Going to Europe (particularly Spain and Italy) has been on our bucket list since the day we met. And by "our", I mean Brian and me. We've had a huge travel bug under our skin for many, many years but haven't had the time or finances to itch the bug as much as we'd like.
After seven years of marriage (10 years together this month!), we've been blessed with trips to the Caribbean, Hawaii, and a few roadtrips around the States, but we had never made it to Europe.
With a growing wedding photography business and Brian beginning his first job after completing a Master's, we had a three-week block of empty space on our calendars. After just "dreaming" and finding a cruise in the Mediterranean that we fancied, we actually began looking to see if we could book it for real. One evening in February, we pulled the trigger with our travel agent and put down our deposit on the cruise. Seven night, Mediterranean, Greek Isles cruise on Royal Caribbean.
Our hearts were giddy with the prospect of going to Europe, finally! Our cruise was to leave from Rome (Civitavecchia port) so we began looking at airfare and extending our trip on either side of the cruise.
Here's the part you've all been waiting for! PHOTOS!!! I tried to give a little description of each area we were in, the places we stayed, and details for those who are looking to book their own trip too.
IN A NUTSHELL: our stay in Tuscany (Agriturismo Niccolai / Palagetto) and our time in Rome were MAGICAL. They really encompassed the best parts of the trip. Santorini was ABSOUTELY breath-taking and I would go back to stay longer in a heartbeat. Ephesus, Turkey was completely a surprise in how awesome it was. The people, the food, the ancient city tour, it was incredible!
Anyways, enough of the chat. Now, to the pics. Enjoy!!
Day 1. We flew from Denver to Miami International Airport, and had a 10-hour layover until our flight overseas. This was my first time in Florida EVER. We were immediately hit with 95 degrees + 95% humidity. It was to be expected, but it hit hard! We spent our 10 hours going between the outside courtyard at the airport and the inside freezing AC temps, trying to catch a few zz's. It was a long day.
Finally, time to board our international flight was here!
The flight from MIA to Lisbon, Portugal was a grueling eight hours, red eye. We tried to get a few hours of sleep but failed miserably.
Day 2. We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at 0600 hours, and were immediately bombarded with the language barrier. Announcements, signs, and everything around us was Portuguese. I mean... again, we expected this but it was truly terrifying upon arrival!
Two hours later, we arrived at the gate for our flight to Rome and found out we'd be carted out to the airplane via shuttle, waiting for us on the tarmac. This was also a first for me!
We flew over the width of Spain and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The waters of the Mediterranean are absolutely the bluest blue I've ever seen. Incredible! We touched down at FCO (Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino) Airport on the coast of Italy.
Shortly after, we had our rental car (Hertz) - a Fiat 500, manual 5-speed. With the turning radius of a battleship, Brian quickly learned that we couldn't get ourselves into a tight space with this car.
We navigated the streets around the airport and narrowly missed a collision with a fellow feisty Italian driver. After departing the airport, we were free with nothing but our car and the open Italian countryside highway.
Our first Italian dining experience included stopping at the first little cafe we found in Civitivecchia on the coast. We were able to communicate enough to order panini (sandwiches) and thoroughly enjoyed the warm, crispy sandwiches.
Three hours, 175 miles, and one nap on the side of the road later, we pulled into Agriturismo Niccolai. This bed and breakfast is situated in the middle of the Palagetto Winery vineyards. Instantly welcomed, we unpacked in our ancient wine seller suite, showered for the first time in 38 hours and enjoyed one of the best dinners ever! The bed and breakfast offers dinner on-site under their covered patio, surrounded by lush vineyards. AMAZING.
Day 3. We walked into San Gimignano to explore the town and had our first Italian gelato. OH my. SIMPLY DELICIOUS! The texture is like no other food I've had; it was truly delightful.
San Gimignano is a charming little village, positioned on a hilltop overlooking the region. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for it's medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its towers, which form an unforgettable skyline. It boasts buildings and churches that date back to the 8th and 9th centuries. That's 1000+ years old. Amazing!
Days 4-The food was absolutely yummy. The meats, cheese, and fresh product were amazing. It was so hot while we were there, our daily lunch menu included cold Italian beer and panini (sandwiches).
Oh. And the lemoncello. WOW.
Days 4-6: Our next few days included rince and repeat of the above activities with the addition of touring Palagetto Winery and wine tasting. Lots of wine tasting. HOURS of wine tasting.
Oh and we were graced with the most beautiful sunsets. Jaw-dropping.
And the most amazing sunrises. On our last morning, I woke up early and walked down the road to get a view of the town. It was cloudy and threatening rain as the sun came up. And then.... magic happened.
Rental car returned to FCO, our next task was to figure out the train system to take us back north to Civitavecchia. This was my first real panic emotional-breakdown moment. We arrived to the train station to purchase tickets. The man behind the ticket counter spit out tickets and told us "quickly, leave soon! Quick! Platform 1, quickly!" We ran through the turn-styles, validated our ticket in the yellow machine, and ran to board our train.
The issue came when we realized that man had also said we needed to change trains. At what station?! We couldn't remember or recognize what he had said, as the train picked up speed out of the station.
Thankfully there was another couple headed to Civitavecchia for another cruise; the man spoke Italian and was able to direct us to the correct station, train, platform, and destination.
Phew! An hour later, we arrived in the heart of the little port town of Civitavecchia (chee-vit-a-vek-ee-a). We walked three blocks to find our accommodations at La Marina B&B. Situated in a high-rise building, the little bed and breakfast had beautiful views of the Mediterranean, Forte Michelangelo, and surrounding coast.
We found the coolest buildings! And we happened across a Catholic church during Mass. Our first taste of Roman Catholic architecture.
And these.... THESE flowering trees. I could photograph them for YEARS.
And then, it was five o'clock somewhere. Time for drinks.
Day 7: CRUISE!!! We explored Forte Michelangelo for a bit in the morning. Our experience wasn't the best trying to find the supposed "free shuttle" to the cruise port. The signage was lacking and it was incredibly hot (at 9am). Finally, after walking plenty of extra miles past the Forte Michelangelo trying to find someone to ask questions of and being blown off by a local shuttle bus driver, we arrived to the cruise terminal.
Embarkation was simple and efficient, and soon we were free to explore a new ship! This was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean (more on our impressions later). Our ship was impressive as usual and we prepared for the sailaway party.
Soon, our ship pushed its bulk away from the terminal, out into open seas! What an incredible feeling!
Day 8: Open seas. We had 1 of 2 days at sea, with nothing on our minds save for what drinks and restaurants we wanted to enjoy. And of course, soak in the intense blue of the Med.
We sailed through the Straight of Messina, between the tip of the "boot" and Sicily.
And of course, mini golf and an incredible dinner to top off the day.
COMING SOON! Part 2....