Towards the end of the 2017 summer the Kernes family took a vacation around Europe. Part 2 takes place during a 10-day cruise around the Mediterranean.
Saturday, September 2
My day started on the helipad as our ship pulled into the port of Messina. Blinded by early morning light, I tipped back my complimentary mimosa and went to get breakfast. Our tour was through the towns of Taormina and Castelmola, both of which are on the island of Sicily. There was an infamous and picturesque active volcano, Mt. Etna, but it was so hazy, the view from 20 miles away was almost unintelligible. Apparently there's a ski resort on the Southeast face. Bucket list: shred a volcano. The bus driver navigated through narrow stone streets and around petite compacts. If our tour guide had claimed he was a stunt driver on the weekdays, I would have believed her. Castelmola seemed to be straight out of a fairy tale; it was incredible. I stood on some ruins and looked out over the sea, trying to imagine what it would have been like to see invading ships coming for 'my land'. We walked through colorful alleyways constructed hundreds of years ago. Lunch was a real treat—authentic Sicilian pizza. The four of us split three 'zas with a unique highlight being a prosciutto, honey, walnut, and Parmesan pie.
Sunday, September 3
I bagged another new country today; Malta, just south of Sicily by a couple hundred miles. Our port was in Valletta and we took a ferry to neighboring city, Birgu; one of the many peninsulas on the island. We were scheduled for a informative golf cart tour around the city. Dad was handed the keys and we all given some instruction. Navigating new streets with an entirely different alphabet was little tricky—especially on the right hand side of the road. We all took turns driving and getting out whenever we pleased. It was a great way to see part of this country. Adam found a small stand selling beer by on of the quays. The water was littered with million dollar yachts.
Tuesday, September 5
Yesterday, we spent a day at sea. I slept late, ate way too much food, and lounged deck-side all afternoon. It left me unprepared for the additional hour gained crossing into another time zone. A small ferry transported us to the main port of Mykonos, Chora to the locals. A city entirely in white engulfed by clear blue waters and sky. It was pushing 100 degrees so Adam and I kept our eyes peeled for places selling beer. Not five minutes of walking around and we were rewarded with a local stout. Greek beer: check. We navigated through stark-white alleyways to find some windmills just off-shore. The entire time, I had my eye on the sea. There weren't many places to access a “beach” but we found a small swath of waterfront with some tourists sunning themselves. I dipped my feet into the Aegean Sea. It felt like the Pacific, but warmer. Expected. Still fun. Adam and I got another beer for the ferry ride back to our ship.
Wednesday, September 6
Today has to have been the hottest day of our entire trip. We disembarked and made our way down the pier. It was easily over 100 degrees on the cobblestone streets. Despite being in a new country, once again, I couldn't help but feel tired and worn-out. Is it possible to vacation too hard? Adam and I split off from Mom and Dad and decided to drink away yesterday's hangover in the shade of a quiet bistro. After cooling down, we took a stroll around the Palace of the Grand Master. Around, because we were unwilling to pay admission fees. We made friends with a chill pigeon and found half of a nude mannequin with an impeccable style.
Thursday, September 7
Our entire trip, I had been anticipating today—Santorini. We took a ferry ashore, and the entire ride over, stared up at cliffs of desolate volcanic rock. The family opted to take three-minute gondola ride to the top, leaving us in the town of Fira. With hiking shoes laced and water bottles filled, we set off to Oia, a large iconic town at the north end of the main island. A leisurely walk through a quaint town quickly became a strenuous hike out on the exposed island. At nearly seven miles, I was impressed to find Mom and her recently replaced hip keeping up with us boys. Finally, we got to Oia and searched for lunch. Dad picked a restaurant called 218°; the name having to do with an expansive tableside view. We had grilled octopus, fried feta, phyllo-wrapped cheese pockets, Kalamata olives; all dipped in refreshing tzatziki. It's getting hard to distinguish favorite meals. Worn out and full, we caught a charter bus back to Fira. The line for the gondola seemed to be about an hour long. Adam and I decided to ditch the wait, grab a beer, and hike down a steep and slick cobblestone burro path to the waterfront. Ma and Pa beat us back to the ship by 15 minutes, but there is always spare time to scratch some burro ears.
Friday, September 8
It's the last leg of our trip; we only make port once more before our flight back stateside. Today we had a tour of Athens with only two other couples. At 8AM, our small group made haste for the Acropolis. This was good for two reasons; the day was only going to get hotter and the crowds larger. Five years after a four-year art degree, seeing the Parthenon in person was fulfilling to say the least. After admiring the views, we hopped back in our tour van and headed for The National Archaeological Museum. Apparently, the French President was touring Athens this week as well; traffic was crazy. In the museum, whilst staring at ancient pottery, the President's wife quickly made her way through the same exhibit, flanked by security. Our tour guide didn't seem the least bit phased. We had a much needed lunch break, then it was back sightseeing. We saw the changing of the guard at the Hellenic Parliament; the Panathenaic Stadium, which is made entirely of marble; the Temple of Hephaestus; and ended with the Temple of Olympian Zeus. As we sailed away, we got easily the best sunset of our entire trip. A gorgeous sendoff.
Sunday, September 10
Today was our last port city and it couldn't have been nicer in Naples. For the first half of the day, we were scheduled to hike up Mt. Vesuvius. About 3,000 feet of elevation change was no big deal for us avid outdoors people. However, fat tourists abounded. My ego felt great after a quick jump, skip, and hop to the top of the caldera. Views of the Napoli coast were stunning. For the second half of the day, we were scheduled for a tour of Pompeii. For hours, we walked through piles of rubble and partially standing walls. It was hard to follow our guide along and imagine what had once magnificently stood there. Back in town, we 'accidentally' stumbled into a limoncello store. There were three different free samples. It was a sweet sendoff to a sweet trip.