Sunday, August 16th

Well, it’s over… 40 days away from home, experiencing things that are sure to stay with us for the rest of our lives (and in some cases, maybe even change our lives).

It is a long time to be away from the comforts of home, and I am sure we are all looking forward to returning to Richmond.

As I look back upon all that has happened, I feel the need to give some thanks and recall why this was created…

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The blog was created to help us remember all that we did and learned. Originally, we were each to post a photo a day and write a summary of why each person chose the photo they did. That turned into a homework assignment, and no one but me was interested in doing that much work (I guess I am crazy)… But in all honesty, writing the blog has been quite enjoyable.

This trip itself was the brainchild of my Mother, and she is the one who arranged all of our accommodations, flights and the cruise. We owe both her and my Father a huge “thank-you” for organizing this great trip and for footing a huge portion of the bill. I read somewhere recently that the happiest people in the world are the ones who spend their money sharing experiences with loved ones, not buying ‘things’. That is my parents. They truly enjoy doing things with us, they are very happy, and so are we.

I also must thank my sister and her family as well as my own. 40 days away from home is difficult for everyone, and Bonnie and the boys have been extraordinarily resilient (and patient with me when things did not go quite as planned in London). The rest of our group of 9 have holidayed together before and done quite well, but 4 weeks in tight spaces can be hard, and while we may have gotten on each others nerves a little bit at various times, we have done remarkably well, and grown even closer as a family. Thank you for making that happen.

Looking back, I have asked each person in the family to go back through the blog and make their own Top 5 list. It was difficult, but here is what we came up with…

Jason-

  1. The Open-At St. Andrews??? A once in a lifetime experience. Awesome!

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  • Rome Tour-so much to see in so little time…

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  • Segways in Versailles-fun, fun, fun…

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  • Pompeii and Naples-crazy crowds, history and fantastic pizza!

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  • Arthur’s Seat in Scotland-what a climb (and windy, too!)

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Honourable Mention-Rental Car Driving tour of Carcassonne (caves, Cathar ruins, Minerve dinner), Eiffel Tower, Seeing Big Ben, the Louvre, the “Hop-on, Hop-off” London bus tour, O’Vineyards wine tour, wandering through the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla in Barcelona, Pont du Gard, Edinburgh Castle, Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the hike through Cinque Terre and last but not least, getting my money (1200 GBP) back from VISA!!!

Spencer-

  1. Celebrating my birthday on the cruise ship.

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  • The tour of Rome

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  • The Open Championship

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  • The first few moments on the cruise ship (and buying the soda package)

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  • Segways through the Gardens of Versailles

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Honourable Mention– The hike to Arthur’s Seat in Scotland, Ice cream on the 72nd floor of the Shard in London, Seeing Big Ben outside the Underground station, La Cité in Carcassonne, Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower

Bonnie-

  1. The Open Championship  

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  • Pont du Gard

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  • The Louvre

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  • Rome Tour

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  • Segways through the Gardens of Versailles

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Honourable Mention– The Shard, Carcassonne Driving Tour (Cathar Ruins, Caves, dinner in Minerve), Edinburgh Castle and Royal Mile, Eiffel Tower, Westminster Abbey, La Cité (castle and walled city in Carcassonne), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Big Ben, O’Vineyards wine tour, and the “Hop-on, Hop-off” London bus tour!

Trevor-

  1. Segways in Gardens of Versailles

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  • Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower

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  • Seeing Big Ben outside the Underground station

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  • Getting on the cruise ship (the first hour)

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  • The Open Championship

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Honourable Mention-going to the top of the Shard in London

What a trip. What an experience. What a family.

It has been a pleasure writing this and I will refer to it often when work and life get more difficult (and they will). I hope you have enjoyed reading and maybe it will inspire you to do something similar with your family. If so, and you need some advice or help with booking, give me a call or an email and I will connect you with my Mother.

Time to get to the airport and start the 24-hour journey home…

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Saturday, August 15th

The last day of our adventure.

It started slowly, with everyone (including me) sleeping in until 10:00 AM. I went for a run, then had something resembling breakfast (I had missed it, but found some muffins and coffee). We sang Happy Birthday to Spencer and made our way to the pool deck for some fun.

We had a family-wide Mini Golf tournament (Bonnie was the champion after defeating Grant in the final), then the kids zip-lined and did some flowriding. At 4:00 PM we gathered in the Grandparents room to toast Spencer’s birthday (it was his champagne birthday-he turned 15 on the 15th thus the champagne). More flowriding and it was time to get ready for dinner at 6:00 PM.

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Dinner was extravagant again, and the kids all had Oreo milkshakes and Happy Birthday was again sung in honour of Spencer’s birthday.

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After dinner, we had a family shuffleboard game where Trevor defeated Grant in the final, then started packing and turned in for the night fairly early. Tomorrow we have to be off the boat by 8:00 AM in order to catch a cab to the airport for our 12:00 Noon flight home.

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What a way to end…

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Friday, August 14th

Our last excursion of the cruise (tomorrow will be spent at sea) was into Pompeii after docking in Naples. We had purchased a tour with Royal Caribbean, which meant it was very well organized, but extremely busy. We had to meet in the arena at 8:15, get ashore and onto buses by 8:30 AM. We had no problems with that and arrived in the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage site by 9:00 AM. What a scene!

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Incredibly crowded, we had to fight with too many other tour groups to count (the venue attracts over 2.5 million visitors each year). But our tour guide knew her way around and was excited to share her vast knowledge with us. The site is truly remarkable, especially when considering the date the city was buried. Mt. Vesuvius blew and over half of the mountain disappeared! It turned to ash and apparently 4-6 metres (15-20 feet) of it descended on Pompeii. Many thought it was the ash that killed the people in the city, but what has been learned more recently is that it was the extreme heat that resulted from the explosion that lasted over 24 hours. More than 90% of the inhabitants got out of the city, but some were unable and we saw some of the haunting remains.

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The explosion occurred in August of 79 AD and the city of over 11, 000 people remained covered until 1748 when a local farmer found something that led to the beginning of the excavation of the city. The remains of the city are truly remarkable, and one can see the sewage system and water aqueducts, the public bathing areas, the housing, roads, and entertainment venues all being very neatly maintained and way ahead of their time. Most impressive is much of the artwork that still adorns the walls of the residences.

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After our Pompeii excursion, we returned to the ship at 1:30 PM and decided to wander into downtown Naples for the world’s best pizza. We found a place in Piazza de Plebiscito called Rossopomodoro. We ordered a Margherita (named after the queen who loved the pizza) and a Marinara. Perhaps it was my state of mind (I was hungry), but it was probably the best pizza I have ever had in my life!! Pizza is all about the crust, and this one was spectacular. We then walked through the city for a short time, looking at the Castle Nuovo and the Basilica Reale San Francesco  di Paola church and taking a stroll along the waterfront. We got back to the ship at about 3:30 and went to the pool to cool off.

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We had our second formal night for dinner at 6:30 PM and as usual, it was excellent. We then went to a show; Blue Planet, a gymnastics, acrobatics and singing show. It was also quite good. We then found my parents in one of the big band bars putting on quite a dance performance, so Bonnie and I joined them for a couple of tunes (we have nowhere near their skill). We walked around and checked out how lively the boat is (it is now full at 6,500 passengers), we also rode the Rising Tide bar that elevates three stories. We called it a night at 12:00 midnight.

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Tomorrow is the last day of our epic holiday and also Spencer’s birthday. The boat will be at sea all day as we head back to Barcelona. It will be a day where we sleep in, go for a run then spend some time by the pool, surfing on the Flowrider, going on the zip-line and playing some mini-golf. One last meal (before I go on a 30-day fast to lose the 15 pounds I have likely gained), and then we will have to pack.

Too bad this crazy adventure is about to end, but I am ready to come home…

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Thursday, August 13th

What a day!!!

After a difficult night (I had some more diabetes issues that required Bonnie’s assistance) due to the exertion from hiking yesterday and the late dinner, 6:00 AM came way too early for everyone… A quick shower and breakfast at the Windjammer café, and we were ready to get off the boat at 7:00 AM, as requested. The shuttle took us into Civitavecchia, the main port for Rome. We met our tour guide and along with another family from New York, the group of 8 hopped into a well-equipped van and we were on the way to Rome. A 45-minute drive (some Italians like to drive very aggressively), and we were in one of the most historically important cities in the world.

I am actually finding it difficult to put into words (and remember) all that we experienced today… Marco, our energetic, friendly and knowledgeable driver/guide took us to the Colloseum and the Arch of Constantine first. The famous and massive structure that could hold between 70-90,000 spectators is extremely popular, but we beat the crowds. We had passes with our tour ticket, so we quickly got inside and saw the incredibly impressive architectural feat.

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After 45 minutes there we headed to several significant sites around the city including: Capitoline  Hill and the Forum, the Chariot racing site, Piazza Venezia and the Wedding Cake, Mussolini’s residence (and the balcony he addressed people from), the Trevi Fountain (which is still being restored, so no water is flowing), the Spanish steps, Piazza Navona (a converted Olympic stadium that is now a pedestrian area for shopping and a church), and of course, the Pantheon.

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We also stopped for a tasty lunch in an authentic Italian café in a shopping square. I enjoyed a beer and a Caprese sandwich (only 3.5 Euro), while Bonnie enjoyed the bruschetta.

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After lunch we stopped by another incredibly impressive building; St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest church in the world. Our tour guide did a marvelous job and got us there at a time when the entrance line-up was only about 20 minutes long, so we went in. What a jaw-dropping structure! After about 30 minutes inside, we hopped back into the van and went to the Esquiline Hill atop the highest hill in Rome, overlooking most of the city.

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We got back into the van and returned to the ship, arriving as scheduled, right at 4:30 PM. Some were too tired to attend a formal sit-down dinner and went to the buffet, while the rest of us went out for another meal of too much rich food.

Feeling tired myself from the last two days (the exercise, lack of sleep and diabetes issues from last night have taken a toll); I passed on the Headliner Entertainment feature (a Queen cover band), came back to the room, wrote the blog and went to bed. Tomorrow is another early one, starting at 8:15 AM as we head into Pompeii to check out the destruction from Mount Vesuvius and then head into Naples for some pizza. Today was truly awe-inspiring, and Spencer told his Grandparents (who paid for the tour) that it was the best tour he has done on the trip! That is saying something!!!

Wednesday, August 12th

Well, that was interesting…

We had heard many things about the scenic towns known as Cinque Terre along the North Western Coast of Italy. Pretty, quaint, picturesque… these are all words that accurately describe the 5 cities (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Carniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso). After a leisurely start with time for a 5 km run, breakfast and disembarking, we were ashore at 10:00 AM. We planned on taking a boat cruise to the 5 cities, but had missed a couple of the sailings and people were worried about being hamstrung by times on the boat, so we opted for the train.

We purchased the city park pass (that permits hiking on the trails) with the transportation tickets and took the train to the last of the 5 cities—Monterosso. We saw a very pretty beach town, and stopped for some lunch. We then decided to walk along the path to the next town in the line. Vernazza was next and is considered by many to be the prettiest of the 5. I cannot dispute this thought… it was truly spectacular. The only issue with getting there was that it was a grueling 2 hour hike (the hardest of the 4 hikes) with some extreme elevation change and through some very narrow paths. It was challenging, but the reward at the end was worth it (at least some of us thought so). We sat in a café, enjoyed some prosecco and beer along with a snack, and then wandered through the very picturesque village.

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We decided that we could not do another significant hike (my 72 year old mother managed it quite well!), so we opted to take train back to Riomaggiorre, and 2 of the other 3 trails were closed due to mudslides. Riomaggiore also held a very beautiful scene full of restaurants, surfing, swimming, fishing and people enjoying time outside. The colours and views of the town are hard to describe. Suffice it to say, Cinque Terre is something you must see to truly appreciate.

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At about 6:30 PM, we felt the need to head back to the boat, so we squeezed onto the train (it was literally the most squished I have ever been), and 6 took a taxi back to the dock while Michelle, Grant and I walked.

We made it back for a late dinner, and everyone was gassed after the tough hike. We all went to bed early, tired from the exertion of the day and knowing that tomorrow we were arriving in Civitavecchia and heading into Rome. We need to be up at 6:00 AM and off the boat by 7:00 for an 8-hour day… I better get to bed.

Tuesday, August 11th

Marseilles, France… The intent was to get up and go ashore, but things don’t always go as planned. I got up early (7:30 AM) and went for a run on the treadmill (and watched as the captain docked the ship-quite impressive how well this huge boat handles).   I then went for breakfast and read on the deck, waiting for the others to wake up. Bonnie and the kids finally stirred at just after 10:00, and by the time they had something to eat and got ready for the day, it was after Noon. We talked about going ashore, but when we heard the shuttle bus in to town cost $23 USD per person, we decided against it.

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We read some more, hung out by the pool and the boys tried Flowriding again. A pretty quiet day, but very relaxing and enjoyable in the warm sunshine.

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We had a 5:30 dinner reservation, and once again I ate way too much. At dinner, we had a special recognition from the Maitre’d in honour of our 20th wedding anniversary. Bonnie and I also enjoyed some Rioja wine in the room while getting ready for dinner (duty free that we had picked up in Barcelona).

Following dinner, we went to Mamma Mia, the Broadway hit musical that was being performed on the ship. A very well choreographed show that had some talented performers, even the kids enjoyed it (they knew several of the tunes). Watching it reminded me of McNair’s school performance of Grease. Being involved (only slightly) in the show this year created a new level of appreciation for how hard the performers and crew work to put on a show like that.

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The show did not end until 11:30, and then we returned to our rooms for bed. A relatively low-key anniversary, but we are enjoying a cruise in the Mediterranean! I’d say we had a great anniversary!

Tomorrow we will go ashore as the boat docks in La Spezia, Italy. Our plan is to take a shuttle boat to the beautiful cities known as Cinque Terre. I have quite enjoyed my time on the ship so far (and at times feel a little sheepish about how lavishly we are living and being treated) but am ready to see what Italy has to offer.

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Monday, August 10th

This one caught me by surprise… Spencer awoke and looked out the window, illuminating the room darkened by blackout curtains. I rolled over from being dead asleep, looked at my phone and saw the time. 10:15 AM? Can’t be… I haven’t slept-in like that since I was a teenager. I awoke, went to catch the end of breakfast and tried to find my parents who were going ashore in Palma de Mallorca. I disembarked, recognized that we were a long way from the city centre and saw extremely long and expensive taxi line-ups. I decided to return to the ship, and go for a work out. A 4-mile run on the treadmill was a good way to make up for over-eating last night.

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I then met up with the family and we decided to hang out at the pool for the afternoon. It was a very warm day (34 degrees in Mallorca) and we relaxed, read and played some mini-golf. My parents returned from going ashore at 2:30 and as experienced travellers got a VIP session with the captain and crew, explaining how the ship was built, how it got refitted and how it handles. Apparently, it was quite informative.

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Dad and Mom also had to do our family a favour ashore today… Embarrassingly, we had left behind our Set Sail passes and baggage tags for the cruise, but we managed to get past that. We also left behind our shore excursion tickets for Rome, and those are critical. We contacted Mom’s travel agent friend, and she emailed us new tickets that we needed to print at an Internet café. Dad took care of that for us (again, I am getting everything done for me, and I felt a little like Clark Griswold again for leaving behind such important documents). Fortunately, everything worked out and we should have no problems going forward.

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We enjoyed another exceptional dinner tonight at 6:00 PM (formal night), and had no other plans for the evening. Mom and Dad went dancing again (they are getting recognized by other cruisers as ‘the dancers’), Trevor and Renee went to a ‘teens only’ party and Michelle and I went to a stand-up comedy show. After the show, Michelle challenged me to a Karaoke contest, and we went to perform. When I saw that kids could attend, I went to get Bonnie and Spencer. When we returned, I had missed signing up for a tune, but Michelle had signed up to do “Come on Eileen”. Her turn was about to come up, but the performer before her was really good, and it was a competition. Michelle felt that she was in a little over her head and pulled out (the other guy was really good). I may try my hand later in the week (maybe “Beauty School Drop-out” again?)

Tomorrow we will be going ashore in Marseilles, France. Bonnie and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. 20 years??? Already??? Where does the time go?…

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