Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Relaxing in Rome

After putting our bags away at our new B&B we went to find a nice spot for lunch before our 2:30 Vatican tour. Again, we went to a place recommended to us by Rick Steves, and again we were impressed. It was a 9 euro lunch buffet that had everything from pizza, pasta, lasagna (veggie!), cheeses, meats and more. TONS of veggie options. We had that along with some wine, and again we were happy campers.

After a leisurely lunch, we walked a short distance to where our Vatican tour started. It was a 3 hour tour, and it was great!  We saw so much it's hard to keep it all straight. Aside from the Sistine Chapel, the thing I am most impressed with is the method of frescoing. I always just thought fresco was a style of art, not a method. But it is when you take plaster and color it while it is still wet. This means no layering of colors to shade or anything. Every color you see on a fresco was mixed beforehand and applied directly to the plaster. And since plaster dries so quickly you can only do small sections at a time. That's what makes the Sistine Chapel even more impressive!

It started raining a little when we were done with our tour, so we went to an Internet cafe to kill some time. I got to see a few wedding pictures!  So exciting!  I think they turned out great!

For dinner I really wanted to find some good gnocchi. We haven't had any yet and I wanted to try the fresh local pasta. We stumbled upon a little family owned restaurant that was fantastic!  The couple sitting next to us were at a table for four and it was completely covered with food!  Tons of salads and veggies and fresh cheeses and foccacia bread. They turned to us and asked us if this was a typical Italian meal. Ha!  Not like we've seen.

Apparently their hotel recommended this place and told them to tell the owner he sent them. After that, the waiters just brought them food without them ordering anything. They had so much food they literally couldn't eat it all. So we helped them with their mozzarella :)  Turns out they were also on our ship. Small world. Either way, my gnocchi was among the best pasta I've ever had!  I'm so happy we found that place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Eating our Way Through Naples

Today was our last port--Naples. We booked an all day tour before we came on the cruise. The morning would be spent in Sorrento and the afternoon in Pompeii. I'm so happy we booked this trip!

We started out very early (7:30) and got on our bus heading toward Sorrento.  Before we got to downtown, we stopped at a farm. This family operated farm produces olive oil and wine. They also grow tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, lemons, hazelnuts, and they have pigs, cows, horses, ducks, quails, goats, peacocks, cats, and dogs. It is a beautiful farm!

When we got there, our host--one of the daughters-in-law of the owner--gave us a demonstration of how olive oil is pressed. She had a huge machine behind her and walked us through the steps. Then she showed us how they make soft cheese like mozzarella. She showed us what happens 30 minutes after milk and rennet are combined (the milk starts to curdle). Then she put the curdled milk in boiling water and pulled it out of the water, put it in cold water and then formed a little ball. And there you go. You have mozzarella!

We got a great plate full of bruscetta, cheeses, and roasted veggies. All drizzled with olive oil. We asked for vegetarian, but everyone else had home-cured meats. It was such a great experience.

After looking around the farm and sampling their limencello, we got back on the bus and went to downtown Sorrento. Even though we had just eaten all of those antipasti, we knew we had to have a pizza from the Napoli region. We made our way to a pizzeria that was recommended to us by the guidebook. I'm so glad we did! This was true pizza. Crispy flat bread, gorgeous bubbling cheese...what more could you ask for?  We had a carafe of wine to make the meal complete and just enjoyed life.

After that we headed toward Pompeii. I've been looking forward to Pompeii since my last trip to Europe. We were supposed to make it down here, but then Leah, unfortunately, sprained her ankle pretty badly. It all worked out in the end as we spent the remainder of our vacation in Greece instead. Anyway, the point is that I was really excited about Pompeii. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint me. I loved every second of it!  Our tour guide was pretty good. He showed us many of the sights and told us what the significance was and who lived there, etc. But really, most of the spectacular sights spoke for themselves. The plaster cast bodies showed the fear and surprise of the citizens of this ancient city. The brothels, in particular, were amazing to see because of how well preserved it was. The one we saw (only one of about 20) still had the pictures above each room describing what would take place behind closed doors. It was like a menu for all the foreigners who didn't speak Italian. It was awesome!

The rest of the city was great too. It just really gives you an insight as to what living in Pompeii in 79 AD must have been like. After Pompeii we did a quick stop at a cameo shop where we learned how they're made and saw a master at work. I didn't know they were made out of shells. They were so beautiful, but way out of my price range--damn euro!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Short Day in Dubrovnik

Today was a short day in Dubrovnik. We got into the port around 10:00 a.m. and set sail at 5:30. It turned out to be plenty of time though.

Dubrovnik is gorgeous!  We took a bus from the port to the city walls. The city still has four walls that surround it. Dan and I just wandered through the streets for a while just enjoying the feel of the city. The views are absolutely stunning!  People are right about the Dalmatian Coast--the views can't be beat.

We wanted to find the synagogue since it is the oldest Sephardi, and the second oldest overall, synagogue in Europe. Since it is Saturday, we didn't think it would be open. I was really disappointed to see that it was actually open for tourists and was charging admission. I just thought they would be open for services only, but they said it isn't a functioning shul anymore. How sad.

We made our way to the city walls next. For a small fee you can climb the walls and walk the whole perimeter of the city. Wow!  This was incredible. We were up so high and could see absolutely everything in the city and all of its borders. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to walk the whole thing. We stopped at the end for a Croatian beer. Very refreshing.

At this point we really felt like we had seen a good amount of the city so we headed back to the ship at around 3:00.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Venice On Our Own

Day 2 of Venice. We basically did everything we wanted to do yesterday, so today was more relaxed. We started at a glass-blowing demonstration off the square. I've seen it before, but it is just so impressive how someone can take that hot lump of glass and make it into beautiful designs. We didn't see anything we wanted to buy, so we moved on.

We wanted to do a tour of the grand canal, which started near the Jewish ghetto. It took us nearly 1 1/2 hours to get there by foot. We saw a lot of parts of Venice that most tourists never see. Nothing too interesting though. Mainly just houses and stuff. The canal tour was on our iPods and used Venice's public water taxi as a guide. We got on line #1 and Rick Steves narrated about each stop. It was pretty cool.

After the canal tour we meandered back toward St. Mark's Square, stopping to get a gigantic scoop of gelato.

We came back to the ship, took our regular afternoon nap, worked out and then got ready for Shabbat services. The cruise ship provided a room, wine, candles (electric), prayer books, and challah. There were about ten of us gathered in the little conference room. This was my first time as a married woman at a Shabbat service. I decided that when I got married I would cover my hair in any religious setting. So I spent about 20 minutes in the room trying to figure out exactly how to do that. Eventually I was able to tie my scarf around my head. It actually looked OK. I'm excited to keep that tradition up. The service itself was very truncated, but it was nice. I said a few words about how the community in Split inspired me. I think people appreciated it. After services Dan and I went upstairs to take pictures. We ended up playing a round of mini-golf. It was actually really fun. Dan beat me by one stroke.

Tomorrow we're in Dubrovnik!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exploring Venice

Today we are in Venice! Dan was really looking forward to this city, so I'm glad it didn't disappoint. We had a bunch of things to see today, so for a while it was jam-packed. The evening slowed down a bit though. We started with an mp3 tour of St. Mark's Basilica. Here's a tip to avoid the long lines--check a bag. They'll give you a plastic card that lets you skip to the front of the line. And best of all, the bag check is free!

Our Rick Steves tour was very good. It explained what the different mosaics meant and the history behind the basilica. It is just so beautiful it's hard to describe. There are gold mosaics, marble walls, tiled floors--literally every surface is covered in something gorgeous. I was very impressed.

Next, after searching forever for a toilet we could use that wouldn't charge us, we made our way to Doge's palace. We signed up in advance for a "secret itinerary tour."  This tour took us to all of the secret rooms of the palace, including Casanova's jail cells and the place where he escaped. We also saw the clerks' offices where they worked with the secret documents like military plans, etc. It was so cool because from the outside of the palace you can't tell that the rooms even exist. One floor is split into two and people worked on both floors. But from the outside, there was just one window for the two floors making it look like only one floor existed. Same thing for the floor above. They made it look like attic windows, but really it was the archive room that was very large. There's really no surprise that I enjoyed this secrets tour so much considering that is exactly the kind of work I'm hoping to get into!

After the tour, we explored the rest of the palace on our own. The doge was the ruler of the Venetian empire. The empire lasted for around 400 years until the late 1700s. The palace was spectacular. HUGE paintings covered every ceiling and wall. Beautiful art work was just everywhere. We also saw the prisons and the bridge of sighs. I'm so disappointed that from the outside, the bridge of sighs is covered by huge advertisements now. I don't know if they are renovating it or what, but it looks horrible. Either way, doge's palace was great. 

After doge's palace we went back to the ship for lunch. It was just a quick stop and then we went back to the city. We went looking for the Jewish ghetto. It is pretty far away from St. Marks' square and took us about an hour to walk there. Once we found it we saw a kosher meat restaurant, a bunch of judaica shops and a deli. Of course we picked up a couple of slices of deli meat. We also got a couple of little gifts for our friends who are watching Zuzu for us (thanks Dani, Brian, Dan and Tina!!).

After the ghetto, we stumbled upon a gondolier who looked very good. We had been asking a couple of other gondoliers for prices and they are all the same. We received a very nice wedding gift with specific instructions to use the money for a gondola ride. I'm very happy we did. It was so relaxing and informative. Our guide was great and took us on a terrific 40 minute tour of the city.

We worked our way back to St. Mark's Square stopping at the Rialto bridge for pictures and gelato. We stopped at St. Mark's Square to see about getting a glass of wine and listening to the competing orchestras. But it was very expensive, a little chilly, and I was hungry so we headed back to the ship for dinner and bed.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finding Beauty and Meaning in Split

Croatia! Yay! Today we are in Split. It is my first time in this country after hearing such great things about it from my friend Tamara. Split did not disappoint. The city is absolutely splendid. The coast line is astonishingly beautiful. The water is a gorgeous blue-green, and there are nice brown mountains in the background. The orange tiled roofs make for a nice contrast.

We started our day by walking into the walled city. We were debating whether or not to do a tour. The problem was that we didn't have a tour book for Croatia, so if we were going to walk around on our own, we wouldn't necessarily know what we're looking at. But, the walking tours we saw in town didn't include entrance into one particular site we knew we wanted to see. Luckily we ran into Carl and Pam from our table and they were having the same dilemma. We joined forces and went walking together. They bought a guidebook and we went on our way.

We stopped first at the cellars of Diocletian's palace. The cellars are so cool because they are very well preserved and date back to the Roman time. They also provide insight to the structure of the upper floors of the palace. We saw the olive press and a bunch of other really cool things.

Next we headed to the cathedral that was just outside the cellar. It was beautiful. It had these huge wooden doors that depicted the life of Christ. They are one of the best preserved specimens of wood carving from the middle ages. The church also had beautiful golden mosaics.

Attached to the church is a bell tower that offers one of the best views in the city. Pam and Carl didn't want to climb to the top, so Dan and I went alone. The stairs at first were old, steep, slippery, marble stairs arranged in a spiral. I was wearing the absolute wrong thing-- a short dress-- and between the steep stairs and the raging wind, I was in trouble! It was totally worth it though! The views were spectacular.

We met back up with Carl and Pam and went meandering through the city. We turned down one street purely by chance and found a small sign for a synagogue. Such luck! We rang the door bell and asked if we could see inside. A nice lady told us to go upstairs. When we got upstairs we saw the beautiful, tiny synagogue. It had a few benches, a bima, an ark, and a small women's section. The whole thing was just one small room.

 But then this man came in to talk to us about the shul. He said there are 100 members of the congregation, but no rabbi. There is a rabbi in Zagreb that comes down occasionally, but not often. This man has lived in Split his whole life and said he didn't meet a rabbi in town until he was 50. He's 60 now.

He told us all about how after WWII the community lost their religion. 84% of Yugoslavian Jews were killed. Those who survived, he said, had problems believing in a G-d that would allow such horror to happen.

However, even though the religion suffered, this man told us about how every Friday night around 25 members of the community gather and have Shabbat dinner. They try and get kosher meat when they can. When they can't, which is most of the time, they have fish or veggie dishes.

When the Rabbi does come, 100% of the community comes to the synagogue. I was so inspired by this community. I mean, they have Shabbos dinner every Friday night! And even though none of them keep Kosher in their homes, they all insist on keeping the synagogue as Kosher as they can.

I feel so inspired by this community that I know I have to do something for them. Dan and I were talking about discussing fund-raising ideas with Rabbi Herzfeld when we get home. Here are the ideas we are thinking about now:

1. send 5 people from the community on a birthright trip to Israel
2. sponsor Kosher meals for 6 months
3. sponsor Croatian-Hebrew prayer books (they don't have any books that translate the prayers for them! I want to send them at least one!)

I'm really excited because I think we can really make a difference with this community.

It was really nice to see that Pam and Carl were as inspired as we were. They were really moved by the stories the man was telling us. After debriefing over some espressos and hot chocolate, we parted ways. We found a cheap little Internet cafe so that I could call home and let them know I'm OK. I also got to see the first wedding pics. Yay!

Then, Dan and I went up to another view point It was at the top of a ton of stairs and also happened to be the site of the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was locked, but the view from the top was gorgeous!

After a long full day in Split, we headed back to the ship. We went to nap by the pool (a.k.a. pass out while everyone stared at our gaping mouths) and then work out. We had another lovely dinner and then called it a day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Canoli and Volcano in Sicily

Today we landed in Messina, Sicily. We were scheduled for a tour of Taromina and Mt. Etna.  Taromina is around 30 minutes from Messina. It is such a cute little town! We saw the ancient Gecko-Roman amphitheater, which is still in use today. We sampled the Sicilian specialty of almond nougat, and we just wandered the streets. Of course we had to have a gelato (almond and melon flavors today) and a fresh canoli, another Sicilian specialty.

Taromina is also famous for their marzipan fruit. I wanted to buy some for mom and dad, but it was ridiculously overpriced. After an hour of free time in the city, we got back on the bus and drove to Mt. Etna. It is an active volcano that last erupted in the early 2000s. We started with a traditional Sicilian meal at a restaurant halfway up the mountain, which was included in our tour. Luckily they were accommodating for vegetarians. The unnamed bottle of wine on the table was delicious; the pasta was just OK. We've had better on our trip.

Next we got to explore the volcanic craters where the lava flowed. It was so cool! I've never seen a volcano up close. It looked like a foreign planet.

Then the day turned sour. We had such a beautiful day and then our money belt was stolen :( At the port in Messina we were told to take it off to put it though the metal detector. Dan was wearing one for the two of us and didn't want to put it down. He wasn't given a choice. There was a long line and a lot of chaos. Suddenly the belt was gone. I ran to the boat to ask the people in line before and after us if they accidentally grabbed it. Nope. Boat security wouldn't/couldn't help us either. We tried to file a police report, but the station that was two blocks away was closed. Since we were on the all day tour our boat was literally ready to pull away. There was nothing we could do.

Thankfully, it was only money. Our passports were safe and sound on the ship, as was my ATM card and some American cash. We lost our only credit card, Dan's ATM card and some Euros. We've put a hold on the cards and we'll just use my ATM from now on. Thank goodness our cards weren't together. Oh well. We're not going to let a little thing like this spoil our honeymoon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Florence by way of Pisa

We had to get up really early today to catch our tour bus. The group met at 7:30 and was off by 8:00. It was raining today too, which was unpleasant, but at least it wasn't as bad as yesterday.

Our first stop was Pisa. We got out and did all of the obligatory Pisa tourist pictures. I think that even though they're overdone, the pics of Dan and I holding up the tower are really cute.

After around 45 minutes in Pisa (which was plenty of time), we set off for a 2 hour drive to Florence. I was sleeping most of the time, but when I was awake the scenery outside was beautiful! It was exactly what you think Tuscany should look like--rolling hills and green vineyards, little sheds painted in bright colors--gorgeous!

We got to Florence just in time to make our 12:15 reservation at the Ufitzi. Again, we did a Rick Steves mp3 audio tour and it was great. Rick pointed out details I never would have noticed. He compared paintings to show how the renaissance changed art. It was really informative.

Although I love the Birth of Venus, I have to say that another artist's Venus was my favorite. It is of a Venus that is quite seductive, giving a look to the viewer that is unmistakable. She just looks so real. I also loved the Adam and Eve paintings. There were two sets side by side. I liked the ones that were a bit more scandalous. The smoldering look between Adam and Eve says it all. Maybe I just like these paintings because I'm on my honeymoon :) Who knows.

Anyway, after a great tour of the Ufitzi, we walked to the Ponte Vechio. I love the feel of this city. Walking down the streets you can really imagine yourself living here in the middle-ages.

We were starving, but short on time so we grabbed a foccacia flat bread and ate on the run. Seriously this was one of the best meals we've had so far! Mine had cheese, artichoke hearts, olives and mushrooms on it. Fantastic! Then, of course, we followed it with a gelato. I had whipped cream flavor with pistachio flavor! Great combination!

We were trying to find a nice leather jacket for me, but it just didn't work out. The nice jackets were around 700 euro ($1,050)!! There were some for a more reasonable $250, but the quality was noticeably less. I tried on a bunch, but no luck. Oh well.