas (one Marguerita and one Vegetarian) –  we wound up eating up both of them.  I had my usual beer and it was good even on a cloudy cool day.

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Pizza and Beer at Ristorante Il Teatro 

After lunch and catching up on our emails, we walked back to Santa Croce to see some of the sights.

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Piazza Santa Croce

From Santa Croce, we made a return visit to the Palazzo Vecchio (old Palace) In the Piazza Signoria to see the statues that highlight the front of the structure.

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Copy of Michelangelo’s David

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Palazzo Vecchio

Our meeting place was the statue of Dante at the left corner of the Santa Croce church. 

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This is a good location for several reasons – there are free bathrooms at Michelangelo’s Leather Shop (and others in the area) and the Caffe Gelateria is right on the corner.  Even after two pizzas and a beer, some dessert sounds good.

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Caffe Gelateria

Everything is seriously yummy and the staff is all decked out in very spiffy uniforms but we settled on two custard filled donuts – each a Euro (that’s less than we would pay for a decent donut at Dunkin’s).  The pastries were absolutely delicious and documented below.

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Donuts in Firenze

At the predetermined meeting time, we are still several passengers short.  Amanda asked my help is calling out the roll for those missing people.  Soon, we have everyone accounted for and we start our long walk back to the bus and our three hour ride to La Spezia.  We hadn’t gone a half block when one of our group started sprinting back to the meeting point – apparently, she had left her cell phone and camera in the bathroom at the leather store.  I yelled to Amanda (about a block away) to wait – fortunately, she heard me and the group stopped until the phone and camera were retrieved and everyone was back in the group.

The ride home was long and in the dark – I should have taken a nap but I met three nice women from New Jersey and we chatted most of the way home. 

Dinner was in the Ocean View Cafe – and we did manage to catch the second show by Garin Bader in the Equinox Theater.  In this show, we would combine his piano skills with this magic skills (an unusual combination).

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Besides some close up magic with cards, Garin also asked a volunteer from the audience to reach into a jar and pick out a name of a famous person.  Without knowing the name, Garin set about cutting out a paper doll of the person. 

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Marilyn Monroe cutout magic

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My Heart Will Go On” mash-up with “Moonlight Sonata”

A long day on the road…but a very nice tour.

Thursday, November 14, 2013 – Villefranche, France – Partly Cloudy – 64F

Distance from Barcelona to Villefranche:  276 Nautical Miles

Local Information. “Villefranche” means “Village with no tax” – that certainly is not the case any more.  It is a major shipping port for France.  Nice is a large city of about 500,000 people – the name Nice is an adulterated version of “Nike” (the goddess of victory) which is derived from the Greek word for victory.  Nike became Nice.  Eze is a medieval village perched on a jutting rock.  There are ritzy stores and restaurants in Eze.  The Principality of Monaco (ruled by the Italian Grimaldi family) is now under the reign of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene.  There are four districts in Monaco – Monte Carlo, the Harbor, Monaco City (the Rock), and the new Industrial Area.  There are 35,000 permanent residents in Monaco (along with 42,000 jobs – no one is on welfare in Monaco).

We are both up early because we are on tour – “Best of the French Riviera – Nice, Eze, and Monaco plus Lunch”.  Villefranche is a tender port and the tender process proceeds very smoothly.  The tender ride is very short

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Tender ride to Villefranche

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Villefranche from the Tender

and It is a short walk to the bus parking lot from the tender port,  Our tour guide for today is Floriana. 

Our first stop is world famous Nice (about 40 minutes away). 

Along the way, we are shown the roadside memorial to Grace Kelly – the accident didn’t happen here but the memorial is placed here.  The controversy over the cause of the accident may finally be over since Princess Caroline has recently revealed that she took the wheel of the car when Grace Kelly passed out (a stroke?) – this placed her in the driver’s seat at a time when she was too young (17) to be driving.  I hope this ends the mystery.

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Grace Kelly Memorial

As we wind our way over the hills to Nice, we get nice views of Villefranche

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and our ship in the harbor

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Equinox anchored in Villefranche Harbor

We also got a nice panoramic view of Nice from the hills

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Nice (the airport is at the far left)

After a brief bus tour around the hotel area, we are let off for a walking tour of the old city as well as a little free time in the market place.  The beach is not as nice as it was the last time we were here and much of that is due to the weather not being as warm.

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I am well prepared this time – carrying two 50 Eurocent coins for the washrooms. 

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As I checked unsuccessfully for WiFi in Nice, I came across a bakery stand in the market place manned by a very friendly French woman.  I simply couldn’t resist buying a whole baguette for the incredible price of 95 Eurocents.

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I ate the whole baguette and would have had another but we are scheduled to have lunch later in the tour.

After our hour on on our own in Nice, I made my way back to the bus meeting point along the beach drive.  From this location, I captured the monument (in the middle of the street) commemorating 150 years of French Nationhood.  The monument always looks like it’s not finished and is waiting for the outer layer to be attached.  I guess the rusted out look is here to stay – I do not recall the significance of the number of columns.

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150 Years of Being French Monument

Across the street from the beach is a statue of what I am pretty sure is the Greek Goddess Nike (after whom Nice is name).  Nike is also called “Winged Victory” and this statue has the requisite wings.

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Nike in Nice

Stop number 2 is the Medieval Town of Eze.  Eze is perched (or rather carved out of) a hillside.  There are only about 20 (or less) inhabitants of this very posh village.  The busses park at the bottom and the only way to get into the village is to climb.  This will restrict the journey to the top to only the fittest of passengers. 

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Eze – the “Shangri- La” of France

The streets are narrow and uneven (cobblestones on the outside and bricks down the center) and slippery.  Many of the passengers are unable to make the climb and stay at the base of the hill.  I follow the passengers about 90 percent up the hill and I don’t find it all that strenuous although it is a steep climb.  The town is wall to wall shops and restaurants.  There are some houses and apartments and even one for sale.  Pretty pricey, I am assuming.

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Makin the climb in Eze

I head back down the hill to the Pinocchio Restaurant, where we are scheduled to have lunch.  At the base of the hill, there is a very posh 5 star hotel – I check out some of the menu items – some entrees run about 99 Euros ($140).  The Pinocchio will be much more reasonable.

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Five star hotel in Eze

The Pinocchio Restaurant and it’s adjacent bar had WiFi but the router was weak and the connection tenuous.  I think I was able to send out some brief notes. 

The guide had checked with the restaurant about a veggie meal for me.  The passengers had some chicken in sauce plus potatoes and some veggies.  I had Pasta Pesto along with a nice salad – the pasta was pretty good but could have used a bit more sauce.  We also had a tasty dessert and our table finished three bottle of wine – the Rose was especially good.  The bread was also good.  I did get a chance to meet the passengers – everyone loved the food.

Our final stop of the day is Monaco – the second smallest country in the World (35,000 inhabitants in a very densely populated place).  Our first stop will be in Monte Carlo, where we will walk from the bus parking lot (where there are free bathrooms) up the hill to the Grand Casino.  The guide tells us that French President Hollande is in town to meet with Prince Albert (what could they be talking about except where to go to dinner) so security will be high, Monaco Police will be in their dress uniforms, and traffic will be worse than usual.

A number of mobility challenged passengers give it a go but cannot negotiate the steep climb to the Grand Casino.  They will be meet us at benches near the parking garage when we return.  The Grand Casino is the epitome of conspicuous consumption and largesse. 

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Monte Carlo Grand Casino

I was unable to recognize the models of various cars (I knew the makers but not the models).  Valets are constantly moving these six figure automobiles around the parking lot – maybe to show them off.  I did notice one Honda Civic Hybrid (perhaps a tender for one of the big cars). 

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Fancy Cars and the other Casino

I decided not to go into the Grand Casino (no pictures allowed and they will take your phone if they see it).  Instead, I plan to walk the grounds and check out the posh stores.

The Grand Casino has a number of reflecting balls and mirrors – Ellen and I both shot one of the reflecting balls – Can you tell which is which.


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Check out our Reflections

The Casino location is also a good spot to take pictures of the rest of Monaco.

The Harbor District with requisite yachts and the small cruise ship is postcard perfect.

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Monte Carlo (construction continues)

The District of Monaco City (perched atop “Le Rocher” - “The Rock”) is in view – this is the home of the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, and the Oceanographic Museum.

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Monaco City

On our way back to the bus parking lot, I got a nice picture of the beachfront of Monaco (I was told years ago, that Prince Ranier had sand brought it so that the country could have a real beach).

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Monaco beach front

The Monaco Grand Prix is held here and there are various road markings attesting to that – one interesting sign marks the location where all of the cars have to slow to nearly a stop to deal with the Fairmont Hairpin Turn.

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Incredibly, everyone makes it back to the bus.  Our final stop is Monaco City.  We are going to park near the Oceanographic Museum – run at one time by Jacques Cousteau.  In the courtyard of the Museum, sits the “Yellow Submarine” (same as the one mentioned by the Beatles?).

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Musee Oceanographique

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The Cousteau “Yellow Submarine”

We waited by the Museum for a few minutes to await the Hollande motorcade.

Ellen and I visited the Royal Palace at two different times of day – this gave us two different looks for the royal residence.

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The Monaco Royal Palace

From the Palace, the group walked to the Cathedral, where we saw the graves of both Prince Ranier and Grace Kelly.

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Monaco Cathedral and Graves of Prince Ranier and Grace Kelly

Monaco was having a festival along the Harbor and Ellen was able to get a picture of the area all lit up a ready to go. 

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Monaco Harbor Festival

The bus ride back to Villefranche took about 45 minutes.  The Equinox was all lit up in the harbor.

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We had dinner in the Ocean View Cafe and were too tired to catch Juggler John Nations – I am sure we were not alone.

Good weather and an interesting tour.