Fri, 15 Jun 2007

Madrid

We flew into Madrid from Barcelona after disembarking the Disney Magic. It was an amazing trip but we were worn out so we took Madrid at a relatively relaxed pace.

We started at Plaza Mayor after taking the metro there. I was accosted on the subway by a pickpocket. (Word to the wise: pay attention to people paying attention to you, particularly in crowded metro stations. Lean against walls, and keep your precious items covered with your hands.)

At the time I thought I had noticed what was going on and prevented any theft. It was an overcast day, and only when we finally returned home did I find my sunglasses missing, which I had stashed in the outside pocket of my camera bag.

Some damn Spanish thief now has my brand new Ray-Bans. Next time I feel groping hands, I guess I'll throw an elbow to the face and apologize later.

Anyway, from there we made it to the nunnery that sells the "dulces" (or delicates-- thanks, Rick Steves!), and then walked to the Palacio Real.

After a short walk around the campus by hotel, we enjoyed some Spanish wine, and enjoyed some tapas within eye and earshot of a Spanish wedding near our hotel. Nearly everywhere you go in Madrid, you can find cured legs of pork, so we were sure to order a plate of cured ham.

Tomorrow (Saturday), we fly home! With the flight and the time zone difference we'll arrive late Sunday night, and back to work Monday!

Au revoir, Adios, and Arrivederci to France, Spain and Italy!





Thu, 14 Jun 2007

Villefranche (Nice and Easy)

Villefranche was yet another tender port, which means boats take you from the ship to the dock, and vice versa. The title of this post is a play on words as our excursion for the day was called "Nice and Eze" (pronounced niece and eh-zay).

The excursion started in the afternoon, which meant we had all morning to explore the scenic villas and streets on the hillside above the port.



After a lunch at a local cafe, we embarked towards Eze, a medieval town nestled in the hilltops which contrasts old world charm with new world opulence in its exclusive chateau/hotel.

The view from the gardens atop Eze are breathtaking. Some of my pictures look like they were taken from an aircraft.

After the scenery in Eze, it was time to move on to Nice where we got a brief walking tour of the market and the city streets before enjoying a wine and cheese tasting in a local wine cellar.



Sadly the end of our cruise is at hand... Tomorrow is a day at sea, followed by returning to the port of Barcelona.





Wed, 13 Jun 2007

Marseilles

We only selected an afternoon excursion in Marseilles, so we slept in and explored the "vieux port" (old port) in the late morning.

Perched at the top of a hill, we caught our first glimpses of the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral.

By the afternoon, we boarded the tour bus which took us around town, from views to the Chateau d'If (of "Count of Monte Cristo" fame) to the cathedral on the hill, and time for us to explore Marseilles on our own.

Later that night, it was Pirates of the Carribean night (they didn't change the name for their Mediterranean itinerary) replete with pirates and fireworks.

Tomorrow we backtrack a bit to go to Villefranche with access to Monaco, Nice and Cannes.




Florence & Pisa

Like Paris and Rome, you can't spend just one day in Florence and feel like you've done anything but scratch the surface.

Today was one of our longest excursions. First of all, the Disney Magic docked at La Spezia, which is about 2 hours by bus from downtown Florence.

It didn't help that, the day we arrived in Florence, there was some kind of political protest which locked up traffic.

Being the last tour group also set us at the rear of the pack, and having a few people who didn't want to follow the group meant that we fell way behind schedule to spend more than a few minutes at Pisa, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We first made our way to Santa Croce basilica, which is the resting place for Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Dante.

From there we walked to the Piazza della Signoria, which is a scenic square with views of Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery and the numerous statuary, from a copy of Michelangelo's David (placed there in 1910, after the original David was moved to the Galleria dell'Accademia), to the fountain of Neptune, Perseus With the Head of Medusa, to Giambologna's The Rape of the Sabine Women.

From here, we walked down the alley by the Uffizi Gallery, which requires you walk the gauntlet surrounded by the statuary of many famous fathers of the Renaissance, from Galileo, Machiavelli, Amerigo Vespucci to Dante and others.

Next, we made an about face and headed for Brunelleschi's "Il Duomo".

After having lunch in a spectacular palace/restaurant, we boarded the bus for Pisa. The last tour group to reach Pisa, and several hours late for a variety of factors, we only got a few minutes in Pisa.

And due to a miscommunication, I ended up running a couple miles to find Christine only to find she had already gone on without me.

Hence, the pictures of me dripping with sweat. After snapping a few pictures of the "Campo dei Miracoli", or the leaning tower, the baptistery, the Camposanto (cemetary) and the Duomo (cathedral), it was time to return to the ship. After an hour bus ride, we finally arrived in La Spezia, 35 minutes after "last tender" and 5 minutes after the ship was scheduled to leave.

Our chances of making the ship were pretty good, however, since we had several Disney castmembers with us, from the photographers in Pisa, to the handful crew members who were managing the tenders.

Half way to the ship, however, the tender suddenly made a course correction, back to the port! Oh, no, were we going to miss the boat? It had already pulled up anchor and appeared to be changing course!?

No, it was a woman and her son back at the tender dock who just made it in the nick of time. By the time we got to the ship, we were already 10 minutes late for dinner (8:40pm-- the ship was scheduled to leave at 8pm).





Mon, 11 Jun 2007

Rome and the Vatican

As I suspected, we didn't nearly have enough time in Rome as I would have liked. I could very easily see myself coming back just to spend a few more days at Paris, Rome, and (I suspect) Florence.

We pulled into the port of Civitaveccia and boarded a train to Rome, arriving at San Pietro station, just outside the Vatican.

We boarded a bus, and got a coach tour of the amazing layers of history on nearly every block. Rome is a bit unlike any other city I've been to, and I think it's because it was the commercial, political, and social hubs of civilization for nearly a thousand years. Everywhere you'd look, there would be something of note, a point of interest, or historic landmark.

Our first pit stop (to give us a respite from rubbernecking) was the Colosseum, an arena befitting the grandeur of the Roman Empire. I've been in larger, more modern stadiums, but this one is by far the most magnificent. They don't build 'em like they used to.

Our next stop was Trevi Fountain, the famed fountain which, if you toss a coin into the pond, you are fated to return.

Then we made our way through city streets to the Pantheon, by far my favorite of anything we saw in Rome. You're greeted by a Corinthian colonnade, which serves as a facade to the dome itself. The dome is made of concrete (which the Romans were adept at using), and held the record of the largest dome for 16 centuries until 1781. It remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, and will most likely keep that title for centuries to come.

Once inside, you come to realize that the dome has an oculus, or opening, at the apex of the dome which makes it look like there is a supernatural light shining down from the heavens into the rotunda (provided the sun is shining). The Pantheon was thus designed with a convex floor, allowing for drainage.

From the Pantheon, we walked to Piazza Navona, a historic race track and area of sorts, now a plaza with access to palaces, museums and churches with grand sculptures and fountains by Italian masters and an obelisk.

By then it was time for lunch, which consisted of an amazing cheesy lasagne at Cafe Tanagra which I won't soon forget.

With our bellies full of wine and pasta, we headed to the Vatican. My favorite here was Michelangelo's Pieta. After taking in St. Peter's Basilica, and photographing the Swiss guards, we boarded the bus to go back to the train, which took us back to the port and back to the ship.






Sun, 10 Jun 2007

Sardinia


Again, I managed to wake up early as we were pulling into Olbia on the Italian island of Sardinia.

The first thing I saw when we pulled into port was a bright red Ferrari getting ready to board a ferry. Clearly, Sardinia is a popular weekend getaway for Italians.

We selected an excursion only for the afternoon, so we walked around Olbia in the morning, and I continued my photography of the picturesque door handles that I began after Christine commented on their beauty in Paris.

Being Sunday, most of the shops in Olbia were closed. It also explains the exodus of the Italian locals from this Italian resort island.

After our morning stroll, we returned to the ship for our excursion to La Cinta beach for the afternoon.

The weather was lukewarm and the water a bit cold, so we didn't swim very much at the beach.





Sat, 09 Jun 2007

Naples (Sorrento, Pompei, and Capri)

Again, I awoke early in Naples to take pictures of the sunrise and pulling into the port. Our excursion started early in the morning with a trip to Pompei, the ancient Greek village that was decimated by the volcanic eruption of the nearby volcano of Vesuvius.

Stationed right outside of Pompei was a cameo factory and limoncello store. Where tourists come, vendors hawk their stuff. :)

Anyway, Pompei was amazing. [Edit: Only when I geotagged all my photos did I realize we didn't even see 1/4 of the city!]

The bodies that I photographed were actually made of plaster. When Pompei was being excavated (from the ash of the volcano) it had entombed some victims who long ago had decomposed, leaving behind only their bones. The archaeologists poured plaster into the space they left behind to produce casts of the people in their last moments.

Next we made our way to the trendy town of Sorrento and took a hydrofoil to the even more trendy town of Capri. Capri is reached via funiculare (cable car) and full of shops like Versace and Fendi, etc.

Once we returned to the boat, we again took the opportunity to trek into the city, and found a great little pizza shop for some Margarita pizza, where we met Antonio! His shop is literally right up the street from the port, and I highly recommend you stop by and try not only his pies, but his home made limoncello too!

As we departed I took pictures of the port, and again, the seagulls. Yesterday, I thought it was a novelty, but they apparently like to follow the boats out to sea... Maybe they are conditioned to follow fishing trawlers because of the chum they leave behind their nets?





Fri, 08 Jun 2007

Sicily (Palermo, Segesta and Erice)

Our first port of call (if you don't include Barcelona) on our 10-day Mediterranean Cruise was Palermo, in Sicily. The excursion we selected for the day was Erice (ay-ree-say) and Segesta (say-jest-ah).

I managed to wake up early (again) and took pictures of the sunrise and a few shots around the ship before we pulled into the port of Palermo.

We started off on a bus ride to Segesta, an ancient Greek town replete with an unfinished temple and theater.


We next took a cable car (funiculare-- the Italians pronounce every syllable) up a mountain to Erice, a medieval town which now thrives with tourism. In particular an Italian pastry shop, a medieval church, and scenic views caught our interest before having lunch on the mountainside at a restaurant.

After lunch, we were bussed back to the boat. Given about 45 minutes before the boat left, we immediately trekked into downtown Palermo to find a gelato shop. Therein, I found my first (but not last) foot operated sink, and had to snap a picture. I chose hazelnut and Christine chose pistachio. In the five minute walk back to the ship, we managed to make short work of our cones before they made too big a mess on our hands.

The ship took off shortly after we returned to our room. I snapped a few pictures of Palermo as we departed for Naples, and took pictures of the seagulls that followed our ship.





Thu, 07 Jun 2007

At Sea

Today we're at sea on our 10-day Disney Mediterranean cruise. Next stop: Palermo, Sicily.

I took the opportunity (aided by jet lag) to wake up early and take pictures around the ship. This meant I whipped out my tripod, and managed to use bracketed exposures to produce some high dynamic range (HDR) imagery.

Christine wanted me to take pictures of our room service/breakfast and we did some martini tasting in the afternoon.

I shot some more pictures around sunset, and Christine and we dressed up for a dinner at Palo. The food was wonderful if a bit indulgent.

Tomorrow we land in Palermo, Sicily.

You can find all of my photos from the trip on my flickr photostream. I've conveniently arranged the days in sets.





Wed, 06 Jun 2007

Bye Bye Barcelona

Wednesday morning, we awoke while our train was still heading for Barcelona. The idea of the train was a little better than the reality. The biggest problem was the heat-- no ventilation meant a hot room. The rooms had a heater, and Christine thinks it also had AC, but they didn't turn it on, presumably because "it's not summertime yet".

We had a quick breakfast on the train, packed our bags, and before we knew it, we were in Barcelona.

We dropped our bags at "Consigne" or "Left Baggage", while we walked around the city. We wouldn't be able to board the boat for several hours, and we were eager to make the most of our time.

Estacio França (French Train Station-- we arrived from Paris) is on the west edge of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gothik), so it was simple enough to walk through the most scenic part of Barcelona.




We managed to walk by Museo Picasso (I was amazed we found it without a map), but they weren't even open yet. We continued on toward the Gothic Cathedral which I felt was even more spectacular than Notre Dame de Paris. Outside the cathedral, a flea market had sprung up by the time we had our fill of the gothic architecture and stained glass. A brief stop for an espresso and some Tapas confirmed what we already knew: Barcelona is much cheaper than Paris.

By mid-afternoon, we were on a metro ride to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, a surreal cathedral that rivals Neuschwanstein in its extravagance (and lack of completion). While we were astounded by the quality and reach of the Paris metro, Barcelona was every bit up to measure with Paris, and a little further. The cars we rode had indicators to show which stop you were at and what direction the car was going!

At this point, we took a cab to pick up our bags, and headed for the boat. After checking in and freshening up (the facilities on the train were rather spartan), we grabbed a cab which took us around some of the more scenic areas of Barcelona before we headed back to the Disney Magic, ready to embark on Disney Cruise Line's inaugural 10-day Mediterranean Cruise!






Tue, 05 Jun 2007

Bonjour Mickey!

Today we spent the day at the Disneyland Paris Resort. Conveniently, the RER (the rural extension to the metro) stops right in the middle of the resort, so after leaving our bags with our hotel concierge, we arrived at the resort 45 minute later.

Being one of Disney's newest parks, I was looking forward to the changes/fixes they made to the park that they learned from Orlando and the Magic Kingdom. For the most part, the entry and Main Street are generally the same. A neat feature in Paris is that there are two internal alleyways open to the public to bypass the crowds and bustle behind Main Street.

After checking out the stores and merchandise (most of which was generally what you'd expect to find with the obligatory local flair), we were starting to get hungry so we headed for the buffet. The buffet was what you'd expect at the American resorts, but what stood out were the desserts which were simply outstanding. One thing France does not lack are quality pastry chefs, and it shows whether you find yourself in a back alley in Paris, downtown Marseille, or in a Disneyland Resort buffet.

After lunch we headed to Discoveryland (Paris' Tomorrowland), where we immediately set off for Les Mystéres du Nautilus (because it was new to us, and Space Mountain was temporarily down), a somewhat disappointing walk through Captain Nemo's submarine. By the time we made it out, they were preparing to open Space Mountain (Mission 2). This ride borrows heavily from the Disney "partsbin". The entry/queueing is very similar to Orlando and Anaheim. The boarding station is borrowed from California Screamin'. The ride itself is the most unique part about it, which I expected to be similar to the old-school Space Mountain ride, but it was, as the boarding area suggested, a magnetic induction coaster.

Jules Verne and 19th century "Discovery" is a strong theme in this part of the park, and unlike Anaheim and Orlando's "You might as well be queued up in some futuristic NASA/Star Wars launch facility", Space Mountain (Mission 2) presents it more as "You're in the late 1800s and the way we'll get you to the moon is to load you into a big ass gun and shoot you out into space!"

So, immediately after boarding (outside, in plain daylight with signs like "Montana Gun Club"), you're loaded into the "barrel" (again, akin to Tower of Terror, with views of the outside before you're shot off into the darkness), and before you know it, you're on a ride similar in style to the various dark magnetic induction coasters that Disney operates with its corkscrews and inversions... It was a blast, probably because I had no idea what to expect.

Skipping all the other rides with familiar names, we headed off to find the Haunted Mansion aka Phantom Manor. While not meeting my expectations in terms of the Orleans Square in Disneyland, at least it was an impressive manor on the top of a hill instead of an embarrassing pimple of a building it is in Florida.

Next stop was Pirates of the Carribean, and I think this is the best one in of the three parks I've been to. They dedicated a lot of real estate to the entry, the ride itself was standard fare, and I was glad to see you cruised in front of a themed restaurant as you'd come to expect.

The Indiana Jones ride was closed, so after strolling through Fantasyland (the Castle is great-- a dragon in the dungeon and a terrace with great themed stained glass windows), we headed for the Walt Disney Studios (akin in scope and design to California Adventure). Our timing was such that right after going on the Aerosmith Rockin' Rollercoaster (essentially identical to the stateside versions in style and theming) the last show of "Moteurs... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular", the live action stunt car and motorcyle driver show was about to start. Apparently this has made its way stateside since its debut in Paris, but not having seen it stateside, I wasn't going to miss it.



It was a great show and one of the unique gems of the park. I loved finding the hidden Mickey on the license plate of one of the cars outside the attraction. (Typically European plates show the stars of the EU nation states in a circle configuration!)

Anxious about potentially missing our night train to Barcelona to catch the inaugeral 10-day Mediterranean Cruise, we left the park around 5pm with eager anticipation! (See the Flickr photostream)


Name/Blog: Christine Klatt
URL: chris at_sign khan.org
Title: French style
Comment/Excerpt: Disneyland Paris was so much more fun than what we heard, and a lot more crowded. We noticed even though there were a lot of people walking around, not too many of them were actually in line for the rides. If you have experienced Disneyland Anaheim, or Disney World you might find yourself running from ride line to ride line with a bunch of people. But the visitors of Disneyland Paris seemed prefer to casually stroll along and sit in the cafes. We loved it!




Mon, 04 Jun 2007

Paris Day 1

Bonjour!

We landed in Paris this morning. I was expecting a bit more from Charles de Gaulle airport, but it rather smacked of a 3rd world airport. Even the dingy old Esenboga airport in Ankara (before its redesign) inspired more zen than CDG.

Anyway, the Air France shuttle bus dropped us off right across the street from our hotel (Hotel Splendid Etoile-- highly recommended), which was literally a stone's throw (ok, admittedly you'd have to have a good arm) from the Arc de Triomphe (the previous blog post photo was taken from our room).

After freshening up and dropping off our bags, we embarked on our day in Paris.

Our first stop was the Arc, which you get access to through an underground tunnel. Our next stop was the Trocadero and my intention was to get on the metro to get there, but the star-layout of Paris streets (this, and several other times) did a good job of thwarting my navigational skills (when you're not on a square grid, taking two rights after one block after taking a left doesn't put you back on the same heading you were on!) so we did a lot more walking than we expected.

This lead to the the first serendipitous structured activity of our vacation. Walking through Paris we noticed the most remarkable door knockers, and I decided to make a photo collection of them for the remainder of our trip.



Anyway, we finally made our way to the Eiffel Tower (fortunately, it's visible from nearly everywhere when you're in the neighborhood), and after getting disoriented, we stumbled upon a beautiful building, and then ultimately made it to Rue Cler, a scenic Paris side-street for lunch.

After decoding the menu with the (not so effective) help of my high school French classes and (the somewhat more effective) English menu version, we took the Metro to the Concorde, which is on the far side of the Jardins de Tuilieres from the Louvre. Having "walked" the route using Google Maps, I knew basically exactly where to go, and before you know it Christine and I were reliving scenes from the Da Vinci Code.

Lacking the time to enter any museums (by this time it was mid-afternoon), we proceeded to the Notre Dame de Paris on Ile St. Louis (one of the larger islands in the middle of the Seine between the Left and Right Banks). Here I took dozens of photos of the beautifully illuminated stained glass windows and couldn't help but wonder if some of the pictures I'd taken would end up in some future representation of PhotoSynth.


Our next stop was a quick metro ride away. Getting off at the Renfert-Rochereau metro stop, and asking a nice Bistro owner "ou est des catacombs?", we were pointed at a nondescript green entry way half way down the block. Alas, they are closed on Mondays, so lacking the picture we took in front of the door, we were left hanging.

A metro ride back to the St. Michel metro stop put us in a trendy area of town where we enjoyed some crepes and "du glacier" (or ice cream) from the (also closed on Monday) Berthillion Glacier at a cafe that happened to carry their wares. Mmmm. Hazelnut!

We then attempted to find "La Duree" for their world reknowned macaroons, but alas, the complex street layout made it difficult to navigate from my google-maps-inspired mental map of the city. 21 Rue Napoleon, where art thou?! (Inside Joke: Turns out it's just a block away from Rue Jacob and Rue Benoit, believe it or not ;-)

Anyhow, after walking all the way back to the metro station near the Louvre (unable to find a cab along the way!) we took the metro back to Charles de Gaulle Etoile (Etoile means "star", the layout of many significant intersections in the city) and a bed for the night.

Tomorrow? "Nous allons a Disneyland!"

See the full set on Flickr


Name/Blog: christine Klatt
URL: chris at_sign khan.org
Title: Lucky me!
Comment/Excerpt: What a great vacation to have a husband who DOES speak pretty good French, (all the French words I know relate to food words like le poisson) takes fantastic pictures to capture our adventures and is able to REMEMBER everything to blog about it weeks later. I should be so lucky! :-)



Arc de Triomphe HDR

HDR Imagery (or High Dynamic Range) uses three camera exposures-- one under-exposed (which is used for the bright areas of the photo), one properly exposed (for the medium areas) and one over-exposed (for the dark areas) to pull out subtle details from a scene that you would not ordinarily see with an ordinary exposure. All three exposures are then blended together to produce sometimes spectacular results.

Here's my first attempt at HDR with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.



All sizes available at Flickr




European Vacation

Flying to Paris Well it's day one of our European vacation, and we're on our way to Paris, where we'll spend a couple days (with one day at Paris Disneyland Resort) before we board the Disney Magic in Barcelona for our 10-Night Mediterranean Cruise in Europe.

I'm planning to photoblog my vacation so I'll start with the plane flight.

After departing Seattle, I snapped a couple pictures of Mt. Rainier out of the window. At the Newark airport, reflections in some glass and passengers produced a neat mirror effect. And finally, on the Newark-Paris leg of the trip, the sunrise produced a beautiful effect against some ice crystals in my window.

More when we get to Paris.





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