What I Packed (and what I didn't need)

I overpacked. I looked at 15 days and no laundry (turns out there WAS laundry, but at the time I did not know that) and thought, whoa.

Now, I am pretty low maintenance. We used to do a quite a bit of camping, and as long as I could wash my face, rinse my hair and don clean underwear, I was good for days and days. But 15 days with the same group of people-not-my-relatives, and a ship cruise with unknown dress requirements for dinner...yikes.

What I packed:

2 pairs of jeans

3 pairs of those nylon travel pants (Eddie Bauer and Columbia) that I hate and will never wear for any other purpose

7 underwears, 3 bras, 6 pairs of socks (all running socks with that nice arch support feature)

2 pairs of walking shoes, 1 pair of running shoes, 1 pair of flats

jammies

Raincoat (unlined), raincoat (lined), denim jacket, and a cardigan

2 lightweight fashion scarves

2 tshirt dresses (these came in very handy, paired with leggings and flats)

2 leggings (one capri length)

4 dri-fit tshirts, 5 long sleeve tshirts

Running clothes

TOO. MUCH. STUFF. Although helpful when packing my Carrara marble mortar and pestle.

What I would dump:

Running shoes and clothes. Nice idea, and we did run once along the promenade in Nice, but not worth the space. We did a lot of walking, and climbing, and that should be good enough, right?

Pants: I didn't need 3 pairs of the travel pants. Next time, two pairs at most.

Shirts: 3 each would probably suffice. Handwash in the sink, they dried pretty fast actually, even the non-dri fit ones.

Jackets: One raincoat or the other, not both. Granted, it had snowed 6 inches when we left Michigan, which is why I had the lined coat...

Key for less packing: Woolite for hand washing, and my elastic travel clothesline (no clothes pins needed, got it at REI years ago)

 

 

Overview Part 5: Hotels

Both hotels were a...somewhat different category than we usually stay in. As in, many steps above a hostel, as opposed to one step above a hostel that's our usual (hey, we're cheap!).

In Cannes: Hotel Montaigne was a very modern hotel on a quiet side street in Cannes. Great location, walking distance to the waterfront and the main shopping and dining streets. Website seems to not have an English option, but both Expedia and booking.com list it. Probably runs about $200/night. (Point of reference: this is usually what I tried to spend for a room for four of us).

 

In Florence:  Hotel Albani Firenze was a very nice hotel with questionable room decor (our room was very...brothel-like with vivid orange paint and one wall that was entirely mirrors). Location was fantastic - a few blocks from the train station, most bus stops and walking distance to Piazza Santa Maria de Fiore (cathedral, duomo, etc), Ponte Vecchio, Ufizzi, and all the usual sites. Great shopping and eating in the vicinity. About 170 euro/night, includes breakfast.

Trip Overview (Part 1 of about 5)

Just so this is not a tl;dnr kind of thing...

Part 1: Overview

Part 2: Things We Liked

Part 3: Things We Didn't Like So Much

Part 4: Small Ship Cruising

Part 5: Hotels

View of the Arethusa

View of the Arethusa

Some of you may know that we have never traveled this way before - never booked a tour with a travel company, never gone on a cruise. Our sister-in-law and nephew travel almost every year, and were talking up this trip with Grand Circle Travel, a company they have made 6 trips with so far over the years. So we thought, this could be fun, and a different way to travel, and we had a our 25th wedding anniversary in August 2015 and that seemed like a good enough excuse, so we signed up.

Note: we've been using the "25th wedding anniversary" as an excuse for a bunch of things, but I think this should be the end of it. Maybe.

We have always planned our own travel, and I handled the bulk of the logistics - airfare, transportation, hotels, etc., and the itineraries have been a little loose, because you learn the hard way over the years about being overly-optimistic about what you can manage in a day, right? So this was going to be very different. 

So, right from the start, I was far more stressed about packing for 15 days than anything else (note: I overpacked. More on that later). Grand Circle took care of flights, transfers, transportation, accommodations, itinerary, most of the meals. Boom.

I have to say, I could get very, dangerously, used to that. I mean, the only time I had to even handle my luggage was to and from the plane.

We were all taken very good care of from arrival to departure.

Basic schedule each day was the same. You were off for the day between 7:30 and 9 AM and gone for at least half the day, but usually longer. Each evening, especially once on the ship, included a short talk by the program directors about what was going on the next day. Some days included local guides and they were, on the whole, very good. During free afternoons, the program directors usually had suggestions on things to see, where to shop, where to eat, and in the case of Paolo, our PD, he often offered a free, optional exploration for anyone interested.

Optional day tours (in this case, a day to Monaco and a day to Chianti) were an additional cost. Special diets were accommodated (and accommodated well, according to the special diet folks). 

The ship was also great - 50 passenger max (we had less), well-staffed, nicely appointed. Most of the sailing occurred at night, but we had some nice sailing views in the evenings from the sundeck.

Overall, I give the whole thing an A-.

 

 

 

Lunch with Paolo and Giada

Our Chianti tour included lunch at a villa, and it turned out this was Giada and Paolo's place. Paolo would be quick to point out that it is Giada's, since it has been in her family since the 1700s (it's an interesting story, and you can find it here, as well as information if you want to stay there). The original villa was built in the 13th century. You'll have to go to the website to see a view of the villa itself - it was a little too wet to walk around much.

View from one of the bedrooms

View from one of the bedrooms

Lunch was fabulous enough that I got their cookbook ("I feel like a celebrity chef!" - Giada, when asked to sign it). Pasta, salad, chicken in Chianti, panacotta with fruit. And of course, wine. Several of my Vacation Pounds should just drop off when I am not having wine and dessert with lunch and dinner, not to mention Paolo not feeding us 4 times a day.

My empty pannacotta, and a cute new use for random glass jars

My empty pannacotta, and a cute new use for random glass jars

View of the hall, with some of our tour group in it

View of the hall, with some of our tour group in it

Back in the day, you had your very own chapel

Back in the day, you had your very own chapel

One of the B&B bedrooms

One of the B&B bedrooms

Our charming tour guide and his lovely wife 

Our charming tour guide and his lovely wife 

A Post About Meat

We went to one of the oldest charcuterie shops in the region and it smelled delicious and yes I bought stuff. If you have a wild boar problem in your area, please call me, I know what to do with them.

Looking in the window at all the deliciousness.

Looking in the window at all the deliciousness.

Mmmm, mmmm, good.

Mmmm, mmmm, good.

All the wild boar things, even tusks.

All the wild boar things, even tusks.

I don't think they still use these for butchering, but I could be wrong.

I don't think they still use these for butchering, but I could be wrong.

Cheese is happening in the basement!

Cheese is happening in the basement!

Proof that the Italians get it - a wine dispenser in the cheese and charcuterie shop. I'm using the term "dosage" for my wine from now on.

Proof that the Italians get it - a wine dispenser in the cheese and charcuterie shop. I'm using the term "dosage" for my wine from now on.

The Chianti Tour

It was the only rainy day of the entire trip. But, still beautiful.

View from Castello D'Abola winery

View from Castello D'Abola winery

A winery tour and tasting at Castello d'Abola - with food, of course, an enormous platter of meats and cheeses, with olive oil and bread - was great, if a little chilly. Part of the castello dates to the 11th century; wines in the cellar date to the 1950s.

Mostly just for show, as many of these will not be good any more; Chianti isn't a wine to keep for more than 10 years.

Mostly just for show, as many of these will not be good any more; Chianti isn't a wine to keep for more than 10 years.

Lots of chianti - "pending" as it were, since they cannot call it Chianti until the wine police say so at the end of the process - lot of work with the risk that you end up with just red table wine in the end.

Lots of chianti - "pending" as it were, since they cannot call it Chianti until the wine police say so at the end of the process - lot of work with the risk that you end up with just red table wine in the end.

These glass bulbs are on the tops of all the barrels to indicate if the barrel is full. It allows for more wine to be aded as needed, without allowing much air in which would oxidize the wine, negatively impacting color and flavor. Invented by Leonardo DaVinci!

These glass bulbs are on the tops of all the barrels to indicate if the barrel is full. It allows for more wine to be aded as needed, without allowing much air in which would oxidize the wine, negatively impacting color and flavor. Invented by Leonardo DaVinci!

Oh yeah. The David.

No trip to Florence is complete without a trip to the Accadmia to see the David (and other Renaissance work)(but really, who are we kidding? The David.)

We had a really amazing and passionate local guide for this. Angelo launched into an impassioned lecture about what people don't understand about the politics of art, and specifically what this piece really meant. I loved it. People understand that Michelangelo's David is beautiful, but don't truly know why - the relaxed stance, the realistic proportions, the turned head, all a throwback to the Greeks who celebrated human form in a way that wasn't seen again for centuries. And the David and Goliath theme speaks to the Medici, patrons of the arts who created the atmosphere for the Renaissance but also tyrants who destroyed the republic that was Florence. 

Angelo also explained that David was supposed to be one of many statues to adorn the buttresses of the Duomo - thus it was designed to be viewed from a distance, and from below. The outsized hands make perfect sense from that perspective.

What We Did Between Climbs

We were not so dumb as to go right from the Duomo climb to the campanile! We took a break and went to the Opera Duomo Museum, which is behind the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo). This was new to me, and was fabulous. Ghiberti's original baptistry doors are displayed here, as is one of Michelangelo's last pietas and many of the panels that adorn the exterior of the cathedral.

This was a great museum. Don't skip it if you go to Florence - it's part of the 15 euro ticket you can buy that gives you access to the duomo and the campanile.

Our Day in Florence (aka, earning our bistecca)

So we climbed the duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence today. 463 very narrow, at times circular steps to the cupola about 375 feet up. It was amazing. And a little terrifying.

Al leads the way back down. 

Al leads the way back down. 

It was a gorgeous day. Here is the view of the campanile (bell tower) from the duomo:

image.jpg

And the campanile can also be climbed, and it only has 414 steps, so of course    any normal-thinking human being would say to themselves "Let's do both! On the same day!" 

I think Paolo is a little worried about us. He says he doesn't think he has ever heard of anyone doing both climbs on the same day. And he lives here. 

 

View of the duomo from the campanile

View of the duomo from the campanile

And what do you do after you have climbed 877 steps and 680 feet or so? You go out for bistecca alla Fiorentina. 

 

Some local wine to help the ibuprofen get to work

Some local wine to help the ibuprofen get to work

Roberto cuts our 3 lb steak: 

image.jpg

You do NOT order this medium. Asking for well-done probably gets you physically removed from the premises.  

image.jpg

And Roberto was smart. "I let you relax!" And he let us alone for about 15 minutes, which turns out to be the exact amount of time you need to finish your wine and let everything settle, and then checking out the dessert case seems like a great idea. 

This massive pile of tiramisu is safely stored inside my stomach now

This massive pile of tiramisu is safely stored inside my stomach now

Marscapone and fruit. Because the tiramisu wasn't enough, right?

Marscapone and fruit. Because the tiramisu wasn't enough, right?

We'll let you know if we can move tomorrow. 

Elba Island

We are currently in Florence, at the Hotel Albani, in a room that is distracting in a very brothel kind of way....but let me catch you up! We spent the day on Elba Island, Napoleon's home way from home for about a year. He kind of chose his own exile there, fixed the place up, then left for his second round of conquering the world before messing up at Waterloo and being sent to far away St Helena where he couldn't get into too much trouble.

But you know all that.  These days, Elba is like an Italian Ft. Lauderdale, only older.

View from near Napoleon's villa

View from near Napoleon's villa

Well, and the views are better.  In an apparently typical Italian disregard of schedules, neither Napoleon's villa, nor the fortress were open, but we did get into the theatre.

Doesn't look like much from the outside... 

Doesn't look like much from the outside... 

This theater was one of the first horseshoe-shaped designs. This is a view of the boxes. 

This theater was one of the first horseshoe-shaped designs. This is a view of the boxes. 

A few more shots of our walkabout

image.jpg
Bob, me and nephew Al

Bob, me and nephew Al

Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean. It was cold! 

Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean. It was cold! 

We also had a "home-hosted lunch", which was pizza, salad, lasagne and ice cream. And then they brought out the alcohol. 

 

From left to right: grappa, water, homemade limoncello, grappa, grappa, wine and grappa

From left to right: grappa, water, homemade limoncello, grappa, grappa, wine and grappa

We were late getting back. Our van driver loved us! We sang Volare, loudly, all the way home. 

Pesto!

Italians are horrified at the mere thought of subject basil to a food processor. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. And I think they are right, right, right. 

They needed victims, and my loving relatives pushed me forward. 

 

We are getting instructions from the ship's chef. 

We are getting instructions from the ship's chef. 

Garlic first, then salt, crush in the marble mortar with a wooden pestle. Then tear up the basil and toss that in. The woman next to me - and she won - had the moves down, really pounding the basil. So do what she is doing in the pictures, not what I am doing.

 

I already know I have too much garlic in there, and cannot fix it. 

I already know I have too much garlic in there, and cannot fix it. 

Panel of 3 judges, including, I must add, the husband of the winner (ahem) - judged the results. "Too much garlic" was the determination of the experts for my pesto (which I already knew). 

Want some live-action? Sure you do. 

 

Carrara Marble Day

They did not have any marble garden gnomes!  Really unbelievable.

This was a great excursion through the port and city of Carrara, and up the mountain to one of the few interior marble quarries (most are typical outside quarry operations). Michelangelo picked out his stuff just around the corner at a quarry that caters exclusively to the statuary trade, due to the purity of the marble found there.

Fun fact: the entire mountain is marble. No other kind of rocks. 

Fun fact: the entire mountain is marble. No other kind of rocks. 

Tunnel to get to the interior of the quarry

Tunnel to get to the interior of the quarry

The quarry shown below is no longer an active section. They have to leave very large pillars a certain distance apart, and are restricted as to how high and how low they can excavate.

All the marble is cut to order, which is why you see the lines for different sizes of blocks on the ceiling and sides.

All the marble is cut to order, which is why you see the lines for different sizes of blocks on the ceiling and sides.

Another finished section

Another finished section

Also, Michelangelo has been replaced, which is too damn bad:

image.jpg

Due di Cinque Terre

We did two of the five towns of the Cinque Terre today, Monterosso and Vernazzo. My husband, nephew and I are determined to be the people who climb to the top of everything presented. For example, this was the view we had yesterday (from a castle named for Gordon Brown, who once owned it, which sounds very very wrong) in Portofino.

image.jpg

So, on our visit to Veranzzo, we climbed to the top of this castle (not  named for Gordon Brown). 

image.jpg

Using these stairs

image.jpg

But we got these views

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg