Days 21 & 22: Venice & Home to Seattle

We pulled into Venice during the night, so we awoke to a familiar skyline and the reality that our vacation was almost over (but a beautiful sunrise!).

Saying we were ready through would be an understatement. My insides were still very unhappy, we were both still sick, and honestly just plain exhausted after 3 weeks of traveling in the heat. Disembarkation went smoothly, and luckily we knew exactly how to get to our hotel for the night. This was critical as I was running between bathrooms for the final 30 hours of our time in Italy. Not fun. For this exact reason, we laid low at the hotel for most of the day, and then finally ventured out for a “cruise” on the vaparetto. Matt and I rode the main line end to end on the Grand Canal, taking in the sights and awesome people watching from the back seating deck. It was a great, low key way to spend our final touristy time in Venice.

We went back to our hotel to clean up and relax before dinner. On the way there, we found the nearest Coop (our favorite supermarket chain) and bought our version of souvenirs: tuna, coffee, anchovies, pasta and wine. Unfortunately we had a horrible social faux pas and checked out with our massive load in the line that is for 5 items only. And we spoke so little Italian it was hard to apologize. We packed our bags as fast as possible and left in a hurry. Oh grocery stores are a hard place to navigate!

We wanted to do our final dinner in Venice, and of the trip, to be special. We still had one thing on our “must eat” list that we had not had: tiramisu. I was avoiding meat, and matt wanted gnocchi, so walked along inspecting menus for an acceptable combination of choices. We settled on a cute little place right along the Grand Canal that balanced authentic charm and touristy appeal in just the right way. We decided to go all out and order mozzarella and tomatoes, and fish soup (we did want to try seafood on this coast as well), as well as Bolognese Gnocchi (Matt) and pesto spaghetti (me). The fish soup, amazing…we did not leave a drop! Matt’s gnocchi was fabulous too…homemade with a really fresh sauce. The pesto, eh, I should have known better. This is not the pesto area of Italy, and you could tell. Luckily we had plenty of other things to eat! And for dessert: decadent, homemade, perfect tiramisu. We watched the sun set over the Grand Canal, and then wandered home basking in the romance the last evening of our honeymoon in Venice.

Sounds perfect right? Well, it was, until my insides decided to rebel again. Let’s just say it was a very fast and memorable trip back to the hotel. Good thing I married such a great guy who is willing to laugh with me in awkward situations!

The next morning we ate breakfast, checked out, and took a bus to the airport. From there it was pretty uneventful. Busses were smooth, and we checked in with both bags (after a slight reshuffling) just at the weight limit (wine and pasta and tuna weight a lot!). When we arrived in NY, the customs line was out the door, but we were able to bypass it since we had a short connection. Our final flight we had a seat between us, which really helps on an 8 hour flight.

We were exhausted when we got to Seattle. And honestly somewhat disappointed that it was not rainy! After all that heat we were ready for some cooler weather! Matt’s parent’s picked us up and took us home. Boy oh boy, were the kitties happy to have their people home! We shared some quick stories, but were ready to crash. And after being gone for 3 weeks, nothing can compare to being home, snuggled up in your own bed.

Our souvenirs from the trip! mostly canned Italian tuna, wine and honey!

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Honeymoon Day 20: Split, Croatia

The only things we knew about Split were that it was a) in Croatia, and b) home to Diocletian’s Palace (queue Matt’s commentary on Roman history). It was a short port of call, but it turned out to be ok because it was a pretty small historic core to explore.

The old town itself was fascinating to look at. Ancient ruins ran right up against new(er) buildings, all being lived in and used. There was no “do not touch the ruins” here. The old palace walls were largely intact, and the main city streets were old ancient cobbles surrounded by old stone buildings. We climbed the bell tower (VERY steep climb), saw the Cathedral of St. Domnius, and eventually made our way out to the public market. We looked for bakery and found two local pastries to try – one savory cheese and the other cherry. We really liked seeing the differences between this market and the ones in Turkey. In Turkey the markets were vendors selling many tables of goods (crops, nuts, spices etc). At this market, each vendor was only at one table, clearly selling just what they had produced at their home farm. Some tables were piled high with peppers and fruit, while others only had a few items for sale. We bought some raspberries to snack on with our pastries.

My day ended early in Split when my tummy stopped feeling well. It is not fun to walk around when your insides are rebelling. I went back and laid down while Matt explored some more.

That night we finished packing, had one last meal, and started planning what to do in Venice before heading home.

Honeymoon Day 19: at Sea

Our final day at sea. That translates into our final day to lounge in the sun! Matt and I were both starting to feel better thanks to the Sudafed. We spent a good amount of time lounging by the pool, then took a break from the sun to play games, pack, and relax in our room.

I took advantage of the spa, and had a wonderfully relaxing pampering session of a mini facial, neck massage and hot stone massage. I had never tried any of these, and hot stone seriously was amazing. Matt was a little skeptical of the facial (isn’t that what face wash is for?) but he kept commenting afterwards how much my skin glowed. He was impressed.

Our evening at Sea was a formal night, complete with our invitation to the Captain’s champagne reception. I put on my silky ivory dress, and Matt wore his wedding suit. Boy did that combination turn heads! We made our way to the champagne reception with the sole mission of downing as much free champagne as possible. Boy did we succeed! We met up with some friend on the cruise, Crysta and Jamie, and plowed our way through at least 4 glasses each in about 45 minutes. Dinner that night was fun!

On the way to dinner we stopped at the bathroom, and I was waiting for Matt and when I got the best compliment ever. I was standing across the hall from an old man dressed in a very sweet suit waiting for his wife. We were each minding our own business as group after group of people walked past on the way to dinner. Finally he looked over and me, smiled, and said, “geez, every single one of those people turn heads to look at you in that dress! No one is even paying attention to me!” We both laughed and so I went over to stand next to him in the hallway and talk. It was wonderful. Since it was formal night, we ate in the main dining room at our special table for two (we had been eating at the Lido mostly since the food was the same and service was faster up there). After dinner we wandered the ship, but ultimately decided to just pack, turn in, and get ready for our final port of call.

Honeymoon Day 18: Santorini, Greece

An evening on the ship and a good night’s sleep and lots of water helped bring me back into balance after the heat incident in Ephesus, so we were all ready to go for the next day in Santorini. Santorini was another tendering port, and there was another catch in accessing this island: only 3 ways to get from sea level to the 1000 ft elevation town of Fira above: cable car, donkey, or hiking. We knew we did not want to push my climbing that early in the day (no repeats of shortened days!), we were both feeling icky from sinus infections, and wanted to make the most of our time on Santorini by getting to the top as fast as possible. The cable car is the obvious choice, but we knew that it is very slow, and cannot accommodate a ships worth of people very efficiently. We did not want to get stuck in a line, so we got up early, grabbed tender tickets early, scarfed breakfast, and got on the first boat in. No line! Perfect!

We had two main missions on Santorini: Minoan ruins of Acrotiri and photos and views in Oia. Problem: they were on opposite ends of the island. Solution: plan the day out efficiently. We grabbed a local bus schedule and hopped onto the first available bus to Acrotiri. The drive across the island was stunning, in a very dry, deserty way. It was extremely hot, arid, and brown. Most of the ground was desert dirt of volcanic rock/ash. The houses were all white, accented with bright blue and colorful bougainvillea flowers. This harsh landscape was back cast perfectly by the clear, deep blue water of the caldera. Really quite stunning and unlike any place I had ever been.

Like I mention in other posts, Matt loves history. His two favorite cultures: Roman and Minoan. And this was Minoan country. We were going to explore the ruins of an ancient, ancient people, a highly developed civilization dating back 3,500 years preserved under layers of volcanic debris. The archeological site of Acrotiri had actually been closed to tourists for the past 7 years so we were not expecting to see it, but we learned on the ship it had reopened in April! Just our luck! We toured around the beautifully excavated site (all covered and indoors…really ideal for such a hot place!) taking our time to soak it all in.

After Acroteri we were tempted to follow the bikini clad moped crew to the beach (Red Beach was just around the corner) but we decided to take the bus back to Oia and get the iconic Santorini view that I was craving. We could lounge on the pool deck later.

Oia did not disappoint. It was not the same quiet experience of exploring the ruins through. Every view was jam packed with tourists trying to replicate Santorini’s famous blue domed postcard images. We wandered town, took photos, and finally found some gyros for a late lunch. Gyros in Greece! Another local food checked off the list! The bus ride back to town was twisty and turny, and after scarfing down our gyros in record time (no food on the buses) we were feeling a bit queasy.

This time we did get caught in line for the cable car, but we enjoyed the view and were relieved that we at least did not miss the last tender boat!

First stop back onboard? Medical office. We were ready to admit that we needed something to take for these sinus infections. Everyone we had talked to had caught the same thing we did, so there was defiantly something going around the ship. It would have been better to get meds a few days earlier, but we were concerned that we could potentially, possibly, get quarantined to our room and miss Santorini. No way! However, when the nurse handed us Sudafed, we were so grateful.  A few hours later we were feeling better, sailing away, and enjoying our time aboard.

Honeymoon Day 17: Ephesus, Greece

Oh Ephesus. What a wonderful, bittersweet day on our trip. It was another hot day when we got off the ship in Kusadasi, and made our way to the public transportation spot indicated by our trusty Rick Steve’s book. Getting to Ephesus was probably the most complicated of all the public transportation that we took on this trip. Ephesus is far enough outside of the port city that we almost booked a tour…almost. We stood under the sign with a “D” on it waiting for the van marked “Ladies Beach” to come by, and it did, just as we hoped it would. Step 1: success! From here we were supposed to change vans (it was not clear where), but our driver luckily was helpful enough to tell us where to get off, and which van to catch. We had planned to make our way immediately to Ephesus, but we took a detour at the van transfer. The stop was right in front of the big public market!

Huge tables filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, spices, cheese, meat, honey…you name it, it was there. Clearly no longer in tourist-ville, we wandered the stalls taking our time to have quick, friendly greetings with the vendors. No one spoke English, and although we had been trying, even “hello” in Turkish was not sticking with us. Everyone was super friendly, and we ended up buying some local honey from a honey vendor. Matt collects honey, so it is always a focus on our market adventures. This bee keeper was very proud and opened a few jars for us to try. We ended up with a small jar of what we think is eucalyptus honey. Yum!

The market was scheduled to go all day, so we jumped back in a van to make our way to Ephesus. Now, the thing you should know about planning a trip to Ephesus is that it is basically a ruined city that is built on a hill. The tours drop you off at the top, and then you walk down to be picked up at the bottom. For us public-transportation-no-tour kind of travelers, you get dropped at the bottom (well, actually, a half mile from the bottom) and then you also have to end there. Because it was so hot, I convinced Matt that we should make our way to the “top” of the town, then we could take all the time we wanted coming down.

We wandered the marble streets in awe of how majestic this place must have once been. Everywhere you looked there were columns, streets, facades of old temples. They were all just there, and have decayed through the ages. Compared to Rome where ruins were just built over with new buildings, Ephesus was still the same city it was in it’s prime, only in ruins. It was very cool to see.

We made it to the “top”, dodging groups of tours like we practiced in Athens. We made friends with some Turkish kids on a school tour that wanted us to take their picture. On the way back down through the city ruins it was baking hot. The white marble reflected so much light, and there were no clouds or shade of any kind. I was not feeling all that spunky, and by the time we toured through the Terrace Houses, I was done. I felt faint, quick pulse, nauseous, cold and covered in goose bumps. It was horrible. I knew it was from the heat or the sun or a combination of both, so I found some shade and sat on an ancient column trying my best not to pass out or cry. We still had so much to see and this was one of the most important stops for Matt on this trip. I felt awful making him cut it short. But we had to get back to the ship. I wrapped my head in a dampened bandana (that helped a lot, even if it was the most unattractive accessory ever) and we made our way to the park entrance, and finally back out to the main road to catch the van. I slept most of the 45 minute ride back, then we quickly went through the market, and walked back to the ship.

On the way we stopped for a cool treat of Turkish ice cream. We saw gelato stands everywhere (though only in Italy were they homemade gelato), but the stands in Kusadasi served gelato and Turkish ice cream, the latter presented in a large barrel next to the gelato case. We had to try it. Matt ordered two cones of the only flavor, vanilla. The ice cream vendor scooped it out with a long, thin metal paddle. It was unlike anything we had ever tasted. Picture ice cream that is thick and rich, in the same way that full fat Greek yogurt is rich compared to regular, then add about 10x the richness and intense vanilla flavor. I was not even sure I could finish it! It was a good cool treat to finish the lackluster end to our adventure in Ephesus. I guess we just have to go back someday.

Honeymoon Day 16: Mykonos, Greece

Well, today was supposed to by Mykonos, but when we pulled up we knew something was not right. It was a gorgeous clear day, but there were no boats in sight. The waves continued to grow in size and it was extremely windy. From our balcony we could see that although we had arrived, we were not stationary and anchored, and the tender boat alongside us was having trouble getting through the waves. Staying positive, we got our tender passes (we learned early on how to maximize efficiency getting off the ship on tender ports), scarfed down breakfast on the Lido, and were in the elevator headed to disembarkation when the captain came on over the loudspeakers. “we are sorry to inform you that we will be canceling out port of call at Mykonos due to unsafe conditions.” Major bummer! The captain assured us that we would try to dock in Kushadasi early and overnight there, but it meant we had an extra day at sea and did not get to see this cool Greek island. Bummer. So what to do: head to the pool! Chairs were going to be a premium that day.

When we got to the pool deck the wind was whipping around so hard that chairs were flying over, glasses at the bar were breaking and people were losing sunglasses and hats everywhere! The pool was lurching back and forth hard enough to turn it into a wave pool. So what did we do? Grabbed a chair, tied down our stuff and jumped in! Most fun we had on the ship the whole 12 days! Unfortunately after about 5 minutes a crew member came over and made us get out. Bummer again. We laid in the sun for a while, then went back to our room to watch a movie. We ended up renting a bunch of movies on the ship to pass the time and relax.

We did make it to Kusadasi, Turkey that evening, and walked through town to see what there was to see. Not much. Lots of touristy shops. We ate dinner on the ship and scoped out our plan for Ephesus in the morning. We knew this would take some more work since Ephesus is outside the city, and we were determined to do it on the cheap!

Honeymoon Day 15: Istanbul, Turkey

Since Istanbul was an overnight port of call, we woke up and were able to plan our day without worrying about an arrival time. We really only had two main sites to see: the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque…and get a good Turkish lunch in town. We started out the morning with breakfast on the ship, and hanging out on our balcony watching a cruise ship pull up next to us. Now this was one of the most memorable events on the trip. A huge, and I mean HUGE Celebrity ship was pulling up along side of the Niew Amsterdam, so natually we were watching it cruise on by. I noticed, and mentioned to Matt that there were an awful lot of men in their underwear on the balconies of that ship. And all sorts of flags decorating the verandahs. We then proceeded to realize that that was all there was on this ship…MEN! And then the flags clicked…most of them were rainbows! This was a gay chartered cruise! Oh the process of deduction was wonderful.

Anyway, after our colorful cruise watching morning we headed into town, this time opting for the metro to take us to the Sultanahmet neighborhood where the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were located. We hopped off the metro (very crowed metro) and headed through the Hippodrome to the Blue Mosque. We waited in line for a good 20 minutes before entering the mosque. We did not find it as impressive as the New Mosque, but it was still stunning. Your neck gets sore in Istanbul for all the looking at ceilings!

From here we went straight to the Hagia Sophia and stood in a very long line (yes, it was still hot but we were getting used to the ~100 degree weather at this point) to enter this iconic building. I of course had my personal history tour guide, Matt, telling me all about the Emperor Justinian building it, and the chaotic history of its rise as the largest church in the world, then a mosque, and finally a museum as it stands today. I was not prepared for how epic this building was. We walked in and were instantly engulfed by its majesty. Towering domes and pillars, beautiful Byzantine mosaics peeking out from behind the Ottoman plasterwork. It was fascinating to see Christian symbols alongside Islamic artwork, beautifully illustrating the tumultuous history of this church/mosque for the past 1500 years.

After the Hagia Sophia we really were running out of time in Istanbul, so we found a place for lunch near the Sultanahmet metro stop (great lunch!), visited the Basilica Cisterns (so so cool) then took the metro back to the ship. We cruised out of the harbor early afternoon, ushered out by one final call to prayer blasting from every minaret. What a stunning city. We will be back.