Smooth Sailing – A Trip Across Generations

 

Trip Planning

Sweet: It’s no secret that my husband Stephen and I love to travel. However, he prefers lounging poolside, and ordering room service, while I prefer to go out and experience the sights. We usually travel by ourselves, occasionally meeting up with friends.

Sour: My nephew graduated from college, and his family was planning a graduation trip. Suddenly, cousins and grandparents (and of course my wife) seemed interested in joining. This is how we crashed the trip.

Sweet: Since I had the time, I felt felt capable and confident in planning the trip. I took the lead and presented several itineraries to pick from. During dinner gatherings, locations were finalized, and the details were left to me. Essentially, our trip would have three parts, Rome, a Mediterranean cruise, and Venice.

Sour: Due to busy schedules, our time of travel would be during sweltering weather conditions, attractions would be near capacity, and we would pay higher costs during peak season. Fortunately, my wife had several months to plan, making these aspects easier to accept.

Part 1. Rome, Italy

Sweet: Our group of 12 consisted of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews from the ages of 10 to 82. Flights were booked on the budget carrier, Norwegian Air, and the cruise was booked through Costco Travel (Costco cash card bonus!) on the family-friendly, Norwegian Cruise Line. Fast-forward several months, and it was time to meet at congested LAX and depart for Rome.

Sour: We arrived at our hotel near the Pantheon, Arch Rome Suites, by a transportation with only a minor hiccup. I left a suitcase behind on the luggage carousel, but was able to sprint back and retrieve it.

Sweet: The Pantheon neighborhood is a central location to explore from, as it’s a short walk to many of Rome’s top sights. Built during Hadrian’s reign, the Pantheon itself is a well preserved 2,000 year old temple. Once used by pagans and as a court, it was later converted by the Popes for Christian worship.

Sweet: Most of the restaurants we visited were within a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Reservations were made in advance with reviews and ratings verified. Our first jet lag lunch at Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina was quintessentially Roman. We ate fresh buffalo mozzarella with vine ripened tomatoes, jamon iberico, and cacio e pepe – a delicious Roman cheese and pepper pasta. Lunch was followed by a nearby gelato at Fatamorgana (a favorite) on our way back to the hotel.

The Colosseum

Sweet: After a good night’s rest, we started our mornings at the hotel breakfast buffet before hitting the streets running (by running I mean walking or taking a taxi).

Sour: Our reserved Colosseum tour began in a shaded area, where our guide shared its history. The travertine limestone structure was built in only 6-8 years, beginning in 70 A.D. The arena holds 50,000 spectators, who were entertained mostly by gladiators. Later, the Colosseum fell victim to thieves, earthquake damage, and was partially dismantled for uses at other building projects. After the tour, we walked to nearby Trattoria Luzzi, where we squeezed together at a long table that quickly filled with pizzas.

Roaming Around Rome

img_2154-1Sweet: Post guided tours, evenings of leisurely walks were enjoyed as we passed beautiful fountains and ruins, followed by dinner, and a final gelato. We lingered in the beloved Piazza Campo de’ Fiori – known for its daily farmers market, the Baroque Piazza Novana – one of the most popular squares in Rome with three spectacular fountains sculpted by Bernini, Giacomo della Porta, Antonio Della Bitta, and Gregorio Zappalà, Trevi Fountain, and the crowded but picturesque Spanish Steps.

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Piazza Navona

img_1942Sour: Thousands of water fountains were built by popes for beauty and functionality. These fountains supply an abundance of fresh drinking water, so be sure to remember your water bottle. Larger fountains are patrolled by officers, mostly to offer protection from badly behaved tourists who are scolded or ticketed for sitting on the ledge, bathing their feet, or reenacting La Dulce Vita.

The Vatican Museums

Sweet: Despite long lines, with a reservation we were able to walk directly inside the Vatican Museums where we experienced endless al frescoes, statues, and painted galleries.

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Sour: The Vatican doesn’t have A/C, and the museum fills to capacity…this can make for a miserably hot summer visit. We barely managed to make it out together in walkable condition (before & after photos above).

Sweet: Since dipping in the fountains wasn’t an option, a crowd pleasing way to cool down was with a mid-afternoon scoop (or two) of gelato, with my personal favorite being Cremeria Monteforte.

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Angels & Demons Tour

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Sour: Despite expectations, a 4-hour long Angels & Demons tour by City Wonders was a highlight! Air conditioned buses took us around Rome, from churches to castles – with our favorites stops being Castel St. Angelo, and the basilica, Santa Maria della Vittoria to view the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.

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Sweet: We finished the tour with a lunch at Armando el Pantheon, a long standing Roman family restaurant deservingly listed in the Michelin Guide…at least the adults were very happy. Most restaurants served pizza, and if not, there was a place to grab a slice nearby, making even the pickiest of eaters happy.

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Sour: When in Rome…enjoy a coffee at an espresso bar, use bread to dip into your pasta sauce (not asking for olive oil/balsamic), order Roman specialties, and linger a while as waiters ensure you don’t feel rushed.

Part 2. Mediterranean Cruise

Cruise, Day 1. All Aboard!

Sour: After spending an eventful four nights in Rome, we were ready to depart for Rome’s closest port, Civitavecchia. We boarded the Norwegian Epic, our ship away from home for the next seven nights. Once on-board, we headed to the buffet, piling our plates with prime rib, seafood, and an array of desserts. Many guests enjoyed plate after plate, getting value for what they paid. Finally, as the sun began to set, the ship pulled away and we settled into our cabins.

Cruise – Day 2. Livorno/Florence/Pisa

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Sweet: At the first port of call, vans took us to Florence, stopping in Pisa, and the Tuscan countryside. Florence, known by locals as Firenze, is historical Renaissance city filled with art, giant slabs of steak, and culture. If the weather had been cooler, we would have enjoyed it even more.

Sour: High temperatures in the low hundreds kept our visits shorter than anticipated. Fortunately, air-conditioned vans provided relief, and my parents could stay in the van during photo stops. While in Florence, we feasted on local Florentine steak, and truffle pasta before briefly visiting the popular Duemo and Ponte Vecchio bridge.

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Cruise – Day 3. Cannes, France

img_2904img_2917img_2912Sour: After the intense day of heat, we decided that our next day in Cannes should just be a beach day! We rented chairs on the beach, and swam in the sea. We visited the prestigious Hotel Carlton, where I shelled out $24 (yikes!) for a milkshake; afterwards, we strolled through town before tendering to the ship.

Cruise – Day 4. Palma, Spain

img_2995img_3024Sweet: Palma provided us with a delicious taste of Spain. At Calixto, the owner serves one food item, Paella. Our giant seafood paella was quickly devoured alongside pitchers of sangria. We should have ordered more!

Sour: Gothic and Arab architecture made for a unique backdrop while meandering the streets. We shopped, and of course, enjoyed more gelato. Be sure not to shop at Supreme, it was later found that the great priced gifts were fake.

Cruise – Day 5. Barcelona, Spain

Sour: One of my favorite port of calls was Barcelona, where our tour guide acquainted us with Catalan modernist Antoni Gaudí. I marveled the enormity of the nearly complete Basílica de la Sagrada Família, and many of the playful buildings of the Spanish architect.

Sweet: It had been over a decade since my last visit to Barcelona. It was familiar, but new flavors of pintxos and explorations like Park Güell made this stop feel different (and much quicker) than the last time.

Cruise – Day 6. At Sea

Sour: The following day was spent at sea. It was a welcome change to have the chance to rest, eat to our stomach’s content, gamble (a must-do for the grandparents), play arcade games, have a (much too expensive) family photo session, and get laundry serviced. The main outdoor deck was crowded with sunbathers, making it was hard to find sun lounge chairs together. All in all, we enjoyed the chance to take a pause. 

Cruise – Day 7. Sorrento/Positano, Italy

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Sweet: Our next stops were crowd-pleasers. In Sorrento, the Bay of Naples is dotted with swimming docks, where holiday goers lounge under bright umbrellas. We enjoyed the view from atop the cliffs before shopping for leather goods, ceramics, and scarves. It’s marked on the list to return someday, with more time to spend under an umbrella.

Sour: We drove over the hill to Positano, stopping along the way to tour an olive oil factory. I had never seen so many flavors of olive oil! I purchased several bottles of garlic and truffle olive oil, for my wife to could cook with when we got home.

412c272a-e059-4b39-a39e-6798b0ce96c9Sweet: Although the narrow and winding road from Sorrento to Positano made us dizzy, it rewarded us with postcard-worthy Amalfi coast views. In Positano, we had a picturesque al fresco lunch at Hotel Poseidon. Limoncello was served alongside gnocchi, fish, and crustaceans. This was the best part of our day, if not our whole trip.

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Sour: After lunch, we walked through the village, and down to a rocky beach. We felt reluctant to leave heaven on earth, but a stop at a limoncello factory (that also served gelato) on the way back to the ship lifted our spirits.

Part 3. Venice

Sweet: On the last night of the cruise, we packed and departed the next morning for another adventure. We took a bus, two trains, and a water taxi to end up at our final destination, Venice.

Sour: As we had been on the road for a while, we were ready to take Venice at a slower pace. It was about food, shopping, gondolas, and taking photos. Our fist dinner in Venice was at a touristy Grand Canal restaurant, where we were greeted with a downpour of rain and surprisingly good food.

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Sweet: Stephen and I celebrated our third anniversary by strolling across bridges, through alleyways, and over canals. The pavement glistened from the recent rain, and the empty paths made us feel as if Venice had been abandoned for us to enjoy alone. A midnight gondola ride through the empty canals gave a different, and quiet view.

Sour: Venice’s lack of roads make it a unique city to visit, but be prepared for a lot of walking with steps across each canal. Modes of transportation include crowded water busses or vaporettos, or expensive water taxis. During the day, museums and squares are loud with tourists, and the canals hum with sounds of utility, police, and vaporettos in the background. At nightfall, most tourists have retreated to their cruise ships, leaving the city quiet and tranquil.

img_3912Sour: We surprised my parents with a private boat tour through Venice, as walking takes a toll on their elderly knees and energy levels.

Sweet: One of the most fun ways to explore Venice is by boat. By doing so, we saw neighborhoods, bridges, and facades of buildings that otherwise would be missed.

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Sweet: Venice is full of fresh seafood, local markets, and delicious desserts. At our two favorite restaurants Al Gazzettino, & La Colombina, we let the chefs choose our menus. We were delighted, and full after both of these multi-course meals. We indulged knowing that although we had been on vacation for almost two weeks, our trip would soon come to an end.

Sour: I enjoyed veering into the quieter neighborhoods, where Venetians walked their dogs, enjoyed cichetti with friends, and sipped spritz at bicaris. We ate local food, like spaghetti with squid ink, and as much seafood as we could.

Sour: We boarded our final gondolas in the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood of Cannaregio. Our gondelier, Lucca, softly sang while we glided through the canals at twilight. Our time in Venice was coming to an end, and we would slowly begin to make the journey back to Los Angles. Life would resume with another school year, returning to work, and new chapters. This vacation will remain a sweet memory for years to come.

Sweet: Being home, I reflect on our time together, the bond we have, and the memories made while stepping out of comfort zones. This trip crossed generations, and was smooth sailing. I hope that one day we’ll have the opportunity to make another memory like this.