ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I would be looking for flags from Malta and Montenegro.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; many of our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaii, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the North Atlantic (Greenland/Iceland), parts of the British Isles, the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands and the Holy Land/Egypt. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions) and to many parts of the continental USA.
On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving, or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.
We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore.
ABOUT THE REVIEW
Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food, etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including links to tourist sites and maps. We combined this cruise with the Pacific Princess' May 12 "Holy Land" cruise; I have written a separate review for that cruise.
"Mediterranean Cruise Ports," by Rick Steves (available on travelstore.ricksteves.com or www.amazon.com)
"Europe 101," by Rick Steves (available on travelstore.ricksteves.com or www.amazon.com)
"Toms Port Guides," by Tom Sheridan (www.tomsportguides.com)
"Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling," by Ross King (available on www.amazon.com)
"The Agony and the Ecstasy" (www.imdb.com/title/tt0058886/), staring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison
TOUR GUIDE CONTACT INFORMATION
Sorrento, Italy: Unique Costiera, www.uniquecostiera.com
Messina, Italy: Coop. Sicily Life, www.sicilylife.com
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
24 MAY (THU) ROME (CIVITAVECCHIA), ITALY (ARRIVE 5:00AM DEPART 6:00PM)
This was the turnaround day between our two cruises. We had previously visited Rome for two days in 2008. During that visit, we had toured most of the sights of Imperial Rome as well as St. Peter's Basilica. While some people were disembarking in Rome and a new set of passengers embarking, we took the train from Civitavecchia into Rome and visited the Vatican Necropolis and the Vatican Museums.
We were able to leave the ship just before 7:00 a.m. We had to wait a bit for the shuttle bus to start its rounds, but we were at the port gates by about 7:15 a.m. That gave us plenty of time to buy train tickets, walk to the train station (about 10 minutes), validate our tickets, and catch the 7:36 a.m. train into Rome. Several people who were disembarking also were able to catch this train, but it took them considerably longer to walk to the station pulling their luggage.
We bought BIRG tickets (9 euros pp) at the kiosk that is just to the right of the exit from the port gates. It is easier to buy the ticket here or at one of the other newsstands that sell them rather than to wait in line at the train station. This ticket allows unlimited travel on all regional trains as well as buses, trams, and the subway/metro in Rome (but not transport to the FCO airport). Be sure to validate the ticket at one of the yellow boxes in the Civitavecchia train station.
On the train into Rome, stations were announced in both Italian and English. We got off at the Roma S. Pietro station; note that the previous stop is Aurelia, so start getting ready to exit after that station. We exited the S. Pietro station and turned left on Via Innocenzo III; the dome of St.Peter's Basilica is easily visible as a guide. Turn right on Via Nicolo III and continue to Via della Stazione di San Pietro. Turn left and then almost immediately turn right onto Via Alcide de Gasperi, which ends at a pedestrian underpass that takes you safely underneath Via di Porta Cavalleggeri. The underpass leads directly to a crosswalk to the southern colonnade around St. Peter's Square. This walk took about 10 minutes.
Because we were not sure which train we would be able to catch into Rome, we were flexible about the first part of the morning. There were only a few people in line for St. Peter's Basilica, so we decided to re-visit it. We were able to take many pictures with no people in them. However, many sections of the Basilica were blocked off and not opened until later, after the crowds built up. We decided to visit some other areas of St. Peter's that we had not previously visited. We had already climbed the dome on our previous visit, so we thought we could visit the Grottos; however, they were closed that day. Instead, we toured the Treasury (7 euros pp, 3 euros for an audio guide). We only got one audio guide to share, which turned out to be a good decision because the explanations were so long and detailed that we were only interested in the first couple of minutes. The Treasury includes ostentatious liturgical vessels (chalices, monstrances, etc.) and vestments, along with the models used to create some of the statues in the Basilica, a Roman column used as the model for the ones in Bernini's bronze canopy over the main altar, and a number of works of modern art. There is also a small, ornate chapel.
Now it was time for our 10:45 a.m. tour of the Vatican Necropolis, which is a pagan cemetery that lies under the Grottos where the popes are buried. As we left the Basilica, a bride was entering; then as we were crossing the square, we were stopped so that her wedding entourage could enter the square. Finally, we made it to the Swiss Guard post outside the entrance to the Vatican offices, near the southern colonnade. After showing our tour voucher, the guard sent us through a security screening and then directed us to the Ufficio Scavi (Excavations Office), where we could exchange the voucher for our tour tickets. There was another couple there ahead of us trying unsuccessfully to get tickets for the tour, but that must be done online months in advance as only 150 people a day are admitted (www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20090216_en.html). Our guide arrived at 10:50 a.m. and led us to a side entrance to the Grottos. The couple that did not get tickets tried to sneak in along with the 11 people in the tour group, but they were kicked out when the guide realized that they did not have tickets.
The tour began with a brief explanation of how the Emperor Constantine decided to build a church over the traditional burial place of St. Peter; there is a nice model of that church. Vatican Hill was leveled to provide a platform for the church, which involved removing the roofs of the 1st and 2nd century tombs that were already there and filling them with dirt. The tombs were not discovered until Pope Pius XI died and his will directed that his tomb in the Grottos be located as close as possible to the area where Peter was thought to have been buried. The necropolis was excavated in secret during WWII; the dirt removed was hidden in the Vatican Gardens. Only a few of the tombs could be excavated; otherwise, the foundations of St. Peter's would be undermined.
This is a fascinating tour, but not for anyone with claustrophobia as the passageway through the tombs is quite narrow. The tour is reminiscent of a tour of Pompeii, with well-preserved wall paintings and mosaics. There are also funerary vases and sarcophagi. Some of the tombs are quite large --- one had space for 100 burials. The highlight of the tour is a view of the 1st century walls built above St. Peter's grave and the monument Constantine built above that. In this area, a box was found that contained bones from one person, a robust man about 65-70 years old. We could glimpse a clear box with the bones inside as well as the "graffiti wall," where inscriptions were discovered that convinced Pope Paul VI to authenticate the bones as belonging to St. Peter. No pictures are allowed during the tour, but there is a video tour at: www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/necropoli/scavi_english.html.
The tour ended in the Vatican Grottos, but the usual exit was blocked. Thus the guide had to take us through the Grottos, past the tombs of Popes Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul I, to the Grottos exit on the north side of the basilica. Not only did we get a partial tour of the Grottos but we also had a shorter walk to the Vatican Museums entrance!
The necropolis tour ended at 11:55 a.m. and it took 15 minutes to reach the museum entrance. We had made reservations for 12:30 p.m. in case there was a long line. Even though we were 20 minutes early, we were immediately admitted to the museum, which was packed with visitors (but oddly had no line outside). We tried to see some of the most important sculptures, such as the "Laocoon," "Apollo Belvedere" and the "Belvedere Torso," which greatly influenced Renaissance artists. Then we flowed with the tide of bodies on the long march through a series of lavishly decorated halls and part of the modern art holdings to the Rafael Stanzas. This set of rooms boasts such masterpieces as "The School of Athens" and other huge frescoes by Rafael.
As stupendous as the Rafael Rooms are, they are just a warm-up for the Sistine Chapel. Despite the vast crowd and the futile efforts of the guards to enforce quiet, Michelangelo's ceiling is overwhelming. Photographs simply cannot convey the glorious colors and vitality of the figures. Some of the architectural elements are so convincingly three-dimensional that is almost impossible to believe that they are painted on a two-dimensional surface. The frescoes on the walls, which would be the stars of any other museum, seem flat and artificial in comparison. No less impressive is Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" on the altar wall. Our binoculars were handy to view the ceiling far over our heads.
After the Sistine Chapel, the hoards seemed to diminish somewhat as we trekked back through another long series of ornate halls, past the Vatican Library, towards the museum entrance. With our remaining time, we visited some of the rooms in the Pinoteca. We concentrated on some of our favorites, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael. Although we had barely sampled the immense number of items on exhibit, we finally had to admit defeat and vow to return to the museum someday for a more extended visit.
It took us about 20 minutes to walk back to the train station in time for the 2:36 p.m. regional express train back to Civitavecchia. This train skips several of the stations close to Rome, so it is about 10 minutes faster than the regular regional trains. The train was already full when it reached S. Pietro, so we had to stand most of the way. This time the stations were not announced at all, so be aware that S. Marinella is the station immediately before Civitavecchia. After the short walk and wait for the shuttle bus ride, we were back on the ship by about 4:00 p.m.
While we were off in Rome, our belongings were moved from the category BD balcony cabin that we had enjoyed on the Holy Land cruise to a category D outside cabin. Both of these cabins were upgrades from the category F outside cabin that we had originally booked. When we got back to the ship, there was a letter in the cabin saying that our scheduled port call in Nice was canceled and that we would call at Cannes instead.
After redistributing our belongings, I managed to make contact with the roll call members who would be on the Sorrento and Messina private tours with us, friends from a previous cruise BobTroll (Bob & Elaine) and our long-time friends Robert & Mary, who were joining us on this cruise. This was only Robert & Mary's second cruise and the first time they would be cruising with us and Princess.
At late-seating dinner, we had arranged a 4-top for Robert, Mary and us with the same excellent wait team (Joel & Jeffery) and Headwaiter (Rui, from Portugal) that we had on the previous Holy Land cruise. We celebrated the fact that we were all together on the ship by sharing a bottle of sparkling wine. We had not been sure that Robert & Mary would make it because of the 12-hour flight delay (US Airways) they experienced on the way to Rome. Once they finally arrived in Rome, it was dark and raining heavily. Their van driver (booked through Viator) deposited them nowhere near their hotel; it took quite a bit of wandering around and several stops to ask for directions before they managed to make it there. At least they had two full days in Rome and got to see many of the main sights. We all decided to skip the "Welcome Aboard Showtime."
25 MAY (FRI) PORTOFINO, ITALY (ARRIVE 7:00AM DEPART 8:00PM) TENDER
This was the first visit to Portofino for all four of us. John had mapped out a walk in town and an ambitious hike in the surrounding national park. We were joined on our trek by Elaine (BobTroll's better half), who must be part mountain goat. As we tendered into the harbor, we saw many dolphins. Robert was not feeling well, so Mary tendered ashore later in the morning and explored a bit on her own.
We started off with a walk to the lighthouse at the end of the small peninsula on the north side of Portofino. To do this walk, take the stairs just to the right of the tender dock, turn left at the top and keep following the signs to the "Faro." The out-and-back path offers excellent views of Portofino and the coastline plus the bonus of a lighthouse. The round-trip took about an hour.
John originally planned for us to walk Portofino - San Fruttuoso - Pietre Strette - Santa Margherita Ligure -- Portofino (www.portofinotrek.com/trek/da-portofino/41-portofino-san-fruttuoso.html). When we returned to the top of the stairs to the marina, we did not descend but continued on the same path into town. Turning left at the police station, we found the Portofino National Park (www.parcoportofino.it/pageLingua.aspx?lang=en&codice=0000000006) welcome sign and the trailhead for the path to San Fruttuoso. All of the trails were well-marked with various blazes and there were new-looking signs at every trail intersection that clearly showed the direction and approximate time to the next destination.
As they say in the southern USA, "Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow." The first part of the hike was up a steep set of steps and, with the hot sun, John was soon perspiring heavily and Elaine and I were glowing brightly. However, we persevered and the trail eventually became more moderate and tree-shaded. We saw many beautiful wildflowers blooming along the way; one (perhaps some variety of jasmine) emitted a heady fragrance. As we got higher, we enjoyed some cooling breezes and spectacular views of the coast. Our first destination was "Base Zero," scant remains of an abandoned military installation. Although we did not feel like we were making good time, we did this section in slightly less that the signposted time.
Continuing on, we reached an intersection of two trails: one down to San Fruttuoso and the other up to Pietre Strette and from there to Santa Margherita Ligure. We headed down to San Fruttuoso for a view of the Benedictine Abbey and the Torre Andrea Doria. Now we faced a choice: should we continue on to Santa Margherita (two hours hiking), return to Portofino the way we had come (two hours hiking), or catch the convenient 11:30 a.m. ferry to Santa Margherita (one hour sitting down). The ferry (9.5 euros pp) won. As we left the dock, we saw many jellyfish in the beautiful, clear water.
The ride to Santa Margherita was pleasant and we had great views of the shoreline. When we arrived at Santa Margherita, we strolled around the waterfront a bit before taking the trail (6 km) along the coast back to Portofino. This was a nice level walk, except for one short section that did not have any pedestrian path. As we got closer to Portofino, the path moved away from the shore and we had lovely views of some of the small coves. Back in Portofino, we walked around for a short while before tendering back to the ship.
This was Italian night in the restaurant and the headwaiters made a special spicy pasta dish, Penne Arrabiata. I also had one of my favorite appetizers, the Eggplant Parmigiana. After dinner, Mary and I went to the first of the five production shows, "Cinematastic."
26 MAY (SAT) CANNES, FRANCE (ARRIVE 7:00AM DEPART 6:00PM)
The original itinerary said that this port stop would be Nice, but Cannes was substituted; none of the four of us had visited either Nice or Cannes before. John had mapped out a walking tour of Nice and planned a visit to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat using the local bus. We considered sticking with our original plans and taking a train or bus to Nice. However, not only was the Cannes Film Festival going on in Cannes, but the Grand Prix was also taking place in Monaco. The port lecturer (Joe May) warned us that many people attending those events would be lodging in less-expensive Nice and local transportation would be extremely crowded. We later learned that a train strike also occurred today. Fortunately, we decided to punt and take a 1/2-day ship's excursion to St. Paul de Vence. Robert & Mary opted for the ship's excursion to Nice.
St. Paul de Vence is a charming walled village on a hill; most of the buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The village has long been popular with artists and still houses many studios and art galleries, as well as many boutiques. After tendering and a one-hour bus ride, we arrived in St. Paul around 9:30 a.m. Our tour guide first explained the meeting time and place (Place de Gaulle), then took us to the small cemetery (where Marc Chagall is buried) and along the main street of the village, stopping to point out some historic sites. This brief guided tour ended at one of the ramparts, which had a panoramic view of the area all the way back to the coast.
We now had about 1-1/2 hours of free time to explore the town on our own. John and I wandered back to the Tourist Office, which had opened at 10:00 a.m., to pick up a tourist map. We meandered around finding all the sights and probably walking each street 2 or 3 times. We only entered two sites (both free): the church and the Musee de Saint-Paul (above the Tourist Office). The other museums did not open until 11:00 a.m. and we had to meet the guide at 11:30 a.m.; half an hour did not seem like enough time to devote to any of them.
After we returned to Cannes, we walked east along the waterfront promenade, admiring the yachts in the marina. The area was packed with people in attire ranging from shorts and tank tops to evening dresses and tuxes. We passed a number of venues associated with the Film Festival, such as the red-carpeted staircase, but did not spot any celebrities. We walked down as far as the Grand Hotel and then turned inland until we reached Rue d'Antibes, a major shopping street. We headed west along Rue d'Antibes, which eventually became Rue Felix Faure. We passed the Marche aux Fleurs, which has tables selling not only flowers and plants, but also paintings, antiques and other items.
Finally, we reached Rue du Mont Chevalier, which is a ramp that zigzags up the hillside to the Musee de la Castre, an art museum. There are several places where stairs lead up to the next level of the ramp, providing some shortcuts. When we reached the top, both the museum and the church (Notre Dame de l'Esperance) were closed for siesta. However, we were mainly interested in the excellent panoramic view of Cannes. After enjoying the views, we returned to the marina and tendered back to the ship.
Tonight was the French/Continental Dinner. I had my usual choices of noodles with lobster sauce, escargot, French onion soup and frogs' legs; John had the same starters but the turbot cordon bleu as his entree. After dinner, Robert, Mary and I went to hear the singer (Christopher Riggins); he called his style "popera." Although he has a fine voice, I am not a big fan of vocal tricks like vibrato and falsetto.
27 MAY (SUN) AT SEA
Finally a sea day so we could sleep in! The main order of business was the Cruise Critic "Meet & Greet," which was held from 10-11:00 a.m. in the Sterling Steakhouse. Some of the roll call (12 out of 29) came, but no officers or staff attended. We also picked up 3 people who had heard about the M&G from roll call members or from the listing in the Princess Patter. We had a good time putting faces to screen names and discussing our favorite cruises. Although two people thought this was where they were supposed to go to complain about problems with the cruise, they stayed when I explained the real nature of Cruise Critic and they contributed to the discussion.
Anyone who has read my other reviews knows that we greatly enjoy Princess' osso buco and that it is only served in the main dining room at lunch, usually on port days. Our excellent Headwaiter (Rui) knew we liked this dish and had alerted us last night that it would be served at lunch today! We greatly enjoyed the osso buco with saffron risotto and wish it would be served at dinner (perhaps on Italian Night). This was the only time we ate lunch in the main dining room.
This was the first of two formal nights and, as Elite Captain's Circle members, we received complimentary appetizers delivered to our cabin. We had ordered chocolate-covered strawberries and took them to Robert & Mary's cabin to enjoy with the bottle of prosecco they brought from Rome. A toast to good friends and good times!
Soon it was time to get ready for dinner and the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party. Although yesterday was our actual 39th wedding anniversary, we decided to celebrate it tonight together with Robert & Mary, whose 40th anniversary would occur in June. After dinner, we all attended the production show "Stardust," another energetic and enjoyable performance by the Pacific Princess Singers and Dancers.
28 MAY (MON) SORRENTO, ITALY (ARRIVE 7:00AM DEPART 5:00PM) TENDER
We had visited Sorrento in 1998 as part of a ship's shore excursion that also included Capri and Pompeii. This time, we hired a driver to take us along the Amalfi coast to Positano, Ravello and Amalfi. We had used the same company (Unique Costiera, www.uniquecostiera.com/toursShoreExcursions.html) in 2008 for a tour from Naples to Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius.
In addition to Robert & Mary, we were joined on this tour by Sue & Bill (agelessgram) and Danielle & Michael (Medicruiser). The Pacific Princess had been chronically late tendering, starting at least 1/2 hour after the scheduled arrival time. Given the ship's early departure time and the notorious traffic problems along the Amalfi coast, I was anxious to be on our way as early as possible. We were scheduled to meet our driver at 7:30 a.m.
Because only John and I are Elite and have priority tender service, I asked the Captain's Circle Host, Sandy Gunder, whether I could have priority tender tickets for the rest of the group so that we could all go ashore on the first tender. Mind you, this is the first time in 32 cruises with Princess that I have ever asked for special consideration when tendering. Sandy hemmed and hawed and complained that six was such a large group that it would inconvenience other Elite and Suite passengers plus unspecified VIPs who were aboard. Eventually she agreed to consult with the Shore Excursion Office and the Passenger Services Desk to see whether we might be granted this exceptional favor. She promised that she would either deliver the tickets to my cabin or call to tell me that they were not available. However, she neither provided tickets nor called me.
This morning, our group met at 7:00 a.m. in the Casino Bar, so we were among the first people to get tender tickets. Even so, we were not ashore until 8:00 a.m. Our driver, Francesco, was waiting for us at the dock and quickly led us to a van. We were a little cramped in the van and two individuals had to sit in the front with the driver, but this was not a real issue. Our driver was just that -- a driver -- not a guide. However, he did provide some commentary along the way and had suggestions when we got to our stops. He was fairly inexperienced and tended to speak only to the person sitting next to him. That person would then repeat the comments to the rest of the van. A sound system would have been appreciated!
We drove across the Sorrentine peninsula to its southern side, the Amalfi coast (www.frommers.com/destinations/amalficoast/). The scenery is gorgeous: rugged cliffs dropping to the sea, punctuated by wooded ravines and colorful, picturesque villages and towns clinging to the cliffs. We had good views of Li Galli (The Roosters), also known as the Sirenuse Islands, where Odysseus encountered the Sirens.
Our first stop was in Positano (www.frommers.com/destinations/positano/0758010029.html). Francesco dropped us off at a parking area on Via Cristoforo Colombo, across from the Le Sirenuse Hotel. He pointed us towards the main square and told us to be back at the parking area in an hour. Robert, Mary, John and I started out together while the others went their own ways. First we visited Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta (free, www.summerinitaly.com/guide/church-of-santa-maria-assunta-in-positano), with its colorful tiled dome. The most famous work of art in the church is the Madonna Negro (Black Madonna), a wooden Byzantine icon above the main altar. Another treasure of the church is a 15th century silver bust that contains the relics of St. Vito, the protector of Positano. This bust is noted for its lifelike portrayal of the saint and is reputedly one of the most valuable works of art on the Amalfi coast. Next we walked to the marina, where we had great views of the town clinging to the mountainside. We continued to walk west along the water past the helipad; there we found and scaled a rough set of stairs up to the cliff side pedestrian promenade. Apparently this is not an approved route because the low gate at the top was cemented shut; however, we climbed over it easily enough. We continued west on the promenade, past the Torre Trasita, to a nice overlook of Fornillo beach. We then turned around and followed the promenade back to Positano. We spent the rest of our time strolling along the steep, narrow streets before returning to the pickup point to head to our next stop, Ravello. Along the way, we bypassed Amalfi and saw three ancient Roman watchtowers along the coast.
Unlike Positano and Amalfi, which are on the seashore, Ravello (www.frommers.com/destinations/ravello/0760010029.html) is up in the mountains at the head of the Dragone Valley. Francesco parked in a large public lot and led us up some stairs to the Piazza Duomo. There were gorgeous views across the valley to villas on the hillside. The 11th century Romanesque Cathedral (free, www.summerinitaly.com/guide/the-Cathedral-of-san-pantaleone) is dedicated to San Pantaleone, the patron saint of Ravello. The central nave features the Ambone dell'Epistola (lectern for reading from the Epistles), which is decorated with precious mosaics illustrating the story of Jonah, and the richly carved and decorated Pergamo (pulpit). To the left of the main altar is the Cappella di San Pantaleone. A reliquary above the altar contains a flask of the saint's blood, which liquefies each year on the anniversary of his death (July 27). Above the reliquary is a large painting of the saint's martyrdom. Ravello boasts numerous villas; two (Villa Cimbrone, Villa Rufolo) have gorgeous gardens that are open to the public. We walked past the villas, but did not have enough time to visit them. The town has attracted many composers and writers, some of whom are honored with plaques on the buildings where they lived or visited; a famous music festival is held here every summer. Ravello was everyone's favorite and we all wished we had more time to spend there. Unfortunately, we were now getting some light rain.
Now we returned to Amalfi (www.frommers.com/destinations/amalfi/0759010029.html) for our final stop; the rain continued on and off while we were here. Francesco dropped us off at the Porta Della Marina and we had about 1-1/2 hours to explore the town. First we headed to the Piazza Duomo. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Amalfi; there is a there is a statue of the saint atop a fountain in the square and many images of him throughout the town. The Cathedral's (www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/amalfi-Cathedral) Moorish-influenced fa'ade features an arched portico across its width; the gable is decorated with a gold mosaic of Jesus. Naturally, the Cathedral is dedicated to St. Andrew and there is a gold mosaic of the saint over the massive bronze doors at the main entrance. The bell tower has an elaborate top and is decorated with green and yellow tiles.
The Cathedral is reached by 62 broad stairs up to the portico. On the left side of the portico is the entrance to the Cathedral complex (3 euros pp): the Cloister of Paradise, the Basilica of the Crucifix, the Crypt of St. Andrew and the Cathedral itself. The Cloister of Paradise consists of white marble arcades of interlaced arches over double columns; this was once the cemetery for the wealthy merchants of Amalfi. The cloister leads into the Basilica of the Crucifix, the original Cathedral of Amalfi, which houses the Cathedral's museum and treasury. Stairs near the east end descend into the Crypt of St. Andrew, where the saint's relics are kept in the central altar; above the altar is a large bronze statue of St. Andrew. The interior of the Cathedral is sumptuously Baroque; the paintings on the walls and ceilings depict the life and miracles of St. Andrew. To the right of the altar area is the Chapel of the Relics, which contains dozens of reliquaries. Niches in the right aisle display a large reliquary bust of St. Andrew and the Coffin of the Dead Christ, which is carried in procession through Amalfi on Good Friday.
Amalfi is located at the mouth of a river valley and its mills produced paper for much of Europe during the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance. John and I visited Musea de la Carta (www.museodellacarta.it/Default.asp?l=2, guided tour 3.5 euros pp), inside one of the abandoned paper mills. This museum has a great collection of original tools and machines for making paper and there is a hands-on demonstration of how paper was made from pulverized cotton fabric. It was still raining, so we took refuge in Al Corso Gelateria e Yogurteria, where a friendly young man named Fabio gave us tastes of several varieties of his artisan gelato. John finally decided on lemon cream and lemoncello; I picked chocolate and hazelnut.
Finally it was time to return to Sorrento. The traffic was tied up in places where the large tour buses had difficulty negotiating the tight turns; at one point we got stuck behind a large, slow-moving truck. Despite the rain, the scenery is stunning and it is far better to have someone else drive so that we could all enjoy the precipitous drop-offs instead of worrying about them.
There was one issue that should be mentioned. We had been quoted a price of 290 euros (total for up to 8 passengers) in January and told that the quote was valid until April 20. However, when we tried to reserve in March, we were told that the price had gone up to 380 euros due to taxes and increased fuel charges. The new price was still competitive with other companies, but nevertheless this was a little distressing. On the other hand, the company did not require payment in advance, but it did require a credit card number to hold the reservation. And, despite horrible traffic, we made it back to the dock on time! I believe the owner was in constant contact with our driver to keep track of our progress.
Tonight the show was a magician (Bobby Borgia). I like magic shows, but John hates being picked to participate; there is just something about John that draws magicians and jugglers to him. The act was billed as "An Interactive Magic Show Where the Magic Happens to You!!!" Still, I managed to get John to go; we just sat in the back where we were safe. The show was entertaining, but we have seen much better magic shows on other ships.
29 MAY (TUE) MESSINA, ITALY (ARRIVE 8:00AM DEPART 6:00PM)
The same three couples as yesterday joined us for a shore excursion from Messina with Sicily Life (www.sicilylife.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=3:port-of-messina&layout=blog&Itemid=52&layout=default). As in Sorrento, the cost was per van (390 euros for 7/8 persons), not per person; our driver/guide (Antonio) could provide commentary and sightseeing suggestions but not guide us inside venues.
We all had an astonishingly good time, especially considering that via a misunderstanding, they gave us the wrong tour! We had reserved their "Etna Experience Tour & Highlights of Taormina" but somehow we got the "Unknown Sicily around Etna & the Highlights of Taormina" tour instead. When Antonio outlined our itinerary at the beginning of the tour, we tuned in to the word Etna and didn't realize that we were not going to the Silvestri Crater on Etna but to small towns on the slopes of Etna. This only became apparent much later when we asked how much further it was to the crater. Antonio then showed us the itinerary he had been given for us: the "Unknown Sicily" tour. By this time, it was too late to go with the original plan and we were having such a good time that we really didn't care.
We headed out of Messina along the coastal highway, with Mount Etna looming ahead in the distance. Antonio was amazingly knowledgeable and affable. He used a sound system so even people in the back on the somewhat cramped van could hear his comments as he drove along. Heading south, he pointed out Savoca and Forza d'Agr', high on the hillsides, where scenes from the "Godfather" movies were filmed. As we passed Taormina, Antonio pointed out Isola Bella, a small island just offshore. The island was once owned by Lady Florence Trevelyan, who was asked to leave England after becoming a bit too friendly with her cousin, the future Edward VII. The island is now owned by the state and has been turned into a nature preserve.
From here, we proceeded to Giardini Naxos and headed up the Alcantara Valley towards Francavilla di Sicilia. An ancient 40-mile long lava flow blocked the Alcantara River; as the river cut through the lava, it formed dramatic gorges and ravines. Our first stop was the Gole Alcantara Parco Botanico e Geologico (www.terralcantara.it/en), which is popular for walks, hikes and river trekking. We did not actually go into the park but there is an overlook with a great view of the Alcantara Gorge. There is also a Mercato del Contadina (Farmer's Market) where you can taste local products for free. Antonio got the market to open early for us so we could taste olive oil, bread, cheese, tapenades, wines, liquors, marmalades, and probably some other things! I think we all ended up making purchases there. Then we proceeded on our way to Castiglione di Sicilia.
We stopped just outside of Castiglione to visit Chiesa di Santa Domenica (la Cuba), a Byzantine chapel built in the late 8th century. Although this is a national monument, the chapel is not open to the public. We walked from the chapel, past vineyards, to the Piccole Gole dell'Alcantara (Small Alcantara Gorge) in the Alcantara River Park (www.parks.it/parco.alcantara/Eindex.php). This is a very picturesque spot where the river forms cascades and there are lots of lava boulders to climb around on. Now we drove up to Castiglione, where Antonio took us for a walk through this pretty town, with wrought iron balconies, many filled with flowers. We passed the Chiesa di Sant' Antonio, one of the oldest churches in Castiglione, with its interesting concave facade. Antonio had hoped to take us up to the Fortezza Greca (750 BC) for some great views, but it was closed. We walked past the Basilica della Madonna Catena and around the hill, which is topped by the Il Castello di Lauria, the castle for which the town is named. The path up to the castle was overgrown with weeds, so it was obviously closed to the public. Nevertheless, this part of town had panoramic views over the Alcantara Valley, the lemon, orange and olive groves and the Etna grapevines; we could even see la Cuba. We also had good views of the Cannizzu tower, an outpost of the fortress and a symbol of Castiglione. As we left the town, we passed a Norman-era church, Chiesa Madonna di Lourdes.
We now passed through the village of Linguagloss before heading higher on the slopes of Mount Etna to the Azienda Agricola Gambino (www.vinigambino.it/ws/?page_id=64&lang=en-en). The tasting room has a lovely view of the vineyards. The tasting (15 euros pp) included five good Sicilian wines plus "brunch." Our group received two large platters of olives, mushrooms, and tomatoes; two large platters of cheeses and salami and baskets of delicious crusty bread. A sufficient variety and quantity of foods was included that our lunch box was checked and everyone was quite satisfied. Several of us bought wine to enjoy later. Just as we were leaving the winery, the owner appeared and we had our pictures taken with him.
We had asked for a photo stop at Castelmola before proceeding to Taormina. This turned into a quick walking tour of the town led by Antonio (he lived there). Castelmola is on the top of Mount Tauro and has outstanding panoramic views of the Sicilian coast and of Taormina, on a rocky plateau below. We had good views of the Greek Theater in Taormina, our final stop.
Probably because of the time spent tasting at the Mercato and the Gambino Winery, we had less time than we would have liked in Taormina. If any of us had been wondering where all the tourists were, we found them here; Taormina was unpleasantly crowded. Antonio dropped us off at the Porta Messina and gave us an hour to tour on our own. We took off down Corso Umberto I to Via Teatro Greco. We arrived at the Greek Theater barely ahead of some large tour groups, quickly bought our tickets (8 euros pp), and scurried inside. The theater is Taormina's not-to-be-missed sight and we spent most of our limited time here. Carved into the slopes of Mount Tauros, the theater enjoys spectacular views of the seacoast and sometimes Mount Etna (unfortunately clouded over by now). The theater was a major location in Woody Allen's movie, "Mighty Aphrodite." We tore ourselves away from the theater with just enough time to run to the Parco Duca di Cesaro for a quick visit to this lovely garden (which was once the private garden of Lady Trevelyan). Although there are many more points of interest in Taormina, we had to return to Messina.
The tour we were given was outstanding and we'll just have to go back to see the crater and maybe go to the top of Mount Etna. It may seem strange to give a high rating to a company that gave us the wrong tour. However, Sicily Life was very prompt in responding to emails, needed no payment ahead of time, was at the dock as soon as we got off the ship, provided an outstanding guide and was quite flexible in taking care of any request. If we go back to Sicily, we will certainly use them but we'll confirm our itinerary in detail!
Tonight was another production show, "Shake, Rattle & Roll." We had attended this show on the previous cruise, but went again with Robert & Mary.
30 MAY (WED) VALLETTA, MALTA (ARRIVE 8:00AM DEPART 5:00PM)
John and I originally planned to take a ship's tour to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (visitmalta.com/hal-saflieni-hypogeum-map). John researched doing this on our own, but the number of people who can visit the site each day is very limited; we were afraid that Princess would have all the spots locked up. However, about a month before our cruise, Princess canceled the tour. John immediately tried to book tickets online, but only one was left for the day we would be in port. For Plan B, we decided to use the local bus system to reach the Blue Grotto, take the boat tour there, continue on the bus to the prehistoric megalithic temples near Qrendi, then return to Valletta to see the sights there. Robert & Mary took the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus (www.visitmalta.com/doubledecker_bus) and spent part of their day exploring Mdina.
Amazingly, the ship arrived early for a change. Fortunately, we were ready to go and were the first people off the ship at 7:30 a.m. Although John had printed some maps of Valletta, we stopped briefly at the Tourist Office kiosk on the dock to get a map and a pamphlet about the major sights in Valletta. We headed off to the bus station, picked up a route map, and tried to buy a day pass (2.6 euros pp) in the ticket machine. Our credit card would not work, possibly because it lacks the chip that most European credit cards contain. We ended up using euro coins, but the ticket machine would also take bills and it would give change. It took about 25 minutes to get from the ship to the bus station.
Because it was so early in the morning, the direct bus (#71) to the Blue Grotto was not yet running; we had to take an express bus to the airport and transfer to one that stopped at the Blue Grotto (#201). We caught the 8:05 a.m. #X5 bus and arrived at the airport right on time at 8:30 a.m.; unfortunately, the #201 would not arrive until 9:05 a.m. John suggested that there might be a Maltese flag in the airport at one of the gift shops. Although there were no flags, the airport was an air-conditioned place to wait; it also has clean restrooms. We caught the #201 bus and arrived at the Blue Grotto stop at 9:18 a.m.
We walked down the hill to the marina, following the signs for the Blue Grotto (www.bluegrottomalta.com.mt) ticket office. The small boats hold 8 people and leave when they have a full load. After a short wait, we had enough people and were off on our 20-minute tour (7 euros pp). This attraction is a series of natural sea caves cut into the limestone cliffs. The Blue Grotto itself is the largest cave, with an impressive sea arch near its entrance. The small boats enter each cave so that you can see the light shining through the water, making it sparkle like sapphires. It is best to tour the caves early in the morning, when the light conditions are optimal to bring out the colors and there are fewer tourists. We were lucky to arrive during a gap in a steady stream of tour buses.
Despite our love of hiking, we decided to take the bus instead of walking up the steep highway to the temples at Qrendi. On the way to the bus stop, John spotted a gift shop that had Maltese flags! While waiting for the bus, we could view the islet of Filfla (a nature reserve) and an offshore oil rig. By now, the #71 bus was running, so we caught that at 10:18 a.m. and arrived at the temples 5 minutes later. Our first stop was the visitors' center, where we bought a combo ticket (9 euros pp) that includes both temple sites. There is a nice slide presentation that shows all of the archeological sites on Malta. There are also models of the two sites and displays of artifacts and reproductions from the Museum of Archaeology.
Over the 5000 years since they were built, these temples had become buried; now that they are being excavated, they have been covered with huge canopies to protect them from further deterioration. There are walkways and boardwalks at both sites to allow visitors better to appreciate them. Except for reinforcing and replacing a few stones, little restoration work has been performed on the temples. The first site, Hagar Qim (www.sacred-destinations.com/malta/hagar-qim-temple), is the best-preserved of the ancient temples of Malta and, unlike the others, is a single temple rather than a temple complex. A short distance downhill is the Mnajdra Temple Complex (www.sacred-destinations.com/malta/mnajdra-temples), which consists of three temples built between 3600 and 2000 BC. The lower temple is astronomically aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. It is impressive that these sites are 1000 years older than the oldest pyramid in Egypt (Pharaoh Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara).
Our final activity at the temples was to take a nature trail to the Tal-Hamrija Tower, a watchtower constructed in 1659 by the Knights of Malta; there is also a nice view of a sea arch. We thought we might be able to catch the 11:37 a.m. #201 bus, but it must have been off schedule. This forced us to ignore the aggressive taxi drivers who insisted the next bus would not be along for quite a while. We finally caught the #71 bus at 12:06 p.m. and returned to the bus station in Valletta at about 1 p.m. If you decide to follow in our footsteps, it will take you about 6 hours RT from your ship. The bus drivers were helpful and will announce your stop if you ask them to do so when you get on the bus.
We spent the next couple of hours touring Valletta (www.choosemalta.com/en/tours/audio-tour-valletta.html). First we visited the Upper Barrakka Gardens, then the Lower Barrakka Gardens; both have excellent panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and the three cities on the other side of the harbor. From here, we walked to the remains of Fort Elmo, which fell during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565; the fort now houses the Police Academy and the National War Museum. We headed back into town on Republic Street, one of the main shopping streets. Although our port lecturer had said that the Grand Master's Palace and Armoury were closed for an official function, we were allowed to enter and take pictures in the courtyard. Today the palace is the seat of the President and Parliament of the Republic of Malta. Across from the palace is St George's Square, formerly a parking lot and now a pedestrianised square.
Eventually we reached Great Siege Square and the entrance to St. John's Co-Cathedral and Museum (www.stjohnscoCathedral.com/visitor-information.html); the entrance fee (4.60 euros pp for seniors) includes an audio guide. The Co-Cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is a Baroque extravaganza of gilded ornamentation. The chapels dedicated to the eight langues of the Order of the Knights of St. John, which line both sides of the nave, are equally ornate. The ceiling is lavishly painted with scenes from the life of St. John. It is the floor however, that makes the Co-Cathedral unique: it consists of the knights' tombstones inlaid with different colors of marble forming symbols and heraldic devices.
No pictures are allowed in the adjacent Oratory, which houses two works by Caravaggio: the huge altarpiece, the "Beheading of St John," and a smaller painting of "St. Jerome Writing". No photos are allowed in the various rooms of the Museum either. One room holds silk church vestments embroidered in silver and gold thread. Another room houses a collection of Flemish tapestries. Do not miss the room containing the Choral Books, which are gorgeously illuminated. A special treasure is the gilded bronze monstrance that was created as a reliquary for St. John's forearm. Suffering from Baroque overload, we exited into St. John Square, where we could view the church's rather austere facade. Finally, we returned to the ship for the dramatic, not-to-be-missed sail away past the walled fortresses on either side of the Grand Harbour.
Tonight the show was a comedian, Tony Daro. We had seen his show on the previous cruise and decided not to go again.
31 MAY (THU) AT SEA
After three straight port days, it was great to sleep in. Later in the morning, we attended the culinary demonstration and toured the galley. While we were waiting on the aft deck outside the Horizon Court before lunch, we saw dolphins frolicking in the wake of the ship. Lunch was the "Italian Extravaganza Luncheon Buffet." In addition to the buffet dishes (delicious pesto lasagna), there was a wonderful assortment of Italian cheeses and cold cuts. As usual, it was the dessert corner that thrilled John, but I succumbed to the temptation to indulge in some sweets as well. The pub lunch was also held today.
After lunch, there was time to read and relax on the Promenade Deck until the Princess Grapevine wine tasting, which is complimentary for Elite Captain's Circle members. We tasted five wines: 2 white, 2 red, and 1 dessert. Each person attending the wine tasting receives a souvenir shot glass with various Princess logo designs; we gave ours to Robert & Mary to help them start their collection.
This was the second formal night and again we shared our chocolate-covered strawberries with Robert & Mary; we accompanied the strawberries with a bottle of Maltese wine, which was a gift from one of the couples who participated in the Sorrento and Malta private tours. Tonight was also the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party. Based on the number of days for the third most-traveled passenger (only two more than we had), we must have been the fourth most traveled. This is the closest we have ever been to the top three! There were many more Elite members than on the Holy Land cruise, over 60. Tonight was also the production show "Do You Wanna Dance."
01 JUNE (FRI) CORFU, GREECE (ARRIVE 8:00AM DEPART 5:00PM)
John and I had been to Corfu once before in 2008 and found it easy to walk to all the sights in the Old City on our own (mappery.com/map-of/Corfu-Town-Map, www.corfu-kerkyra.eu/html/english/corfu.htm, www.frommers.com/destinations/corfu/1675010008.html). On our last visit, we obtained a "Municipality of Corfu Tour Guide" from the tourist office at the New Port. This fold-out brochure has several useful area maps and is an excellent resource; unfortunately, it is not yet available on the Municipality of Corfu web site (www.corfu.gr/web/guest/travelguide-corfu)
This time, Robert & Mary enjoyed the Old City while John and I did a walking tour of the archaeological and cultural sites in Paleopolis (Ancient Corfu/Corcyra/Kerkyra) around Mon Repos, just south of town on the Kanoni Peninsula. John and I started out by heading along the waterfront towards the Old City. Near the Ferry Terminal, we took the major street (Avramiou/I. Theotoki) that angles off to the right; this street passes between Avrami Hill and the back of the New Fortress. After about Â½ mile, you come to a square; take the main street (Alexandras) on the opposite side all the way to Garitsa Bay. The distance from the New Port to Garitsa Bay by this route is about 1.2 miles.
Just before you reach the waterfront, you may spot a small brown sign with yellow (Greek) and white (English) lettering that points you to the Funeral Monument of Menecrates; there is another sign at the waterfront if you miss that one. The same kind of sign marks all the places in the Paleopolis Archeological Site (www.yppo.gr/1/e1540.jsp?obj_id=51). Whichever way you go, the monument is about a block away in a residential area. This small circular stone monument is dedicated to Menecrates, a consul from mainland Greece who drowned in 600 BC; he is not actually buried here because his body was lost at sea. Although the monument itself is not very impressive, the 10-line epigraph on top is considered to be one of the most ancient inscriptions in Greece.
We continued walking on Dimokratias Street along Garitsa Bay until it made a Y with another large street (Nafsikas). We continued left on Nafsikas Street to the church of Ayios Athanassios at Anemomylos. This is site #5 on the five-site "Archaeological Tour of Byzantine Monuments of Palaiopolis" (www.antivouniotissamuseum.gr/index.php?option=com_flippingbook&view=book&id=4&lang=en); there is a large sign here explaining the site and a map showing all five sites on the tour. This 15th century church was built on the remains of a tower of the ancient (4th century BC) city walls; ruins of the tower are visible on the southeast wall of the church.
One block further on Iasonos and Sosipatrou Street is the church of Ayii Iason and Sosipater, site #4 on the Byzantine tour. This 11th century church is the most important Middle Byzantine monument on the island. The lower part of the external walls consists of stone blocks from the ruins of the ancient city and the marble columns inside were also salvaged from earlier buildings. The church was open, so we could view the remains of the original frescoes, painted between the 11th and 14th centuries, and the 18th century Baroque chancel screen.
Returning to Nafsikas Street, we found the Alkinoos Harbor Installations, part of the Paleopolis Archeological Site. The port of Alkinoos (the current Bay of Garitsa) was initially used for military purposes and excavations have revealed remains of the ancient naval base. The meager ruins at this site are the remains of 5th century BC ship sheds, which were designed to house and protect the fleet of Corfu.
Now we turned left on Nafsikas/E. Theotoki and continued to the entrance of the Mon Repos estate. Opposite the entrance is the most impressive ruin of the Paleopolis Archeological Site, the Early Christian Basilica of Saint Kerkyra; this is also site #3 on the Byzantine tour. The 5th century AD church was once one of the largest basilicas in Greece. Building materials and decorative elements were taken from surrounding buildings and temples, including marble from a Roman odeon. There are wooden walkways throughout the site, which is also strewn with scant remains from the Roman agora, but it is currently closed to the public.
Across the street from the Basilica are the remains of the Roman baths, which were built around 200 AD. This site is also closed to the public, but can be viewed through the wire fence. We waited to view this site until later. This point in the hike was approximately 2 miles from the New Port.
To reach the Monastery of Ayios Theodoros, site #2 on the Byzantine tour, continue up the main road towards Kanoni (watch out for traffic!) and turn right on a side road at the sign for "Stratia;" continue on to the monastery. This is working monastery and open to visitors, but we did not tour inside. Just to the east of monastery is another ruin in the Paleopolis Archeological Site, the Temple of Artemis. Almost all that remains of the 6th century BC temple is a rectangular altar and some scattered stones. The site is important because the island's most treasured archaeological find was discovered here: the Gorgon Pediment that is now kept in the Archaeological Museum. There are wooden walkways, but the site is closed to the public.
Further up the road near the cemetery is site # 1 on the Byzantine tour, Panayia Neradziha (also called the Tower of Nerantziha). This is the only part of the ancient wall of Corfu Town that is still present and is also the area of the ancient aqueduct. The tower is 6 meters high and dates from the 4th century BC. It only survived because it was built into the Byzantine Chapel of the Virgin Mary. There is a small shrine on one side of the wall.
At this point, we had seen everything on our tour except Mon Repos and it was still very early in the day. We decided to continue along the one-way circular road to the end of the Kanoni Peninsula (about 2.5 miles RT from the Mon Repos gate) in hopes of seeing more of the Paleopolis Archeological Site. We hiked the road in the counterclockwise direction; in retrospect, we should have walked in the other direction, against traffic. We chose to walk with traffic because we expected to find the remains of ceramics workshops and residences. However, we never saw any indication of where those ruins might be.
Finally, we reached the viewpoint at the tip of the Kanoni Peninsula. From here, we had great views of the Vlaherna Monastery (on a small island connected to the mainland by a cement dock) and Pontikonissi (Mouse Island), home to the Monastery of Pantocrator. According to local legend, Mouse Island is Odysseus' ship that was turned into rock by Poseidon; according to another legend, it is the rock on which Odysseus' ship crashed during a storm.
On the way back to Mon Repos, we decided to take a side road to the hamlet of Analypsi. The Ancient Acropolis of Corfu, with its temples and public buildings, is thought to have been situated on the nearby hill of Ayia Marina. When we reached the tiny roundabout in Analypsi, we were debating which way to go; a friendly local indicated we should go left. We found a parking lot overlooking the sea with great views of Corfu Town and the Old Fortress. We hoped to find a trail down to the Spring of Kardaki/Venetian Well. Popular legend says that a foreigner who drinks from this well forgets his native land and remains in Corfu forever. Not finding the trail, we returned to the roundabout and took the road to Ayia Marina. There is supposed to be a great view from the terrace of the church and possibly another trail to the spring. Unfortunately, the entire area around the church was fenced and padlocked.
Heading back down the hill, we took the road that runs along the boundary of Mon Repos instead of returning to the main road. This road has almost no traffic and is shaded; it took us right to the gate of the estate. We were also back at the ruins of the Roman baths and took this opportunity to view them before entering the estate. Admission to the Mon Repos park is free but there is a charge (2 euros pp) to visit the Mon Repos Villa.
The shady park was once home to the botanical gardens of the Ionian Academy. The evergreen gardens reportedly contain more than 2000 different kinds of plants, flowers and trees; most were donated by various royal families of Europe. Walking along the main path from the entrance gate, we saw the Agias Efimia Monastery on the left and a sign for the small open air theater. We came to the neo-classical Mon Repos Villa, which was formerly the summer house for the Greek royal family (Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was born there). Today it is the Paleopolis Archaeological Museum, but we did not go in because we planned to visit the Archaeological Museum of Corfu (which unfortunately was closed) later to see the Gorgon pediment from the Temple of Artemis. However, there are good views from the terraces surrounding the villa.
The first ruins we encountered were those of the Temple of Hera Akraia or the Heraeum (7th -- 4th century BC). Although little can be seen, this was once the largest and most important temple of the ancient city. Close to the sanctuary of Hera are the ruins of a small open-air shrine dedicated to Apollo the Corcyraean, the founder god of Corcyra (Corfu). These were followed by several other sites currently under excavation. Finally we reached the best preserved ancient temple in Corfu, the Temple of Kardaki. This temple, thought to be dedicated either to Poseidon, Apollo or Asclepius, was built around 500 BC. The remains include foundations, an internal altar and a few Doric columns; the front of the temple has fallen into the sea. The Kardaki Spring is supposed to be on the hillside below the temple next to the sea, but once again we could find no trace of a trail.
We decided to head back towards the villa and try another trail that went down to the Kardaki Beach. Before we reached the turnoff, we encountered Bob & Elaine (BobTroll) on their way to the Kardaki Temple. They had taken the public bus from the New Port to the viewpoint at the tip of the Kanoni Peninsula and from there to Mon Repos. They had toured the villa and told us the exhibits were quite interesting. We continued on to the beach, where there is a jetty. Walking out on the jetty, we could see the Old Fort and, along the shoreline in the opposite direction, the ruins marking the Kardaki Spring. It did not appear possible to reach the spring by walking along the seashore; as we left the beach, we saw a trail leading off to the left and followed that, but it circled back to the main path. At least we got to see where the spring is and it was fun searching for it.
As we exited the Mon Repos estate, we turned right and followed the coastline to the Anemomilos pier. "Anemomilos" means windmill and there is a reconstructed windmill by the pier. We walked out to the end of the pier for fine views of Garitsa Bay and the Old Fortress. After that, we enjoyed a walk along the bay to the Archeological Museum of Corfu, home to the famous Gorgon Pediment and other finds from Paleopolis. To our disappointment, the museum had closed the previous month for renovations and will not reopen until 2015. We continued on, turning inland at the Splanada. We walked about halfway down the Splanada before turning left in the direction of the New Fortress; from there we headed back to the New Port. I estimate that we walked close to 10 miles, most of it fairly level.
The sail away from Corfu offered good views of both fortresses and the Old City. The show tonight was a different performance by Christopher Riggins (the "popera" guy); John went with me this time and we were rewarded with a very good show.
02 JUNE (SAT) KOTOR, MONTENEGRO (ARRIVE 8:00AM DEPART 5:00PM)
Kotor (www.kotor.travel) is at the end of a 17-mile waterway through the Montenegrin mountains. Although some people refer to this as Europe's southernmost fjord, it was not caused by glacial activity; it is actually a submerged river valley. Nevertheless, the effect is fjord-like, with mountains rising dramatically on both sides of a long, thin bay that leads to the medieval walled city of Kotor.
None of the four of us had ever visited Kotor. John & I planned to climb the city walls to the Fortress of Kotor (AKA Fortress of St. Ivan/St. John) early in the morning and then take a self-guided walking tour of the Old City. Robert & Mary decided to start later and explore the Old City first before climbing partway up the walls.
The ship docked just down the street from the main gate to the Old City, the West Gate (Sea Gate). There is a Tourist Information Office right outside the Sea Gate, where we picked up a free map. The helpful young lady on duty marked the route to the fortress on it; it is easier to hike up starting from the northern entrance to the walls. We went through the Sea Gate into Kotor's main square, Trg od Oruzja (Arms Square), and turned left. Taking the first alley on the right, we continued to the back of the town to the North Gate (River Gate). We went out through the River Gate and across the arched bridge over the Skurda River to get some nice photos of the city walls and the fortress on the mountainside above us.
We crossed back into the Old City and looked for the sign (skydrive.live.com/?cid=1E98E90214E77BF9&id=1E98E90214E77BF9!1805&sc=photos) indicating the main entrance to the walls. Above the entrance, there is an interesting old (1760) arch between Grubonja Palace and another building; it carries a medallion with the winged lion of St. Mark and the Latin inscription: "Regia munitae rupis via" (The main road to the fortress on the hill). The ticket seller is further along the stairs to the fortress. Some people are surprised that there is a fee to climb the walls and think that the ticket seller is running a scam. However, there actually is a 3 euro pp charge and you should receive a ticket (kupon) with a drawing of the Old City and the fortress as they looked in 1598; the ticket doubles as a post card. The ticket seller can also give you a free map of the walls; we had to ask for it.
The hike up to the fortress (260 meters or 853 feet above sea level) involves climbing approximately 1350 steep, uneven steps. As already mentioned, the trail from the main (north) entrance is in better shape than the one from the south entrance. For much of the hike, there is a ramp next to the steps which is often easier to climb than the steps themselves. Beware of loose stones and don't attempt the climb when the steps are wet and slippery; hiking boats are not essential but wear sturdy shoes that protect your feet and have good traction.
Although the map shows several alternative routes to the top and some side trails, most of those are roped off or so overgrown that there is no doubt about which is the main trail. You also know you are on the right path when you spot one of the hot-pink garbage bags set out as trash receptacles. As you climb, the views of the Old City and the "fjord" just keep getting better and better. The wildflower display was also gorgeous. After about 20 minutes, we reached the Crkva Gaspe od Zdravlja (Church of Our Lady of Remedy), built in 1572 by the survivors of a plague. There is a semi-circular stone seat in front of the chapel where you can rest and take in the spectacular vistas. The chapel is approximately halfway to the top and many people turn around here.
After the chapel, the trail becomes more rugged. Eventually, we came to a series of fortifications and had fun clambering around every place we could find a trail or stairway. At one point, there is a hole in the rampart through which we could see the Ladder of Cattaro, an ancient caravan trail that zigzags up the mountain. If you like, you can climb through the hole and down to a small ruined chapel; we did not do that. Finally, we reached the fortress itself. There is a rickety metal bridge at the entrance; we held onto the handrails and walked across on the central girder. We then passed through a two-story section (the upper floor looked totally unsafe) to emerge at the top of the fortress. The views from the top were breathtaking! It took us about an hour to go from the entrance to the walls to the flag at the top, even with all the sidetracking.
As we started down, we encountered several other CC roll call members coming up: Bob & Elaine (BobTroll), Sue & Bill (agelessgram) and Randy & Janet (RockNRoller). Again, the map shows several other ways to descend but they are roped off or overgrown. When we reached the intersection with the trail from the south entrance, we went that way. This path is in worse condition as the one from the northern starting point; the steps are more irregular and steep. We also encountered a snake, which was fortunately more afraid of us than we were of him and it slithered away quickly. We continued well past the side trail to the south entrance, hoping to reach some of the other bastions and fortifications. However, the trail became more and more overgrown and (remembering the snake) we decided to leave the walls and explore the Old City.
The southern entrance leads to Trg od Salate (Salad Square). We exited the square by the street on the left (Craftsmen Street); which has a number of souvenirs shops; I found a small Montenegrin flag along there. We continued to the city's South Gate (Gurdic Gate), which is the oldest remaining gate, and walked out on the drawbridge across the Gurdic Spring for more good photos of the walls. After passing back through the gate, we found some stairs up to the Gurdic Bastion; the top of the bastion was strung with clotheslines festooned with drying laundry.
We followed Craftsmen Street across town towards the River Gate, to Trg od Drva (Timber Square). This square is home to St Mary's Church (Sveta Marija Koledjate), which has a bronze door depicting the story of Kotor's patron saint, the Blessed Ozana. The next square west is St. Luke's Square, dominated by the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas (Sveti Nikola); the much smaller Basilica of St. Luke (Sveti Luka) is on the opposite corner. At one time Sveti Luka was shared by the Catholic and Orthodox communities, with each having its own altar, until the first half of the 19th century; the Catholic altar is no longer there. From here we proceeded to Museum Square, passing a small courtyard that contains the Karampana, Kotor's only public well; this wrought iron contraption looks a bit like a small oil rig. Museum Square is the location of the Maritime Museum (housed in the Grgurina Palace), which showcases Kotor's rich maritime history.
Finally, we reached St Tryphon's Square, site of the old Town Hall, the Town Archives, Drago Palace, the Bishop's Palace and Kotor's most famous attraction, St. Tryphon Basilica-Cathedral (Sveti Tripuna). The entrance fee to the Cathedral and its museum is 2 euros pp. There is an ornate marble canopy, supported by red marble columns and topped with a gold-winged angel, over the main altar. The silver and gold altarpiece depicts many saints, including St. Tryphon who is holding the city of Kotor. Next to the altar are the partial remains of an early fresco of the Crucifixion. Four side-altars contain such treasures as a Venetian painting of the Virgin Mary encased in silver. The museum upstairs displays many relics of St. Tryphon and other saints, illuminated manuscripts and sacramental paraphernalia. The two sections of the museum are connected by a loggia between the Cathedral's two towers, which gives fine views of the square. As we left the Cathedral, we encountered a marching band; the members appeared to be wearing naval white-dress uniforms. It paraded all through the town playing such Montenegrin favorites as "When the Saints Go Marching In."
We walked down the street by the Town Hall to Trg od Brashna (Flour Square), where you can see the Pima Palace and several other former palaces of Kotor's most powerful families. We headed back to the Maritime Museum with thoughts of visiting it. However, a large tour group had just entered and we didn't want to join the crowd. Instead, we headed back to the Square of Arms, where the marching band was now playing. We also took some time to look at the buildings surrounding the square, which we had rushed though earlier. In addition to a few more palaces, it is home to the Clock Tower, the City Theatre and a Venetian Arsenal (with the lion of St. Mark on the side). After we watched the marching band squeeze through an alley only wide enough for two people side-by-side, we exited through the Sea Gate and returned to the ship to relax before the sail away.
Although we had gotten up early to see the dramatic sail in through the mountains bordering the Bay of Kotor, it was a bit foggy that morning. By the time we sailed out in the afternoon, it was clearer and we could get much better views and photos of this gorgeous scenery. As we sailed through the bay, we passed several picturesque villages. Finally we reached the mouth of the inner bay, near the town of Perast, where there are two small islands. The green island is Gospa od Shkrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock), an artificial island built by fishermen from Perast on the spot where an icon of the Virgin Mary was found after a shipwreck. When they returned from each successful voyage, they tossed a rock into the bay and gradually an island formed. The other island is St. George, home to a Benedictine monastery. After reaching these islands, the ship made a 90-degree turn into the narrow Verige Strait and passed into a wider, outer section of the bay. From there we sailed into the Adriatic Sea, headed for Venice.
Tonight Robert & Mary joined us for dinner at Sabatini's, the Italian extra-charge restaurant (www.princess.com/learn/onboard/food_dining/specialty_restaurants/sabatinis/index.html); dinner here is always special. I had two appetizers (seared tuna, soft shell crab), a small serving of the Chef's Nightly Specialty pasta, a main course (lobster three ways), and dessert. The show tonight was "Magical Showtime" by Bobby Borgia. John and I had seen his performance earlier in the cruise and decided we did not need to see him again.
03 JUNE (SUN) KORCULA, CROATIA (ARRIVE 7:00AM DEPART 2:00PM) TENDER
Korcula was another port that was new to all four of us. I had considered booking an independent wine tour here, but they were prohibitively expensive. Instead, we opted for the ship's tour, "Peljesac Wines & Vineyards." Several friends who had intended to join us on the tour canceled because the ship's departure time was changed from 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.; they felt they would not have enough time to visit the Old Town after the tour. Robert & Mary were among those who opted to explore the medieval walled city on their own.
Our tour left the ship at 7:45 a.m. and tendered to shore, where we boarded a boat to Orebic on the Peljesac Peninsula (www.find-croatia.com/peljesac/peljesac-map.htm). From Orebic, we traveled by bus to the seaside village of Trstenik. Our first stop was at the Vinarija Grgic (www.vinskiputidnz.com/grgic.html), which was established in 1996 by Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate in the Napa Valley, California. Here we tasted wines made from the two local grapes, Posip (white) and Plavac mali (red). These wines are made to appeal to Croatian tastes and most of the production (about 5,000 cases per year) is sold domestically. The winery also sells wines from Grgich Hills Estate. The products of both wineries tend to be priced at the premium level in their respective countries.
Our next stop was in Prizdrina at the Vinarija Bartulovic (www.vinarijabartulovic.hr/index.php?lang=en), a much smaller and older (480 years) operation. Like Grgic, Bartuvolic produces red and white wines from the local grapes. After a short lecture on the wines, we adjourned to the family's taverna, located in the old wine cellar. There we enjoyed a light lunch of sliced tomatoes with marinated fresh anchovies, lentil soup, homemade bread, cheese and black olives, served with glasses of their white and red wines. Those who wanted could return to the modern winery to taste the winery's rose and single-vineyard red. Several other people wanted to taste the rose, but we were the only ones interested in tasting the single-vineyard red. However, we decided that the blended-vineyard red was more to our taste, so we bought a bottle of that as a souvenir.
Although our tour was scheduled to end at 1:00 p.m., we actually returned to Korcula at 12:25 p.m. This gave us just over an hour to explore the Old Town (mappery.com/Korcula-Tourist-Map-2, www.apartments-vela-luka.com/korcula.asp, www.korculainfo.com/places/korcula) before catching the last tender back to the ship. We took the staircase up to the Tower of the Sea Gate and continued up to Cathedral Square. From there, we went around the corner to view the Marco Polo house. Although the house is being renovated as a museum, the tower is open and reportedly gives great views over the city. However, the admission fee can only be paid in kunas (Croatia will convert to the euro in 2019), so we did not go in. We returned to the Cathedral of St. Mark and toured that (free). Having visited the two main sights, we walked around the town, viewing the other gates and towers and visiting several more churches. There were only a few passengers on the last tender and we were all aboard by 1:30 p.m.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading on the Promenade Deck until the "Most Travelled Passengers" event for the 40 people with the most days sailing on Princess. Usually, this event is a luncheon held in Sabatini's. This time the event was a cocktail party with heavy hors d'oeuvres in the Library. Although the party was nice, it really didn't compare with the luncheon we had on the last cruise. Considering the number of other events that the Food Services Department is able to produce with aplomb, it seems surprising that a luncheon for 40 people cannot be organized on every cruise.
Tonight we enjoyed the final production show, "Motor City." I have heard that this show is being retired after this year.
04 JUNE (MON) VENICE, ITALY (ARRIVE 9:00AM)
After arriving in so many ports late, the Pacific Princess docked in Venice much earlier than scheduled. We planned to be out on deck by 8:00 a.m. for the sail-in, but when we awoke at 7:00 a.m., we could see St. Mark's Square drifting past our window. We hurriedly dressed and were able to enjoy part of the sail-in.
John and I have been to Venice twice before, but this would be the first visit for Robert & Mary. We would be flying home tomorrow after an overnight on the ship, while they would be spending two extra nights in Venice. When John and I visited here in 1998, we were able to do most of the walking tours at this site: www.en.tuttivolivenezia.it/venice-itineraries.html. On our second visit in 2008, we revisited some of our favorite sights and some of the ones that were closed on our first visit. If you are thinking of doing these walking tours, get a good map of Venice before you leave home and mark off the routes in different colors. On this visit, I wanted to tour some of the islands in the lagoon (Murano, Burano and Torcello) by vaporetto (water bus); Robert & Mary decided to join us because they would have another two days to explore the rest of Venice on their own.
Princess runs a water shuttle back and forth from the cruise terminal to the Victor Emmanuel II monument near Piazza San Marco; it does not travel on the Grand Canal. The ticket is automatically delivered to your cabin and charged to your onboard account. If you want ride up and down the Grand Canal or visit other islands in the lagoon, the vaporettos are much more flexible. Detailed information on riding the vaporettos can be found here: europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/venice-vaporetto-water-buses.htm. If you decide to use the vaporetto system instead of the Princess water shuttle be sure to (1) return the shuttle ticket to the Tour Desk for a refund, (2) print out a map of the vaporetto routes (www.actv.it/pdf/navigazione/Mappa_linee_2nov.pdf) before you leave home and (3) remember to validate your pass/ticket EVERY time you board a vaporetto.
We had to collect our passports before leaving the ship and present them to the Italian authorities on the dock. There is supposedly a shuttle bus from the dock to the Venice People Mover (europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/venice-people-mover.htm), which is just outside the port entrance. However, we never saw a bus until after we had walked to the People Mover; this was the only time we ever saw a shuttle bus at the port. It is easy to use the ticket machines for the People Mover (1 euro pp) and a very short ride to Piazzale Roma. We bought our 12-hour vaporetto passes (18 euros pp) at the ACTV/ATVO ticket office and headed for the vaporetto stop, near the pedestrian bridge to the train station.
For our tour of the Venetian lagoon, I was using the suggested itinerary from this web site: europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/venice-islands-tour. We started by taking the 9:20 a.m. ACTV line #3 "Diretto Murano" boat, which runs every 1/2 hour; the ride to the "Murano Colonna" stop takes 21 minutes. Just before reaching Murano, we passed S. Michele Island on the right. This is Venice's cemetery island and many famous artists are interred here.
Murano is known as the glass-making island. The industry had its beginnings on Torcello in the 7th or 8th century; production later shifted to Venice, where it remained concentrated until the fornaci or furnaces were moved to the island of Murano as a fire-prevention measure in 1291. As we exited the vaporetto stop, we turned left and walked along the water until we saw the Calle S. Cipriano street sign. Just ahead was the Vetreria Murano Arte factory (www.vma-murano.it/html_en/home.asp), which offers a free glassmaking demonstration about every 20 minutes. Of course, you exit through the showroom where you can admire the beautiful and expensive glassware. There are many other factories that offer free demonstrations.
After the demonstration, we returned to the vaporetto stop and turned left on Fondamenta dei Vetrai. This street is lined with shops selling glass in a wide range of prices and quality. Much of the cheap glass sold here is made in China; if you want authentic Murano glass, look for the "Vetro Murano Artistico" trademark. Although Murano boasts a glass museum, the Museo Del Vetro, we enjoyed simply admiring the pieces in the windows of the more upscale galleries and the large works of public art made from glass.
We continue walking until we came to the Church of St. Peter Martyr (free). This church has work by such artists as Bellini, Tintoretto and Veronese. Many of this art came from other churches that were closed or demolished. When we reached the Murano Grand Canal, we turned left along the canal to the Palazzo da Mula, formerly a summer retreat for a Venetian family. Land was at less of a premium on Murano, so a palazzo like this one could include large gardens, which were otherwise rare in Venice. A glimpse of the gardens can be had from a side street.
Now we returned to the bridge over the Grand Canal, the Vivarini Bridge also called the "Long Bridge." Turning right along the waterfront, we passed the Glass Museum and proceeded to San Donato Square. The church here is Murano's cathedral, Santa Maria and Donato Church (free). A unique feature of the church is the exterior of its apse, which is built in two levels of columns connected by arches; the top level is a gallery. Inside the church is a beautiful polychrome mosaic floor. The high altar contains the remains of St. Donatus. He supposedly slew a dragon by spitting at it; four of its bones hang behind the altar.
We walked around a bit more before ending up at the "Murano Faro" stop to board the 11:19 a.m. ACTV Line #12 boat to Burano. This boat runs every 1/2 hour; the ride to the Burano stop takes 33 minutes. Although it passes a number of other islands on the way, the boat only stops at Mazzorbo before reaching Burano; the two islands are also linked by a footbridge, which is close to the Burano stop.
Burano's canals are lined with the brightly colored homes of the local fisherman. While waiting for their husbands to return from sea, the wives of fishermen developed a method of making lace by stitching through a design drawn on paper. It takes seven women, each specializing in a particular stitch, to produce one piece of lace. This is very time-consuming and tedious work; a large piece can take years to complete and is very expensive. Although the local government attempts to keep its centuries-old lace legacy alive, there is little interest among young people in learning the craft. As its current practitioners age, more and more lace is being made by machine using the traditional designs.
As we left the Burano stop, we headed left, enjoying the colorful houses and looking for a way to cross the canal. Once across the canal, we continued heading left to Piazza Galuppi. On the left of the square is the Lace Museum, the Museo del Merletto, which was closed on Monday. Fortunately, a few of the lace shops were offering free demonstrations; the woman we saw stitching was said to be the youngest remaining lacemaker and she is 60 years old. In addition to the showroom, the shop we visited (Dalla Olga Merletti d'Arte, www.olgalace.com) had its own museum: two floors displaying an impressive collection of new and antique lace designs.
We had planned to visit two other buildings on the square: the Oratory of Santa Barbara and the Church of San Martino Vescovo, but these were closed for siesta and would not reopen for two hours. However, we enjoyed browsing the shops, strolling along the streets and savoring gelato so much that we spent an extra half-hour here before returning to the Burano stop to catch the next vaporetto to Torcello. We still had a few minutes before it was due to leave, so we walked across the wooden footbridge to Mazzorbo for a brief glimpse of that island.
We returned to the Burano stop to board the 1:05 p.m. ACTV Line #9 boat to Torcello. This boat runs back and forth to Torcello every 1/2 hour; the ride takes 5 minutes. All of the sights on Torcello are on the opposite side of the island from the vaporetto stop, so you must allow at least a full hour for your visit.
Torcello was the first of the lagoon islands to be inhabited and was once the largest and most important settlement in the Venetian Lagoon; today only a few dozen innkeepers, farmers, and other hardy souls live on the largely abandoned island. As we walked toward the main attraction, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, we passed the Devil's Bridge, Ponte del Diavolo. This bridge is one of the few remaining in Venice that has no railings.
Eventually we reached Torcello's unpaved main square. A white marble seat, popularly known as Attila's Throne, was more likely once used by Torcello's bishop. Bordering the square are the Council Palace and the Archives' Palace, which together constitute the Archaeological Museum (closed Monday). On the right side of Torcello square is the first building in Torcello's church complex, the Santa Fosca Church, which dates from the 11th century. The remains of St. Fosca are on display in an illuminated case under the altar; on the exterior of the church is an early 15th century bas-relief of "St. Fosca Being Worshipped by Her Confreres."
The next building is the 7th century Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral of Torcello. The ruined circular building in front was a baptistery, part of the original building. To enter the basilica, you must buy a ticket (5 euros pp) at the gift shop on the right of the entrance; the ticket is a sheet of paper that you present at the ticket office. The cathedral is famous for its outstanding 11th- to 12-century Byzantine mosaics, which cover the floor, walls and ceiling. The Bell Tower is reputed to have great panoramic views but it is closed due to instability and covered in scaffolding; actually, it looks like it could fall down any minute. We searched for the oratory to St Mark which is supposed to be near the church, but weren't sure whether we found it (no signage).
On the way back to the vaporetto stop, the rain that had been threatening all day finally started. However, there is a covered area where we waited for the 2:10 p.m. boat back to Burano. From there we caught the 2:26 p.m. ACTV Line #12 boat to Fondamenta Nove. This boat runs every 1/2 hour; the ride takes 42 minutes.
From Fondamenta Nove, we walked over to the Rialto Bridge and then checked out Robert & Mary's hotel (www.hotelbecher.com), which is very well located near the Piazza San Marco. Although the hotel has its own water taxi stop, I had suggested that using the Alilaguna service (www.alilaguna.com/en/linea-blu) and walking to its stop might be a more cost-effective way to get to the hotel (and later the airport) for Robert & Mary. To determine whether this was feasible, we next walked to the nearby San Marco Alilaguna stop (just west of Piazza San Marco); this turned out to be a good alternative for them.
Next we walked over to Piazza San Marco to find the spot mentioned in Budget Travel (www.budgettravel.com/slideshow/photos-5-beautiful-reasons-to-love-venice,7930/#pic=1), where five bridges (including the famous Bridge of Sighs) can be photographed at once. The directions are "walk north from Piazza San Marco and then east on the Calle Larga di San Marco to the other side of the Ponte dell'Anzolo Bridge."
After a little more strolling, we took the ACTV Line #2 boat from the "S. Marco -- S. Zaccaria" stop along the Grand Canal towards the cruise terminal. Although it was still raining, we got seats on the back of the vaporetto and had some great views of the bridges and palazzos as we motored along. Instead of getting off at the "Piazzale Roma" stop and taking the People Mover back to the cruise terminal area, we decided to get off at the next stop "Mercato," which is on Tronchetto. At first we thought we had made a big mistake; we were the only people who exited at this stop and there were chain link fences everywhere. However, we could see the street a short distance away and walked over to it. On our right was a bridge (with sidewalks) that took us over a small canal and deposited us right across the street from the People Mover shuttle bus stop (no bus). From there, we still had to walk back to the ship. I think we ended up walking the same total distance as if we had taken the People Mover, but we did not have to wait or pay for the People Mover.
We had to show our passports in order to reboard the ship. Back onboard, we had the sad duty of packing up our belongings for our flight home tomorrow. At diner, our Headwaiter (Rui) surprised all four of us with escargot; he had noticed how much we enjoyed them on French Night and had already brought us (unasked) some on another night. Among many other services, Rui had been particularly helpful in having my lost wine card replaced and making a special Caesar Salad for us. He was the most exceptional Headwaiter we have had in a long time and more than deserving of an extra tip from us.
05 JUNE (TUE) VENICE, ITALY (DISEMBARKATION)
Today was a beautiful sunny day. We all arranged to disembark the ship with the last group of independent passengers. After a leisurely breakfast and cappuccino, we went to the Cabaret Lounge and waited awhile there before disembarking. We collected our luggage and walked to the main terminal building. Robert & Mary headed to the Alilaguna ticket booth, while John and I continued on to the People Mover; again there was no sign of a shuttle bus.
Once at the Piazzale Roma, we bought our ticket for the ATVO Airport Bus (5 euros pp) at the ACTV/ATVO ticket office and headed for the bus stop, in the middle of the Piazzale Roma. Note that there is a luggage compartment under the bus, but the driver does not help you to stow your bags. We caught the 10:50 a.m. bus and were at Marco Polo (FCO) Airport about 20 minutes later. Do not head directly into the terminal; the entrance to the escalator/elevator going up to the departure area is near the middle of the terminal building.
We checked in quickly, went through security and settled in to wait for our 1:10 p.m. flight. One problem with this airport is that you cannot hear the boarding announcements unless you are seated very close to the desk at the gate; only final departure announcements are made loud enough to hear elsewhere. There are signs at the gate that say when a flight is boarding, but not which group is boarding; the gate agent was just holding up fingers to indicate the group. When our flight started boarding, most of the passengers jumped up and got in line. Apparently the gate agents were boarding by group, because people were being turned away and made to wait to board. We finally gave in and got in line; by the time we reached the gate, our group was boarding.
The flight to JFK was uneventful, but immigration at JFK was a zoo. The rope maze had not been set up properly and two long lines of people (coming from opposite directions) were being funneled into the same line. Tempers flared when a rope was placed in front of our long line and we were all told to go to the end of the other long line. This was not the only place at JFK where we encountered poor crowd management. Eventually we made it through immigration and customs, rechecked our bags and found the gate for our flight home.
The flight to RDU was delayed by over an hour, but we still had time left on our 30-day Delta Skyclub pass. The lounge was a nice place to catch up on e-mail and to have some snacks and a couple of drinks. Despite the delay, we arrived at RDU only a little later than originally scheduled. Now would begin the long process of getting back to our normal lives, organizing photos, writing reviews and planning our next wonderful cruise with Princess.