Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kai's Post

Kai is over at our house for the night and we are going to make a post for him together. This post was made by asking Kai what he wanted to make a website about, and here is what came out:

My favorite color of car is "blue and blue and red and brown."

(He selected the pictures from the ones I brought up on Google)

Lightning McQueen, Mader and King are my three friends (from the Pixar movie Cars)

I color with crayons at school. I draw trees and cars and ice cream and books.

I miss mommy and daddy! Also: "Rainbow!"

- Kai (and Julie)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wine Country Bumpkins

I'm sorry I haven't blogged about this sooner - honestly it was taking all of my blogging power to post once a day with those cruise vacation posts! (I know that sounds ridiculous, but I've been really busy lately and it seems to take forever to post pictures to Blogger.)

Anyway, Michael and I are off once more...this time to beautiful wine country! My In-Laws were so sweet to book this trip to celebrate Michael's 30th Birthday on Saturday! We fly out to LA tonight and will drive up to Solvang (north of Santa Barbara) to do some wine tasting! (I will now stop ending all of my sentences with exclamation points to save you some irritation, but hope you will understand that I am super excited.)

This is the first image that popped up when I Google'd "Solvang": So I think you won't be surprised to hear that I'm psyched. Absolutely no sarcasm there, in case it seemed like there might be. I'm SO into this kind of thing.

We have reservations at a restaurant called the Hitching Post, which is a famous place where the filmed the movie Sideways.You better believe I'm NOT drinking any Merlot!

Seriously can't wait!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Rather Cheeky Town

Well, if you thought it was number two...

You were wrong, sorry. Bob's your uncle! We did option 3. We got up bright and early to take wander toward Buckingham Palace (by way of tube, as it were). First, though, we needed sustenance. We stopped at this little cafe for pastries and coffees. Adorable little pastry boxes, eh?

After getting off the tube at Green Park, we had a nice stroll through it before reaching the Queen's place. It was so weird emerging from the park to see the palace right there! I've been to BP (no, not that one) before, but I don't remember approaching it quite this way.

Don't you want a coat of arms?

We didn't get to see the changing of the Guard, but we did get to see this guy march around.
Notice that he doesn't have your standard Beefeater outfit and hat on. Shannon provided what I believe to be an excellent guess that this is their summer uniform.

I hope the Queen was glancing out her window right at the moment we chose to pose for this one:

*Sigh* I want to live in a palace.

I didn't really know what we'd do next, but Michael seemed to have a direction. We wandered through St. James' Park. He promised it would be beautiful. HE'S AN HONEST MAN, FOLKS.
Can you see the London Eye faintly between my and Shannon's heads?
A glance back at Buckingham past gorgeous swampy marshes and weeping willows, no big deal.

I thought we were just meandering, but it turns out Michael had an agenda the whole time. So imagine how excited I was when we rounded the corner and saw this bad boy:
Yep, Big Ben. Don't mind the horrible angle (my chins and I thank you), but I'll take a moment to be boastful and say this is one cool photograph!

Ben's right next to Parliament, so we got to see that too.
And across the river and over the bridge is the London Eye.
We walked sort of past Westminster Abbey (not really close enough to take a good picture) and finally got to Trafalgar Square. This place was a madhouse. It just happened to be the day of this big race (maybe a half marathon? maybe a 10k?) through London. So literally thousands of people were running around the round-about around Trafalgar and a bunch more people were cheering them on.

We took the tube over to Leicester Square and walked over to Picadilly Circus. I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed in this. It looked like a bunch of the other squares we had been to.


I know we didn't actually go inside any of these places, but I am so happy with how many things we saw in a three hour window! London really is a wonderful town. It has so much history, so many sights so close together. It's so accessible and clean. I was just very impressed overall.

But there was still one thing that I had missed out on: a pasty or meat pie of some kind. So after we'd gotten through security at the airport, we ate at a little pub. Shan got some authentic aged cheddar macaroni and cheese, the guys got fish and chips, and I got this handsome fellow:A steak and ale pie with a side of mash and cooked veggies. Pastry. Mmm. Meat. Mmm. Gravy. Mmm.
That's the end of the line, folks! I hope you've enjoyed reading about these travels as much as I've enjoyed reliving and recounting them. If you didn't, well, tomorrow I will resume your irregularly scheduled posts of a more weekenderly nature. Thanks for taking the journey with me!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It wasn't meant to be, Venice

NCL has a pretty good system for getting off the boat - you sign up for a time and then just be ready to go when your group is called. I remember with Royal Caribbean we just sat around waiting forever.

Anyway, once we got off and got all our bags (around 10 am), we knew we had quite a bit of time before our 5 pm flight to London. We debated over what to do. Option one was heading directly into Venice proper, leaving our baggage at Mom and Dad's hotel, having lunch then heading to the airport. Option two was going straight to the airport, checking in and leaving our bags, then heading into Venice being footloose and fancy free. That's what we ended up doing.

But when we got to the airport, it was a madhouse. A few other cruise ships had also just docked, so it was jam packed full of people. We then found out we weren't allowed to check into our flight until 2 hours before our (international) flight, so no checking our bags! There was a "Left Bags" check system, but it cost 5.50 euro per bag. Then, the cost to take a water bus (cheapest option) was 25 euro per person each way. This was getting expensive. Plus, the water bus would have taken about an hour and a half each way, so we would have been spending all this money to be in Venice for about 90 minutes.

We decided that the most logical thing to do was just stay at the airport and wait for our flight.I was so bummed. We got less time in Venice on the way in, and now we had no time in Venice on the way out. To pass the time, we bought a pack of cards and played some games in the small cafeteria at the airport.

A woman walked by and tried to kick us out for not actually eating at the cafeteria, so we took turns going up and getting something to eat.

Other than a short delay, the plane from Venice to London was fine. Once we arrived there, we hopped on an Express train and got some more use of those playing cards.

Navigating the tube in London was interesting with all our luggage, but still fun.

One of Michael's friends from business school actually lives in London presently. We were so happy to get to see him and his fiance! We had a wonderful dinner with them, but called it an early night because of how tired we all were.
We knew we only had a few hours in London the next morning, and we had three options. Which do you think we went with?
1. Catch up on sleep
2. Walk down to Hyde Park and do some people watching
3. Attempt the tube system and take a walking tour

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ancient Crete

This blog post is going to cover our day in Crete and our last day at sea. The truth is that I just don't have as many pictures from these days, so they'd end up being pretty sparse posts individually.

At the last port of call, Crete, our three couples had an alone day, meaning we all went off on our own for some adventure. I'm glad we did this in Crete rather than another place because we didn't have much time at this port - only 4 hours or so.

Michael and I walked to a nearby city bus station and hopped on one to Knossos Palace. It is a huge archaeological site that is about 4,000 years old (!) and was once the center of Crete's ancient civilization. We didn't really want to pay extra money for a guided tour, so we just roamed around, reading signposts and wondering to ourselves what certain areas were used for.

The red in the above picture was restored by a famous archaeologist to try to show what it looked like in its own time.
This picture shows an individual home on the outskirts of the Palace.

We had lunch back on the ship. I loved that they had Indian food on the cruise every day, and I ate it whenever I could (except for the days we were ashore, obviously). We also took naps today, and I ventured to the cruise library for some quiet time.
Dinner that night was "Lobster Night." This night was also, to my embarrassment, the first and only night I ordered three entrees at dinner! (To be fair, Michael shared one, and another one functioned as an appetizer.) I hope it's now clear to any non-cruisers out there, why it's possible to gain so much weight on these vacations. Luckily we were also walking a ton each day, so hopefully that helped.

We went to another show tonight, which was two people doing crazy lyrical balancing acts with each other while wearing tiny outfits.
After that we all went to the "world famous" NCL White Hot Party, where you were asked to wear all white. This lounge was the scene and was all decked out.
Then we all went to the casino together. I know this might sound weird, but it was kind of fun playing black jack while the table was almost entirely made up of our family. By the end of the night, we were still up $25 for the trip!

I can't believe I don't have more pictures from our 'at sea' day. We spent most of the morning laying out by the pool after finding some lounge chairs together. We ordered some of the specialty drinks of the day and relaxed.

We had a great final dinner in the main dining room. Sadly, we had to pack up our luggage to be set out and picked up for the next day. But when we went back to the cabin to pack up, such a beautiful sunset awaited us that I had to snap a few pictures.

It was windy, can you tell?
Up next: Another travel disappointment and London Part 1

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My heart, My-konos

Shh...come a little closer. There. Can I tell you a secret?

Santorini wasn't my favorite stop on the cruise. The shame! I think the whole rest of the family loved Santorini the best. And, no doubt about it, Santorini had the most beautiful views. But Mykonos was my favorite stop. It was just so beautiful in this little town.My eyes felt like they were starving as I looked down every little alley, trying to absorb all the little hidden charms of this place. I have a feeling Santorini would have been just as wonderful, except we really didn't have the time to just wander in Oia like we did here.
Because of my love, this blog post is going to be long with a LOT of pictures. Hope that's okay.
This restaurant was (once again) just incredible. It was thisclose to the water, and can you see the incredible color of it in the background? We only had a few appetizers and drinks here. Michael's Greek beer:
Mom with wine, me with an iced coffee frappe (different than what you're thinking, but delicious!) And later I stopped for a nutella crepe. Let me tell you, it gave me a thrill every time I'd say "efcharisto" ("Thank You!") and they'd respond back with whatever "you're welcome" is.

In heaven: That's the crepe in my hand, and are you seeing these colored balconies behind me?!?
Stopping for another drink while the womenfolk take another round through the shops. We later joined them.Those were all the pictures that served a purpose in telling the story of what we did. Now I present to you the pictures that have no story, really, but just demonstrate how awe-inspiring and picturesque this place is.

I wanted to demand of the cats in the two above pictures, "Alright, did someone plant you here to make this place even more charming?! Cats don't just sit placidly in front of green doors, you know!! How much is the Mykonos Tourist Board paying you?! ANSWER ME!!"

The water here is almost a golden green close to shore, a teal further out, then a deep navy in the distance.
Did you know Mykonos is famous for its windmills?
The area above is called "Little Venice." This is where our restaurant was.
After all the wandering around, we stopped by a little beach in the bay where we were tendered. Mom and Dad decided to head back to the ship, but us kids decided to stop for a dip. But no, we didn't have our swimsuits on, so:Nice teamwork, guys! I think it was Michael who, at one point, muttered, "I've reached the point where, if this towel drops, this entire beach is getting a show." Had me laughing.
I'm so glad we went swimming, as now we can say we swam in the Adriatic and Aegean Seas! Observation: Euros have a totally different sense of body awareness/self-consciousness. Huge hairy men wearing speedos. Large older women splayed out on the beach with tiny swim suits. In fact, we hardly saw any one-piece bathing suits at all on this vacation. It was just so interesting to think about how different it is than in America, where women feel the need to cover up or surgically change any small imperfection.

After going back aboard, we all agreed not to snack all day because we were doing something special for Mom and Dad's 35th anniversary celebration. We kids wanted to treat them to dinner at one of the specialty restaurants - in this case, all-you-can eat sushi. (With Norwegian Cruise Lines, most of the restaurants on board are free, but there are some specialty restaurants where you are charged a fee [between $10-$25 per person], and the food quality is supposed to be a little better.)After this, we all headed to one of the bars on board to watch the Germany-Spain World Cup game. At halftime, Mom and I took turns running up to the "Chocoholic Buffet."

Hogwarts in Milk Chocolate?

Eiffel Tower in Dark?

Zeus wears robes of white chocolate.

And I tried to taste them all. (Would you expect any different?)

We took our plates down to be eaten at the game where they were preyed upon by scavengers (read: Michael and Dad).

Next up: Iraklion, Crete, Greece!