A new addition arrived in our family just before Christmas.
The first moment I saw our son.
Getting so big already and thank god for this bouncy chair, we would be in some real trouble without it.
A new addition arrived in our family just before Christmas.
The first moment I saw our son.
Getting so big already and thank god for this bouncy chair, we would be in some real trouble without it.
Another Video of New Years in Naples
New Years in Naples
Street performer in Brussels, you have got to love the
French language. Sorry about it being sideways but I can not figure out how to change it
My friend Kevin was in Europe in November for work so we both met up in Brussels for a man weekend. We took a day trip to Bruges which was a very beautiful postcard type town. You almost felt like you were in a fairy tale. Belgium is known for its waffles, chocolate, and beer and we had no problem sampling all three.
Gayman and I both decided to get big beers. I chose a beer I had never heard of before and it turned out to be a very sweet cherry beer. I later told the waiter I had made a mistake and he said yes it s more for the girls!
Kevin had to finish my beer.
La Grand’place de Bruxelles
A Belgium Waffle!
Manneken Pis again, not exactly sure why this is famous.
Making our way into Bruges
The Canals in Bruges.
From the Top of the Bell Tower in Bruges
Buying some Chocolate in Bruges
Main Square in Bruges
Mussels in Brussels with frites!
Kevin and I with our Finnish friend Sami who we met in Brussels. We found a bar on Sunday night to watch the NFL games.
In November I traveled to Bahrain for work. I was not sure what to expect as I had never been to an Arab country. The closest I had come to the Middle East was Turkey but this time I was going deep into the Arab World. I must say there was a certain culture shock upon arrival as you see men dressed in their Thawb’s (the long white robe) and women in their Abayah’s. From the moment you step off the plane it is clear you are in a different world.
Bahrain is an Islamic State however, it is known to be one of the most liberal in the Middle East. Bahrain is unique country as the majority of the people you see are not from Bahrain, they are third country nationals who came to Bahrain for work. There were large Filipino, Indian, and Pakistani populations. One nice thing is that almost everyone speaks English.
Pizza Hut Anyone?
Al Fateh Grand Mosque
We flew Turkish Airlines which is almost always a nice experience and arrived after midnight and checked into our hotel . One thing that is nice about Bahrain is that we get to stay in 5 star hotels. Another thing everyone does is get suits made for themselves. It costs 100 US Dollars for a two piece suit and $120 for a three piece. The store has all the fabrics and you just walk in and pick out what you would like. They also have magazines to help you choose the style you would like. I got a two and three piece suit as well as a pair of pants. We went out to dinner a few times as well and there was a good variety of food to choose from, my favorite was a Mexican restaurant. Everyone working at the restaurant was Filipino including the chef. I am not sure where they learned to cook Mexican food but it was pretty good.
Getting measured for our suits
Outside of Gold City
Inside Gold City
Although hard to see 37 liters= 9.77 gallons at a total of 2.96 Bahraini Dinar= $7.89 so 80 cents a gallon and Bahrain does not even have oil!
The capital city of Manama is filled with sky scrapers but there is no continuity they seem to just have popped up everywhere you look. The main mosque looked very nice although we did not have a chance to go inside. One thing I wanted to do was take a camel ride but I never did any research and it was a missed opportunity, oh well next time. There seemed to just be empty dirt lots in between large skyscrapers and Western Style hotels a good reminder that you are after all in the Desert.
We headed to Washington DC in late August to attend Margee’s brothers wedding. Although I had been as a child I don’t remember much except being dragged through museums. This time around I got to see all of the memorials 3 times including once at night. Being that we are so far behind on this blog I will just post some photos.
Washington Monument (still under construction after the earthquake in 2011)
World War II Memorial
Korean War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
After the wedding in DC we headed to Jacksonville, Florida where we headed to Savannah for a night and then back down to Amelia Island for the rest of the week.
Our Horse and Carriage Ride
Downtown Savannah along the River
There was a little humidity in Florida
The beach at the Ritz Carlton
The Ritz Carlton on or way to the Seafood buffet…
The delicious buffet…
After our Paris trip Alexa and Justin stayed with us for a night before heading to the Amalfi coast for a few days while Margee and I headed back to work for a couple of days. On July 4th we met Justin and Alexa and headed to Rome to meet our friends Kaycie and Deano. They had flown into Rome landing around 8am, taken a train to Termini (Rome’s central train station), and then toured the city waiting for us to arrive in the afternoon and check in to the apartment we rented next to the Coliseum. I could not believe all they did with almost no sleep from their transatlantic flight. Margee and I (mostly Margee) had developed an itinerary for the trip and we had made reservations at all of our favorite restaurants. We also sent our visitors off on tours of the Vatican and Coliseum by themselves as we have already been there so many times (bragging). Margee and I did a lot of walking around stopping by Campo De’ Fiori, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona.
Margee and I went to a The Capitol Museums which we had not been to before and showed all of the Roman’s scientific inventions as well as some famous Roman artwork including the shewolf feeding Romulus and Remus the founding mythical twins of the Roman Empire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus).
Maximus the Gladiator
We also visited our first crypt the Capuchin crypt. It was interesting although what I got from it was that there were a lot of bones down there. Also no pictures were allowed.
From Rome my brother and Alexa headed to Florence while the rest of us headed to Sienna. We arrived in Siena during the early evening with only the coordinates for our hotel…BAD IDEA. We arrived while they were choosing by lottery the remaining horses for the Palio. The Palio is a bareback horse race within the main square of Siena the Piazza del Campo.
Here is a good explanation of the importance of the race although a bit long http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQq5DIdZ8BE. There were people everywhere within the walled city and oh by the way there are no cars allowed within the city walls and people were not happy with us. I had called the hotel and they said it would not be a problem but I would have argued otherwise adding in the fact we did not know where we were going. Eventually I parked the car and Margee went off on foot to find the hotel. After 15 or 20 minutes she returned just as the crowd from the Piazza was piling back onto the streets. To top things off our hotel was on a one way of which I had to drive the wrong way with the locals and one American telling me that I was going the wrong way on a one way road that I was not allowed to be driving on in the first place all of which I knew yet disregarded. Upon check in it was clear the lady working at the hotel did not speak English which was fine yet added another level of frustration when figuring out where to park. Luckily there was free parking and we were able to enjoy a nice dinner before retiring for the night.
The next day we went to a vineyard called Dievole which was about 10 to 15 minutes from Siena. We did a wine tour and then ate lunch which was delicious.
The food in this region differs from what you would eat in Napoli. You see more meat and cheese and almost no seafood which makes sense being that Siena is inland. We also ate lot of cinghiale (wild boar) which is delicious with pasta. We had the best meal of our European stay in Sienna at La Taverna di San Giuseppe. It was truly fantastic which included cighiale, gnocchi, osso buco, and even a good grappa to finish the meal.
The next day we headed back to Napoli but stopped in Civita di Bagnoreggio and encountered quite the thunderstorm on the way home.
As we were walking down the bridge from the old town we could see storm clouds were on their way. As we were heading toward the Autostrada (highway) it began to rain and then hail…
A little difficult but you can see some of the hail.
To the point where I really wanted to pull over but my navigator (Margee) insisted we keep moving…until we could no longer move anymore as a tree had fallen across the road. We turned around and found a driveway without any trees or power lines near it. We waited until a car passed and we did not see it return. Sure enough after 15 minutes or so the road had been cleared and we are talking about a country road so we were all a little surprised. Within a few hours we were back in Bella Napoli.
My brother and his girlfriend came to visit us in Europe but since Bruce Springsteen was in Paris, Alexa’s favorite city and one of our favorite cities well, why not meet in Paris. This was our second time but Paris is one of those cities where you could spend years and not see or experience everything. From the architecture to the cafés it is just a stunning city. The hotel we stayed at was nice enough although in true Parisian fashion the staff left something to be desired. I asked the receptionist to call a restaurant to make a dinner reservation for us when they did not answer I asked him to call back later when they opened. Of course he replied “you can just call them later.” Hey buddy does it sound like I speak French? I ended up calling and they luckily spoke English, Stupid American! (said with French accent). Of course when we got to the restaurant the waitress spoke only French. Luckily, they had a menu in English and I was able to stumble between a few words of French and a few in Italian to get what we wanted. It was a pretty good meal and I must say the waitress was extremely nice and patient dealing with the language barrier. The weekend was filled the usual stops Eiffel Tower, Champ Elyses Notre Dame, etc, etc. I must say the gypsies in Paris are everywhere and they are aggressive. I had one come up to me and try to stick piece of cardboard into my gut with a fake petition of sorts on top of the cardboard in hopes to steal my wallet. Luckily I saw it coming and quickly shooed him away. They were also everywhere around the Eiffel Tower asking people if they spoke English trying to draw you near them so they could pick your pocket. The best however was while I was outside waiting for Justin and Alexa to buy the delish macaroons outside of Laduree. While outside of Laduree I was taking pictures and a young girl walked by and said something to me in French. I smiled understanding nothing and continued to take pictures. She then switched to English and said look I found this ring and it’s too big for me it is for a man do you want it? I said no thank you I do not want it and she approached pointing out that is was gold. Again I said no and she insisted so I took the ring, LIKE A BIG DUMB IDIOT. The girl disappeared I thought nothing of it and then she reappeared saying “I give you a gift now you give me a gift” with her hand extended palm up ready to receive some cash. This is the moment I knew I was in the midst of scam. A scam I had read about before this exact trip yet had still unknowingly taken part in. I took the ring put it on the street yelled “this is a scam” and walked away. There certainly are many more good things that happened including seeing a Springsteen show on my 30th birthday, great cafe’s, and very good food. And when we thought our weekend had come to an end as we jumped into our airport shuttle we were wrong. The shuttle picked us up and off we went to pick up one more passenger and we were off to the airport. As we started making our way I turned and asked everyone else in our group if we confirmed which airport we were going to as we were headed to Orly Airport not the main Charles de Gaulle Airport. Well you guessed it, we were headed to Charles de Gaulle the WRONG airport. The shuttle driver looked at me in disbelief as I handed him my receipt which clearly said Orly across it. He pulled over near a taxi stop and I asked him for a refund of the deposit I had given to the hotel. That was certainly not happening and we quickly grabbed our bags and got into the cab except luckily Alexa noticed Justin had left his book bag with passport and wallet and every other important piece of paper on the shuttle. He immediately ran into the middle of the traffic circle and stopped the shuttle and was lucky enough to get his bag and finally off we went to Orly Airport.
Napoleon’s Tomb inside the Army Museum or in French Musée de l’Armée (it always sounds better in French doesn’t it?). The museum was huge and I believe the ticket was good for two days. It seemed to cover every war the French had ever been involved in although we concentrated on the World War I and World War II portions before going to see Napoleon’s Tomb.
The man himself, Napoleon.
Justin and Alex in front of the Army Museum.
After the Museum we headed for the Eiffel Tower and then took an evening cruise down the Seine River. We had done a cruise during our last trip but it was definitely better at night with the city all lit up.
I like to think I got some good shots of the Eiffel Tower.
The next day was my 30th bithday and we headed to Laduree for some macaroons.
This is also the spot where I met my gypsy friend who gifted me a ring and then demanded payment for said ring.
Macaroons from Laduree, delicious.
Justin and I also wanted to see the sewer tour one of the world’s oldest sewer systems and the former home of Jean Valjean. It was a little stinky but it is a working sewer system. There was a pretty interesting self guided tour. The French man who sold the tickets of course spoke no English and the signs made buying a ticket much more complex than it needed to be. Now if I worked at a tourist attraction I would think I would learn how to say 1-10 in a couple of different languages as well the words ticket, adult, and child. Well not this guy, yet I managed to buy my ticket and enter the underground.
Alexa not enjoying the smell of the sewer. Also you can see the weights used to counter the weight of the displays.
A little information between the connection of the sewers and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Before the concert we took a stroll down Champ Élysées.
Champ Élysées and Arc de Triomphe
The Springsteen concert took place at the Stade de France a large outdoor sports stadium. We were able to take a metro right to the stadium. Usually Bruce does not start until 8ish but he started early and I found myself sprinting into the stadium as the first song was being played leaving behind Justin and Alexa to wait for Margee who was using the restroom. It was a great concert and Bruce played the entire Born in the USA album from start to finish. Leaving the concert was a little more difficult as everyone tried to leave at the same time. It took a couple of completely packed trains but we made it back in one piece.
Although our trip did have it’s faults we survived another trip to Paris without getting pick pocketed and I got to see the Army Museum and Sewer Tour which were on my list of to do’s for the trip. So all in all after getting in a shuttle going to the wrong airport we made it back to Bella Napoli.
Although we took our cruise in May I have not had the time to blog about it due to laziness, procrastination, and other travels. We did a lot on on our cruise and there were a lot of photos and stories to share. First, lets take a quick tour of the ship. This was our first cruise and just the sheer size of the ship was astonishing as were the numerous activities available.
Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas
Saying Goodbye to Rome
The Two Family Friendly Pools
The Adult Pool
Miniature Golf Course
The Pool Bar
The Sky Bar
The Dining Room
The Theater (also used for Bingo!)
Our Room w/ balcony
We headed out rather early from our house just in case we hit traffic, our car broke down, or any other type of folly that would have prevented us from getting on our cruise. Our cruise left from Civitavecchia west of Rome. Luckily the drive was uneventful until we got into the town of Civitavecchia in which it was a little difficult to find the parking garage which was more of a parking yard. We found it with only turning around once, paid 55 euros for the week as I had booked via a website, and they loaded us into their shuttle. Since I had never been on a cruise before I was little unsure of what to expect with the whole check in process. It went fairly smooth with us having to declare we did not have bird flu or a laundry list of other diseases, going through metal detectors and x-ray machines for baggage, and then the oddest part of all we had to hand in our passports for the week. I believe that when a cruise ship pulls into port the customs folks come on board look through a certain number of passports and then they let everyone off. When we got our passports back neither of ours had been stamped once, kind of a bummer. We received our Sea Pass cards which were our room keys, on board credit card, and ID for getting on and off the ship. We went into our room dropped off our stuff and began to explore the ship.
Our first stop was Messina, Sicily. We rented a car and headed to Tourmina as Messina does not offer many activities tourist activities. IT was very easy to find the only confusing part was the toll where you take a tick. Waiting at the toll booth was a young gypsy girl asking for two euros to push the button and give you your ticket. Never give a gypsy money as they are always working some scheme to steal from you. Once off th highway there is a large parking garage which has stairs or a bus to the little town.
We took the 200 steps up to Taormina.
Thank you German man for ruining my picture.
This is the Greek Amphitheater in Taormina that has spectacular views of the sea. Concerts and other events are still held in there.
Next we headed down to the beach for some lunch on the convenient cable cars.
A shot of Isola Bella in the background.
We returned to ship for dinner where we had booked at one the restaurants which was an extra $20 per person. There was an Italian restaurant and a steak restaurant which was an easy choice for us.
A view of the Promenade at night.
Our second day was a day at sea and when we woke up the boat was rocking and rolling. I got up pretty early and decided to try and eat some breakfast which at certain points I was not sure if I was going to be able keep down. There are always two choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can always go to eat at the buffet or you can go to your assigned dining room in which you are given a menu with about 3 or 4 choices for a meal. We typically went to our dining room as the quality of food was much better. I headed to the top deck overlooking the pool for some fresh air which is where we spent most of our day just relaxing.
This was also the first of our two formal nights. There were two different dining times and we chose the later dining time which meant we had to go to the daily evening show before dinner. We went to see the evening shows twice and both shows were pretty good. We were assigned a table with the same people for dinner every night although not everyone always showed up. At breakfast and lunch you are seated randomly although they seem to seat you with people that all speak the same language, in most cases. The next day when we woke up we were in Athens, Greece.
Read all about it! Or in our case just look at the pictures.
We had booked a food tour through Athens and then if there was time left we wanted to see the Acropolis. The food tour was great and I think we got a pretty good look at parts of Athens that most people do not see. We tried various forms of food as you can see on the pictures below. One thing that was made clear was the importance of olives and olive oil to the Greeks.
The seafood market with octopus and squid.
The meat market with some type of small skinned animal hanging in the window.The smell of both markets made pregnant Margee sick almost immediately and it took me a while to get used to them as well and I have been in my fair share of markets.
After one last restaurant (picture above) on the Athens food tour we sprinted off to see the Acropolis.
After the Acropolis we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then headed back to the ship for our next stop Turkey.
We docked in Kusadasi where the main attraction are the nearby ruins of Esphesus which was an ancient Greek city and later a Roman city. Since we have seen our fare share of Roman ruins we looked for other things to do. There were many all inclusive beach resorts in the area and I called several to see if we could come for the day to enjoy the pool, restaurant, and beach. This seems like an easy task but communicating over the phone was more difficult in this area than for example Istanbul might be. We eventually decided on a resort and even took the local transportation to get there which was essentially a shuttle van that fit a total of 15 people. The port area was filled with over priced shops including Turkish carpet shops. All of the tours offered from Royal Caribbean and private tours in the area included a “Carpet Show” where they bring you to a shop and start rolling out carpets. Mind you these carpets cost thousands of dollars and if you buy one they ship it to you! No thanks, we luckily avoided all of the carpet shows and had a relaxing day.
Efes the beer of Turkey.
I thought this was a cool looking coaster.
The Sea Light Resort
A shot of me going down a rainbow colored waterslide in support of gay rights or the waterslide was just randomly rainbow color.
A look from on top of the beach overlooking the surrounding areas.
Leaving Turkey headed for the Island of Crete, Greece.
When we arrived it was sunny but you could tell the weather was about to change. We also arrived at 10am and were leaving at 2pm so we did not have a lot of time to do much. We took a bus along with everyone else on the ship from the port because there was absolutely nothing to do near the port. We walked around through the old town area of Chania the nearby city. The tourist area was very nice with cafe’s, shops, and restaurants. We walked around a little bit before I decided to take a one hour boat tour while Margee went shopping. We took off on the boat and before we got out of the harbor the rain and wind started and we turned right back around. It was pretty disappointing but you can control mother nature.
Hanging out with some sponges.
The beginning and end of my short boat ride.
The not so beautiful Port of Chania on our way back to Italy.
After leaving Crete we had the ship had it’s Circus Parade which was a fun spectacle.
After all this exciting fun we had our last dinner and spent the following day relaxing by the pool which included the sexiest man competition which I did not participate in but Margee thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.