Sailing into history: A Mediterranean cruise

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Liz Snyder and Rex Davenport visit the Temple of Poseidon in Greece during their recent Mediterranean cruise.

Our recent 10-day cruise in the Mediterranean was a bracing mix of the very old — ancient cities like Pompeii and Ephesus — and the very new, as we sailed on the Sun Princess cruise ship’s debut trip.

Every vacation has its quirks and memorable moments. Here are some of ours:

Lounge life: Because Delta Airlines put us in first class for our short flight from Chicago to JFK Airport to start the trip, we were able to enjoy the Delta Lounge at O’Hare Airport. Wow. Where has this been all my life? Expansive windows, free food and beverages. The mid-century decor had me thinking I was in a scene from “Mad Men.” Seriously, I could spend my entire next vacation in that lounge.

Rex Davenport in Pompeii

Rex Davenport walks on an ancient street in the city of Pompeii, buried by a volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago.

Liz Snyder

Hurry up and wait: Military veterans tell me that’s the way of life in the armed forces. The same goes for traveling — especially if an airport is involved. But despite sitting on a cold airport floor waiting hours to board a plane, I still marvel that you can fly 4,000 miles in seven hours and end up on a different continent. Jet travel is a miracle — one that comes with little bottles of wine.

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Come as you are: While cruise ships had dress codes in years past — and some of the more upscale lines still do — on most cruise ships today (including the Princess fleet), the passengers are a cross section of society: Older people, young families, singles traveling in groups or alone. You’ll find different income levels, and people sailing from the U.S. and across the globe. While some passengers look as if they just did a Walmart run, others enjoy dressing up. And no one cares — either way.

Trivial matters: Do I only go on cruises so I can play trivia three times a day? No — but if we do, that’s a good day. You never know when useless knowledge, like “what is the largest landlocked country?” will come in handy. (It’s Kazakhstan and not, as we guessed, Iowa.)

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If you eat a ginormous sundae on a cruise ship, please don’t take it into a hot tub!

Sticky fingers: Here’s how NOT to be popular with your fellow cruise ship passengers: Eat a ginormous ice cream sundae in a hot tub. I’m not joking. That’s exactly what two people did on our cruise. These sundaes were topped with a brownie, sprinkles and a rainbow candy straw. It’s a totally ridiculous thing to eat at any time, but especially while you’re sitting in a crowded hot tub with people who are not your young children. I can’t believe they didn’t get the rest of us all sticky. To make it even stranger, they were drinking Bud Light with their sundaes. Yuck.

Sweat it out: You think working out is tough? Try doing it on a moving ship! This is especially true for Zumba classes on a crowded dance floor.

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Georgio guides our tour in Taormina, Sicily, visiting the city’s ancient Greek Theatre.

Dance like no one’s watching? That’s great life advice, especially on a cruise, where you’ll have lots of chances to bust out your moves. You should try all the activities that sound fun, even if your skill level, like mine, tends to be low. Just remember you won’t see these people ever again.

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Tourists climb up to the Acropolis in Athens. (Psssttt … there’s an elevator!)

No politics, please: We successfully avoided any mention of the upcoming presidential election, but another couple we met onboard wasn’t so fortunate. As she told us: “We were in the Irish Pub, sitting with a couple from Ireland and having a grand old time. Then, the woman asked me what I think of Trump. I told her ‘he’s a jerk, but I think he’s good for the country.’ She yelled ‘how dare you!’ at me, and they moved to another table.” That’s why you stick to topics like what you had for dessert at dinner and did you see that water spout off the back of the ship. Vacations should stay a politics-free zone.

The saddest moment of every cruise: When you realize, on your way home, that when you get back to Kenosha, your room steward will not have been in there to clean up. And the next morning? When you head to your kitchen, breakfast will not be waiting for you. (Sob)

Off the ship

Want to feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of history? Head to Turkey, Greece and Italy. You’ll literally be walking on streets built 2,000 years ago. Wow. What a journey.

McDonald’s run, ancient Rome edition: During our visit to Pompeii — the Roman city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 47 B.C. — we learned that the residents of Pompeii ate elaborate feasts while lying down. So don’t feel guilty the next time you eat on your couch, in front of the TV. Also: Pompeii had some 90 fast-food restaurants, meaning people have always loved a grab-and-go meal option.

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The Greek island of Crete is home to the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Mediterranean.

Ladies, beware: While we walked through Pompeii, which was home to more than 14,000 people, we visited the “Red Light District,” home to brothels. One woman on our tour said when she visited Pompeii in 1975, women weren’t allowed inside these areas! Apparently, the erotic ancient images are too much for our delicate sensibilities.

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The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey is home to several historic buildings surrounded by hills.

Going up: In Athens: The Acropolis — home to several ancient buildings of architectural and historical significance, including the Parthenon — sits high on a hill, and it’s a steep climb to the top. Once we reached the top, however, and were wandering around with the other tourists, I discovered there’s an elevator. And this was after some of the people in our tour group bailed on climbing the hill and waited for us near the buses. This is definitely information we could have used earlier. If you visit the Acropolis and need some help walking up there, ask for the elevator.

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Mount Vesuvius, which buried Pompeii in 79 B.C., still hovers behind the site in Italy today.

The most beautiful place in the world: That would be the Temple of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Fittingly, it sits on a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea, surrounded by blue water. It’s absolutely stunning and just a short drive from Athens.

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In Sicily, it’s not all history. There are also goofy souvenirs to be had, like this “Godfather” mug, a perfect Secret Santa gift.

Lighting the way: For folks who love lighthouses — and there are many of us — add Crete to your list of destinations. The island off Greece is home to the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Mediterranean, and you can easily walk out to it.

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Rex Davenport and Liz Snyder brave the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily.

A living history museum: In the resort city of Kusadasi, Turkey, you can’t help but stumble over ancient ruins. The biggest attraction is the ancient city of Ephesus, home to the Temple of Hadrian and the Celsus Library. There are also several holy sites in the area, including the Tomb of St. John the Baptist and the Shrine of the Virgin Mary. History buffs could spend weeks here.

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This statue is one of many art pieces in the ancient city of Pompeii.

So … we’re NOT in Italy? Our tour guide in Sicily repeatedly told us “this is my country, and it’s not Italy.” Italy, he said, “is over there,” pointing across the water. He also joked about the Mafia in the region, saying “being a gangster means you park wherever the hell you want to,” pointing to cars clogging the narrow streets. (For the record: Sicily is one of the 20 regions of Italy. It is one of the five Italian autonomous regions and is officially referred to as Regione Siciliana.)

Top of the world: If you’re a fan of volcanoes (and who isn’t?), driving up Mount Etna is an easy, if frigid, way to visit one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It also offers wonderful views of Sicily.

Guiding the way: If you do take an organized tour when you’re traveling, I hope you get a good tour guide. Most of ours were outstanding — smart, funny, engaging — and enriched our time visiting these sites. Except for our guide in Athens. Remember, she’s the one who didn’t tell us about the elevator!

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