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Europe 2015 - Cruise

Just sitting on our balcony after getting on the ship, having my traditional Piña Colada poolside, and a quick bite to eat. Haven't explored the ship yet, but I don't think there's much to see as the ship is pretty small. I was horrified to find out there's only one pool bar. It's probably the smallest ship we've been on since our first cruise way back when. That said, our suite is better than expected. I had envisioned something closer to Carnival's suites, but ours is pretty nice. Much larger with a nice open layout and decent sized deck.

The flight over was uneventful. As usual Chris and I took advantage of the free booze and I fell asleep somewhere over Greenland and woke up as we came over Ireland. We had an eight hour layover in Frankfurt so we decided to go into the city. We had researched online and everyone made it out to be so easy. You just took the S-Bahn, S8 or S9 and 11 minutes later were in the city. Should have known it was a bad sign when after standing like idiots on the platform for awhile someone came on the intercom blathering something in German, and everyone left. We found out from someone passing by who spoke English that they had a problem with the track and we had to go to a different platform.

Once we got there - we got off at the Hauptwache stop which was the shopping district - everything was good and we had a coffee and wandered around. Eventually we hit a bar and had our first beer of the trip. It was also about that time the jet lag hit and I wasn't feeling very good. So we decided to head back, plus our flight left in a couple hours. And of course we somehow managed to get lost and couldn't find the train station. At that point I had a bit of a meltdown, being a combination of mentally and physically exhausted. Not my finest moment, but better to get it out of the way at the beginning of our vacation I suppose. Eventually we found the station and got on the right train and made it back to the airport and our flight to Venice.

Venice was an interesting place. Very unique and definitely worth seeing at least once. But it's also the very definition of tourist trap. They say it's a dying city and I can see why. The ratio of tourists to locals is like 9 to 1 with half of the locals having left in the past decade. Every morning like clockwork the throngs descend having arrived by boat or train, suitcases clattering along with frequent stops to take selfies at the numerous bridges and then gobble up the overpriced pizza at the closest pizzeria. Yes, I realize I was one of them, but having witnessed it over and over each day I was there I found it profoundly sad.

The city itself is terrific to explore. Although it's easy to get lost, you're on a relatively small island so eventually you figure things out. Chris and I got up really early one morning and just wandered. It went like this....walk, walk, oh, dead end. Walk, walk, oh, canal you can't cross. Walk, walk hey cool, a neat cathedral. Walk, walk, another dead end - no, wait, there's an almost invisible passageway at the end that leads to a massive square. And so it went. And boats! My God, I've never seen so many boats. Water buses, water taxis, delivery boats, police boats, postal service boats, tour boats, multi million dollar yachts, gondolas etc. And yes, we did the cheesy gondola ride....it poured half way through and we huddled under our umbrellas while our driver regaled us with his thoughts on war mongering Americans, the shit weather, and how there was so many Chinese people in the world. We would probably go back some day, but much like Vegas, Venice is one of those places you can only handle for a couple days and then need to get out.

Our first stop of the cruise was in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was one of the places I was looking forward to the most. We were eager to start exploring so we got off as soon as we could and caught one of the first shuttles into the old city. Wanting to beat the rush we grabbed a taxi and bee-lined it to the cable car base and headed to the top to see some amazing views. There was a nice restaurant up there so we grabbed a bevvie and something to eat before heading down. We then went into the walled city. They use that location to film King's Landing scenes for the show Game of Thrones. It's easy to see why as it's essentially a medieval city surrounded by a massive wall fortification. I had planned on walking along the wall but you either needed the local currency or a credit card. So I went to grab my card from Chris and turned around just in time to see a massive ship tour show up ahead of me. Pissed doesn't begin to describe how I felt.

I spotted a narrow alleyway lined with stairs that went up forever nearby so I went that way hoping it was another way up. It wasn't but it still led to some pretty cool views. However I almost died in the process and thought I was going to have a heart attack. Expanding upon that, this is the first trip I've been on where I'm feeling old. Tired, and afflicted with various aches and pains. You plan these trips a few years in advance, but you don't count on how you can change during the interim. And this is also our first cruise where we've used our drink package more for water and coffee than booze. Anyways, after wandering for a bit more I met up with the girls again. One thing I wanted to do during our trip to Dubrovnik was go to the cave bar - which is literally a bar inside a cave which overlooks the sea. It's part of a five star hotel called More. It wasn't as great an experience as I had hoped though mostly due to the slow service. But eventually the drinks started flowing and we were feeling pretty good by the time we got back to the ship. If we ever go back and spend a few days I think I'd want to stay at that hotel as it was a gorgeous location.

After Croatia we stopped in Turkey. I was looking forward to going to such an exotic location but was also a bit nervous - as I always get when visiting Muslim countries - and considering all the atrocities going on next door in Syria. Wanting to avoid the cattle cars (ship tours) we had booked a private tour to go see the famous ruins of Ephesus. After getting to know our guide a bit we warmed up to him, especially after he explained that this part of Turkey, at least in the cities, was fairly Liberal and accepting of other faiths. Our first stop was the House of Virgin Mary, supposedly the final resting spot of Mary, having been spirited there by Saint John after Jesus' death. I'm not sure what to think as you hear so many conflicting accounts of bible stuff - Jesus having visited Great Britain for example. But the people there consider it the real deal and is considered a holy spot by both Christians and Muslims. Chris even lit a candle for Grandma Reeves as that was one place she had always wanted to visit.

From there we went to the highlight of the tour which was the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. Outside of what we saw in Rome, it's easily the most extensive set of ruins of the ancient world. Even cooler, they are still excavating the site and we got to see the workers doing their thing. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge and while I'm sure the girls would have been content just to take pictures, I liked hearing the history and back story of the place.

We finished with a lunch consisting of traditional Turkish food (which was very yummy) and a demonstration of carpet making, which is what Turkey is known for. It was actually pretty neat to watch and while I sort of knew the concept of how silk was produced, it was interesting and a little creepy to see in real life. Our guide had assured us we were under no pressure to buy anything, but I made the mistake of asking how much this one beautiful, intricate, work of art carpet was at which point they all got excited and subjected us to a flurry of different patterns and materials of all sizes. For the record, I apparently liked the most expensive one which was $18,000 Euros - although for me they were willing to let it go at half price. After politely declining we went back to the port where Kim and Hailey returned on the ship while Chris and I hung out along the ocean and had a couple bevvies. I wouldn't say Turkey would be my first vacation choice, but I'm glad we got to visit as it was a unique experience.

Santorini was pretty cool - we've all seen the white buildings with the blue domes that the place is known for, but seeing it in person is so much more impressive. In a vacation twist of unprecedented odds, it just so happened that Alpha & Nancy were also there having rented a place for the week. So while Kim & Hailey went off on a ship tour, we met up with our other friends and spent the morning hanging with them at their place which overlooked where the ships were tendered - and in fact seemed like you were over looking the world. We then met up with Kim & Hailey after their tour was done and all had lunch. It was a great day in a beautiful place, and it really sucked we couldn't spend more time there. But we had to give ourselves plenty of time as the cable car down is infamous for long lineups and delays when ships are in port. A stunningly beautiful corner of the world.

Our last stop was in Katakolon, Greece, which was just the small port for tours to Olympia, which unsurprisingly is where the Olympics was born back in the time of Ancient Greece. You could go see the ruins there, but after what we saw in Turkey we didn't feel it'd come close to comparing. So we all decided to just have a relaxing day wandering around the port. The girls shopped and bought various things and we sat and spent a couple hours having lunch and looking out onto the ocean. Now we're packing and getting everything organized for when we get off the ship the first thing in the morning and begin our made dash across Italy to get on our 2nd ship of the vacation.

The trip was hectic, but we got there ok. The only real bit of confusion was that we got on the wrong train car at one point. Boarding went off without a hitch, but this was the latest we've ever boarded a ship. Usually we get on around noon, have some bevvies and wander around. But this time we cut it pretty close. I had just enough time to down my traditional Piña Colada and they were announcing we had to go do the mandatory Muster (Safety) Drill. Once that was over we wolfed down dinner at the buffet as none of us had eaten since the morning, other than a handful of crackers on the train.

As I was eating I suddenly remembered one of the main reasons we love Celebrity so much. The food! Even the lowly buffet is delicious vs. merely adequate which you get on most other cruise lines. As such, this is a good time to segue into talking about the differences between the ships.

As mentioned before, The Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas is a small ship. While looking down upon it from our viewpoint high above Santorini it actually looked like an oversized yacht. But they say good things come in small packages and such is the case with the Splendour. While the food and entertainment was just ok, being small also meant it was quick and easy to get around. And with a small crew you get to know people. We went to a Senior Officers mingle and talked quiet a bit with one of the higher ups. Apparently the entire class of ship is being sold off next year. And while they will get redeployed he feels they'll lose that sense of family. And I definitely saw that. On some ships they simply go through the motions, but you could tell the crew was genuinely happy there.

Going from the smallest ship we've been on, to the largest, the Celebrity Equinox is huge. We've been on larger ships (Caribbean Princess) in terms of capacity, but in terms of size the Equinox wins. It's almost to big though. Whereas before I made a point of taking the stairs as much as possible, on here it's not practical. You'll find yourself needing to go from the 3rd deck to the 15th and that would literally kill me. Thankfully they have lots of elevators and you never have to wait long.

Sadly, as I'm writing this I'm sitting on my deck alone as the girls are off exploring the Italian countryside. I came down with a cold yesterday and while I'd like to blame Alpha who was also sick, everyone here is also hacking and coughing. Same as happened last Euro trip, everyone on the continent suddenly gets sick at the same time. Piss me off. Oh well, I stayed on board today in an effort to get better and while I'm still snotty as hell at least I feel much better.

The girls got me some drugs at a Farmacia in Florence and after taking them I started to feel better. Enough that I was able to go ashore at our next stop, in Nice, France. Monte Carlo and Cannes seemed like to much of a pain to get to as they were pretty far away, so instead we went to the charming village of Eze perched high up above. It was quite the hike to get to the top and see the ruined cathedral. So the girls hung out below while I scrambled up. I barely made it, but it was worth the effort as the views were amazing. The village itself was pretty neat and you felt like you were back in medieval times as you wandered up the narrow winding streets. I easily could have spent much more time there but I knew the girls were waiting. Getting a taxi back was a bit of a shit show as by then all the tour busses had shown up and it was very chaotic. But eventually we did and went back to the port and hung out at a restaurant along the waterfront and had a few bevvies. We thought about catching a taxi up to Nice which was the next hill over, but they wanted 40 Euros, which on top of what we already spent would have meant we'd have spent over $200 for the day just getting around. We decided to just head back to the ship and hang out until sail away rather than spending the money. It was a good day, but I was a bit disappointed we didn't see more.

Corsica was somewhat of a surprise. It's only real attraction was that it was the birthplace of Napoleon and that later in his life he was imprisoned there. While I like history, for whatever reason that era doesn't appeal to me. It had been a busy and tiring trip to date, so we all decided it'd just be an easy going, down day. We wandered ashore in the morning just to check the place out, but had no real intention of hanging out once the temperature started to climb. We went and strolled through the marketplace in the main square and then stumbled across the sea wall and one of numerous beaches. I got my feet wet and we'd all took a bunch of pictures before the girls went back to the ship. I was feeling energetic and in an exploratory mood so I stayed behind to see more sights. I walked...and walked...and walked. Although I had water, the heat was starting to kick the crap out of me. I was a little worried as I had gone so far and wasn't sure I'd be able to make it back. I kept going further thinking I'd eventually come across a taxi stand or one of the Hop On, Hop Off bus stops, but without luck. I finally managed to flag down a taxi but the driver spoke zero English and I gave up trying to explain where I wanted to go. So I sucked it up and walked all the way back. Making matters worse I had my sandals on instead of my runners. But I made it and my legs cheerfully reminded me that I should have thought things through a bit more. Still, it was an enjoyable day and I think I'd go back there again for the beaches and the slice of Paris on the Mediterranean.

Our last stop was in Palma, Majorca. We got to overnight there so there was no rush to try and cram everything in a short amount of time. We did a ship tour to the Drach Caves which are a bunch of underground caves on the other side of the island. I've seen other underground caves before, but what attracted me to this one is that there is also an underground lake. They were neat to see, and at one point we all sat down and got to listen to a short classical music concert that was played by musicians in boats on the lake. It was neat listening to the music echo off the walls. But in the end I was disappointed - it was so busy and crowded and I mistakenly thought that most of the visit would be us in a boat exploring the caves - when in fact the boat portion was a relatively small couple minute trip. We walked instead as it would have taken us to long and we would have missed our bus back.

The next morning we went and explored the Castell de Bellver, a medieval castle which overlooked the city. It was pretty cool and it reminded me of Dover Castle, except that instead of everything being square, everything was round. I was in my element running around and taking pictures of the fortifications. From there we caught a taxi to the city center and the girls stopped and had a beverage while I ran around like a crazy person taking more pictures. There is a massive cathedral there which Antoni Gaudi apparently played a small role in it's construction and it was quite impressive. But the sun and heat once again kicked the crap out of me and by the time I got back to the girls I was done and drenched in sweat. So we hung out some more drinking Sangria before heading back. Palma has a reputation for being quite the party place, and we had intentions of living it up there but we were all simply to tired. Instead we packed our stuff as the next morning we got off in Barcelona.

Europe 2015 - Land
Sitting on the plane on the way home now, so the rest of this is out of order. I really hadn't had much down time to update since we hit land.

For us London was just the way home and we really hadn't planned on doing much there. We only had one day with Kim & Hailey and therefore wanted to make the most of our time with them. But as usual our hotel room wouldn't be ready for several hours so we were left to wander the streets homeless. I absolutely hate arriving in a city and having to wait 4 or 5 hours for your room, likewise having to check out and not having your flight until much later drives me crazy. Kim didn't see what the big deal was and I can't really rationally explain it. I just like having a home base to work from. Being able to go back and relax when I want, not having to rely on public washrooms etc. Thankfully our hotel was in a great location as there was so much (mostly) within walking distance. It didn't help that we arrived right as the Underground operators went on strike. Walk or taxi were our only options.

So we ambled up to the Eye, crossed the Thames, took pictures of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. We then found a pub and had lunch. Everyone else's food kinda sucked, but Chris loved her Bangers & Mash - for her that's the best part of going to England. We tried to walk to Buckingham Palace but Chris was done and couldn't go any farther. So we got in a taxi and checked into our room. By this point of the trip we were all pretty tired, grumpy, and short tempered. I was having chafing issues as well so I wasn't a happy camper. After freshening up we headed out again to explore and find a pub to eat. That was another adventure - trying to find something that wasn't a dive, that served something other than Asian food, or that had a place to sit. The few proper pubs we found were mental. People would be spilled down the street half a block standing and drinking. Then we realized that with transit shut down everyone had left work early and just started drinking. Finally, we found a place that looked kinda cool, being tucked under one of the train overpasses, but the food sucked. And worse Hailey wasn't feeling good so Kim took her back. Chris & I grabbed a bottle of booze and some Prawn flavored Pringles (yummy) and watched some TV before calling it a night. We didn't see the girls again as they flew out early the next morning. So it kinda sucked that our trip with them ended that way. I wish it had been a better day with them.

In contrast Chris and I had a great last day. I got up early and took off to be a tourist and get some pix while Chris relaxed. I was extremely happy. I got to see Trafalgar Square again (last time was over 25 years ago) as well as the Palace, St. James park, and even got a picture of the Scotland Yard sign. We had planned to see the Tower of London but we both decided we didn't want to do any more sightseeing and just hang out. So we went pub hopping instead, going to four different places before staggering back to pack our suitcases.

Even though only a few hours away by the Eurostar, Paris just feels like a different world from London. After we got over the usual shock of how small our rooms were, we went to the Eiffel Tower. We had previously purchased 'beat the lineups' tickets - what that really means is you get to skip one of like five lineups to get to the top. But eventually we got there and the view was pretty cool. The girls took the elevator back down while I walked. A quick note about security, last time we were there you'd see the odd soldier at the tower and police everywhere else. This time, with all the crap that's gone on recently, we'd see fully armed, with full gear, troops wandering the streets. At first it was a little disconcerting, but soon I began to appreciate it. The next day Chris and I attempted to go to the Louvre while Kim & Hailey went shopping. But the lineups were ridiculous, even early in the morning. So instead we went on the Ferris wheel I spied nearby. It was fun and gave us a terrific view of the surrounding area. That night we went for lunch, but it sucked. A word about Parisian cuisine...no matter where you go, no matter when you go, your only choice is Jambon and Fromage (Ham and Cheese).....you can have it in an omelet, you can have it as a crepe, you can have it as a sandwich, or you can have it as a pizza. Bon Appétit my ass! I did manage to have a yummy meal near the Latin quarter, but the rest were awful. Frankly I think it's a cruel joke the locals play on the tourists. I'm sure French Cuisine's reputation is justified, it's just a matter of knowing where to find it.

The next day Chris & I visited the Musee D'Orsay which is the other main museum in Paris. While not as impressive as the one in Florence, I enjoyed looking at all the sculptures and paintings. Arguably the most famous painting housed there is Van Gogh's self portrait. I managed to get a mediocre picture in between the throngs of people taking selfies with it. I find a lot of classic art all looks the same - usually religious settings. But the style itself all kinda looks the same. But then you'll come across the odd painting from that era which would have stunning detail and clarity. Probably the paintings that I liked the most were from the neo-impressionist era. Basically they were paintings made up of nothing but coloured dashes. From the museum we met up with the girls to visit the famous Catacombs which are the world's largest grave, housing the remains of some six to seven million people. Thankfully we had a guided tour which got us past the lineups which were once again ridiculous. I really appreciated hearing about the history of the place and thought our guide was terrific. Chris got pretty emotional there, while beyond being interested in the history, I didn't really feel anything at all. Either it was because the sheer number of remains overwhelmed the senses to make it an abstract experience or perhaps I'm simply a psychopath. In any case, I'm glad we got to experience it.

That night was our last in Paris and Hailey dragged us out late at night to see the Eiffel Tower lit up, which it apparently does every hour, on the hour. At dinner I had ordered a bottle of wine but we had to leave early if we were going to see it. So I walked along the Seine River drinking from my bottle and we all sat and watch the tower light up. I almost felt like a local. It was a perfect evening and end to our visit to France.

Which is brings us to Barcelona, the first part of our land trip. Once we got off the ship we went to the hotel, where as usual our room wasn't ready so we were left to wander the streets. That part was a bit frustrating with us trying to figure out where we wanted to go and how. I wanted to take the Metro, Kim wanted to do the Hop On, Hop Off Bus. I wanted to go to the Beach, Hailey wanted to go somewhere else etc. etc. Eventually we ended up wandering down Las Ramblas, which is the main boulevard. We then hit the Gothic Quarter which is a really old part of the town, which reminded me of the old, windy, narrow, cobblestoned streets of Venice, Rome, or Florence. From there we made our way to La Sagrada Familia, the world famous temple built by Antoni Gaudi which has been under construction for over 200 years. I was moved at its beauty the first time I saw it, and it was no less beautiful a second time.

We checked into our hotel which was pretty snazzy and went and had some Tapas at a nearby place. While we're sitting there eating, Chris & I realized we had been to the exact same place the last time we were in Barcelona. We both had a laugh over that. Our flight to Paris was the next afternoon, so we didn't do much that night. In the morning Kim, Hailey, and I walked to go see Casa Battlo, which was an apartment complex that Gaudi had designed and lived in. While not as impressive as the temple it was still interesting to see. We then met up with Chris and went for some more Tapas. We sat there and pondered what to do for the next several hours before we had to leave for the airport. The heat was really oppressive once again. We were all so tired of being soaked in sweat and feeling gross. So we said screw it and headed to the airport early if for no other reason than to be in an air conditioned environment.

Thus ends the chronicle of our 2015 European vacation. It was a great trip but I'm glad to be home. Being away for close to a month and going on such a complicated vacation, with so many different legs, different transportation methods etc. was extremely taxing. Things have changed, and both Chris & I couldn't physically handle things like we have in past trips. It sucks, but it is what it is. Of course, doing all this in the middle of a heat wave didn't help. This was a learning experience for future vacations and we will keep what we learned from this one in mind. Oh, one other thing, don't go to Europe in the summer. Just don't. Goddamn tourists, am I right?!?


There were over 2000 pictures taken this trip. A lot were crap, some were amazing. I selected a bunch that I like for various reasons to share. They can be found here.