Death Marches + Italian Food = no weight gain!

A number of you have commented about how much weight all that good food I took pictures of must have added. I am pleased to report that while I had gained 8lbs when I first got home, half of that was gone in two days and the rest was gone two days later so I think it must’ve been water retention from the salty food on the cruise. So I am gonna patent the Death March, Pasta & Krempita diet!

Breakfast in Venice….Supper in Dulles..and then safely Home

It seemed like we had barely gone to bed when the alarm went off at 4 am so we could enjoy the sail in to Venice. We quickly went out on the balcony and within five minutes we could see the bell tower of San Marco in the distance. It was amazing how much boat traffic there was at that hour. After we passed San Marco, we went back to bed for a bit. We met Yost and Sam for a final breakfast on the rear deck. Mike and I had a 12:15 flight so we were in a rush to get off the ship, they were spending two nights in Venice so they weren’t in quite a big of a hurry as us. Luckily, our quasi VIP status gave access to the disembarkation with the concierge which meant we could leave as soon as we were ready rather than having to wait for our “color” to be called. We made our way to the airport and checked in about 9:30. Unfortunately we couldn’t check in our bags until 2 hours before our flight …those crazy Italians! So after cooling our heels outside for a bit, we checked in our bags, went through security and found the Lounge. Our flight to Paris left and arrived on time…and directly from and to the gates. No buses today! Made an uneventful transit through CDG with about an hour in the HUGE lounge there and then boarded our flight home. It too was uneventful and we arrived at Dulles on time, no issues in customs and got to the aLoft about 8 pm. Had a quick 5 Guys burger and to bed….no issue falling asleep since according to our bodies it was 3 in the morning…or almost 24 hours since we had sat on the balcony looking at San Marco in the dark. Unfortunately, our bodies wanted to wake up on Italian time too, so we ended up heading back to Raleigh at 6:30 am getting home just before noon.

We had a great trip, met some nice people, and had some amazing experiences. Of course learning to row the gondola was the highlight but revisiting places I had been before and seeing Mike see them for the first time was great too. Slovenia was an epiphany…so beautiful and friendly. The death marches while tough all resulted in wonderful memories.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to visit Italy some day and taste REAL Italian food….and a slice of Krempita in Slovenia should also be on your bucket list!

Waiting to check in our bags. (note that they seemed to have grown while we were gone)

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Death March 3

Our last port stop is Koper in Slovenia. Koper is a small mostly commercial port with a small downtown area. I volunteered to organize our tour here. There were a number of choices including caves and visiting the original home of the Lippizon horses but We decided to tour the Castle at Lake Bled, which with its lake with church filled island below has to be the most picturesque place in the country and visit Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital.

We were picked up by Allie our driver. He is a masters candidate in business and speaks wonderful English. During our hour and a half drive, Allie described the geography, economics and history of Slovenia. It was a beautiful drive form the coast over and through the hills to the flatland that contains Ljubljana. The Ljubljana plain is surrounded by the alps…or at least the foothills of them…it was great to see the snow on them on our drive.

We arrived at the castle after starting what I later realized was the start of our third death march….unlike the others, this one was divided into three portions. The first was the climb up the steep smooth stoned road to the lower courtyard of the castle where we got to see the lake and church located below for the first time. Then came the next part, climbing the steps up to the upper courtyard. While there we toured the little chapel, the wine cellar and a print shop.

We had planned on taking a rowboat to the island in the middle of the lake so we could visit the church and ring the bell which is the tradition in Lake Bled. However, Allie highly recommended that instead we spend our limited time at a nearby river gorge. We put it to a vote and thankfully I lost, since the day had turned out to be beautiful after a cloudy misty morning and the walk through the George and along the river was incredible. However, if I had of known the walk was going to become the second leg of our death march, I might have fought harder to relax in the rowboat on Lake Bled while someone else did all the work.

After the gorge, we drove back to Ljubljana for what was to become the third stretch of the death march. Allie walked us around this beautiful city with a river through it. Ljubljana suffered an earthquake in the 18th century so it is more modern than Split or Dubrovnik. There are a number of public squares on both sides of the river joined by beautiful bridges. After completing Allie’s death march we enjoyed a relaxing respite in a cafe. I tried out Slovenia’s version of Krempita, called a creme slice. Like Krempita it is a layer of crispy pastry on the top and bottom with custard in between but in Slovenia they has a layer of whipped cream on top of the custard and under the top pastry….mighty tasty. We also had the national beer which Allie recommended because his grandfather had been the brewmaster.

As we returned to the ship, Allie gave us a quick drive by tour of Koper. Small town and from what we saw (and later heard from other cruisers), I was glad we had traveled outside of the port.

For our last night aboard, we had a relaxed dinner on the aft deck of the ship, chicken wings, burgers, and lots of laughs….the it was back to the room to finish packing (wasn’t that hard to do, we had packed one suitcase full of dirty clothes earlier in the week…and with the two rollaboards, there just wasn’t that much! And then to bed to catch a few zzzzs before our 4am alarm so we could watch the sail in to Venice.

On our way to the castle:

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Heading up to the castle, the two courtyards and views down to the lake:

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Chapel and printing press:

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The gorge:

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Ljubljana:

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The dancing “goats” that greeted us when we returned to the ship:

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Birthday Burger:

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Split

Today was Yost’s turn as tour guide in Split, Coatia. We had a relaxing day planned. The only real thing to see was Diocleatian’s palace which in reality is the old town. We tendered in to a beautiful harbor side esplanade…..I feel a cafe visit in our future!

We wandered around the exterior of the walls, thru the flea market and in through the main gate. There is a huge statue of St. Gregory outside the gate and one is supposed to rub his foot, alas he was behind scaffolding so he didn’t get a foot massage from me. The interior of the city was typical, though the center of town was based on a Greek model, so there is a sunken court surrounded by columns. At one time it was the town center and everyone gathered on the three steps, today these steps are ingeniously used as a cafe, you get a cushion and a wooden “table” that rests on the steps.

We visited the octagonal church as well as its crypt and bapestry. We wandered by the fish market which was closing down for the day and was being cleaned and then headed towards the esplanade where we relaxed, watched people and had some more Krempita, the custard desert.

Once aboard ship we had a tasty and free flowing wine dinner with the executive housekeeper. A really nice guy from Nicaragua. We then saw the second show by the four spanish singers that everyone had been talking about. They were quite good….sorta like a thirty something version of New Direction.

Town

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The “Cafe”

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Esplanade

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Fish Market

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Mike’s Mom was complaining that she wanted a pair of those shoes we picked out in Venice for Kimberly or Sandie….so we found these for her:

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Sam and Yost enjoying the Cafe before heading back to the ship

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Messina, Etna e vino.

We arrived in Messina and after a half hour delay, our driver arrived. It is still not clear what the issue was exactly other than Messina has two ports, I think he may have been waiting for us at the wrong one.

For this trip, the four of us were joined by an ex-pat couple from London and an opthomologist from Baltimore. We boarded up and headed off towards Mt. Etna which was billowing a little bit of white, though I must admit it was difficult to tell where the smoke ended and the clouds began. Like Amalfi, we seemed to be taking roller coaster roads and hairpin curves everywhere we went. Sicily has been controlled by just about everyone over the years so there are remnants of forts on the hill tops, but unlike a lot of Italy, there are not a lot of ancient buildings due to the earthquakes over the years particularly a really bad one followed by a tsunami in the 18th century. However in Taormina, there is a Greek amphitheater. We were headed there eventually but first we went to a vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Etna and tasked 5 wines for 5 euros. The vineyard had a tasting room with a beautiful view and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even though we though their least expensive bottle of wine was the tastiest. As we were leaving, Daniel and Bruce, the Brits, discovered they also have a boxed wine that was pretty tasty. They bought it because it would be easier to carry in their suitcase compared to the bottles Mike and I bought.

After leaving the wine yard, we headed down and then back up to Taormina. The town sits on the top of a hill overlooking the sea. Like so much of Italy, it looks like Disney created it….you just need some accordion music and two dogs eating spaghetti! We heads up to wards the Greek theater, but the line for tickets was very long and right next door was a beautiful hotel, with a beautiful terrace over looking their beautiful gardens, pool and the ocean way, way, way below. We all agreed that having lunch there would be better than seeing another ruin…..so we headed in. They have an “American bar” meaning cocktails in one section of the terrace that served sandwiches and a full service restaurant in another section. After looking at both menus, we decided we would just have drinks…the appetizers in the full service started at 22€ as did the sandwiches in the bar part. So we had a wonderful enjoying their view, olives, nuts, and potato chips without cocktails, wine and beer. We then headed back down the street and stopped at an Italian bar (think fast food but Italian style) where we all tried the local specialties – arrancinni- rice balls stuffed with something and then breaded and fried. Mike and I split one with ricotta and pistastio and another of meat and peas…very tasty. We also split the other Sicilian specialty, cannoli. One of custard-eh, one of ricotta and pistastio, except sweet this time. We then wandered around town for a bit, some had the last Italian gelato until we get back to Venice. I stuck my head into a pastry shop, they had wonderful looking sweets. I had fun speaking broken Italian and learning what was in each and which we’re the local ones. I ended up buying one large sweet which is basically a sweet, moist biscuit with lots of candied orange peel. I also bought four small ones, I haven’t tastes them yet….one is fig, one hazelnut mad one something else. They grow lots of hazelnuts, lemons and oranges here.

We returned to the ship to find that a Royal Caribbean ship was docked behind us. It was pretty fun to watch their folks look in amazement as six or eight of the Jade crew and officers welcomed us aboard with a soul train type line for us to dance down to reach the gangway. They had music blasting, cool, moist washcloths and water and lemonade waiting for us at the pier.

Last night we enjoyed dinner on the uppermost rear deck of Jade, The Great Outdoors, as we sailed away from Napoli. We have decided to do the same tonight, we should be passing close to Mt. Etna just before sunset so it could be a beautiful site.

Tomorrow is a sea day, we have the cruise critic meet and greet I arranged, the Lattitudes (NCL’s loyalty program) cocktail party at 12:30, and a VIP meet and greet with cocktails and the Captain at 7 (we didn’t get the full VIP treatment this trip, just this invite and an invite to a disembarkation procedures meeting tomorrow morning, but I will take what I can get!). After the Captains thing we are officially celebrating Yost and Mike’ s birthdays with dinner at Moderno, NCL’s specialty Brazilan Churriscarra restaurant. So looks like it will be a busy day….oh yea, just looked at our “daily” and there is a martini tasting at 3….hmmm, might try to work that in too!

Pictures from today:

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Not sure why, but just discovered this post didn't publish. This is from our second day aboard, Monday, April 29….the day after Napoli

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Death March 2

For those of you who have been keeping up, you will recall that on our first day in Venice, Mike named our walking tour, the Death March….today, we had our second, but this one wasn’t my fault, it was all Sam. You may recall that Mike, Yost, Sam and I divided up responsibility for each of our ports. Sam’s was Dubrovnik. Unlike most ports where docking is preferred, here it’s better to anchor and then tender because the tenders (the ship’s lifeboats typically) ferry you directly to the old town gate at the harbor. Unfortunately we docked at the new port which is a ten minute drive from the historic walled town. There were four ways to get to town, walk (not gonna happen), Norwegian’s shuttle bus for $11 per person roundtrip, the public bus for about a buck a person each way or a taxi for 10€. The only issue is that Croatia isn’t part of the euro group so they use the kuna as their currency. We asked and couldnt get a clear answer from NCL if there was an ATM at the port or if the taxis took Euros…we knew the local bus only took kunas. We decided we were going to go with the NCL shuttle but despite what I had been told by the Conceirge, one didn’t buy the shuttle ticket onboard, you used your key card and bought it on the shuttle bus, so we went ashore. Before we had barely left the ship, it was obvious that the taxis took eros and it was a flat rate of 10€ to town…so we saved money by the four of us taking the cab. Our driver spoke great English and told us there was no reason to change money…merchants either took credit cards or would take euros. This turned out to be the case.

He dropped us at the City gate and we decided to walk the City walls before it got any hotter. Since leaving Messina and especially since entering the Adriatic sea, it has been very calm, flat, very flat seas…like a lake in the early morning, and fairly warm compared to what we experienced in Florence and Rome. We bought our entry tickets and started the first of many stair climbs. The view of Dubrovnik’s rooftops and the sea from the walls was beautiful. But it was work. The walk around the walls is more than a mile long and involves lots of steps, stepped ramps, and ramps both up and down. Long before the halfway point I was sweating but it was really interesting to see the construction as well as the vistas. As we approached the 3/4 point of what I started calling the DDM (Debrovnik Death March), Sam said this was the more “castlely” part of the walls…the wall became taller, the stairs steeper, but in return we got better views. Our walk around the walls took an hour and forty five minutes or so but we enjoyed it. After descending, we elected to not walk the main street referred to as the Platka or standun, but instead took the advice of The Dubrovnik Lady, who is a retired ex pat who blogs about her wonderful city, and instead wandered the side streets. We explored a convenience store, an olive oil store where we bought some lemon flavored olive oil, should be great on tomatoes later in the summer, and eventually made our way to the harbor side of town. I was in search of one of the tradition deserts that the Dubrovnik lady told me about, Krempita. One restaurant suggested we try the cafe across the street and so we spent an enjoyable hour or so under their shady awning, cooling off, having a cool beverage,a nd tasting three desserts…the Krempita, basically a Neapolitan without the middle layers of pastry, the local version of creme caramel and “macaroni pie”. It was very strange…chocolate, nut and big elbow maracroni filling in a pie crust!

After our treats, we walked up the Platka, left through the same gate we entered through and caught a taxi back to the ship. I really like Dubrovnik and the people we met were all very friendly, welcoming and helpful. I am sure during the low season it’s a wonderful place…but with two cruise ships in town, a lot of holiday (today is May day) visitors, it was very crowded. Hope to make it back someday and really explore this country.

After a short nap and shower, we met Yost and Sam at the Gold level wine and cheese ( though I had had Hendricks on the rocks) Latitudes party. Daniel and Bruce the guys who did our Messina tour with us joined us so we had a great conversation catching up on what we had all done the last two days. Then Yost, Sam, Mike and I went to LeBistro (Norwegian’s French restaurant) for dinner. We started dinner off with a toast with the delicious Veuve Cliquot champagne that our Chicago friends Tommy and Rich sent to Mike for his birthday. Dinner was good although the sauce on the steaks was a little salty. That seems to be a problem. The other night, we overheard the Food and Beverage manager, Musthafa, telling someone on his phone, that all the sauces in Cagneys were too salty and he had told the staff to remake them. But we of course didn’t let a little salt stops from enjoying our meal.

After dinner, we returned to our room to find our that our entry in the “dine with an officer” raffle had been selected so tomorrow night we will be eating with the head of housekeeping….was sorta hoping for something I enjoy doing….maybe the executive chef or beverage manager, but….maybe I will learn to clean house better???

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Vino e Taormina

We arrived in Messina and after a half hour delay, our driver arrived. It is still not clear what the issue was exactly other than Messina has two ports, I think he may have been waiting for us at the wrong one.

For this trip, the four of us were joined by an ex-pat couple from London and an opthomologist from Baltimore. We boarded up and headed off towards Mt. Etna which was billowing a little bit of white, though I must admit it was difficult to tell where the smoke ended and the clouds began. Like Amalfi, we seemed to be taking roller coaster roads and hairpin curves everywhere we went. Sicily has been controlled by just about everyone over the years so there are remnants of forts on the hill tops, but unlike a lot of Italy, there are not a lot of ancient buildings due to the earthquakes over the years particularly a really bad one followed by a tsunami in the 18th century. However in Taormina, there is a Greek amphitheater. We were headed there eventually but first we went to a vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Etna and tasked 5 wines for 5 euros. The vineyard had a tasting room with a beautiful view and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even though we though their least expensive bottle of wine was the tastiest. As we were leaving, Daniel and Bruce, the Brits, discovered they also have a boxed wine that was pretty tasty. They bought it because it would be easier to carry in their suitcase compared to the bottles Mike and I bought.

After leaving the wine yard, we headed down and then back up to Taormina. The town sits on the top of a hill overlooking the sea. Like so much of Italy, it looks like Disney created it….you just need some accordion music and two dogs eating spaghetti! We heads up to wards the Greek theater, but the line for tickets was very long and right next door was a beautiful hotel, with a beautiful terrace over looking their beautiful gardens, pool and the ocean way, way, way below. We all agreed that having lunch there would be better than seeing another ruin…..so we headed in. They have an “American bar” meaning cocktails in one section of the terrace that served sandwiches and a full service restaurant in another section. After looking at both menus, we decided we would just have drinks…the appetizers in the full service started at 22€ as did the sandwiches in the bar part. So we had a wonderful enjoying their view, olives, nuts, and potato chips without cocktails, wine and beer. We then headed back down the street and stopped at an Italian bar (think fast food but Italian style) where we all tried the local specialties – arrancinni- rice balls stuffed with something and then breaded and fried. Mike and I split one with ricotta and pistastio and another of meat and peas…very tasty. We also split the other Sicilian specialty, cannoli. One of custard-eh, one of ricotta and pistastio, except sweet this time. We then wandered around town for a bit, some had the last Italian gelato until we get back to Venice. I stuck my head into a pastry shop, they had wonderful looking sweets. I had fun speaking broken Italian and learning what was in each and which we’re the local ones. I ended up buying one large sweet which is basically a sweet, moist biscuit with lots of candied orange peel. I also bought four small ones, I haven’t tastes them yet….one is fig, one hazelnut mad one something else. They grow lots of hazelnuts, lemons and oranges here.

We returned to the ship to find that a Royal Caribbean ship was docked behind us. It was pretty fun to watch their folks look in amazement as six or eight of the Jade crew and officers welcomed us aboard with a soul train type line for us to dance down to reach the gangway. They had music blasting, cool, moist washcloths and water and lemonade waiting for us at the pier.

Last night we enjoyed dinner on the uppermost rear deck of Jade, The Great Outdoors, as we sailed away from Napoli. We have decided to do the same tonight, we should be passing close to Mt. Etna just before sunset so it could be a beautiful site.

Tomorrow is a sea day, we have the cruise critic meet and greet I arranged, the Lattitudes (NCL’s loyalty program) cocktail party at 12:30, and a VIP meet and greet with cocktails and the Captain at 7 (we didn’t get the full VIP treatment this trip, just this invite and an invite to a disembarkation procedures meeting tomorrow morning, but I will take what I can get!). After the Captains thing we are officially celebrating Yost and Mike’ s birthdays with dinner at Moderno, NCL’s specialty Brazilan Churriscarra restaurant. So looks like it will be a busy day….oh yea, just looked at our “daily” and there is a martini tasting at 3….hmmm, might try to work that in too!

Pictures from today:

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Not sure why, but just discovered this post didn’t publish. This is from our second day aboard, Monday, April 29….the day after Napoli

No Time for a Nap

This cruise only has one sea day which is not nearly enough! It felt more like a day of meetings albeit more fun than work ones.

It started at 10:15 with a talk by Carlos, the Concierge which as quasi VIPs, we got invited to. I went because I hoped to get a definitive answer as to whether Norwegian allowed express walk off (carry your own bags off) in Venice or not. There have been at least two threads on Cruise Critic on this subject with many opinions and experiences …some have been able to, some say Norwegian says the Port OV Venice won’t let you,others say Norwegian won’t allow it. It’s important to us because we have a 12:15 flight to Paris on Saturday, so we will need to get off the ship quickly. According to the concierge, it isn’t exactly forbidden to expressly walk off, BUT, once ashore, the elevators in the cruise terminal are sometimes not available which makes going down two floors difficult, so Norwegian strongly advises against it. Presuming our quasi VIPness lasts til Saturday, we should get luggage tags that allow us to leave anytime and Carlos should be avaiable to walk us off when we want so, fingers crosses we won’t need to do express, but if the priority luggage tags don’t show up then we are going to plan on doing express.

After the concierge talk, our Cruise Critic meet and greet was held. 71 had signed up and while I didn’t count, it appeared that most were there…especially surprising given the beautiful pool weather outside. We had the usual ships officers there…no Captain’s staff 😦

Most everyone went directly from the M&G to the Latitudes party. Mike and I had our fill of apricot swizzles and rum punches…didn’t win any of the door prizes though. We then grabbed a salad and enjoyed the Great Outdoors. After lunch, we hit the gym for a bit. After showering and dressing for dinner, we went to the Captains party for suite guests and VIPs. More of the same though we did spend a good deal of time talking to Silvio from Ecuador, who is the cruise consultant (salesman) aboard. After several glasses of wine and a few shrimps, we headed to Moderno (Churriscarra) for Mike’s and Yost’s official birthday dinner. The food was fine to good but the service was very slow…seemed like forever between the meat servers. They did bring two cakes to the table and sang Happy Birthday to them.

It was a fun day, but I never made it to the balcony for a nap. 😦