Archive for the ‘Mediterranean Cruise’ Category

Tour: Vatican Museums, St Peters & Coliseum (Adults Only)

This was going to be the longest day of them all, I had absolutely no illusions about that. It was also going to be the longest time I spent in a bus, as the drive from the port – Civitavecchia – and Rome was an hour and a half one way.. and that was with good traffic. In any case, it meant that I would have to get up early – somewhere around half past 6 in the morning, if I remember correctly. I grabbed breakfast at some time around 7am and loitered around on deck in the early morning sunshine, praying that the sun would prevail.
8am was the meeting time, and from there we headed down to the waiting bus where our Tour Escort presented herself – don’t ask me to remember her name, I purposefully forgot it because.. honestly.. she was awful. Terrible. Horrible.  From the outset she treated us like children – and remember that this was an adult’s only tour – and at numerous points she actually swore when giving her commentary. She told us -TOLD US – we would be taking a ‘peepee break’, that we’d have 30 minutes once we got to the restroom complex, and that if we didn’t get back in time she would ‘kick our asses’. I wish I was kidding on this point, but I’m not. For the level of service I’ve become accustomed to with the Disney company, I certainly didn’t expect a sub-par employee like that..
Fortunately when we hit Rome itself we were gifted with an actual Tour Guide whose work and attitude was markedly better.  We briefly toured some of the sights without stopping – the Circus Maximus, the pyramid which was actually a mausoleum at the edge of Rome’s walls, the Roman Forum, the ‘wedding cake’ also known as the Palazzo Venezia and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier – and finally we pulled up close to the coliseum and stepped into the cloying Rome heat to look up at one of the most famous monuments on earth..

I’d been to the Coliseum before, but last time I’d been here our visit to the Eternal city of Rome was somewhat ruined by the  fact that my mother was pickpocketed and we ended up spending half the day in the Police Station as opposed to seeing the city. I wasn’t entirely interested in this part of the tour so I found myself tuning out and just looking at the sights instead of listening to the history. I’d heard it before – the burning of Christians, the gladiator fights, mechanisms for lifts in the coliseum, where the Emperor sat etc – so I took photos and enjoyed the sun. I couldn’t help but think that it would be so incredibly different when I got home, as in New Zealand it would be winter when I returned. An about face from the weather I’d had so far on the cruise, which was a shame. I love the sun!

Following the tour it was lunchtime – hurrah! The restaurant was only a couple of minutes walk from the coliseum itself, located in a quiet part of Rome – which was all the more surprising given its proximity to several key tourist locations. Just before we got to the restaurant itself, I found 20 Euro on the ground!! It seemed that the day was getting better as it went on..
Tucked away in a small street and underground in what seemed to have been a wine cellar at one point, the decor was one of those ‘classic meets modern’ affairs, and the food was.. disappointing. I chalked it up to the fact that Disney had been spoiling me and made the most of the glasses of champagne and wine that were included with the meal before we had to leave once more.

Sleepy and full we walked back to the bus, which was parked up a small hill. That hill, combined with my full stomach, felt like Baldwin St (the steepest st in the world, for those who aren’t in the know), but I managed to waddle up it and clamber into the bus. Then we were headed for the Vatican City and my 28th country!!
We parked beside the walls, took another short walk (a lot of walking on this tour!) and finally found ourselves in the line for the Vatican Museums. We’d been pre-warned about having to go through the security check, and it was much like going through airport security except we didn’t have to take off our shoes (thank goodness, the line was long enough already!!). Once through the guide collected us together, handed out tickets and took us up the stairs to where we inserted ourselves into what was supposed to be another line, except really it was just a mass of people all pushing and shoving to scan their tickets and get through the turnstiles. It. Was. Horrible. Mainly because I was stuck next to a man who smelled like old sweaty socks, but the crush of people would have been enough to make me uncomfortable.
Europeans have no concept of lines. I’ve become familiar with this since living in France and watching people at Disneyland Paris simply leap on the characters instead of lining up to greet them as they would in the States. It’s bad enough at DLP, but when you’re trying to buy something in a shop it’s even worse. The majority of the time they act as if they didn’t see you, and I’ve flat out heard some people say ‘she’s foreign, don’t worry about it’ when pushing in lines/groups/crowds. It’s like I have a massive neon sign over my head, I swear.
Anyway, tirade over, we managed to get through the mass of people, group up once more and head up the escalator and into the galleries. Everything was just.. amazing. I especially loved the Gallery of Maps (shown below) and the giant bronze ball in the same courtyard as the massive pinecone statue.

Then finally we found ourselves in another ‘line’ to get into the Sistine Chapel, where we weren’t allowed to take photos. I was pretty annoyed about that, to be honest. I mean.. it’s the Sistine Chapel, supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, something most people would want to document. I uh.. yeah. I might have documented it a little bit.

Just a bit..

Anyway, on with the tour! The Sistine Chapel done with, we moved on to St Peter’s Basilica. The first thing I could think of when I saw the interior was ‘seriously? this is a church?’ It’s huge. I mean HUGE. HUUUUUUUUGE. The roof just soars over your head and the artwork is insanely exquisite. My favourite piece was the Pieta, despite its’ being encased behind bulletproof glass (thanks to a psycho with a hammer a couple of years back), which is just.. stunning. The expression on Mary’s face as she holds the body of Jesus is almost heartbreaking. You can feel the emotion. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but here’s an idea of the statue if you’ve never seen it before:

The rest of the Basilica was breathtaking. We had a little bonus in seeing Jean Paul II’s tomb, which is located in the basilica at the moment due to his recent beatification. Right down the middle of the church were markers that gave the length of different churches such as Notre Dame, in order to compare them to the basilica itself.

Anyway, we made our way out of the basilica after much ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’, then walked out to the center of the courtyard and we could see the roof of the Sistine chapel – where the smoke comes out when a pope is chosen. We had a couple of minutes to take more photos, get gelato and pizza, and then we waited on the bus to pick us up whilst being plagued by buskers and beggars alike. Common for large European cities, apparently.
The drive back to Civitavecchia was mostly spent counting hookers – 6 in total, if you’re interested – who were standing along the edge of the highway just outside of Rome.  I took a small nap, but mostly I was looking forward to dinner and watching the Animator’s Palate light up that evening. We made it back to the boat uneventfully, I got ready for dinner and headed to the restaurant a little early, sat outside and read a book for a while.
Animator’s Palate, for those who don’t know, is a restaurant that starts out black and white and slowly colours itself in during your meal. It cost around 5 million USD alone, and it’s my favourite restaurant out of the 3 on board the Magic and the Wonder. That night was ‘show night’ and slowly the room came alive with videos and pictures around the walls, course by course.

Tonight’s fare included butternut squash soup, stir fry veggies and chocolate cake. Yummm.. makes me wish I was back on the boat! I followed it up with some quality comedy by Danny Buckler, who was truly the best comedian I saw on the ship. Highly recommended! Finally, I mosied on down to bed and hit the pillows. It’d been a long, long day and tomorrow would probably be no better!

Facebook Status: “Don’t mind me, just taking some illegal photos here….!”
Photo Count: 382
Total:  1,478


Tour = Value Package: Sorrento & Pompeii (Adults Only)

I can’t remember what I had for breakfast on the morning of the Naples visit. I’m pretty sure I was only about 5% awake, and I didn’t have any coffee (the only reason I remember this fact is because I only had coffee on the last two days of the cruise), so by the time we got on the bus and left the port somewhere around 9am in the morning I was only able to collect some vague impressions of us leaving Naples – there was a fort beside the entrance to the port, a really shiny gilded rooftop of a church somewhere along the front of the city, and a police station shaped like the front of a boat. Then we were on the motorway and the guide was introducing himself as Giuseppi, and the driver as Luigi – yes, I laughed a little at the last one as the Mario Bros reference made its way into my brain despite the haziness. He mentioned something about the petrol tanks that we were driving past, made a joke about the actual petrol of Neopolitans being wine and then told us we had an hour and a half before we would hit Sorrento.

… Sorrento?

See, the thing is, I’d completely forgotten that this tour was going to be a day long one. I thought I was doing the half day tour to Pompeii and I’d be able to explore Naples a little bit afterwards. Ehhhh… wrong! Turns out I’d be spending half a day in Sorrento on the beautiful (gorgeous, stunning) Amalfi coast before returning back the way we came and stopping at Pompeii.

As time moved on the day cleared up to reveal a beautiful clear sky and I could easily make out Vesuvius, the sleeping giant, looming to the left hand side of the bus, and then the Isle of Capri sitting in the distance, at the end of the peninsula we’d soon be driving along. Looking at the map I’ve given you, we basically followed the green train line until we reached Sorrento at the tip, passing through Vico Equenso and the Piano di Sorrento (the planes of Sorrento) on the way.
The drive itself I found was somewhat like driving between Clyde and Cromwell, except you were beside the sea instead of a lake. The road was somewhat like the Kawarau Gorge in places, and of course the architecture was Mediterranean, but it reminded me of home for some reason. I think it might’ve been the orchards, olive groves and vineyards that were transposed all about the place, in between buildings, in fields and perched on the edge of cliffs and running down the hills. It was all very green and quite pleasing after the concrete jungles of Paris and Orlando, and the green was all the more emphasized by the stunning azure blue of the sea that ran beside us.

We stopped at a lookout along the way for a couple of snapshots, and there was the coast stretching out in front of us under an almost clear blue sky. It really, really was beautiful, and I was so glad to be there in that moment.

We continued down the coast until we finally hit Sorrento itself, where we took a small tour of the town itself and were then given an hour and a half to wander around by ourselves and get lunch. Honestly, I wasn’t that hungry and so I just wandered for a while until a gelato shop pulled me in and I somehow convinced myself that it would be fine if I just had gelato for lunch. I mean, I was in Italy. It was either going to be that or pizza, but it was a hot day, so logically gelato won out..
Following lunch I trolled around a little more and bought presents for a couple of friends and my mother, before we met up again for the short walk back to the bus. The main thing I took from Sorrento was the impression of a little seaside village that had been hit by a whirlwind of tourism. It really is a beautiful little place, definitely well worth seeing, but for some reason I felt a little guilty for helping clog its streets with tour groups. I really enjoyed the view from beside the church, and the quiet calm of the little courtyard nearby.

We drove back along the peninsula, and I took photos the whole way along it. Some turned out, some didn’t – but that’s what you get when you take photos through a moving bus window, I guess! I think I might’ve snoozed a little bit towards the end, because before I knew it we were in Pompeii and getting off the bus again, leaving that glorious air conditioning for the afternoon heat that rolled over me in waves as soon as I was away from the shelter of the bus. I’ve become entirely wimpy about heat since leaving Orlando, I’ll be the first one to admit it.
However, I was entirely happy about being in Pompeii – I’d wanted to go there since my High School Classics classes and the competitions I used to do – and I was determined that I wasn’t going to let the heat get to me or ruin the visit. Once we had a little time to look around the souvenir shop and stands that littered the front of the excavations, our tour guide gathered us up once more and we headed into the ruins themselves, starting by the gate that was used as an entrance for people and animals, but not carts or chariots – this was evidenced by the fact that there were no wheel ruts on the ground leading up to the gate, and the fact that the ramp leading into the city and through the gate is rather steep.
Once into the city itself, you really get how big the place is – that it actually was a city, and a big one at that – and I was instantly impressed by just how much had been preserved. Of course the preservation of certain objects was much different to that of Herculaneum, which was covered by mud, whereas Pompeii was covered by a thick layer of ash.  No wood remains in Pompeii, but a great many frescos, amphoras and masonry etc remain, as well as plaster casts of the people that died there (I’ll explain how this was managed later along with pictures). Herculaneum on the other hand had wooden objects preserved due to the mud, but there were no people in the town as they’d had time to try and flee. They found quite a few remains of the town’s citizens by the port, where people had tried to flee by boat or were waiting for people from down the coast to pick them up.

Giuseppi pointed out several wine shops, easy to note once you knew what to look for, with their counters and inbuilt amphoras, as well as the alcoves for either statues of Bacchus or small wine displays behind the counters. From there we moved on over the rough cobblestones to the forum itself, where we appreciated the view of Vesuvius in the background and I made a mental note to never buy or build a house near an active volcano – especially one such as the sleeping giant that was looming over Pompeii. I’d hate to think of insurance prices and policies in the Neopolitan area..!
From the forum we headed along the left side of the temple dedicated to Zeus, where the casts, amphoras and other objects are kept behind cages where you can look but not touch. The guide explained that the plastercasts were made by first finding the bodies, or the cavities where the bodies had been. The ash itself hardened, and left the space where the body decayed. Excavators, upon discovering such holes, filled them with plaster and voila, plastercast of a dead person from Pompeii! In Herculaneum, only the skeletons survived.

 Most people also know about the dog plaster cast. The dog couldn’t get away as it was chained up, and you can still see the collar about its’ neck. Right next to it is the plaster cast of a pregnant woman, which is kind of depressing to be honest.

From the plastercasts we moved on to the market, which had frescos of fish and market stalls on the walls, then from there we headed to the hot and cold men’s baths (the women’s baths were turned into a restaurant and toilet complex..) which were really well preserved. It was interesting to note the little runnels on the roof of the hot baths, which channeled the condensation and stopped it from dripping on people’s heads!
Stepping over the stray dogs loitering in the area we continued on to see an upper middle class family home, complete with fountain in the foyer, garden in the back, dining room and vomitarium, so you could eat, vomit when you were full, then go back to the table and eat more to show how rich you were. The frescos on the walls around the house were really vivid and well preserved – you could really get the feel for how the room used to be when it was completely intact. We also managed to see the famous ‘Cave Canem’ (beware of the dog) mosaic, which is one of the only remaining mosaics at Pompeii – the others have been taken to museums.
Winding our way through the streets once more we were shown ‘the pizza hut of Pompeii’ with its massive pizza oven and seating, before we took a turn into the red light district and found ourselves standing outside the Pompeii Lupanar – also known as a brothel. Lupanar, meaning ‘den of she-wolves’, was home to the ‘lupas’ of the city – the prostitutes – who used to lean out of the windows and howl to attract attention and er.. clients.
Inside the brothel are a series of frescos depicting pictures of various positions (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re too young and you should stop reading now), which foreigners could point to if they didn’t speak the common language. Pompeii itself was a port town, so many foreigners passed through.. to help these foreigners find the red light district itself, you can also find many phallus symbols etched into the paving stones around Pompeii, which point the way. Inside the brothel itself on the first floor are five chambers with rock beds, as well as a bathroom. The upper level houses five more chambers, but is inaccessible.

The brothel was our last stop on the tour before we wandered back to the forum, took a couple more photos and then headed out of Pompeii for good. It may sound like a short time in the city, but it was really informative and our guide was animated and obviously knowledgeable about the subject matter.  Another brief opportunity to purchase souvenirs was given at the exit to Pompeii before we once more got back on the bus and headed back to the port.
It was around 17h45 by the time we arrived back at the Magic and I was beyond tired, but I forced myself to keep going and I took a quick walk around the upper deck, snapping a couple of photos of Naples – the closest I was going to get to actually seeing the city on this trip, at least! As I was taking a couple of photos of the fort in front of the ship, a ship’s horn went off somewhere near us, and the Magic replied with a couple of blasts in kind. Pretty weird, but I kept taking photos. The horns were repeated again, and the other ship put in another blast before the Magic replied with its’ traditional ‘when you wish upon a star’ riff. A horn battle had just been had, and the Magic had clearly won.  The only other ship that could top the ‘WYWUAS’ horn is the Disney Dream with its’ plethora of tunes. A couple of minutes later a cargo ship tried to join in, and most people up on deck laughed at it’s attempt. Poor things.. you’ll never beat Disney in a horn battle.
Dinner that night was at Lumiere’s and I was looking forward to it. L’s is what I would consider to be the more formal, or swankier, restaurants of the three on the dining rotation, and that particular night we were treated to an appearance of Beauty and the Beast, who danced their way between the tables and wished us bon appetit! That night the menu included an absolutely amazing wild mushroom and mushroom tart for my entree, which I accompanied by a salad for my main and then a creme brulee for dessert. Unfortunately we’d been a little late in arriving back in port to enjoy the screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 4, but I promised myself I’d see it before I left the boat.

We also got to take a close up look at an American Warship and an American Aircraft Carrier on our way out of the Port of Naples, which was really great. The Magic sounded its horn as we sailed past, and you could see a couple of the soldiers on board waving to us!

Facebook Status: “Remind me never to live near an active volcano. Bad idea.”
Photo Count: 385
Total: 1,096

Known for the Mafia and olive oil, Sicily is located at the bottom of the boot – Italy, that is. For me, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, and that was impetus enough for my to drag myself out of bed at 8am in the morning. People who know me know that in my opinion doing anything before 9am is quite simply ridiculous, so those of you who are unacquainted with my sleeping habits can appreciate that my getting out of bed for Sicily means that.. well.. I was pretty excited.
I had no tours prepared for today, I simply wanted to soak up Palermo and bathe in the glory of being in Sicily. For that, I needed to fuel myself and my poison of choice that morning was to be found at Lumiere’s in the form of Mrs. Pott’s Stack of Waffles. Mmm.. waffles, cream and fruit for breakfast, chased up by a hot chocolate,  a couple of pastries and an apple juice. I made the mistake of wearing jandals that morning (I wasn’t planning on seeing any churches, so I could wear shorts as well) but at that point I was rejoicing in letting my feet breathe, as it were.

I left the ship and headed straight for the first stop of the Hop On Hop Off Bus (the HOHO Bus) which was located about 5-10 minutes walk from the port of Palermo. It’s always great having a central location to work outwards from, and the Port of Palermo is just that when you take into account the buses that are able to be used in addition to your own two feet. The HOHO Bus was particularly handy, working round key sites of the city, and offering a prolongation of the route out to Monreale which I decided not to pay the extra 5 Euro for. Palermo was enough for the time being.
Line A was the only one working in the morning, Line B was scheduled to start at 14h00, so I hopped onto the Line A bus and scored myself a seat on the top deck with the sun beating down on me so I could work on my tan while I waited for the tour to begin. It only took about 10 minutes for the bus to load up with enough people and we pulled away from the curb, heading out on a circuit that included the Teatro Massimo,  Quattro Canti, the Palazzo Sterri, the Palazzo Reale and a life sized statue of Jean Paul II for sale in a shop window.

I decided to stay on board for the first turn around, simply taking photos and enjoying the sights while I had a good seat on the bus.

In my short time aboard the bus I confirmed something I’d learnt on the short walk to the bus stop – that traffic lights are considered entirely optional for Italians. It makes for interesting times when you’re a pedestrian, and probably even more interesting times if you’re a driver. I was intensely grateful that I could avail myself of a bus driver. Getting to the bus stop I had to brave a parking lot, 4 lanes of roads, a slew of buses and a multitude of cars with absolutely insane drivers. Lucky to still be alive, really.
The second time round the Line A line, I got off at the stop closest to the Capuchin Catacombs, which were (I’d already decided) to be the highlight of my trip to Palermo.  Given my predilection for creepy things such as catacombs, graveyards and tombs, this is altogether unsurprising. What was surprising was that the distance on the map between the bus stop and the entrance to the catacombs was a lot longer than the map suggested, and in the heat it seemed even longer than it normally would have. Including stopping for traffic at several points (fully prepared to give priority to cars/bikes/anything driven by Italians at this point), I think it took me about 20-30 minutes to get to the entrance, and then I went into the cemetery beside it by mistake, as I couldn’t remember the word for ‘entrance’ in Italian and assumed that the grander entrance was the one to the catacombs, as opposed to the small doorway in the corner half hidden by a souvenir stand. A logical assumption to make, or so I thought.

When I finally found my way into the catacombs, after paying the toll (only 3 Euro!!), I descended into the catacombs themselves. I’d expected something like what I’d already seen in Paris, but I was completely wrong in that expectation. Although these catacombs were better lit and with less stairs, they were decidedly creepier. Separated by sections, the creepiest of them all was the children’s section that held anything from infants to children around the age of 10. Most of the corpses were incredibly well preserved, some with skin still hanging from their bones – paper dry by now, or so I imagine. The larger part of them seemed to date from the 1800s, which makes their state even more incredible.  The children’s section held another gem, a corpse which had fallen onto a coffin placed in front of its’ alcove, and looked like it was trying to gnaw through the wood. Lovely.
Another section was for the Capuchin Monks themselves, some of whom still had their ropes with them (symbolizing the Capuchin Order, I believe), but rather looked like they had hanged themselves. After that (depending on which way you wanted to go) you could find yourself looking at academics, doctors, professors, or simply at common citizens dressed in their funeral finery. For those who are more fashion inclined, a visit to the catacombs would be interesting from that point of view, as some of the garments – although they are over 200 years old in certain cases – are excellently preserved.
Unfortunately there is no photography allowed in the Catacombs themselves, but a simple Google search will no doubt dig up some truly unforgettable photos for you. Not recommended for the faint of heart!!

The Cemetery beside the Capuchin Catacombs

My feet were killing me by this time (I now realised the jandals were a bad idea) and so I headed back to the bus, waited around on the sidewalk for a bit, then hopped on and headed back to the port where I swiped onto the ship again and went up to Topsiders for lunch. I made the most of the air conditioning (boy was it getting hot outside) and sat inside, enjoying the oriental style buffet that they’d put on that day. Interesting choice of an oriental buffet while we were in Italy, but alright.. I guess they can’t serve pasta every day!! I made the most of it anyway, as it was the first chinese food I’d had since leaving Orlando.
Lunch didn’t take too long, and so I decided to wander a bit more about the ship, taking in the view from up on deck and working on that tan/sunburn once again. Around 13h40 I headed off the Magic and made my way to the bus stop with the intention of taking Line B and seeing the other side of the city. The best laid plans of mice and men are sometimes thwarted, and I found myself faced with a crowd of ticket bearing people who apparently had priority in boarding the bus. By the time they squeezed themselves on at around  13h55, there was no more room left on the top deck and precious little room on the bottom. I opted to take a ticket and wait around for the next bus in another 40 minutes. I took out my Kindle, scored a space on a nearby bench and relaxed for a bit.
The time didn’t exactly fly by, but I managed to get a good chunk of Jurassic Park read, and finally my number was called. I bounded up to the top of the bus, scored the front seat (by the window and, once more, in the sun) and eventually we pulled away from the curb. Line B was markedly different from Line A – it seemed a little more.. neighbourhood? in content, as there were more gardens, houses and apartments compared to the relatively commercial Line A which featured a strong presence of shops and monuments. Nothing really pulled at me to get off the bus, and so I sat on it for the entire time, took some photos and finally got back off at the port an hour later.

Upon returning to the ship I took a short nap in my room then got myself dressed up for dinner and the show – Villains Tonight! The show was a great way to include all those beloved yet never seen villains such as Hades, Scar, Yzma, Maleficent and the Evil Queen, and afterwards the dinner was AMAZING – really enjoyed the Yachtsman Steakhouse Strip Steak, and chased it up with the Villains Chocolate Delight. Mmm.. Disney, always there with a trusty dessert!!

Facebook Status: “Disappointed. Didn’t see a single Mafioso!”
Photo Count: 276
Total: 711

Tour = Valletta & Mdina: A Tale of Two Cities

Entering the port of Valletta was simply magical, despite the fact that I was barely awake at that point. The sun was shining, there was barely a cloud in the sky and on both sides rose fortifications and beautiful buildings. I think I might have fallen a little bit in love with Malta from that moment. I was hooked, literally couldn’t wait until I got off the boat. All the resting the day before had done me a world of good, and I was raring to get off the boat and let the tour begin, but I remembered to begin my day with a square meal at Topsiders before heading out on deck, taking photos and finally meeting up for the tour.

Valletta, Malta
We checked in at 7.45am and were escorted off the boat after verifying photo ID and Key to the World cards. It was at about this point that I reflected that it would take a little bit of getting used to actually being the one who was guided instead of being at the head of the group and guiding the tour itself, especially with the mouse eared paddle that our Tour Escort was bearing, or being the one who studiously avoided tour groups and did everything on my own but I was willing to give the whole thing a shot and simply sat back and relaxed whilst our bus took us up the hill to our first stop, at some gardens that gave a beautiful view over the port of Valletta.
We were able to take a couple of photos and listen to the interesting commentary about the Knights of Malta (Templar Knights) who came to Malta in 1538 and would stay for 268 years.  Malta, being a strategic point between Europe and Africa was of course highly coveted (and still is, really), and the Knights settled themselves there, different factions building their own ‘auberges’ (lodges) in various parts of the city. The Knights themselves were drawn from nobility, and were a sort of military brotherhood whose religion (christianity, obviously) was highly prized, as evidenced by the Maltese cross which was adopted as their symbol in 1126 and was later approved by the Pope in 1830.

An interesting thing to note about Malta is that there are very few gardens due to a lack of fresh water. They’ve only recently been able to get a system in place which converts seawater into fresh water. Also worth noting is the fact that there is very little room within which to actually have a garden in Malta, as space is at a premium!!

From the Gardens we made our way past a couple of the Knights’ auberges, the Portugese and French Provencal ones, from memory, before we ended up at St John’s co-cathedral, within which is housed the famous painting showing the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, by Caravaggio. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos in that part of the church, but I promise you the painting itself is well worth seeing. It really is an amazing piece of art, and the people are incredibly lifelike and extremely well painted. There’s another work of Caravaggio’s in the same room which shows the level of detail he put into people which is also interesting.
The main part of the Co-Cathedral itself is absolutely beautiful. Knights’ Mausoleums are dotted all about the place, and the floor is actually more Knights’ tombs. The Knights showed their wealth by decorating the cathedral itself and their mausoleums before they died, so the inside of the cathedral is simply stunning. Carvings, statues, paintings and over the top things everywhere you look.

Valletta, Malta - St John's Co-Cathedral

Following the Cathedral (a very hard act) we made our way across Valletta and through Queen’s Birthday celebrations to the Grand Master’s Palace, which now houses the Maltan Parliament and is used for official occasions etc. It has some beautiful tapestries of Africa and the Orient (an entire room of them, in fact) as well as some beautiful artworks around the walls, and a lot of antique furniture that speaks volumes about exactly how rich the Knights of Malta were.

From there we headed back through the streets of Valletta, admiring the old buildings and their beautiful little wooden balconies. Apparently it’s law in Malta that heritage buildings aren’t allowed to be changed at all, and so most of the department stores and shop fronts are pretty well hidden from view. The wooden balconies are yet another symbol of wealth, being that at the time of their construction wood was an expensive commodity in Malta due to there being no forests.

We headed across to Mdina from that point. On the way we learnt a little more about Malta as a whole. The country has a population of around 400,000 people, and enjoys exceptionally good weather – never dipping below about 10 degrees celsius all year round. The country has high rates for electricity given that it’s hard for them to create electricity on their tiny slice of land. The pharmaceutical industry is booming there, with 33 companies on the island. A lot of facts and 20 minutes later, we arrived at Mdina.

 A lot of wandering of the city was done, along with a visit to the Mdina Cathedral which kind of paled in comparison to St John’s Cathedral visited earlier that morning. A highlight was the lookout from which we could see a good part of Malta and Valletta in the distance from the fortified walls of Mdina. We had a bit of free time to walk around after the tour guide had done her bit, and I used it to explore the back streets and take photos of random things such as letterboxes and door handles (see Facebook for photos of these!). When it was finally time to go again everybody seemed pretty tired and definitely a little overheated. We were all glad to get back into the air conditioning and head back to the boat.
I ended up having a late lunch of pizza by the pool and taking a dip in the afternoon. I didn venture off the ship again – was really tired from all the walking that morning and waking up early – and so I relaxed a bit more and took advantage of the sun in order to erase my pasty white skin from view. Consequently I added to my sunburn, but also managed to darken my skin a little!! Dinner that evening was in Parrot Cay and the show was a magic show (Hawley Magic, not amazing, but pretty good at some points). I ended up having chicken (default when I can’t find anything I like on the menu!) but decided to step out on the wild side and tried the crab entree which was surprisingly good! For dessert it was a delicious s’more cake (chocolate, marshmallows etc etc) and then I was off to bed to sleep and prepare myself for the next day for which I would be guiding myself!!

A trio of parting shots, for those in want of more Malta (as I am!!) :

Facebook Status: “What’s red, white and sometimes wears a cross? Me. And the Maltese Flag.”
Photo Count: 333
Total: 435

The second day was a calm, cruise day spent at sea getting sunburnt. I did get up off my deck chair for a couple of things towards the end of the day, mostly once I realised that I was turning into a little lobster and if I wasn’t careful I would be red for the rest of the cruise.

The most interesting of the things I deigned to do were the Behind the Scenes talk by Michael Jung, who is Vice President of Theatrical Development with Walt Disney Imagineering, and the Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour. The former was a really interesting look at the process of developing rides for Walt Disney World, and Jung chose to illustrate this procedure by using Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as an example, which was really great because EE is one of my favourite rides in any of the parks. The Art of the Theme Show Ship Tour took us all around the Magic and highlighted some of the interesting facts that not many people know about this ship itself.
In addition to already knowing about the ship’s colours imitating Mickey Mouse from top to bottom, I learnt a little more about the lifeboats (Disney needed special permission to paint them yellow from the US Coast Guard, the official colour name is trademarked and called ‘Mickey Yellow’) and found out that the black on the bottom of the boat isn’t actually black, it’s a ‘deep dark navy blue’. Whilst on the drawing board for the ship, the creators decided that black was too depressing, and so they were searching for colours that would be close, but not black itself. Then, in walked a secretary wearing a pair of dark, navy blue pants!! The designers actually took this woman’s pants (the next day she brought them in) and used a swatch of the material for the colour of the boat – the colour itself is named after her.. it’s called ‘Monica Blue’!

I also took in a guest lecturer talking about Rome, and although he got in some interesting points and went over the main things to see in the city, it was kind of a lackluster performance in all. I think the highlight was when he was talking about a well endowed lady wearing an inappropriate top, whom his grandmother apparently would have described as ‘looking like her puddings had boiled over’.  I avoided him for the rest of the cruise, and quickly skipped channels on TV whenever his lectures were broadcast.

For lunch I indulged and ordered room service, as you only have to pay gratuities on the ship (and even that’s at your own discretion). I just adore having food brought to me, instead of traipsing up to the deck and back down. So I relaxed in my stateroom for a bit before getting dressed up for dinner. That night it was ‘Princes and Princesses’ themed, and it was formal attire for dinner – but of course I had to make it to the show first!! Twice Charmed was playing, and it was a twist on the normal Cinderella story that was quite refreshing!
Dinner was pretty good, although I can’t say I liked the menu as much as the first night. It was certainly harder to choose what I wanted to eat, and I ended up going with the default chicken breast, if I remember correctly.

Facebook Status: “Sail Away With Me”
Photo Count: 5
Total: 80

Really, the journey began the day before Embarkation Day, on the 7th of June when I packed my bags and left my studio, heading for my friend’s apartment in Paris. The reasoning for this movement was that the shuttles don’t come out as far as my apartments and my flight was an early morning one that required me to get a shuttle, or risk public transport and potentially miss my flight. I erred on the side of caution, and Nicolas offered me his bed for the night, which was gratefully accepted.. but I didn’t really end up getting much sleep in the end!!
I got to N’s apartment and dropped off my bags, then we headed off to get a suitcase from N’s brother for his upcoming journey to Beijing. We ended up going out for a drink, then the three of us turned into four, then the four of us turned into five and we found ourselves heading towards a restaurant where two of us had dessert and the rest of us had dinner, but all of us had crepes and rose cider (which was soooooo good!). Anyway, long story short on that count, we didn’t get back to N’s apartment until somewhere around midnight, at which point we weren’t really tired so N and I sat around and watched his roommate’s ferret (Calvin) flop clumsily around the living room, pull books off shelves and obsess with N’s borrowed suitcase.
Finally I went to bed somewhere around 12.30am-1am, I think, although I didn’t get to sleep until about 2am, so  by the time I had to get up again (3.30am), I hadn’t really slept, but just napped a little. As I’d done the day before in the Metro, I muscled my bags into the lift/down the stairs and found myself pleasantly surprised by the fact that the shuttle had just pulled up and was ready and waiting for me – completely empty, so I got to choose my own seat close to the window and heater (a bit chilly that early in the morning!).

The driver pelted through the streets of Paris, going back and forth across the city at least 3 times to pick up people in different arrondissements (parts of the city), and I was struck by how beautiful Paris is at night when people aren’t pushing and shoving one another through metro turnstiles, into buildings and down busy sidewalks. Barely anybody was up, there was very little traffic and the streets were lit by street lamps that made everything glow a pleasant reddish-orange colour. Every now and then a neon shop sign would splash a bit of different colour or colours into the mix and then it would go back to that nice warm glow for a while. It felt like I was the only one in Paris, and I found myself liking the city once more, but still disliking the people.
Soon enough, however, I found myself being spilled out onto the sidewalk outside of Paris ORLY Ouest, and with sleep laden feet I shuffled my way into the terminal and found myself a seat near the Vueling counters.  I huddled against my luggage for another hour or so before we could finally check in for the flight, at which point I was given a window seat and my large suitcase was whisked away, leaving me with my handbag and my roll on suitcase, with which I proceeded through security and into the waiting lounge.
Once there I wandered around for a bit before settling in a corner to watch people queue up and buy coffee and espressos from the outrageously priced vendor, who had obviously taken advantage of the fact that he was the only one in the lounge in order to extort people from their hard earned cash. I don’t think half the people who bought coffee were awake enough to notice the prices, but the ones that were just looked determined to get their caffeine fix at any cost.
Now, you’ll notice by this point I haven’t mentioned any food yet. I had one pain au chocolat before leaving N’s place earlier that morning, and I was beginning to think about buying something from the overpriced vendor. But no, I reasoned with myself, I would not eat anything until I got on board the Magic. After all, I had already paid enough for the cruise, I could go without food a little longer and get something really good on the ship. And so I sat, and watched, and waited.

My stomach rumbled its way to Barcelona, only stopping as I was captivated by the beautiful scenery under the plane as we made our descent. Right there, at the edge of the city, sat the Disney Magic, waiting for its passengers – waiting for me!

And thus began tourist mode, with at least one of my cameras close to hand at any given time.

As you can see from the photo, it was pretty gloomy when we landed. I kept hoping that the weather would be nothing like it had been in Paris for the few days previous, and somebody must have been listening, because the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds and the good weather crept on in the following day.

But, I digress. The plane landed at the Barcelona International Airport, Terminal 1 (BCN), and we all snailed our way off the plane and into the brightest, cleanest, most welcoming airport I’ve seen in quite some time. Really, I have a hard time using the adjective ‘beautiful’ in the same sentence as ‘airport’, but Barcelona Airport really is beautiful. According to Wikipedia, it was built in 2009. But really, it’s been well kept so far. I can see a new airport terminal in France becoming like ORLY or CDG within days, but credit is due to Barcelona and Spain, for it’s beautiful gateway to the country.
Trying not to be too distracted by the shiny things (both the airport and in shop windows), I headed to baggage claim and hauled my suitcase off the carousel. From there, I headed out through the exit and was greeted by a smiling lady waving a Mickey hand and wearing a DCL Guest Services Costume, who pointed out where I could put my luggage (I forgot to put my Disney tag on my bag before I sent it on its way in Paris, otherwise it would’ve already been picked up by the porters), and then I followed a large group of Americans and one Spanish lady with another Mickey hand to the awaiting transportation.

The drive to the port took about 30 mins, but we didn’t really see any sights except for a cemetery sitting on the cliffside and the port itself. I don’t think I would’ve really taken in anything else, though, because at that point I was soooooo excited about getting onto the Magic and having a good time – even with the comment from a small child behind me ‘Mummy, is that the Titanic?!’ upon seeing the ship….
However, my excitement was short lived when I saw the line to check onto the ship’s manifest and found out I wouldn’t be boarding until about 1pm, as I’d been assigned Boarding Group 21. At that point, it was around 11.30am, and I thought I really couldn’t bear waiting any longer. I joined the queue – the one exclusively for Castaway Club members – and was instantly glad about being a repeat offender. Er.. cruiser. It was infinitely smaller than the one for the ‘regular’ cruisers who hadn’t been on the Disney Cruise Line before, although not quite as small as the Concierge line.. one day I’ll get into that line. Anyway, I checked in and got my lanyard (hurray! somewhere to keep my Key to the World card so I don’t lose it instantly!) and then headed through to the main hall of the cruise terminal, which was really a massive hall with some plastic chairs stuck in the middle – all taken already.
Reluctantly, I sat down on the floor and watched people get their photos taken with my former boss, Mortimer. Er.. Mickey. Dressed up in his Spanish gladrags, the Mouse grinned his way through masses of sticky fingered, snotty nosed children and two really intense Japanese people dressed in Chip N Dale paraphernalia who went through the line at least 5 times. He (or she) had definitely earned his pay for the day. Finally they announced the family of the day and started calling the Boarding Numbers, but I still had a long wait ahead of me as they repeated over and over ‘Now boarding number ……! For those whose numbers have not yet been called, please take a seat and enjoy the cruise terminal!’ Enjoy the cruise terminal? I wasn’t really sure what there was to enjoy except Mickey, a foreign exchange booth and a shop that bore the name ‘Dutty free’, instead of the traditional ‘Duty Free’ which I find is more internationally known.
By that time I was hungry. Really, really hungry. My stomach was rumbling louder and louder, threatening to out-shout the Boarding announcements, and then suddenly, happily, it was my time to board the ship! I practically ran for the gangway, stopping briefly to get a pic with the boss (carefully avoiding contact with the gloves that seemed to have touched every person waiting for the ship) and to scan my key to the world card before finally, at long last, I was asked my name and the loudspeakers inside the Lobby Atrium rang out with the words..

“Please welcome to the Disney Magic, Ebony!!!”

I was there. Finally.

For those wondering, the movie on Funnel Vision is Beauty and the Beast

It seemed like it had taken forever, but I was finally there, and my first stop was lunch.  I snagged a Bacon, Brie and Tomato Panini from Goofy’s Galley and sat up on Deck 10 until it was time to claim my room and set down my bags.

My seating assignment was LAPLAPPLAP, meaning that I would begin at Lumiere’s, then head to Animator’s Palate, and finally finish with Parrot Cay before beginning the rotation again. I would be missing one of the nights at Lumiere’s for a seating at Palo (the adults only restaurant with a surcharge), but otherwise I would be at Table 43, following the rotation every night for the second dinner seating beginning at 8.30pm.

The first night’s show was ‘Let the Magic Begin’ which was all about a little boy coming onto the Magic and wanting to become the Captain. He meets a few of the characters along the way (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy etc) and sets sail. It’s all very Disney, but it sets the mood perfectly and I came out of the theater smiling and ready for dinner at Lumiere’s, the restaurant themed after Beauty and the Beast, situated just off the Lobby Atrium.
I was seated at a table of 6 people, 2 of whom didn’t turn up for the first couple of nights. 2 of the people who did turn up were Kirsten and Lee, a couple from Toronto, and another solo sailer, Jess, who was from the States but had traveled pretty widely through his work.  It turned out to be a really good seating arrangement, as we all got on really well and talked about anything and everything whilst enjoying the good food. That night the menu was the ‘Let the Magic Begin’ menu, and it featured the Yachtsman Steakhouse Sirloin (which I snapped up without hesitation) and an amazing Kahlua Chocolate Creme Brulee dessert. Needless to say, that night I rolled myself down to room 2509, put my head on the (soft, amazing, wonderful) pillow and sank into sleep.

Facebook Status of the Day: “All Aboard!!”
Photo Count: 75