Christmas Adventure, part 2 (Florence, Sanary, & Le Castellet)

Wednesday, December 24
Day 2 – Livorno, Italy

We arrived at the port of Livorno, but our adventure for the day was in Florence. After getting ready and grabbing a quick breakfast, we went to the meeting point for our shore excursion. We had chosen the option that included motorcoach transportation to and from Florence, but we were otherwise on our own to explore. The bus ride was about an hour and a half from where we were docked in Livorno, and there was a tour guide talking to us along the way. She was informative and certainly had a sense of humor. Connor and I went to Florence in October (see this post), but it was fun to come back and show Charlie!

Once we arrived, our first destination was the stunning Basilica of Santa Croce. Inside, we found the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. Next we walked to see the Duomo, and our exhausted little man fell asleep on the way. True to form, we hiked up 414 stairs to the top of the bell tower. (Well, I had to stop before the last section because it was too narrow to continue with Connor sleeping on me, but Charlie made it all the way!) After climbing down, we walked inside the Duomo. I hadn’t seen the inside last time I was there, so I was glad to have the opportunity. It was fairly plain on the inside, but the size was impressive. Being the gluttons for punishment that we are, next we hiked up 463 steps to the top of the dome. Along the way, we had an up-close view of the artwork on the ceiling. Connor woke up and cheered us on as we continued our climb. The end of the climb was extremely steep! Thank goodness there was a separate staircase to walk down so that we didn’t have to squeeze past other people. The view from the top was incredible, of course. The bell tower that we had climbed earlier was easily visible, and when we pointed it out to Connor and told him we climbed it while he was sleeping, he said we better go climb it again! Sorry, buddy.

Santa Croce
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View of the Duomo from the bell tower
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Ceiling inside the Duomo
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View from the top of the Duomo (you can see the bell tower that we climbed earlier)
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With our legs feeling a bit like Jell-o, we managed to walk to the Ponte Vecchio, stopping along the way to see the town hall and surrounding statues, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. We walked past all of the fancy jewelry shops along the bridge, then stopped at a café for pizza. It was the same café Connor and I had gone to with Tammy, and he got a big kick out of that. We all enjoyed the pizza, and after climbing 877 stairs earlier (oh wait – double that to include the way down!), we definitely had room for gelato. My cone was filled with Ferrero Rocher, tiramisu, and baccio, and I was in complete heaven.

Ponte Vecchio
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Connor wanted to re-enact his pizza photo from our trip to Florence with Tammy in October!
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We walked back to the square to meet our group and had time for Charlie to look at some Roman coins inside a gold shop. Connor had fun playing in the square and met a 3-year-old girl from Hong Kong. She held his hand while we walked back to the bus :). Our bus driver took us out of Florence through the “Beverly Hills” area, beginning with an incredible overlook of the city from the other side of the river. According to the tour guide, we also passed a house where Tchaikovsky lived for a year. It was a quiet bus ride back. Charlie napped, and Connor was kind enough to wake me anytime I started to nod-off! It was after 5:00 by the time we returned to the boat. We relaxed in our room for a bit, then went to check out the kids play area, which turned out to be a great place for Connor to let loose each day. It was only for kids under 3, so it was never too crowded. After playtime and dinner, it was time for bed! Will Santa Claus find us on the boat?

Thursday, December 25
Day 2 – at sea

Merry Christmas! We were at sea all day, but traveling slowly and in sight of the coastline. Connor had already opened several gifts at home before we left for our trip, but we brought a small Lightning McQueen blanket and Mater pillow to leave on his bed this morning. He loved them! I went to the fitness center for a boot camp class, but no one else showed up and the instructor would only hold the class with at least 3 people. There was a cycling class later that afternoon, so I decided to come back for that instead of exercising now. We all went to breakfast, then to the atrium of the boat to see Santa! While waiting in a short line, an “elf” made a balloon puppy for Connor. When it was our turn, Connor actually sat with Santa and looked pretty happy! Every child under age 12 received a wrapped gift from Santa, which I thought was really neat. Connor opened his and was excited to see a pair of sunglasses and a Norwegian Cruise Line luggage tag. We ran into the family from Hong Kong that we had met yesterday, and Connor was tickled to see that their little girl had received the same gifts.

Charlie went to a TRX class at the gym while Connor and I went to the play room. Many of the toys were different today, which was a pleasant surprise. We met a nice German family with two kids: Friedrich was almost exactly the same age as Connor, and his sister Margareta was under a year old. I practiced my German as much as I could, but the parents could speak plenty of English. After a nap and lunch, we went to the atrium for a holiday concert. Connor enjoyed watching the drum set and guitars while Charlie and I cringed over the male falsetto singer. Thankfully, the female singer more than made up for it when she sang “O Holy Night.” The boys had some time together while I went to cycling class, and afterwards we all went to the play room for the evening activity. Connor had fun playing instruments and dancing, followed by playing on the jungle gym. We were already seeing him blossom into a little social butterfly! He was saying, “I’m Connor” when asked his name, “thank you,” “see you tomorrow,” etc.

We had dinner at one of the sit-down restaurants. Connor plowed through his 3 courses and loved his gnocchi main course. Charlie and I were excited about the Beef Wellington but it was slightly disappointing. Connor and I got ready for bed while Charlie went to play Deal or No Deal. Too bad he didn’t win!

Friday, December 26
Day 3 – Toulon, France

Cruise lines make their money in many different ways, and one of those is laundry!  Whose idea was it to only pack enough clothes for half the trip??  Oh wait, that was me. Time to stuff as much as possible into the 27.99€ laundry bag. After filling the bag and going to breakfast, it was time to meet our group for our shore excursion. Our bus drove us along the Bay of Toulon, where we were docked, to the town of Sanary. The tour guide pointed out French warships in the bay and gave us lots of information during the half-hour drive.

Sanary was a small and quiet town.  Once we arrived, our guide walked us through a daily market with tent after tent filled with fresh produce, spices, meats, cheese, and more.  Next we walked into a church and an Australian lady from our group surprised us with a stunning a cappella performance of “Ave Maria.” After admiring an elaborate nativity scene, we went outside and wandered a bit on our own. Connor rode on a carousel and played on a playground, so it was a great day already!

Sanary
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After an hour in Sanary, we hopped back on the bus and rode twenty minutes further to the hilltop town of Le Castellet. What amazing views!  We walked uphill through winding streets lined with shops and cafés, but many of the shops were closed since it was the day after Christmas.  It was a thirty-minute ride back to the boat, and Connor fell asleep in his own seat on the bus (which is no small feat for him).  He stayed asleep while I carried him through a souvenir tent, through the security check to get back on the boat, and all the way up to our room.  I plopped him on the bed and he slept for 3 hours total!  Charlie and I took advantage of the opportunity for a nap as well.  I woke up before both of the boys and enjoyed the beautiful weather on our balcony.

View from Le Castellet (you can see the Mediterranean Sea below the horizon
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Le Castellet
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We had a better view of the French warships in the Bay of Toulon on our way backIMG_3300

Once the sleepy-heads finally woke up, we were all starving.  We got a late lunch, then went to the library.  Yes, there was even a library on the ship!  Connor was excited to find “If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.”  After reading in the library, we checked out a few books and took a break to look out the window as the ship set sail for the evening.  We went to the evening activity in the play room and Connor loved getting messy with all of the paints.  The kids spent some time playing afterwards while the parents enjoyed talking together.  We had a fun group that was always there each evening:  two German families, a Spanish family from the Canary Islands, a family from London, and us.  After playtime and dinner, it was a late bedtime for Connor as a result of his marathon nap.  It was really windy and the boat was swaying a lot tonight!

Charlie caught some beautiful sunset shots
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