Dan and I are your typical high school sweethearts. We grew up together, dated through high school, and moved to Texas for Dan’s job following college. When Dan popped the question, we had been living in Texas for a few years, and had accumulated plenty of kitchen items, bedding, and towels. Neither of us wanted to register for pots or china. When thinking about how we wanted to celebrate our nuptials, it was evident that we both wanted something that would give us memories to share with our families, friends, and future children. We wanted a gift that would last us a lifetime. Dan had suggested a honeymoon registry, and one that would get us overseas. That is when we came across Traveler’s Joy.
We both agreed we wanted to do a cruise, but one that would give us a variety of opportunities and experiences. Dan had studied abroad in Spain while in college, and it was one of his favorite places ever. He wanted nothing more than to share it with me and to see it again. With that being said, our hearts became set on a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona.
On June 20th, 2012, British Airways flew us to our destination. We decided to arrive in Barcelona the night before our Cruise to ensure we didn’t miss the ship’s departure. That was the last thing we wanted to remember about our honeymoon! After landing, I remember Dan announcing to me we were on a different continent. I was beyond jet lagged. After exiting the plane, collecting our luggage, and getting a cab, it hit me; We were in Spain! I had the best time people watching on our way to the hotel, Eurostars Cristal Palace, and I have to admit that Dan’s Spanish speaking skills were comforting. You could feel you were in a different place.
We arrived at the hotel around 7:00 PM their time; for us, it was near 2:00 AM. The room was tiny, but we didn’t need much. It took us a moment to figure out we needed our room key to turn the lights on. Dan wanted to avoid jet lag, and refused to let us rest. The hotel was only a 10-minute walk from Placa de Catalunya. We walked all over that evening, starting at La Sagrada Familia, and ending with a lovely small meal and a liter of sangria at a small café where a local offered me flowers. This is where I learned my first lesson abroad; don’t take anything from anyone unless you want to pay them!
After a good night’s sleep, we awoke feeling thrilled and ready for the 12-day cruise that was ahead. We walked around quite a bit, stopped at local cafés, and around 2:00 PM, we took a cab to the port. We quickly realized there were many other honeymooners on the ship. We spent a good amount of time touring our “home” and enjoying the balcony of our ocean view room. We would never go without a balcony again!
June 23rd was our first stop in Cannes, France. The excitement was too much for me to sleep, so I decided to watch the sunrise on our balcony as we inched up to the port. While in France, we visited Monaco and Monte Carlo. Monaco was beautiful, and everything was pristine. The whole country is 1.5 miles, has four regions, and a prince. We saw cathedrals, museums, and aquariums. A favorite however was witnessing the changing of the guards at the palace. The crowds were intense and the flashes of cameras were hypnotizing. If I could describe Monte Carlo in one word, it would be rich! We experienced the outside of the casino where a Bond movie had been filmed. The reason we viewed the outside was because we were not dressed in suits and bow ties. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maybachs, Maseratis, Audis, and Porches lined the square of the casino. We attempted to peruse the hotel, but were kindly escorted out since clearly, we were poor.
The following day was our first Italy stop, Florence and Pisa. Florence was filled with Italian charm and beautiful sculptures. Dan and I climbed Il Torre Del Duomo Di Firenze, which required climbing up 414 steps to reach the top. The swirl staircase was tight, and I nearly fainted more than once due to my claustrophobia. The outstanding views at the top however, were confirmation that the climb was worth every second. We also spent time admiring the sculptures in the plaza, some of which included Menelaus Supporting the Body of Patroclus, Neptune Fountain (Ammannati), and Piazzale Michelangelo and the Pieta. The time in Pisa was limited, and we chose to spend it enjoying some Italian food and wine, observing the Leaning Tower of Pisa from afar, and touring the Cathedral of Pisa.
The third day brought us face to face with the Eternal City of Rome. There is a reason it is called “The Eternal City." The first hour was a whirlwind with visiting the breathtaking Colosseum, Saint Peter in Chains, the Statue of Moses that Michelangelo sculpted, and Circus Maximus; looking very different from the past. The time had come where we were able to enjoy a free, public bathroom. This was new to me. Yet another lesson I learned while away from the states; nearly all bathrooms where we were traveling were used for a small cost.
Following our restroom experiences, there it was, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City; one of my favorite moments of Rome. We entered a mammoth line, took some great pictures in St. Peter’s Square, and passed some intense Swiss Guards. It was rumored that they were strict on dress code, and they kept to their word. There was an area you walked through to be “cleared” to proceed on, and yes, people were turned away. Thank goodness we followed the rules, because this place was not to be missed.
The Basilica was unbelievable, and I only wish I had the words to describe it. Even the pictures don’t do it justice. As we toured, they were preparing for a celebration of Saint Peter. It was an option to be taken into the catacombs to get a guided tour to see Saint Peter’s Tomb. We opted not to do this for sake of time. When in Rome!
Due to poor direction following skills, we were unable to find the Sistine Chapel, but journeyed on with The Trevi Fountain being our goal. We passed the Castel D’Sant Angelo, crossed a river where several locals were dressed in costume and taking pictures with tourists; for small fees of course, and walked along cobblestone paths, passing several Italian cafés. Plaza Navona was filled with people standing around, viewing and attempting to sell their art.
Everything caught my eye, and I only wished I could have seen all of it, but time was an issue. We did take a minor detour to visit The Pantheon and St. Ignacio. The Pantheon was a beautiful dome shape with light shining down from the ceiling, and a person continually requesting silence in several languages through the speakers. St. Ignacio brought me to tears. Their portrayal of Jesus on the cross was awe-inspiring, and this is where I learned that almost all basilicas and cathedrals are built in the shape of a cross.
We walked 6-8 more blocks at which point we found our destination, The Fountain of Trevi. Words cannot explain it. It is said that if you toss one coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. Toss two coins, you will get married. Try three coins, and you will get divorced. Since Dan and I were already married and were not looking to get divorced, we each threw in one coin. There was only one minor issue. In order for this to come true, you were supposed to turn away from the fountain, and toss the coin over your left shoulder. I just tossed it in. Hopefully by Dan following directions, that will get us both back! We spent the final several minutes in Rome taking it all in, grabbing some food, and nearly running 40 minutes back to our bus to avoid getting left behind. We later found out everyone took a taxi.
After three days of hardcore sight seeing, we enjoyed a much needed two days at sea. These days were spent getting rest, reading, relaxing, laying out on the pool deck, and for Dan; hitting up the gym. Occasionally, the Captain would get on and announce we were passing something exciting; the Islands of Sicily for example. Great picture taking opportunities, even while on the ship!
Athens Greece was our fourth destination. We participated in the “Athens on Your Own” excursion which transported you 20 minutes via bus to Athens. True exploring happened here since our tour guide was not a talker and could not even tell us where we were on the map. We walked 10 minutes down Plaka, up jaggedly layered steps, past locals, their houses, and cats until reaching a dead end. Dan asked a local for guidance, and we were pointed in the right direction where we entered the Acropolis for 25 euro a person. The Acropolis was full of rocks, gravel paths, lots of steps, and climbing. Talk about a honeymoon where you can eat a lot and not worry! Although the climbs were always tiring, once you got to the top, the views were definitely worth the work. We saw the Theatre of Dionysus who wrote 100 plays that were performed there as well as a reconstructed arena where well known orchestras still come to play. On one side of the mountain top, we saw the awesome structure of the Parthenon. The other side was the Parthenon being rebuilt and conserved. After a day of touring in intense heat, we enjoyed a fabulous Greek meal at Taverna Plaka, always try a Gyro in Greece, and made it back to the ship by 3:00 PM where we awaited Turkey.
Kusadasi, Turkey greeted us with music and dancers. Dan and I opted not to do an excursion, and decided to spend our time at the beach. We found the Turkish to be over-ambitious as we experienced several prompts to get us into their taxis. We made it to a mini bus that took us 5 minutes down the road to the beautiful Ladies Beach. The view was breathtaking with its white sand and water so clear, you could see the bottom from just about anywhere you stood. We ended up purchasing two covered lawn chairs for the day near the water. Dan and I spent the day reading, sun bathing, and taking turns going into the heavenly waters. We spent over 6 hours at the beach drinking cheap Turkish beer, and after speaking with the owner, learned this was also a club, restaurant, and bar at night. We both agree it was the perfect way to spend a day in Kusadasi, Turkey.
The following day, we arrived in Santorini, Greece. We participated in the “Volcano Hiking and Stop at the Hot Springs Tour” excursion; by far, the most unique and exciting expedition. A boat that closely resembled a pirate ship picked us up and took us around the Island of Santorini to the Volcanic Island of Nea Kameni where we climbed to the top of the volcano. We saw three inactive craters and one active. You could actually feel the heat and see the steam coming out of the active one. The views from the top were incredible. From there, the “pirate ship” took us to the thermal springs of Palea Kameni where we all stripped down to our swimsuits and jumped off the side of the boat into the open water. We then swam 50 meters to the hot spring where we got to experience rubbing mud and rocks from the bottom all over us as an exfoliation; or so our tour guide told us. The difference in temperatures from the hot spring to the open waters was close to unbearable, but I still could have swam longer. From there, they dropped us off at the Island of Santorini where we had the opportunity to see the city. We had a choice of riding a cable car, taking a donkey, or walking the steps. I truly regret not taking the donkey for two reasons; experience and exhaustion. Thank God the views were breathtaking on the way up, because only 588 long steps later, we made it to Fira. We found the perfect place at the end of all the shops and cafés to sit down, eat, and enjoy the views. In two hours of sitting at this restaurant, I believe Dan and I spoke 12 words to each other. The Greek music played, the flavors of the food danced on your tongue, and the views were impeccable. It felt as though we had died and gone to heaven. We spent the rest of our time perusing the shops, looking at their quaint churches, and mostly; exploring. Santorini had a couple firsts for the trip; one, this was the only place we purchased fancy souvenirs, and two; had we been left behind by the ship, I would not have cared.
The day following Santorini was a day at sea. We spent this day doing just about the same as the other days at sea; with the exception of attending an art auction, meeting new people, attending an intimate dinner at Chops Steakhouse, and participating in a very new game called “Quest”. This game consisted of the Cruise Director demanding random items or tasks to be done by various groups of people; one of which ended with me in Dan’s pants, and another which ended with Dan in nothing but his boxers and some socks. This game was hilarious, and it should be no surprise that our group won!
July 2nd was our last destination, Salerno, Italy. We took a boat along the Amalfi Coast, viewing the mountains, homes, and beautiful water. Our time in Amalfi was limited, and we spent it mostly walking up and down the main street, viewing the gigantic lemons along the cobblestone paths, and getting a cappuccino for Dan who needed a caffeine boost. I apparently should have gotten one as well since I passed out on the ride back. Good thing Dan got pictures! We spent 40 minutes on a bus that took us to Pompeii. This was probably the hottest day of our entire trip, but it was beautiful. Our tour guide had the strongest Italian accent I’ve ever heard, and continued calling her our “mommy” and us her “childrens”. We viewed how cameos were made and walked through vineyards to get to lunch. Although all we wanted was a nap following our wine and meal, we hiked to Pompeii where we witnessed where the gladiators used to practice, where they stayed, and where they were “pleased”. There were cobblestone genitalia on the houses just to be sure you knew what it was for. Some were even carved into the walkways. Although impressive and full of history, it was a hot day, and I was thrilled to make it back to the boat where Dan and I enjoyed an evening relaxing in our room with our left over wine and red velvet cake from Chops Steakhouse.
The last day at sea was spent enjoying a champagne brunch where we got a tour of the kitchen, attending a final art auction, and saying goodbye to our new friends.
Although the cruise portion of our trip had come to an end, we still had two days left in Barcelona. Our hotel, Hotel Condes de Barcelona, was not going to be ready until 2:00 PM, so we had several hours to burn. We purchased tour bus tickets for the time we’d be there and hopped on. Sitting on the top of the double-decker bus allowed you to take in the gorgeous views of the city. We started off at La Sagrada Familia, this time purchasing tickets to go in. Gaudi’s work was astounding, and there is nothing like his style or taste. From there, we bussed to Park Guell where we enjoyed more of Gaudi’s work. We bussed closer to our hotel and got some food before checking into our upgraded executive suite, spacious and covered in wooden floors. While spending some time by the pool, Dan was intrigued by the view of Passeig de Gracia – La Pedrera, and we ended up walking over there as well as Casa Batllo for a tour. Realizing we had a long day, we decided to go back to our hotel to get cleaned up and find a place for dinner. We ended up finding the perfect little café with outside seating where we ordered Caesar Salad, gazpacho, bruschetta, and paella; the perfect European meal.
The following day was busy and fast-paced. We enjoyed good food at a picturesque café followed by visiting Estacio de Sants, where Dan and I both took turns sliding down a huge metal dragon playground. We then took a lift up a 360-degree stadium tower taking in the amazing views of the city, visited MNAC which held a thousand years of Catalan art, viewed the Picasso Museum where we learned Picasso was a truly learned man who studied and continually attempted to improve his art with each newly learned skill, and experienced Cathedrals filled with choirs of angelic voices. After nine hours of racing around, we headed to Placa de Catalunya to do one of my favorite things, people watch. It felt good to relax (me with gelato and Dan with a drink) and to take in the fact that this was the last night of our honeymoon. We enjoyed a lovely dinner of tapas while reminiscing about the trip. On July 6, we headed back to Texas.
We would highly recommend this destination as this was the best 16 days we have ever experienced! Although I only wish I could include every detail of the trip, these are just highlights. This trip is ideal because it allows you to do and see a variety of places within a 12-day period, or in our case, 16. Dan and I opted to stay longer so we could see more of Barcelona. If you have a chance to do so, we would highly recommend it. The cost of everything, including airfare, was about $8,500 for the two of us. Taking a cruise does have some restrictions since you have to remain on their schedule; however, we often found it comforting. Everything is pretty much planned out for you; transportation, meals, and areas to visit. You just have to decide how you want to spend your time, and enjoy.