Italy day 3: Cloudy day in Florence [YQrtw Day 29 May 6]

Florence Cathedral

Location: Pisa, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

Breakfast at Hotel Moderno was a self-service breakfast bar. The layout was very cute. I gorged on coffee (even this cheap drink is so tasty here) along with a piece of toast slathered with butter.

Breakfast bar at Hotel Mordeno, Pisa

My train to Florence left at 11:11am. It was a non-stop service which meant that it was punctual and very fast. It took 49 minutes to get to the city, in contrast to an hour or so on the normal train.

The owner of the hostel I was going to stay at wasn’t at the station as she promised to. For 5-nights, I will be staying at a Chinese-run hostel 民宿, an accommodation I first discovered in Barcelona. I’ll write a follow of this type of hostel soon.

I called the aunty and she said she will come and pick me up. I waited a while before I saw a Chinese lady waving her hand at me. She immediately started talking about how we should start sightseeing a little before we go back.

I stored my bags with one of her Chinese friends who sell souvenirs opposite the train station. Then we went to a Chinese grocery store where we even used the bathroom.

It turned out that Aunty and her friend wanted to go shopping and I was tagging along. However, they did point out the good eateries and even introduced me to lampredotto (made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow, says Wikipedia).

Yummy cow stomach sandwich--lampredotto

I told them I would go and explore on my own so they can go shopping. For an hour, I circled the Florence Cathedral which was a piece of art from every single angle. From the photos, you can’t tell that the walls are pretty with green borders and flowers but up close, there is so much detail.

Florence Cathedral

While sightseeing, it started drizzling. I hid in the sidewalks of some of the closed shops, admiring the cathedral all the time.

I also popped into a makeup store and bought eyeliner. I have been travelling without eyeliner for almost a month! It’s time I get some clothes for my eyes.

When it was time, the other aunty picked me up. She showed me the way back to the hostel/house after we picked up my luggage. My backpack was so heavy that I felt that the girl from [spoiler!] Shutter was on my shoulders.

I was allowed to pick one of the free beds in the 6-bed dorm. I chose the one on the lower bunk because I like having a roof on top of me.

I met a newlywed Taiwanese couple after my check in. Later, they went shopping while I stayed in the house, drinking Ceylon tea, downloading Rick Steve’s audio guides and finishing my posts.

The dorm also has dinners for those who wish to eat in. Too lazy and cold to head out, I ate the meal. There was Chinese pig trotters (yummy) and a magically yummy bean-sort of stir fry.

Later in the evening, I met the other two Taiwanese girls in my room. One also quit her job but she was only travelling for 40 days in Europe. The other was studying in France for her last semester.

It’s quite nice getting to know people even though I’m some times antisocial.

Italy day 2: Pisa [YQrtw Day 28 May 5]

Leaning tower and friends

Location: Civitavecchia, Italy
Location: Florence, Italy

I took a morning walk in chilly Civitavecchia to warm up before breakfast at the bar behind the B&B. (Turned out the bar was closed today.)

When I found out that the bar was still closed, I headed back to my room and packed everything. The reason I suddenly became so interested in packing was that I wanted to delay going into a local cafe for breakfast. (It’s so scary!)

Anyway, I did visit the local cafe/bar called Bar Europa and ordered a cappucino and a pastry. Go me!

It wasn’t easy going there for breakfast since I am terrified of interacting with people. I had to dare myself to go to the place. “I’ll bet you don’t dare buy breakfast, you chicken!”

Breakfast in Italy

I wandered around aimlessly after breakfast. Thank goodness Civitavecchia has free Wi-Fi on the main street which I used to contact my family.

I did buy a SIM card but there was a BIG problem. Even though I bought my Italian SIM card from Wind yesterday evening, it wasn’t activated in the morning.

It wasn’t until 12 noon and a bit of fiddling by the man who sold me my SIM card that my phone started working. This is the longest I’ve waited in any country for my SIM to work.

Fast forward to after my check out and after my SIM card finally worked, I had Middle Eastern for lunch and went to wait for my train at the station.

Interestingly, my express train was on time. Yesterday’s slow trains to and from Tarquinia were both late by 10 minutes.

The view from the train was beautiful. There were meadows of wild flowers, puffs of sheeps grazing and even a view of the coast. It’s true that Tuscany is beautiful.

At around 3:50pm, we stopped at a station. I checked Google Maps which told me that we have 120km to Pisa. I didn’t think we could cross 120km in 20 minutes but miraculously, we did!

My hotel in Pisa is near the train station. I’m grateful for that because it means that I do not have to carry my heavy backpack (it has gained weight, along with me, after our cruise.)

Being the cheapo tourist that I am, I decided to walk from the hotel to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Thank goodness for Google Maps or I will be very lost while travelling.

The journey from the hotel to the tower was filled with cute old buildings. Almost 1 out of 10 people were walking their dogs. Six out of the 10 seemed to be tourists.

I didn’t turn on Google Maps while walking so I was a bit off course. (If this is the magical “getting lost” that travel pros tell us to do, I’d rather not have that much of it and get to my destination fast.) Being off course meant that my first view of the Leaning Tower was from its back.

I saw the tip of the tower first and giggled. Finally! I’m meeting the famous tower. When I saw the tower, I was surprised that it was bigger than I imagined. Usually, we see a faraway shot of the tower so seeing it being thick at the waist was a surprise.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The highlight of the area wasn’t the tower but the exhibition in the different buildings. The entrance to the four buildings (excluding going into the tower) is 9 euro but the things you get to see is worth a lot more than that.

There were carvings, frecos, tracings behind frescos, golden wine cups, tapestries, stone coffins, and many many more. The cathedral (which is free) has a most gorgeous interior.

My check list for Pisa was all ticked after the visit. Dinner was gelato and strawberries. I passed by a gelato shop and bought a cone with macademia (yums!) and coffee (hmm…).

Strawberries were on sale at a fair and I bought 3 packs for 5 euros. This was the second night I had strawberries for dinner.

Strawberries of Italy

15th cruise day, Italy day 1: Tarquina day trip [YQrtw Day 27 May 4]

Etruscan museum show case

Location: Legend of the Seas
Location: Civitavecchia, Italy [Day trip to Tarquinia]

Initially I thought I had to leave the ship at 6:00am. Thank goodness the timing was more generous and I left at 8:30am. There was a shuttle bus from the ship to the entrance of the port which saved everyone lots of walking.

I was supposed to reach my B&B at 8:00am. I timed myself carefully but couldn’t find the place and got lost. In the end I did find the correct square and a lady brought me up to my room.

My room was very cute. A red sofa and a super cushy bed. Of course, I did not have time to lie in bed all day so I got ready to head out to Tarquinia for the Etruscan tombs which John and Liz from the cruise recommended.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out the doors of the B&B. The main door was heavy and the electric lock didn’t seem to open. When I tried to go back to the apartment, the house door’s key hole was horizontal and I took forever to figure out how to unlock it. One of the guests at the B7B showed me that I need to push really hard to get the door to open.

Damn Italian locks

So finally, I was on my way to Tarquinia. The next train to the town was coming in more than an hour. I met a few cruisers I know while waiting for the train. One group was heading to Florence while the other group to Sienna.

Our train came, 10 minutes late, and everyone pushed their heavy luggage up the rungs. I was luggage-less and managed to find a seat by the window.

The train sped through the Tuscan countryside. The view was amazing. I saw a lot of fields, some vineyards, puffs of brown sheep, oceans of wild flowers in purple, orange and yellow.

Since Tarquinia was only 2km away from Civitavecchia, my stop came very soon. After getting off the train, I immediately got on a bus which had a very handsome driver. (Squee.)

My first stop was the tourist information center where they give you 10 minutes free of Wi-Fi in exchange for a copy of your passport. I updated my mom and my Google Map within the tiny time frame.

The museum was about 10 meters away so it made sense to head there first. I used my *ahem* student card and got a 4 euro ticket that came with a visit to the tombs.

The museum is housed in an old building. Even though it seemed small, it was packed with Etruscan goodies. The Etruscans lived in Tuscan areas but eventually disappeared after being conquered by the Romans.

Etruscan museum

The sarcophagi on display were quite cute. Each sarcophagus has a person carved on the lid of it. Most of the carvings were “banqueting”. Some were leaning towards the visitor in the right way while some looked like someone stuck a head on the shoulders of a carving and violently snapped the neck.

I particularly like the Greecian pots in the museum. They looked exactly like the Greek pots they show on TV and encyclopedia. I even found those with my favorite Greek deities Athena and Hermes.

After the museum, I walked around aimlessly. Suddenly, I heard a lot of cars honking. It turned out to be a post-wedding procession.

Tuscan wedding procession

Unpleasant lunch

Later, I ventured into a local restaurant. On the menu, there was a first and second course page. It turned out that the serving of the first course was tiny. I ordered a second course of pork steak which was yummy.

Small plate of pasta

However, the experience was marred by the restaurant guy. One of the tourist/customer must have said something terribly insulting to him when she paid. The restaurant guy was rude afterwards and complained in Italian really really loudly (shouting kind of loud).

He went on and on and on. It was very uncomfortable. He should have dared told the customer what he was not pleased with instead of acting like a child.

After the unnerving lunch, I walked around some more and decided to head to the bus stop for the tombs. The bus never came so I go on the bus back to the train station to catch the train to Civitavecchia.

Train to Civitavecchia

I walked around some more in the small town and bought a SIM card. The card gave me headaches until the next noon.

I found a Carrefour and bought strawberry and ricotta. Bad move. I didn’t realize that the ricotta was dry-ish and tasted nothing like yogurt. Italian cuisine fail, YQ.

So I “feasted” on strawberries and surfed the internet.

At 9:00pm, I ventured out to see what was lurking in the night. Civitavecchia seems more lively at night with well-dressed Italian youths sitting in the cold, talking over beer.

Tourists from cruise ships in the day are replaced by Italians. Is it because Civitavecchia is far enough from Rome to be considered edgy by its patrons?

It was too cold to walk around any more so back into the warm B&B I went. I found a painting of Mary and baby Jesus on the wall of the building.

Ave Maria

15th cruise day: Bye bye cruise life [YQrtw Day 26 May 3]

Today is the last day at sea. I will miss this floating life very much.

In the morning, I joined another session of card-making. Today’s card was different from the last, although I still do not know if I should post them out or leave them to yellow.

Card making session on Legend of the Seas

Around noon, the ship passed Sicily. It’s rather a surprise that Sicily is the first Italian town I would see when I thought that it was going to be Civitavecchia [pronounced: Chi-vita-veh-kia (I didn’t know that and said it as it is spelled.]

View of Sicily from the sea

The island had a long long coast and it seemed like we sailed forever before we stopped seeing its dotted shores.

In the evening, the restaurant staff performed a lip-synced song of farewell. I felt teary, more sad about the thought of needing to pay for food for the next few months.

[Anna Karenina is on three different channels as I write. Yikes!]

14th cruise day: A show in the air on sea [YQrtw Day 25 May 2]

Legend of the Seas aerialist

Another sea day. Today was filled with food and lots and lots of reading.

Reading might seem like a lonely affair but, really, I get to see the lives of people who are A LOT more interesting than me.

In the evening, there was an exciting performance.

Legend of the Seas aerialist
Legend of the Seas aerialist

The Legend of the Seas was renovated recently. The company added a section for acrobatic performers to fly around in the middle of the ship.

The performers are called the “Legend of the Seas Aerialists” and they had a show today. It was 20 minutes of people tumbling around with elastic cords, accompanied by singing by the Legend of the Seas singers.

13th cruise day: Historical and commercial Egypt [YQrtw Day 24 May 1]

Egyptian Museum

Location: Cairo, Egypt
Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 12]

Since we reached the hotel late last night, I only got the chance to take a good look a Mena House Hotel in the morning while I was rushing for breakfast.

The hotel was previously a palace for King Faruq. The wing we stayed in was newly built. The original wing, which was also where the check in counter and restaurants were, is really gorgeous.

Hotel Mena House

Outside of the entrance hung a huge oriental-looking chandelier. Inside the building, some of the walls were covered with cool marbles and reception area had many parts gilded in gold.

Breakfast itself was alright with the normal western food. I did drink three short glasses of hibiscus juice. When made right (meaning lots of sugar), hibiscus juice tastes like cranberry juice and even looks like it with its bright red color.

It’s a really rare chance for me to stay in a 5-star hotel while travelling on my own. I think it’s a combination of a drop in the number of tourists and being in a tour group that allowed me to live luxuriously for a night.

We left at 7:00am and headed straight to the Citadel of Salah Al-Din. From afar, the mosque reminded me of the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul. I didn’t dare voice that out loud in case it looked completely different and I look like a fool.

It turned out that the mosque was indeed a copy of the Blue Mosque and was made by the same architect. [citation needed] We had to chance to take gorgeous photos of the mosque.

Persistently wrong souvenir seller

Citadel of Salah Al-Din

When I exited the mosque, I was approached by a souvenir seller. I waved my hand next to my face while saying, “No.”

Then the seller said, rather fiercely, “I know you are Japanese by the way you wave.”

I was kind of stunned. Is that how you determine nationality? By the waving of hands? I replied in Japanese and English that he was wrong.

He was persistent about his answer but guessed again, “China?”

I said, “No. Two dollars for answer.” I stretched out my hand for the money.

I suppose he was taken aback but he replied, “I don’t want your answer.”

“I don’t want your souvenirs neither,” I retorted and continued taking my photo.

A while later, he came back and said, “You ARE Japanese.” With a dramatic turn, he walked off which kind of reminds me of the crazy drunk in Paris.

The Old Papyrus Museum

Among our stops today was the Old Papyrus Museum which I loved.

Inside, we were shown how papyrus paper is made.

  1. Peel off green skin of papyrus for the flesh inside.
  2. Take strips of papyrus flesh and soak in water. After 7 days, you will get white strips. For darker strips, soak for 10 days. (Remember to change water everyday to remove the suagr).
  3. Line up de-sugared strips horizontally and vertically. Put the strips between two piece of cloth to soak up the water.
  4. Put the papyrus/cotton burger in a press to get rid of water.
  5. Change cotton burger everyday for 10 (?) days.
  6. The sugar and natural chemicals in papyrus will stick the strips together.
  7. Voila! You have papyrus paper.

The papyrus paper I touched was a lot thicker than regular paper. I heard that you can even wash the paper.

Papyrus shop

The shop also has “royal paper” which allows you to crumble up the paper but it will bounce back to normal. There are also caps and vests made from papyrus.

In the end, I bought a few souvenir papyrus drawings to use up my Egyptian pounds.

Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum

The highlight of today was the Egyptian Museum. We could not bring our cameras inside so I am not able to share with you the goodies.

The museum is only 2-storey high but it was packed with antiques. Rows and rows of mummy coffins; tiny pendants all in 15 rows (!), dried up mummies, wall carvings and so on.

The highlight of the museum is King Tutankhamun’s gold mask. It is so SHINEY! (Yes, I’m speechless and adjective-less.)

Many of the galleries featured wall carvings chiselled off ancient walls. Hieroglyphic is really cute.

On our way back, we were caught in a traffic jam. For a while, it seemed that we might miss our curfew to get back on the ship. Thank Amun-re that we made it on time in the end.

12th cruise day: Pyramids of Giza [YQrtw Day 23 Apr 30]

Great Pyramid of Giza

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 12]
Location: Giza, Egypt

Once I had my data SIM card two days ago, I signed up with Memphis Tour, a local tour company, for an overnight trip to Cairo. I’ve overheard many others on the ship who have signed up with the same company.

Usually, I like to travel independently but I only had two days in Alexandria. It would be easier going with a group than figuring out how to head to Cairo by train on my own.

There was a hiccup during pick up. Many tour members got different timings: 6:00am, 7:00am and 8:30am. Mine was 7:00am so I was not too early or too late.

We did leave before 8:30am and zipped off to Giza. Along the highway, we passed many plantations with produce such as dates, oranges, grapes, wheat and olives (not that I could tell them from my seat on the bus).

I didn’t realize there would be so much plants as I thought it was like Jordan with its expanse of desert.

When our bus rolled into Giza, everyone was excited to see the tips of the pyramids peeping from the top of buildings and trees.

When we got close, I was stunned to find how humungous the Great Pyramid was. It’s HUGE!!! One block of stone was about the height of my waist.

Great Pyramid of Giza

We were given photo opportunities outside of the Great Pyramid but our guide told us not to go in because of the low ceiling and having nothing much to see there.

Beware of conmen around the Great Pyramid. No one can be trusted.

When we were going back to the bus, I witness one of the conmen outside the pyramids. He stuffed a blue chip into the hands of one of our passengers. When the passenger returned the chip, the conman asked him for money. He followed the poor passenger around until he was given money.

Camel ride with view of pyramids

Camel ride with view of pyramids

Next stop was our camel ride through the desert. I paid US$10 for it but it was worth 2 times the money. It’s a fun ride from the top of a dune to about 2km way where our bus picked us up. I did smell like camel poop afterwards though.

We headed to the Sphinx near the pyramids. I was very disappointed that the Sphinx wasn’t as big as I imagined. I sound like a spoilt tourist, don’t I?

A quick summary of happened between pyramids and evening Nile dinner cruise: Lunch, another pyramid which we can go in to gawk at the carvings in the tomb, some other pyramid with view of other pyramids, check into hotel (previously a palace

Nile dinner cruise

Only two other travelers from our tour group went with me to the Nile dinner cruise. We had the chance to be in a small car and in the crazy Cairo-Giza traffic. I think that alone was worth the trip.

We got on a boat and sat in the airconditioned dining room. The food was “tourist food” which meant few spices, although the rice pudding was nice.

While we ate, two singers sang. The man sang Arabic songs while the women sang French songs.

After a long wait, the belly dance lady finally arrived.

Egyptian belly dance

The belly dance lady was very nimble but the highlight was the whirling dervish. Live, the man with long skirt twirled so fast that I became dizzy. The colors of the skirt merged into almost one (I kept thinking if he wore the colors of the rainbow and if that would turn into white when he twirls.)

Whirling dervish

Our journey back from Cairo to Giza was pleasant. I saw mosque with lighted towers like Christmas trees, something I don’t see in Malaysia or Singapore.

11th cruise day: Through Suez Canal [YQrtw Day 22 Apr 29]

Suez Canal entrance

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 11]
Location: Suez Canal, Egypt

I set my alarm for 2:05am to prepare for the cruise ship’s entry into Suez Canal. When the alarm rang, I shut it off and dozed a little.

A little of snooze turned into 3:34am. Thinking that I might have missed the entry, I put on something warm to go out and see which part of the canal we were at.

Turns out, it was still really dark and we were still in the Gulf of Suez. It wasn’t until 6:00am that the ship started driving toward the canal entrance. By that time, I was bored out of my brains.

Suez Canal entrance
Suez Canal entrance

After the entrance, I went back to my room at 7:00am to rest a little. Same as in the morning, “a little” turned into 11:00am. Gulp!

I had lunch at the Windjammer Cafe which had a view of the canal.

Then I headed upstairs to the open deck to take photos of the canal. The canal was a pretty blue green when we sailed on it. Beside the blue, we had plenty of sand.

Suez Canal
Suez Canal

Landmarks which we passed include the Egypt-Japan Friendship Bridge. The pillars are obelisk-shaped which I thought was a nice touch.

The journey through the canal was quite long. It took 9 hours for us to finally cross from south to north.

While the ship sailed through the canal, I managed to go online on my laptop by using the Egyptian mobile data. I felt rather smug when the other passengers asked me if I was using the ship’s Wi-Fi.