Archive for » January, 2013 «

Cruise: Naples, Italy

“Naples?” you say. “Naples? Haven’t you already been to Naples?” Yes, yes we have. Two Novembers ago, in fact, when Chris went to Naples for work and I tagged along. So instead of doing another tour, we decided to venture off completely on our own. We already had a list of things we wanted to do:

  1. Go to Pompeii (since I couldn’t stop talking about it last time and Chris wanted to see what all the chatter was about).
  2. Get pizza at Da Michele (initiate mouth-water sequence).
  3. Get gelato.

Nice and easy :) Besides, the cruise tour to Pompeii would have given us less time and cost over $100 a piece. Getting there on our own gave us all the time we wanted, and between the train and the entrance ticket only cost us something like 18 euros each. Awesome :)

So while Josh and Kolie boarded a cruise tour to Capri and Sorrento to see a bit of the Amalfi coast….

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…. we hopped on the Circumvesuviana train to explore Pompeii!

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C² and Vesuvius

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Gladiator Style

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Pompeii the second time around was just as good as it was the first! You can seriously spend hours exploring and not see everything. We got to see a lot of the places I missed before AND they updated their maps! We didn’t get lost this time!

The next MUST-DO on our list was eat pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. We tried it on a friend’s recommendation before and we have been thinking about it ever since (I’m not even joking…it comes up every other time we eat pizza). In case you missed the previous post about it… it’s a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that only makes two kinds of pizza: margherita and marinara (ie with cheese and without). And really… two pizzas are all you need. Fresh, brick-oven baked, covered in balls of squeaky buffalo mozzarella cheese….::drool:: You really can’t beat it! We consider ourselves extremely blessed that we got to return to Naples and try it a second time. Although… after too much longer eating Norwegian “Grandiosa” frozen pizzas we probably would have snapped and bought a plane ticket back to Naples anyway just to eat some real pizza again!

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And of course, what visit to Italy would be complete without gelato?

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Well… that’s it for our cruise folks! We left Naples and docked back in Civitavecchia where we began our journey homeward. I’m sure you’re thinking, “It’s about time! We’ve been hearing about this cruise for weeks now! Let’s move on.”
Yes… let’s :)
Cruise: Athens, Greece

GREECE!

We docked in Pireus early in the morning and excitedly jumped on the tour bus to the Acropolis! We were going to see us some Parthenon baby!

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Fast forward…..

We finally pulled up to the base of the Acropolis after listening to our female Ben Stein tour guide for TWO hours driving aimlessly around downtown Athens (“We are now passing the temple of Zeus from the other side. The columns are examples of… Anyone? Anyone?… Corinthian columns, which were poplar…Anyone? Anyone?… Classical Period? Hellenistic Period? Which, anyone? Marked birth or death? …..Death of Alexander the Great. Bueller? Bueller?”)

Plus… somehow we ended up on the tour that was full of the oldest folks on the cruise ship. I’m not even exaggerating. Walking from the bus to the base of the Acropolis to get our tickets we had to stop every 50 feet to wait for them to catch up. Not that I mind old people…but we just couldn’t take it anymore so as soon as we got our entrance tickets we handed in our tourist headsets and ventured off on our own.  Best decision we made that whole day! (This is why, if we ever go on a cruise again, we will book all our port excursions through private tours like in Turkey, or just venture off on our own. Cruising lesson learned!)

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I’m surprised the Greek military doesn’t revolt right along with its citizens…

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The view of the Parthenon every tourist dreams about.

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Luckily the back side was a little less scaffolded and a bit more photogenic :)

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C² and TCSE!

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“Does anyone know what order of columns are in the Erechtheon? Anyone? Anyone? Something n-i-c columns. Ionic columns.”

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Dirty feet!

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Awwww!

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Street performers.

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After exploring the Acropolis, we wandered around through downtown Athens until we found a cafe that served the most traditional food we could find and had ourselves a veritable Greek feast! Between the four of us we ordered WAY too much food, but who knew when we’d be in Greece again so we just had to try it all! And it was worth it :)

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Saganaki, spanakopita, dolmadakita, tiganita, souvlaki, gyros, and more!

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Goodbye Greece, until we meet again!

 

NEXT STOP: Naples, Italy!

 

Cruise: Kusadasi, Turkey

I’m slowly catching up! I’m half-tempted to just post all the photos from Turkey and make you guys guess where they were taken and what was happening. But I guess I’ll be nice tonight and at least tell a story or two :)

Kusadasi was awesome. In fact, Turkey made it’s way onto the list of places we definitely want to come back to along with Israel. That’s the great thing about cruising I decided. You can use it as a sampler of sorts. You only get a day or two in each port, but it’s enough to weed out the places you don’t care to see again and to wet your appetite for places you discover you definitely want to explore in depth. Turkey wasn’t even on our radar before this trip. In our minds it was just an incidental stop on the cruise that took us primarily to Egypt, Israel and Greece. But by the end of our day there we loved it!

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Sunrise over Kusadasi Port

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What made a HUGE difference for us in Turkey was the fact that this time, instead of booking our tour through the cruise ship, we booked a private tour with Ekol Travel. Kolie found them after we couldn’t find a cruise tour that had what we wanted for an itinerary. The private tour for the four of us cost only slightly more than an excursion run through the cruise line and we had our own bus with our own tour guide. We could basically tailor the tour to our wants all along the way. It was fantastic! Plus, our tour guide knew the answers to every historical and cultural question we could throw at him, which we had a lot of! If you go to Turkey and need a guide, I would highly recommend these guys!

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Outside the House of the Virgin Mary, where Mary supposedly lived out the rest of her life after John brought her to Ephesus after Christ’s death.

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Prayers written on scraps of paper and tied to the fence outside Mary’s house.

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The main event of our Turkish excursion was a tour through Ephesus. If I had had doubts about picking time travel as my super power before, they vanished as we explored Ephesus. It is only ruins now, but you can tell it was a fantastically GORGEOUS port city in it’s hey day. I mean… the streets were all paved with glittering white marble!! Pompeii was cool and all, but Ephesus was beautiful!

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Evil Ephesian kitty.

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The library.

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After Ephesus, our tour included a private garden lunch of traditional Turkish foods. (Did I mention this tour was awesome?) I wish I kept a better record of what we ate, because it was delicious!

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We got a lesson in silk production and were taken to a workshop where they still hand-weave traditional Turkish rugs.

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We were taught all about the production of these rugs from start to finish, as well as the different materials used and different patterns created. In a world of factory-produced knock offs, I couldn’t believe the beauty of these handmade versions! (I’ve used that word a lot this post. Beautiful. It pretty much sums up Turkey in a nutshell!)

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Trying not to step on these works of art, even though our host kept insisting, “Go ahead! They are rugs and are meant to be walked all over!”

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Someone seriously wove this BY HAND out of silk made from those silk worm pods earlier in the post! Absolutely mind blowing.

After our tour of the rug workshop, our guide said goodbye and dropped us off outside a Turkish bath at our request. That was on Kolie’s list of must-dos in Turkey so we gave it a shot. Let me tell you… it was an experience and not for the modest or faint of heart! I won’t go into details now (I might give it its own post one of these days) but I can say I don’t think I’ve ever been so scrubbed squeaky clean in my entire life! Definitely one of the many highlights of our time in Turkey.

And now, I will leave you with a Turkish “Evil Eye.” It hangs over almost every doorway we saw in Turkey to ward off bad luck. I hope it brings you as much good luck as it did to us this trip!

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NEXT STOP: Athens!

 

Cruise: Jerusalem, Israel

Our love affair with Israel only grew deeper the next morning, when we headed into Jerusalem for the day.

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Being firm believers in Jesus Christ, going to Jerusalem was a bit of a pilgrimage for us. Interestingly enough, the weekend we were there was also a pilgrimage holiday weekend for Orthodox Jews. Despite the massive crowds, it was a special experience to walk where Christ walked (and Nephi and Lehi, for all you other Mormons out there) and to imagine what it must have been like to walk those same streets two millennia ago. So much history! And Jerusalem was the center of it all for such a long time!  Whenever I visit a historic place like this, I like to sit in one spot for a little while and pretend I can watch time moving in fast forward. A time-lapse of history playing out before my eyes. I really think if I could pick any super power imbued upon me I would pick the power to travel through time. I would go right back to Jerusalem and just watch throughout various points in history. Ahhh…. how amazing would that be?

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The little hill in the background of the photo above is the Mount of Olives. Does anyone else think it’s surprisingly small? With all of the epic stories and prophesies surrounding the Mount of Olives I had expected it to be a bit more, well…mountain-ish. More like Mount Timpanogos. The similar use of ‘mount’ is very deceiving in this case. The old Jerusalem city center within the ancient walls was smaller than expected as well. Not in a disappointing way, just surprising when you think about it being such the center of civilization at the time. The things you learn when you travel :)

As you can see though, the city surrounding the ancient walls is HUGE and stretches on for miles!

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Massive cemetery on the side of the Mount of Olives.

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Dome of the Rock

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One of the most fascinating things I noticed about Jerusalem was the combination of all the different religions. While religion has such a power to unite, is also has a great power to separate. It was very clear in Jerusalem. On one hand, you had multiple different faiths gathered together to worship their God. I thought it was beautiful being amongst the Jews during their holiday as they prayed and worshiped. While Mormons and Jews are different, I still felt a kinship with them in their devotion and faith. On the other hand, there was a tension throughout the old city. Armed guards waiting around almost every corner would block us from from random streets with their machine guns with no explanation as to why and there is a clear divide between the Muslims, Jews and Christians over certain holy sites. It was a very interesting dynamic.

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Camera man

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The huge crowd at the Western Wall for Sukkot.

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The Western Wall of the ancient temple.

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The Church of All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives on our way to search for the Garden of Gethsemane.

One of the must-see places on our list was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ atoned for the sins of the world. So important was this that we opted to forgo all of the official cruise excursions and venture out on our own because not a single one of the tours included a visit to the garden. In fact, that was an interesting theme we noticed throughout Jerusalem. There were signs everywhere pointing to the Via Dolorosa (the street Christ carried his cross down on the way to his death), multiple supposed sites of Golgotha (where Christ died on the cross) and even the site where the Virgin Mary was supposedly baptized. But we had to leave the city and walk a ways down a busy street before we saw our first sign pointing towards Gethsemane. We found the deemphasis interesting and a bit sad. In the LDS church, a much greater significance is given to what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ took upon himself the sins of each and every one of us to satisfy the demands of justice and pave the way for all of us to be forgiven, than what happened when he died on the cross. While still very important, to us his death was the final seal on the atoning sacrifice he began in Gethsemane. With such a beautiful and important thing that happened in the garden, we would have thought it would be much more of a tourist “attraction” but it was not. It seemed the majority of the tourist sites focused on his death and not on what his death actually meant. While the rest of the sites had grand churches and chapels built around them, the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane was an unassuming wooden door in a stone wall.

Nevertheless, we made it a point to find it and find it we did…. 5 minutes too late!

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Apparently, the garden closes for a few hours during the middle of each day (which information wasn’t found on ANY of the research I had done about how to get there, by the way) and wouldn’t reopen until past the time we had to be on the bus to make it back to our ship. So frustrating! I guess it was alright though, because really… historically they can’t know if it was the actual site of the Atonement. The garden used to span much of the base of the Mount of Olives and the only things that makes this particular patch significant historically are the two 2,000 year old olive trees that were around when Christ would have been there and had managed to survive the Roman ransacking. We still got to see a bunch of other olive trees…just not the really old ones. Although, when someone saw how disappointed we were upon finding the locked gate, they mentioned that if we hiked up some stairs a bit we would be able to see down inside the garden. So we hiked up the stairs. And hiked. And hiked. And hiked…. until we reached the very top of the Mount of Olives! We never found a spot where we could actually see down into the garden, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the old city! A nice happy accident :)

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Our consolation prize to Gethsemane was getting to see the Garden Tomb. It was also supposed to be closed, but they luckily stayed open that day because of all the tourists in town for the big holiday. Although this can’t be proven officially as the tomb Christ was buried in (there are a few other sites around Jerusalem also claiming to be the spot), it is a tomb contemporary of the time that matches the description in the Bible and was still really cool to see and imagine.

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Loving the markets!

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If you go to Jerusalem, get the fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice. The stands are everywhere and it’s totally a tourist gimmick…but it’s sooo good! Just avoid the guys dragging on cigarettes while they squeeze your drink…

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We only had a few hours to explore Jerusalem, and we left thirsting for much more. We would have liked to explore more of the city surrounding the historic center and soak up more of the rich culture and heritage, as well as venture off to the Dead Sea, Nazareth and Galilee and other sites where Jesus roamed and history unfolded.  Israel is absolutely fantastic and we are definitely, DEFINITELY coming back for more!

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PS: If you are wondering where TCSE were through all of this, they did their own excursion to the Dead Sea for the day. We meet back up with them for excursions coming up in Turkey!

Cruise: Tel Aviv, Israel

Sigh… I have such high hopes and grand plans for this blog. I really do. I have all sorts of things I want to share with you all, but here I am trying desperately to catch up on a vacation we took back in October. In OCTOBER!  And now we are almost halfway through January already! alkdjreoighdfjkf.

Oh well. Just gotta keep moving along!

The next stop on our cruise after Egypt was Israel. We docked in Ashdod for a day and a half and spent most of our time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Let me tell you… after all the craziness of Egypt we completely fell in love with Israel. We got only a brief taste of what it has to offer, but after our dinner excursion into Tel Aviv on the first night we made a goal to DEFINITELY come back soon to explore the country more thoroughly!

After the ship docked in Ashdod on the first night, Chris and I ventured off to Tel Aviv for an evening out. We LOVED Tel Aviv right off the bus. We spent the first few hours trying to find a restaurant that served traditional Israeli food, but after asking around we realized there was none to be had unless we wanted to take a 45 minute cab ride. Odd. We were starving by that point though so we gave up and picked the first restaurant we happened upon, Allora, which ended up being a charmingly cute Italian place with delicious food! Although, I’m sure anything would have tasted delicious at that point… but you can take a look at the pictures as proof!

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Pasta carbonara and hazelnut gnocchi.

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We ended our evening with a walk along the beach. It was balmy and warm (even in October at 11:00 at night), the lights of Tel Aviv were a beautiful backdrop against the dark Mediterranean Sea, and we just wandered and talked about life, the universe, and everything. It was seriously perfect! (Ugh… listen to me. That sounds so campy. But that’s actually how it was so that’s how I’m going to tell it!)

Did I mention we loved Tel Aviv?