Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Northern Mediterranean and Champagne Trip

Here's an index to the port-by-port posts of Jamie and Lynn's European adventure this Fall. On October 8th, Nana and Papa hopped on a plane headed for Barcelona, Spain to start a northern Mediterranean cruise on Oceania Cruises (M/S Sirena) followed by a week in the Champagne region of France.

The cruise was the brain child of some Kansas City folks including my sister Vickie and our friends the Hess family. We ended up being a party of 16: three Hess brothers and their wives, Fosters, Siscos, Underwoods, Durkoses, and Schraders.

Each port listing below is a clickable link to its respective blog post. Each of the posts starts with some narrative about what we did/saw at that port, including links to more information about some of the highlights. The narrative is followed by a few representative photos. Lastly, each post will have a sentence something like "All the day's photos are here" where the word "here" is a link to the gallery of all photos for that port.

One other general comment about restaurants and cafes. You won't find much coverage about that in these blog posts. But, they were an important element of the trip. Seek out interesting little spots as best you can for meals, snacks, drinks, whatever, particularly if there's outdoor seating for people watching. Select local stuff to try. We enjoyed them all in every location.


Barcelona, Spain
Provence, France
Cannes, France
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence and Pisa, Italy
Rome, Italy
Naples and Pompeii, Italy
Sicily, Italy
Corfu, Greece
Kotor, Montenegro
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Venice, Italy
Champagne region of France

A note about photos... For the last couple of decades, I'm usually seen on outings with a nice DSLR camera and a very handy wide/zoom lens. As cell phone camera technology has gotten pretty good, I decided to leave all the gear at home and use only my cell phone (Galaxy S9). While I missed the zoom a few times, I was quite pleased with the results. If you're interested in doing the same, click here for a good starter article.

The whole group at the Tuscan Steakhouse for dinner (on M/S Sirena).

M/S Sirena docked at Dubrovnik, Croatia.


Not the bubbly... Well, yes, the bubbly... But the post's title mainly refers to the Champagne region of France where THE bubbly is made and where we'll be the next 5 days or so. The overnight train from Venice to Paris got us in just before noon, a couple hours late. Without too much trouble, we found our connecting train to Valle-de-Marne/Chessy station (right by Disneyland) which was a short cab ride away from our final destination, a Marriott Vacation Resort in Bailly-Romainvilliers.

Our villa was a short walk from town so we got quite accustom to pastries, groceries, and lattes from the small town's little shops. And as if the resort wasn't interesting enough, their grounds included a reconstruction of Monet's gardens in Giverney.

We took two classes at the resort: Cocktail Making and Crepe Making. Both were great fun! We made tequila sunrises and cosmopolitans at the cocktail class and various crepe flavors (Nutella, jams, plain sugar) at the cooking class.

So, let's get serious. We're here for Champagne. Since our villa was about an hour's drive from the Champagne region, we weren't quite sure how to approach it. So, the first thing we did was take an all-day guided tour to Reims and Epernay (October 26). Very good investment! We not only enjoyed that tour immensely, but also got our bearings for setting out on our own Monday and Tuesday (October 28 and 29).

Our first stop on the guided tour was the Reims Cathedral, mostly known as the traditional location for the coronation of the kings of France. We also visited a nearby pastry shop for a little something to eat and drink.

Then we headed on down (south-ish) to Epernay where the real fun was to be had. Our first stop was Moet & Chandon, which is also the home of Dom Perignon these days (under same ownership now). This was a "big boy" in the world of champagne. As Mommy Savidge would say, "it just screamed money." The tour was fantastic, and as you might imagine, the tasting was fun, too. Needless to say, we picked up a bottle or two to enjoy during evenings in the villa.

We continued through the vine-laden countryside to a small champagne producer, Egrot. Another cellar tour and tasting, much more homey. Delightful.

Sunday was rainy, and many champagne places are not open, so this turned into a stay-at-home-and-relax day except for a little journey - to the Disney Village at Disneyland. It was kind of fun seeing something wildly familiar. It was great for a little shopping for the grands and lunch.

Monday morning Jamie Uber'd over to the Hertz rental place to pick up a car for two days. That's right, a bit of international driving! He did get his International Driving Permit at our local AAA before leaving the U.S. And after pastries and coffee (of course) we headed off for Epernay. Surely we'd bump into a couple of the 3100 champagne producers in the region. Problem was, many of them are very small. "Every other house in some villages (like Epernay and environs) is a champagne producer," quipped our guide the other day. And he wasn't far off.

Granzamy was our first stop. It was the "Pere et Fils" (Father and Son) on the sign that caught our eye. We pulled into their very narrow driveway and knocked on the door. After finding out they were indeed open and that it was OK to park in their driveway (blocking everything), in we went! The gal running the place spoke about as much English as I spoke French, so we charaded ourselves through a wonderful little visit that included tasting, touring the cellar, and some purchasing.

As a side, we should note that it was because of this week in Champagne that we ended up not missing Fall colors altogether. Colorado basically did not have a Fall this year, went straight from Summer to Winter. But here in France, the grape vines provided all manner of Fall colors. It was glorious.

During our hunt for the next winery and maybe a place to eat, you'll never guess what we stumbled onto. The holy grail of champagne! Dom Perignon's tomb at Eglise Abbatiale in Hautvillers. Ground zero, baby! He lived 1639-1715. He didn't really invent sparkling wine, but he did make contributions to the process.

G. Tribaut was our final champagne stop. Maybe not quite as big as Moet & Chandon, but certainly bigger than Egrot and Granzamy. Gorgeous facilities with an even better view of the vineyards below. Big enough to export to the U.S., so we had them do a little of that for us! We made our way back to our villa via country roads, not autoroutes. Took almost twice as long, but very enjoyable.

We ventured out again on Tuesday, this time to Meaux. There were several options of sites to see, but we started with the La Maison du Brie de Meaux (Brie Museum). Everything you ever want to know about brie production. And as chance would have it, the museum turned out to be in the courtyard of the Meaux Cathedral!

We got back to Bailly in time for dinner at Bistronome which turned out to be quite nice, and busy. We tried to go to Au Bon Petit but they were booked; next time. We also hit our favorite pastry place, Boulangerie Laird, for one final goodness hit.

Wednesday morning we arose early and headed for the train station to catch the TGV (high speed train) to the airport. The last Euros we spent were at the gift shop and coffee shop right next to our gate at the airport - some cool French scarves and chocolate croissants.

All the Champagne photos are here.

"Monet's Giverney" at the villa.

Cocktail making class

Reims Cathedral

Near Epernay

A good fraction of the fruit is left on the vine
as they can only make so much and therefor
pick only the best.

Cellars at Moet & Chandon


Our villa's back patio

Crepe making class


Where Dom Perignon is buried

G. Tribaut

Brie Museum

Meaux Cathedral

Getting on the high-speed train to the airport

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


We cruised into Venice, Italy like conquering heroes. At very few knots, it took us about an hour to get from the beginning of Venice to our ultimate berth. And what grand views of the city we had all along the way.

The day's tour started with a boat ride around to Murano for a visit to a glass blowing facility. Glass blowing came to Murano in 1291 when banned from Venice proper due to fire risk.

Then it was on to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore to visit the church there. There was also an interesting glass block structure in a small park behind the church.

And last but not least, a gondola ride!

Then one last evening and dinner on the boat. The next morning was disembarking. The Underwoods and Fosters stayed in Venice most of the day and left that evening on an overnight Venice-to-Paris train. We strolled about town near the Venice St. Lucia train station and stumbled into the residential, "locals" area of town. And lots of churches (Jamie's fave)! And how about another gondola ride! There may have also been another carbonara consumed.

Then onto the train and off to Paris. The rooms were quite spacious compared to Amtrak counterparts, but there was much left to desire when it came to the cafe car.

All the Venice photos are here.

Entering Venice

Murano glassworks

San Giorgio Maggiore

Day 2 in Venice.

Lynn enjoyed several interesting floor patterns.

A working 16th Century clock works.

Paris here we come!

Monday, October 21, 2019


Dubrovnik, Croatia turned out to be the most intriguing port. They've got a great deal of very recent history that sounds more like medieval stuff, you know, wars, attempted take overs, etc. The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995. Dubrovnik was significantly damaged and is still being repaired today.

Our mode of transportation for today's tour was a tuk-tuk, an electric rickshaw of sorts. What fun (despite being a little chilly)! We just zipped in and out of wherever we wanted. We climbed a rather large hill, Srdj Hill, for quite the panoramic view of Old Town and also to see evidence of defensive positions (Fort Imperial, 1812, built by Napoleon's soldiers) that helped them hold the city in conflict after conflict.

We passed over the new Franjo Tudman Bridge on our journey.

The rest of the day was spent in Old Town, a walled portion of the medieval city. We entered through Pile Gate. In Old Town were places like Cathedral of the Assumption, Sponza Palace (16th Century), and Onofro Fountain which supplied water to the city for over 500 years. There was another wall on which to walk all the way around the city. Vickie and Rob gave it a go, but had to bail about halfway through to make the bus back to the boat.

Also in Old Town was something rather revolutionary for the day - an orphanage. Apparently it was funded in large part by nobles who wanted to take care of illegitimate offspring but could not acknowledge them outright.

Back at the ship for High Tea.

All the day's photos are here.

Old Town

From up on Srdj Hill

Fort Imperial (part of)

in Old Town

Our ship near the Franjo Tudman Bridge

High Tea on board the M/S Sirena

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Up next: Kotor, Montenegro.

To say that there were hairpin turns on our way to Lastva would be a gross understatement. It was a miracle that the bus driver got us up and down the hill without incident.

There's an upper Lastva and a lower Lastva. We went to upper Lastva where the population now stands at 2. Our guide has a house in both Lastvas, and did he ever show us a good time. We visited Upper Lastva's church and their olive oil facility. Then it was party time. We went into a hall of sorts where a snack was served (lunch, really) and a group of three musicians played for us the entire time. And what a hoot! They played lots of their local stuff, but also threw in a John Denver song now and then. Dancing broke out. This was by far the most fun and "local" thing we did on the entire trip.

Then back to Kotor proper where we saw highlights of the city and visited St. Triphon's cathedral.

Dinner was with the whole gang (except for those who were up on the wall, 12th century, of course, and didn't make it back down in time) at a very cool place on the water called Galion.

All the day's photos are here.

Kotor from our anchored position.

Church in Upper Lastva

Olive oil press

Back in Kotor...

Best carbonara of the trip at Galion.

The night lights highlight "the wall" protecting the city.