Monthly Archives: June 2012

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 4

Montenegro

The captain recommended the passengers make an early wake up (6 a.m.) to view the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Absolutely beautiful. He pointed out an old submarine repair station (a tunnel in the side of the “mountain”) and several small war ships sitting derelict along the shore. We could hardly peel ourselves away from the windy deck to sit down to breakfast (we watched out the windows the entire time). Our last paid tour took place very early, and overall I must say Montenegro is definitely a place to visit! The tour took us to a number of locations in the country, starting with a trip up 25 switchbacks to get over the mountain. I call them stitches. Seriously, look at Google Maps. In fact, the tour guide described it as the civil engineer’s best work (I’d have to agree, now that my heart is back to normal after the harrowing corners our bus took). Oh, and what a view! The Bay of Kotor is listed by UNESCO as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. I can see why.

Bay of Kotor.Bay of Kotor.Cows.

Our first stop was in a small village that produces the smoked ham that is one of the country’s specialties. The curing/smoking process takes an entire year to complete! The bus pulled into a quaint restaurant to sample the ham and local cheese, as well as the local wine for those so inclined. I have to say the ham (like a prosciutto) did have a delicate distinct flavor not at all bad.

Mountain.

The next stop was in Cetinje, the former capitol, when it was still a kingdom (prior to Yugoslavia). The mountain village only held several thousand inhabitants. The entire country, now, is just over half a million people. The limestone mountains make for an interesting history and difficult expansion. Our guide walked us through the St. Nicholas Museum, once the palace of the royal family, then gave us a couple minutes to wander back to the bus on our own. At this point we met up with the highway, so no more crazy scary roads!

Back down the mountains the bus made its way through a larger (35,000 inhabitants) town of Budva, now famous for its hotel used in the recent Casino Royale movie. Following the highway was our last stop back in Kotor. The guide took us in a circle route around Old Kotor, surrounded by an old wall, then left us to discover whatever we wished. This was the most time we got on our own, and Herr and I decided to walk up to the mountain’s fort by way of the miniature “China Wall”. Granted, in retrospect, this was a bad idea in the bright sun in the middle of the afternoon, so about halfway we went our separate ways. Herr was determined to see the top, and I was determined not to pass out from heat exhaustion. I did a little shopping while cooling off in the shade of the buildings and hightailed it back to the ship. I did have a scoop of samalad (ice cream!) and found it quite agreeable. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind living there.

Church.Ramparts.Bay with yacht.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Thursday was the first day on the cruise we did not take a pre-packaged shore excursion. The ship dropped anchor in the bay outside of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and we took our ship’s own tenders right up to the walled old city (another UNESCO site, woohoo!). The first order of business was to get the local money, the Kuna. Croatia does not use the euro, although many shops will take it. The main street has smooth white paving stones and the shops all have arched doorways. The wall runs very high and allows easy views of the famous red tiled roofs (many tiles had to be replaced because of earthquakes and the recent war).

Dubrovnik.

We found the morning market first, which was cute. The cathedral and Rector’s Palace were just around the corner, so our first stop was the palace. Inside was a museum with historical artifacts of Dubrovnik, which was a nice relaxed introduction to the city. The ticket covered three museums, so after a quick stop inside the cathedral, we walked to the pier to visit the Maritime Museum. It was located on the upper floor of an old fort attached to the wall and had some interesting information about maritime activities in the city over the years (Dubrovnik was a major port for hundreds of years). The museum itself is simply one room and is thusly a quick visit.

Cathedral.

Luckily, the city wall connects right at the museum entrance, so we were fortunate enough to walk part of the wall for free! It was great to enjoy the view of the port and get a close look at the roof tiles before descending again. We were at the drawbridge gate at that point and used the opportunity to go outside the wall and up the cable car for an overarching city view. The sun was beating down, so after exploring some of the bunker ruins from the 1991-2 war, we had a lovely seafood lunch with much of the cafe to ourselves (everyone else was eating outside) with the best indoor view. We went back down, did some shopping, and came across the St. Ignatius church before heading back to the ship for a big barbecue buffet.

Dubrovnik.Coast.Sunset.

Hvar, Croatia

Our last day on the cruise, we made a brief half-day stop in Hvar, Croatia. Hvar is known as one of the sunniest islands in the world as well as the longest at 33 miles along the Dalmatian Coast. And lavender. Lots of lavender, although the fields weren’t visible from the port city (sigh). We made it on the first tender out bright and early around 7:45 a.m. when the city was still waking up. The port opens right into the main square with the arsenal and clock tower posted at the corners. The first road off the main square is also the main gate into the old city. And then there were stairs. Lots of stairs. Again. Again! All of the old city streets are paved with white marble stones, so they were slightly slippery going up. Hvar is a small town though, so it was a short ascent to the gate of the Spanola Fortica (the Fortress), and the rest of the climb was on an easy sloping path.

Plants.

The fortress had many uses over its existence, but the primary purpose was always in defense of the city. Along the path up, we jogged off a bit to see the fortress’s church. In the fortress itself, we saw a small amphorae exhibit and the prisons on top of the view. We took a different “street” back down into the old city and saw the old well, a small church, and the vegetable market just on the other side of the wall at the bottom. Just a quick peak in the main cathedral on the square before we poked our heads into a couple of shops. I found some lavender and had a bit of ice cream before returning to the ship.

Church.Fortress walls.Hvar.

We intentionally made the city visit short so we could try out the marina on board. Herr went water skiing while I hung out on the inflatable trampoline, slide, and water mat. It took some building up of courage to get into the briny cold water, but at least the sun warmed us up quite nicely. Since it was our last day on the ship with a morning arrival in Venice the next day, we had to pack our bags and get ready for our time back in Italy.

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 3

Capri, Italy

Our first shore excursion, Capri! It started off wet. And cold. A front had gone through, and the cloud was hovering over the highest point of Capri. The ship anchored out of the harbor, and we hopped aboard tenders straight to the Blue Grotto. Along the way, the tour guide gave us an amusing overview of “Boar Island”, and I wasn’t sure just what we were really going to get to see on a cloudy day in the grotto. From our larger tender boat, we jumped into smaller row boats in groups of four for an intimate ride through a very small hole in the cliff wall. We all had to lie down in the boat to get through, but wow! The water lit up underneath like a giant neon light. The rowers entertained us with song as we ogled the glowing water.

Blue Grotto.

The tenders then took us to the main port of Marina Grande, and a bus weaved us up to the town of Anacapri. We sat for a while to do a wine tasting that Herr thought was “okay”, but we both agree the bruschetta was tasty. From there we got tickets to ride a single-seat chair lift to the tippy top of Solaro Mountain. The ride was a unique and peaceful experience that took a little over ten minutes dangling in the air to reach our destination that sat in a cloud. Despite not getting the view from the top, the ride itself was worth doing.

Solaro Mountain lift.Marina Grande.

When we came back down, we ate a lunch of sandwiches we grabbed from the ship (free food!), and I bought a gelato (it was also just “okay”). The shops were cute though; expensive, but I didn’t have enough time to truly check them out (or I’m sure I would have spent a good deal of money). The tour guide shoveled us back into buses to go to the main port of Capri, pointed out the major highlights around the main square, and left us to our own devices. Herr and I looked at a few shops, then took the funicular railway back down to the port for some more quick shopping (just a summer dress). Back to the tender and a good nap for me once on board while Herr dutifully checked out the fitness center. By the time we had left, the sun was out, so we both got a little pinker.

Capri harbor.

Taormina, Sicily

Ah, Sicily! The day was much more pleasant, weather-wise, but there was some frustration with how much time we had. The port of Messina isn’t terribly interesting as most of the city was rebuilt after a 1908 earthquake, so we took another tour that required a bus ride to Taormina, about 30 miles south. The city of Taormina is beautiful with views of the coast from its mountainous location with Mt. Etna (the tallest volcano in Europe, and quite active) in the background. The bus brought us to the south end of the main street, which we walked to get to the north end where the ancient Greek theatre is located. The theatre was retrofitted by the Romans to be an amphitheater, so it has a mix of stone and brick infrastructure. While sitting down to hear its history, one found it difficult to take their eyes off the mountain in the distance.

Messina harbor.Amphitheater with Mount Etna.

We ate lunch once the guide let us go and only had 45 minutes to walk the long stretch of road back to the other end. Along the street were several confectionery shops that looked good, so we sampled some of the local food. I wanted to do much more shopping – the streets were just beckoning me – but we hardly had time to get back. We did make one side tour to see the English garden that was visible from the theatre. It was quite a sight, I just wished we could have seen more of it.

Taormina.English garden.

Practically jogging back up the hill to the main street, we made it back to the tour group to get back on the bus back to Messina. Unfortunately, Sicily has a three hour siesta during the time we arrived, so we couldn’t get into the church to see the 16,000 pipe organ. So back to the ship to chill out. Amusingly, one of the huge cruise ships had pulled in as our ship was docking; it was so huge! About as big as a mega-hotel on water with roughly 3,000 or 3,500 passengers. I don’t think I would ever enjoy something so crowded and large. The WindSurf sailing yacht is quite big enough for me! We had high tea and chatted with others as we pulled out of the harbor. Herr went for dinner (I couldn’t handle yet another 3 course dinner!), and I finally got a chance to watch A Room with a View (recommended to me by a friend).

At Sea

Today was a day at sea, with the shores of Italy hanging off one side of the ship for a good part of the day before heading straight into the Ionian Sea towards the Dalmatian Coast. For the most part, I chilled out in the library playing word puzzles and Trivial Pursuit until our afternoon spa appointments. The sea was a bit rough with high winds but sunny; I found walking in a straight line a challenge so preferred to sit.

Herr tried acupuncture for the first time. He came back to the room looking more relaxed than I have ever seen him, so I am curious now to try it myself. Dinner was another three course meal that left me feeling full beyond capacity. We camped out and watched Back to the Future, vegetable-style.