“The lovely thing about cruising is that planning usually turns out to be of little use.”
– Dom Degnon
We headed for Rome after a wonderful two weeks in Montepulciano. We had fallen in love with Tuscany forgetting, of course, that we had fallen in love with all our previous stops. However, new adventures awaited us in Rome. We had a very short amount of time for Rome, certainly not enough to see everything Rome has to offer but planned to pack lots into the time we did have. Deanne had found a lovely place right next to the Vatican which certainly helped us in our planning as it was so close to everything.
Wandering Rome at Night
Though we had to wait a little to get into our Bed and Breakfast, once we got in, we quickly dropped off our bags and headed out to explore the city. We wandered over to the Vatican City, which Liam and Siena were just amazed at. They found it ridiculous to think that you could just step across a line and be in an entirely new country! Liam also found it funny to think that you could literally walk around the entire country in the space of an hour or so. Unfortunately, we could not actually do that as most of it is blocked off from public access. We walked what we could and then strolled down the road leading away from the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a lovely evening to stroll with most tour groups having left to go back to their hotels or cruise ships. Of course, our wanderings quickly led us to a Lego Store. We spent a little time there but it was very crowded so left fairly quickly. From there, we wandered back towards our B and B, taking the opportunity to enjoy the evening lights.
St. Peter’s Basilica
As we strolled through the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, we realized that the line to get into the Basilica was fairly short. Being so close to closing, we hadn’t thought about trying to get in that evening, intending instead to come back. However, with the line so short, we thought we would take a chance.
Deanne had read that while the line closes at a certain time, if you make it into the Basilica before the line closes, you still get about half an hour to wander around before they kick you out. So, we thought we would give it a shot. Sure enough, we made it through the gate just before they closed it. However, we celebrated too soon. As we got to the security screening, a man rolled up with wheelchair carrying a nun. Of course, a nun is always going to be allowed to cut the line, especially when in a wheelchair. Our family has the worst luck picking lines. We always somehow manage to choose the line that ends up being held up for something or other. Apparently, we had once again chosen poorly. It took forever to get the nun out of the chair, unattached from their oxygen tank and through security. Not that I have anything against nuns but we were not flush with time to spare. We finally got through the screening and rushed towards the Basilica….only to face the sight of another gate being closed. We all stopped in disbelief. Faced with not begin able to get into the Basilica (for reasons unknown), we all started arguing with the guard stating that we had been let in. Then we played our trump card…. Yep! We had a nun in a wheelchair! If anything could get us to melt the guard’s heart and let us in, it was the nun! Sure enough, after a call to the main gate, we were let in. Unfortunately, after all that drama, we didn’t end up having that much time in the Basilica as, shortly after we got in, the security guards in the Basilica starting ushering people out the doors.
We did get about 20mins inside the amazing church, which was probably enough for the kids anyway. It is an amazing site with Michaelangelo’s La Pieta gracing one alcove and the remains of St. Peter himself in the crypt. The Basilica is huge but it’s hard to get a good sense of the actual size and space within. The Statue of Liberty could fit inside of St Peter’s Basilica, even on her foundation with her torch raised. As a matter of fact, her 305-foot stature would be dwarfed under the towering 450-foot dome of the church. St Peter’s covers an area of 5.7 acres and runs the length of two American football fields, though throwing a football around inside would probably be frowned upon.
Rome in the Rain
The next day looked cloudy but we headed out anyway as we had little time to explore and lots to see. We headed out early via subway to the Coliseum hoping that we would get there before the crowds. The crowds had also risen early and when we got there, the line to get in ran three-quarters of the way around the Coliseum!
Liam had been looking forward to seeing the Coliseum as he had been reading all about it in the book we were using for his Language Arts. So, we got in line and waited and that’s when the skies opened up. We, fortunately, had brought umbrellas though we still got soaked with the wind driving the rain under our umbrella’s.
We soldiered on and got into the Coliseum. The rain continued on and off throughout our visit but we had a good chance to wander around. Following the Coliseum, we headed over to the Forum and wandered around there for a while marveling at all the structures still present after all this time.
By then, we were very wet but persisted heading over to our next stop, the Pantheon, a church built with a hole in the center of the roof. The Pantheon was formally a Roman temple which was then converted into a church. The hole, or oculus, in the center of the domed ceiling, is the only source of natural light though I am not sure they thought through the whole idea of what would happen when it rained. As it happened, the inside of the church was quite wet.
Strangely, the church was not that crowded and we were able to walk right in. After wandering through some of the quaint neighborhoods nearby, we set off for our B and B to dry off.
The next day was cruise day and we headed out on the train to get to the cruise terminal. After a fair bit of searching, we finally managed to find our way to the actual terminal and settled into our room. We had been looking forward to the cruise for quite a few reasons. The cruise was going to be a bit of a break from our constant traveling. We wouldn’t have to shop for groceries or do any of the other mundane things for the next 10 days. We were also looking forward to eating good food and watching some English tv (just in time to tune into the Midterms in the States and the Brexit uproar). We were also really excited by the fact that we were going to be crossing the Atlantic by ocean albeit not exactly the way we thought we were going to. A few days before the cruise, we discovered that, due to some storm activity in the Atlantic, our course had been changed. Instead of Spain and Portugal, we were now heading to the Canary Islands. It was unfortunate as we had been looking forward to Valencia and Lisbon but with the alternative being a very rough ride, we were happy to have a smoother sail. We had not been to any of the islands so we were not too unhappy. We found out afterward, that the other ship we had been considering taking going on the same route had not changed the itinerary and had had quite a rough ride, so we were quite happy we had changed routes.
Of course, we were still going to be doing school on the ship. It was a bit of a challenge to find a place quiet enough for the kids. The rooms were not really a good place to work and every other space seemed to be used for activities. However, we ended making the Schooner Lounge, a wide open area, our school space and had lots of conversations with people stopping by impressed by the fact that we were doing school, then even more impressed when we told them what we were doing for the year. The kids got lots of compliments, which was really nice. We even met some people who were from Abbotsford themselves! The cruise ship itself, proved to be quite interesting. Being an off-season cruise, the ship was filled with mostly older cruisers. In fact, the kid’s club only had 10 kids in total including 3 or 4 pre-schoolers. Fortunately, there was one girl Siena and Liam’s age and they quickly made friends. They also got lots of attention both in the Kid’s Club from the counselor’s and from the rest of the cruisers who were amazed to see kids on the ship. Most of the activities were geared to the older crowd but we did do some rock climbing (which was not very busy!) and some mini-golf. The kids also loved the Harry Potter trivia quiz, which we won with the help of the other girl’s family. The ship also had a nice Remembrance Day (or Armistice Day) ceremony, which we attended. All in all, the cruise ship part of the trip was very nice. Everyone was friendly and kind and the food was amazing. It was also nice for the kids to have a chance to play with someone else and do the activities in the Kid’s Club. Needless to say, we also enjoyed that!
The Canary Islands
Having never been to the Canary Islands, we were all interested to see what they were like. The first island, Gran Canaria had a lovely port. As opposed to many of the Caribbean Islands we have been to, we were not immediately inundated by people trying to sell us things or surrounded by hundreds of jewelry stores all selling the same things. This port was quiet and well maintained.
Almost immediately off the ship, we happened into a Science Fair with school groups wandering from tent to tent participating in Science themed activities. We got a chance to see some of the local geology and saw the sun through a telescope. Because of this, we discovered the Science Center. Heading off toward the beach, we vowed to return to the Science Center on our way back. It was not a long walk to the beach though we got hit by rain once again. It soon passed and we found a nice spot to enjoy the sand and surf.
It was a very nice beach and Siena enjoyed wandering to the edge of the water and trying to escape the incoming waves to little avail as she soon ended up dripping with water. However, she discovered another girl playing nearby and ended up spending most of our time playing alongside her. The girl was on vacation from Denmark and spoke enough English that the girls could understand each other. They even went off to get some ice cream as the girl’s father was kind enough to treat the two girls. The girls went off with their money and had fun buying some ice cream together. After I had introduced myself, we found out that they lived about 20 mins from Legoland and the home of Lego in Denmark, which impressed Liam! We were happy that Siena had made a new friend and, as we left, we felt very blessed that Siena has this amazing ability to make connections with people.
On our way back, we stopped at the Science Center. As the school groups were, by this point, all heading out, we had the Science Center almost completely to ourselves. This was very lucky as the kids had access to all the VR and other computer stuff all to themselves. We had lots of fun playing with the green screen, especially! We spend a good couple of hours there and the kids had lots of fun.
The second Canary Island, Tenerife, was not quite as nice but also had a nice port. We took the bus out to the beach and spent most of our time there. This time we came prepared and Siena had lots of fun swimming in the waters. We didn’t do much on this stop other than the beach and headed back to the boat about mid-afternoon. Apparently, we just missed another really bad storm that ended up lashing the coast of Tenerife with huge waves flooding the coast. We seemed to have developed a habit of just avoiding bad storms!
Following the Trans-Atlantic, we stopped at St. Maarten’s in the Caribbean. It was a nice change to be able to get off the boat for a bit and we were eager to explore the Island, especially the beach near the airport. As I detailed in the last post, this beach is located literally just outside the fence of the airport runaway with the result that planes landing at the airport fly very low to the ground right over the beach. We managed to arrive not only in time to see two planes land but to get thoroughly drenched from a rainstorm that suddenly came up. Still, it was an amazing experience to see the planes fly right over us so closely.
Taking the bus there was also very interesting. It wasn’t so much a bus but a large van with about three rows of bench seating. This was the public bus system, which was hard to differentiate from the taxi service. There was only a small sign in the window to indicate that it was the public bus and even then we almost missed it. We did spend some time on the beach there which Siena enjoyed. They also enjoyed the sight of me launching myself backwards onto one of the beach chairs in an attempt to avoid getting my shoes soaked from the incoming wave. I did not succeed in staying dry though everyone agreed that the sight of me flying backwards through the air was well worth me getting my shoes wet.
As we sailed into San Juan, we were sad to leave our cruise. We had had a lovely time on the ship, had some neat experiences and met lots of very nice people along the way. However, we were ready to move on to our next stop, San Juan and then Orlando. It has been amazing to realize how close we are to concluding the first part of our journey with Christmas fast approaching.