Friday, May 18, 2012

European Adventure

It already seems like a surreal dream, and I can't quite figure out why! I mean, it's not like 8 days spent sailing around Europe, seeing Italy, France, Monaco, Tunisia and Spain is anything out of the ordinary, right?  :) I still can't believe how lucky ducky we were to get to celebrate our 4th anniversary in such a fun way.

Words and photos don't really do justice to the experience. We had an amazing time, and two weeks later are finally getting over the jet-lag and cruise-lag. :)

The weather was beautiful in every port-- even when it was cloudy pulling into port, the clouds would without fail roll out as we disembarked. Our planned site-seeing went without a hitch, even with all the foreign buses and trains. The ship did an amazing job with my gluten-free diet (I even had an amazing chef that made me gluten-free pizza every day...yum). We truly couldn't have asked for a smoother vacation. Except... well... every vacation has to have that mishap that makes the memory, right?

Ours hit right off the bat. We arrived in Rome, and were waiting for our luggage at the exact same luggage belt where we waited for our luggage on our honeymoon. We were laughing and reminiscing about how our bags never came off on our honeymoon. When Bri's bag appeared, we breathed a sigh of relief, and giggled about how we were already off to a better start than last time. Eventually, though, the belt stopped...without my bag ever appearing. :) 3 hours later we were finally leaving the airport, after filing a report, and finding out that my bag had decided to journey to Detroit. Why it wouldn't want to come with us to EUROPE, I don't know. Silly bag. So, the first 5 days of our cruise I was without the majority of my cute new cruise clothes and my make up. Bummer? Yep. But definitely not a trip destroyer. It could've been a lot worse. I'm a firm believer that Heavenly Father watches out for us preemptively. The night before we left, I was all packed and ready. At the last second, I decided to switch things up for some reason, and repacked my carry on. I added enough underclothes for 4 days, a couple of cute sundresses (one of which ended up getting me through our first formal night on board), and a pair of shorts and t-shirt. All my gluten-free snacks also made it in my carry on. Blessing, blessing, blessing. With Holland America offering me free laundry, and our first port being Italy where I could pick up a couple of shirts, things were a-ok.  Okay...better than a-ok. AWESOME.

Here's some highlights!

Palermo, Sicily

*Taking the bus out of Palermo to nearby Monreale. Gorgeous views, amazing gold-guilded church, quaint streets... the perfect start to our vacation.
*Buying pajamas (another casualty of the lost luggage). Italians don't have quite the same personal-space rules as Americans, which resulted in me felt-up (literally) by a cute little elderly shop keeper. Ah, the memories. :)
*Brian communicating with the bus ticket guy completely via hand gestures and writing, and us miraculously making the right bus!
*Realizing that this was going to be the trip of the Dopplegangers (any of you watch Vampire Diaries? We're hooked, embarrassingly enough. A doppleganger is a look alike). We saw so many of you on our vacation: my cousin Steph, Marques Chavez, Amanda Seyfried ( she probably doesn't follow our blog), we could seriously go on and on. It was so weird.
*Crashing with a themed movie (Only You) and my first gluten-free pizza that night.

Carthage & Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

*Officially being able to say we've been to Africa!
*The insanely uncomfortable "bargaining" (aka...being taken hostage by aggressive vendors) in the quaint, blue-doored Sidi Bou Said. We walked out of one store spending $70 when the original quote was $1300, but still somehow feel taken. :) The beautiful houses and scenery were worth it, though.
*Browsing amazing ruins: huge Roman baths, Phoenician sacrificial cemeteries, olive presses.
*Riding a camel. Yes, I rode a camel. Brian insisted, and I was quite glad I played the cheesy tourist. It was hilarious, and sway-y and once-in-a-lifetime.
*The smell of jasmine in the air EVERYWHERE. Delicious.

Barcelona, Spain

*Getting off the boat early enough that we literally had Las Ramblas and the Barcelona streets all to ourselves for the first hour we were there. Not a soul around. This seemed especially amazing later in the day, when the streets were so packed we could barely move.
*La Sagrada Familia. Amazing, huge church. Strangest architecture I've ever a good way. Climbing the stairs of the tower about sent me into a massive height panic attack, but turned out to be so worth it.
*Watching Brian speak Spanish to all of the cute little Spanish ladies, who for some reason approached him and asked him questions. I wouldn't think he looks like he speaks Spanish, but apparently... :)
*Coming across a gelato/sorbet bar shop & seeing a gluten-free sign on the wall.

Monte Carlo, Monaco & Nice, France

*The oh-so-quaint streets of Monacoville, touring the palace and browsing the cute shops. This was my favorite port, I think.
*Hopping on a train to Nice, and reveling in the French Riviera. The water and scenery is gorgeous.

Cinque Terre, Italy

*Finding out when we first got on our cruise that Santa Margherita had been changed to La Spezia, meaning it was a 7 minute train ride to the Cinque Terre, one of our favorite honeymoon spots.
*Hiking between the little cities, remembering the last time we were there, and being completely blown away that we were back 4 years later. The scenery was just as amazing the second time. So was the company. :)
*Looking down over a quaint village street and having Brian say, "Am! The cute old Italian lady on the balcony we took a picture of last time! She's out there!" I didn't believe it, but she was! We took another photo and laughed at the memories. Lots of moments like that. Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. Love the take two photo opps.

Rome, Italy

*Our cute B&B, with the old, weird elevator that I thought was going to fall down the shaft at any second, and the old fashioned keys that had us thinking we'd never get into the building. Luckily... it didn't, and we did.
*Re-visiting honeymoon spots... the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain (wishes made there work, by the way).
*Seeing new sites, like Paletine Hill. Pretty cool to be standing on the exact spot in the castle ruins where the most powerful emperor in the world sat on his throne around 80 AD.
*The best gelato in the world. Fata Morgana. 100% gluten free...including the cones. Lovely.
*La Soffita, and it's gluten free pizza and ravioli. The pizza was so good, we ordered a second...after our meal...for dessert.

The best highlight? The fact that four years in, I think we can honestly say we feel luckier, and more in love than ever. CHEESE! But true.

Wonder where we'll be in four more years... I'm trying to convince Brian that we've basically started a family tradition, and should probably just carry it on... :) But probably not. :)  Wherever we are, or whatever we're doing, I hope it's just as fantastic.

(There's about...oh...500 more photos on facebook. So if you're interested, feel free!  First half of the trip HERE, second half HERE.)