Florence, Italy 2011

February 5th – 7th, 2011

The train ride from Venice to Florence, Italy began on a bad foot. Remember all the luggage I told you we had well we didn’t realize that the tickets had assigned seats, so our seats were in car 6, and we got on car 1. John had to carry one bag at a time to get them to car 6 while I stayed with the luggage on car 1 . After a stressful beginning, we were looking forward to the scenery for the remaining six-hour ride. I loved riding the train; it reminded of being in Greece. When I was younger, that’s how we traveled from Athens to my mom’s town Kalo Nero, Kyparissia.

We checked into the Four Seasons Hotel, and after getting settled in, we decided to take a walk to get familiar with the city. We had dinner plans at Enoteca Pinchiorri which was a very impressive restaurant. We had a packed schedule for the next day, so we made it an early night.

The next morning we started on our walking tour of the city, and the first stop was the breathtaking Il Duomo di Firenze. Pictures do not do it justice! After taking a million pictures, we then moved onto The Ponte Vecchio which is a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River.

We then decided to start the museum tours we visited the Uffizi Gallery which was nice and then we visited the Galleria dell Accademia to see Michelangelo sculptures, including the impressive statue of The David.

Follow us on our journey the next and last stop on this trip is Rome, Italy.

Our welcome champagne
Il Duomo di Firenze

Maria & John
Ponte Vecchio
Locks by The Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery
Michelangelo’s Statue The David
Vending machine that sells thong panties

Venice, Italy 2011

February 3rd – 5th, 2011

Today we have to travel once again from Paris to Venice, Italy. I have to say flying from France to Italy was, of course, annoying because I pack like I’m never coming home and the extra weight is expensive, but it is what it is. We finally arrive in Venice, and this lovely wooden boat picked us up and took us to our beautiful hotel Luna Baglioni. This hotel was fantastic it’s very European. The room was decorated so beautifully, and the key had a tassel attached to it that you hand to the front desk coming in and out of the hotel it was something really cool which I had never experienced before.

To this day the shower in that hotel has been the best John, and I have ever experienced. It was unbelievable it was like a monsoon rain shower, and we both loved it.

That night and the next day we just spent a lot of time walking around and shopping, and we went to St. Mark’s square and walked through Saint Mark’s Basilica.  Beautiful inside and out and the original Horses of Saint Mark were inside. There is one thing we learned, and that is that the best thing to do is get lost in Venice. We took a very entertaining gondola ride.

One day we took a boat ride to the Murano hand-blown glass factory and purchased a gorgeous chandelier.

All good things must come to an end after being in Venice for two days we took our water taxi back to the had to the train station to get to Florence which I heard is also amazing.

Follow us on our journey next stop is Florence, Italy.

Rialto Bridge
Gondola parking
Gondola traffic
Window shopping by gondola
John in the water taxi
Maria in the water taxi
Santa Maria della Salute
Inside of Luna Baglioni
Luna Baglioni hotel key on a tassel keychain
Saint Mark’s Basilica
Inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica
Staircase inside of Saint Mark’s Basilica
Horses of Saint Mark
Hand made mask we purchased
Hand made mask we purchased
Hand made mask we purchased held by the man who makes them

Paris, France 2011

January 30th – February 1st, 2011

Today we arrived in Paris from an unbelievable trip to Cairo, Egypt. Click on the link to read the crazy trip. I was so happy to be in Paris for two reasons, the first being safety from the craziness that we were involved in the past 72 hours and the second reason is….I’m in Paris!!!!!! Need I say more. I love Paris I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s the city of love, and I fell in love the second my feet touched down.

Paris is something else the architecture, the food, the language it’s unique and special. We didn’t pack for a grand European vacation, but I will make do with what I have.

Today we decided to walk around and take in all the beautiful buildings and visit a few museums. There is no way you can ever say you’re bored while in Paris.

Tonight we had tickets to Moulin Rouge that included dinner, unfortunately, John and I both got deathly ill from either at lunch or the dinner at the show but either way, it wasn’t the way we wanted to spend two days, sick in bed!

Our next stop is Venice, Italy. I’ve heard a lot about Venice both good and bad, so I don’t know what to expect.

Follow us on our journey the next stop is Venice, Italy.

L’Hôtel national des Invalides
Roue de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris
Inside of Notre-Dame de Paris
Inside of Notre-Dame de Paris
Inside of Notre-Dame de Paris
Inside of Notre-Dame de Paris
Local restaurant
A cool building by the hotel
Moulin Rouge
John having lunch on Champs Elysees
Maria having lunch on Champs Elysees
Giant Thumb

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower

Cairo, Egypt

January 27th, 28th, & 29th, 2009

The days leading up to our trip the news was filled with images of the unrest in Egypt. Egyptians were trying to overthrow Mubarak.  We were on the fence whether we were going to go on the trip or cancel it. We decided that we should continue with our plan.

The day finally arrived for our flight, we were excited, and when we reached the airport, of course, there was a huge snow storm, so that caused a lot of flight delays. We boarded the plane, so we thought that we were going but as we were sitting waiting to take off the ice was forming on the wings they tried several times to get us going but were unsuccessful. Finally, around midnight they canceled our flight and told us to come back the next day. We should’ve taken that as a sign but we didn’t.

The next day we were back at the airport waiting for the flight while watching the news it looked like Egypt was not a safe place to travel to. We decided to call our tour company Abercrombie and Kent, they told us not to worry, and they would never put us in harm’s way this happens all the time, and it would be over in a day or two.

This time the flight took off. Finally, after 11 hours we arrived. We were met by a representative from the tour company, and he told us we could not get to our scheduled hotel because it was too dangerous so they took us to an emergency hotel which made us nervous. Upon arrival at the Fairmont hotel, the security gave us a hard time getting in which didn’t help the bad situation we were already in. After about five minutes of back and forth, they finally allowed us entry. We checked in an decided to settle in and get ready for a quick bite to eat since it was late. As soon as we turned the Television on Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was on, and she said: “I urge all US citizens not to travel abroad to Egypt.”

John and I looked at each other and said “WOW that’s great” We decided at that moment that we needed to get out of there as soon as possible. John called our American Express representative, and she scheduled the flight out the very next morning. Other people that were on the same tour with us decided that they were going to wait a few days to see if the issues were resolved.

The next day we headed back to the airport along the way we could see the military all over with guns and bayonets attached and heavy weapons. There were massive amounts of traffic, so I thought we would never make it to the airport. Once at the airport it was a zoo, a total nightmare we had to pay $5,000 to buy new tickets. At that point, if they cost $10, 000 I would’ve paid. The chaos was nerve wracking we didn’t speak the language people are yelling, and you have no idea what they are saying.  We decided since we were already that far from home we should change our plans and head to Europe so off to Paris, France.

Follow us on our journey next stop Paris, France.

Snow storm that delayed our flight

John at the Fairmont Hotel in Cairo
Military presence in the streets of Cairo
Traffic heading to the airport
An advertisement showing us the only pyramids we will see for many years

Nelspruit – White River, South Africa

March 30th & 31st, 2009

Today we drove from Kruger National Park to Nelspruit (White River) to stay at my friend Tina’s house for a couple of days. The area she lives in is very private and gated. It was another short stop we were only going to be here for two days.

The next morning we had an exciting visit to this elephant sanctuary called Elephant Whispers. We learned so much about elephants that we never knew before this visit. We also had the pleasure of riding an elephant which was fun.

Follow us on our journey the next and last stop on this trip is Capetown.

Six dozen roses that Tina bought for her home
Maria at Elephant Whispers
John at Elephant Whispers
Maria & John – Young Elephant at Elephant Whispers
Maria & John – Elephant ride at Elephant Whispers
Maria & John – Elephant Whispers

 

Capetown, South Africa

April 1st & 2nd, 2009

Today we flew to Capetown and took a taxi to our hotel the 12 Apostles.  It’s the only hotel that is not on the strip downtown.  It’s exclusive and quiet which is what we wanted since this was our last stop on vacation.  After checking into the hotel, we took a cab to the marina to meet up with our friend Tina’s aunt and cousins for a sunset cruise.  We were lucky enough to be on an amazing Yacht and had a great time cruising around Capetown.   After our cruise, we ended up meeting up with Tina’s father Hugh to have dinner which was great.  Hugh is a great guy, and it was nice spending time with him.

The next two days we had a few tours set up Cape of Good Hope, penguins at Boulders Beach and a few wine tastings.  Our private car picked us up and drove us to Boulders Beach which had hundreds of penguins.  After taking a bunch of pictures, we then drove to Cape Point which is the southern tip of Africa.  The following day our first stop was our first wine tasting.  The building was stone, and it was beautiful.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of the places we visited; I guess we have another excuse to go back.  This one vineyard was the best wine tasting we’ve ever been to.  They gave us alot more than usual at a wine tasting which was rough so early in the day, but we managed (wink, wink).

This was a short stop in Capetown we didn’t have enough time to visit Table Mountain, but we will be visiting again so the next time we will be sure to see it.

Maria & John – Sunset cruise
Whale tail

Maria & John – First Vineyard
Maria
Maria & John

Locals playing soccer
Boulder Beach Penguin

Baboon

Ostrich

Maria & John at the Cape of Good Hope
Coloful Sunset

Safari – Four days on Safari

March 27 – 30, 2009

What a great day it is we get to spend four days on Safari. As soon as we drove into Kruger National Park and arrived at Jacobin we saw an elephant just walking around which was amazing. The only time I’ve seen an elephant was either at the circus or a zoo, and these wild and free elephants are tremendous. We hung out with my good friend Tina and her cousins Sass and Tom were a blast we had a lot of fun with them.

After settling in and unpacking it was the perfect time to take a drive and have our first sundowners the real way. Elvis who was our driver at Jacobin packs the truck with all kinds of liquor, wine and soft drinks and a basket of finger foods that Saloni and Nora cook fresh daily. Once packed and ready to go for our sundowners Elvis drove us to this perfect spot and set up a table with a tablecloth and made us all drinks and set up the food. It was a fantastic welcome and a great experience.

Once we were done with the sundowners, we then drove to have a bush brie which is a barbecue in the heat of the bush. Once again another amazing experience. One of the things they told us was not to walk away from the other people and the fire because if Hyenas might drag you off and eat you.

The next day Tina and her cousins had to leave, so we had the whole place to ourselves which was great. We woke up every day at 5:30 am and were on the safari by 6 am hoping to see the Big 5 and of course all the other animals as well.

We were lucky enough to see the following animals.
Leopard
Cheetah
Giraffe
WartHog
Spotted Hyena
Impala
Zebra
Black Rhino
Cows
Buffalo
Elephant
Wild Dog
Baboon
Jackal
Wildebeest
Reedbuck
Nyala
Steenbok
Waterbuck
Bushbuck
Kudu

We were very lucky to see a Leopard that had just killed and dragged an Impala up a tree. The next day we went back to that same spot and saw the leopard finishing off the Impala, and you could hear the Leopard cracking the bones while eating it was wild. That afternoon we saw the leopard feeding her two cubs which is a rare sighting.

The only animal we weren’t lucky enough to see was the lion. Hopefully, the next time we go on Safari we will see them in the wild.

Follow us on our journey the next stop is Nelspruit/White River.

A Herd of Cows
The never-ending road to Kruger National Park

All the different lodges

Chalet 4 where we slept
Bullnose bird
Watering hole

Nora, Saloni &
Elvis
Huge spider

Imapala

Outdoor dining at Jacobin with view of the watering hole

Ant Hill
Leopard and her kill an Impala
Leopard and her kill an Impala

Leopard and her kill an Impala

Another sundowner
Owl
Me next to the Safari vehicle
Dinner being cooked over hot coals
Elvis & John
Me & Elvis

Zebra relaxing
Zebra’s getting busy
Giraffe’s and Zebra’s
Giraffe
Giraffe
Leopard
Leopard eating an Impala
Leopard with an Imapala Leg
Leopard and her cub
Black Rhino
WartHog
John & Elvis
Nkorho Bush Lodge another safari lodge
Lovely Eli
Beautiful sunset
Locals carrying sticks for a fire on their heads

Dubai, UAE – Day 2 – Tour of the city

November 22, 2011

Today was our last day in Dubai and our last day on the ship.  We disembarked from the ship and checked into our hotel Raffles Dubai which we booked for half the day.  We only needed the room to freshen up before flying home for 12 hours.  Unfortunately, it was hazy out so some of my pictures aren’t clear.

We jumped into a cab and decided to see as much of the city as we possibly could.  The first place we visited was the fabulous Burj Khalifa.  It is the tallest building in the world with the fastest elevator.  We went up to the 122nd floor which was the lounge called Atmosphere.  We had breathtaking views of the city.  We saw the construction of the Palm Islands and The World.  This lounge was expensive for lunch, but everything in Dubai is pricey. We then decided to go to the Dubai Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest shopping malls in the world

In the mall, they have an indoor ski resort called Ski Dubai where John and I did a few runs.  It wasn’t big, but it was the only indoor ski resort we’ve ever seen. After doing a little bit of shopping, we went back to our hotel so that we can get ready for dinner in the Burj Al Arab (Sail Hotel).  The only way you can get into that hotel is if you are staying there or if you have reservations for the restaurant.

The Burj Al Arab is a beautiful hotel with vibrant colors. We knew these two women who were staying there, so we got a sneak peek into their suite and boy was it gorgeous.  Each suite has two floors with a beautiful staircase.  After getting a tour of the room, we went to dinner at Al Mahara.  The restaurant is basically a giant fish tank it, and anywhere you sit you have a great view of it.

From the menu to the stemware and the silverware everything was top notch.  The food was delicious as well.  After a very expensive dinner, we got a ride back to our hotel so that we can finish packing and get ready to go home.  After a great 18 day cruise, it will be tough to go back home to reality.

Burj Khalifa – Picture credit Trip advisor
Burj Al Arab – Picture credit Google
A hazy picture of Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Maria & John at Atmosphere Lounge on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa

A hazy picture of the Burj Al Arab from the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa
A view of Dubai
Maria & John
A couple of the local in their traditional clothing
Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai
The beautiful ceiling of Burj Al Arab
The pretty balconies in the Burj Al Arab
The staircase in one of the suites in the Burj Al Arab
Bedroom in Burj Al Arab Suite
Bathroom in the Burj Al Arab Suite
Maria & John at Al Mahara Restaurant entrance
Al Mahara Restaurant fish tank
Al Mahara Restaurant stemware

Maria & John in Al Mahara Restaurant
Maria & John – Burj Al Arab house car is a beautiful Roll Royce

 

Dubai, UAE – Day 1 – Desert Dune Drive Safari

November 21, 2011

Today we are doing a desert safari tour in a 4 X 4 vehicle.  We drove deep into the desert where the driver took us on a wild rollercoaster desert drive.  This type of ride is known as dune bashing traveling up and down the towering dunes.  I thought the truck was going to tip over which added to the excitement.

After our crazy ride we drove to the camel and Bedoiun settlements where we had a chance to see how they live Arabian style.  We had a good time sand surfing and taking in the breathtaking sunset views. 

Our rollercoaster ride

Bedouin Settlement
Maria in the Desert
Our friend Fernando sand surfing
Maria & John 
Maria

 

Muscat, Oman

November 20, 2011

Driving from the pier in Muscat we drove by the giant incense burner in the world.  We then drove along the Batinah Coast which is very pretty.  We arrived at our first stop Nakhal Fort, perched on a 200-foot high hilltop with spectacular views.  We saw the ladies’ sitting room, the prison, the split level terraces, and courtyards.  We then visited the Nakhal Springs, a tranquil and picturesque area framed by majestic mountains.  On the way to our lunch at the Grand Hyatt, we drove through Nakhal Village.  After lunch we drove by the Al Zawawi Mosque, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside, but the outside looks amazing. 

We then headed to the exquisite Al Alam Palace which overlooks Muscat Bay. We didn’t see the inside of the Palace but the grounds were awesome.

One interesting thing our tour guide told us about was that you get a fine if your car isn’t clean.

The second to last stop on today’s tour was Bait Al Zubair, a private museum that has collections of Omani items such as weaponry, jewelry, clothing, books, photographs, paintings and old maps.  We spent some time speaking to the owner of the museum who was very nice.

The last stop on our tour was a shopping stop at the colorful Muttrah Souq.  We purchased frankincense, incense, and an Omani dagger.  

Follow us on our journey the next and last stop on this trip is Dubai, UAE for two days.

Port of Muscat
Homes along the Batinah Coast
The prince of Oman’s yacht
Nakhal Fort
Giant incense burner structure in Muscat Oman
Closer picture of the giant incense burner structure in Muscat Oman
Al Alam Palace
Al Alam Palace
Al Alam Palace Tree
Mosque of the Great Prophet blue dome
Mosque of the Great Prophet blue minaret with Quranic scriptures
Bait Al Zubair Museum front door
Al Zawawi Mosque
Gold front door of the Al Zawawi Mosque
Omani Dagger we purchased