Wife and I arrived safely back on U.S. soil (thanks for all who prayed) yesterday afternoon in Atlanta, drove to Auburn and managed to stay up until about 10 p.m. (just two hours short of being up 24 hours) before crashing.
I will not bore you with all of the details and I will post pictures later, but I am happy to report that we had a wonderful time in Europe. We both fell in love with Italy and, should my proverbial ship ever come in, I will rent/buy a villa in Tuscany or on the Amalfi Coast and spend at least part of the year there. Alas, I don't see that ship anywhere near my harbor.
Just a few of my thoughts/observations:
-- The flights both ways were uneventful but still mildly miserable. I wish I could afford the "business elite" class (what I guess we used to call first class) where those who sit in the luxurious spacious seats with at least twice the leg room of coach are served wine upon arrival. That contrasts greatly with us peons who are crammed into the cattle car/sardine can that the airlines call "economy."
-- I did not take the Valium my friend gave me (although it got close on the way home) but on the flight over I took advantage of the complimentary beer and wine with liberality. That helped some. The airline food, though -- where do they get this stuff? It's crap, pure and simple.
-- Upon arrival in Barcelona at 9 a.m. we immediately began to see the sights and tried to pretend we had slept but by noon we were zombies. We took about a 3-hour nap and were much better after that. This was against some strong advice from well-meaning friends but, sorry, when my body tell me to sleep, I sleep. We managed to get up and resume sight-seeing.
-- Our cruise was fine but, really, it was incidental to the trip -- just a mode of transportation and a place to eat and sleep at night. We had a nice state room with a balcony but, except for the last day which was at sea, we were off the boat every morning early and seeing the sights. We did meet some delightful people from England with whom we ate dinner every night. But other than that, we did very little aboard other than sleep. This was much different from our cruise to Alaska in 2006 with our entire family where we were at sea three days and off the ship three days.
-- Except for one day in Italy, our tours were all private, meaning we did NOT do the excursions offered by the cruise line. This was a little more expensive but well worth it. Every one of our guides, both in France and Italy, were superb. We got great personal attention and, especially in Rome and Florence, were able to absorb a lot of history in a brief amount of time.
-- It was very, very unseasonably warm in every port we visited. Highs in the 80s. I wore shorts each day except the day we visited Rome where long pants are required in St. Peter's (although I think some guys got away with shorts).
-- We made a waiter mad at lunch in Florence. Our guide recommended a really great looking restaurant where I though we would have the classic Italian meal. We were greeted with smiles upon our arrival and we smiled back but, after being shown to our table, we were obviously scorned as evidenced by being brought different food than we ordered and never receiving the wine we requested. That's still a mystery.
-- I had a ball trying to speak Spanish in Barcelona and I think Mrs. Fernald, my high school Spanish teacher, would be proud. Wife, on the other hand, was convinced that if she just spoke English LOUD enough to anyone, they would understand, even if they didn't speak a word of English.
-- I don't understand Europeans and bathrooms. I mean, don't they have internal plumbing just like I do? Yet their bathrooms are all remote and obscure tiny little structures for which you must beg for directions. They are also often unisex and there is often a fee charged. Never got that. I can tell you that, by the time I would reach one, I was willing to pay handsomely and I didn't care if I was sharing with a female. Some things can't wait.
-- We saw near-nude (i.e. topless) bathers on the beach in France. For documentary purposes only, I took photos (which will not be published). Amazing. Also saw men who might as well have been nude and their little speedos were not flattering.
-- I love the outdoor cafes where Europeans sit and have their food/drink of choice and watch the world go by.
-- I am happy to be back on American soil but we had a wonderful time. My thanks to Wife for planning and executing all of this, a wonderful way to celebrate 25 years of marriage.
-- I kept a daily journal but, again, I'll not bore you with that. When I get home and can get them loaded, I'll post a few photos.