Tag: spring

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 4


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.

Italy and the Adriatic: Part 2

Rome Day 2

We had planned to go to the Vatican, but we could only get tickets for Friday and decided to do something completely different. So we went to Ostia Antica, a small port town just south of Rome that was “Pompeii-ed”, if I might make that a verb. Instead of ash though, Ostia was buried in river silt. We spent nearly seven hours walking through this well-preserved, partially reconstructed town.

Ostia Antica.

One problem with visiting Ostia Antica was the sheer number of classroom tours going on. It honestly felt like an entire school dumped its kids on the site! After struggling through the entrance, we skipped ahead, ate an early lunch, and found the far west corner. It was very quiet, and we were amazed at just how much exploring one could do. Not much was blocked off (only unsafe places), so we definitely explored! I think we came across no less than ten public baths and walked through several casas (large family homes) and smaller residences. It was quite amazing to see the floor mosaics and walk on many of them. One casa still had a good deal of its second floor as well. Herr loved it, and now we must see Pompeii, which is a wealthier town versus this more practical port town.

Ostia Antica.Ostia Antica.

We caught quite a bit of sun and did a great deal of walking, so headed nearly straight back to the apartment. Right off the metro is a nice restaurant called Pastalleta I believe, so Herr had a cheese-less pizza while I had a dish of fruit with a scoop of lemon sorbet on top. Tasty! Herr headed out for the train station to do some rail fanning of the brand new AGV train service while I chose the evening to recover (seven hours of walking is a lot for a desk job worker!).

One oddity in particular we noticed was how much people double parked around here. It’s understandable, with lack of space for parking garages (you really can’t dig down without hitting an archaeological site!), but it made me wonder how does the person inside get out? Does the double parker just try to be quick? Well, I found out. As I chilled out in the room, a car would not stop honking. I finally got up to look, and sure enough, it was someone trying to get out of his parking spot. And not more than 30 seconds after I looked, the owner of the vehicle caging him in came out to move his car! I couldn’t imagine doing it myself, I’d probably just have a bicycle. 😛

Rome Day 3

A busy day today, starting with St. Peter’s Basilica. We’ve visited this the last time in Rome, but this time instead of going up the cupola (a great view), we went into the grottoes and the treasury. I think we were both a little disgusted with the church’s show of wealth, to be honest. Gold chalices laced with precious stones and white gold diamond stars for ornamentation among other works. We’d visited St. Peter’s before and mostly overlooked the monetary squandering to respect the craftsmanship of the building. I still think it’s a beautiful building to see, but it’s a jaded trip for me.

Saint Peter Basilica.

Herr’s parents met us at one of the fountains in St. Peter’s plaza to go to the Vatican Museum, which we found an online reservation that was much appreciated (oh the lines…). As it was, we didn’t escape the crush of people inside. Oh did I feel like cattle being herded through the halls and rooms. When we went three years ago, we didn’t experience this and were able to enjoy each installation that appealed to us. Being squashed through, we got to the Raphael rooms very quickly as we could not stop or deviate to look at anything until then. I have to say the Raphael rooms were worth going through again and were, thankfully, not nearly as crowded. At that break between the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel, both crowds thinned out. Woohoo! We still had to go back through the Sistine Chapel, which both of us thought seemed different the second time around, but made it through to the cafeteria for some water. Herr was interested in the “popemobiles”, so we made one stop there (I didn’t find it too interesting, many of the carriages looked alike but the cars were modified to have a heavily gilt single seat in the back) before hopping the metro and two buses to the catacombs.

Getting to the catacombs was difficult, but we arrived at the Domitilla Catacombs in time to meet up with the English tour that had just begun. I was very curious after visiting the Parisian catacombs, with its bones piled into art, to see Roman catacombs, which are supposed to be much larger. It was much different though. The narrow tunnels were dug specifically for burials (Paris’ had a different original purpose), and people were laid into narrow slits in the wall. It was a unique experience, although it was a very controlled visit via the 40 minute tour. I was reaching the end of my walking tolerance by then, but we still wished to see the Caracalla Baths. And so we did.

Domitilla Catacombs.

The Baths required another hop on the bus, and we misinterpreted the stop we needed due to a road that carried the same name. After quite a walk, we thought we found the entrance, just to walk allllllll the way around the baths first. The long way round wasn’t all in vain though, as one side was up a hill that had a decent view over the ruins. Once inside though, we went right into the enormous main bath facility. Much of it no longer has any roof or ceilings, but we got to see some of the still-colorful mosaic floors and much of the superstructure walls still stand. Herr was keen on this building as two railway stations in the U.S. were modeled after it (although only half of one still exists, whereas this does). By then, I wasn’t sure how I was still walking. We found a metro not too far away and looked for a restaurant all over the main train terminal. We mostly stumbled to our apartment after eating.

Caracalla Baths.

At Sea

The day our cruise began! We didn’t do much of anything until our van came at noon, which was a welcome break for our feet. The van took us to the port, but the driver struggled to get us to our actual ship. He ended up bringing us to a bus that brought us there. After all the hassle, I didn’t want to have to get back to the city, so we missed out on Civitavecchia. We had a lot of orienting to do with the ship though. We learned of the 370ish capacity, there’s 270ish passengers. An overall relaxed atmosphere with a number of younger couples (although the majority was certainly older). I hadn’t realized the ship is run primarily in English with the U.S. dollar. It’s been so long!

WindSurf Masts.

We sat in on the two orientation discussions and had an evacuation drill (it was like a participatory version of the airline emergency drill, but funnier). Dinner began very late for my standards at no earlier than 7:30 p.m. and came out to be three courses. Three! All free! Oh, it was awful how much I ate. I think we all learned our lesson to moderate. It was good too, aside from an excessive use of salt (and alcohol in everything, honestly! Cruises were not meant for tee-totalers). The staff were super friendly and each learned our names. I felt quite out of place as this was my first experience on a cruise, but I started to figure it all out by the end of the day.


Italy and the Adriatic: Part 1


Herr, his parents, and I went on a two week vacation in Italy and along the Dalmatian Coast, primarily by ship. The weather held to mostly sunny and pleasantly warm, and the cruise was onboard the Windstar line’s WindSurf, the largest sailing yacht with a capacity of 370 passengers. We spent three days around Rome before boarding with stops at Capri, Italy; Messina/Taormina, Sicily; Kotor, Montenegro; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Hvar, Croatia; and ending in Venice, where we stayed for two nights followed by one night in Verona.

This is our story.

Rome Day 1

Our flight out of Frankfurt was delayed for a half an hour, and upon landing in Rome we found out potentially why when we heard a crazy noise repeatedly coming from the landing gear. After a sporty van ride through some crazy Roman traffic, picking up the keys to our apartment, and picking up some lunch, we went our separate ways for the rest of the day. Herr and I went northeast to the Borghese park and rented a riscio (two person quadracycle with electric assist). Our goal was to see the Galleria Borghese, but it was sold out until Monday. So instead we cruised around the gardens. The pedal carriage was a lot of fun!

We made a quick stop by the Hard Rock Cafe, which was only a block from the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church that houses the Capuchin Crypt. The crypt was interesting enough with only a euro donation, but no pictures makes for sad tourists. The crypts are decorated with a wide variety of human bones, unlike the Paris Catacombs that display mostly femurs and crania. It makes me all the more curious to see the bone church in the Czech Republic.

Church front.

The church isn’t far from Trevi Fountain, but we just jumped the metro to the Roman Forums instead. We heard later from Herr’s parents that Trevi was intensely busy, so I’m a bit glad we didn’t go by, even if it has one of the best gelato shops. At the forum, we sat down and enjoyed the atmosphere much more than last time (three years ago). We had spent most of our time on Palatine Hill then, so we skipped that and hung out among the ruins. It was great to take it easy, and it allowed us to appreciate it much more.


We left a little after 6 p.m. and grabbed some sandwiches from a street vendor (overpriced, but it is a tourist-y area). As we ate, we watched other tourists around the Colosseum, which was entertaining enough. By then, though, we were quite exhausted with the early wake up (3:30 a.m.) and made our way back for an early night.