June 1: Departure
We arrived at the airport at 8 pm to meet up with the group. Poor little Emily screamed her head off when we were dropped off. She wanted to come with us on the plane and was so sad that both Shelby and I were leaving. :(
We managed to check in and get to our gate by 9:30. So far so good. As soon as we took off, both Shelby and I fell asleep and slept for the entire 4 hour flight. With the winds working in our favor, our trip was cut short by almost an hour. This means more ground time in SFO. The one thing I don't like about the Delta terminal in SFO is the very limited food options. Unlike the LAX terminal.
The line for the restroom was so long and the bathroom smelled funky. Bleh. We had a little over an hour to hang out so I got to chit chat with a few of the students. I'm hoping this trip will not only bring my daughter and I closer, but to help me better understand the youth of today.
I packed one big bag of snacks. Chips, mochi crunch, mochi balls (with peanuts), cheetos, tea, lipton iced tea. yes, I packed quite a snack bag. Knowing we would be in transit for 24 total hours, I wanted to be sure we were prepared with some kind of grub.
I packed some of the chips in my Tupperware flat out containers and everyone was oohing and aahing when they saw us collapse the bowls after all the chips were gone. I used a square stuffable container to pack our crackers, tea, and juice powder packs. They laughed and Shelby was commenting on me packing the whole house. I justified all the Tupperware for the trip back. When bringing back our shot glass souvenirs, the containers will make perfect packing tools to prevent broken glasses.
We are now on our way to JFK from SFO, a 5-6 hour flight and as much as I want to sleep, I can't. I'll sleep on the flight from JFK to Athens. When we land there at 12:30 pm, it will be MIDNIGHT in Hawaii and I know my body will be dragging. If I oversleep on all these flights, I might be extra tired from the oversleeping.
Wed June 3
Arrived in Athens at noon. Bussed to the hotel and checked in. Swam at the "beach" across the street. Then the pool. Showered and dinner with the rest of the EF Tour groups. The water was cold but so refreshing I didn't last more than about 30 minutes in the cold water before I was out and warming up in the sun. This beach had a rocky shore. No white sand like what we're used to at home. The water is crystal clear and you see the bottom.
Dinner consisted of grape leaves with rice rolled inside, some kind of roast pork, Crete salad, green salad (with this amazing sweet and balsamic vinegar dressing, pasta salad, ham and cheese crepes, beef pasta, and rice pudding. I tried a little of everything and was great. The nice thing with this EF Tour is breakfast and dinner is included in our package.
I took some shots of the sunset tonight from the hotel room balcony. Tomorrow we get up at 7 to get ready, meet at 8 for breakfast and leave the hotel to take our Athen city tour at 8:45 am and will be out the entire day until after dinner. When we get back we have to pack up and LEAVE by 5:45 am the following morning to catch our Ferry to Sorento.
Thurs June 4
We stopped at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. It was HUGE and so majestic.
The tour was amazing. We went to the Acropolis. Learned about the Parthenon and Temple of the Athena and much more which I have now forgotten about. It was quite a walk up to get there, extremely crowded, and hot. But once we got to the top, the view was amazing. The buildings left me speechless. The stories behind them was so interesting and I was so glad to be there.
After visiting the Acropolis, we headed back down to the Placca district for a little shopping and lunch. The shops were cute. The cobblestone roads and sidewalks were beautiful. The place is loaded with street vendors that walk right up to you. Old women carrying tablecloths will practically beg you to touch their items. Once you touch it, you bought it. So be careful when roaming around Athens. Then you have the selfie stick sellers and people selling bottles of cold water. Our group was even approached by two young men carrying accordions and jamming some tunes. Pretty cool but please don't shove it in my face and beg for money.
We went back to the hotel and the kids went swimming at the beach across the street while others took a dip in the pool. Then dinner.
Friday June 5
We were up and at em at 5:45 am. We left the Palace Hotel at 7:00 am and headed down to Patras (with a few stops along the way) to catch our Ferry to Italy. On our way to Patras we stopped for a quick bathroom break and coffee and snack. At this "truck stop" there were fresh Greek Pastries and coffee. The Baklava was very very sweet and chewy. The cappuccino was tasty and hit the spot. Shelby had the frappe and she said it was too sweet for her.
We then stopped in Delphi and learned about the Temple of Apollo, the theater and the ancient stadium at the very very top of the mountain. I will tell you this, the hike up was difficult for me. I am out of shape and the air was thin. I was also in SLIPPERS because we didn't know we'd be doing some hiking. The pathways up was very rocky, unpaved, slippery, and steep. My legs and calves took a beating and there were four times that I wanted to quit and go back down. But, I spent a ton of money to be there and I was not going to pass up this opportunity.
Every turn I made, I looked at a hill steeper than the last and I wanted to cry. I wanted to quit. I wanted to turn around. But I saw these old people just chugging along and I said, if they can do this, SO CAN I. I took breaks. Caught my breath. And kept on pushing.
When I got to the top and saw this ancient olympic stadium built thousands of years ago, I was speechless. This stadium was built to seat 7000 people. If it was this difficult for me to make it up there, how much more the ancient Greeks in their leather sandals?
Of course, it was just a big plot of land with rock seating (something out of the Flintstones) shaped in a football stadium design with a huge floor filled with overgrown grass. Just standing there in a place that ancient Romans and Greeks held their olympic games left me with no words. I am standing in a spot you read about in history books.
We later stopped in a cute restaurant for a quick lunch and headed down to Patras to board our ferry.
The ferry was not was I was expecting. I was anticipating a dingy ferry boat with crappy accomodations. In reality, it was like a cruise ship with trucks loaded on the lower level. We had a nice but very small cabin (as expected). The food was decent and the service and employees were impeccable. I was able to see the mediterranean sun set and sun rise perfectly on the ship, unobstructed. It was fantastic!
This was an overnight ferry ride (about 13 hours) to Italy.
Saturday, June 6
We arrive at the Port of Bari and disembark from the cigarette smoke ridden ferry. We jump on a bus and make the 4.5 hour bus ride from the East coast of Italy to the West. Our destination, Sorrento. On our way there, we made a very quick pit stop at to grab a panini and use the restroom. I will just say this, the cheese here is amazing and the breads are fantastic.
When we finally made it to Naples, the views were outstanding. We got to see Mt Vesuvius and just when we thought we'd seen beauty, we make a turn after going through a series of tunnels and we get hit in the face of BREATHTAKING views of Sorrento. O M G!!!
We get dropped off in Sorrento where we went to a shopping plaza and found very cute souvenirs and we all had GELATO!!! 2.50 Euro for fresh made gelato. I of course got the Limone which was fabulous. This entire area is filled with Lemon and Orange trees. Its so beautiful! And the lemons are gigantic. They're like footballs!!
We are now checked into our hotel. We are staying at The Central Park Hotel in a neighboring town to Sorrrento. Tomorrow, Capri! We get to swim in the waters right off of this exquisite island. I can't wait!!
Sunday: June 7
Today we got up early, had breakfast and headed back to Sorrento. We hiked down a huge set of stairs and down a cobblestone (very narrow) driveway to the dock to catch a ferry boat to the island of Capri. I swear it had to have been nearly a mile. When we arrived to Capri, the views were spectacular. What a beautiful island surrounded by huge rocks of limestone!
As soon as we got off our ferry boat, we disembarked and ran to another small boat to take a one hour island cruise to the the famous Fraglioni rocks. The villas, bright colored coral, the steep cliffs, the sea gulls, the entire experience was amazing. So amazing that on this boat cruise, a few of the girls in our Hawaii group started crying. They were so happy to be in that moment experiencing everything.
We got back to the island and took a cable car up the mountain and saw amazing views of the crystal blue waters below. It was HOT, the walkways were extremely narrow, and there were tons of people. The pathways here are sloped. So if you can imagine my screaming legs! Then we had to hike back up these walk ways back to the main square where we had lunch. I had the sole (fish) in lemon sauce with roasted potatoes. Shelby had the eggplant pasta which was AMAZING!!! By the way, their fresh made pizza was ginormous.
After lunch, our group headed straight to cable car to get down off the mountain to find a BEACH!!! Yes, we swam in the waters off Capri and the water was FANTASTIC! Cool, refreshing, super clean, and it was awesome! The beach is a pebble rock beach. It took us less than 5 minutes to find the opening to the public beach entrance and within 5 minutes all of us were in the water. The water was so clean that you could see the bottom even if it was really deep. Apparently, the waters here have wana. One of the kids from Mississippi stepped on one. Fortunately, no one from the Hawaii group stepped on one. Most of us just dived right in and head for the deeper waters so not too many of us were standing on the pebbly rocks. And not for long either.
After a quick dip in the water, we took turns holding a large towel so all the girls could change really quick. We headed back to Sorrento via ferry and spent 90 minutes there before heading back to our hotel for dinner. That same walk we took going down, we had to take going up. This time, I had a bag of wet clothes and towels in my backpack that made it weigh about 20 lbs. We had to HIKE UP the cobblestone street about a mile and then walk up at least 250 steps to get back up to the Sorrento Plaza. UGH! I literally had to play mind games with myself and hear Shaun T (Insanity) tell me to DIG DEEP! I did, and I made it.
We were all huffing and puffing and making a big hullabaloo at the top of the stairs that the locals stood there just laughing at us. It was at that moment I realized why Europeans are so svelt and in much better health than Americans. They walk. They have no choice but to use the stairs. Their elevators can only hold 2 people and 2 luggages. Their beds in the hotels are small. The food portions are correct! Come to America where everything is about escalators, elevators, and super sizing.
I'm not much of a shopper so instead of walking around, I sat in a park in the middle of the shops and people watched while Shelby went off looking for lemon ice for me. I LOVE LEMONS so this town is PERFECT for me!
As we made the walk back to the bus, the thunderstorms arrived. We just missed it. Though, it would've been awesome to get caught in the rain in Sorrento, Italy!
Now, we pack up and get ready to leave Sorrento behind and head for Pompeii tomorrow. After Pompeii, we head for Rome. We have a few more days here before heading home. This trip so far has exceeded my expectations beyond belief. Every second of every day makes me so happy to be able to share this with my daughter and her new friends and teachers. It's been such a blast to be here and experience history first hand and not just within pages from a book.
Monday June 8
We head out early for Pompeii. Leaving Sorrento, we all looked around and took in the breath taking views one last time. We toured Pompeii and it was just so awesome to be walking on the same exact roads that were used thousands of years ago. There isn't much for me to say about it that you can't read via google. I was so glad that I packed 2 hankies and an umbrella. When I had the chance, I would wet my hanky with cold fountain water and it helped keep me cool in the hot sun.
After touring Pompeii we headed out to Rome. It was a 3 - 4 hour bus ride and upon arrival I jumped into the pool. It was rainy and cold but the water was PERFECT!
Tuesday June 9
Today we head to spend our whole day at the Vatican, St Peters Basilica, St Paul's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and also toured a catacomb. The catacomb was so creepy at first and totally reminded me of the movie As Above, So Below just without the bones. It was another long day filled with over 25k steps and it was HOT HOT HOT!
Everything we saw was beautiful and amazing. The hand paintings on ceilings and just the amount of time and work put it in to make these pieces of art left me in awe. The symbolism behind the work left our group with many "ahhhhhhh" moments.
We were able to squeeze in the Spanish steps this evening before dinner and the plaza was beautiful. There are so many fountains and obelisks. As we went around the square, I saw a man washing his hands in the fountain fronting the spanish steps. I thought, omg ew look. I then realized that this is a clean water fountain where people go to fill their water bottles and wash their hands or splash water on their faces and necks to cool off.
The water that flows out of these public fountains are COLD water and very clean.
By this point, my feet were killing me. Every day is filled with so many steps, stairs, hills, cobble stone and uneven roads.
Wednesday, June 10
Our final day in Rome. Today we spent a day at the Colloseum and the Roman Forum. More steps, and more stairs. Whew! By this time my legs were so used to the walking that I could handle all the stairs. Today was a SUPER hot day. Just a few minutes in the Roman Sun and you were melting. Stand in the shade with the breeze and you cool off in minutes. The colloseum is something everyone should go and see. Standing in a place where the gladiators once fought and died for fun was so cool.
The Forum was HUGE. Man these ancient people knew how to build stuff to last! We were given more free time to shop and walk all over the city. We had lunch in a small restaurant when I had the carbonara and it was soooo good. Nothing like what Auntie Pastos serves or even Buca for that matter. The servings in Europe are small and true to what a real single serving is supposed to be. I found that I ate less here and because I was walking and moving around so much, I lost some weight.
Thursday, June 11
We get up at 5 am and leave the hotel at 6:35 am to head over to the airport. This airport is SO busy that it took us over 90 minutes to get checked in and through security to get to our gate. The Amsterdam airport is pretty big and it took us about an hour to get from one gate, through another document verification station, customs, and our actual departure gate. STRESS!! This airport does not have tv's all over the place that show you where your gate is. Thank GOD for my delta app that gave us some direction and we could get to the right Gate area.
We had our final dinner in Rome and then headed back to the hotel. Shelby and I packed up our bags and prepared for our trip home.
It was such a priceless trip with my daughter. This was definitely a costly trip financially, but the memories we created and the time we spent bonding and sharing laughter is something that you can't put a price tag on.
In regards to EF Tours, Iris was our dedicated tour guide and was with us for the entire trip. I have nothing but good things to say about EF Tours. I read a lot of negative reviews about this company and quite honestly, it's how you want to spend your trip. You agree to give all the control to EF and your job is simply to pay them, show up and be on time. For the cost of the all inclusive trip, in my opinion, it was worth my money. I didn't have to think. I didn't have to plan. I just get up, get ready, and enjoy my time. It was refreshing for once to not have to be the person making the schedules when traveling.
Iris handled EVERYTHING for us. All room check ins, meal reservations, ferry check ins with passport, grabbed entrance tickets, etc. She gave us warnings about certain areas as necessary. She told us about things to watch out for, things to avoid, and things to do during our free time. Honestly, it was a very positive and enjoyable experience for our Hawaii group. We laughed the entire time we were together. It was fantastic. We were open to the walking, stairs, ready to take it all on. Cause the one thing we stressed to the students was NO WHINING. We are there for the EXPERIENCE. That's what its all about. Our Hawaii group followed the rule and we had an unforgettable trip.