Welcome back for part 2 of our epic journey through Europe! If you missed Part 1, head back and read that first. Enjoy!
The next day, we packed our bags (again) and hopped in a big van with everyone to head to Civitavecchia to board our ship – the Celebrity Reflection. This ship was absolutely massive, and is only a couple years old, so it’s still got that “new cruise ship smell.” My sister Nellie and her husband Chris also joined us at the port, as Nellie’s high paced job as a corporate litigator didn’t allow her to take any additional days off (poor thing!) So Nellie and Chris met us at the port, looking fairly rested considering their red eye flight from the States.
The Celebrity Reflection is a gigantic ship, and one of the newest in the Celebrity fleet, only a few years old. Marianne and Ed had taken this cruise a year or two before and said we all had to do it together. With Hayley and I being newlyweds (and my sister and brother-in-law also being newly married in 2011), this was a perfect opportunity to take a “before-kids” trip as a family. Even though it seems like having kids is not completely imminent for either couple, it still seemed like a good idea to get one trip in the books without bambinos in tote.
We were all pleasantly surprised with the lavishly appointed staterooms. We all chose veranda staterooms on the ship, which in retrospect was an amazing decision. Everyone loved the opportunity to sit on their private balconies and just watch the ocean roll by as we cruised from destination to destination.
(At this point, we’ve been in the room less than 60 seconds, and it’s already a mess!)
Day 1: Taormina, Sicily
Before the first full day of the cruise even “started” – we were alerted by our captain to wake up early (well before dawn) to see Mt. Stromboli, an active volcanic island, off the starboard side of the ship. Not being fully on European time yet, it was easy to get up and see this amazing sight!
The first port of call for our cruise was actually Messina, Sicily – but the group decided that we would hire a driver to take us one hour down the coast to Taormina and a hilltop town called Castelmola. It was in Castelmola that we visited Bar Turrisi (also affectionately known as the *ahem* “Penis Bar”). I won’t provide a live link because it’s definitely NOT WORK SAFE to click on any images associated with Bar Turrisi. However, it was a hilariously fun first stop on our day trip. The bar is filled with phallic figurines and carvings, a sculptural motif we would see throughout our trip, actually. I ended up getting a fantastic cappuccino here, so if you watch the video and see a cappuccino followed by a clip of my dad and Hayley laughing, THAT is Bar Turrisi, and about all I can show that’s appropriate.
We walked around this quaint little town and admired misty views of a shrouded Mt. Etna (ie, we couldn’t see it at all… but the way I said it first sounded really enchanting, right?) There were some good eating options in Castelmola for food, but the group decided to venture back down the mountain to Taormina for lunch.
(Somewhere behind us is Mt. Etna.)
At this point, a little bit of rain moved in, so we all walked through the cozy streets huddled together under our umbrellas. Taormina, even in the rain, is incredibly beautiful. The fragrant citrus blossoms were filling the air with their sweet perfume.
On this trip, Hayley and I did a ton of research ahead of time about restaurants in each port of call. For Taormina, we selected 3-4 restaurants in advance that would be Paleo-friendly and filled with delicious options. Trip Advisor could not be more highly regarded in our eyes – we LOVE that site and use it every time we travel now. The restaurant we ate at was La Naumachia (I believe this translates to something about a naval battle, although I could be wrong). Naturally after lunch, we sought out Gelato. Because #gelatoeveryday
While lunch took almost 2 hours, it was quite pleasant to avoid the rain and get some great food. The menu had something for everyone (from the strict Paleo to the non-Paleo), and everyone left happy as the sun started to peek around the clouds. We started making our way up to the Greek Theater, which is the most culturally significant relic in the area. Greek Theaters were the prototype for modern day auditoriums (they are a half moon shape), and almost always were situated in a hillside with a view for a backdrop. Other than the theater at Delphi, this might be one of the most beautiful Greek theaters in the world. At the time it was built, the Greeks had many settlements in Italy and Sicily.
Here’s the view from the Amphitheater. That’s Mt. Etna shrouded in clouds in the background!
The town of Taormina, Sicily.
Day 2: at Sea
There were two days at sea on this cruise, the first being on the second day as we made our way from Sicily to Greece.
We knew WELL in advance that we would want to enjoy some massages on this cruise, so we booked them a few weeks before we left the states (smart move for days at sea). The afternoon was spent lounging by the top deck pool with the rest of our group, drinking pina coladas and eating burger salads. The relaxation factor was very high. Like many other cruises, our two formal evenings on the ship were concurrent with the days at sea. So late in the afternoon we abandoned our lounge chairs by the pool and started getting fancied-up for dinner.
My sunglasses were the color of the Mediterranean!
Hayley really enjoyed doing her makeup on our balcony, with the ocean breeze and beautiful light.
If I recall correctly, it was at this first formal dinner I tried frog legs (gluten-free!) AND escargot. Our ship had allergen information with all the meals served. It was so nice to not have to ask what food we could eat, and just order like *normal* people. The meals on the ship were all wonderful!
After dinner, we all went up to the top deck to take prom photos at sunset.
The ship design was so elegant – it was really a work of architectural art, especially lit up at night.
Day 3: Athens
The next morning, we awoke docked in the bustling port of Piraeus. Given the sheer amount of things we wanted to see and do in Athens, we arranged for a driver and tour guide ahead of time; this was something we did in several ports of call. Our guide Anna chatted about the history of Athens while we drove from the port to the Acropolis, about a 45 minute drive.
The acropolis is even more majestic in person than any photos we saw before the trip. Perched high above the sprawling city, this fortified city of temples and monuments to the gods is something to behold. Even the ground you walk on is impressive.
The granite and marble is polished and smooth from thousands of years of people walking these hallowed grounds. (If you have the unfortunate luck of visiting it on a wet day, you WILL slip, because it’s slick even on a dry and dusty day). Get there as early as humanly possible, because it feels like you’re on the surface of the sun (with 20,000 of your “best” friends – ie, smelly strangers). Not that it’s unpleasant in any way though, because the sheer beauty and massive scale will make you forget about anything else on your mind.
Sophia’s Survival Foods Jerky Chews LITERALLY kept us going on this trip. We must have taken 40 packs, and got through almost all of them!
The crown jewel of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. Not to be confused with the PANtheon in Rome, this temple is dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. You cannot get access to it, BUT you can see the incredible frieze and sculptures at the nearby Acropolis museum, which is 100% worth the trip.
The architect geek inside of me lost it when I learned that the building was designed by Bernard Tschumi, world-renowned architect. And you can definitely tell this building was designed by a master, because when you’re in it the exhibits flow, there’s a sublime connection to the nearby Acropolis (you can see it from almost everywhere in the museum). Plus, did I mention it is air conditioned?! (I’m getting a little out of sequence here, because we visited the Acropolis Museum after lunch… but for the sake of this post, the order doesn’t really matter!)
After seeing the Acropolis Museum, we drove across town to see the original Olympic Stadium, which was a poignant moment in the trip for Chris, who is a triathlete, marathoner, and all around sports & history buff.
After being in the heat of the Acropolis, it was clear I was unavoidably coming down with a cold (you know how it is when you’re traveling, and run down), and combined with the heat and crowds, Hayley and I needed to SIT for a while and get some lunch. We pulled out our trusty packet of restaurant recommendations, but didn’t really know where to start looking. The rest of the group wanted to walk around the Plaka (a large market area) and visit some more relics at the foot of the Acropolis. Hayley and I wandered up a shady street along the edge of the Plaka, and we found a restaurant called Kuzina which we had seen on Trip Advisor before we left. It displayed some TA stickers and awards out front, so we KNEW we were going to have a good lunch. After a few liters of cold water, a large greek salad (a real Greek salad is a little different than most in the States, as you’ll see below), and some other food, we felt absolutely rejuvenated.
We sat and enjoyed the warm breeze in the shade while a ragtime band made their way from cafe to cafe down the street and played to each. While we loved being with my family so much, our times alone on the trip were equally cherished. It felt great to just sit and take in the sights (even if it was a touristy-area). We were pretty unapologetic about being tourists on this trip. Maybe next time we will make an effort to see things off the beaten path.
We sat for a while and enjoyed the afternoon, and eventually found my family walking along the same road as they made their way back to the meeting point. There were many more things to see, but the heat of the day had taken it out of everyone. As a last request, my sister Nellie asked Anna to have the driver take us to a traditional Greek bakery so that they could get some Baklava. The bakery the driver and Anna selected was a place called Konstantinople (I think), on one of the main roads back to the port. Hayley and I enjoyed a pair of small cups of gelato, while others tried the local pastries. My sister Nellie was in heaven (look at her complete joy in the video).
Yep, surprise. We have a full 15 minute video of our trip. We can’t help ourselves sometimes.
As with almost every night on the trip, the day ended with everyone enjoying dinner together on the ship. In advance of the trip, I would have imagined that we all would have been sick of each other by the end of every day, but that was not the case at all. It was really pleasant to enjoy dinner as a group. Since Hayley and I were both starting to get sick at this point, I asked our bar waiter, Mihailo, to bring me something “healing” — he came back with a cognac warmed over a hot glass of water. While perhaps not all that healing, it DID make me feel better!
Come back tomorrow for part 3 (Ephesus, Turkey; Rhodes, aka “Magic Beach,” Greece), as we continue our 5-part series!