Monday, April 22, 2019

Getting Ready For Our First RV Road Trip

Visiting as many National Parks as possible is on top of our Bucket List.  We talked about seeing them all once we retired.   We have been retired 3 years now and have visited one park, Great Smoky Mountains, partly because it is only 6 hours away from our home in NC.  (Read about our trip here.)  The more we thought about how we would get to the many parks on the West Coast and the others across the country, the more we thought that we would have to get an RV.  Flying to the parks, renting cars, staying at hotels and eating out 3 times a day would be too expensive for our retirement budget.**

We had conversations about taking a cross country trip in an RV before but we gave up on the idea because we were very nervous about towing a big camper and about having to buy a very expensive truck to tow it with.  But since we realized that camping our way to the parks would be the only way we could really do it, we started to consider looking for a pop-up.  We would be able to tow it with our van and we had seen pop-ups with bathrooms so it might work.  A couple of the families we went camping with every year, for about 15 years, camped in pop-ups, while we camped in a tent.  It didn't look that hard to tow or set up.   So one day, after talking to my sister and brother-in-law about traveling to the West Coast together after they retire, we all decided to go to Camping World to check the pop-ups out.

Our old reliable tent.  That's son, Joe, posing for the picture!

A very nice salesman was glad to show us a pop-up but asked if we wanted to see the RV he has and loves.  It is called a hybrid.  It is a small 18 foot towable RV that has full sized beds on both sides of the trailer that pop out like the ones in the pop-up.  We said "Sure!"  He showed us how easy it was to pull the beds down.  Then, he told us, "All you have to do is balance it, hook up the water and electric and you're ready to relax with a cold drink."  He sold us on the hybrid as soon as he told us we could tow it with our van!

We took a quick look at the pop-ups but thought about how much easier the hybrid was to set up.  We decided that if we did get something it would be the Starcraft Launch Outfitter 16RB.  We only had to think about it for a very short time before we went back to Camping World to purchase it.

So now we had an RV and had to figure out how to use it.  It was going to be a little more complicated than pitching a tent.  The nice people at Camping World went over everything we needed to know about how to hitch it up to our van, how we get water into and out of it and how to balance it along with many other things we needed to know.  It was pretty overwhelming and we were wondering if we made a mistake buying it.  We started to feel nervous about actually camping with it but we didn't have a choice of whether we were ready to try camping with it or not because of the 30 day warranty that came with the Launch.   We had to use it to make sure everything was working properly and we had to do it soon.  We decided that we would take a short trip with it at the campground nearest to our home.  

The closest campground was Lake Kissimmee State Park and only a 15 minute drive from our house.  Perfect!  And what made it even more perfect was that it only cost $20.00 a day to camp there.  Then we found out that since we were Florida residents and seniors, it would only cost us $10.00.  We were thinking this kind of traveling might work out very well for us.

We made our reservation for mid-week because all the weekends were booked for months ahead.  We packed up some camping gear, which was not much because everything we still had from camping years ago, was in our NC house.  We made a menu of easy meals, mostly food we could warm up in the microwave or on the stove in the trailer.  We weren't too worried about our supplies because we could just go back down the road to our house and get anything we forgot.

The day of our first trip arrived.  We were packed and felt confident we had everything we needed.  When we brought our trailer home from Camping World, it was already hitched up to our car and ready for us to drive it home.  This was the very first thing we had to figure out all by ourselves.   

Soko pulled the van up a few feet from the front of the RV.  I stood by the trailer hitch.  Soko slowly backed the car towards the trailer hitch.  The car hitch was about 10 inches to the left of the trailer hitch when Soko stopped the car, even though I had been waving my arms like crazy for him to move the car to the right.  He pulls up and tries again and instead is too far to the right now.  This scenario repeated many times.  We started out calmly trying to line up the car and trailer and ended up screaming at each other!   After about 20 - 25 minutes, we finally got the car hooked up to the RV but we were very discouraged about our ability to own this thing!

We drove slowly and carefully to the campground and arrived at our site.   I once again had to direct Soko.  This time to back the trailer into our campsite.  Luckily, it was a big site and it was not a big deal.  That really helped us to start feeling a little better about being able to figure RVing out.  

After we pulled out the beds, leveled the trailer and hooked up the water and electric, we were ready to break open the beers, relax and enjoy our little vacation.  We really do love to camp and, finally, we were feeling very happy with our decision to buy the Launch.

We were also happy to find Lake Kissimmee State Park.  It was quiet and peaceful and a perfect place to camp and enjoy nature.  There were some campers who were there to take their boats out to fish and others, like us, who used the few trails to walk and bike along.  There was a store, that was closed for the season, but you could sit at one of the picnic tables around it and use the internet if you wanted.

We stayed two nights and then it was time to pack up.  Soko unhooked the hoses and electrical cords and took care of packing up everything that was outside while I took care of the inside.  I needed to take some things out of the trailer, make sure that the things we were leaving inside the camper were secure and gave it a quick but good cleaning.  We worked together, like we did two days before, to hitch the trailer to the car.  Surprisingly, we had them hitched together in less than half the time it took us when we first tried it.  We were not sure if we just got lucky or if my directing and Soko's driving improved!

Now for disposing of the gray and black water.  We used the campgrounds bathrooms except for during the night.  We also used their facilities to take showers and their sinks to wash most of our dishes.  We were not sure exactly how much the trailer's water tanks held and we didn't know what would happen if we overfilled them and we didn't want to find out.    

We drove to the dump station and Soko figured out how to hook up the hoses and flush out the water. We found out that the tanks were barely filled after two days of camping which was good to know before our first road trip.

We made it home safely and felt pretty good about our first trial run.


The second trial run we took was to a campground about 30 minutes from our home and down the same road as Lake Kissimmee.  Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo  was where we met up with our son Mike, DIL Chrissy and their friends Bronson and Chloe to celebrate Mike's 30th birthday.

This campground was more expensive than the state park, $60 per night, but it was a fun place with plenty of activities.  A perfect place to party!  We had a great time skeet shooting, grilling, relaxing around the campfire and rooting the bull riders on at the rodeo.  


The best thing about this place was that we could walk to all the activities from our campsite.  We definitely would have visited the petting zoo if we had kids with us.  Some other things we could have done, maybe next time, was ride the mechanical bull, horseback riding, zip lining, swim in the pool, eat at one of their restaurants or have a couple of drinks at the bar.  And that's not even half of the activities that are offered here. 

The only real challenge we had on this trip, was that the sites with electricity were all booked for the weekend.  We actually hesitated about making the reservation, but Mike's friends had already booked a cabin, which is one of many choices of accommodations here besides for camping.  You can even choose to go glamping in a tee pee here!

We have never been camping at a campsite without electric but we decided to give it a shot. We are glad that we did because we learned a couple of things from the experience.  We found out that we could run our refrigerator with the propane tank, that is hooked up to the trailer, for longer than we thought.  

Soko heard a click, after 180 hours of having the fridge running on the propane, and thought it was the fridge shutting down but it turns out that the click Soko heard was not the fridge.  When he went to fill the propane tank, after we got back, we found out it was just a little more than 1/4 empty.  We could have run the fridge our entire trip and more.  We were glad we found this out before our first road trip.

Knowing that we wouldn't have electricity, we brought plenty of lanterns and used our propane stove and a grill to cook.  We didn't miss not being able to use the microwave or stove.  The lanterns gave us plenty of light inside and out.  Luckily, we didn't need to use the air conditioning or we might have missed that.  After we got back from this trip, we bought a fan that runs on batteries, as well as electric, just in case we camp without electricity again.  We never would have looked for a fan that was battery operated if we didn't camp without electric.

For our first official road trip, two of the four campgrounds we booked don't have water hook ups.  We only booked them after Soko assured me that we will be able to use our bathroom in the middle of the night.  It seems we have a holding tank for water that we can fill at the campground that will allow us to use the bathroom and wash dishes in our sink.  We are not sure how many times we can use the bathroom or how many dishes we can wash though.  It will be another learning experience for us.

We will let you know how our first road trip goes when we get back!  Wish us luck!

**Comparing the cost of traveling (not counting air fare compared to driving and towing the Launch)

Cost of trailer - $14,000 (rounded up)

Two nights accommodations at Lake Kissimmee                                                 $      20.00
Four nights accommodations at River Ranch                                                             240.00 
Dining out                                                                                                                       0.00
Rental car                                                                                                                        0.00
Total                                                                                                                       $   260.00

Six nights accommodations at hotel (avg. $150 per night)                                   $   900.00
Dining out (3 meals for 2 people = $100 per day)                                                     600.00
Rental car ($50 per day)                                                                                             300.00
Total                                                                                                                       $1,800.00                   
Total savings after our first two trips with the Launch                                          $1,540.00                    
$14,000 - 1,540 =  $12,460 - The Launch will pay for itself very soon!                                                                  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Rome, Italy - The Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica And More

I'm not sure how long a Mediterranean cruise was on our bucket list.  What I do know is that the reason we wanted to go on this cruise was because we wanted to see Rome more than anywhere else in the world.  We dreamed about visiting the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling and St. Peter's Basilica to see the beautiful Pieta, another Michaelangelo masterpiece.   So we found a 12 day cruise that included Rome and as a bonus, Venice which was also high on our bucket list.  Seeing Europe on a cruise allowed us to visit many interesting places in one trip, but it didn't leave us much time to spend in each place.  Besides for visiting Vatican City, we wanted to see the Trevi Fountain and other famous sights that are in Rome and we only had a few precious hours to fit it all in.

Our cruise ship docked in Civitavecchia which was miles away from Rome.  We needed to find the quickest way to get to Rome from there and decided that we would book the excursion, Train Transfer By Roma Express.  This express train would get us to Rome in 50 minutes and it would also include a shuttle ride to the train station which would save us from having to find the station ourselves.  It would also include a guide who would give us tips and other information that would help us find our way around Rome.

One of the things we like about cruising, besides for having a variety of excursions available that are easy to book, is that you have the chance of meeting new people that have very interesting stories to tell.  On our 50 minute train ride to Rome we sat with a couple from St. Louis.  They told us about how they lived in a total of seven states and were currently looking for a new state to live in.  One state they wouldn't return to is California because of their experience of being at the San Francisco - Oakland World Series game during the terrible earthquake of '89.  They do not want to relive the feeling of terror they felt as the stadium swayed back and forth.  I didn't blame them for feeling a little nervous about living there again!

Once we got to Vatican City, we took off to find the hop on, hop off bus that would bring us to four of the most famous sights of Rome.   We thought that would be the easiest and fastest way to get to each sight.  We needed to get back to the Vatican Museum by 1:00, which is the time we reserved in advance online, to enter.  This meant we only had time to take a quick picture and get to the next sight as quick as we could.  It turned out to be easier for us not to use the hop on, hop off bus and just use our legs, and GPS (that we finally figured out how to use) to get us to where we needed to go.  Our advice is to just use the cheaper bus to get you to this area and back if you are pressed for time.

After being stuck in traffic for most of the bus ride, we hopped off when it neared Trevi Fountain and ran.

After taking a few quick pictures and throwing our euro into a dry fountain, it was having it's annual cleaning!, we took off running to the Spanish Steps.

From the Spanish Steps we walked 30 minutes, along with many other tourists, to get to the Colosseum.  If we had more time we would have liked to have gone inside.  We'll have to go back one day I guess!

We are not complaining about the walk to the Colosseum, though, because we actually got to view a section of the Imperial Forum on the way.

After the Colosseum, we wanted to see the Pantheon but we ran out of time.  We didn't want to try to get into the Vatican Museum with a ticket that was expired like we did at the Accademia Gallery in Florence the day before.

We got back to Vatican City, with a few minutes to spare, we headed into the plaza where the Vatican Museum was.  We ran around trying to find the way in.  We were having a hard time finding someone to ask for help.  We finally found someone and he pointed to where we had entered the plaza.  The entrance was down the long block we had just come from, and around the corner.  We jumped on line even though we had tickets already and searched for someone to help us find the express line.  Someone eventually approached us and told us to follow him and he would get us in.  After following him for a very short time, we became suspicious of where he was taking us so we ditched him when he wasn't looking.  We did finally find the express entrance and we were only a couple of minutes late when we did.

We are not art experts so couldn't appreciate most of what was in the museum, but the ceilings were so gorgeous and it was so much fun to enter a room of the building and look up to see if we would be treated to a beautiful sight.  It got us very excited to see the amazing Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Rotunda Room 

The Maps Hall

We were not allowed to take pictures of Michaelangelo's masterpiece but it was a dream come true to see it.  I couldn't believe that we were really there looking at probably the most famous painting found on a ceiling in the entire world.  Especially the Creation Of Adam in the central panel.  This is what I think of, when I am thinking of the Sistine Chapel painting.  The hands of God and Adam reaching towards each other with their fingers almost touching.

We read in Rick Steve's Mediterranean Cruise Ports guide that we could go directly to St. Peter's Basilica from the Sistine Chapel so that was our plan.  We were to find a shortcut exit labeled "Exit for authorized guides and tour groups only."  We found this exit at the far-right corner of the chapel and it brought us out into St. Peter's square.

We passed the Holy Door as we made our way to the basilica.  This door is only open during a holy year which occurs every 25 years.  The last time the door was open was in 2000.  The door, covered by a brick wall inside the basilica, opens after the Pope strikes the wall with a silver hammer.

Then we entered our last stop of the day.  St. Peter's Basilica was the highlight of our day.  We saved the best for last, though we didn't know that it would be.   And we also didn't know how emotional it would be to see Michaelangelo's Pieta.  We have seen pictures of it, the mother, Mary, holding her lifeless son, Jesus, in her arms, but seeing it in person brought it to life and made it so real and so sad.  But after the sadness, was the joy of seeing it right in front of us!

We were in awe of this gorgeous basilica and loved every inch of it.

Something very interesting to check out in the basilica is Pope John XXIII's body laid out in a lighted glass tomb.  Some say that it is a sign of a miracle that his body was completely intact after being buried for 38 years.  Because of the amazing condition of the body, the authorities decided to put it in the church for all to enjoy.  Pope John XXIII himself performed a miracle when he cured an Italian man who had a stomach tumor.

On the way out of the basilica we, passed the Pope's guards.  We were lucky enough that we got there right in time to witness the changing of the guards.

We weren't quite sure where we were supposed to meet our tour guide so we made sure we left the basilica with time to spare.  When we got to where we thought we were supposed to be, we met a lovely older couple from Belfast, Ireland who were as confused as we were as to where we were meeting our group.  They just got back from walking to the sights that we took the bus to see.  We were very impressed.  We told them all about our plans to visit Ireland in a couple of months and they were very happy to let us know what we must see.  They told us about the many vacations and cruises they have taken since they retired.  They took a break, though, when they started feeling their age but realized how short life is when the healthy husband suddenly needed 7 stents put into his heart and this was the reason they were vacationing again and on this Mediterranean cruise.

An English couple approached us as we were talking to the Irish couple.  They were new cruise friends of the Irish couple.  We started a conversation about how a fellow cruiser was left in Pisa the day before.   The English couple told us about their first cruise, this was their second, when they went to Israel.  The ship they were on abruptly took off  2 hours early and left 4 people behind when fighting erupted in Jerusalem and the government told the ship to leave immediately.  I can't even imagine the stress the 4 people experienced that day.  I hope they got out of there ok.

We were almost the group of people our fellow passengers would be talking about that night. We were so involved in our conversation, and standing in the wrong spot, that we nearly missed our group leaving for the train station.

On the train ride back to the ship, we sat with a couple from Australia.  I immediately announced that I might fall asleep on them but then we started talking and we were having such a nice time with them that it would have been fine with us if the bus trip back was even longer than it was.  Having just retired from working as a pre-school assistant for the last 17 years, I was very jealous of the perks teachers are offered in Australia.  The husband and wife were both teachers and mid-way through a 4 month vacation.   I wondered how they could manage to leave their students for 4 months.  I know we were not allowed to take vacation during the school year at our pre-school.  They explained that in Australia, after 10 years, teachers can accumulate time off.  The husband had enough time to take 6 months off and she had 4.  When they started making plans for this hiatus, they booked the Mediterranean cruise first and then planned the rest of their European vacation around it.   We had a great time talking about their vacation and then we told them how Australia was on our bucket list. (Read about Australia and other places on our bucket list here.)  We had never met anyone from Australia before and it was great to have someone answer all our questions.  But I was very disappointed to learn that we would not see koalas running across anyone's lawn.  I had heard that or read that, somewhere, but I guess it was "fake news."  Also, we found out that we need to book a tour through the outback if we want to see any kangaroos.

They were so wonderful about answering all our questions and giving us ideas of what we might want to put on our Things To Do In Australia list.  A couple of days after our visit to Rome, Soko ran into the couple and they gave him this list they prepared for us.

You really can meet some of the nicest, most interesting, people on a cruise!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Keeping Your Home Safe When You Are Away

If you're leaving your house for vacation, these tips for Keeping Your Home Safe When You Are Away will help!

This is a sponsored post.

My sister just experienced a terrible accident in her home and she is not able to go back to her house, at the moment, because of it.  Thankfully she was in her home when it happened.  (Read more about it below.)   Because of this incident, we thought it would be important to make a list of things to check before we leave our home in North Carolina, and our snowbird home in Florida, for vacations and especially when we are leaving the homes for the season.

Turn off water.  We heard one too many stories from friends and family about how they have come back to a flood in their home from either their washing machine hose breaking or one of their water pipes bursting from water freezing inside it.  The water shut off valve in Florida is easy to get to and we always shut it off before we leave for the season.  The one in our North Carolina home is harder to get to so it's tempting not to shut it off, but then we think about what could happen if we didn't.

If you're leaving your house for vacation, these tips for Keeping Your Home Safe When You Are Away will help!
Source: American Electric

Unplug televisions, computers and other electronics.   We keep our central air on in Florida when we leave our snowbird home to prevent the house from becoming too humid.  A humid home is what Florida bugs and other critters love and we don't want to come back to our house and see the little squatters all over the place.  So we leave the electric on but unplug things we don't want to lose, in case of an electrical storm which happens quite often during the summer months in Florida.  We are not confident that our small surge protectors will protect our costly televisions and computer during a bad storm.

We have just learned, though, about a whole house surge protector that we are considering.  This would give us piece of mind when we are leaving our Florida place for the season or even for a short vacation.  American Electric of Jacksonville (which is located in Jacksonville, Florida) knows all about the headaches the weather in Florida can cause.  Master electrician, Mike Murphy, is the person to call for a free quote on getting a surge protector installed.

If you're leaving your house for vacation, these tips for Keeping Your Home Safe When You Are Away will help!

Make sure to check that small and large appliances are off.  The picture above is of my sister's dryer.  She is now displaced and living in a hotel room for an indefinite amount of time.  Luckily she and her husband were at home when this happened.  Her husband smelled something burning and ran to get the fire extinguishers.  They called 911 when they realized the fire was electrical and would need more than small extinguishers to put it out.  We can only imagine what the result would have been had they left their home with the dryer on.

We had an experience once that could have had a disastrous ending.  I always worried, as we pulled out of driveway, that I may have left something on and I did.  I had a very strong feeling, as we were leaving for vacation, that I might have left the iron on and made my husband turn the car around and go back to the house.  I was right!  Now it is part of our routine, before we leave the house, to double check that all appliances are off, and some we will even unplug.

Put a quarter in your freezer.  How is that going to keep my house safe you ask?  It might not keep your house safe but it will keep you safe.

We returned to our home in North Carolina, from a vacation, three days after Hurricane Florence hit our area hard.  (Our harrowing journey to get back is a blog post I will have to write one day!)  We saw signs that there might have been a power outage but didn't know for sure as the power was on when we returned home.  Putting a quarter on top of a frozen cup of water will answer your questions of whether there was an outage or not and for how long.  If you find the quarter at the bottom of the cup, you'll know that the power was out long enough for the ice in the cup to melt completely and your food to be, most likely, unsafe to eat.  If it is in the middle of cup then, yes, the power did go out but probably not long enough for your food to spoil.

Check to see if your windows are shut and locked.   We always made sure our doors were shut and locked when we left the house, but not always the windows.  Unfortunately, we had an incident, many years ago, when we left our window open.  Someone, I'm pretty sure we know who, only had to cut small openings in the window screen to be able to get to the latches, open the screen and get into our home and take the cash out of an envelope I had in a kitchen drawer.  Why give someone easy access into your home like we did?

Stop your mail and newspapers from coming to your home.  Having an overstuffed mailbox and newspapers scattered all over your driveway are signs that tell everyone you are not home.

If you're leaving your house for vacation, these tips for Keeping Your Home Safe When You Are Away will help!
Source:  American Electric

Leave lights on.   Does anyone sit in their home in complete darkness every night?  We leave a light on inside the house to make it look like we might be home.  We keep talking about getting a timer for our lights so they don't have to constantly be on but it is one of those things that we think about, forget, then remember as we are walking out the door.

We also have solar lights outside to help deter someone from approaching and entering our home.  On our list of things to do, we have getting electric lights installed outside that will be controlled with a timer.  American Electric knows all about lighting for safety and for enhancing landscaping.

Let someone you trust know that you will not be home.  It is a good idea to let your trusted neighbor know when you are leaving for vacation.  If we know our neighbor is not home we will throw his newspaper closer to his front door if he forgot to put his newspaper subscription on hold.
Fortunately for us, we have our daughter, who lives two doors away from us on our cul-de-sac, watching our North Carolina home when we are in Florida and our cousin, our aunt and our neighbor George, watching our home in Florida when we are on vacation or back in NC.  We are so grateful to all of them for their watchful eyes.

Do you have any things on your checklist for keeping your home safe when you are away that we have missed?  Please leave us a comment and we will gladly add your idea to our list.  Thanks!

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Busy Monday 361

Monday, March 18, 2019

Pureed Carrots And Parsnips

One of the things that make our vacations so much fun, especially when we are in a foreign country, is trying the local cuisine.  We definitely had a great time sampling delicious Irish meals on our recent trip to Ireland.  We ate our first and last meals at Gus O'Connor's Pub in Doolin, the town we stayed in for the week.  Both meals, plus breakfast a second time there, were authentic Irish cuisine, and absolutely wonderful.  It was when we ate there for dinner that we were served something I couldn't stop thinking about when I got home and had to try to replicate.

All I knew from the menu, when I ordered my dinner, was that I would be getting a vegetable.  My side dish of vegetables actually was in it's own little side dish.  I recognized the green beans but didn't know what was beside them.  I knew they tasted amazing though.  I asked the waitress what I was eating and she said it was carrot and parsnips seasoned with salt, pepper and honey.

I have to say, my first attempt at copying this recipe was surprisingly very good!  So, I would love to share it with you so you can enjoy it as much as I did!


Pureed Carrots And Parsnips
(serves 4)


1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Steam peeled and sliced carrots and parsnips for 8 minutes.

Put steamed vegetables in a food processor or blender.  Add 1/2 cup of water and blend to desired consistency.  (Add more water if you want a smoother texture or less for a chunkier one.)

Transfer pureed vegetables into a medium saucepan and stir in honey, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium heat until warm.


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Monday, March 4, 2019

Florence, Italy With A Side Trip To Pisa

We loved Spain and France, the first two countries we visited on our Mediterranean cruise vacation.  Now it was time for our ship to take us to Italy.  This was the country we were going to spend the most time in and our first port in Italy was Livorno.  As was the case for most of the cruise, our ship docked in a smaller city leaving us to research our options for getting to where we wanted to go from there.  For this leg of the trip, we booked an excursion through the cruise line because we wanted to see both Florence and Pisa and it was just easier to get to both with a tour.

What we really didn't want to miss out on seeing, while we were in this area, was Michaelangelo's David at the Accademia.  We were happy to know that we would be able to obtain our tickets in advance, online, and, thereby, would not have to wait in a 2 hour line.  We only had 4 hours  in Florence so we didn't have 2 hours to spare.

When you order tickets online, you have to reserve the date and time that you would like to visit the Accademia.  According to the itinerary of the excursion we booked, it said we would have 4 hours in Florence and have one hour in Pisa.  We were being picked up at our cruise ship at 8:00 am so we ordered our tickets for 10:00 am giving us time to travel to Florence and then find our way to the museum.

We couldn't believe it when the tour guide announced that we would be going to Pisa first then to Florence!  I assumed that we would go to Florence first since it was listed first and we found out that that is usually the case, but not today.  Well, it was only 8:00 am and we would only be spending 1 hour in Pisa.  We had some hope that we would make it to Florence in time to see David.

So off we went to Pisa where we had to take the very cheesy, but must-do, picture of us holding up the tower.  This is not an easy picture to take we found out.  I took several of Soko and he took a bunch of me.  It was really hard to find a place to stand near the tower, first of all, because there are so many people trying to do the same thing, and then we could not find the right angle.  The picture below is the only picture that came kind of close (but not really) to what we were hoping for.  I am now very impressed when I see a great picture of someone holding up the tower!

I would have loved to round up our tour group, after taking our picture, to get them into the bus and on to Florence, but that wasn't happening so we checked out the two other buildings in this small area which is called the Field of Miracles square.

The Pisa Cathedral was gorgeous but the main attraction on this building was the amazing bronze doors that tell the story of the life of Jesus.

The Baptistery here is the biggest in Italy and was another beautifully detailed building.

It was finally time to meet our group to get back on the bus and off to Florence.  It was not quite 10:00 am yet.  We had no idea how long it would take us to get to Florence but there was still a chance that we would not be there too much after 10:00.  But, no, one of our tour passengers did not show up at our meeting place.  We were waiting so long for the latecomer that another one of our fellow passengers got so tired of waiting that he decided to head back to the bus and offered to lead the way for anyone who wanted to join him.  Everyone decided to follow him back.  You could hear our tour guide calling out "Is no one going to wait with me?"  She eventually left the Field of Miracles without our fellow cruiser and he had to find his own way back to the ship.

As soon as we got off the bus in Florence, me and Soko started running toward the Accademia .  It was on the opposite side of the town.  By the time we got to the building we were almost 2 hours late.  Out of breath and totally stressed, we ran to a gentlemen who was directing the many people who were waiting on a mile long line to get in to see David.  I showed him our tickets and explained what happened.  He was so kind and told us not to worry.  He told us to go across the street to a small storefront to exchange our receipt for a ticket then come back to the shorter line and we would be in in 10 minutes.  The person at the storefront was not so kind at all and was very annoyed that we were so late.  She told us she would issue our tickets, which had 10:00 as our entrance time, but really didn't think we would get in.   We ran back to the fast pass ticket line but the nice gentlemen was gone!  We got on line anyway and got past someone who barely looked at our tickets as we entered the building.  Just when we thought we were home free, we noticed a ticket taker at a booth.  We were thinking, this is where we finally will be told our tickets were no good and we would have to wait on the 2 hour line.  But then, we couldn't believe it, we recognized the person at the ticket booth.  It was the kind gentleman that we met outside.  He recognized us and gave us a huge knowing smile and told us to enjoy our time.

So the moral of this story is, buy your ticket in advance, if you are pressed for time, even if you don't know exactly what time to order them for.

Not too far from the Accademia was a food court, Mercato Centrale, that we wanted to have lunch at.  We read about the tremendous food market on the lower floor with restaurants on the upper.  We had really good pizza here and the best, (freshly made), cannoli I have ever tasted in my entire life!

After lunch, we had a very small amount of time to see the rest of the sights on our list before we had to get back to where our bus dropped us off.  We pretty much had to run to each sight, take a quick picture, then run to the next one.  The first place we ran to was the Plaza di San Giovanni, where we saw the magnificent Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiori, and the adjacent Campanile and Baptistery.

From here, we skipped a few sights we had planned to check out because we were running out of time and I didn't want to miss seeing the Piazza della Signoria where a replica of David stands in place of the original that once stood there.  If you look closely, you can see it next to the doorway of the building on the left.

Also in this plaza is an open-air sculpture gallery, Loggia de Lanzi.  We read that there were many statues here and we especially wanted to see the one of Perseus holding Medusa's decapitated head.  Hey, it's not everyday you see something like that!

We spent a good amount of time at the plaza but it was time to start heading back.  I didn't want us to get left behind like the person who got left in Pisa so we skipped a couple of more sights and rushed back to our meeting place, the Piazza di Santa Croce where the beautiful Church of Santa Croce stands.

We got back with time to spare and were even able to enjoy a gelato as we waited for our tour guide to come pick us up to bring us back to the ship.  We took one last picture of the beautiful city of Florence as we drove away on our tour bus.

There were a few sights we had planned to see that we didn't even get close to and many buildings we wanted to go inside but didn't get a chance to.  I guess we have just have to plan another vacation to Florence, Italy!

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