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Falling for you … Italy from the ground up (also a trip update)

So this is the third day of our 24 days on the Crown Princess, a lovely Princess Cruises ship which will take us from Barcelona all the way around Italy to some Grecian isles, and then back again.

Recently was our first of 12 sea days, and we are currently passing through the Strait of Messina, a small body of water which we’ve written about just this year during our Sicily trip. Earlier in the day we passed the Aeolian Islands, and the volcano, Mount Stromboli, which we visited in May … pretty cool to see it from the sea (and a big ship) this time.

We left Barcelona on a beautiful, bright blue evening, after having spent most of the afternoon unpacking, making onboard reservations and touring the ship. Though we’ve been on many Princess Cruises ships in the past few years, this is a class of ship we haven’t been on for years, so it’s been fun reacquainting ourselves with it. We were on this ship for an earlier anniversary – our 33rd anniversary in 2011. Now it’s time for our 40th!

Shortly after sail-away met our cruise-long table companions, Brian and Lynn, from the UK. What lovely people!!! We liked them instantly and are looking forward to getting to know them better. We love main dining room dining, and each cruise delight in finding new friends among our dining companions. Princess also offers Anytime Dining, where you can choose your dining room, time and companions (we’ll write about that next cruise) but we love having a set time to eat, companions we know at least a little and the same waitstaff. I highly recommend it.

Our first day was spent in Toulon, France, and we elected to drive through the Cote d’Azur to the medieval town of Hyeres … “Yeara” is the closest I can get to the correct pronunciation of this hilly but beautiful town.

Our guide led us from a typical French square (where I had the worst cappuccino of my life) straight uphill, past lots of picturesque homes, streets, and shops, and lots of bouganvillia and other flowers. The entire vista of the coast was laid out in front of us when we reached a mid-point, where our guide stopped. He said we could continue on to the fort at the top, which was a further 15 minutes uphill.

What were we thinking? Of course we decided to make the climb!!! 15 minutes, my Aunt Fanny. More like 30 – each way. And straight up in many places. But the view at the top and from the castle was worth it. Amazing!

Exhausted, we climbed down – mostly harder than climbing up. We staggered into a Carrefours grocery store and bought water, which we chugged like parched desert travelers. We met our guide and make it back to the ship with some great memories, but stiff and sore muscles!

Yesterday we took a whirlwind tour of Florence AND Pisa. Fast. Very fast. Did I mention we did both cities at a fast pace?

It was the quick tour for sure – Accademia Gallery and Michelangelo’s David (much bigger than I thought it was) … the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiori and its elaborate bell tower (the cathedral includes the “Gates of Heaven” front portico which is truly stunning) … the piazza around the cathedral and tower is the famous “Piazza del Duomo” … Ponte Vecchio, the amazing bridge that is lined with residences and shops … the famous Uffizi Museum from the outside (the line to enter was about a thousand people long) … the Santa Croce Church.

We had a semi-delicious meal at a touristy restaurant (the Crown Princess Italian dinner last night was much better) near the church and then made our way to Pisa, where, after walking the 10-15 minutes between the parking lots and the Pisa attractions, we had 15 minutes to take our obligatory holding-the-tower-up or pushing-the-tower-over pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We opted out, instead running around the tower, dodging everyone who was taking pictures of such silliness. Back on the bus, we collapsed.

What a day.

Somewhere in the middle, between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, I did a face plant. I was walking along at a brisk pace, set by our marathon runner tourguide, and I misstepped. I saw – and photographed – my descent to the stone sidewalk. Our fellow tour participants nearby were horrified to hear my head hit the ground with a thud. It hurt. My phone flew, and the screen protector cracked … but I stood up and soldiered on, only stopping to buy an ice pack for my rapidly-swelling temple. UGH. It was an embarrassing and silly moment.

I’ve fallen for Italy long ago. This is the second time I’ve fallen for it for real.

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