Ok, I took awhile to post this because I wanted to post pictures. I took over 1700 pictures over the trip, and I wanted to narrow it down to the top 2 or so from each day. By the time I was done, I still had 200. Ekk. Pics will come later. Or you can look on facebook, because they're all there.
Day 1: Chisinau to Rome
Flight was delayed over an hour, sat on a bus waiting to go to Rome from the airport for an hour, made it into the city just after the sun set, ran into our friends who were kind enough to let us stay with them on the street just as we had a make a decision as to which way to turn to go to the apartment (good timing), ate Chef Boyardee pasta at a restaurant that also had a carafe of the best house wine I've ever had and it was only 3 euros, left my camera at home as we went on a walk and saw the Colosseum, Parthenon, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Trevi Fountain. The best par (other than the awesome wine, being in a 1st World country, and the nice walk at night) was being able to drink water from the tap.
Day 2: Few hours in Rome, then to Civitavecchia
Got an early start, walked around forever to try to find a wifi cafe (fail), made it to the train station, dropped off our bags, checked out times for the train to Civitaveccia, then hopped on a bus to the Vatican (which was the only place I hadn't been both times I visited Rome, and it was where Ross wanted to go back to the most... he did say, after all, that the Vatican is Disney World for Catholics). Then, on the way back, we were trying to catch the same bus that we took from the train station to get back to the train station. We saw the bus, but weren't able to get to a stop in time to get on it, so we went in the same direction that we saw it turn. But there wasn't a stop where we were waiting, so we looked at the list of the stops of the other busses. When a bus is approaching you, you can see the number of the bus and then it's written, on the front. where it's final stop is. So me, getting a little to tired of waiting, thought the bus had the train station written on it, even though it wasn't listed on the sign. We hopped on. 40 minutes later, and well into the residential area of Rome, we decided to get off the bus to catch another one in the right direction. At this point we still had time so spare, so it was fine. An hour of waiting later, we realized the bus wasn't coming. We then realized we were going to miss our train but thankfully, due to Ross not liking to be late (aka SUPER early in my book), we actually had plenty of time to spare. So we tried to catch a taxi. But the driver was off, but he told us to catch the next bus (the bus of which we'd probably seen 10 times in that hour) to the subway that was 2 stops away, then hop on the subway to the train station. Oh boy. We caught a train 30 minutes later (missing the other one by mere minutes), and made it with plenty of time to spare for the cruise.
Day 3: Genoa, Italy
It was cold, overcast, and small. We went to the Ferrari Plaza, but there wasn't much to it other than a fountain. We walked around for a couple hours then got back on the boat. It was prettier from the outside.
Day 4: Naples, Italy
We took our first excursion, which we later found out we could have easily gotten there by ourselves. When we chose Pompeii we thought we'd see all of the people as they were when they were covered in ash by the volcano. Well, no. We just saw the ruins of the city, which was interesting, for about the first 30 minutes, then it all looked the same. So, if you decide to take this cruise, either get to Pompeii yourself (with the train, it's easy) or go see Vesuvius.
Day 5: At sea
We were disappointed with the activities on the cruise, or the lack thereof, especially for an entire day at sea. There were a couple of exercise programs in the morning, Bingo once during the day, and then a show at night before (or after) dinner... then some NYE festivities, but if you had the late dinner (like we did), we finished at 11:30, just in time to find a place, get that midnight kiss, then go to bed. But we did attempt the hot tub during the day...which did lead to some entertainment considering the tub was lukewarm but felt super awesome after a quick jump into the freezing (literally) cold pool water, then watching a man swim in the pool for a good 20 minutes and then watch his wife lick his face. And toes. Like a cat. Seriously.
... but it was fun for our first formal night!
Day 6: Heraklion, Greece
Everything was closed due to the fact that it was New Year's Day, but it was nice to have such quiet streets, with the only real sound of locals being the people up in their houses cooking food for their family and friends. We did stop in a coffee shop shortly upon arrival (one of the only that was open) and were given a shot of Uzo (the local drink), and a pastry by one of the men there... when Ross took the whole shot at once, the man looked at him like he was loco and then said, "slowly! slowly!"... so I got to sip on the super strong (and to me not so tasty) alcohol. But the pastry was good, and it was kind of fun to be the only female in the whole place full of old men playing backgammon and poker. The server didn't seem to enjoy us there, but the patrons didn't seem to mind. After that we walked around until we found a park, and then found ourselves in a residential area (again). It was still really pretty.
Day 7: Rhodes, Greece
Again, nothing was open, but this time it's because it was Sunday. We took a walk around the outside of the city along the ocean until we got to the beach, where we found beautiful rocks, clean waters, and a diving platform. I wanted to go diving, but then remembered 1. it was super cold 2. I didn't have my swimsuit and 3. I never liked the platform anyways (I'm more of a springboard type of gal). When we walked by a store with beautiful mosaic lamps, I couldn't help myself so we went in to check it out. The man told me his wife made the mosaics and painted the beautiful ceramic plates I bought. After eating gyros at one of the only open restaurants (it was in a tourist spot, but owned by locals, and locals were eating/playing cards there... so we decided it was okay), we finally happened upon the tourist spot (the old part of the village) where I found those beautiful mosaic lamps and plates again. Either his wife owns that market, or he lied. I'm going to guess he lied, but I fell for it so I can't say too much ;) We then found a totally vacant street in the midst of the incredibly packed tourist area that was full of cats. Seriously, i think there were 15 or 20. That was probably the best part about this place- if you went just ONE street away from the main one, you didn't see a single soul. It was really relaxing and beautiful.
Day 8: Cairo, Egypt
This was our second and last excursion of the trip, and TOTALLY worth it. As soon as we got off the boat (after waiting in line forever, only to find out if we would have gone to the main lobby first we could have been out in a couple minutes versus over an hour), we hopped on a bus to take us from the port in Alexandria to Cairo. We had a guide who spoke enough English to talk the entire 3 hours, but it was pretty interesting. Our first stop was the 2nd pyramid (in the famous group of 3), where we were hassled by locals trying to get us to ride their camel or buy their knock-off goods. One man even went so far as to put 4 beads from a broken necklace into our new friend's pocket, saying it was a gift, and then demanded money when we walked away. Finally, the only way to get him to leave, was to give him money. Although there was so much more I wanted to see there, after our 15 minutes was up, I was ready to get back on the bus to drive the 2 minutes to the Sphinx. It was still full of locals, but it wasn't as bad as it was up the road. Ross and I bought some "traditional hats" to go along with our pictures from our Christmas card, and talked the man down from 11 euros for 1, to 4 for 2. While I"ll never wear it as a hat again, it will make for a scarf later on. Then we entered area surrounding the Sphinx, and our new friend, Lance, proposed to his girlfriend, Kristi. It was so wonderful to be there for that moment and to photograph it for them! I think the best part was the MSC cruise photographer that got RIGHT in their face (literally), and the woman that thought she'd love to treasure their private moment forever by getting in their faces, too, and taking pictures. I totally think she's going to frame that (um, no). Then we got back on the bus and headed to a safari (aka super awesome 10 minute ride in a jeep through the desert) and a camel ride, followed by a super delicious buffet. I have no idea what i was eating, but it was really tasty!
Day 9: At sea
We took a 4 hour nap because there were so many great activities to go during the day. lol
Day 9: Messina, Italy
Last stop, and one of the best!! We walked all over the city, visited some churches, and had the best pizza we've ever eaten in our lives at one of the only open restaurants (re-occuring theme???). But it was delicious. And the city was absolutely beautiful. I definitely want to go back.
Day 10: Back to Rome
We couldn't have ended the trip without another adventure. When we were finally let off the boat, we went straight to the train station to get tickets back to Rome/the Airport. Instead of buying tickets to Rome, then to the airport (we had a lot of time to spare), we bought them together. We waited almost 2 hours for the train (it was a holiday and so there were fewer trains than normal and not one taxi was on the road), we finally ended up back in Rome. Lance and Kristi had a plane to catch that they almost missed, and our other new friends from Canada invited us to lunch while we waiting for our train. We ate at a little restaurant and I had incredible gnocchi, but the house wine was probably the worst wine I've ever had in my life. Then we got on our train to head to the airport. Now, in the 3 other trains that we rode, theoretically we didn't even need a ticket because no one ever checked it. But of course we always bought a ticket just in case, and of course someone checked it on our last train before leaving the country. Now, this would have been fine... except the tickets we bought at the port didn't actually take us directly to Rome- we were supposed to get off of the train at another stop and then catch one to the airport from there instead of the main station in Rome. So that cost us an additional 6 euros, plus the 8 euro fine for having the wrong ticket. Thankfully the ticket man was having an ok day, I guess, and only charged us for 1, instead of the 2. Oh well, leave it to us to have more problems :P
Day 10: Romania
When you enter Romania and Moldova, you can guarantee you'll be getting a stamp in your passport in both directions. In most of the other countries I've been in, I only sometimes got a stamp, but usually I didn't. So when we got to Romania they held on to my passport for awhile, and I was getting nervous, especially because I wasn't using my Peace Corps passport since I didn't have my proof saying I was working in the country (which is fine... my normal passport just looks like I'm a tourist. It's ok.) Then the woman asks me if I had lost my passport. I thought she meant the identification card, so I pulled up the email with the proff on my iPad, and pulled out my other passport. Then she said she just asked if it had been lost. Which it hadn't, so I still don't know what the problem was. But no worries- I then got it stamped and we were good to go.
We left the airport and needed a taxi to get to the hotel. The driver tried to tell us it would be 40 euros. Absolutely not, and we didn't even have Euros on us anyways since we were in Romania, where they take Romanain Lei, not euros. We couldn't get him to go down, so I called the hotel and asked them how much it should cost. She didn't know, but said that was outrageous. Finally we talked him into 50 Romanian lei, which was still overpriced because 2 minutes after leaving the airport we were at the hotel. No joke. We could have WALKED. But the driver told me if he knew I spoke Romanian he would have given it to us for the 50 lei from the beginning. Uh, huh. Sure. Next time we're walking. But the hotel was nice, warm, clean, and comfortable, and situated close to both of the airports in Bucharest.
Day 11: Romania to Chisinau
We made it back to Chisinau over an hour later than planned due to the de-icing of the smallest plane I've ever been on in my entire life. It could probably hold at most 20 people, there were 12 passengers, and 1 flight attendant. But we got a meal for the hour long flight. American airlines can learn something from Moldovan airlines... the drinks were free, too! Then when we arrived in Chisinau, the driver tried to charge us 100 Moldovan lei to get to the train station. It cost us 50 to get to the airport. Now, I understand it was the Orthodox Christmas, but seriously!! We finally talked him down to 60 lei, but it was still frustrating.But we made it back to Moldova, all in one piece.
Overall the trip was nice. It was great to get away and to be on an airplane again. Plus, it was nice to not have the internet much. If I go on another cruise, I think it will be a summer or fall one because it will be warmer so there will be more activities at the pool and we can be out on deck when we're at sea. Plus, things won't be closed for the holidays. I was thankful to only have gone to Egypt for the day- I don't think I would have wanted to spend the night there. I definitely want to go back to Messina and Rhodes. I think a cruise is a good way to test out places you might want to go back to, or to go to places you want to see, but don't want to spend much time there (aka Egypt).
It's nice to be back "home", but I will be honest and say I'm not necessarily looking forward to going back to teaching. I'd adjusted to this lifestyle, and stepping out of it and coming back made it seem even harder than it was before I left. But I have to remember that it's the little things that make a difference... and I came here wanting to make a difference. So we'll see...