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Day #3: Rome

Today’s highlights included two sights: the Vatican Museum (where we’ve been previously) and Castel Sant’Angelo (a new destination for us).

The Vatican Museum’s collection was spectacular as usual, but it was remarkably crowded (always a buzz kill), especially on the march to the Sistine Chapel (which I’ve always felt is a bit over-rated anyway, if I’m honest). Mercifully, we’d booked tickets in advance so at least we didn’t have to wait to get into the museum.

Meh.

To me the highlights of the Vatican Museum were the delightfully affordable and delish lunch at an outdoor yet covered cafe, as well as the pleasure of getting up close to works located off of the main tourist paths, such as this evocative bust of a man:

After the museum, we contemplated visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. Then we saw the entrance line, which was snaking around the square in the rain. So, we quickly re-contemplated and moved on having “been there and done that” already.

We moved on to Castel Sant’Angelo, which was built originally as the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum.

Here’s a photo of the exterior (taken on a different, drier day) taken a bit later in the week:

It was an interesting place to visit although there’s not a tremendous amount of art or artifacts inside. The architecture (having been added to and modified over the years) was fascinating, and the views from the building were spectacular:

For dinner, we went to The Bulldog (a Dutch place with an outpost in Rome) for some non-Italian grub. After this we went to the local pastry shop, which we’d also visited for breakfast too.

Day #2: Rome

We arrived on Sunday to intermittent, light rain. Transit through the airport, getting our luggage, and finding our driver were all reasonably efficient, as was checking into our hotel (Le Meridian Visconti Rome). Since we’d all slept to varying degrees on the flight but still landed in the wee hours of the morning at home, we made a point of heading out to explore the city and get lunch ASAP.

We hit the major “walking tour” highlights: Piazza de Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Pizza Navona, etc., as well as a handful of (mostly minor) churches along the way.

We grabbed lunch at a little place off a side street. It wasn’t “amazing” as Italian good goes, but it was reasonably priced and everyone liked it.

We returned to the hotel in the late afternoon and then ventured out again for dinner to a local place near our hotel.

Libby’s meal took first prize there: gnocchi in a sort of boar bolognese sauce. It was magnificent.

I tried a pasta dish with a vincisgrassi sauce, which is béchamel-like and comes from the Marche region (where it’s typically made into a sort of lasagna dish):

It was good but not spectacular — nonetheless worth the try (as I’d never even heard of it before!).

A couple of blocks away, we visited the local pastry shop to sample some of their sweet treats (all excellent) and get a couple of espresso (kind of “meh” for Italy).

All in all, a good first day…

Day #1: To Rome

After a very busy week, we departed for the airport around 9:30am. Our flight to Detroit was uneventful despite some weather in the Detroit area, which thankfully missed both our arrival and departure. We had about a four hour layover, but we passed the time with an early dinner at P.F. Chang’s (where I’d eaten only a week ago on the way home from Beijing) and by strolling through the airport.

The onward flight to Rome was pleasant enough even in economy class, which admittedly I’ve grown unaccustomed to given my amount of travel for work in business class these days.

Day #10 & #11, At Sea

I don’t have a tremendous amount to say about these days beyond the fact that I’ve personally enjoyed our days at sea far more than usual. We followed the standard pattern of breakfast in the Lido, walking laps around the deck (roughly 3 miles per day), some enrichment activities, Emerson at the kid’s club, a nice dinner all together. I’ve also enjoyed lazy afternoons of reading and just hanging out — working at nothing, blissfully relaxed. A couple of highlights:

  • Dinner last night was very good at Canaletto — the pasta course being especially superb, particularly the pan fried gnocchi with short-ribs
  • Adrian, our cabin steward, is a wiz at folding towel animals. He made a point of especially inviting us to a demonstration today, and he seemed to be genuinely moved that we showed up for his event (he was one of two stewards hosting the show). He even invited Emerson by name onto the stage to help him fold an animal.

Meet “George” — Emerson’s towel animal creation…

  • Overall, this has been a good cruise, and I’m a little sorry to see it end. Traveling as much as I have for work this year, I’ve enjoyed the largely uninterrupted time with the family while sequestered at sea. I think everyone else has enjoyed it too; indeed, Emerson claims this has been her “best cruise ever,” though I’m not 100% sure why that’s the case.
  • Tomorrow, we’ll dock in Ft. Lauderdale and drive the 4-ish hours home. I don’t plan to post about that unless the return is especially noteworthy (good or bad). I may, however, write a summary of my work-related travel for the year, as well as talk a bit about our vacation home in North Carolina (which I’ve not really written about here).
  • Until next time…
  • Day #9: Limon, Costa Rica

    Our final port of call on this cruise was today in Limon, Costa Rica. My sense is Limon itself isn’t high on the list of Costa Rican vacation destinations nor is it the principal playground for expats. But, it’s obviously a convenient stop for southern Caribbean cruises and provides an opportunity for jungle/rainforest based ecotours. For our part, we opted for a half-day “Meet the Sloths” tour, which visited a sloth sanctuary made famous by a 2013 Animal Planet series of the same name.

    Many of the sloths that we saw were permanently injured, abandoned as babies, or orphaned at too young of an age. As a result, they’ve become full-time residents of the sanctuary for the rest of their lives, which could last up to 40 years.

    They’re fascinating creatures — not lazy, just “energy efficient.”

    After visiting the residents and nursery, we took a canoe out onto the local canals in search of sloths in the wild. Being arboreal and colored as they are, they’re remarkably difficult to spot by the untrained eye. Indeed, even when expertly located and pointed out, they’re still remarkably difficult to see. But, we did ultimately see one well up in the canopy, and we certainly enjoyed the peaceful ride in the canoe.

    On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a local shop selling Costa Rican coffee (which we heard from our guide is the coffee origin “best in the world” having just “won an international competition” — somewhat suspiciously we heard the same story from our guides in Colombia and Panama too) and local produce (which I have read in numerous books is considered to be wonderful in its quality, abundance, and affordability):

    The coffee was ok. But, the bananas were wonderful!

    Dinner tonight–although Thanksgiving–was at “Rudi’s Sal de Mer,” which is really the Pinnacle Grill with a higher priced menu ($50 per person) focused primarily on classic French, mostly seafood dishes. Here’s Emerson tucking into a classic preparation of escargot:

    The food was good, but I don’t think it was worth $50/pp. Watching Emerson happily extricate and willingly consume snails? Priceless.

    Yup, this was another “typical” Thanksgiving for our family. Indeed, in reflecting upon it, I believe Emerson’s spent every Thanksgiving of her life traveling somewhere outside of the country. One the one hand, that’s just very different from the more traditional Thanksgivings that Libby and I experienced in our childhoods. On the other hand, the variety of experiences she’s enjoyed is something in and of itself to be especially thankful for. In the end, we’ve just established a very non-traditional tradition.

    Today’s box score: +1 country (Costa Rica)

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