Port and Shore Excursions
Port of Barcelona, Spain
We visited La Sagrada Familia yesterday and noticed some work had been completed since our last visit a few years ago. The Pope visited last year and this fueled the construction, especially the ceiling, which was finally covered so that it would not rain anymore inside.
This is a magnificent structure. In 1882 the first foundation stone was laid and conceived by an architect Francisco Pillar and a year later it was taken over by Antoni Gaudi who re-created the original project seeking a more organic composition. Although this church is slated to be finished in 2026, many believe it will never be completed! We enjoyed seeing the variety of artistic styles that are represented in this structure, the most recent work renders more Star Wars/Terminator type figures with the Roman soldiers looking like Storm troopers.
Last year the church was dedicated and declared a Basilica by the Pope and it was finally opened for worship. Construction is more than halfway completed with 4500 square meters of space where 8000 people can worship. I can't imagine this ever getting completed but if it is finished by 2026 I might be able to actually see it! That would be awesome.
When it is finished, there will be a park across the street where today there are many stores and apartments. People who own property here know that someday they will have to move. Meanwhile they seem to be profiting from their location and since they all have free bathrooms at the back of their stores, so do the visitors.
After visiting the church and taking a short city drive, we were dropped off at the shuttle buses where we learned they are gouging us by charging $8 per person each way! Also, if you order drinks on the ship while we are ported here in Barcelona they are charging an extra 8 percent tax. What?
Port of Livorno: Super Tuscans
I woke up early and looked out to see a cloudy sky, yet the air felt warm and I knew that this was going to be a great day. We were touring with Fabrizio, which alone meant everybody would have an entertaining, educational, and fun day. After a very quick breakfast I rushed down to our pre arranged meeting place because I was excited to meet the group of CC friends. One couple that signed up never showed and we all had to pay for them anyway but that is the way it goes when you don't collect any deposits. Fabrizio never asks for this and so I didn't either, I prefer the honor system. Oh well.
We were all very excited to spent another day with Fabrizio, and today we were going to visit an area of Tuscany that none of us had visited, called the area of the Super Tuscans. Fabrizio was filled with good-hearted energy and his joy was contagious. We were not going to let the no shows bum us out!
Our first stop was an ancient Etruscan town called Populonia on the Golfo di Baratti, it was beautiful and the clouds had completely cleared up. We visited some Etruscan Necropolis, which were the ancient buried sites of many families, and located on the Mediterranean. After telling us all about the way these Italian ancestors lived Fabrizio brought us to the top of the mountain where we had magnificent views of the sea and surrounding Islands. He brought us to an ancient fortress and we had the whole place to ourselves. One of our friends had a bum knee and Fabrizio was able to drive to the top and drop us off. Then he took it upon himself to make sure she walked safely and comfortably, it was very precious to see him walking her around.
Next, we drove to Campiglia Marittima, another ancient village very close to Grosseto and Populonia where we visited an old fortress, and we had to walk up a steep hill to the top to get a 360 view of the area. Some of us pooped out halfway up but Fabrizio took all of our cameras and ran up that steep hill so he could take pictures for us. Once again he walked our friend up and down with so much care, she felt very safe and well cared for.
We stopped for a bite of lunch and then continued on to our wine tasting where we sat and tasted a white wine and several red wines from this winery, as well as Grappa, which is made from the grape skin. I got drunk from inhaling the Grappa! We got a tour of the place, as well as some tastes of bread and the olive oil made here at the winery, which was delicious. By now we were a very happy group.
Our last stop was the quaint town of 8th century town of Bolgheri, located on a hill and protected by walls. We walked the streets with Fabrizio as he explained the lore of this town, pointing out a thousand year old Olive tree and explaining what the various statues were about. We got to do a little shopping and then it was time to return to the ship.
Our magnificent day with perfect weather was coming to an end, and so was my time with Fabrizio. How sad it was for me to leave him, as he has become family. Reluctantly, I said goodbye to him knowing that I would be back soon because of the joy he gives us where we visit Italy. Fabrizio is definitely a be-back
Port of Genoa, Italy
We took a tour and visited three charming villages in Liguria; Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Rapallo. We started early; Jim and Thelma were with us on the bus so we hung out a bit. First stop was Rapallo, a cute baroque town with a ton on trump l'iole (trick eye), which is where they paint fake facades on buildings like brinks, window frames, and even windows. We walked the narrow streets and shopped a little, mostly for an ATM! After a brief tour, we stopped at a restaurant and had coffee and croissants and juice. We did not have much free time so we walked the seaside promenade and the narrow streets back to the bus.
Next we got dropped off at a port (Santa Margherita I think) after taking a scenic ocean road, the road we had driven many years ago, which goes through many tunnels on its way to the French Riviera. We boarded the boat, grabbed outside seats, and took in the lovely coastline thanks to the weather gods who were happy again! We ended in Portofino, a lovely town with a reputation of attracting movie stars and other famous people. The villas on the hillside were fantastic, and very pricey!
After a brief tour, we got free time to walk through the town and explore. I explored one church but mostly stores. Because this was low season, many of the shops (mega designer) were closed. I managed to find a few places to spend my Euros, a wonderful Venetian glass shop and a market where I bought local Liqueur. Found bathrooms that were clean too.
Next we boarded our boat and headed to Santa Margherita, another beautiful seaside town. Again we were giver a brief tour, although we're able to opt into a longer tour, which we did. I really liked this town a lot; it was larger and more down to earth, more approachable. We walked the narrow streets but only had a few minutes free and I spied a Gelato place and made a beeline for it. Yummy, I got dark chocolate and pistachio. Before I knew it we were boarding the bus and heading back to the ship. This was a great day with a taste of the Italian Riviera, leaving a hunger for more.
Port of Gibraltar
This is a late post, the Internet has been down for iPads and iPhones so I was unable to post sooner. They must have downloaded the fix today while I was in Casablanca, so here is my take on our Gibraltar tour.
We had a bloody good time in Gibraltar today. The weather was perfectly clear, warm, and without wind, making this an unusual day for this time of year, we loved it. After a quick breakfast, we met our tour group and off we went to visit and learn about the rock.
We drove completely around the island, visiting Europa point, and using a newly opened tunnel, which enabled us to drive without using side streets. After Visiting the point, and seeing the new Mosque at Europa point, we went to the museum. We were lucky they opened for us since it was Sunday and most stores were closed.
After the interesting museum with its Neanderthal skull, we headed to the cable car and up to the top we went, it was such a clear and nice day this ride yielded many spectacular pictures and a lot of oohs and aahs! At the top we were able to take a lot of scenic pictures of our ship, and each other next to the rock. My husband has a bad fear of heights and he toughed it out and I even got him to pose at the edge of the top, with the rock behind us. My hero!
Next we went back down the cable car to the halfway point where we were able to see the Apes, the older mothers and fathers and many babies, all so cute from a comfortable distance. These are wild animals and they bite, even through they are as cute as can be. I kept my distance and got to photograph another man who got so close the Ape jumped on his back. It took him a while to get that ape off, and I got his email address to send him the pictures I took because they want to use it for a Christmas card picture.
Finally we did the siege tunnel tours and they were cool, and involved a lot of walking. I figure I earned my dessert tonight!
My favorite experience was when I learned the history of the "f" word! In the 1400's the Brits battled the French. The Brits were fine longbows men, using their middle fingers (called the plucking finger) to pull back the string, so when the French would capture them they would cut off their middle fingers. After the war when a Brit would see a French person they would hold up their middle finger while they would shout "I've got my plucking finger" and that turned into "pluck off" and so on until it eventually turned into the current "f" word which is often used while holding up that middle plucking finger! Love this story!
Port of Madeira: Food and Wine in Funchal
We decided to go into town using the shuttle, after being gouged in Barcelona for close to $20 for a round trip shuttle, we thought the $8 RT was ok, of course free would have been better! We headed off with our new friends Caryn and Stan.
The weather was cloudy the whole time but my hot flashes enjoyed a day off here because it was cool. We got to town by 9am and stores were opening so I was happy. Then we started looking at prices and everything was very expensive so we headed for the super markets. We found several, they were both two stories with food courts and all sorts of shops, kind of like a supermarket-mall. I found hard candies for my scratchy throat, after deciding that the pharmacies were charging way too much for the same thing!
This was a very short stop and it was time to go before we had seen very much of the old town. We managed to go to the Blandy Wine lodge for wine tasting and learned that they charged for this! I wanted a bottle for cooking and bought the least expensive one, which was about 9 Euros. I also bought a small sample pack of 4, which was actually the same price as tasting each, figuring I'll have my own wine tasting on the ship.
We pulled out the last of our Euros at the ATM and were surprised to see how much the euro has dropped against the dollar. We were able to pull out 250 more Euros than we had estimated. Now I have money for the next TA in spring or fall, whenever we manage to go.
It was time to go back to the ship and we had hardly scratched the surface of Funchal, necessitating another future visit! I am always willing to turn a negative into a positive. We got back to the ship and the MDR was open, hooray for more food. I had the best pasta of the whole trip, a spicy tomato sauce although they spelled it tomatoe on the menu but there were no toes in it! Was Dan Quail writing our menus?
Roma, Roma, Roma
This is an account of our pre-cruise visit in Roma, we had 3 days there before we got on the ship and I had plans to conquer the city! After a grueling 20 hours of cars, trams, and airplanes we finally made it to Roma, it was beautiful to behold even from the air. We were off the plane and got our checked luggage very quick and as we exited the baggage area we see Fabrizio (allarounditaly.net) running to us with the most welcoming smile and lots of hugs. He would not allow us to schlep our luggage and insisted on carrying our stuff to his van, all the while engaging us in conversation and catch-up. We zipped out of the airport and before we could say Mamma Mia we were in the Eternal City. Fabrizio insisted on showing us some sights, just quick drive bys, and then we went to our hotel, Hotel Pantheon smack in the middle of the ancient city center. Once again, Fabrizio would not allow us to touch our luggage and he dragged all our pieces to the lobby, we checked in and made a quick pit stop in the room, and then we headed back out to go to dinner with Fabrizio. We went to a delightful restaurant close to the Pantheon called "I'angolette Romano" where we had an amazing and delicious dinner including antipasti, pasta, lemon Veal, wine, and a trio of desserts which completely hit the spot. The prices were very reasonable and the food was excellent. After dinner we went back to the hotel and parted from Fabrizio knowing we would see him again several times on this visit and cruise.
The hotel was nice (Hotel Pantheon), located right at the Pantheon; we had a nice room with a view of the lively Pantheon area streets, which was just what we wanted. The hotel kept asking us if we wanted our welcome drink and we politely asked if we could have it the next day, which was no problem. We went to sleep and got a good nights rest, waking up and feeling ready to tackle the city on foot.
We walked from our hotel to the king of Baroque churches called St. Ignacio, the Romans call this the 3D church because the artist Pozzo painted a fake dome which looks very much like a dome if you are standing in the proper place to see it. Its very cool, moving through the church you see it become distorted and even then it is something to behold. This church is painted very much like the Sistine Chapel with biblical scenes rising up the walls and onto the roof of the church. Don't forget to turn on the lights of the dome, they really illuminate it well and it only costs one euro. Beware of beggars, and do not pay them if they tell you there is charges to see the church, all churches in Rome are free.
Next we head to the Ghetto area to visit the ancient Synagogue and Jewish museum, which is right on the Tiber close to Ponte Fabrizio. On the way we find the cat rescue place called Torre Argentina, which is filled with ruins and cats! A must see for cat lovers.
The Synagogue and Museum are very interesting, we learn that Rome's Jews are some of the oldest Romans around; they came here long before the birth of Christ! We also learn the heartbreaking history of their lives in the prison like Ghetto, which came after thousands of years of living as normal Romans. It was all very sad and I quickly became saturated and it was time to go cheer up. We walked the bridge and saw the walls that fortify and protect Rome from the flooding Tiber River. Then we walked through the Ghetto and noted a lively area filled with all kinds of people, shops selling kosher foods and other items. There are many ruins close to this area where you can walk amongst the pillars and ancient remains of a theater. From here it was easy to walk up Capitol Hill where the magnificent Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo.
We had to walk around and see the great views of the Forum and Palatine hill before we decided to visit the Capitoline Museum. The museum was incredible, filled with some incredible pieces of sculptures, Bronzes, paintings, pottery and figurines, and murals. It took us hours to see all of it because we took our time and savored the beauty of the art. As we are walking through the upper floors I notice the sun is going dawn and I cannot believe it. Sunset was beautiful from the top of The hill and we see it set over St. Peters, as we decide to head back to the hotel for our welcome drink.
The walk back to the hotel is quick, and we see many Romans out for their nightly walk, and people are gathering in squares all over the city. We make a quick pit stop at our hotel, and they remind us of our welcome drink, which really makes us feel good! We love our hotel, Hotel Pantheon, which is less than a minutes walk to the Pantheon, and is a small boutique like hotel with only 13 rooms, very quaint and clean. Our rate of 140 Euros a night (prepaid) is great for the spectacular location and it includes a full breakfast served from 7am-10am. It's definitely a be-back kind of place.
The hotel recommends a wonderful restaurant called " The Popes Table" right around the corner and it is filled with locals and no tourists besides us. The food is so good and very reasonable and we will definitely eat here again before we leave Rome.
The next day our driver/guide/friend, Fabrizio picked us up to take us to Calcata, Lake Bracchiano, and a wonderful family run restaurant in Ceri called "Trattoria La Rocca" where we sit and enjoy a leisurely meal that is incredibly good, the Tiramisu is the best I have ever tasted in my life. Mamma Mia this is good food! The town of Calcata is a gem of a secret medieval town filled with artists and creative types and has quite an interesting past, something to do with an embarrassing relic that disappeared in the late 1970's.
We hit the pharmacy because I am getting my travel bug, this time it feels like a bad sinus infection with a productive cough! I have antibiotics with me and I will start them when I get back to the hotel, but for now Fabrizio took me to a pharmacy and translated my needs to the Pharmacist, this made things a lot easier for me. I was worried that I would have to find a doctor and Fabrizio eliminated that problem.
Back in Rome, we say goodbye to Fabrizio but we know we will see him tomorrow. As we walk in to the hotel Pantheon we bump into some new friends me made at breakfast and decide to go out to dinner with them. The hotel recommends Alfredo's, the place where Fettuccine Alfredo was invented. Of course we order it and it is good. While the food is nice, it is very expensive and we all suffer she'll shock from the bill, which is 150 Euros including a 17-euro tip! We think that is expensive for the antipasti plate, bread and oil, and the pasta! I liked the restaurant we ate at last night much better, mostly because this prices were much more reasonable.
Transfer to the Port
The next day Fabrizio picks us up with a full busload of some friends who are already on the Pacific Princess, he got up early and picked them up at 8am, and us a 9. He takes us on a whirlwind tour of Roma, we all giggle with delight as dear Fabrizio teaches more and shows us delightful secret areas all around the city. We even hit the designer outlet mall as we head to the port; this mall is exactly like any outlet mall in North America. Since its Sunday, it is very crowded and there are no great deals and no big designers like Missoni! After an hour I'd so it's time to get on the ship. No worries though, Fabrizio is driving to Livorno tonight so he can pick us up and take us all on a tour of the Super Tuscans areas tomorrow. We all adore Fabrizio; he even brings our friend who is sick on the ship some wine to help her get better. What a guy!