Highlights of a Day in Rome

How can you possibly see the amazing city of Rome in just one day!  With it’s incredible history, art and culture if you only have a day, you just do the best you can.

This was our quandary when visiting Rome on our Royal Caribbean cruise this past Spring. However, as with all of the ports that we visited, it’s a matter of priorities.  For the limited time that we had, we choose the historical Colosseum and the Vatican. 

Our day began early with a bus ride into the Eternal City from our port in Civitavecchia and our first stop was the Colosseum.  Seeing the Colosseum was truly like stepping back in time as the amazing structure dates back to AD 80.  

Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, this is a place where gladiators fought not only animals, but other humans as well.  The history is rather grisly, but the Colosseum itself is truly an amazing work of architecture, especially when you realize it was created over 2000 years ago.The Forum, Rome, Italy

From the Colosseum we took a walking tour and visited the Roman Forum, the place where Roman citizens would meet to exchange ideas, do business, and shop at markets. 

From the Forum, we continued on our walking tour through the city streets of Rome.  Our destination was the San Pietro in Vincoli to see the amazing sculpture of Moses by the infamous Renaissance artist Michelangelo.  This dramatic figure is nearly eight feet high in a sitting position.  A superb example of craftsmanship and beauty, Michelangelo’s Moses sits with the Tablets of Law under his arm.  He is quite the imposing figure with intense looking eyes and muscular arms.  

After lunch, it was time to head to the Vatican City where we viewed the amazing Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.  Lines to see these incredible museums can be quite long.  However, you can avoid the long lines by making a reservation and  buying your tickets in advance.  As with many European churches, it is expected that you cover your knees and shoulders, so no shorts or tank tops please!  

The Vatican Museum boasts an amazing collection of artwork and centuries old tapestries displayed in a long, narrow hallway that you pass through on your way to the Sistine Chapel.  We had a very competent tour guide to explain a bit about what we were seeing.  

The Sistine Chapel is magnificent and words really cannot describe the beauty of Michelangelo’s impressive frescoed ceilings.  It is quite crowded as you pass through.  Remember, it is a chapel, and guards will attempt to quiet the large crowds that can be as great as 29,000 visitors per day!  Pictures are not allowed in the chapel.

Michelangelo’s Pieta, his earliest masterpiece, can be seen when you visit St. Peter’s Basilica.  Carved from a single slab of marble, this graceful sculpture shows a very youthful Mary holding the body of Christ in her arms.

I know that photos do not do the magnificent sculptures of Michaelangelo justice, nor the amazing city of Rome.  I came away with such a deep appreciation and better understanding of the history and culture of Rome. Even now, as I review these photos, I feel reverence to the memory of our visit.  

Although our time in Rome was brief, the experience was truly an event that I will always remember.  For now I have to say  Arrivederci Rome.  I will see you again someday!

The Mountaintop Village of Eze, France


Perched high on a mountain top overlooking the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, lies the very picturesque Medieval village of Eze.  Located on the road between Nice and Monaco and easily reached by train or bus, Eze is famous for it’s quaint medieval buildings and it’s spectacular views of the Mediterranean.  

Medieval village of Eze, France

A visit to the lovely area of Provence and the Côte d’Azur has long been on my bucket list and sadly we only had one day in the area on our Royal Caribbean Cruise.  I wanted to see so much of France, yet I didn’t want to be rushed from place to place.  I yearned for time to relish in the sights, taste and smells of this spectacular place.

 

So…..after some discussion, RH and I decided to skip an excursion to Monaco to allow us more time to linger in Villefranche and Nice.  You can read about our time in these two charming spots here.  However, I couldn’t miss out on the visit to the medieval village of Eze, perched 1400 feet above the sea, and I am so glad that we went.

View of the Bay of Villefranche.

The ride up the hillside to Eze was remarkable in itself! The winding road was filled with amazing views of the Bay of Villefranche and all the charming homes cascading down the hillside. Once we arrived in Eze, the entrance to the medieval village was just a brief walk from the bus stop.  

Eze, France

After entering the gates to the medieval village, we followed the narrow cobblestone roads up a steep and rocky path and were enchanted with the lovely stone homes that are now filled with charming boutiques, artisan shops and lovely flowers.

The road leading to the mountaintop brings you to the amazing Jardin Exotique d’Eze, a lovely botanical garden on a steep terrain with exquisite views of the coast.  There is an entrance fee of 6 euros per person.  I regret now that we did not pay this small fee to wander around and enjoy the views.  

Eze is one of those places where you think if only the walls could talk what a rich history they could share.  It is believed that Eze was first populated around 200o BC by Celto-Ligurian tribes, and it’s amazing history has been shaped by the Romans, Moors, and House of Savoy.  The Medieval town we see today was built around the ruins of a 12th century castle and you can an influence of Egyptian and Middle Eastern architecture. 

Eze, France

I believe I could have wandered the cobblestone roads around the medieval village for days taking in the ancient stone structures, the beautiful flowers and the incredible views!

Flowers of Eze, France

  Eze can get quite crowded so I would recommend arriving early in the day and allowing yourself plenty of time to wander and enjoy this fascinating spot!

I have to say, I truly enjoyed my brief time in Eze and sincerely hope I have the opportunity to return someday!  Thanks for reading and until next time – Au revoir!  

The Charming Seaside Village of Villefranche-Sur-Mer

It’s hard to imagine a seaside village more picturesque than Villefranche-Sur-Mer!  It truly was enchanting to view Old Town Villefranche as we cruised into port with it’s colorful, pastel buildings cascading steeply towards the sea. 

The harbor of Villefranche

Situated close to Nice and near Monoco,  Villefranche is in the heart of Cote d’Azur, otherwise know as the French Riviera.  Many of the colorful, pastel buildings date back to Medieval times. The town itself was founded in the 14th century, by the Count of Provence, Charles II of Anjou.  Later the town fell to the Dukes of Savoy and Villefranche remained a part of Italy until 1860.  There are many lovely, historical buildings to visit and explore the rich history of  Villefranche. 

The colorful buildings of Villefranche.

The Bay of Villefranche boasts of one of the deepest natural harbors in the Mediterranean Sea and has become an important port.  Although a small fishing fleet operates here, the beautiful harbor primarily caters to mostly pleasure boats and cruise ships.  While we were in port, we noticed the infamous World Ship, the largest privately owned residential yacht, was also in port.  

MS WorldWe took a tender from our cruise ship, Vision of the Seas, into the town.  Once we arrived, we were delighted to wander the narrow, cobblestone streets filled with terrace cafes, charming shops and balconies filled with flowers.

The colorful buildings along the harbor of Villefranche.

We stopped in a charming cafe to enjoy a pizza and a glass of wine.  While we were having our lunch, a very friendly older woman stopped to visit with us.  She spoke very good English, but would sparkle the conversation with bits of French.  I will always remember how she shared her memories of her childhood when France was occupied by Germany during World War II.  She was so thankful to the Americans for coming and saving France from the German occupation.  It made me realize that there are very few people still alive that have memories of this devastating time in history.   I have to say she really touched my heart with her gratitude.  

Terrace cafes in Villefrance, France.

After our lunch, we took a bus to Nice, capital of the French Riviera.  I understand there is also a train that will take you the brief five minute ride to Nice.  We spent some time wandering the historic quarter, visiting the flower market, and sauntering through the narrow streets to admire the fabulous architecture.  The streets of old Nice are lined with with tall houses painted in warm hues of reds, yellows and pink.  There are also many restaurants and boutiques to wander through.  

    Both Villefranche and Nice are fabulous places to visit, and once again, I longed to have more time to wander the enchanting streets, visit the charming boutiques, enjoy the exquisite cuisine and take in some of the amazing museums.  

View of the narrow streets of Villefranche.

However, our plan was to visit the Medieval visit of Eze and check out some amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea.  So we had to scurry on our way.  You can check out our visit to Eze in my next post.     Until then, thank you for stopping by!     Gerri

The Enchanting Mijas Pueblo

If you adore the quaint and charming, you won’t want to miss the Spanish village of Mijas Pueblo.  It lies on the southeastern coast of Spain, in the heart of Costa Del Sol.  This Andalusian  village is filled with white washed buildings, narrow, cobblestone streets and balconies overflowing with colorful flower pots.  For me it was love at first sight!

The Andalusian village of Mijas Pueblo.

The delightful village of Mijas Pueblo clings to a hillside about 1500 feet above sea level and offers incredibly picturesque views of the dazzling Medeterrainian Sea.  We arrived in Mijas after about a 45 minute bus ride from the port that zigzagged up the steep roads of the Sierra de Mijas mountain  range.  As we approached the village, we could see lovely, Spanish homes all in the same white washed style as the lovely Mijas.  As we traveled closer to our destination, I knew I was in for a a treat!  

The first thing I noticed after stepping off the bus were the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea.  The sky that day was so incredibly blue and the sea simply sparkled in brilliance below. 

Mijas Pueblo, Spain

As we began to wander the narrow streets and alleys of this quaint Andalusian village I became captivated by it’s Medieval charm.  We strolled up and down alleys that connected the various levels of the village and I was enthralled with the lovely potted flowers and plants that adorned steps and balconies throughout the village.

Mijas Pueblo, Spain

The white washed buildings are full of shops filled with hand made pottery, paintings by local artists and leather goods.  The pottery is colorful and beautiful and I was so tempted to purchase some, if only I had room in my bags to bring it home!

Mijas Pueblo, Spain

The Mijas settlement has a rich history and is known to have existed for centuries, beginning with the Romans and Greeks in the 2nd century.  The Romans called the village Tamisa, which over time has been shortened to Mijas.   It was a prosperous little village due to the wealth of minerals in the nearby mountains.  It was later inhabited by the Moors, who abbreviated the name to Mixa.  Over time, numerous other cultures claimed Mijas as their own and Mijas has been subject to many attacks, including those of pirates.

Our Lady of the Virgin Rock

The charming church,  Our Lady of the Virgin of the Rock, was completed in the early 18th century and covers the ruins of a Moorish castle dating back to the 8th century.  According to legend, two young shepherds saw a white dove that turned into an apparition of the Virgin Mary.  The festival of the patron saint of Mijas is celebrated every year with a procession.  The peaceful setting and incredible views also make this area a popular venue for weddings today.

Mijas Pueblo, Spain

Today Mijas is home to many local artisans and is visited by a vast number of tourists every year.  In 1969,  Mijas was declared a Historic -Artistic village, and is now being authentically preserved.  

Although, I can imagine at certain times Mijas could be quite overrun with tourism.  However,  we arrived quite early in the day and practically had the place to ourselves. Not all of the shops and restaurants were open, but we were able to walk around and enjoy Mijas’ charms without fighting throngs of people.  Personally, I was enchanted by the lovely white washed village and colorful potted flowers.  I only regret that I didn’t have more time to wander the narrow streets and take in the beautiful panoramic views of Mijas. 

Thanks for stopping by – Gerri 

The Azores – A Gem in the Atlantic

If you can imagine a paradise off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean then you are dreaming of The Azores!  This archipelago of nine islands formed from volcanic eruptions is one of the most incredibly beautiful and unspoiled spots I have ever visited.

The Azores, Portugal

The largest of these islands is Sao Miguel, home to Ponta Delgado, capital of this sublimely beautiful group of islands.  After five full days crossing the Atlantic Ocean on our Royal Caribbean Cruise, you can only imagine how thrilled we were to be approaching land….and what a delilght this spot turned out to be!  

Ponta Delgado, Azores

We awoke before dawn to get our first breathtaking view of the magnificent Azores and the port of Ponta Delgado.  The city stretches along the beautiful bay, with numerous churches and houses sprawling on the gently sloping hills.  The black and white color scheme of the buildings adds a relaxing harmony.

Sao Miguel Island, Azores

As we stepped off the ship to explore the city, the air was fresh and cool, definitely cool enough for a jacket or sweater.  If felt divine!  The first thing we did was to hop on an open air double decker bus to take a quick tour of Ponta Delgado.  I was captivated by the lush, green foliage and colorful flowers.  No wonder this island is known as the “Green Island.”

Sao Miguel Island, Azores

After our quick tour of the city, we took a bus tour up the mountain to Sete Cidades and the two crater lakes.  It was as if we were headed into the clouds surrounded by a tropical paradise. 

Sao Nicolau Church, Cete Cidadas, Azores

Our first stop was to view the charming Sao Nicolau Church built of white stone with black trim in Neoclassical style and featuring Gothic windows.  The cobblestone path that leads to the entrance of the cathedral is lined with tall pines that creates a very picturesque welcoming.  The church was built in 1758 after an older medieval church had been destroyed by fire.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades, Azores

After a quick stop at the church, we continued our journey to the twin crater lakes.  The folklore is that two star-crossed lovers could not be together and each lake was formed from their tears, one being green and one blue.  Of course, the reality of this is that one lake is deeper than the other.  The day we were there was quite overcast, so both lakes appeared green.  However, it was still an amazing and incredible site to behold.  

Lagoa das Cete Cidades, Azores

It is possible to either spend the day kayaking or to hike around the lakes.  If time had allowed, I would absolutely have spent more of the day enjoying the incredible beauty of the twin lakes. 

Sao Miguel Island, Azores

             The fresh, unspoiled beauty of Sao Miguel Island left me longing to spend more time exploring the wonders of this magnificent place.  There is so much more to see and experience on this tranquil island of vibrant colors.  It is definitely a nature lovers paradise. 

While visiting The Azores may have once been almost unheard of, some airlines are now offering flights into Ponta Delgado Airport.  SATA International, the Azores own airline, offers limited direct flights from Boston, Massachusetts and Delta Airlines is now offering flights from New York City.  I am currently researching the possibility of returning to this incredible destination!

But for now, I will be continuing my saga of our glorious cruise across the Atlantic!

Thank you for stopping!  – Gerri

Historic San Juan

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RH and I have finally returned home from our amazing journey on the Transatlantic Cruise with Royal Caribbean from Galveston to Barcelona and then around the Mediterranean to France, Italy and Monte Negro.  This trip was truly something I had dreamed about for countless years and I promise you, it did not disappoint!

  I have learned so much from this journey and have been awed by the history, beauty, architecture and culture of the many places I have had the great privilege to see.  As we journeyed into each port, I became increasingly fascinated with the amazing history our world has to offer.  

I will begin my account of this journey with the historic port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We arrived in San Juan on the fifth day of our journey  and were quite excited to have a day in port.  We were up early that morning in plenty of time to enjoy our cruise into the San Juan Bay.  As our ship headed to the port, the massive fortress of El Morro is on the left side of the ship and offers quite an impressive view from the sea.  El Morro is the 400 year old walled fortress designed to guard the entrance of San Juan Bay and defend the colonial Spanish port.  The history of this fortress is truly fascinating and takes you back in time to when the Spanish conquistadors were defending the fort.  

The port is located in the heart of what is known as Old San Juan, the oldest European settlement in America.  El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal, both a part of San Juan National Historic Site  are a fairly easy walk or a short taxi ride from the port.  Walking or driving, the views of the San Juan Bay along Paseo de la Princesa are simply stunning.   

If you are a lover of narrow, cobblestone streets and charming, colorful colonial architecture, you will delight in strolling the streets of Old San Juan.  It’s easy to spend the day wandering the streets and soaking up the beauty and history in the vibrantly colored brick and stone buildings.  The buildings are delightfully quaint with elegant doors, balconies and colonial details, an absolute dream for a fan of colonial architecture.  I would suggest walking shoes to meander though the cobblestone streets and know that mid afternoons might be a bit warm as the tall buildings block the breeze.  There are many museums, shop, and street cafes to visit and enjoy easy going Caribbean vibe.  If you tire of walking,  there is a free trolley that winds through the area and you are able to hop on and off as you desire.   

This was our second visit to Old San Juan and I was still fascinated with the history and amazing colonial architecture.  We noticed that there weren’t the crowds that we saw on our last visit,  presumably due to the devastating hurricane last fall.  However, Old San Juan is alive and vibrant awaiting your visit.  If given the chance, I will definitely return to explore the history and culture of this amazing island. 

Blessing to all – Gerri

Cruising to Barcelona

There is nothing ordinary about sailing across the vast Atlantic Ocean!

We are traveling on Royal Caribbean’s ship Vision of the Seas which left Galveston, Texas almost two weeks ago.  Our first stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico where we had a lovely day wandering the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.  After another five days at sea, we arrived in Ponta Delgado, Azores, an island off of Portugal! I have to say this was one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places I’ve ever seen!

The experience of crossing the Atlantic has been totally amazing, relaxing and so peaceful.  There is something so calming about listening to the gentle sounds of the waves as the ship glides through the ocean.  The waves have been mostly between 4 to 6 feet, which our magnificent vessel glides through luxuriously!

Most days the skies have been delightfully blue, with occasional clouds.  The air temperature has ranged between the mid eighties in San Juan to the mid fifties as we travel north to Spain.  

As we traveled from San Juan to The Azores, I was overwhelmed by the unspoiled beauty of this magnificent ocean!  When traveling in the Caribbean, you occasionally see other vessels. Perhaps freighters passing by or other cruise ships as you travel along your journey.  However, in the middle of the Atlantic, we went for days with only seeing the sky and sea, no other vessels!  Water depth was about 15,000 feet or 3 miles deep.  We traveled along at about 20 knots. We have currently traveled 5013 nautical miles towards our destination in Barcelona.  

Tonight we will pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and tomorrow we arrive in Malaga, Spain.

I wish I had more photos to share with you, but I seem to be having some technical difficulty!  I’m looking forward to sharing more with you soon.

Thank you to all for your well wishes for this journey. –  Gerri

 

Dreams Can Come True!

As you are reading this, I am leaving on a ship for my dream of a lifetime trip! This trip has been in the wishing and planning stages for years.  My husband and I have saved our pennies, hoped and dreamed, and it is finally coming true!

We leave out of the Port of Galveston and our destination is Barcelona, Spain!  Some may call us crazy, but we will be spending sixteen nights on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  I have to admit that although I am totally excited about this grand adventure, I am feeling a bit nervous about so many days crossing the Atlantic.

Along the way we will stop in the beautiful and historic San Juan, Puerto Rico before many days at sea.  Eventually, we arrive in Ponto Del Gado, Azores which is a small chain of islands off of Portugal.  Then, three more stops in Spain before we arrive in Barcelona.   After that we will be doing a bit more traveling around the Medeteranian Sea. 

During this time, I will be taking a bit of time off from blogging.  However, I hope to post some pictures for you on my Instagram page @tocreatesunshine.  I also have a Facebook page of the same name.

While I am away, I will be journaling about the experience and look forward to sharing with you upon our return.

Until then, wishing you many blessings…..Gerri

Cruising to Roatan, Honduras

I am so excited to share with you the events of last week.  I had the opportunity to cruise the Western Caribbean with my husband and other family members and I have to say what a wonderful trip it was!

We took Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas  leaving from Galveston and cruising to Roatan , Costa Maya and Cozamel. The ship itself was amazing with an incredible shopping mall, ice skating rink and magnificent shows and entertainment.  For the younger crowd there were some fantastic looking slides, a zip line and even a Flowrider which is a surf simulator.  I cannot imagine anyone being bored on this astonishing ship!

Personally, I spent most of my time relaxing and reading in the adult area pool and spa.  However, if I had been traveling with children or teens to cheer me on, I think I would have ventured out and at least tried one of the slides. I am really just a child at heart!  

Our first port was Roatan, an island off Honduras, known for it’s beautiful, pristine beaches and magnificent snorkeling, coral reef and dive sights.  The morning we pulled in to port, I awoke to the most breathtaking sunrise!  

I am rarely one to leap from my bed at sunrise, but that’s exactly what I did as we were pulling into port, with camera in hand ready to capture every moment.  Perhaps if I awoke to this kind of beauty every morning it would be easier for me to hop out of bed!

Our plan had been to zipline though the jungles of Roatan, but as we departed the ship the skies opened and the rains poured down, and our excursion was cancelled.  I have to admit I was a bit relieved as I was feeling squeamish about the prospect of ziplining.  I have a definite concern for heights! 


We regrouped, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the northwestern end of the island to West End Village.  West End has something of a bohemian vibe and is filled with restaurants, bars and scuba shops.  This area is where a majority of the scuba diving, fishing and water-based outfitters are located.  It is a fun area to visit and wander around, however the better beaches are up the road in West Bay.  

Our next stop was West Bay Beach, a dream location filled with beautiful, white sandy beaches.  West Bay is surrounded by the second largest reef barrier in the world and is considered to be one of the best beaches for snorkeling.  My husband and I visited this spot a few years back and it definitely features some amazing turquoise, blue water and excellent snorkeling full of marine life. However, since it was a cloudy day and we had planned to zipline, we opted not to snorkel and just enjoy the laid back beach vibe.

I really wish we had a bit more time to explore West End and West Beach.  It’s my second trip to Roatan, and if you are a beach lover and especially if you’re interested in the incredible marine life it is a spot not to miss!

I will return soon with more on our cruise.  Up next the Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya!

Until then, happy cruising!  xxoo Gerri