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Med 1006
Med 1006

Cruising on the Brilliance of the Seas

Istanbul, Turkey (5 days) - Mykonos, Greece - Kusadasi, Turkey - Santorini, Greece - at sea - Dubrovnik, Croatia - Venice, Italy (2 days) - at sea - Naples, Italy - Civitivecchia (Rome), Italy - Villefranche, France - Livorno (Florence), Italy - at sea - Barcelona, Spain

 
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Rating (out of 5):    Ship    Food    Service    Itinerary

This was our first trip to the Mediterranean. When we originally booked the cruise (14 months earlier), the cruise was to embark in Athens. However, the itinerary changed and Istanbul was substituted for Athens. This was the last cruise of the season for the BOS, and it was followed by a transatlantic repositioning cruise. The TA cruise was so reasonably priced that we signed up for it as well. I have documented that portion of the trip as a separate diary.

Pre-cruise (Thur, Oct 19-20) - The Long Journey to Istanbul

We decided that Istanbul deserved a few days of our time, so we left 5 days early. We would catch the end of Ramazan, and the beginning of the Seker Bayrami "sugar" festival. (I know you're thinking "Ramadaan", but the Turks call it "Ramazan"). Our trip started with the airport shuttle picking us up at 3:30 AM. We flew from Calgary to Chicago, 4 hour layover, Chicago to Frankfurt, 2 hour layover, Frankfurt to Istanbul. We arrived in Istanbul at 12:30 PM local time, exactly 24 hours after boarding the airport shuttle. What a long day. We had to pay $60 US each for a Turkish entry visa at the airport. A driver from the hotel picked us up and took us to the Hotel Daphne.

Rather than try to nap, we walked over to the Hippodrome (3 blocks away) and wandered around the area. The park was set up for the festival and had rows of booths set up for food and handicrafts. It was awe inspiring to stand in front of the Egyptian obelisk that was made in 1500 BCE (3500 years ago!). We also got our first introduction to the "call to prayer". Each mosque has loudspeakers mounted on the minarets and about 5 minutes before prayer time (6 times per day!), a chanter sings for about 5 minutes, calling the people to the mosques for prayers. The mosques are quite numerous, so you can generally hear several at once. Except in a couple of instances where neighbouring mosques co-ordinated "question and answer" chants, most of them were independent so you would hear a cacophony of chants. We found it very interesting and, when we were in our hotel room at prayer time, we would open our window to hear the chants.

After our tour of the Hippodrome area, we met up with Alan and Glenys (our cruise buddies from Australia that we had met on Cruise Critic, and who were staying at the same hotel) and had dinner at a nearby hotel restaurant. We went to bed soon after dinner, as we had been up for 32 hours.

Pre-cruise (Sat, Oct 21) - A Walking Tour of Sultanahmet

We had booked the hotel as part of a 2 day tour package with Insight Travel. Breakfast was complimentary at the hotel and consisted of cold cereals, breads (and a toaster), and cut up cucumbers and tomatoes, and fresh yogurt. I don't think Marj was too impressed, but I really liked it. The first day of our 2 day tour was a walking tour of the nearby area. Our hotel was in Sultanahmet, the old historic part of town. It turned out that we were the only two people booked for the tour that day, and so we got the guide (Suleyman) all to ourselves. He was great - his English was excellent and his knowledge was tremendous. We started with the columns in the Hippodrome, then on to the Blue Mosque. Then we walked to Topkapi Palace. After touring through the palace grounds and buildings (including the treasury with a huge diamond, and a room with artifacts from Muhammad), Suleyman took us to a wonderful courtyard restaurant for lunch. He couldn't join us because of Ramazan.

After lunch we went to Hagia Sophia. It was a Christian church from 537 AD to 1453 AD, then a mosque until 1935 when it was converted into a museum. Next was a visit to the Grand Bazaar. This complex has over 4,000 shops! The bulk of the shops seemed to be jewellery, ceramics or carpet shops. We stopped at a small outdoor tea shop for some apple tea. Finally we walked around the old part of the city (near our hotel) and visited the Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Mosque. It was richly decorated with Iznik tiles. We tried to visit the "little Ayasofya" mosque (built 525 AD) but it was locked. All in all a great day!

We just ate snacks that evening and Marj went to bed early. I wasn't that tired, so headed back to the Hippodrome. It was quite dark by then but the Hippodrome was just hopping with families and teenagers. It was just like the Calgary Stampede! It was wall to wall people. There was lots of music, food sellers everywhere, and clowns, jugglers, fire eaters, etc. A kid's play was being performed on a large outdoor stage. It was a lovely warm evening, so I wandered up and down the length of the Hippodrome a couple of times before returning to our room.

Pre-cruise (Sun, Oct 22) - Further Afield Along the Bosphorus

The next day was a driving tour. This was good because the day was cloudy and rainy. Another couple from Boston (Patrick and Jenny) joined us for the day. They were staying at the same hotel as us and had also signed up for the 2 day tour. Our first stop was the Egyptian Spice Market, It was a smaller version of the Grand Bazaar, but with an empahsis on spice and food shops. We bought a bag of apple tea to bring home. As we left the market, we passed the Yeni (New) Mosque. We then drove across the Galata Bridge and on to the Dolmabahce Palace, This palace was built in the 1800's, and the Sultanate moved from Topkapi to the new palace. It was a wonderful palace, very European. We drove up the European side of the Bosphorus and crossed over to the Asian side at the Bosphorus Bridge. There was a park at the top of a hill (Buyuk Camlica) that gave a wonderful view of Istanbul, but it was very cloudy and hazy. We recrossed the bridge and drove almost to the Black Sea. We stopped for lunch at a seafood restaurant.

After lunch, we drove to the nearby Sadberk Hanim Museum that had archeological exhibits dating back to the 6th millenium BC. Then we headed to a nearby ferry slip and boarded a large passenger ferry. The ferries zigzag up and down the Bosphorus providing people access to "downtown" Istanbul from both the European and Asian sides of the city. We took the southern ferry and disembarked near the Spice Market. It was interesting seeing all of the renovated mansions and palaces along the shores of the Bosphorus. We drove back to the hotel and walked down to the "Little Ayasofya" Mosque, but, once again it was locked. There ended the tour for the day. However, Suleyman felt bad about us missing the mosque, so, even though our 2 day tour was done, he invited us to join him the next morning for a third try at the mosque.

We enjoyed the company of Patrick and Jenny, so decided to join them for dinner. We walked to a "Kebab House" a few blocks away and had some traditional Turkish kebabs. The restaurant was full of Turkish people celebrating the end of Ramazan.

Pre-cruise (Mon, Oct 23) - A Day on Our Own in Istanbul

This morning we tagged along with Suleyman, Patrick and Jenny, and another lady to visit the "Little Ayasofya" mosque. This time Suleyman had contacted someone in authority and the mosque was opened just for us. The original name of the mosque (when it was a Christian church) was the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. The mosque had been restored in the past 2 or 3 years, including removing about 2 feet of debris under the floor down to the original floor (1500 years of buildup!). I have a book published in 2000 that shows the interior of the mosque before the restoration. What a difference! We toured through the attached cemetary and learned how the turban on the gravesite statuary showed the era and status of the male deceased, or a flower showed the number of children of the female deceased. We then did a last walk around the neighbourhood with Suleyman, looking at the houses and stores - some newly renovated and others about to collapse.

We decided to walk to the Sulemaniye Mosque about a mile away. We set off getting somewhat lost as we went. None of the streets are straight, and there are very few posted street names. What looked simple on the map turned out to be more difficult in real life. We found the mosque just as call to prayer was happening. We sat outside and watched as the men washed themselves at the fountain before entering the mosque. Aside: Speaking of men and women, we noticed that there were no women waitresses in the restaurants, and no women sales people in the shops. Anyway, we waited until the prayers were over and then toured inside the mosque. We walked back to the Hippodrome (getting somewhat lost again) and had lunch at an outside restaurant, right next to Hagia Sophia.

After lunch, we walked over to the Blue Mosque for a second visit. There was a huge tourist lineup, but a pleasant Turkish fellow took us in the locals entrance and told us a bit about the mosque. It turned out that his family owned a carpet shop and wondered if we would visit it after touring the mosque. I was interested in learning more about the carpets, so after we were done in the mosque, we went with him to see some carpets. We learned all about carpets (silk and wool) and had some apple tea, but didn't buy anything. We then went to a small grocery store so that I could buy some Coke for the cruise. We just snacked for dinner and then vegged out in the hotel. The hotel was wonderful and let us use their office computer to email the folks at home every day.

Day 1 (Tue, Oct 24) - Embarkation Day

On our final day, we decided to revisit the Hagia Sophia Mosque and see the Basillica Cistern. We walked over to Hagia Sophia and entered just as it opened. What an amazing building. There was a restoration project underway to restore the ceiling of the dome. They were doing the job in 1/4 sections, so there was an immense scaffolding structure in a quarter circle that hid a portion of the dome. Some of the marble floor and especially steps at the doorways were warn into grooves by 15 centuries of people passing through. The second floor surrounding the main attrium was tilted toward the center as the core of the building had settled more than the outside walls. It was evident where Christian symbols such as crosses and pictures of people had been removed or hidden when the church was converted to a mosque. Some of the plaster had been removed revealing beautiful mosaics underneath.

After leaving the mosque, we went across the street to the Basillica Cistern. Marj wasn't interested in going inside, so I went alone. It was amazing. The cistern is about 30 feet high, but only about 2 feet of water is present, inhabited by schools of koi. There are raised wooden walkways that allow you to walk throughout the cistern. After exiting the cistern, we walked back to the hotel and met Alan and Glenys for the transfer to the cruise docks. It was about 11 AM and we wanted to get on the ship early. It wasn't far to get to the docks, and we boarded quite quickly. We had lunch at the Windjammer and then went up on deck to enjoy the panarama of the city.

We sailed from port at 8 PM. We both woke up around 3 AM , just as we sailed through the Dardanelles. We could see the Turkish memorial at Gallipoli. It was all lit up with lights and seemed to be floating above us.

Day 2 (Wed, Oct 25) - Mykonos, Greece

We woke up to a cloudy day. It is a long sail from Istanbul to Mykonos, so our arrival time was 2 PM. The morning was like a "day at sea". Nice to have some relax time after our busy days in Istanbul. The afternoon remained dull and cloudy. As soon as we arrived in Mykonos, our excursion boat was there to pick us up. We had booked a trip to the island of Delos to visit the ruins of an ancient city. The ferry took about 1/2 an hour to get us to Delos. There we were met by a guide who took us wandering through the ruins. Our tour lasted about 3 hours . The ruins were amazing and it was hard to believe how old they were. Just at the end of the tour, the sky cleared and the sun came out. Great for a final few photos! After the tour we were taken back to the island of Mykonos and dropped off at Mykonos Town. By this time it was starting to get dark, so we didn't walk around the town much. We headed back to the ship for dinner and spent the evening aboard. The ship sailed from Mykonos at 10 PM.

The history of Delos. Dating back to 3000BC, Neolithic dwellings prove the arrival of prehistoric settlers but the real story has it`s beginnings from around 1500BC. As recorded in the mythology of ancient Greece, Delos was believed to be the birthplace of Apollo the son of Zeus. The Mycenaean's of that time were first to recognize the island as a place of worship but it was the coming of the Ionians in 1100 BC where major development began. In order to acquire spiritual and political status various Ionian leagues began to compete by building elaborate temples and shrines to Apollo and other related gods. The Athenians being superior in their contributions, in 425BC decreed a purification of the island. All graves were removed and it became law that no one would be allowed to die or be born on Apollo's island.

As populations grew throughout the whole eastern Mediterranean, commercial trade also increased. Near the end of the fourth century BC the Macedonians were in control and because of Delos' geographically central location, turned the island slowly into an important trade and commercial center. The Romans were next to follow and it was during their reign the population grew, made up not only of Greeks and Italians but also Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Palestinians and Jews. Delos is a small island, which covers an area of approximately 5 square kilometers. At this time in history it was estimated to have had a population of 25000 people.

The decline of Delos happened gradually through the first century BC and into the first century AD. Rome began to concentrate its attention on Rhodes as its eastern commercial port and the religious beliefs of ancient times slowly gave way to those of its varied inhabitants. Pillaging of the island began as early as the eight century AD but the real devastation of its buildings took place through the reign of the Ottoman Empire. The abundant supply of marble was crushed and used as building material and the bronze cramps that once held the ancient structures together were removed to aid in the increasing demand for metal.


Day 3 (Thur, Oct 26) - Kusadasi, Turkey

Today was a partly sunny day. We arrived at Kusadasi at 7 AM ready for our tour. Elayne and Jack had booked a private tour with Ekol Travel. Marj wasn't feeling up to the tour, so just the 3 of us went with our guide, Bekir. (It was a strange coincidence that Bekir was a friend of Suleyman (our Istanbul guide) and they had schooled together in Cappadocia.) We left at 8:30 and headed into the mountains. The first stop was the House of the Virgin Mary. This is now a church and is purportedly where Mary spent the last years of her life. There were ruins of other buildings and water services - I guess this was a town at one time.

We then drove further to the city of Ephesus. The ruins there were amazing. The city peaked about 200 BC and had a population of 200,000 or so. The city is steeped in history and has been occupied by several major civilizations. Some local folks were putting on a play at the Library of Celcius, all in Roman costumes. After the play was over, I noticed the actor that was portraying an emperor (in purple robes and a gold laurel head piece) was sitting in the garden using his cell phone. Talk about an anachronism! We walked down the main street which was very wide and made of polished marble slabs. Various buildings lined the sides of the street. Part of the excavated houses are enclosed by a huge building (20th century!) because the mosaic floor designs are sensitive to the rain and weather. We spent about 2 hours in Ephesus. It was so interesting.

After Ephesus, we drove to the site of the Temple of Artemis. There is not much left of the ancient temple, but it was once the largest building in the world and one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Most of the remains of the temple had been scavanged by later civilizations and used as building materials.

To conclude the tour, we visited a ceramics shop that made the Iznik style of pottery. We watched a potter forming a vase, and then saw some women hand painting designs on plates and vases. The patterns were very intricate. There was a large building with several good sized rooms where different types of pottery were displayed - tiles, plates, bowls, vases, etc. with a display area for ceramics shaped and decorated with Mycenean themes (very, very expen$ive!).

We arrived back at the ship in time for a late lunch, and then Marj and I wandered around the town of Kusadasi. The sun was shining, so I took some pictures of the buildings. Kusadasi is a seaport with palm trees and a beautiful beach. The town reminded me of Istanbul, with carpet shops, aggressive salesmen and a huge bazaar area. We headed back to the ship to get ready for dinner, and we set sail at 6 PM.


Day 4 (Fri, Oct 27) - Santorini, Greece

We pulled into Santorini at 7AM. It was a beautiful sunny, blue sky day. perfect for photos of those white stucco buildings. We had once again joined a private excursion booked by Elayne and Jack. We took the cable car up the cliff and met our driver / guide, Dimitris, in Fira at abut 8 AM. The cliffside portion of the town is pedestrian only, so we had a short walk to the street where cars could drive. There were 6 of us in the van. We headed south and our first stop was at the tourist town of Kamari with the black sand beach. The hotels were all closed as tourist season had just ended. Then we drove up the highest peak (Profitis Illias) where we had a wonderful view of the island. This is the location of the famous "blue church" that everyone takes a picture of.

Then we headed west to the town of Megalochori. There we stopped in the village at a small winery called Gavala Vineyards. We had to wait a bit for the owner to show up. It was past the end of tourist season, so they weren't really open, but our guide was a personal friend and they made an exception for us. They made three types of wine - a dry white, a dry red and a special sweet red that was produced soley for church use (communion). We sampled all three wines. They were quite good.

After the winery, we headed back through Fira, and on towards Oia (pronounced ee-ah). Oia is a beautiful village built on the cliffs. The buildings are stucco and mostly painted white, but blue trim and other pastel shades were also visible. We drove into the village as far as cars could go, and then walked through the twisted maze of walkways. It was very warm (hot!) and the brilliant blue sky made the white paint even whiter. It was gorgeous. This is one place I would love to live!

After spending an hour or so meandering through Oia, we boarded the van and headed back to Fira. We left the van close to the town center and walked through the narrow streets towards the cable car. It was about 1 PM and we decided to have lunch back on the ship rather than in town. It was so nice out and the view was so wonderful that we took the donkey trail down instead of the cable car. At the top of the trail, there were 20 or so donkeys tethered up, waiting for the afternoon rush of people wanting to go back down the trail. We passed many donkeys (coming up) on the way down, but only a couple of people walking up. It must be a mile or so of steps and it was quite hot. Even the walk down was tiring.

We had a late lunch and stayed on the ship for the afternoon. It was wonderful looking up at the cliffs from the ship and seeing the brilliant white buildings built into the cliffs above. The ship left the harbour at about 9 PM. What an awesome day!


Day 5 (Sat, Oct 28) - A Day At Sea

After 7 days of touring cities, villages and ruins, it was nice to have a relaxing day at sea. The Radiance class of ships (including the Brilliance) are beautiful ships. The public areas are boldly decorated. Our favorite areas are the Solarium (with the huge elephants) and the Schooner Bar / Colony Club area. This was also the day for our Cruise Critic welcome get together. It was held in the Viking Crown Lounge and there were over 70 people in attendence. It was nice to meet all of the folks who we had corresponded with for up to a year before sailing.

About the only area of the ship that we have problems with is the centrum. For some reason, RCCL has decided to make the centrum into a live performance venue. Other cruise ships seem to limit singers and entertainers to the main theatre and to the various bars and lounges throughout the ship. However the Radiance class ships utilize the centrum as well. The music can be very loud making it unpleasant to use the internet areas, library and other rooms off of the centrum, especially if you don't like the music. It would be nice to have some quiet at times!


Day 6 (Sun, Oct 29) - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Another warm and blue sky day! We decided that we would forego a tour in Dubrovnik and do it on our own. We arrived at 10 AM and docked about a mile or 2 from the old city. We were docked right next to the new suspension bridge that replaced the one bombed during the 1990 conflict. Apparently much of the old city was damaged too during the war, but recent repairs left little trace. We took the shuttle bus from the ship to the old city. This part of the city is completely surrounded by walled fortifications, so we had to enter through the ancient drawbridge gate (Pile Gate). There are no vehicles inside the city, it is pedestrians only. Immediately inside the city is a large public fountain and a Franciscan Monestary. It was Sunday, but the church was still open for visitors.

We walked down the main street of the city. It was very wide and paved with polished marble that was so shiny it appeared to be wet. There were crowds of people along the street visiting the tourist shops and outdoor restaurants. We marvelled at the architecture of the Dominican Monestary and St. Blaise's Church, but didn't enter either as church services were in progress. A farmer's market was in full swing near St. Blaise's church. we headed down a side street that took us to a narrow road that paralleled the city walls. The road was empty in contrast to the swarms of tourists on the main streets.

We came upon a set of stairs up to the top of the wall and decided to circumnavigate the city on the wall. An attendant popped out of nowhere to sell us a ticket for about 7 Euros each. Walking the wall was fabulous. The views of the city and harbour were amazing. The length of the wall is 6200 feet (about a nautical mile) so we took about an hour to walk the circumference. Along the way we stopped for exceptional views and to climb the towers dotted along the route. One thing we noticed was that most of the buildings had new red tile rooves, probably a result of repairing the damage from the war. Dubrovnik is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

On the way out of the city we stopped to buy an embroidered lace table cloth from a local lady. She was asking 18 Euros (a steal) so I gave her a 20 euro note and gestured that she keep the change. She was so pleased that she threw in a "tatted" doily as well. We sat down in a park just outside the city walls to enjoy some snacks and a view of the ocean. We took a brief walk along the main street of the new city (complete with traffic). Then we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship, which was departing at 5 PM. Another wonderful day in another wonderful city.


Day 7 (Mon, Oct 30) - Venice, Italy (Day 1)

We arrived at Venice at noon. We were going to have 2 days here as we were overnighting at the dock. Our entry into the city was awesome. It was bright and sunny, although a haze hung over the islands. We sailed into the lagoon and could see Venice in the distance. We steamed towards Venice, and then travelled the length of the city along Giudecca's canal until we reached the industrial dock yards at the west end. There were two cruise ships already there, so our ship did a U-turn and headed back along the canal, passing the Piazza San Marco for the second time. We ended up docking right on San Marco's canal, just about a 10 minute walk from the Piazza. We were so lucky as the regular dockyard was a loooong way from the heart of Venice. The upper deck of the ship was a wonderful vantage point for observing the city. It was as high as the campanile in the Piazza, and looked over the rooftops of the city.

We once again joined a private excursion booked by Elayne and Jack. It was a motor launch tour of the canals of Venice. There were 8 of us on the tour and we were picked up about 1 PM. We did the Grand Canal, the north side of the island and many side canals. It was wonderful. As well as the gondolas and the vaperettos, we saw numerous "commercial" boats transporting cement, bricks, flowers and even coffins. We passed a hospital and all of the ambulances were boats! We did a short stop at one point to walk through the Jewish ghetto area. Back aboard the boat we navigated under bridges and through one-way canals. It was a great way to get an overview of the city.

After the 2 hour tour, we were dropped back at the ship. We walked back to the Piazza and looked around until it was time to return for dinner. There had been a marathon race the week prior to our arrival, and there were wooden ramps at each canal bridge. Some of the less mobile passengers remarked how great it was to have the ramps as it made it much easier for them to negotiate the bridges. What a wonderful city! We had had a great intro to the city and looked forward to another day in Venice.

Day 8 (Tue, Oct 31) - Venice, Italy (Day 2)

Today we had booked a tour through the ship. The tour was focused on the Piazza San Marco. We were picked up at 8:30 AM and boarded a water taxi right by the ship. I'm not sure why they did this, because we were only a 10 minute walk from the Piazza. However, the boat ride was nice and we docked right at the Piazza. After a brief introduction to the Piazza, we entered the Doge's palace. The tour took us through the many rooms of the palace. The paintings were huge and all by famous painters. It was interesting seeing where the aristocracy met to run the city and the surrounding area. We also crossed over the canal via the "Bridge of Sighs" and visited the old prison. Not a very nice place to live!

After completing our palace visit, we headed over to St. Mark's Basillica. The church was huge and very interesting. It was quite dark inside. I was especially interested in the church because one of my favorite composers - Giovanni Gabrieli - was the resident organist, composer and choir master from 1584 to 1612. He was noted for experimenting with two separated choir lofts - the first foray into "stereo" music! We didn't stay in the church too long, so didn't get to see a lot in any detail.

We then headed across the Piazza to a glassware shop to see a craftsman at work (without having to go to Murano!). The artist was very gifted and made a fancy vase and a glass horse in only a few minutes. After the demonstration we visited a number of rooms displaying many types of glassware. It was fascinating. We didn't buy any glass pieces although they were very nice.

The water taxi took us back to the ship in time for lunch. We had a quick lunch and then headed back on to land for a final look around. The ship sailed at 3 PM, so we had about an hour to wander around. The sail away was very interesting too, as we passed a number of islands while leaving the lagoon. We had heard good and bad stories about Venice, especially related to flooding and smells from the canals. However, we found it very clean and the canals were just fine.


Day 9 (Wed, Nov 1) - A Day At Sea

Nov 1 is "All Saints Day", a national holiday in Italy. It was a good day to have a day at sea, as so many of the stores, museums and sites would be closed. The food on the ship was very good. There was a different menu for each of the 14 nights and ports days were supplemented with a "special" from the area / city we had just visited. We had asked for a table for 8 or 10 when we booked the cruise as we like to meet lots of people. However, we were placed at a table for 4. It was OK though as our tablemates were two widows from Texas, and we had a great time together.

The ship was not completely full for the cruise. The capacity is about 2100 passengers, and just over 1900 people had booked. We had no problem getting seats at the main theatre, and didn't encounter any crowds or lineups out of the ordinary.


Day 10 (Thur, Nov 2) - Naples (Sorrento, Amalfi), Italy

Today was cold and cloudy with occasional rain showers. Not a great day for photography. We had joined a private excursion that had been booked by Glenys and Alan. We arrived at Naples at 8AM and were picked up by our driver shortly after. We headed south, past Vesuvius, towards the town of Sorrento. On the way we passed the island of Capri. We didn't have time to do Capri, but, as it turned out, the water was so rough that boats could not make it to the island. We stopped at a small village and the driver popped into a bakery and brought us all lemon desserts. Yum!

We travelled through Sorrento and enjoyed the coastline and small villages. From Sorrento, we headed over the mountains to the Amalfi Coast. We arrived at the village of Positano and parked in the center of town. We were in a small van (for 6 people) and were able to drive quite a ways down the cliff - not possible in a larger bus. We walked through the narrow streets right down to the ocean. Too bad it was so grey, as the houses built up the cliff were very picturesque. After returning to the van, we continued along the coast to Praiano. We stopped there to look at a beautiful church. Then we headed on to Amalfi. Once again we walked through the town. We stopped at a small ceramics shop and bought some numbered tiles for our street address. Something to do when I get home!

It was nearing noon so we piled in the van and headed to a restaurant at a small village right next to Ravello. We had an excellent lunch - a selection of antipasto, then a selection of different pastas. Very nice. After lunch we headed north again towards Naples. We stopped at the town of Pompeii and walked around the ancient city. We decided to not have a guide and did it on our own. It wasn't raining, but was freezing cold. We really enjoyed walking around the town trying to guess what different buildings were used for. It wouldn't be as much fun with a guide! After an hour or two, we returned to the van and were taken back to the ship. We arrived at the ship around 5 PM as it was getting dark. Despite the cloudy, rainy, cold day, we really did enjoy the scenery and the visit to Pompeii. Need to return on a warm, sunny day!!


Day 11 (Fri, Nov 3) - Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy

We arrived at Civitavecchia at 7 AM, just at sunrise. It was a cold, but blue sky day. We were booked again with Glenys and Alan, and 4 others on a private tour. Our guide, Claudio, met us at the ship. We headed East toward Rome - about an hour and a half drive through the countryside. The driver explained that of the 3 million Romans, 2 million of them have secondary homes or apartments on the coast (exaggeration?) and so the connecting road can be busy during the summer months, especially on weekends. We soon reached Rome and headed straight for the forum area. The driving in Rome was very aggresive and there were lots of motorbikes (mosquitoes) everywhere. We parked and walked the length of the forum, from Capitol Hill to the Coliseum. It was very interesting. Claudio was an encyclopedia of facts about the area.

We decided to enter the Coliseum, which was an additional charge. Claudio did not accompany us, so we did it on our own. The Coliseum is huge and it was easy to imagine 50,000 cheering Romans seated around the stands. After we had exited, Claudio picked us up and drove past the Circus Maximus. There were some huge ruins there. We stopped at a small square and visited the Santa Maria sopra Minerva church. Very beautiful. Outside was the famous elephant obelisk. From there it was a short walk to the Pantheon. There was some scaffolding and work going on inside, so we couldn't get near to the Rafael tomb. The Pantheon is an amazing building and it's hard to fathom how old it is.

Then we headed across the Tiber to the Vatican. The main road to the Vatican was blocked off as the Pope was coming out to speak to the people (but we weren't aware of that). The Pope was out and about while we were in the Vatican and returned as we were leaving. It's too bad that the Pope didn't get a chance to meet me, but he wasn't to know!

We had a special Vatican guide, Claudia (not to be confused with Claudio), who determined that the line up for the museum and Sistine Chapel was huge, and we wouldn't make the winter closing time of 12:30 PM. Instead, we entered St. Peter's Basilica and went down to the crypt and saw where most of the popes were buried (including Pope John Paul II). There was also the tomb of St. Peter, right in the center of the church. Then we walked through the main floor of the Basilica. It is an amazing building. The bronze baldachino (95 feet high) by Bernini, and other statues and alters were awesome.

We left the Vatican and went to a restaurant just across the street for a late lunch. I had an excellent pizza with olives, proscuito and artichoke. Of course we had a nice red wine to go with it. After lunch we did a quick visit to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. We then stopped at the Church of St. Peter in Chains, where we saw the (supposed) chains that held St. Peter captive, as well as Michalangelo's sculpture of Moses. Our final stop was at the Piazza Navona where we saw the famous Bernini fountains. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was partially covered as it was being restored.

Then it was time to head back to the ship. We arrived back just as the sun was setting - about 5 PM. It was a fabulous day. Although we saw so much, we had really just scratched the surface of Rome. We will have to come back again to see some more!

A note of interest. One of the Royal Caribbean guides was friendly with the Vatican staff, so the "ship's tours" had a special tour through the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel AFTER closing time - all to themselves!


Day 12 (Sat, Nov 4) - Villefranche (Nice), France

By coincidence, our back-to-back cruises happened to repeat just this one port. We had decided that we would do a half day bus tour today, and then do a full day private tour 4 days later when we returned to Villefranche. The bus tour focused on Nice and the walled village of Eze. It was sunny with scattered clouds, but rather cool today. We arrived at 10 AM, but our bus tour wasn't until 1:30 PM. I took some pictures of the harbour from the ship and then we had lunch before boarding a tender for shore. The bus picked us up and drove through the old walled fortress in Villefranche. The city hall and a few other buildings are enclosed by the walls. Nice was just over the hill, about 3 km from Villefranche. In Nice,we drove down the main street (Promenade des Anglais) which is right by the ocean. We stopped at a flower market for a walk around. Then we headed up the hillside through the ritzy area of Nice - beautiful homes and hotels. We even saw a house owned by Elton John up on the hilltop.

Then we headed eastwards along the coast to the village of Eze. It is a "village perche" - a walled village perched on a hilltop for defence (not that we had any notion of attacking it!). We parked just outside of the main gate into the village, right beside a Fragonard Store. Marj bought some scented soaps there. We entered the village and wandered through the narrow, winding "streets". There was no traffic within the walls, as the streets were very narrow, twisty and with a lot of steps. The houses and buildings were mostly tourist shops and restaurants. Some of the shops incorporated the rock of the hillside as a wall or part of the floor - sort of like walking into a cave. At the end of our walk we came to a small Cathedral (well, it was quite large, but smaller than the HUGE ones we had seen previously). There was a lookout where you could see down the mountainside to the ocean, as well as view the newer part of the village outside of the walls.

We drove back along the coast to Villefranche. There are many towns and villages along the coast, so it's hard to tell where one begins and another ends. We tendered back to the ship in time to get ready for dinner. This was certainly a beautiful part of the French Riviera, and we were looking forward to returning to visit some more sites in a few days.


Day 13 (Sun, Nov 5) - Livorno (Florence, Pisa), Italy

We arrived at Livorno at 7 AM. It was a cool day with a mix of cloud and sun. We had joined a private tour booked by Jolinda and Clint. The van picked us up at 8:30 AM. Our guide was Paula for the morning, and her husband, Guiseppe, would take over for the afternoon. We had an hour and half drive through the countryside to get from Livorno to Florence. Our first stop once we reached Florence was the Academia. We were ushered in after a very short wait. The first area we visited was a selection of stringed instruments. There were violins, violas and cellos by Stradivarius and Amati. Also there were some keyboards by Christofori. The next room had a number of (incomplete?) marble sculptures by Michaelangelo. At the end of the corridor was the original statue of David. We weren't supposed to take pictures, but I took one anyway and got yelled at. I think that's good luck! We visited another room full of plaster models that were used to teach the students of sculpture.

After the Academia, we walked to the Baptistry and Duomo. We couldn't go in because it was Sunday. The architecture and ornamentation was amazing. From here, we walked to the Piazza della Signoria to see the town hall (Medici Palace) and where a copy of David stood where the original was once located. There were numerous other famous sculptures in the piazza. We drove to the basilica of Santa Croce. The church was very beautiful inside and contained the graves of Machiavelli, Michaelangelo, Rossini, Galileo and Marconi (among others). It was awesome standing amongst such great men.

We then drove across the Arne and up a hillside to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a magnificent view of the city. One could see the Duomo, the town hall and the Ponte Vecchia all at once. Then we headed back down to the city again visited a Gelateria for ice cream. Yum. Then it was on to the Ponte Vecchia to walk the famous bridge. Because it was Sunday, only a few of the gold shops were open. Just as we wandered off the end of the bridge, we ran into Claudio, our guide from Rome. He was chauffering another group from the Brilliance. We had a nice visit with him and then it was time to leave the city.

We headed back towards Pisa as the sun was getting lower in the sky. We arrived at the Leaning Tower just as the sun was setting. Not great for photos, but at least we got to see the tower. The Duomo was very interesting and we had a quick look inside. Then it was time to head back to the ship. We got back about 6:30 and rushed up to dinner. We got to the dining room about an hour late, but that was no problem. They were glad to serve us whatever the time!


Day 14 (Mon, Nov 6) - A Day At Sea

Ah, a final day at sea before arriving in Barcelona. The Mediterranean leg of the back-to-back cruises has been phenomenal. I've enjoyed every port so much. Today was the last chance to say goodbye to the folks that we had become friends with on this first leg. Several couples are staying on for the TA leg. If you don't say goodbye on the penultimate day, then it's almost impossible to catch anyone on debarkation day because everything is so busy.

We received our instructions for the change of cabin for the next leg. We didn't book early enough to get the same cabin for both legs. However, this would give us a chance to try two different cabins. Our first cabin is right on the "hump" and has an odd shaped balcony. One side is the regular depth and the other side is double deep. The railing cuts at 45 degrees. This gives us room for one lounge chair as well as the normal chair and table. The lounge chair only fits on the longer side of the balcony. Our second cabin is near the front of the ship with a rectagular, double deep balcony.

The moving instructions seemed very clear. We just needed to pack our "drawer" items into our bags and mark our suitcases with the new room number. The steward would move all our hanging clothes and bags to the new room while we were touring Barcelona. What could be easier? So, there was no rush to put bags out in the hall and it didn't have the feel of "the cruise is over".

We also said goodbye to our wait staff. At the start of every cruise, the waiters and bus boys are shuffled around, so it was unlikely we would have them again.We really enjoyed our team - Nuno from Portugal and Joseph from Goa.


Day 15 (Tue, Nov 7) - Barcelona, Spain

We arrived at Barcelona at 7 AM, on a cloudy (but warm) day. For most of the people, this was the end of the cruise and they would be leaving the ship to go back home. For us, it was saying goodby to a great group of new friends, and then looking forward to meeting a whole new group. We did our final packing and got everything in our room ready for the steward to take them to our new cabin. We had booked a city tour which left at 9 AM. There were about 250 cabins that were staying on for the TA leg, so a number of them took the same tour.

We did a tour through the downtown area of Barcelona, sighting several fantastic buildings by Gaudi. Our first stop was at the famous Church of the Sagrada Familia (Sacred family). The church was only partially completed during Gaudi's time, and has been worked on ever since. Due to some large donations of money recently, the construction is now going full tilt and should finish in 2020 (so the guide said!). The cloudy day and the huge construction cranes really detracted from the church, so I didn't get any good photos. I'll have to return in 2021 on a sunny day! Then we drove to the Medieval Gothic Quarter, which is the oldest part of the city. We walked through some narrow streets flanked by buildings from the 12th or 13th century. This was also the site of the Gothic Cathedral, completed in the 15th century. We went inside the cathedral and it was really beautiful.

We then hopped back on the bus and drove through the city some more. We ended up at a park that overlooked the city and our cruise ship at the dock. Once again the cloudy day made for drab pictures, but now we have an excuse to return. We then headed back to the ship and looked for our new cabin. Everything had been moved to the new cabin and we were all set for the transatlantic cruise. We managed to remember that our cabin had changed, and we didn't once head to our old cabin to find that our room card didn't work!

This ends the diary of the Mediterranean cruise. Please continue the saga by selecting the Transatlantic 11'06 link on the left sidebar. See you there!