Rome, Day 1

Rome, Day 1

Today was “explore Rome via bike” day! After such an amazing breakfast spread in Split, the breakfast was pretty underwhelming the Spagna Royal Suites, though it was good to eat lightly after such a big meal in the night prior. We had some coffee to pick us up and were off to the bus stop to ride our way over to the Coliseum. Taxis are very expensive in Rome and the public transit in is amazing so we decided to give the bus a go. Our hotel actually gave us a phone with free calling, wi-fi, and location services to help us get around without using our data and that basically saved our lives. We were easily able to find our way to the bus, the right station, and then over to the TopBike Rental & Tours shop.

Check-in for the bike tour was quick and they had a wide variety of bikes. We had electric assist motors on ours just in case the 4-hour trek got difficult, but I ended up turning that off for the majority of the ride (maybe all of those cycle classes were paying off?). Our guide, Muana, was from the Netherlands, and we had a New Zealander, two Australians, and an American guy in TopBike training also accompanying us.

Muana guided us out of the shop and to the Coliseum first for a quick recap of its history. We had a detailed tour of the Coliseum scheduled for the next day, so her quick overview was perfect and a nice rest before biking over to the “Wedding Cake” building, aka the Altare della Patria, nicknamed after its opulence and resemblance to a massive, tiered cake.

We then rode over to one of the most famous fountains in the world, the Trevi Fountain, for another pit stop. The fountain is massive and the sculptures are breathtaking. So much talent and effort went into its creation.

We then biked down to the Pantheon and got to go inside. If you have never been, it has a huge dome with an open center. I can’t even begin to describe how large it is and how astonishing the architecture to stabilize such a dome is.

We then rode across the Tiber river to Piazza Navona, which used to be a horse racing stadium. It is now a massive square surrounded with shops and restaurants and has another gorgeous fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi).

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After some gelato in the square, we ride around the Roman Forum and to the Coliseum. Overall, we had 4 hours of scenic views, interesting factoids, and perfect biking weather. If you are heading to Rome for the first time, TopBike is a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land before doing other sections in-depth.

Our tour was over around 1 PM and we were famished! The area around the Coliseum has pretty expensive restaurants, so we took Muana’s suggestions and walked deeper into the city. Ryan was in the mood for pizza and we were starving, so we stopped at the first place with pizza we came across – Urban 47. It was cute outside and ended up being quite large and cool inside with a very modern kitchen and appetizer room. I had some delicious ravioli with shrimp scampi and Ryan had another perfectly delicious pizza.

After lunch, we wandered through the streets back to the hotel, took a quick nap, and reemerged to find a place for Ryan to do laundry. After 1.5 weeks in a suit case, it was time for some freshening up! The nearest laundry mat was right by the Spanish Steps in the most expensive shopping area of Rome with stores like Gucci, Channel, Louis Vuitton, and tons of other glorious designers that make closet sing and my wallet weep.

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We strolled down the shopping mecca until finally coming to the laundry place where a really nice Canadian couple taught us how to use the machines. Ryan decided to risk his laundry so we could take a walk to the North entrance of Rome. We walked to and around the square, and up to a look out point with an amazing view and some live music courtesy to the street musicians. The path at the top lead back to the top of the Spanish Steps, so we walked to that and back down – boy was it packed! When doing tours, I always recommend going to sites early in the morning because the crowds just keep growing as the day goes on.

Thankfully, Ryan’s laundry was still there 30 minutes later and we swapped it over to the drier, took another walk around the town, visited some shops, and returned to great smelling, clean clothes! We dropped those off at the hotel and set out to find a spot for dinner.

After walking 10 miles already today, Ryan was not wanting to go on a journey to find the perfect restaurant, so we walked up to the first one we saw. The restaurant’s “hype-man” out front was in top-convincing-mode. He walked us through the menu, showed us where they were making the fresh pasta, and offered us free champagne, so we were fully enticed into dining there.

We were the only patrons so far, so the host sat us right in the window so other passers-by could see the restaurant had people in it – talk about strategy! Within a span of 5 minutes, the entire restaurant was full. Ryan ordered fettuccine alfredo and I got a mushroom sausage dish with thick pasta noodles.

The dishes were as they looked… OK. They did not have a ton of flavor but they weren’t bad. I probably should have stuck with my traditional favorites and not branched out to try something new but. .. when in Rome right?

We got our fill pretty quickly, especially after I accidentally poured out ½ of the bottle of balsamic vinegar on my bread plate and tried to cover it up by eating a ton of balsamic soaked bread.

After dinner, it was a quick walk back to the hotel and early night for our big walking day tomorrow.

Continue reading this adventure…

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Split, Day 1

Split, Day 1

Our 6:30 AM wake-up was early but we were ready for the day. I was still so stuffed from the night before so we had a very light breakfast before walking down to our boat. While I had the right power converter for my phone, I did not have one for my laptop, so we tried to find a converter in one of the little markets by the boat docks and we ended up running into our dinner companions from Stori Komin at the market! It is amazing how small and charming Hvar, Croatia is.

I couldn’t find a charger and am now at 3% typing this on the boat to Split. Fingers crossed I find a charger soon or this post is going to be a shortie….

Thank my lucky stars! Our hotel in Split, Hotel Coranado, had a spare converter so I could charge my Mac! *Phew*. Our boat ride to Split was about 50 minutes and uneventful. Once we debarked, we walked up the pier and used Google Maps on Ryan’s phone to find the hotel! We had no idea that the small alleyways we were weaving in and out of were actually part of a 4th century palace that Diocletian, a Roman Emperor, used for retirement! Must have been nice…

Since we arrived at the hotel so early, we could not check-in, so we gave our bags to reception and waited for our tour guide, Nemo, to arrive. With two check-in counters, there was some confusion finding Nemo, but, like every good story we overcame adversity, found Nemo, and hopped in his Mercedes to go to the island of Trogir.

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We walked over moat to get to the island and then toured through the narrow roads. Our guide gave us some fun facts, like how the stone roads that had a line in the middle were markers to lead out of the city centers. Also, the reason that the pathways were build so narrowly was to keep them cool in the summers and warm in the winters. We saw some beautiful cathedrals, lots of churches, and were even serenaded by 5 men in an acapella group in the open court house. Apparently, the open court house was the place to be back in the early day as the whole town would watch the court cases and gossip about those involved.

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After about an hour of walking around Trogir we headed back to Split. We were getting a little peckish after walking an entire town, so our guide took us to his favorite gelato spot. They had apple pie gelato, which I couldn’t resist. It was heavily!

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We took our ice cream to go as Nemo guided us through Split. We learned all about the palace of Split and how it was built. How it used to have 4 walls but, in the Medieval times, a main wall as knocked out and another section of the city was built. Some parts of the city were from the 3rd century BC! There were even Egyptian 5 sphinx statues throughout the city that were over 3.5 thousand years old. It is astonishing that some of the cities homes and apartments are older than the USA.

Our tour concluded around 2 PM and we went up a street that our guide suggested for lunch and ended up at a pizza place. I got lasagna and Ryan had spaghetti bolognese. Thank goodness we walked 6 miles already…

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After lunch, we could finally check into our hotel so we walked back and got to our room. It is a very nice hotel and Ryan decided to test out the bed with a nap while I took off to walk around the markets and shop for an hour or so. It was such a beautiful day I couldn’t just stay inside!

Around 4, I came back to the room and we got ready for the evening. We decided to walk up  the 200 steep stairs of the cathedral tower. Some of the block stairs were 2 feet tall and the iron stairs up after the bells were slightly terrifying, but we finally made it to the top and the view made all of those stairs worth it!

We went down to into the crypt under the church for a few minutes but it was underwhelming and, instead, we were lured by the songs of a band in the square. They were amazing and we listed for a while before going to find dinner.
We ended up at a restaurant called Apetit and had a delicious meal of salad, bread with oil and vinegar, grilled squid (a Split staple), and truffle macaroni with prosciutto. So much good food! We also enjoyed the $3 house wine that would rival any $20 glass in the US!

In an amazing mood, we walked around the city center, taking in the vibrance of the night life, getting another round of gelato to top off the night, and heading to the rooftop terrace at the hotel to watch fireworks in the distance.

 

Continue on our journey through Croatia…

Phuket – Day 2

Phuket – Day 2

6:45 AM wake up for our sea-canoe adventure! While there was a hint of sunshine in the morning, the monsoons were not shy and we needed our rain jackets and umbrellas just to get to breakfast. The Slate‘s Tin Mine restaurant had, hands down, the fluffiest, light as a cloud pancakes I’ve ever eaten! The bacon was nice and crispy too and, I have to say, the breakfasts at So Sofitel and The Slate in Phuket have been the best I’ve experienced.

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After we had our fill at the buffet, we grabbed beach towels and hopped on our transport to the Royal Marina for our sea-canoe adventure! The drive was about 45-minutes and our driver was a traffic pro, maneuvering quickly through the crowded roads. We pulled up to this beautiful marina with luxury, magazine worthy condo’s and lots of speed boats. We had tea and coffee during our short wait before we were quickly ushered to our boat. There were about 30 people on our speed boat to James Bond Island but it was still pretty roomy. Speeding through the islands led to some amazing views…

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About 30 minutes later, we pulled up to an island to join the 6 other speed boats already docked. Even with all of the people and boats, the islands were beautiful. We climbed up and drown a rocky path to get to the main event, the James Bond Island view.

The beach facing James Bond was packed with people, but I have to admit, the oblong shaped island sticking out of the water was pretty cool.

The beach used for viewing James Bond was jammed packed with tourist shops and tourists walking around. They really try to get you coming and going on these pit stops – unfortunate since it ruins the experience a bit. If you do not like crowds and want more a of a serene experience, I would suggest finding private tours to other islands – James Bond was cool but I would opt for a less crowded experience next time.

After about 40 minutes on the island, we were transferred over to a floating fishing village. All 2,000 inhabitants live on buildings that hover over the water on concrete stilts. In theory, it was a neat place, but the experience was again tainted by tourism. We pulled up and there were large pavilions with the capacity to host hundreds of people for at lunch buffets. We thought we were eating with locals and seeing something organic to the area, but it was not so. After a less-than-average lunch of coconut fried chicken, noodles, and rice, we walked through the village corridors to the boat pick-up area and it started to downpour!

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Everyone was getting totally soaked and there was no end in sight to the torrential rain coming down. Ryan and I put on the rain jacket and poncho we had packed, and the guides gave ponchos to everyone else . It was actually pretty fun to run through the small alleyways, dodging the waterfalls coming down from the drainpipes. We hurried to our speedboat and climbed aboard, hoping the rain would subside before we at our next stop for sea-canoeing.

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Fortunately for us, the rain dissipated as soon as we go to the canoeing area! We docked next to a larger pontoon boat that stored the canoes. Each group of two people were put into a boat with a paddler, so Ryan and I hopped on a canoe together and were taken for a lovely ride through a lagoon area with caves all along the bottom of the giant rock mountains.

Our canoe guide took us into caves and, at certain points, the stalactites were so low we had to lay down in the boat as not to hit our heads on the rocks! Talk about a tight squeeze! We paddled into some beautiful cavernous areas with tons of greenery and open skylight tops. It was such an amazing experience and it made me nostalgic for the sea-kayaking we did in Alaska.

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The guide also pointed out various stalactites and stalagmites that looked like different animals and figures. It started to sprinkling again and our guide kept us close to the rocky over-hangs to keep us dry. Overall, we were out on the water for about 45 minutes trying to take in the beauty of the area.

We were filed back onto the pontoon for some fruit and beverages and then back onboard our boat to head to a beach for sand and sun. Yet again, the weather had different plans and, after about 15 minutes the sky turned black and it was pouring. We went under an awning for shelter and watched the wind play wave-bumper cars with 4 of the speed boats closely parked next to each other. The boats were tossing and turning in the waves and you could hear them crashing into one another. We definitely bonded with our fellow boat mates with all of the craziness of the weather throughout the day and laughed as we ran through the rain to hop back onto our boat once the waves calmed down.

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We looked like wet dogs getting off of the boat back onto the dock, in our jeep back to the hotel, and from the hotel lobby to our door. Boy did it feel good to get dry! I am so glad we packed our waterproof gear – it really came in handy. I also had a waterproof carrying case for my phone which saved its life multiple times throughout the trip from mud, rain, and other catastrophes. I highly recommend packing one just in case your adventures take a damp turn.

After washing up at the hotel, we decided to take a stroll along the beach and find some street food. There were tons of places outside of the hotel that were 1/3 of the price of the hotel restaurants, and we set off to find a restaurant that the bar tenders at our hotel told us all of the locals loved. After browsing through local shops, getting desert snacks at a convenience store, and walking to the end of the main street, we stumbled across our restaurant destination. For under $10 USD, we had some delicious pad thai, fried large noodles with pork, mango shakes, all with a waterfront view! Not too bad if you ask me.

We did a little more walking after dinner and then, exhausted from the day, we went to bed…. at 8:30 PM.

Phuket – Day 1

6:45 AM wake up to get ready to fly to Phuket! We had a yummy breakfast of jasmine tea, banana waffles, and eggs Benedict and then hopped into our taxi for the airport. The airports in Thailand are super-efficient and, after a 15 minute ride to the airport, we were at the terminal waiting area in under 10 minutes. I journaled the majority of the 2 hour plane ride to Phuket. It was an easy flight and went pretty quickly, especially since the plane was only 50% full so we had room to spread out.

The Phuket airport was small. We were off the plane and looking for a cab in 10 minutes. We got to the first taxi station and they wanted 500 BHT for the 15 minutes drive to The Slate hotel – way too high considering we paid 350 for the 40 minute drive from our hotel to BKK in Bangkok! We decided to try the next taxi stand outside and the guy the approached us first wanted 850 BHT to get to the hotel – no way! We told him the woman inside wanted 300 and started to walk away, so he caved and said 300 was OK. Geesh!

The roads in Thailand are quite deceiving. Both the Rachamankha Hotel in Chiang Mai and The Slate hotel in Phuket were down very sketchy roads, but once inside, an Eden awaited! The Slate hotel was gorgeous and we were greeted with cold towels and tea while we checked in. So refreshing in such humidity! Our check-in hostess took us through the grounds in a golf cart, showing us the beach areas, the various pools, restaurants, and gardens on the way to our room.

We finally made it to our building – the grounds were quite massive and maze-like. Our hostess led us to the second floor and opened the door to an amazing suite! We even had a day-bed and a huge tub on the balcony overlooking a garden and one of the pools. So beautiful!

We decided to walk around the grounds and get some lunch. We went to the Dirty Monstera restaurant at the resort for a celebratory drink, sandwich, and ahi tuna flatbread. It was so light and delicious which was much-needed with all of the heavy pad thai we had been eating.

After lunch, we walked down to the beach. It was so windy we were almost swept away (not exaggerating – it was intense!). There were markets all along the beach road but they were closed due to the strong winds and rain. Instead of staying at the beach, we went to the hotel pool across from our room. We were the only ones there due to the rain, so we swam up to the covered pool bar for a drink and some Connect Four. I totally owned Ryan at Connect Four and so we started talking with the two bar tenders instead. We ended up chatting with them and drinking for about two hours until the bar closed and we went back to the room.

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The sky decided to open up and for a complete downpour. Stuck in our room, we drew the bath on our covered patio and relaxed in the water with the rain. So luxurious, especially with the sound of the monsoon rain.  It poured for hours and, eventually, we had to call down to the lobby for an extra umbrella so we could walk the grounds to the lobby area for dinner. Even with the extra cover, we got totally soaked on the 5 minute, uncovered walk over to the Tin Mine restaurant. The restaurant was outside under a large pavilion and was candle lit. It was very romantic with the rain in the back ground. We had a lovely dinner of samosa appetizers, and a duck with mushrooms entrée. Yumm! After dinner, we braved the rain back to the hotel and got a very early night.

Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Ketchikan, Alaska

6:15 AM wake up for our 7 AM arrival at the Ketchikan port. The city is absolutely charming with the different colored houses making their way up the mountains. Ketchikan is 3 miles long and only 3 blocks wide since the mountains make it difficult to build upon. Some of the “roads” with street signs are actually wooden stairs that lead up the the higher houses that cannot be accessed by traditional paved roads!

View of Ketchikan, Alaska from the Crown Princess cruise ship

We got off the ship right at 7 AM and had about an hour to make our way to the Liquid Sun Gauge where we were to meet our kayaking guides. It was about a 10-minute walk down the dock to the gauge and we perused some stores along the way. One of the stores had a “Short cut to downtown” sign that pointed through its doors as you could walk through the store and out the other side. Talk about cute but effective ways to get people in your store!

We arrived at the Liquid Sun Gauge which had Ketchikan factoids on it and showed how much rainfall the town has seen to date vs. its record of 202.55 inches in 1949. The above shows approximately 180 inches through May of 2016 alone! Next to the gauge is a huge bronze statue called “The Rock” portraying a native Ketchikan woman welcoming all of the traveler types that shaped the town (i.e. gold seekers, fisherman, tradesmen, loggers, and more). We waited by the statue until our guide arrived with a big yellow paddle. She escorted us, along with 6 others, further down the dock to Southeast Sea Kayak’s boat HQ. We got a brief safety instruction, dry bags for our valuables, and life vests. We then transferred to a smaller boat to drive about 20 minutes to Orca Cove. Our transport ship’s Captain was from Australia and was quirky and informative about much of Ketchikan. He told us of the natives and various islands where people live around the city. He also informed us that there was no whistling allowed on the ship. We still have no idea why he was so opposed to our tunes, but both Ryan and I got in trouble a few times for that one!

Sea kayaks in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The view on the ride to Orca Cove was amazing. There was a larger boat waiting for us in the cove which had all of our kayaks attached. We hopped from our boat to the larger and got put into our two-person sea kayaks. Ryan was too big for our kayak so they had to remove our rudder controlling pegs so he could fit! We also had to wear these water skirt things that we wore like overalls and that covered the sitting hole so if any water came up onto our kayak, it wouldn’t go inside. The water was very calm, but the skirts were nice since they kept our stuff dry from water running off our paddles and kept the heat in so we were warm!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The tide was at its low point for the day and we paddled first to the rocky inlet of a salmon run stream. The tide was so low that all of the water from the stream was gone and we could not paddle up, but we were able to look down and see tons of sea life in the rocks since the water was crystal clear. We saw what must have been thousands of red or purple starfish all over the sea floor and exposed rocks that were waiting for the tide to come back in. There were also loads of anemone and sea cucumbers! The amount of life teaming below our little kayaks was amazing.

Star fish on the rocks during low tied in Ketchikan, Alaska

We continued to paddle along the shore line. There were only 6 of us, our guide, and the sounds of nature. We came across a rushing waterfall sourced from an inland freshwater lake and multiple eagles who were perched close to their nests where they mate for life and raise their young every year. At one point, two bald eagles took off from their tree and flew right over us to the neighboring island. It was incredible!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska

We kayaked for just about 2 hours. It was so relaxing and by far my favorite experience of the trip so far. Unfortunately, we did not see any whales or otters, but the scenery alone was enough to satisfy. We headed back to the kayak docking boat and chatted with the guys who captained the boat for a while about their travel stories and how they arrived in Alaska. Most of the workers we met were seasonal and just traveled the world for each regions various tourist seasons. What a life huh?

The owner of theSoutheast Sea Kayak makes his own smoked salmon which we got to snack on after our kayaking ride. With a little cream cheese and crackers, it was so yummy! Our boat back arrived just as we finished our snack and we hopped on to go back to shore. I was so sad our last Alaskan excursion was over, but there were still a few cruise days left!

It took about 20 minutes to get back to shore. We grabbed our stuff and browsed quite a few of the gift shops on the way back to the boat. I bought some smoked salmon for my folks as they love to have salmon on the bagels in the morning and where better to buy smoked salmon than the salmon capital of the world!?

Hanging with my bear friends in Ketchikan, Alaska

Our ship departed from Ketchikan at 1:15 PM. We had “A Taste of India” for lunch and I was surprised at how good the ships take on Indian food was. It wasn’t the best ever, but it was not disappointing either! After that, we hopped into our bathing suits and into a hot tub on deck 15. We were having a nice time and I was stretching my IT bands in the hot tub since they were a bit sore. With one foot out of the water, I looked up and saw this 40ish year old guy in a bright red jacket with fanny pack take my picture, smile, and wave at me! Then he turned around and walked off. It was so weird and creepy – I guess he really liked my feet?!

We didn’t stay in the tub too much longer after foot guy before we had to run back to the room and get ready for formal night! I wore a blue cocktail dress and Ryan matched me with a navy bow tie. We did a little pre-gaming at the buy one get one for $1 drink event at the Wheelhouse bar – a great way to have some strong and cheap cocktails if you do not have a cruise drink package. We then continued our party in the Botticelli dining room and had quite the feast or lamb and veal pate, beef Wellington and smashed potatoes, and baked apple cake with vanilla ice-cream.
After dinner, Ryan and I grabbed the bottle of wine from our room and headed to Disney trivia in another bar. While Ryan’s sister and her husband knew almost all of the answers, Ryan and I were pretty poor Dinsey fans. The girl hosting the trivia used to work at Disney and her questions were very detailed! We opted for trying our luck in the couples “how well do you know each other” game after trivia, but we got turned away since Ryan and I are not yet married – boo! After being rejected, we decided to head back to the room to watch movies and sleep off our wine!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska