Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday November 13 – Toulon France

I can’t believe it I am awake at 6 am!  Now I did go to bed early but really 6 am!  But the perk of being up at this hour is I get to see an amazing sunrise.  I can see lights in the distance which must be the port of Toulon.

After about an hour of reading I am back asleep and don’t even hear Bernie wake up and head upstairs for breakfast.  I do hear them announce that we are docked and we are clear to go ashore but now I am just sleeping thru it and it is part of my dreams most mornings.

I wake around 10 am and we dress and head ashore.  Now you should be aware we don’t actually dock in Toulon we dock in La Seyne-sur-Mer which is the town over from Toulon.

It is a nice pier with a tourist information where you can pick up a map and get information about the port. 

The ship is offering a water bus shuttle for $10 US each that will be automatically charged to your account for transfer between Seyne-sur-Mer and Toulon main pier. 

water bus

But again thanks to my friends on my facebook page I know that the city has a water bus (part of their transit system) that you can take.  The pier is about a ten minute walk from the ship and it runs at ten after and twenty to the hour, but that is currently so don’t rely on this.  You can see the bus stop for the boat from the ship.

walk around the harbour

and continue to catch the water bus
You leave the gate and walk forward and turn right along the walkway along the water until you come across a pier with a bench and a transit schedule.  The boat arrived quickly and we were able to pay for the ride once on board.  Fare was 2E each and he provided change if necessary.  I believe the fare for seniors is a bit less.  The ride takes about 15 minutes and they drop you off right in town.  In fact Princess shuttle boat is right beside the pier.

Here are some other options for transport and tours. 

Once in town we saw this woman selling nuts, candies etc right there and Bernie loves his nuts so we picked up some. 
We walked down the main street to the open market that takes over the streets in the mornings – then closes up in the early afternoon.

So many offerings here, fruits, vegetables, clothes, fish, cheese, olives, oils, flowers, meat – wow you name it.  I did find a table selling the soaps that I bought in Cannes last cruise and really wanted to buy some more.  They were 2E each or 6 for 10E – so I got 6.  I have been using them on board and really like the scents, especially the lavender ones.

Strolling around and checking out the shops when we come along a lovely roadway where a man is playing the accordion and the restaurants all have lovely outdoor tables.

We see a restaurant called Lilith Restaurant – it was small but they had four tables outside and I love that they had a chalkboard with the menu on it.  This shows this restaurant features only fresh items that are homemade daily.  Even the desserts are homemade she says.

We order a glass of wine each 3E and Bernie get the lamb and I get a steak.  The meals were fabulous and the surroundings even better.  I really feel like I am in the South of France. 

But I am getting tired of all the smokers… they are everywhere and seem to light up everywhere too.  We are just not use to it anymore and really appreciate the smoking laws in place in Canada.  I have no issue with smokers and most are very considerate, but here they can light up everywhere and they do.

After a lovely dessert and coffee we are off wandering the streets again.

We head into the big shopping mall, and well it is like most shopping malls in Canada.  But for those that may need toiletries or items for the trip there is a large shop here – kind of like a Target that sells clothes, toys, toiletries, food, wine and much more. 

After five hours ashore we are both ready to go back.  We catch the 15:40 boat back, which docked at 16:00 and a short walk back to the ship.  Funny thing is the guy came around to have people pay but when he saw us and a few others around us he commented in French “oh you bought your ticket from me earlier” then walks away.  So even though we were very prepared to pay we didn’t have to.  A cheap ride 2E round trip, but normally it should be 4E.

We pour a glass of wine and sit out on the balcony reading and snacking on the nuts.  For sailaway we head upstairs to our friends’ cabin and a drink.  Another sunset to enjoy.
Bernie has a bit of sore throat and he didn’t sleep well so we know tonight will be an easy night so he is rested for Barcelona tomorrow.

There is not a whole lot happening tonight but enough.  Dan Appleby is getting off tomorrow in Barcelona and he is flying to the Crown Princess.  Chris is being moved up to Cruise Director for the crossing – great promotion.  But he is certainly qualified.

Events tonight:  Ventriloquist Michael Minor, MUTS is Minions, Ladies Night in the Spa, Production show Motor City in the Princess Theater, British Invasion Dance party with Cosmic Band in Wheelhouse, Stateroom Movie is Jurrasic World (which was the movie yesterday too), Who Sang What One Hit Wonders Trivia in Wheelhouse and Late Night Dancing with DJ TinTin.

Thursday November 12, 2015 – Livorno for Florence, Italy

This is our second time here this cruise.  The last time we travelled to Pisa on the train, you can read more about it here.

Today our alarm is set for 6 am and we have arranged for breakfast for between 6:30 and 7:00.  But there is a knock at the door at 6 am and he apologizes that he is so early.  I swear they have some kind of roulette in the bell box with the room service orders.  Okay let’s take this one a half hour early, let’s take this one ten minutes early, oh and this one ten minutes past their time.  Either way we are up and I start to get ready while Bernie eats his breakfast.  Then I eat while he gets ready.

We are heading out with six others (total of eight) for transportation to Florence.  I booked it quite a while ago with Tau Touring   they were very helpful with providing information quickly and efficiently.  

Our driver Gaetano was there with our name and he takes us to the Mercedes van for a very comfortable ride to Florence.

The ride is about 1.5 hours and Gaetano points out some interesting sites in the distance.  He was very professional and helpful to one of the ladies in our group who needed more assistance getting in and out. He even drove her right to the Uffizi Museum because she has difficulty walking.

We are dropped off at Plaza Republica and we arranged to meet him back here at 3 pm.  From here we all went off on our own to explore Florence.

It is lovely right now – it is 9 am and most of the tourist have not shown up yet.  We are able to get some amazing shots of the Duomo and the Baptistery.  We do part of Rick Steve’s Audio Tour called Renaissance Walk for around the Duomo and down the street.

We especially liked the Orsan Michele Church and the statues outside.  We did not go into the church as you now have to pay and we would like to come back and get the Florence Card and spend more time here seeing many of the museums, and boy there are a lot of them here.

We stop for two cappuccinos and croissants at a lovely coffee shop – again we drink it at the bar and the cost is less than 5E for it all.

Back to the Duomo and it is now open (it opens at 10) and when we enter I have to admit we were a little underwhelmed.  After seeing so many magnificent churches all over Italy and especially so many yesterday in Rome the Duomo is sort of – a non-issue. Oh that sounds bad, it was lovely but it really just was underwhelming.  We wander around and then back out rather quickly.

I will say though that the Baptistery and the Campanile and the outside of the Duomo are stunning and quite impressive.  Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors are quite impressive up close, and with so little crowds we can really get up close.

Oh I should add a note about the weather.  It is similar to yesterday, cool in the morning with some light fog and you will need a sweater and jacket.  But later in the day the sun comes up and the weather really warms up and we start removing the layers.

We walk up Via Martelli North towards the Accademia.  I had pre purchased our tickets for 10:30 – 10:45 window.  I will comment that when you arrive there are Two Entrances.  One for those with no reservation and one for those with reservation.  So we head to the one with reservation and there are two lines here, one for groups and one for pre reserved.  Okay we line up, the line is not long and we soon realize they curtail how many can enter because as soon as you enter you have to go thur a security screening, bag check and walk thru one, similar to what you get on the ship.

Then you go to the ticket window with your reservation and show them your pre reserved ticket and they exchange it for two tickets.  Then in you go.  They do have an audio guide you can purchase too, but we just used Rick Steve’s Audio guide.

When enter you look down a long hallway and there it is!  David all 17 feet of him.  The symbol of the Renaissance Man.  It really did take my breath away and hard to believe I am actually looking at it!

Now it says no photos or video but it seemed everyone was taking pictures and no one was saying a darn thing.  In fact those dreaded selfie sticks were coming out too and were only getting in the way.  

So well if others are taking pictures so will I.  So I snap a bunch of pictures and not a word from any of the security officers.  Although later as it got busier someone did state no photos to some others.  So I guess go with the flow, and I am glad I got some amazing pictures before anyone said anything.  So Un Canadian of me.

We walk back and check out other uncompleted statues called the Prisoners that Michelangelo did.  Really amazing to see the work and how a large piece of stone can turn into such amazing art.

There is also a bust of Michelangelo right at the entrance that is quite nice too.

One of my favorites was the Pieta, the figures struggle to hold up the sagging body of Christ. 

In all we spent about an hour in the gallery and were quite amazed at how quiet it was.  I really don’t think I could handle it during peak times. Again another reason I am so glad we visited at this time of year.

Upon leaving the Gallery we walk out to Piazza di San Marco (stark contrast to the San Marco Square we saw just a few days ago in Venice).  Here it is more of a busy bus loop/terminus with a lot of students around from the nearby university.  The San Marco Museum is here and again we would like to visit but we will have to wait until we are back for a longer visit.

I want to see the Market so we make our way West to Mercato Centrale which is a grand building that you will get lost in full of shops selling pretty much everything you would need for a great meal.  Fish, meat, cheese, pasta, fruits, vegetables, oils, wines, breads, pastries, chocolates, honey and so much more.  There are a handful of eateries here too – more like sandwich and a glass of wine places but certainly economical and fast.  There is a washroom here if you need it for a small fee (which is quite common here in the Mediterranean).

All this looking at food has made us hungry and we wander around and really want to get away from the crowds and tourist to a smaller more local type restaurant.  We follow these guidelines when looking for a restaurant:  keep away from the tourist sites, head down alleys or small streets for true gems, look for a lot of locals inside, pick a restaurant that does not have pictures of their food dishes on an easel, small menu with local foods. 

We find this great restaurant called Ristorante il Vezza at Via Guelfa 58R.  They have a paper menu that shows the starters and then a special for a lunch with just a first course 10E, or first and second course together 16E and a glass of wine for 3E.  There are locals enjoying a lunch away from work.

The server comes and we order wine of course and he explains the features today.  Bernie gets the pasta with the clams and I get the pasta with oil, garlic and hot peppers.  Both are very good and we clean up our plates with some amazing fresh bread.

We share a secondi of chicken cacciatore which was so damn good I know I am going to try and replicate this at home.  Again so flavourful! 

What a great meal, boy we have not had many bad meals – probably one of the highlights of this trip.

Back out onto the street and we have a few hours to kill till we get picked up.  We need to pick up some more wine so we wander back into the market and buy some local wines (3 bottles).  We wander down the road towards the Arno River looking at many of the stores.

We walk along the river to the Ponte Vecchio which although was busy was once again much quieter than in high season.  Hard to imagine because I find it busy now but this is nothing the locals tell us.  We walk to the high point of the bridge and well unless you are into gold/jewelry this bridge is personally a let down. 

We do run into our friends Barb/George and we pose for pics.  But my thought is if you really want to enjoy a beautiful bridge head to one of the other ones that cross the River for a much better bridge pictures and a heck of a lot less people. 

Back into the heart of Florence and the crowds we walk to the Uffizi Gallery and Piazza della Signoria and the Palazo Vecchi and the Political Center of Florence – it’s City Hall. 
Here is the replica of David – but hey we saw the real thing a few hours ago. 

I enjoy the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna which he carved from one piece of marble. 

We saved room for a bit of Gelato and this is our last stop in Italy so we enjoy two scoops and people watch everyone in the square.

We are both getting tired and we meander back to the Plazza de Republica to meet up with others in our group and shortly thereafter Gaetano shows up – ten minutes early, but we are ready.

Gaetano wants to take us to an amazing outlook spot.  It is well worth it as the view is beautiful.  We get a group photo.

Back in the van and we are back at the port 1.5 hours later. 

Great service with Tau Touring and would not hesitate to use them again.  We would love to see more of the area and definitely want to come back to this area and stay longer.  It is nice to get away from the big cities and see the rolling Tuscan area.

Back on board we drop off our bags and agree to meet up with friends in Explorer’s Elite Lounge for a drink.  Today’s feature is Japanese Slipper which I get and Bernie gets a Cosmo. 

Tonight will definitely be dinner at the Horizon Court, we are pooped and I think it will be an early night again.  Tomorrow is Toulon and we don’t have big plans but I am really looking forward to being back in France.

I will add that you can not walk from the ship to the port gate.  There is a private shuttle service here that takes you from the ship to the main square in Livorno for 5E per person.  It is not run by Princess and you need cash for the tickets and Euros only.  It is a little annoying that we dock here and there is no way to get off the ship and see the area without having to pay for the shuttle.  This really should be a free shuttle or the price added to your cruise fee when you book and then given for free to all.

Not much is happening tonight but there are a few things:  Princes Theater is featuring Michael Bacala, Movie Aloha on Muts, Who Sang What Country and Western Edition, Stateroom movie Ex Machina, Majority Rules Game Show, Country and Western Night, and Princess Pop Star.