Perfect in Almost Every Way
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
This cruise is perhaps the ultimate cruise experience...with some exceptions. Learn from our efforts and mistakes. Fair warning: This is a VERY port-intensive cruise!
The Silhouette stayed in Venice for two days prior to setting sail. This was wonderful but despite the fact that we arrived a day earlier, that was not enough time to enjoy this incredible city. Spend at least four days in Venice.
Sail away was incredible! Either get a cabin on the port side of the ship or secure a place on the port side top deck. There before you are all of the treasures of this city you've just become acquainted. (I will do ports later.)
While exploring the ship on sail away day we made it up to the Sunset Bar and found Ansel Williams, a very personable young man from Jamaica. After receiving the drink of the day we continued our tour forward and were immediately accosted by Maria from the lawn Club Grill. Maria can accost me anytime. She led us in and showed us all More
around this unique dining experience. When she offered 2 for 1 deal this night only, we couldn't resist! The entire staff of the Lawn Club Grill must be picked for their wonderful personalities. Make the Lawn Club Grill a top priority. After getting together with CC friends, 20 of us returned later in the cruise and many said it was a highlight! 5+ Stars for the Lawn Club Grill and their staff.
The ship is very well laid out and although full, we never felt the least bit crowded. Our cabin 7309 was the ultimate save for the pole positioned right next to my side of the bed. Located all the way aft on the port side, we couldn't have asked for anything better. The deck was a partial wrap-around giving almost a 270 degree view of everything. Located aft, motion sickness was never a problem even though my wife is prone to the malaise. The design of the ship appears to be the key with an aft-mounted, longitudinal stabilizer. I called it a swim platform but instead it serves a vital role in stabilizing the forward to aft pitching common in other ships. Sebastian our "butler" was exceptional as was Joaquim our room steward. I'd book the same or similar cabin in a heartbeat. When people ask where our cabin was located, we just told them we were the "left turn signal" for the ship. That says it all.
The entertainment was very good. The last stage production was the best which offset the boring stage production a few nights before. When Celebrity accommodated and produced their own version of the Cirque' shows, they bought a winner.
We did "select" dining which is the same as "anytime" dining. With 20 CC friends, reservations and waiting seemed to be fairly common. We were accommodated as rapidly as possible and the staff was accommodating and very pleasant. Over time, all 20 of us did our own thing which mainly involved specialty restaurants.
The Lawn Club Grill was our favorite and yet it wasn't something we would do on a nightly basis.
Blu was wonderful. We had friends that booked Aqua Class and they ate at Blu almost every night. We were fortunate enough to be invited to join them. As "Suite" passengers we could eat at Blu for a $5 cover charge. Aqua Class passengers use Blu as their dining venue. Blu deserves 5 Stars as well
The Tuscan Grill: Oh my! Come hungry and pace yourself. The food is phenomenal and plentiful. Located all the way aft on deck 5, the vista is something not to be missed. While dining we watched dolphins frolicking in the waves. The service was perfect in every way but there was way too much to sample before the main course arrived. I would give the Tuscan Grill 4+ Stars.
Murano: If you like your food to be "presented" then this is the place for you. Personally I don't like a production being made when the food is delivered but that is just me. The food was good but a little too high-class for my liking. I think the food needs to be the product and not the servers. I wouldn't return to Murano. I give it 3 High Class Stars.
Q-Sine: Over-rated and over-hyped. I was so looking forward to ordering my meal on an iPad! What fun! For a large group (we had 10), it is majority rules. You all order what you would like to see presented and eight dishes with the majority votes are what are brought to your table. If you do Q-Sine, do it with the one you love and no one else. The eclectic food was okay but nothing I would ever return to, even if the evening was free. Here's a very helpful hint: If you are seated on one of their black chairs, request a change immediately! Stick with the white high-back chairs. The black chairs could cause blood clots to form because of the structure on the back of your legs. Two of us could barely walk out of the restaurant because of the pain on the back of our legs. I'd close Q-Sine down or restructure the venue completely. I'd give this 1 Star only because I had to give it something.
Every contact we made with services on board the ship were beyond compare.
The iLounge: Whether you are a MAC or PC person, make friends with the folks at the iLounge. While they sell out of iPads within three hours of receiving their stock, if you already have an iPad, Richard Shillington is amazing with his knowledge and abilities. His classes are so worthwhile and yet the only one I could take, because of port tours was the one day at sea. If you have the opportunity, attend his classes.
The photo shop on board has some good deals on cameras, sometimes cheaper than you can find at some of the big-box stores in the States. I was trying to decide between two different cameras. After talking to one of the ship's photographers, on his own, lead me in the right direction and saved me a significant amount of money on a better camera.
My room key did get demagnetized once during the cruise. The process was painless and done efficiently.
EMBARKATION AND DISEMBARKATION:
Fast and efficient coming and going: Only one other cruise does it better and not by much.
VENICE: Spend four days at a minimum. Buy a 72-hour vaparetto pass and a few WC cards in advance! The vaparetto system is actually very good and so much fun, even when it is standing room only! The WC (water closet) tickets are essential. We bought way too many and ended up giving most of them away. We stayed at the Best Western Olimpia hotel just 300 feet from P. Roma, the major transport hub for Venice. The steps are a real killer for heavy bags but the close proximity to the ship and P. Roma makes it all worthwhile.
The only ships tour we took was to Murano and Burano, both worthwhile destinations.
RAVENNA, ITALY: We walked of a mile off the ship, found a gentleman with poor command of the English language to sell us tickets across the canal and onto a public bus right next to the docking area. The bus ride was long and never less than over-full. We were dropped off in the city center and left to our devices to find the sites. After an hour of finding our way around we found our destination, saw the mosaics and then needed to find our way back to the bus terminal. The mosaics in Ravenna are fascinating when you consider the intricate detail and when these were created. It was our fault for not knowing how to ask for directions in Italian. Lesson learned. It wasn't the best port and perhaps a ship's tour would have been better.
KOPER, SLOVENIA: The real attraction here is Lake Bled and Ljubljana over 90 minutes away but well worth the effort. We did a private tour and were treated to a wonderful Brit who married a Slovak and set up permanent residence in this beautiful country. Unfortunately it rained about 90% of the time we were off the ship and the Alps were not seen.
SPLIT, CROATIA: Split and Dubrovnik were the reason we took this cruise. Split was okay with a major emphasis on cruise ship passengers, hence tourist stalls. I really wanted to see inside Diocletian's Palace right on the quay where the tenders dock; they only accept Croatian Kuna. While Euros are accepted everywhere else, plan on getting Kuna prior to cruising or on board at guest services. I failed to do that and thus missed a tremendous opportunity. The walk around the port was like many other ports visited with vendors blocking the view of history. I'm sure there is much more to see. We just didn't do this port the right way.
DUBROVNIK, CORATIA: Wow! Take the shuttle into the old town as it drops you right at the main entrance to the walled city. Once through the thick wall, make an immediate right and then about 30 feet turn right to a small alcove to buy tickets for the right to walk along the wall. It seems that no matter the entrance to the wall, the steps are significant and narrow.
HINTS: Go first thing in the morning. The heat can be significant later in the day. Plan on about 2 ÃÂ½ to 3 hours for walking the entire length of the wall. Take water with you and don't forget your camera. This is so worthwhile.
Upon returning to ground level we hired cabs for a private tour to the top of the hill overlooking the city. (The cable car is okay but more expensive and we would have missed out on a lot of the recent history of the city.) The cab drivers didn't speak much English but we got the point. If you have time, they will offer you a side-trip to Cavtat. If you have more than an hour free time, do it, otherwise the time is way too short to truly enjoy this peaceful seaside resort town.
KOPER, SLOVENIA: We were supposed to take a sailing trip on the Monty B. but that got cancelled due to forecasted thunderstorms (it never rained). Instead we walked the walled city but didn't see anything spectacular. There were however some quaint churches and decent shops with decent vendors. Our friends did walk the 1347 steps up to the fort above the city and said that was well worthwhile. The pictures they brought back attest to that. It is however a strenuous hike and not many make it all the way to the top. Another couple took a cab from the port along the northwest coast of the bay and saw several sights worthy of a repeat visit. The cruise in and out on the ship is very nice as well. This is southern most fjord in Europe and well worth being on deck or an aft facing cabin.
BARI, ITALY: We hired a cab to take us to the Truilli homes in Alberello. From what we could understand from our driver, he also has a pilot's license. Now I know why. We literally flew about 90 miles out to this location. At one point I tried to put on my seatbelt and he said, "no, no, no. Not necessary." Now I see why; if we were involved in a crash at the speeds he was driving, seatbelts, airbags, or a paramedic on scene would do you no good. It was best to just close my eyes and pray. The buildings were still fascinating and the vendors not at all pushy.
CORFU, GREECE: We rented cars along with several other couples. If you don't have a GPS, make sure you take a good map and navigator. We drove to the west side of the island, took a grotto tour, drove up the side of a mountain and ate on top before returning to the ship. There remains a lot of history on the island that we missed but we still had a good time with many friends.
VALLETA, MALTA: Before going to Malta read, The Siege of Malta and in the Bible, about Paul's shipwreck on the island of Malta. Both will be very helpful in understanding the history of this incredible island-nation. One bit of warning; one day is not enough! This is an island worth visiting for probably a minimum of four days. We hired a driver and a tour guide to take us to specific sites on Malta and we were not disappointed. There is a HOHO bus (Hop On Hop Off) that has three different routes you can take around portions of the island. Perhaps the best is a private tour or a ship's tour with constant narration.
MESSINA, SICILY: Our tour to Taormina and Castlemola were done independent of the ship. We could have done better. Keep in mind that if you intend to see Castlemola a smaller vehicle is required. Taormina is an old walled city with multiple shops and a few historic sites from the Greek occupation era. Castlemola is a town perched high on a hill with good views of Mt. Etna and many good restaurants. We should have done something different but I'm not sure what if any. Just two blocks west of the cruise terminal was perhaps the best tourist attraction we saw in the form of the "World Clock Tower".
NAPLES, ITALY: We booked a private tour for six via AP Tours. This is the only way to go! We were in a smaller vehicle, able to navigate the narrow roads along the Amalfi Coast. The ship's busses can only go one way while the smaller vehicles tend to go the opposite way to avoid the crowds and inevitable traffic jams caused by the larger busses. Our driver even drove us to the ferry terminal in Sorrento and walked with us to the ferry which docked next to the ship. The day was wonderful.
ROME, ITALY: Despite what most people told us about Rome, it is not possible to walk to all of the major attractions without putting much stress and strain on your legs and feet. Granted there are some sites clustered together such as the Coliseum, The Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are a reasonable walk. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish steps are also reasonably close to one another. Make sure you have a means of getting from one cluster of sites to another which has four wheels. The cabbies were "okay", although do not ask for directions to a site if you are walking. One cabbie lied to us and sent us off in the wrong direction. We knew it within a few feet and got proper directions from a local.
We would do this cruise again minus one of the ports. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Bari, also known as the City of St, Nicholas is the second most important economic center in all of Italy, next to Naples. Founded in 181 B.C., Bari was a major fishing town and yet, a town in which exchanges from multiple other cities on the east coast of Italy were conducted. Up until the 10th century the town was dependent upon the Patriarch of Constantinople. After the devastating Gothic Wars, under Lombard rule a set of written regulations were established which influenced several other cities in the region. Bari continued to be ruled by the Byzantines until the Norman invasion. Bari soon became the most important port for slave trading with most of the slaves coming from Venice, Holy Roman Empire, and Dalmatia on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea.
As is the case with all of the other ports on this cruise, Bari has a history of occupation by a variety of occupiers from all over Europe including Istanbul, Byzantium, the Greeks, and Romans until civil war broke out in 1177. This lead to an alliance with the Lombards. The Lombarian ruler allowed opening up of trade with not only Venice but with Byzantium. Bari ultimately came under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples and one Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law who ordered the building of a new section of the city beginning in 1808. The new section was laid out in a grid plan which in turn provided stimulation to the city's economy. That section is called Murattiano in honor and recognition of Joachim Murat.
During World War II, the city acquired the unfortunate distinction of being the only city exposed to chemical warfare. As the allied forces advanced northward through Italy, the Americans were unloading canisters of mustard gas on the docks in Bari. At the same time German aircraft attacked the dock area releasing tons of mustard gas in the air. The attack was kept secret until 1959 when papers were released detailing the destruction. Reports indicate the deaths of more than 1000 U.S. servicemen and more than 1,000 Italian citizens of the area.
With Mindy's ankle causing her some issues we opted for the Celebrity shuttle into town but then figured she wouldn't be able to enjoy, much less walk, to all of the sites in this very large walled-city. Our second option was to take a taxi tour. In no time at all we found, or should I say he found us, a cab driver to take us to a unique community about 65km south of Bari. I don't have the name right now but it is a community, mainly shops, with roofs that appear almost like a Chinaman's hat. I assume there was a purpose for this type of construction but needless to say this is the only type of construction like this anywhere in the world.
Giacomo, our cab driver allowed us an hour of sightseeing and of course buying. Our first stop was a gift ship that freely gave out samples of everything they had to sell. We returned to them later, only because they were so nice, to buy a couple of dish towels. Big spenders! Further on we both had to use the toilets, WC, bathroom, or whatever you call it . We were a bit confused as to which was the men's and which the women's but shortly a little old lady appeared and pointed to the "donne" and had Mindy go in there. I went to the opposite room and found what I needed. Ready to exit, this sweet little old lady was saying something, put a wrap over Mindy's shoulders and told us something. For 10 euro Mindy could be the proud owner of a sweater/shawl pullover. Men don't know what those things are called. Because she was so sweet and so full of life we returned later to buy whatever it was the lady put over Mindy's shoulder.
On the return to the ship Giacomo, who spoke maybe 10 words of English drove us to a beautiful town by the Adriatic Sea to see an amazing beach as well as a town built out into the sea that is slowly being undermined by the very same sea it is built upon.
Because we were a little pressed for time, Giacomo drove us back to the ship where we said our goodbyes and thank you for a wonderful four hour tour. Did I tell you we were over 140kph for most of the drive? I also think his Italian is a little off as well for when the speed limit sign said "100kph" Giacomo tried to hit 100mph. Over here, speed bumps are known as speed jumps. I know passing on a hill or a curve is not only illegal but very dangerous. Giacomo used those areas for passing! I know he used his brakes at least seven times because you could hear the squeak every time he touched them. I was trying to put on my seatbelt but Giacomo said, "no, no, no. Not necessary". I know what he meant; at the speeds we were flying a seat belt or air bag would do no good.
We did make it back to the ship safely, albeit a little shaken after that drive.
Like so many other ports on the Adriatic, there seems to be two common themes; (1) the origins are either unknown or under dispute, and (2) the cities and towns have been occupied or conquered by multiple invaders, each leaving their mark on the construction and culture of the land. Dubrovnik (Ragusa), Croatia is no exception.
One theory is that the Greeks lay claim to both theories of how the town was founded. The first lists the town as a Greek refuge site in the 7th century, while the second, which seems to be supported by the scientific community, indicates that Greek sailors used the port when sailing from Greek port to port. Sighting that Greek sailboats typically sailed only 50-75 miles in a day during the 8th century, and Dubrovnik fell right in between two major Greek ports at that time. Adding even more credence to theory is that Dubrovnik has an ample supply of fresh water which often determined how far a ship could sail.
Over time the Ottomans overtook the city, an alliance with the town of Ancona, Italy then closer aligned to the city with the Republic of Venice since Ancona was on the opposite side of the Adriatic. In 1272 the Port of Ragusa developed their own statutes, essentially modeling those of the Roman codification and local customs. The first pharmacy was opening on 1301 and remains open to this day. For centuries Ragusa held a tenuous balance in shipping between bitter enemies, The Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. In 1667, after a disastrous earthquake leveled the city and killed more than 5,000 residents, the shipping industry collapsed and portions of the city were sold off to the Ottoman Empire. Today those two strips of land are in possession of Herzegovina, allowing that otherwise landlocked country to have access to the Adriatic Sea. In 1806 Napoleon wanted to march through Ragusa Enroute to quell a Montenegrin disturbance. Napoleon however was met with stiff resistance from the Montenegrin forces causing over 3,000 shells to land on the city. The French then ruled the city for a brief time 1806-1808, before the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste in 1814. Soon British and Austrian forces were occupying the fortress. With the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918 the city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. At that time the city's name was changed from Ragusa to Dubrovnik. During World War II the town was occupied by German and Communist Yugoslavian troops. Through bloody conflicts in which many prominent citizens were executed by German troops, Dubrovnik eventually fell under the rule of Croatia. In 1929, George Bernard Shaw visited the city and said, "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik".
Modern history saw bloody conflicts with Montenegro with the famous war criminal Slobodan Milosevic attempting to take back the city claiming the city was always a part of Montenegro. The siege on the city lasted for seven months before the Croatian army was able to lift the siege and free the citizens. In 2005 repairs to the old city were nearly complete however vestiges of pock-marked walls remain as a constant reminder of the conflict with the neighboring country just a few miles south, Montenegro.
By 6AM when the alarm went off we were well inside the passage to the port town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. After all that we had heard the pictures and video we had seen this was one port of call that we just had to see. The weather cooperated fully with only a few high thin cirrus above and temperatures in the upper 70's to low 80's.
Now where the cruise ships dock the Old Town was two miles away. We opted to take a Celebrity shuttle bus to Old Town and then find our way around. Being on the first bus into the city had its advantages but once we got inside the Old Town gates, it was already packed and only getting worse by the minute. We knew we wanted to get up on a gate as soon as possible and so we walked until we saw this massive set of steps. That had to be the entrance. Once at the top of about 90 odd-shaped steps, we found that I was wrong. We paralleled the wall for several hundred more feet only to find a local who could tell us we had to go back down to the bottom, buy tickets then go back up a different set of steps. Down a different set if steps we went, got lost, got found, and finally got tickets. It was just our luck that by the time we bought the tickets to walk the wall, the worst set of steps up just opened!
This time it was 82 steps up and then a left to begin the walk along the walls. About 500 feet into the walk we ran into our friends and so we just trekked slowly with them. These are the same two couples we are spending three days with in Rome at the conclusion of this trip.
The first third of the wall provided many great vistas of the city but it was beginning to get very hot and all of us were somewhat fatigued by the time we reached the first exit point. Three of the men and one of the women continued on while the remainder went to the surface for a different view of the Old Town. Those of us who continued on saw what was ahead of us and it was going to be a challenge as the highest peaks on the wall remained.
Once we reached almost to the top we found a tiny bar and bought four $3.50 Croatian beers. That didn't help the balance of the climb at all but it gave us an incentive to get down to join the remainder of our friends.
Having reached the summit, the four of us followed the crowd and exited onto the same 82 steps leading us back down to terra-firma. The walls in most spots are wide enough to pass one at a time. The steps on the other had require so friendly touching as you proceed down while others are going up.
At the base of the steps was a gelato shop and the sign was all we needed to headed in for our rewards for conquering the 1.8 mile of wall surrounding Old Town.
While many say there is a photos around every corner, we found in Old Town Dubrovnik, there was a photo opportunity with every step. Between the two of us we shot 175 photos in a little over two hours.
Once outside the main gate to the wall we followed our friends to a cab stand for a "panoramic" view of the Old Town. As long as there was minimal walking we were all up for that! Susan negotiated a deal with two cabbies and off we went for an incredible drive up the side of a hill for an even more spectacular view of everything. On the way up our driver was telling us that the Serbian army used the hill we were climbing to lob bomb shells onto the town below. At one point, over 2,000 Serbian militia were being held off by only 200 Croatian army personnel. There was some damage to the Old Town but post-war, citizens gathered together to restore the Old Town to its original condition. Still some pock marks can be seen on some of the homes and churches in the area.
At the top of the hill we looked across one hill to the Bosnian Border. The Bosnians are very friendly with the Croats. Shortly after the war, a friend of ours, who is a judge in Minnesota volunteered to come over to teach the American Judicial System to the Croats. He raved about this area but I never fully understood until now. Thanks Phil!
The two cab drivers were wonderful and suggested they take us to "the other coast" for 30 more euro. Seemed like a deal to us, so off we went. The drive was nice but a little long. We ended up in a town called Cavtat, basically pronounced "cevat". Cavtat is a beautiful and very clean seaside resort town but since we only had about 25 minutes we couldn't spend as much time as desired to fully explore the area. Maybe on our return visit.
The cabs dropped us off right at the ships entrance on the dock! We had to walk a mere 25 feet to get through the first phase of ship's security.
Both Split and Dubrovnik have left such an incredibly positive impression on us. That speaks well for all of Croatia. While there are problem areas for Croatia, these two cities show the positive side of the country by providing beautiful scenery, friendly people, and opportunities to explore ancient history. Thank you Croatia! We'll miss you....
Kotor is often known as the southern-most Fjord in Europe. The "Fjord" is actually a submerged river canyon which forms a very impressive and picturesque landscape. Ultimately the Fjord empties into the Bay of Kotor.
Kotor is first mentioned in Roman history back in 168 B.C. but was known back then as "Cattaro". Like other ports, this city was sacked multiple times by Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, Ostrogoths, but then closely aligned itself in 1184 with The Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to the north. By the end of the 13th century the city was ruled by the Serbian Despotate. Eventually the town began competing in shipping with the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Ragusa. Eventually Venetian domination of the area from 1420-1797 provided a little bit of stability to the region. Interrupting the stable period were an assault by the Ottoman Empire, a plague, and two earthquakes. By 1797 Kotor was passed to the Hapsburg monarchy, in 1805 to the French, Napoleon's French rule, The Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy despite the fact that the Russians held the town at the time. In 1810 the British conquered the town from the French by 1814. Confused yet? The town was then restored to the Austrian Empire by the Congress of Venice. After World War I "Cattaro" fell under Yugoslavian domination and the name was changed to Kotor. In 1941-1943 Italy annexed Kotor but after 1945 it became a part of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro, Yugoslavia's second reincarnation.
In 1979 a major earthquake hit the coastal region destroying half of the old city and killing 100 residents. In 1988/1989, young socialist came into power and the town began to crumble. Their rule was torn apart by a bloody revolution leading to further decline of Kotor. Shipping, the major employer in town collapsed leaving thousands homeless and without jobs from 1990 to 2000. Over time the town is rebounding with an emphasis on tourism. Much of the old town and many of the surrounding sites are World UNESCO sites. Today's population barely exceeds 14,000.
Sailing in Kotor! Well that was at least what we were supposed to be doing today, however Betty, who we are touring with, in a few of the ports got an email from the owner of the sailboat saying that due to heavy rain and thunderstorms, the trip was cancelled. We were bummed but even the ship's crew told us the weather forecast was bad.
At 5:00AM we were just entering the fjord leading us to Kotor, Montenegro and the skies were nearly a solid overcast with rain threatening at any time. Deep inside the fjord however we found glimpses of sunshine and parting skies. While the clouds clung to the mountain peaks we had no rain on the surface for the entire day.
We took one of the first tenders into the town of Kotor and tried to get lost in the maze of the old town. Like many other towns, this one has a "walled city" protecting it from attack from the sea. The mountains provided the other protection of attack from land. Despite their best efforts, this town too was attacked many times and no one knows why except to occupy the land.
Today, Kotor is an impoverished town full of corruptions from the highest levels on down. Hence many five-star hotels are typically no greater than two stars. I was feeling a little sick during the walk but stuck with it as long as I could as we were visiting several neat churches and structures along the way. There was a desire to walk the wall defending the town but that just was not in the cards. While Mindy continued to explore the town, I headed back to the ship to lay down and try to shake whatever is bothering me. Shortly Mindy joined me in the cabin, laid down and promptly got a little nap in before we got kicked out for room cleaning.
Kotor was the one port I didn't want to miss. Kotor in sunshine and warm temperatures has to be one phenomenal port to visit. In overcast skies, it lacks the luster so often portrayed in photos seen online. This is truly a beautiful port and one of these days it would be nice to see in better weather and also a bit cleaner.
Malta is a small yet powerful and important island in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. Situated 50 miles south of Sicily and 207 miles north of Libya, Malta has been an integral part of the "Middle Sea" history. The island is no more than 122 square miles making it one of the world's smallest states and yet is known as one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
The list of invaders and occupiers reads like this: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Habsburg Spain, Knights of St. John, French and the British all share a part of Maltese history. In reading The Middle Sea and The Holy Wars this small island played such a pivotal role in shaping histories of every country bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
The name Malta appears to be a derivative of the Greek word "melti" which means "land of honey". Another potential name "Maleth" comes from the Phoenicians which means "haven" due to the many bays and coves on the island. Prehistoric fossils are also being found including pygmy hippos and elephants.
The island dotted with megalithic temples of a design dating back between 4,000 -- 2,500 B.C. The island was soon occupied by many foreign interests, often resulting in massacres and bloody battles up until 870 A.D. in which the Byzantines invaded the island and held on to it for nearly 200 years when the Normans ousted the Arabs in 1091, returning the island to Christianity. For the next 700+ years the island was conquered and re-conquered by multiple forces and left nearly devastated by one plague in 1675. With the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the island officially became a part of the British Empire. During World War II, the British heavily defended the island from heavy Italian bombardments. Often called the "second siege of Malta", the British recognized the important strategic location of the island in thwarting Axis nation shipping in the Mediterranean. Due to the bravery of the residents of Malta during WWII, the King of England awarded the "George Cross" to the citizens for their acts of bravery heroism. This was only the second time in British history that this honor was bestowed. The George Cross remains a part of Malta's flag to this day. Now a part of the European Union, Malta gained its independence from Britain on September 21, 1964 and has vowed to remain a neutral country.
For Malta we took a very expensive but very private tour to multiple locations on the island. If you've not read, The Siege of Malta, The Middle Sea, or The Holy Wars, The significance of these sites may be insignificant.
The Bible also tells of the Apostle Paul's shipwreck on this island and his subsequent incarceration in the catacombs on the island. The actual catacombs are open for public viewing. I think we were both moved as to what we had seen.
We've also decided that the is no way to describe the majesty of this island or how nice people were everywhere we went. When people ask us our favorite cruise port it will now be Valletta, Malta.
Naples, meaning "new city" is Italy's third most populous city and the stopping off point for tours to Pompeii. It appears the first inhabitants were 9th century Greeks from the island of Rhodes but that settlement was abandoned. Founded in the 7th Century B.C. by the Greeks, Naples is one of the oldest known cities in the world that can document continuous habitation. The city soon became aligned with the Roman Republic against Carthage. The city however was soon overtaken by the Samnites who in turn were forced out by the Romans. The Kingdom of Naples then became a Roman colony. Over the years the same external forces battled and occupied Naples for short periods of time up until about 1137. From 1282-1816, Naples was officially called The Kingdom of Naples, in unison with The Kingdom of Sicily. Even then the Byzantine Empire, Spanish, and the French to name a few, sacked the city a few times During the Napoleonic War of 1815, Naples strongly supported Italian unification. During World War II, Naples earned the distinction of being the most bombed city of the war. The rebirth of the city was signified by the reconstruction of the church of Santa Chiara which was destroyed during an allied bombing raid. From 1950 to 1984 the Italian government provided funds for Naples revitalization. While it helped somewhat, high unemployment and waste disposal issues continue to plague the city to this day.
The city is synonymous with pizza which originated in that city. For cultural interest the city is best known for romantic guitar, the opera, and the mandolin.
Upon exiting the ship we found our driver with only minor difficulty. Our tour today would take us high into the mountains, along cliff edges, and up to some incredible scenery. Arturo, our driver was full of information and a very capable driver for handling the narrow winding roads.
Our first stop was Ravello, Italy perched high on a cliff. Although not on the Amalfi Coast, it does signify the beginning of the Amalfi Coast, perhaps one of the most scenic drives in the world. Ravello is a small and quant town with scenery everywhere and of course the souvenirs we never buy. There was no pressure to buy anything and time spent was all too short.
Continuing on the coast drive, we descended into the city of Amalfi, which is typical of the towns on the coast drive except that it is the largest, next to Sorrento, our ultimate destination.
Along the drives we were often stopped by large busses traveling in the opposite direction, needing to negotiate curves not fit for an SUV to negotiate. Somehow they do make it without falling off a cliff. The tour lasted all of six hours and before we knew it we were in Sorrento for a late lunch and an opportunity to take a ferry boat back to the port of Napoli where our cruise ship waited for us.
Arturo was excellent, pre-purchasing tickets for us and even walking us to the ferry to make sure it left on time, or left at all.
The ferry ride back to the port of Napoli was wonderful providing a different perspective of the coast line and especially of Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that devastated Pompeii.
Rome; an ancient city full of mystery and relics. Full of powerful rulers and religious leaders. Relics and ruins are so very common that around every corner in the city center there is an ancient church, a ruin, a monument, or an obelisk to an intriguing city.
In the evening we said our goodbyes to friends we've met and toured with for the previous 12 days. We've exchanged emails with one couple from North Carolina. Jokingly I told them we'll probably see you in Rome since it's such a small city. Surprisingly we did run into them at the Vatican and at the Coliseum the next day.
We had a driver meet us at the ship and drive us the hour and 20 minutes to the Le Clariese Pantheon hotel. Not even unpacking our clothes we were headed off with two other couples to see the sites in and around the hotel as we had to be over at the Vatican for a 2:30 tour. We saw the Pantheon (2 blocks from the hotel) and the Trevi Fountain about 10 blocks from the hotel. We also headed over to the Spanish Steps where I got into a heated argument with a street vendor. I haven't lost my temple like that for over 20 years. It's not a pretty sight and I admit to being slightly embarrassed.
Grabbing a cab we all hustled over to the Vatican to meet a private tour guide. The six of us spent the following 4 Â½ hours touring the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. Exhausted we returned to the hotel and promptly left for a late dinner. We finally got into the hotel after 10PM. By the time my head hit the pillow I was ready to leave this city and never return. I had had it. We slept really well that night however we had to get up fairly early on the 13th for a cooking class at a chef's home followed by a private tour of the Coliseum.
The cooking class began by meeting Chef Fabio about a block from the hotel. Being joined by a couple from England and one from Australia, we all followed Chef Fabio to multiple markets picking up fresh ingredients for the meal we were about to prepare. The next 90 minutes were spent following either Chef Fabio or his assistant around the city, ultimately ending up at his exclusive residence not far from his restaurant. While others prepared either a rub or a sauce, I got stuck removing fat from chicken breasts with two dull knives. Eventually we all got together in one room and prepared pasta from scratch and put together ingredients for appetizers and ultimately a filling lunch.
Running a little late, the Chef borrowed and van and drove us to the Coliseum for a 3:00 meeting with another private tour guide. This tour was exclusive and incredible! I was now into seeing everything Rome had to offer. We got into the bottom of the Coliseum and to the top, areas normally secured from other tours. I could have spent another hour there and still been captivated.
From the Coliseum we walked to The Forum where the Senate held their meetings. Not much was left but with the aid of a book showing the before and present in comparison, one can get an excellent idea of the grandeur of the place. The excavations continue and some of the areas were secured preventing even decent photos of what is being unearthed. As one of the archaeologist explained, when Rome was built it was built with the "wow factor" so that whoever came to the city would be impressed with the empire that was being built. All of the ruins and most of the churches are built with the wow factor. To duplicate a city such as Rome, with today's technology and mechanical capabilities seem nearly impossible and yet these massive structures and incredible art work were done centuries ago. As a first-time tourist to Rome, I was impressed with the structures and what I was seeing. The sad thing is, pollution and tourism are eating away at the structures, leaving little for future generations to discover. The one positive note is that every time a shovel is turned to build something as simple as a light pole, an archeologist must be on site. Perhaps future generations will have something new to discover with the same "wow factor".
For dinner we all met at a highly recommended restaurant. On a scale of one to five stars, I'd give it a zero, and as soon as I get the name of the restaurant I intend to write the revue that way on Trip Advisor. You got to eat what they wanted to serve you and no medications to the menu were permitted. When we asked too many questions, the server just walked away and began arguing vociferously with the remainder of the staff. To try to get any help was nearly impossible and met with mean and glaring stares. To make matters worse, on our walk back to the hotel, when we asked a cab driver for directions he sent us off packing in the opposite direction. Fortunately we asked a resident and we were led in the right direction. It was still a long walk back to the hotel and by the time we hit our room, we were totally exhausted once again. For us we were fortunate in that June 14th would be touring Rome on our own and via a cab.
June 14th saw us arise without any destination in mind. Over breakfast we looked at various options and settled on St. John's Cathedral and one of the catacombs on the outskirts of the city.
St. John's was impressive to say the least. This is the Pope's church where he worships. Pictures just do not do it justice. A private tour would have been nice but we didn't opt for that on this day. We wanted to do it on our own. We must have missed out on a lot of information.
Following the experience at St. John's we hopped into another cab and took an expensive ride out to the catacombs. The catacombs, and I guess there are about 40 of them is the place where Christians buried their dead underground. Since they were being persecuted at the time, this was the only way they could preserve the remains from grave robbers and those who wanted to desecrate the graves. The Christians dug a couple of stories underground and buried the dead in vault-like tombs. Over 500,000 were buried in the catacombs we visited that day. And yet despite the best precautions, barbarians invaded the tombs looking for riches of the dead. When none were found they sacked and desecrated the remains out of revenge. A few Popes had been buried there and chapels built so Christians could practice their faith in secrecy. Today all that remains are the open resting places for half a million Christians. It served as a sobering reminder of the history left behind. No pictures were allowed so I have no idea how the above picture got on my camera....
For lunch we hopped on an equally expensive cab ride to "That's Amore", Chef Fabio's restaurant. We should have had dinner there the night before and since we had dinner plans for our last night in Rime, the best we could do was a nice lunch. The service and food were both excellent. While we were there a private cooking class was being conducted by Chef Fabio's Sioux Chef. We got to watch a couple from New York and their daughter, do a portion of what we had done the day before. Chef Fabio had another large class at his apartment a couple of blocks away and so we did not have time to say our goodbyes. For me, the Coliseum and then the cooking class were the highlights of Rome.
That evening we took another cab to Di Meo Patacca restaurant. This place was a restaurant Mindy visited with her parents 46 years ago and when any friend of her mother's would travel to Rome, she always recommended this place for dinner. It is a little bit off the beaten path which was nice but the experience; well let's just say it could have been better only because of the attitude of our server. I won't get into that aspect of the evening. The food was excellent and the atmosphere wonderful, but the service far less than desirable.
We knew we had an early morning wakeup call for our flight back to the States and so one last cab ride saw us safely tucked in bed, not as exhausted as before but just plain tired.
Split, Croatia seems to be able its history back some 1700 years to 305 A.D. with the construction of the Diocletian Palace which still stands today. During the construction of the palace Greek artifacts were found, later dates to the 6th century B.C. which lead some to believe that the actual origin of the town was Greek as opposed to Roman. The palace was actually begun in 293 A.D. when Diocletian announced his plans to retire in 305. Right on schedule he retired upon the completion of this magnificent palace. At times there were nearly 9,000 inhabitants inside the palace walls. Diocletian became the first Roman Emperor to actually retire from service, alive. In 326 A.D. a group of Roman Senators came to the palace and asked him to return to Rome to settle some political disputes. He refused.
As with other ports we are visiting, Split also fell under the control of several foreign powers including the Byzantine Empire. When that empire declined in power the city was under a constant struggle for power by the Venetians, Hungarians, and Croats. Overtime the Croat influence took shape ultimately wrestling control from all other interests.
During the middle ages power shifted back to Italy and then over to Hungary. During that period of time the city tended to remain more of an independent city-state with its own sets of rule and regulations.
In the 1800's there was a division (split) of power and influence over the city amongst those loyal to Italy, those loyal to Croatia, and those loyal to Austria. Alignment however came from a newly formed power called "Dalmatia". That was the power influence on the city until World War I when Split came under the power of "The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenens". In 1929 that kingdom changed its name to the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia".
In 1941, during World War II Split was occupied by the Italian forces, loyal to Germany. During WWII, not only did axis forces bombard the city but so did the allied forces. In 1944 it fell under the rule of the Croatia.
1991 saw Croatia declare its independence from Yugoslavia which prompted the bombardment of the town of Split by one of the very ships it built, the JNR destroyer "R-11 Split". Following the split from Yugoslavia, Split went into deep recession only recovering in 2000 with the advent of tourism.
Sunday, July 15, 2012 -- Our first impression was similar; why would anyone want to bomb this beautiful city? And yet that is what happened as recent as 21 years ago. With the limited amount of walking we did, we saw no evidence of the destruction unless it was all of the re-construction going on at the Diocletian Palace. The Diocletian Palace for me was important for inside this palace occurred a very famous story which ultimately resulted in an actual psychological diagnosis called "Damocles Syndrome". It's a long story but it one I learned of with my first cancer diagnosis. I had to see this palace. Unfortunately we could only scratch the surface as it took Croatian Kuna to enter and we had none.
The remainder of the morning we spent walking on top of and around palace grounds. The most discouraging aspect was all of the commercial enterprises inside and on the outside of this famous structure. That, in my opinion really detracted from the experience.
Despite all of walking and frustration with the crowds, we were just completely mesmerized by this beautiful city and beautiful country. Because the dock space is limited, larger cruise ships need to tender in. Going in was no trouble at all be getting back to the ship was rough. As we were approaching the loading platform on the ship we slammed into it, backed away and proceeded in for a second and very successful shot at docking. After that, the tender schedule was greatly reduced leaving some people on shore for two hours waiting to get on a tender back to the ship.
Back on the ship we changed out of street clothes and hopped right into bathing suits for about 45 minutes of sun. Because the skies were so clear and the sun so intense, we knew better than to push our luck any further. Besides that, we need to get decent for a real nice FaceTime call from our younger daughter. It was so nice to see her live over the internet. About an hour earlier we had a real nice video chat with a friend who lives in Cleveland.
This evening we had a cocktail party with the ship's staff, although none of them could drink with us. It was a real nice opportunity to meet new people and to then retire for a relaxing evening.
Tomorrow is Dubrovnik, Croatia, a walled city from more than 1400 years ago. We have grandiose plans but the heat and the Croatian Kuna will more than likely limit us a little. We can only wait and see.
Venice, Italy, built solely on water...or is it? Venice is actually a series of 116 small islands connected by a series of over 400 bridges. These small marshy islands were incapable of supporting any sort of infrastructure and so that the "lagoon dwellers" as they were called deforested a forest of old-growth trees and sunk them deep into the marshy lagoon in order to form a stable platform. All of this was done in the early 3rd and 4th century. How they accomplished that feat remains a mystery. The reason why they did it was to stave off the constant attacks coming multiple invaders on the mainland.
While Venice was built as a defense, the Venetian navy at one point became the strongest naval force on the planet. Often this was done by siding with a variety of enemies from the Ottoman forces to the south and east to the Roman Empire which at one point completely dominated the land encompassing the entire Mediterranean.
Today, Venice is considered to be the most romantic city in the world. For many tourists however it is the opportunity to see a unique history "built on water".
May 29, 30 & 31, 2012 -- The first "tremor" as the locals are calling it occurred at 9:35 AM, May 29th, about 25 minutes before we touched down at VCE, Venice's international airport. We knew nothing of the 5.3 "tremor" until we saw a smashed statue laying on the ground. Other than plaster falling off of walls, we saw no other damage. At 1:25PM the second "tremor", 4.2 on the Richter scale occurred while we were on a vaparetto (water bus) and so once again, we felt nothing. We also saw no additional damage the remainder of time we were in Venice.
Arriving at Piazalle, Roma on the airport bus, we lugged our four suitcases and backpack a few hundred feet, up and down two bridges with about 20 steps each, and finally into the Hotel Olimpia lobby.
The hotel is three-stars by European standards and very acceptable although the elevator could only fit two of our bags at a time and no people! The room was pleasant but nothing to write home about. Without unpacking anything but a change of clothes we were off and on our way to explore the City of Water.
We initially did what all tourist guide books recommended and that was to get lost in Venice. We had no trouble doing that within 5 minutes. There is no logic in the street system which bars motorized traffic of any sort. Even bikes are few and far between. Around every corner however there is a photo opportunity and by the time we had left Venice, we had shot over 500 photos!
The language barrier worked against us initially but once we got a trainee at the vaparetto station, we were in great shape. Our pre-purchased tickets did little to benefit us and that was my fault more than anything. Once we got our three day vaparetto pass and WC cards we were in great shape and learning the system by the time of our first gathering of friends from the Cruise Critic board.
About 25 of us gathered at Al Prosecco, (Processco is the name given for Italian champagne), a tapas bar near the center of the city. It was good to finally meet folks we had met only on line.
On the 30th with instilled confidence in maneuvering the vaparetto system we started the early morning with a hop on the vaparetto to St. Mark's Square. En route, it just didn't feel right and for once I was right...sort of. I got us on the wrong vaparetto and we were headed to St. Mark's only via the major ship's canal and not the Grand Canal. Despite the blunder, we saw sights we normally would never see. It turned out to be such a blessing!
We stood in line for about 50 minutes before the doors opened to St. Mark's Basilica and then only for a 15-minute, self guided tour where photos were not allowed. (Want to see some photos?) Once headed back to the vaparetto stop we came across an artist displaying his wares. With little convincing, we purchased some art work from this amazing city.
With getting on the correct vaparetto this time we cruised on down the Grand Canal seeing all of the sites we would never see again. As I said earlier, there is a photo opportunity around every corner and every bend.
Still in the morning we checked out of the hotel and lugged our bags back over the same bridges and the same steps to Piazalle Roma and to the "People Mover" to the ship. I think the people mover took as at least Â½ mile to our exit point where we had to walk another half mile to the luggage dropoff and ultimately to check-in which went incredibly fast.
By the time we were on the ship our cabins were not ready so they housed the masses in the buffet cafeteria where we were force-fed more food! This is going to be a good cruise. The Celebrity Silhouette, heretofore referred to as "CS", is a magnificent ship. The design is excellent save for the lack of stairs or elevators aft. Our cabin, 7309, is a cabin that far exceeded our expectations. It is larger than expected and the wrap-around deck makes vistas even better from almost any angle. Our "butler", Sebastian is very attentive and has also already exceeded our expectations. It's interesting because we haven't quite left port yet.
Getting the layout of the ship, we headed to the Cruise Critic group social hours up at the sunset bar in which, Ancel, the local bar server saw me as an easy mark. After two of his drinks I knew I'd never be able to assist the captain if he asked for my help.
Afterwards we made the mistake of walking past the new "Lawn Club Grill". Again, being noted as an easy mark, we were escorted inside for one of the most fun evenings we have ever had on a cruise ship. Once we decided we would dine with the folks, they started off teaching us how to make flat bread from scratch, including the hand tossing process. We then selected toppings for our creations and sat down to enjoy until it came time to prepare our main course consisting of two cuts of steak, shrimp, and scallops. We left after nearly three hours, stuffed, happy, and with a grilling apron for Pete.
Needing to walk off some of the weight we gained from one incredible meal....and maybe a few drinks, we walked the ship from stem to stern and top to bottom. It remains a very well designed and created ship.
Sore from all of the walking and eating, we retired to the cabin around 10:30PM. We were exhausted.
The morning of the 31st rattled our cages with another thunderstorm! The lightning flashes were incredible and the rain very intense. By the time breakfast was delivered to the cabin, the skies had parted and blue skies became the dominant feature, just in time for our tour to Murano and Burano, two of the islands away from the main cluster. Those two islands are famous world-wide for glass manufacturing and lace works, respectively. While it may seem a perfect tourist trap, both tours provided a rare glimpse into lost and sometimes forgotten talents.