Honeymoon Day 13: Athens, Greece

Athens! One of the great empire cities! Matt loves history, and I love having my own personal history guide to put these places in context. Athens was great for this. We took a train from Piraeus (the port, very unexciting place) to the acropolis first thing. We knew it was going to be hot, but probably underestimated just how hot. Thank goodness we climbed the acropolis first! Later in the day would have been awful. It was already close to 115 degrees (way too hot for me) and we were chugging water like crazy.

The Parthenon and views from the top of the Acropolis were absolutely incredible. Every direction you looked had ruins and temples and just cool stuff to look at. Athens is a huge city that just goes for miles in the middle of a barren desert, punctuated by the huge rock formation of the Acropolis. And groups of tourists. Boy are there tourists in Athens! Group after group funneled down the marble walkways, with tour guides speaking every language imaginable. For the amount of time each group got to marvel at the buildings and view, Matt and I were SO glad that we were seeing this place sans tour. We timed out walking and standing around the arrival and departure of these groups so that we could soak in the views just the two of us. It worked pretty well.

After we made our rounds of the Acropolis (and were extremely hot and getting tired) we headed down closer to town to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. To get there we walked through the Plaka neighborhood, stopping for some fresh Greek yogurt at a yogurt bar. Greek yogurt in Greece! A good energizing treat.

Across the street we saw Hadrian’s Arch, and eventually made our way to the Temple of Zeus. We toured around the ruins there (and shared an ice cold coke from the vending machine), then headed across town to the Ancient Agora.

This ancient marketplace used to be the center of all things in Athens. It is now just a historic site filled with ruins, and a reconstructed building that was once the indoor market. Matt and I were both getting really tired, and heat exhausted at this point, so we saw as much as we could, then headed back to the ship to crash.

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Honeymoon Days 11 & 12: Kotor, Montenegro & at Sea

On day 11 we awoke to stunningly clam clear, deep blue seas for our approach into country #2 for this trip: Montenegro! We enjoyed room service breakfast on our verandah as we pulled in. It felt very luxurious eating in robes on the deck (even if the food was subpar).

We anchored just off of Kotor, and took tender boats ashore. We only had a few hours here, and it was 111 degrees before we even left of boats, so we went ashore without a plan to see what we could find. The obvious choice, go shopping! Our choice: get to the fortress on the ridge 1000+ feet above the city. We asked for a city map and how to find the trail, and the information girl told us not to go. It was too hard and too hot. Too bad. We went anyway. The trail was mostly stone steps, worn smooth from years of being walked on. The trail followed the wall that edged the entire city, rising straight up from the waterfront town.

The climb up took us about 40 minutes. Hot and sweaty, yes, very. Clearly that is a theme on this trip. Actually, in Kotor we did not have the humidity that really made the heat miserable in Italy. So it did not feel that bad.

The view from the top was stunning. We took lots of photos and video. Then headed down. We wandered the town searching for some local wine (success!) to take back on the ship, then I headed back while Matt went to explore some ruins we saw from the hike.

For the next 36 hours, our schedule revolved around the pool, movies in our room, sleeping relaxing and eating. After Kotor, the day at sea gave us plenty of time to settle in get our bearings, and enjoy the ship. We spent a good amount of time in the pool, and played many games of Carccassone. Our evening at sea was a formal night, so we got dressed up and turned heads all across the ship. In the early evening we wandered the ship before formal dinner night #1. Matt and I got dressed to the nines…me in a blue evening gown (that I will be wearing in Jenny’s wedding this November!) and Matt in his wedding suit. Getting some mileage out of those clothes!

We thought we would be more excited about the shows and activities than we were but it turned out that what we really enjoyed was hanging out, renting movies in our room, and just relaxing by the pool. And of course planning out how to tackle our next port of call. These were really the highlight of the cruise.

Honeymoon Day 10: Second Day in Venice, Italy

Waking up from our first night sleep on the Nieuw Amsterdam was so nice…all we had to do was pack what we needed for the day! The rest of our stuff could stay here! Woohoo!

We had a quick breakfast on the Lido deck and then walked across Venice for one last tourist stop before sailing away at 1. The previous day we had explored all over San Marco, but skipped the tower. Today was tower day. We stood in line for about 15 minutes before being squeezed into a jam packed elevator to climb 50 meters to the observation room in the belfy of the tower. Boy is it a great view! 360° of nothing but stunning Venice views. We took tons of photos, then rode the elevator back down. We knew we would be back in Venice again at the end of the trip, so we took our time just wandering back through the open air market to the ship, grabbed some pizza for lunch, and then hit the pool deck in our swimsuits for the sail-away from Venice.

 

Leaving Venice was spectacular. It was hot and sunny and we could watch the city go by while we lounged by the pool. The ship sailed through the main Venice harbor, right alongside piazza San Marco and all the other key sites. A really cool view of the city! We picked out all the leaning towers of Venice, and watched taxis, gondolas and vaparettos angle for the narrow canals leading into the city.
 

We requested a switch to assigned late seating, so this second dinner onboard was in the main dining room with our table for two laid out in the center part of the dining room. Our dining steward, Simon, was very nice and learned early on that we like milk and Matt loves his desserts.

Honeymoon Day 9: Venice, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
We made it across Italy! After arriving so late at night it was nice to see Venice in the sunlight. Such a beautiful, unique city. We have both been to Venice before, so we were not in a huge rush to see things, but decided to focus on getting to San Marco and see the basilica. We wandered the streets, taking a route that took us over the Rialto Bridge, over more canals, through two Coop grocery stores, and finally into Piazza San Marco. We wandered around looking at buildings and sights, taking pictures. Then got in line for the basilica. This was something I missed on my last trip here, so I was excited to see it. Inside was stunningly beautiful. Totally worth the line!

After the basilica we decided it was time to collect our bags and make our way to phase 2: our Mediterranean cruise! We walked/climbed our bags to Piazza Roma (if you have never been to Venice, be warned there are tons of bridges, absolutely none with ramps…they are all stairs which make rolling bags hard to use effectively) and caught the People Mover to the cruise terminal. It was a very tiring, hot, sweaty process!

We boarded the Nieuw Amsterdam in record time (literally zero waiting in line to get onboard!), getting to our veranda stateroom with plenty of time to unpack and relax. We decided to stay onboard for the evening, and ate at opening dining with a few other traveling groups that led to some interesting and fun conversation.

It felt so good to unpack. As much fun as it was to be traveling on our own, and it is certainly our preference, by day 9 it was nice to unpack and know that we would not need to touch our luggage again for 12 days. We were done checking in and out of hotels, and we could have our laundry done! We decided to go for the unlimited laundry package and we made it worth our while after day two…sending three bags to be washed and all our formal clothes to be pressed. Totally worth it!

Since we were not going back to town that night, we took the time to make a plan for the next day. And drink wine on the balcony of our stateroom. We were to pull out of Venice at 1, so we did not have a ton of time. Just enough to go back to San Marco and go to the top of the bell tower. Excellent plan for our last few hours in Venice. Salute!

Honeymoon Day 8: Santa Margharita Ligure to Venice, via Camogli

Our train for Venice did not leave until after 3 PM, so we decided to find a random adventure rather than wander shops or lay on the beach for the first part of the day. At breakfast, our sweet but eccentric hotel owner recommended visiting the town of Camogli, located two train stops north of Santa Margharita. He said it was beautiful, the train ran frequently, and we could leave our luggage there so we went for it. The 15 minute train ride dropped us in the cutest seaside town we had been to yet. We were first greeted with the open air market…which only happens on the 3rd Thursday of the month. We felt very lucky to have come to town on the right day! The market was full of fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes, household goods…everyone in town seemed to be there getting basic supplies. Matt was on the lookout for some melon colored pants, and we found a pair, but they were way too big. Struck out. We did have luck finding a wine shop to fill our empty water bottle with tap wine though!

A winding street led us down to the harbor lined with brightly colored buildings, and we walked along the boardwalk behind the beach. This beach was wonderful. Long and wide, with large sections devoted to rentable umbrellas and locals alike. The swimming area was a boat free zone and the water was crystal clear azure. It was stunning. The whole town oozed charm, but not in a touristy or busy way. It felt relaxed and local. Nobody was speaking anything but Italian.

We got some wonderful focaccia and a spinach pastry for lunch, followed by gelato. Which was immediately followed by Italian ice. This slushy fruity frozen drink was far more popular in this town than gelato, so we had to try it. It was practically 100 degrees anyway so anything cold was instantly worth it!

We got back on the train (which was 15 minutes late) rushed to the hotel to collect bags (ie: more drenched with sweat), rushed back to the train for our train to Milan-Venice. We were looking forward to sitting in the nice air conditioned cabin and cooling down, but unfortunately the air conditioning in the train was barely working for our two hour trip.

As we approached Milan we were watching the clock tick away the minutes of our connection. We were running behind. Not good when you have a train to catch. When the doors opened we grabbed our bags and ran to the readerboard to find our platform. And station in Milan is big. Your platforms could be road most 5 minutes apart. Luckily we were pretty close and climbed aboard with about 1 minute to spare. And joy of joys…this car was air conditioned! And we had a row of 3 seats to ourselves! Wonderful!

We made a quick nighttime connection from Mestre to Santa Lucia station and easily made our way to our hotel, Ca San Rocco. We were both so crusted in dried sweat and train ickiness that showers were the first order of business. Then dinner. We were starving, but not willing to wander too far for food. We settled on a nice little cafe restaurant and got a nice porcini pasta and a veal cutlet. Very good. Then we crashed. Exhausted. And happy to have made all our connections to Venice. Luggage and all.

Honeymoon Day 7: Portofino, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
There are three main ways to get from Santa Margharita to Portofino (assuming you don’t have a private yacht which is how the rich and famous make their entrance): bus, moped or on the water taxi. Us: we hiked. We had read that the scenic two-ish hour hike is a relaxing and unique way to link these two towns, so we went for it.

Our way out of Santa Margarita was uphill, on stairs, through houses and gardens scattered all along the hillside. We stopped climbing when we reached a hilltop church, and started making our way between lookouts over the sparking Mediterranean. You probably already guessed it: it was hot. We were both soaked practically while we were still in town! The hike was totally worth it though. We enjoyed seeing the towns from above, and watching the yachts get bigger and bigger the nearer to Portofino we got.

We stopped briefly at Paraggi Beach, but decided that the 6 foot wide strip of public beach was not what we were looking for. 100 euros for a spot on the beach? I don’t think so.

The town of Portofino was absolutely stunning. I know I took far too many pictures, but every angle was perfectly lit and everything so colorful and postcard worthy. Thank goodness for patient husbands and large memory cards!

Speaking of memory cards, this whole trip Matt and I have each been armed with our recording device of choice: me with the camera and him with our new camcorder. Between the two we have been armed with two 16G cards, two 8Gs, one 4G and three 2G cards. I am sure Portofino too up almost 2G alone. Good thing we had the iPad as our on-the-go hard drive!

When we arrived in Portofino we looked like drowned rats…quite literally. All our clothes were soaked straight through. Sweaty and disgusting did not really seem to fit in with the posh nd expensive clientele at the waterfront places (nor did we expect our budget to go with their menus) so we selected a more relaxed looking place off the main drag. We were swayed by a tasty looking pizza place…that also had…wait for it…AIR CONDITIONING! And a table right smack dab in front of it. Perfect! It was a great choice too…pizza with an arugala/shrimp/bean salad, accompanied by some ice cold sparkling wine. Perfect for two hot, tired hikers. When we told our waiter that we hiked to Portofino from Santa Margharita he was astounded…apparently people don’t hike it in the summer (which may explain why we saw no one else one the whole trail…) We felt pretty acomplished 🙂 To us, it made our time in Portofino that much more memorable.

After lunch we climbed up to the castle on the far side 0f town, and got more stunning views of Portofino. We took more pictures (big surprise), but then eventually made our way down to the waterfront again to check out ferry times. What we stumbled upon was the boat ramp…or what we called it (and realized most locals did to) the cement beach. There were locals swimming and sunning themselves so we joined in. It was glorious swimming in the crystal clear water (way cleaner than the water in Santa Margharita!) and lounging in the sun after a long day of walking and hiking. We stayed till 5 and hopped on the ferry back to Santa Margharita.

The boat ride back to Santa Margarita was very relaxing (much faster and cooler than walking too!) and beautiful. We passed by the bazillion dollar yachts (one with its own three deck waterside and fleet of 6 jet skis) and back into the cozy port where we were staying.

Our two “must haves” in Liguria were pesto and clams. Since the previous night our pesto was excellent, the latter was my mission for the night. After being turned away from an apparently “reserved” table at one place, then getting up from the empty ABBA blasting second choice we found a promising looking outdoor restaurant near the waterfront with both clams and pesto on the menu: da Emilio. This place was packed and the service was quick. The food: excellent. I ordered the spaghetti with clams and Matt had gnocchi with pesto. Both were excellent, fresh and exactly what we wanted. I would eat there again in a heartbeat!

After sweating all day and being in the sun, we figured we deserved gelato and ate our cones under the stars on the boardwalk. Perfect end to the day.

Honeymoon Day 6: Santa Margharita Ligure, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
We caught the 9 am bus from Volterra to Cecina (there were no tickets to be found so the driver let us ride for free), and then took the train up the Western Italian coast to Santa Margharita Ligure. This is a beautiful seaside resort town north of the famous Cinque Terre (Matt and I had already been or we would probably have stopped there too! It’s just lovely!) and we picked it as a good coastal place to stay and still give us access to Portofino.

When the train doors opened we were greeted by a humid, hot wave of Italian heat. It literally felt like a wall. This beach had better be close! We trekked our luggage (all of it now) down the road to find our hotel, Nuova Riviera Hotel.

Our room was on the third floor, and by the time we got there, confirmed that there was no air conditioner, and were soaked through with sweat, we decided we had better hit the beach.

It was a good choice. This town was built around the beach, so we made our way easily through town to the waterfront. It was much cooler by the water, so we took some time to snap photos and admire the painted buildings. That was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the city: every building was embellished with detailed paintings of painted on facades, windows, statues and other architectural features. It was so colorful!

The beach itself was rocky, as most in this area are, but we found a patch of rock and laid out on it all afternoon. We were by far some of the whitest people on the beach. Man those Italians can sure get tan. Matt’s speedo fit right in.

After soaking in some vitamin D we walked back to the hotel and got cleaned up for dinner. We were relieved to find that our room was finally cooling down, and that cold showers really helped. Now one thing about this hotel that we were not such a fan of were all the rules. My confirmation email had a list of rules, the bathroom had its own list, as did the back of the door. It was pretty excessive and made it sound like the guests would not know how to act in a hotel. I should have taken a picture of the signs.

Anyway, we got cleaned up and went for dinner in town. We found a little cafeteria style place that had wonderful food. We shared a very simple meal in the room behind to storefront, selecting delectable items off their daily fresh menu. Cold pressed veal loaf, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with fresh pesto, and red wine. So good. None of the food was complicated, it was just good fresh simple cuisine.