Little Citizens of the World


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Naples, Italy and Herculaneum

What an incredible day!  Our first stop onboard the Maasdam is Naples, Italy.  Naples is the largest port in Italy south of Genoa.  I am positive there are some gorgeous parts of Naples, but the port is not one of them.  In 1945, Naples was heavily bombed and as a result, many of the old buildings have been replaced with rather ugly cement structures.

I signed us up for several shore excursions along the way home.  Today we went to the ancient city of Herculaneum.  It was buried by lava flow when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

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Herculaneum

Because it was covered in lava, much more of the structures were preserved than in the city of Pompeii, even though Pompeii is more well known.  It was very surreal to walk the streets and enter the houses where Romans had once lived.

Boat houses where many villagers fled to during the eruption.

Boat houses where many villagers fled to during the eruption.

I have so many pictures, I wish I could post them all.  The wood was preserved and petrified by the lava flow and so there’s a lot of structure still remaining.  These wine jugs are still sitting up on shelves waiting to be filled.

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Wine jars

We had an approximately 2 hour tour of Herculaneum and it was a little hard to keep up as our guide was moving quite fast.  Most of the people on our cruise are older people and the rocky terrain is not always easy to get around.  The Romans were amazing at building roads, they just didn’t spend a lot of time on road vs sidewalk height consistency.  It was, however, a really good tour and we got to see quite a lot.

 


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Maasdam

I had really wanted to take a picture of Sky on the Spanish Steps dressed like Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday, I had the outfit picked out and everything.  However, I wasn’t sure what time the ship left so I decided we’d better get to the cruise terminal sooner rather than later.  The terminal at Civitaveccia is about an hour away so we got a cab, set up by the hotel and were on our way.

One of the things I love about cruise ships is they take your luggage immediately, you don’t have to carry anything. After lugging all of those bags all over Europe for 3 days, I was glad to be rid of them.  So we went up to security with just our backpacks and Sky toy stroller.  As I laid everything out on the conveyor belt, one of the security guards came over and, smiling, picked up the wooden toy sword I had bought for my cousins son.  He asked another guard if it was ok and he shook his head.  The guard with my sword laughed and said, “what do you expect from Rome!”  I laughed and said, it’s ok right?  He said they’d have to hold it until the end of the trip.  So I had my wooden toy sword confiscated at the terminal.  It’s fine though, I can pick them up at the front desk before we disembark.

It turns out, the ship leaves port at 6:30pm, so there would have been time to stop at the Spanish Steps after all.  Oh well, maybe those pennies thrown into the Trevi Fountain will work and we’ll return to Rome again one day.


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Vatican City

We got up early to get the #40 bus to Vatican City.  It was very easy and we got out right outside St. Peter’s Square.  The square is enormous.  We went in to St. Peter’s Basilica and walked all through it with our heads facing the ceilings.  The walls are so tall and the paintings are amazing, you can’t take your eyes off of them.

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I am not religious, but this is a place everyone should see, no matter what beliefs you have or don’t have.  The human history and awe inspiring art is something you can’t find anyplace else.  Now, I have to be honest, the only thing I really knew about was the Sistine Chapel and I wanted to see it.  I had no idea there were miles and miles of corridors lined with extravagant paintings.  I thought the Sistine Chapel was the main attraction because the ceiling is so famous.  What I didn’t know, is the Sistine Chapel is in a basement, and it’s not a huge room, it’s not small but I was expecting bigger.  It is incredible and something I’ll never forget.  Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in there because the flash can damage the paint.  The lights are also dimmed.  So if you go, you’ll have to buy the postcard!

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I would say that by the time we left the Vatican, we had walked about 4 miles.  My feet were killing me.  We went back to our hotel.  We had to move to a different hotel jst around the corner because we couldn’t get a room for 3 two nights in a row.  I actually liked the second hotel more, it was old and beautiful and had a much more historic feel.  It was also steps from the Pantheon.  We went into the Pantheon later that night after a trip to an awesome toy store in the Piazza Navona and some dinner.  It’s so amazing that these buildings were built by the Romans!  The Roman’s that I learned about in school!  These places aren’t just pictures in a text book, they’re actually here!

Fiumi Fountain, Piazza Navona

Fiumi Fountain, Piazza Navona

Street performer, Piazza Navona

Street performer, Piazza Navona

Pantheon

Pantheon


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Bella Roma!!

We got out of the train in Rome and it was wonderfully sunny and about 75 degrees.  Gorgeous.  First things first, food.  We went into a pizzeria just inside the terminal for a slice.  This was a fast food type place and let me tell you, it was the BEST pizza I have ever had!  I am not kidding you, it was amazing.  We all drooled over it, it was incredible.

We got a cab to our hotel, it cost a fortune because there was a political protest and some of the roads had been blocked off by police.  We checked into our hotel early, they gave us a map of the city and we headed out.  We have 4 days here before we get the Holland America ship.  This wasn’t originally part of the plan but the ferry to France only runs on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s and, as I’m a planner, I prefer to be there with time to spare than arriving the night before and hoping there are no glitches.  And I have been proven right, as there were more glitches in those 4 days of travel than I care to think about.

So, Roma!

We were within walking distance to everything.  We walked to the Piazza Navona which is beautiful.  We walked through the tiny little alleyways where motorbikes weave in and out at pretty high speed.  We walked a bit of a ways to the Colosseum.  The kids were amazed!  I was amazed!  It was, well, amazing!  We got tickets for the main level and it took about 1.5 hours to walk all the way around.  We shamelessly listened in on some of the guided tours that we passed.  And when we finished, the kids were too tired to walk back, so we got a bike rickshaw back to the Trevi Fountain.  The girls got chocolate gelato and we strolled around some more.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

Looking to see where there pennies landed.  Trevi Fountain

Looking to see where there pennies landed. Trevi Fountain

Actually, when I say we ‘strolled around some more’ what I mean is, the streets are extremely narrow and the buildings are very tall, so it’s easy to lose your barrings.  So it took us an hour to find our hotel which was really only about 7 minutes away.

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Narrow Road

We cleaned up, dropped of some souvenirs and headed back out to the Piazza Navona for dinner.  The Piazza Navona is packed at night.  What was an empty piazza during the day, is full of artists, tourists and musicians.  It was wonderful to sit in an outdoor restaurant, eating pizza and pasta and watching the night life.

Street artist.  Piazza Navona

Street artist. Piazza Navona


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Another tiny blessing in disguise

We missed our connection due to our train arriving late in Milan.  I was slightly relieved as I only was going to have one hour to get the subway with all of our things to the other station where our connecting train was.  (I was remembering the feeling of dread in Paris before my angels arrived)  So we got off the train, I went up to what looked like an information booth and explained in broken English where I needed to go.  I handed them my ticket, they looked it over, stamped it, pointed to track 11 and said, “that train is going to Roma at 8″  I looked at my watch, 7:55.  “Lets go girls!”  I yelled as I thanked the man and we jogged from track 6 to track 11.  I tossed the kids on, heaved up the luggage, stroller, backpacks and doll stroller and hopped aboard.  The train was immaculate, quiet, and had huge comfy seats.  The car was almost empty, so I didn’t bother with seat numbers, I found a seat and sank into it.  I had only had about 3 hours of sleep on that overnight train and I was looking forward to a nice nap.  I didn’t get the nap, but I did get to rest and I smiled the whole way thinking about how everything had come together.

So another glitch that worked out better than the plan.  I was going to have to transfer through subways to get my train and because we arrived late, I was able to simply walk 20 yards along the platform and get a wonderfully comfortable train that arrived in Rome just one hour later than my original train.  Life always works out.

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Italian countryside

 

 


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When in Europe

So in Europe, you have to specify if you want an all female sleeping car.  Seems strange, right?  But in Europe, it’s no big deal.  So we arrived at our 6 bunk compartment which we would be sharing with a French woman who was extremely pregnant and spoke no English, A 20 something Pakistani man and a 50 something-ish Egyptian man who spoke minimal English.  As an American who’s used to privacy, I was completely not feeling this situation.  But as a traveler who has always experienced the best of humanity, I sucked it up.  And do you know what, it was lovely.  Granted, there was a lot of uncomfortable silence as no one spoke each others language, but we all went to bed early, so that helped.  The Egyptian man helped pull the bunks down for everyone and he and the other man slept on the very top, so we could use the lower ones.

I barely slept as I was a little cold and the blanket they give you is the size of a tea towel.  Also, I was worried the girls would be up in the night.  They slept like logs.  I do remember looking out at one of the midnight stops and seeing that the name of the station had a little crown over it.  We were going through Switzerland!  It was only for a second and all I could see was a concrete platform, but I saw Switzerland!  So I tried my best to get some sleep after that, as we had a 6am transfer in Milan.


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Christmas angels

When we arrived in Paris, we had to take the Metro to get to Gard de Leon station where our overnight train to Rome left from.  There are no elevators in the train stations either.  It was almost a nightmare as I looked at the escalator and back at all of my luggage piled into the double stroller, and at my kids looking to me for reassurance.  This was going to be awful.  I was going to have to make many, many trips and leave the girls either at the top or bottom of the escalators with the bags.  It had to be done, there was nothing else to do so I sighed and started to unload the cases from the stroller.  A man came up to me and said to stop, that he would help me.  He was with his son and what must have been his baby grand daughter and he dropped everything to grab up the stroller, full of cases, and tip it back carefully to get it onto the escalator.  I would never have been able to balance it, I would have caused an avalanche and taken out every one in my path.

When I got to the bottom, he asked where I was going.  He then took all the backpacks and pushed the stroller off in the direction of my train.  I would NEVER have found the correct train.  It was a maze of escalators and the one elevator in all of France.  He took us, what felt like, half a mile underground to the correct train.  I thanked him profusely and, as he spoke perfect English, asked if he knew how many stops to get to the train station I needed.  I must have looked genuinely overwhelmed because as the subway train pulled up, he loaded us on and jumped in himself.   So here we all were, standing room only, trying to keep the stroller from rolling around, keep the kids from falling over, and trying to move enough to let people on and off even though we could barely move an inch.  A French woman standing in front of me asked, in broken English, where we were going.  I told her and as we reached our stop, she got out with us and started pushing the doll carriage for us.  The man looked at my ticket and started at a fast walk through the Metro station.  We walk/ran after him as he led us up, around and finally out into the enormous terminal.  Even he had to ask directions to get us to the Thello train that would take us overnight to Rome.  He told the ticket seller, in French, what we needed and as I thanked him and hugged him he smiled and was gone in a matter of seconds.  This man had left his family and taken us miles through the Paris Metro to make sure we were where we needed to be, and then he was gone.  I cannot even express here how grateful I am to this man, who’s name I don’t even know.  This man truly was an angel.

The French woman stayed with me for about 15 minutes after he left to make sure I was settled and pointed out my train on the arrival board.  I thanked her profusely also and wished her a Merry Christmas.  She smiled and said, “that’s my name, Joy Noelle, Merry Christmas.”  She smiled and was gone.  I just stood there stunned.  Angels.

We stepped out into the rain just quick enough for a photo.  This is all we saw of Paris.

We stepped out into the rain just quick enough for a photo. This is all we saw of Paris.

That's us, first row, second down!

That’s us, first row, second down!

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