When we were not allowed to board our Caribbean Cruise in January of this year due to problems on board the ship, we went home pretty let down.   My husband and I have ceased giving each other larger presents for our Birthdays, Anniversaries, Valentines Day and Christmas and instead, choose interesting vacation spots to travel to together and share something we have very little of in our daily life…TIME.  We had been looking forward to a week away to refresh and relax and all we got was a nice weekend in New Orleans.

So, when we saw a sale on the same cruise line going to some pretty cool places that we’d never been, we decided to cash in our free cruise and go!

The cruise began in Venice, Italy so we left a day early and had one night in Venice to wander around and get a feel.   We were both surprised by the hustle and bustle of a city that is completely reliant on boats and walking.   I was glad that we are both of good health and able to walk and navigate the luggage and many bridges and steps that fill this labyrinth of a city.

Our first trip down the grand canal was on an overcrowded tourist filled vaparetto  (water bus) as we tried to listen to Rick Steve’s Audio Tour and learn something about the buildings we were seeing.  We arrived in St. Mark’s Square in the heat of the day and were met by huge crowds of people in long lines waiting to get into the basilica and other places of interest.

I was fried and hungry and not to impressed until……….

We walked around the corner of the grand square, down a shady little alley and found a charming little restaurant where we sat outside, ordered local beer, had a terrific sandwich and did what we love best…..watched the people go by.   I realized I had been trying too hard!

So we got gellatto and walked around loosely following a “walk” from our tourist book, found the hotel we were to stay at on our return (which is huge when you are pulling luggage) and just enjoyed the day.

After a much needed nap, we had dinner on the edge of the Grand Canal and began to feel the charm of Venice.

The next morning we boarded the Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas, one of their smaller boats, more like a grand hotel than a sprawling city.

Our balcony gave us an overview of Venice’s red tile roofs and we enjoyed traveling out of the lagoon into the Adriatic Sea.

First stop was Croatia and the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik where they film Game of Thrones.  It was something out of a picture book and I could imagine the original residents living there.  Again I was glad we have health on our side as we climbed up to it’s higher outer edges where we had another local beer and shared a really good pizza!   Shawn, being the triathlete he is, decided to climb the stairs and walk the mile and a half around the top in the mid-day sun.  I decided to sit on a bench and have a coke light.    He got terrific pictures!

We then went to Turkey where we visited the ruins of Ancient Ephesus and The House of the Virgin Mary.  I was overwhelmed by the history and beauty that were still evident in both places.  I walked the same path as Cleopatra and some of the apostles and stood on the stage of the grand theater.

We had a lovely lunch with a huge array of honey soaked deserts, another local beer and watched a “dance/pageant”.   We were also forced to buy Turkish Delights buy a local blocking the door  to our bus (he wanted me to buy 10 boxes…i bought one and laughed my way onto the bus) and saw a rug making demonstration that was surprisingly informative!

On to Santorini, Greece!  An island city that sits high on a volcanic hill, highlighted with blue and white buildings and round domed churches.   Its sights and food were delicious.  Again I was thankful for our health as we traversed it’s hills and winding streets.  Thank god for the gondola lifts because a donkey ride was the only smelly alternative.  More local beer, feta and lamb!   Could have stayed in one of their cliff side hotels for a lifetime.

Next stop was Katalona, Greece where we visited the ruins of Ancient Olympia.  The place where they light the Olympic Torch every two years.  It was so impressive in size and the number of different ruins and building.  Shawn got on the starters block at the original stadium and really was intrigued by the building that Nero stayed in while he “competed” in the Olympics.  (They let him win everything cause he was “emperor of the world”)

More local beer, gyros and more local beer!

We returned to Venice on a Saturday and stayed until Tuesday morning.  We were there during the yearly historic Regatta down the Grand Canal ….a parade of fancy gondolas and rowing crew boats.  There were races too but mostly pageantry.  We sat on the steps of the beautiful Cathedral dedicated to Mary of Good Health (built to show appreciation to Mary for her intercession in stopping the plague) for almost five hours, drank wine, a few beers, ate sandwiches, got a French lesson (yes we were in Italy) and enjoyed the spectacle.

Our tiny little third story walk up hotel was in just the right place.  We found “our favorite restaurant”.  We had lots of pizza, pasta and pastries.  Saw some of the most beautiful churches imaginable.  Took our gondola ride on the last evening.  Took a day trip to the charming and colorful island of Burano in the Venetian Lagoon where they make lace and excellent lunches!

It was a bit sad to return home, but we brought some of the beauty home in our hearts and feel like we touched a bit of history.

My next stop is a return trip to South Africa tomorrow!  We will work very hard and then enjoy the never ending, always surprising beauty of that amazing country!   I’ll show you pictures when I get back!

(and beer)

Coming home was rough!  We knew it would be a full scheduled Fall for both of us but we found out a lot about the world that we didn’t know and visited placed that were inspiring in their age and beauty.

Enjoy our pictures below!

Next stop for me…..SOUTH AFRICA !  Hard to believe that this will be my 7th trip to that beautiful spot in the world.  I’ll let you know how it goes!!!!

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