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Italy

Cruise Days 9 & 10 - at Sea & Rome

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Day 68 Monday 22 November - “Cruise Day 9 – at Sea”

As predicted, despite there being no port to visit, we had a very eventful day. After breakfast I had to have the password reset on my Internet account and Jenny visited the library to check out some reading material.

At 10:30 we attended an Asian Fusion cooking demonstration and tasted the results. The Chinese Chef prepared and presented Kung Pao Chicken, even the sauce was prepared from scratch. Both the appearance and taste were excellent. Then the Sous Chef prepared a Shabu-Shabu on one of the restaurant tables that has a hotplate built in. An interesting and very tasty combination of vegetables, tofu and beef.

We stayed around the vicinity of the restaurant and a short time later joined a crowd in the Tappanyaki room where the Japanese Chefs displayed their skills. Again all the dishes were passed around for tasting. We almost didn't need lunch.

After lunch we joined Gabby in the Stardust for a talk on how to get the most out of the visit to Rome. She presented a number of excellent tips for those of us who were planning to do our own exploring. As she said, the guide books recommend from three days to a week to explore the city, we are only going to have about eight hours and the train trip will be about two hours each way.

I attended a gathering of Veterans for a while, I was the only Australian and spent some time swapping yarns with a US Navy type who had been to Vietnam. All the others looked to be much older.

Caught up with Gary in the Spinnaker for a very amusing lesson on how to communicate in Italy without knowing more than about 6 words. His advice – carry a map and a pen and write your questions or point to places on the map.'Mille grazie' and 'Mi scusi' were two phrases I think I'll use frequently.

After diner we skipped the 'show', seen it and didn't think much of it. So we went to the Spinnaker and played Trivia. Twenty questions with a choice of four answers each. We scored 13/20 – the winners made 17/20. The game was fine but the Russian MC didn't do much for us.
By the time I finish this it will be past 9 PM and we have an early start tomorrow.

Day 69 Tuesday 23 November - “Cruise Day 10 – Rome”

Up early this morning and ready to step ashore even before the gangplank is in place. It doesn't look good weather wise, there's thunder and lightning and horizontal rain. The weather gods must have decided that enough was enough and the storm passed and the rain stopped as we walked ashore.

Shuttle bus to the entrance to docks and then a brisk walk to the station. Arrived with ample time to spare and when the 8:41 hadn't shown up we took the 8:51 from another platform. The train is a suburban service and could do with a bit of spit and polish. Despite appearances she rocketed along at 145 Km/Hr. The train became very crowded as it stopped and picked up commuters along the way.

With a map of Rome in hand we stepped off at a station some distance to the South of the Vatican and amazed ourselves in finding the place. Huge courtyard and people from all parts of the world. Joined the queue to check through the security scanner and walked into St Peter's Basilica. The place is like a small city with chapels and little nooks on both sides. Some areas were closed off including a considerable area near the main altar.

There are so many sculptures, statues, paintings and other works of art that it is difficult to focus on this being a 'church'. There is an attached museum (6 € each – no photography permitted) containing many of the treasures of the church. There was also the inevitable gift shop to help lighten your pockets. By about 12:30 we started wandering towards a Metro station just North of the Vatican. Without guidance from anyone we found the station but then had to ask someone which direction we needed to go. The Metro trains are quick and frequent and quite crowded.

Before long we'd arrived at the 'central' station and must have walked close to two Km to get from the Metro to the surface trains. What an enormous station. Our train was to depart from platform 27. We found 1 to 23 and were wondering if someone was having a loan of us. But we found the sign “Lines 25 to 32 400 meters”. So another half kilometre and we found our train.

An uneventful trip back to the ship and we had time for a short nap before diner. When we sat down there was hardly anyone in the dining room, many were still on their way back from Rome. The Starlight show tonight was an aging comedian – Lenny Windsor. He was for many years a writer for the Benny Hill show. As you can imagine he was most disrespectful of anything and anyone. A hilarious hour as he managed to take the 'mickey' out of everyone that caught his eye.

The ship's a bit lively tonight and if there any typos or other errors, put it down to the fact that my keyboard is moving beneath my fingers.

Posted by greynomadm 13:08 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Cruise Days 5 & 6 - Naples & a Sea Day

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Day 64 Thursday 18 November - “Cruise Day 5 – Naples”

Naples is the port city overshadowed by Mt Vesuvius and a thick blanket of overcast when we arrived. We packed for showers and as this is a specific passenger wharf we were able to walk off. We were met by a scrum of taxi drivers all offering fantastic deals to visit Pompeii. We said no to all of them but one guy was very persistent. His line was quite good and he had a quirky sense of humour. The deal was struck and we set off.
There a
re road rules but we're not convinced that anyone follows them. The taxi nudged out of the parking lot and squeezed through some impossible spaces and before long we'd left the port area and were headed for Pompeii. Along the way David pointed out the many points of interest and occasionally watched the road and the other traffic. It is a wonder any of them survive but there were no bumps or scrapes that we were aware of.

At Pompeii, David warns us about the size of the site and to ensure we exit through the same gate. He suggested we spend two hours and he would wait for us. Guide book in one hand, map in the other we strolled though the remains of this 5,000 year-old city. It is both extensive and magnificent in terms of how beautify it was built and how well it was preserved under the 4 meters of volcanic debris that covered it.

At the appointed time we were back at the gate and David was there to greet us. We headed back to Naples where he drove us to the Cathedral of St Gennaro, quite the most impressive church we'd seen so far. Free entry and photography permitted except during services. We spent a long time admiring the many paintings, sculptures and other decorations.

Back in the taxi, David takes us through some incredibly narrow alleys in the old quarter. Quite similar to what we'd seen in Barcelona but with the added thrill of motor-scooters squeezing past us or on occasions coming towards us on what was a one-way lane. Back in the chaos of the main street we make our way back in the direction of the Port, David pointing out the University which looks like part of the general street-scape but is claimed to have a perimeter of over 5 Km.

David drops us at the Opera House and we explore the immediate area, walk into the Gallery, a 16th century version of a shopping mall with marble floor, vaulted glass cover ceiling and line with very upmarket shops and restaurants.

The area near the port entrance is a construction mess. David had explained that they were digging to expand the Metro and are constantly finding archaeologically significant remnants of the Greek and Roman periods. He says the authorities use this as an excuse for the extremely slow progress.

Back out onto the street we make our way past the Palace and the Fort and back to the ship. We dined in the Grand Pacific again and attended the Show. Tonight “Bambolea” - a Gypsy Kings Tribute. Three very talented acoustic guitarists and a male vocalist. Sadly only one of the numbers was familiar to us.

The departure of the ship was to have been at 7 PM, it has been delayed by some form of Italian Bureaucracy and we are now due to sail at about midnight.

Day 65 Friday 19 November - “Cruise Day 6 – At Sea”

We left Naples well after midnight and the skipper has pushed the speed up to 20 knots to ensure the schedule is maintained. It is sometimes difficult to find things to do during 'sea days', but we've been quite busy since breakfast. Firstly we checked with the service desk on what the process would be on changing cabins and cruise numbers on Sunday. Couldn't be easier, we pack our stuff and report to the service desk, they organise to move our gear to the new cabin and provide us with a new card – we don't have to leave the ship
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Next we had morning coffee with the Gary K Glading (the Cruise Director,) he's a very interesting person as well. Then we watched a demonstration of Sushi making, the chef is Filipino but he was trained in Japan. He made exquisite Sushi and made it look so very easy. The right tools, the correct ingredients and lots of practice.

After lunch there's the Latitude Member's reception with the Cruise Consultant and we were introduced to all the senior staff on board. This was followed by a sales pitch for future cruises, all very tempting with two brand new ships on order for delivery in 2012 and 2013.

To round off the afternoon we listened to Gary's talk entitled Stars, Staterooms & Stowaways. It also happens to be the title of a book he's written. His talk was very entertaining and covers a career from classical singer/pianist to singer, song writer and producer of shows for the Lido in Paris. He moved his talent to cruise shows and became the corporate director for entertainment for Celebrity Cruises, quit when the fun went out of the job and set up a sanctuary for stray animals. He was recently enticed to return to the cruise industry.

We are on course for Palma de Mallorca where we're due to arrive at 6 AM. Will need to go to bed early tonight :-)

Posted by greynomadm 07:38 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Cruise Day 3 & 4 - Livorno & Civitavecchia

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Day 62 Tuesday 16 November - “Cruise Day 3 – Livorno”

The Jade docks at Livorno which is a huge industrial port about 180 Km out of Florence or as the Italians spell it Firenze. The sky looks threatening, what's new? And we pack wet weather gear just to be sure. There's a shuttle bus service for 5,00 € each and as there's no other way off the dock, it is pay up and like it.

The bus takes us to the main square where we crowd onto a local bus to take us to the railway station. Trains to Florence leave about every hour or so and we purchase our tickets with barely minutes to spare. Jenny came close to breaking into a sprint to make sure we got aboard.

The train sets off at a good clip and shortly we arrive in Pisa which is a large industrial city served by a number of rail lines and an airport. From Pisa the countryside changes to mainly agricultural and we travel through a number of villages and one of the longest tunnels we've experience.

The ticket checker approaches and Jenny confidently hands over our ticket, but !! there's a problem. He points to the fine print (in English) which states that the ticket must be 'validated' before boarding the train or risk a fine “for details see our web site”. Very bloody helpful and informative – NOT!! He points out that the fine is 40,00 € but for 5,00 € he scribbles some words on the end of the ticket. No, it wasn't graft and corruption, he issued us a receipt for the money. We'll know to validate tickets in future.

After about an hour or so the train comes to a halt, there's an announcement in Italian and we sit there. Some young girls near us try to explain that the delay will be 20 minute. Time passes and there's another announcement, the girls explain that they don't know how long the delay will be. In a series of fits and starts we arrive in Florence fully an hour late.

Dreading the possibility that we'll be similarly delayed on the return we work out that we'll have to return on the 13:37 train back to Livorno. We stroll along the narrow cobbled streets and discover the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore. A massive structure clad in marble and ceramic tiles. It is so beautiful on the outside that the cavernous interior almost pales into insignificance. The main dome high above our heads is covered in an exquisite mural of heavenly images.

The cathedral sits in the Piazza del Duomo which is ringed by many speciality shops ranging from food to religious items including vestments and altar furnishings. We head back towards the railway station and chance upon the Basilica di San Lorenzo in the Piazza San Lorenzo where there were dozens of market stalls. We're assured that every item on sale is made in Italy. There were many fine leather goods and other items of clothing at very reasonable prices.

We arrive back at the station and ensure that we validate out ticket, a simple process of shoving one end into a machine that stamps some information on it. Could have saved myself 5,00 €. The train back arrives in Livorno right on schedule taking fully an hour less than the outward trip.

On arrival we are greeted with a massive thunder storm that literally dumps inches of water in minutes. We board the local bus back to the main square and dash through more rain and inches of water. The shuttle bus takes us right up to the gangplank and we crowd aboard like drowned rats.

Another exceptional dinner and we join the gathering crowd for tonight's entertainment. They are the Duo Acrobatique, a Russian strong man and a French ballerina who enthralled us with acts of grace, agility and strength. The act lasted the best part of an hour and was wildly applauded by all in attendance. As the Cruise Director was wrapping up the show, the performers involved him in a final show of strength, the man will be in anything.

A big day with lots of experiences, the 'storm' is causing the ship to rock a little, I doubt we'll take much rocking to sleep.

Day 63 Wednesday 17 November - “Cruise Day 4 – Civitavecchia”

Civitavecchia is the cruise ship's port for Rome and we tie up at about 8:30. The morning promises a sunny day and we've decided to just do a reconnaissance for the trip to Rome. We'll be back here in six days time.

Wandered around the town and found a bank where we recharged our € cash account. The town has some interesting features ranging from the top fashion houses to the traditional markets in the older part of town. Parts of the old town date back to the early centuries AD and many old but more recent structures.

We returned to the ship and spent time watching the various activities in this very active port. After another great dinner we were talking to the young lady that keeps track of the available tables in the dining room. She explained that she'd been to Rome today and seen all of the main attractions. We asked how she manage to get to Rome, by train or bus? She told us she'd been part of a crew's tour, the company provides a tour bus to take them to the more significant places. Not sure if the crew members have to pay, but it is still a very thoughtful gesture from the company.

Tonight's show was titled SHOUT!! A musical tribute to the sixties performed by the five female members of the Jade Stars and music provided by the Jade Orchestra. Another great hour of entertainment which I'd be happy to watch again as it will no doubt be repeated.

As a foot-note, we were a bit worried that we may have missed an opportunity to see Rome in fine weather, be that's as it may. Taking to some passengers who went on organised tours to Rome, they had their tours curtailed because of a student demonstration. Large sections of Rome were in total gridlock. We'll see how we go next week.

Posted by greynomadm 13:00 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

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