A few weeks ago, we got the travel bug real bad. We had been looking into cruises a little bit. It’s not my favorite way to travel, but it seemed like the best way to see the most places for the least amount of money. There was one cruise in particular that we wanted that left the end of February. When we went to book it, we thought we should think about it one more day before we decided. The next day, the cruise was completely booked up, and we were so bummed! The majority of the other cruises didn’t sail until after we would be back in America, so we thought that we would no longer be able to go.
Austin got on to check a few days later, and there was the exact same cruise, leaving the next day, that had one room open up due to a cancelation. We didn’t wait to book it this time. Everything was looking good and we were getting so excited. Then, since Skyler would turn two years old while we were on the cruise, it wouldn’t accept her age as one or two, so it wouldn’t let us book it and sent us back to the beginning. Austin was in a frenzy to book it, since it was the last room, and in the hustle, accidentally booked us on the wrong cruise. Finally, we just called the cruise line and had them help us out and we snagged the very last room on this 12 day Mediterranean cruise! So by this time it was 6:30 pm and we had to be on the ship in Rome the next day by 11 am. Luckily we found a flight leaving early that next morning, so we hurried and packed and got ready to go. Austin and I are both really spontaneous, so I actually really liked not having to wait for our vacation and didn’t mind how last minute it was.
The next morning started at 4:30 am when we left for the airport to catch our flight to Rome. We took a taxi straight to the port, so we didn’t get to spend anytime visiting the sights there. We were one of the first ones on the ship and it was so fun to be able to explore it and get settled before it got too crowded. We lucked out and got an ocean view room, and Skyler and I would sit by the window and watch the waves and cities that we passed. We also loved the pool, well Skyler and Austin loved the pool. I need it to be at least bath water temperature before I’ll even dip a toe in! They didn’t allow babies that were still in diapers, so naturally, we lied and said Skyler was potty trained! Then we hit the pool where she pooped! Luckily she was standing outside of the pool so it didn’t get in and we hurried and caught her and took her to get changed. We made lots of friends on the cruise who had girls Sky’s age. Her best friends were Pippa and Alexandra.
Our first stop was in a little town called Genoa in Italy. We read up about it and found out that it is actually the home of pesto! I love pesto so all I wanted to do at this stop was to find the best place to get some to eat. We wandered the little streets and alleyways and found a local shop that sold basil, so we thought they would know where to go. The owner was so sweet and walked us to a hidden little restaurant with the BEST pesto pasta and focaccia bread that we’ve ever had. I still crave it like crazy!
Our next stop was Olympia, Greece. We went to the birthplace of the Olympics. Unfortunately, most of it was destroyed in an earthquake, so it is all in ruins, but still very cool to see. I learned that they still light the torch here, then take it to Athens before it’s journey to it’s next host city. I never knew that before, so it was a fun fact for me to learn. We also had our first gyros here. Neither of us had had them before, so it was fun to eat our first ones in Greece! They were so yummy, by the way. After lunch we did a little shopping. Austin got me a ring with a design called “the greek key”. We later learned that it means eternal life and love! Driving back to port, we noticed tons…and I mean TONS of garbage everywhere! It was in huge piles all along the road, in fields, in people’s yards….everywhere. Our driver told us that it was because of a strike that had been going on for months. It was sad to see such a pretty place covered in that much garbage.
Next up was Athens. When we first learned we would be getting to live in Europe, Austin told me the two places he wanted to see the most was Athens and Rome, so he was pretty excited for this stop. We went to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. The steps to the top are all marble and so slippery! Sky got so many bruises on her knees from falling down, poor girl. We were a little let down by Athens. It wasn’t really what we were expecting. We did, however, learn some cool facts about all of the optical illusions in the design that make it look perfectly straight from far away. Did you know that if it kept going straight up, it would actually make a pyramid? So that was interesting and we also got to get some real homemade greek yogurt that was delicious, so it wasn’t a total bust!
After a sea day, we hit Rhodes, Greece and it just happened to be Skyler’s second birthday! We couldn’t have picked a better stop than this charming little island to celebrate. It was like we stepped back in the middle ages to a little storybook village with castles, cobblestone streets and town squares with fountains, restaurants and shops! It was so much fun wandering around Rhodes. We stopped at a toy store and let Skyler pick out a few birthday toys, then we got her and baby sister matching greek dresses. We wanted to keep it casual and just let Sky enjoy the day, so we got her a giant chocolate muffin and played with some local kitties! Austin was following us around with hand sanitizer the whole time! Back on the ship, we got dressed Sky dressed up in her fancy new dress, went to dinner where they brought out a cake and sang and then went to play in the kids place with her best friend from the cruise, Alexandra. The two girls ran around holding hands, giggling up a storm and having the best time. Alexandra is from France, so the girls don’t speak the same language, but that didn’t hold them back at all. Sky kept saying words in French the whole rest of the cruise and we would have to ask Alexandra’s parents what she was saying. Then we ended the night with a music show and some dancing in Skyler’s favorite lounge. It was such a perfect day! I don’t know how we will ever top this birthday.
Our next stop was Haifa, Israel, and I’m not going to lie, we were really nervous about visiting the Middle East. Israel is right next to Syria, and everything with Isis had us pretty freaked out. When I checked online, there were travel warnings for Americans visiting Israel and we had just heard a few scary stories. We considered just staying on the ship for the two days we were stopped here, but after really thinking and praying about it, we felt like we would be safe and that it would be okay to go. Our plan was to tell everyone we were from Barcelona and only Austin would speak to them in Spanish, haha that’s how nervous we were. So the first day there, we stayed around Haifa. We went to the Baha’i Gardens, where someone important is buried, I just can’t remember who. Anyway, the gardens were beautiful! Then we just walked around the town. We had to leave really early the next morning to take the two hour bus ride into Jerusalem, so we headed to bed pretty early.
The bus ride the next morning was long and our tour guide, although very nice, really needed to stop talking so we could all try and sleep. We first went to The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. Constantine’s mother, Helena, decided to build big churches over all of the sacred sights 200 years after Jesus died. I didn’t know that they had done this and was expecting (and hoping) to see these places in a more authentic state. The churches were dark and gloomy and they covered everything up but a small circle of the original floor where the stable was. There was a long line of people waiting to see and to touch this small piece of floor. Many people prayed, or kissed the ground when they got to it. Skyler and I were singing “picture a stable in Judeah…” which is one of her favorite songs, because I wanted for her to kind of understand that this is where that stable was. I felt that being here while I am pregnant made me feel a little bit more connected to Mary, and it made me a little extra emotional. I imagined what it must’ve been like, to give birth in that stable, and I felt a deeper appreciation for what she went through.
After stopping for some delicious lunch, (seriously, the hummus here is amazing!) we went to a lookout point where we could see all of Old Jerusalem, The Mount of Olives and The Temple Mount. It is such a beautiful city! Then we headed in to Old Jerusalem. We went to the church which housed the location of the cross Jesus was crucified on, the place they prepared His body and also His tomb. I had no idea how close they were together. It was insanely crowded with people pushing and shoving to get to see and touch these sacred places. It was in another dark and dreary church and Austin and I both agreed, it didn’t feel spiritual at all. We were really hoping to have a special experience here, but it just felt touristy and not reverent at all. I am still glad we got to touch the rock where the cross stood and to go in to the tomb, and I will always remember it, even if it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.
Next we followed the “Path of the Cross”, which is the exact path that Jesus took when he was carrying the cross. They even had markers indicating the spots where he fell. There is a hand print in a wall on the path and the story goes that Jesus put his hand there as he was walking and it melted his print in to the stone. No one has confirmed if it is true, but we still got a picture with our hand there!
After that we went to the Western Wall, which is considered to some,the most sacred place in the world. There were many people there praying and shoving little notes in to the wall. Men and Women pray separate here, so Austin and I took turns going. Austin had to cover his head and we had to wash our hands in the fountains they had there. It was very interesting to see. By this time, the day was over and we were all exhausted and ready to go back to the ship. We really loved visiting Jerusalem and feel like it was a once in a lifetime experience!
The next stop was in Crete, Greece. We got off the ship and it was freezing! The city didn’t look that fun to walk through and the main castle to visit was outside. Since we were so cold and exhausted from our long day in Israel, we bought ourselves some Pringles and turned right around and got back on the ship. It was practically empty with everyone off on an excursion so we took advantage and had a fun day on board. We ate our chips, let Sky jump around the empty lounges, took a good nap and just relaxed. It was a much needed day!
On our last day, we would be disembarking back in Rome. We got off the ship at 8am but didn’t fly out until 9pm so we could spend the day exploring. Since it was an hour drive to the main part of the city and an hour in the opposite direction to the airport, it would be a little tricky and expensive with all of the taxis. Our cruise let us book an excursion through them, that took us in to Rome on the bus, where we could leave our luggage underneath, do the tour with them and then leave us to catch a taxi to the airport. It was a perfect solution! So we got up early and headed out to get on the tour bus, but they wouldn’t let us out of the gates without having police check our suitcases. They didn’t have the police scheduled to come for another hour, so we weren’t able to make our excursion. We saw a mother and daughter who were supposed to be in our same excursion group who had the same problem. After we were refunded for the excursion, we stuck with our new friends Helen and Maria and caught a train in to Rome. They were staying the night there, so they let us leave our suitcases at their hotel. We went with them to St. Peter’s Square, saw the Vatican and the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel. We took a private tour so we got to learn lots of interesting facts about the paintings. They didn’t allow pictures inside, so we snuck a horrible selfie of the ceiling.
After that, we parted ways with our friends and caught a taxi into the city center. We made wishes in the Trevi Fountain, ate yummy pasta and topped it off with even yummier gelato. I fell in love with Rome during our short time there. It is definitely one of my favorite cities! It felt very similar to Barcelona, but just a little more romantic. I really want to go back when we can spend more time.
We flew back to Barcelona that night and Skyler fell asleep while we were waiting for our bags. She stayed asleep all through the night until the next morning. We were all exhausted, but so glad we got to go on this trip and see so many amazing places. It is something we will never forget!